Chapter 4- Chef West

           

          When I moved to Sweden I lived alone in my own apartment. Being alone made me learn how to take care of my own shit. Laundry, cleaning, cooking, the whole mumbo jumbo. Stockholm is a very expensive city and eating out everyday was draining my budget. So I started buying ingredients to cook at home. I literally didn’t know anything about cooking. I could hardly make you an omelette. So I started from the bottom. I was learning very quick and it didn’t take long before I became pretty good at it. Soon I was making gourmet meals and having friends over for dinner. But the best meals I cooked were with Ingela. food-wine-kitchen

              Ingela and I shared a common passion which brought us together in friendship. Food! She got me into wine and taught me the difference between a good wine and shitty wine. Her hobby was to go eat at Michelin star restaurants with menus designed by Michelin star chefs. After tasting my food and convinced of my potential to become a great chef someday, she started taking me to these restaurants to show me what Michelin standard food tastes like. She took me to show me that there was not a major difference between what I cooked at her amazing kitchen, with amazing ingredients. And honestly, please don’t think of me as cocky or arrogant, but there wasn’t much of a difference. Whatever I cooked I did so with love, and confidence.

          That’s when I started the blog and “West’s Kitchen”. I wanted a platform on which I can display the foods I cooked and a network where I can write about it all. I would sit for hours preparing one dish, all for it to be munched down in less than 10 minutes. Even though I like my cooking, I prefer getting cooked for. I don’t mind doing the cooking, but sometimes I like sitting back and letting others take over. Once I eat the food, i’d think to myself, “I could have done it better”. When I started my blog fatchefwest, the only two readers were my dad and Ingela. Now I have over 500 readers worldwide. Sometimes I think they just get lost and end up in my website. Regardless, it’s good to be in touch with people that share the same love for food, health, fitness and travel as I do. To be honest, I don’t even care whether people read it or not. Writing for me is therapy. I speak to the empty pages and let out what’s in my heart. Just like i’m doing now writing this book.

Reindeer meat and Rucola topped with cherries and balsamic vinegar, served with garlic butter bread!

Reindeer meat and Rucola topped with cherries and balsamic vinegar, served with garlic butter bread!

        After all this inspiration and this new-found passion for food, I had an epiphany. That I had to do something about this. I had to become Chef Francesc West. My dad wanted to become a chef at some point when he was young. I felt the urge to have to do it for the both of us. You see, I come from a family of cooks. From my Grandma to both of my parents, to my aunt and now me. I’m number one now. Just so we are clear on that. Dad.

        Growing up my mom would do the cooking most nights of the week and my dad would sit at the dinner table and give her a rating of the meal on a scale of 1 to 10. Let’s not get into the times where my dad would give her a low rating and my mom telling him exactly what she thought of him. It was always special when my dad cooked. Not because he was better than my mom, but because he did it with love. He would make things that my mom just couldn’t be bothered to do. She is easy-going when it comes to food. My dad, not so much. And me? Well, let’s just say I’ll eat anything. Specially if i’m high. I honestly cannot decide who between the two is the better cook. I have learned my traits from both sides and I often seek their advice when it comes to cooking foods I’m not familiar with.

         I remember a very special culinary memory from New York that I would like to share with you. Back when I was a kid my dad and I used to go to different Steakhouses often. We both loved steak and had a taste for the best of it. So we always tried different steakhouses. I remember one day we went to one of the finest steakhouses in New York City called “Peter Luger”. To be honest we just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So we took a drive to Long Island.

We got there and walked in having a reservation. Once we sat down we immediately knew what we wanted to order. I remember he had the Porterhouse and I took the New York Strip. Our expectations were very high considering each steak was about 100-130 dollars. It wasn’t an everyday thing for us so it was okay. We know better than to pay that much for something that costs 1/3 of the price in the market. So came the long-awaited steaks. We were hungry as hell. My dad had ordered his steak to be cooked medium and I ordered mine rare.  But what we both got was a quite a well done steak. Now look, if you pay 130 bucks for steak then you kinda expect the level of service to be high up there. We spoke to the manager and said we just wanted to leave. They offered to redo the steaks but we were too hungry to wait another 45 mins to eat and kindly declined. After all it was a long drive. So they offered the steaks on the house. Oh come on, what would you do? Of course we sat back down. Steaks on the house from one of the most famous steakhouses in the city? Hell yeah! So we started eating our steaks and my goodness, it was the best well done steak we have ever had. The meat was aged and the texture was stunning. It would have been much better if it was cooked medium or rare though. But still, it was free. Free tastes better.

Ingela's fireplace, dark chocolate and whiskey.

Ingela’s fireplace, dark chocolate and whiskey.

Once we got home we told what had happened and our rating of the steak (9 out of  10) to my mom. She didn´t show the same enthusiasm as we did though. You see, my mom has never been into steak that much. She enjoyed a steak here and there but it wasn´t her favorite meal. My dad and I never understood that. This is a memory I keep very close to me because my dad has always been my number one inspiration in my cooking. Most of the things i’ve learned, I learned from him. So going to Steakhouses with him was always special. He would learn new things and make his own style of the dish. Of course he would be the head chef when we cooked together and I was just the helper. Sometimes I was not even good enough to help. He would just tell me to watch from the sidelines. I think the tables have turned now dad.

