Memories and Musings

Steal Like An Artist, (I stole that)

This morning I got an email from our Chef-de-Cuisine, Jeffrey Brana. Last night I had sent him a ‘sketch’ of a dish I conjured up.

‘A Mexican Reunion’

  • Crispy Plantain Crusted Chicken Cutlet
  • Oozy Slow Poached Hen Egg
  • Fatty Chorizo Crumble
  • Sharp/Sweet Rouille-like sauce w Pimenton

Jeffrey is a very thoughtful man and a deeply poetic Chef. He’s been through a lot in his young life and that can make for great depth. He wrote me about a former chef of ours from the original “NORMAN’S” in Coral Gables. That chef’s name is Thom Pastor. Thom cooks and writes in Oregon now and has his own blog that deserves viewing.

Thom wrote about the “blackout sketch technique artist” named Austin Kleon and he provided a link to Austin doing a stage presentation about his work. ( If you go to the link you will see how Austin responds to the complaints he was receiving for ‘not being original’ after his enormously successful poetry book. If you have ever wondered about that idea, (originality) or have been accused of it I think you will enjoy it. Thom wrote;

Austin Kleon has some great insight about stealing. This is a lesson that great chefs exercise. This is why Norman Van Aken could create Fusion food while other chefs didn’t get it.”

I got the idea for the “Mexican Reunion” dish I sent Jeffrey after eating an “Egg Benedict” take-off on Biscayne Boulevard while our car got washed in the parking lot next to the cute little eatery. I sketched it out on a cocktail napkin. Wasn’t ‘War and Peace’ started this way? Maybe not. But I’m willing to bet “The Subterraneans” was. The version of ‘Eggs Benny’ I had was poached eggs on a toasted English muffin with Hollandaise sauce topped with crabmeat. So you can see I ripped them off completely.
Or maybe not so much…

A Chef who has reached my age and read as many books, eaten as many meals, cooked this many hours… click, click, click… (what is 10 hours a day times 40 years…Sundays off for good behavior?) has something like a giant “Wurlitzer” in their head. I am doing a mash-up of foods in my head relentlessly day after day, night after night. It is (as Austin Kleon points out well) “artists’s mind”.

Sometimes I wander down the line of our kitchen at “TUYO” peering/gazing, waving my hand or a spoon over a pot of simmering broth in the direction of my face. To our chefs I must look like I lost my glasses or got some bizarre phone call from my freind Charlie Trotter, (with whom I’ve had this dialog with countless times… including references to William S. Burroughs). But what is really happening in my brain is a collage of ideas and ‘what ifs’. I had this happen as I stood in front of our Pastry Chef’s mise-en-place on Saturday night. He, (Max Santiago) asked, “everything all right Chef? I kept my eyes on a small bowl of julienned apples in a bowl that were (potentially) ‘noodles in a dessert application’ in my imagination and replied, “Very much so Max, thanks”. He said, “Keep dreaming Chef”. I did. I do.

“I continue to work with the materials I have, the materials I am made of, with feeling, beings, books, events and battles. I am omnivorous. I would like to swallow the whole Earth.
I would like to drink the whole sea”.
— Pablo Neruda

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