Chef John Malik

a writer trapped in a cook's body

July 28, 2016
by ChefJohn
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Help Wanted

Many years ago I was the Executive Sous Chef at the glorious Mills House Hotel in Charleston. When I took this position, I really thought I would soon be their Executive Chef. During the interview process the Executive Chef repeatedly told me he would soon be headed to a hotel in the Caribbean. His position in the Caribbean never materialized, and I left the Mills House after 18 months. He was still there ten years later.

I loved being a part of this hotel. Its location, architecture, the team I worked with, the steady influx of interesting visitors, and its numerous quirks (the ghost on the fourth floor that liked nothing better than scaring a housekeeper) of this 140 year old grande dame all made for a memorable 18 months. My main responsibility was the gorgeous Barbadoes dining room and upon accepting the position I was told to “make the customers happy.”

Mills House

So when I saw an ad for Executive Chef of the Mills House, my heart skipped a beat. Wow…should I apply?

And then I read the ad in its entirety. After a very short job description, the ad rolled through the “fundamental requirements” of the position, most of which I’ll share with you. The BOLD is all mine.

Work with other F&B managers and keep them informed of F&B issues as they arise.

Keep immediate supervisor fully informed of all problems or matters requiring his/her attention.

Coordinate and monitor all phases of Loss Prevention in kitchen areas.

Prepare and submit required reports in a timely manner.

Monitor quality of all food product and presentation.

Ensure preparation of required reports, including (but not limited to) Wage Progress, payroll, revenue, employee schedules, quarterly actions plans.

Oversee all aspects of the daily operation of the kitchen and food production areas.

Respond to guest complaints in a timely manner.

So reading between the lines, one would think the Mills House is a hornet’s nest of problems. Notice all the negative words and connotations? The first requirement is to handle “issues” which we all know is code for “problems.”  The second requirement is to tell your supervisor about your problems. The third requirement is to keep an eye on your staff because they’re going to steal, or allow food to spoil. The fourth requirement is to fill out reams of paperwork detailing the theft and problems in your kitchen, the fifth requirement is to “monitor” quality and food presentation. So if the food looks terrible but I monitored the process to make it look terrible, I’ve fulfilled my requirement, correct?

And notice the seventh requirement is to respond to guest complaints in a timely manner? Monitor, problems, comply, reports…shall I keep going?

What Debbie Downer wrote this job description? And who’s going to respond to this in a positive manner?

Come on, people! This is one of the best known hotels in the South, in one of our country’s most heralded food cities. So why wouldn’t you look for someone that can “excite your guests” or “lead a staff of dedicated professionals” or “spot and encourage excellence in your team” and “define and interpret the lowcountry cuisine of the Mills House”?

Think about this the next time you’re looking for help in your company. What corporate picture will your job description paint? Will your candidates see a Pollack-like abstract of chaos with problems, distrust, and paperwork or will they see an opportunity to join a cohesive, goal-oriented team and the chance to make a difference?

I’ll be staying in Greenville for the foreseeable future. And while I’m here, if you’re looking to inject a little spice into your company, especially if you write job descriptions for Wyndham Hotels, perhaps I may be of assistance?

July 14, 2016
by ChefJohn
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Tomorrow

My alarm will go off at 5:00 am but I’ll probably wake up at 4:00. My team is coming over for breakfast at 6:00 am and we’ll spend an hour trying to shake off our nervous energy. I’ll bake an egg, potato, bacon and cheddar cheese casserole and make some sweet potato waffles. My wife will bake a batch of blueberry muffins and we’ll eat until as much as we can stand. One cup of coffee for me and a small one at that. Lots of water, juice, and some electrolyte tablets.

We’ll all make one last bathroom visit, fill our water bottles and load up. When everyone’s here, we’ll probably go over our bike’s chain, air pressure, brakes, etc. one last time.

It’s a 25 minute ride to Heritage Park, the start of the #SCRTR, and we’ll want to be there at least an hour before the start. And while we’re there we’ll make another bathroom stop, and even though we just did it, we’ll check our tire’s air pressure, and our brakes, and our gear.