After deciding to go after becoming a Chef, I left Stockholm for good in search of a culinary school around the world. I went to Paris and New York, and visited countless of schools. Ingela came with me to Paris. I must say even though we had a great time, the food could have been a lot better. We expected more. Maybe we just went to all the tourist traps. Le Cordon Bleu in Paris was a school renowned for producing the best chefs around the world. But it cost like 40 grand, and besides I wasn’t about to move to fucking France. The French culinary institute in New York cost even more. A whopping 50 grand for a six month course in which YOU work for THEM. Plus pay them a cool 50 grand. Hell no! My parents were willing but there was no way I was gonna make them spend that money on that kind of education. I wanted to do it the old fashioned way. Get a job at a real kitchen and live the kitchen life. That would be better than any school. A friend of mine mentioned he knew a chef that may be able to give me a job in his kitchen. I ended up meeting him and he told me that he was going to start working in the kitchen of a 5 star hotel in Bodrum during the summer of 2012 and that he could make a spot for me. I jumped at the chance. I had also by then visited a culinary school in Istanbul that was a fraction of the cost. So the plan was I would go work the summer in Bodrum then head to the school in Istanbul come September.

When I got to Bodrum, the kitchen was so dirty, we spent the first three weeks just cleaning. Ive never experienced that before, just cleaning. Getting my hands dirty taught me a valuable lesson and it was a good humbling experience. I got a bit taste of the kitchen life and the cleaning life. After that summer I headed to Istanbul for the school. I absolutely hated Istanbul and the school. So I dropped it.

I learned how to make my own salad sauces, how to poach an egg the right way, the temperature at which certain foods should be kept, how to handle a knife, how to carry one, how to cut meat, how to debone a chicken, how to chop herbs properly, when not to use olive oil, how not to over cook anything, making croutons, how to chop an onion, a tomato, peppers properly, how to cook vegetables the right way, which pans to use when, when to substitute butter with oil, how to stuff a chicken, what not to stuff in a chicken, cooking steak rare, medium and well done. Everything and anything you can imagine about food. Of course now I know almost everything that needs to be known. There is always room for improvement, but how do I say this without sounding too cocky!? I’m the man!

I always dreamed about opening up my own restaurant. Fuck that! After working in one and seeing how it’s run and what it takes to keep one going, no thanks. But you see if I was to ever open one up, I know I can make it a success. I know I can create a fantastic menu, a nice ambiance with a great concept. And delicious food of course. I know people would love my kitchen. Location is very important, maybe sometimes more than the food itself. Restaurants lose their ways and go off track when they think quantity over quality. Profits over taste and value. Money talks. If I had the cash to invest who knows maybe I would. My uncle keeps wanting to open up a restaurant. He got involved with one in London that ended up in complete failure. I mean seriously, what is a half Turkish man living in New York doing opening up a Mexican restaurant in London? He still talks about opening one up. Again in London. I told him it would never work because he was in it with the wrong people that are after making a quick buck. Opening a restaurant is like opening a place within your heart, so when people come try your food, they get a taste of what’s inside. The money comes after this core foundation is established.

I can cook almost any cuisine. I don’t specially specialize in one. I tend to mix and try different cuisines. Just like everything else in life, I like to get out of my comfort zone and try new things in the kitchen. I make some great Indian food. My pastas are also pretty amazing, i’ve been told. Then again I do make a killer kung pao chicken. I can do almost every cuisine except Turkish. It’s very complex, but extremely delicious. My mom and grandma are the maestros at that. I’ll leave that to them. They can have that one.

Working in a kitchen really made me appreciate Personal Training. I meet so many amazing people though working in the food industry. Humble people who work for every dollar. Even though it was tough days work, and at the end of the day we would get together to cook up a meal or go out for drinks. If you had the night shift you were likely to clean up at the end of the night. We would re-pack the meat, clean the floors, take a break, smoke some weed and wipe down the grills. It was all for no more than $12 an hour, but you always had the feeling of working for your money. Some people who work 9-5 don’t really do shit all day. Go to work just to show up, and get paid. This was no envoirment for slackers. Even though I tend to slack at times. If one person was behind, it would make the rest of the kitchen look bad. If one person did something wrong or misplaced something, we had to make sure we get it right. After all, you’re in a race against time. Tickets came flying, and the dishes that leave the kitchen had to be perfect. There were no room for mistakes. Morning shifts are a little more relaxed. You get there in the morning, prep, stock up, refill, and open the kitchen for lunch service. Which would never be a full house. 20120106-192208.jpgThe kitchen life is no joke. One mistake meant putting everyone back and dealing service. Hence why it’s the job with the highest level of stress and drug use.

There is absolutely nothing like cooking in your own kitchen. My kitchen, my food, my way in the highway. Thats what cooking is about for me. Not working in some restaurant. In a restaurant you cook someone else’s menu, under someone else’s rules. I remember the days I would sit and peel carrots for 3 hours. Once I was done with them carrots, I would have to cut up tomatoes in a very specific way. I found that out the hard way, but im glad that I did. Cooking for people I like is what I enjoy most. I love my cooking and so does everybody that gets the chance to try it. And let me tell you that it is only a few people who get that privilege. I learned an art and in return it improved me as a person. I will always be the Chef of my kitchen. But I pray to God that I am never put in a position where I have to work in a restaurant kitchen again. Unless it’s my own. Who knows, if i’m ever in a financial position to be able to open one up, and if am still as passionate and motivated about food, then like I said who knows? You may just be a quest sitting in one of my tables watching me cook your dinner over the kitchen counter with a smile on my face. 

“The First Half” by Francesc West

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