This year holds more than the average amount of magic. It seems simply self-evident already: the actual day of Mardi Gras here in Nola was a tremendous spiritual day by most accounts from my friends; people are working so hard to make their dreams happen; random moments of serendipity seem to guide us to be where we need to be to make the unprecedented an act of inevitable truth; and so it goes...
There might be other less superstitious reasons behind this great commotion, or even more superstitious reasons, depending on your outlook; however, this is a Year of the Dragon, which always brings forth transformative years. Just look at previous Dragon years: 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964 in my lifetime I can easily pick out huge society history-changing events and so can you. Personally, I may not have been too focused on my own sense of time interacting with a Dragon year from those past years, but here in 2012 I am truly deep under the spell of Dragons & Transformation.
It began on Tet, or Vietnamese New Year, when I just chanced to be at my very favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Tau Bay, and received New Year's blessings along with another great, soulful meal from my favorite joint in town. I'd never made it to a proper New Year's celebration before, so not only did I have a nice welcome to Tet, but I'd planned a big feast with my krewe the next day at my favorite Chinese restaurant, Yung's Golden Dragon on Magazine St, so I wound up sharing those lucky feelings from the Year of the Dragon with my cooks in an epic, glorious meal.
It was obviously meant to be a sign of what's up in Green Goddess world. Three of my cooks: Trim, Jeff, and Rachael are all Dragon kids, born in 1988, and they are rolling out our level of cuisine with the passion of youth with something to prove. Like me, none of my Dragons went to culinary school. Like me, way back when I was a young cook, all my Dragons are assimilating their surprising & formidable life experiences in the relentless arena of high-flying professional kitchens, pushing to reach higher ground everyday. When I was 24, I was saying goodbye to my feckless youth & had just begun working as Chef at "the downstairs" in Athens, GA, which I bought that year. I look back with amusement at just how much I didn't know, but with proud certainty over what a ridiculous bad ass I was during that time.
There's nothing more solid than the determined guile of youth confronting the unavoidable facts of finding your groove in your lifework. At that age, you just go full blast learning, loving, creating and chasing your dream--which may seem elusive & not fully understood in all its implications-- and delving deep & deeper into the passions of your emerging craft gives your youthful ways such tremendous focus. Having 3 Dragons at that exact stage of their culinary trek makes for some great food & hilarious camaraderie. The ritual shots of Fernet Branca most nights as service closes, our dedication to improve our speed & our dishes, our jokes & tightness as a krewe who care for each other but won't hesitate to rip on each other as needed or just because we're tough cooks with a salty outlook on the vagaries of life & enjoy our friendly duels over who is most bad ass, ah indeed it's a pirate's life for us, powered by the magic of Dragon juju.
Trim has been with me the longest of the three. He is a stone cold warrior who thrives on the adrenaline rush of impossibility, and executes my menu with an executioner's certainty that this is the way to truth. Trim has our evil all-electric sauté station on lockdown, and his fiery ginger personality animates the fire-breathing Dragon passion perfectly. Truly, Green Goddess would not be what it is without him anymore than it would be the same without me!
Jeff is seemingly the quietest of the three, but that calm keeps him focused under the barrage of tickets & multi-plate feasting he faces on a nightly basis as our chief oven guy & expediter. Jeff is super reliable, like me... no matter what crazy thing happens in his life or how intense the party was last night, he shows up ready to deal effectively & has shown himself a terrific asset under pressure with a fun sense of wry humor & a (don't tell him I said so) genuine sweet heart. He does remind me of myself that way...
Rachael might be the most complex of the 3 Dragons, but we were friends before she started working at GG. I knew she had the right temper to be a serious cook: great focus, a sense of adventure, and most importantly Rachael has a deep respect for ingredients that is innate to her worldview. When I was 24, I used to write a lot of poetry & one I wrote about how it's the job of poets/cooks to reveal the secret inner life of ingredients clearly marked me as doomed to follow my muse into the kitchen. I feel that R is on the same path, although she has other artistic talents to perhaps pursue, as a cook she is dedicated to finding out those inner mysteries of how to give respect to flavor. So we trust her w lots of prep, but on the line her finished plates sing with color & texture. All three Dragons have great talent & stamina, but Rachael has a gift that could take her anywhere if she truly hones her life to the métier of culinary challenges. I'm delighted & proud to be her Chef, as I am with all my krewe, and I hope that these building blocks of skill & trust we insist on as the standards that are the pro's life in the kitchen (and in whatever we call real life!) give R the wings to soar, as she finds the relentless drive to match her abilities.
For a wily veteran like me, it's an honor to have my 3 Dragons working for me. I simply pray that when they get crusty & old like me, after such a long journey fighting for truth in making great food, that they have the beautiful luck to realize the gifts we gave each other so long ago & that they discover a new generation of young Dragons who want to kick ass & take names for them!
So when you enjoy dinner at GG, take a moment to thank the 3 Dragons, plus Pete & Marko (my other two cooks who are no slouches!) for the funky miracle on your plates.