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L to R: From 2015. Brian Hale, Mark Kelly, Julian Loue, Emily Banks, Steven Banks, me, Tudor Malik, Scott Roark, Brian Kenna. Scott and Mark are riding with different teams this year, Daniel isn’t in this photo.

There’s four riders on this year’s Coast Busters team, and five volunteers. Myself, Brian Hale (electronic engineer for Gulfstream Aviation in Savannah), Julian Loue (insurance adjuster for Allstate Insurance), Daniel Soloway (process engineer for GE Turbines) and myself. Brian Kenna (pharmaceutical rep), Emily (Physical therapist for AnMed) and Steven Banks (self-employed plumber), Bethany Loue (aesthetician), and my wife Amy (Events coordinator at Christ Church) will volunteer. And that means sitting under a thin shelter, in July, on the side of a secondary road for hours on end. The #SCRTR provides water stops every 15 miles and those stops typically have two or three folks.

We’ll have a boatload of TV coverage this year with live remotes by all of our local stations, plus we’ll have one of the stations providing aerial coverage.

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We’ll sign in, say hi to a lot of other riders, stock up on food and probably drink more water. at the start line we’ll line up according to average speeds, and we’ll all start at the front. We’ll have a few last-minute instructions from Ashton or Aundi (SC ALzheimer’s reps), we’ll be led in prayer by Reverend Bob Chiles of Christ Church and then we’ll be waved off.

310 Riders this year. That’s a lot of spinning metal. In my experience, you’re prone to being involved in a crash in the very beginning (lots of nervous, excited folks in tight quarters) or towards the end of a long ride when you’re exhausted, dehydrated, and low on common sense and decision making ability. So at the start we’ll all stick close to one another and hopefully avoid a slow-speed entanglement with a too-nervous rider. It happens.

After the first couple of miles, things start to shake out and we’ll pace line with a group of probably 40 other folks. If I get dropped, so be it. I’ll pick up with the next group of riders that comes behind me. And I’ll settle in and enjoy the ride. The route to Newberry is quite pretty and has very little climbing and it’s the shortest day at 67 miles. I’ll probably roll into Newberry at noon.

The trick to a multi-day event like this is to constantly eat. So while I’m riding I’m eating for tomorrow. Day two is the tough day at 89 miles. We’ll spend more time in the sun because we’ll spend more time in agricultural areas so that means less tree-lined roads. The last 30 miles into Orangeburg can be brutal. It’ll be scorching hot, humid, and we actually climb into Orangeburg so we’ve got some hills in front of us. And I need to finish day two with enough in my tank to pull off a 100 mile ride on day three. So my jaw will be sore from chewing and eating and drinking.

And if I even think for just one second about how miserable I am, I’ll turn to the rider next to me, smile and say “Hey I’m John. Tell me your story.” Because that’s what my Mom would expect of me.

RTR 15

I’ve raised my money, and I was an integral part of our sponsorship committee that brought in $75,000. I’ve encouraged others, offered enough advice to newbies, and helped organize a team. What’s left?

I’ll ask for your prayers for safety and encouragement. But I’m prepared to fail. I might crash, I might collapse. It’s entirely possible. If I do, I’ll do so giving my all for a worthy endeavor.

Thank you for your donations, your encouragement, and your prayers. I hope to return them all, with interest, this Sunday afternoon.  And if you’d like to make a donation in my name to the SC Alzheimer’s Association, just click here.

“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?” ~ John Green

July 13, 2016
by ChefJohn
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Umm…May I borrow your bathroom?

Hydration. That’s the buzz word amongst cyclists.

“Are you staying hydrated in this heat?”

Geez, am I ever. I’m putting away the water like an Egyptian camel at the beginning of tourist season. And not just on rides but constantly. We all know that our bodies are made up of 93% water (who else has never believed that?) but no matter the actual figure, water plays a critical part in many of our body’s functions. It keeps your muscles working properly, your brain functioning properly, lungs, kidneys, etc. So it’s critical to keep the right amount of water and the best way to do that is keep drinking. Last week I quit alcohol and I’m only having one cup of coffee. And I’m dieting. Sort of. Lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, lean meats, easy on the salt and fried foods. And lots of ice cream. 😆

Since making my #SCRTR commitment less than 30 days ago, I’ve ridden almost 500 miles and lost 8 & 1/2 pounds. And I’ve probably stopped at every rest room between Simpsonville and Asheville.

