Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bistro Gal

Before she was Bistro Gal, she was my wife. Before that, she was punk rock chick, figure skater, folk fest volunteer and activist Danielle.

The wife of a chef puts up with a lot. Late hours, unpredictable schedules, lousy money is kind of what they sign up for. It can get so bad that they become what people have started calling a Chef's Widow. ( And over the years my wife, Danielle, has put up with a lot.

Not only did Danielle have to put up with the usual chef craziness, she had to put up with my own unique brand of craziness. For example, every time we had a baby, I left a good stable job and took a new job. When my first daughter was born, I left the Tap & Grill to go work at 3 different jobs until I found on that stuck. When my Son was born I left Pasta La Vista to go work at Pineridge Hollow and when my youngest was born, I left Pineridge Hollow to open the Bistro.

When I was at Pineridge Hollow, I had everything. A stable job, a decent salary, full creative control, a garden and my own goats. So, I decided to leave and open my own place. Not only did Danielle support this descision, when she should have said "are you nuts? stay at your perfect job!", she actively encouraged me and helped me get the place off the ground.

And that is how she has always been. Any crazy idea I come up with, she is right there with me. When I asked her to put our lives on the line to open a little Bistro, she said sure, lets do it. Owning a restaurant was my dream, not hers, but she made it her own. When we opened, she was homeschooling our children, working in the post-trauma department at Klinic and working nights at the bistro. Very soon, she put her career on hold to work at the bistro full time. The bistro is what it is, and is as successful as it is, because of the genuine warm welcoming hospitality that she brings to the room.

Even though life can be stressful, it is not easy running a small business, it is so much better that we can do this together. I get all the glory, and she holds me up. Nothing I do could be possible with out her. She supports me, she helps me realize my dreams, she nurtures and cares for me, she has fun with me, she joins me on all of our crazy adventures. In return, I give her more craziness. Often I wonder why she puts up with me. Often I wonder why she sticks around. She could just find a nice doctor or lawyer to be with. But she chooses to remain by my side. And for this, I love her deeply.

Thank you Danielle Carignan Svenne for all you do. Thank you for being you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chef's Don't Get Hangovers

People think chefs drink a lot. This is, of course, a myth.

I woke up this morning for the second time in a month in a strange city with a low grade headache and my insides asking me WTF? This is the second time in a month that I found my self closing down a local wine bar with my new BFF Chef Michael Blackie. And just like last month in Ottawa, our grape fuelled carousing was the night before the big event. Why do we do this to ourselves?

One my friends in the twitter universe asked us if we were "nursing hangovers". I flippantly responded, "chefs don't get hangovers". While this is not entirely true, it is true that chef's don't "nurse" hangovers; we ignore them.

There is an ethic among chefs that you just have to "git er done". My friend, Chef Aron Epp, has a motto: "Head down, work hard." Guests will arrive, they will expect to be fed, and it is our job to feed them. How we are feeling in the process, really doesn't matter.

I learnt this as a teenager working at Chi Chi's. Some nights I'd stay out all night carrying on with my friends, catch a couple hours of Z's, and then show up to work for my 7:30 prep shift. I wasn't going to let my boss give me shit for being hungover so I would work extra hard. What I learnt in the process, is the best way to get rid of a hangover is to work hard. If you are really hungover and you lay around all day nursing it, you will feel like garbage all day long. If you ignore the hangover and just do some hard physical work, you will feel right as rain in a couple short, painful hours. I see this in my young cooks at the Bistro now. They will never complain, they will never call in sick. The only way I will ever know that they are hungover, is the jumbo size bottle of Gatorade in their station.

But why do we do it? I think people attracted to the restaurant industry are highly social people. I don't party like I used to when I was a young man, but I do like to get together with friends. And because for the most part we work nights, our socializing happens in a friends restaurant with a few drinks. While we are enjoying each other's company we are fully aware that we have to get up tomorrow morning and "do it all over again". But we never want the party to end. How many times have I said , "That was stupid. But it was so much fun". It is hard to end a good conversation with friends.

In the past month I have been involved in two national "chef events". Last month I was privileged to represent Manitoba at the Prairie Scene conference. Today, I am cooking at the Cooks and Curds gala dinner at the Great Canadian Cheese Festival. Both times we had the opportunity to get together with the chefs involved. We all work so hard that it is nice to meet other chefs in fun social settings. Last night, we had chefs literally from coast to coast. We had a chef from Tofino, and chefs from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and everywhere in between all sitting at the table together. This was such an incredible time that how could we cut it short, just because we had a lot of work to do the next day.

We all knew, that we would wake up feeling rough, down a couple mugs of coffee and then get to work. No one at the table would be "nursing a hangover". And tonight, we will do it all over again. Watch out "Acoustic Grill", we are all coming tonight.

I am especially privileged to be able to work with my wife Danielle. So when I am out carousing with "the boys" she is right there beside me.