The bathrooms at QT and Chick Fil A are always clean. For some reason the smaller, family run convenience stores still haven’t caught on to the idea of a clean bathroom.

Orangeburg

The Ride to Remember is the largest fundraiser for the SC Alzheimer’s Association. It’s a 252 mile bike ride across South Carolina and we depart on Friday, July 15th. Like to come along? Click here and make a donation and I’ll even memorialize your loved one on my bib.

 

July 9, 2016
by ChefJohn
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39 in a 35

Yes, that’s 39 miles per hour. That was my maximum speed attained on this past Thursday’s ride.

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I’ve gone faster. I’ve actually hit 55 mph (that’s a story for another day.)

And yes, I know it’s dangerous to go that fast on a bike with only a thin layer of lycra as protection. I also know that there’s almost 40, 000 people killed in traffic accidents, almost 80,000 from diabetes, almost 600,000 from cancer, over 600,000 from heart disease and almost 100,000 a year from Alzheimer’s.

I know, you’re still shaking your head and calling me crazy. Fair enough. It’s a crazy I’ve chosen.

To many of us, adrenaline is like coffee, we need it to complete our day. Personally  don’t ride like that on a daily basis. I might only hit that kind of top speed a couple of times a month and I don’t do it when I’m riding with strangers or the weather, my bike, and road conditions aren’t perfect, or close to it.

So what’s this got to do with the whole Alzheimer’s thing?

Cycling to me is more than a hobby. It’s a way to connect with this earth, my inner self, my friends, and my Savior. When I put in the miles, I see everything. The green of the tree line set against the blue of the sky, the song of dozens of birds, the undulations in the road, the mechanical chatter of a friend’s bike, the steady hum of  my tires. When one is on a bike, you’re exposed to the elements and if you can get your mind past the danger, the rest is gravy. It’s great aerobic exercise, easy on the knees, it’ll take you places you can’t get by running, you can get out in the countryside, the camaraderie…cycling is so much more than exercise.

And one weekend a year I get to participate in a fundraiser for a dreadful disease while cycling across the state.  And when I reach the top of a long climb and the rod starts to lose height and my speed builds, that’s when I’ll count my blessings, absorb myself in the moment, and thank the Good Lord for giving me the opportunity to rush across the face of the earth at 40 mph.

The Ride to Remember to support the SC Alzheimer’s Association departs in five days and I’ll be ready. Care to ride along with me? Just make a donation in my name by clicking here.

July 8, 2016
by ChefJohn
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Going Up?

I got out of the house early today because I knew the afternoon temps would be unbearable. And by 9:00 am I was in Traveler’s Rest and headed for Paris Mountain.

The #SCRTR  will be a contest in endurance, man and woman against machine, with the machine being the bike. You’ve got to be able to climb on your bike and control it over a variety of terrain, roads, and weather. I’d love for this event to take place in mid May when the weather is nice and cool, but how many riders would we get and how much money would we raise? The reason we ride in summer is because, it’s summer. The kids are out of school, schedules are more flexible, free time is easier to come by and people are more likely to travel. The #SCRTR is really a five day event because you’ve got a three day bike ride bordered by travel and recovery days on either bookend. No one will feel ready to take on the world the Monday after this event. And that’s why we need to do this in summer. And it’s going to be hot, just like last summer. Damnit.

#ALZSucks

Alzheimer’s is brutally destructive, and that’s why I did three laps of Paris Mountain today. Because #ALZsucks.

I don’t want to be out in the heat all blessed day so that’s where proper training comes in. And that’s why I rode over Paris Mountain three times today. As I said in an earlier blog, sometimes it’s all about the grunt. And I need to be able to know that I can push myself and my body will respond.

On a long distance event such as this, a cyclist’s biggest fear is cramping. The medical jury is out on exactly what causes cramps but there’s preventive measures one can take and number one is training. You’ve got to go out and push yourself, find your physical limit then a couple days later, go out and exceed your limits. Do this for three or four months and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish. Day one starts at 8:30 am and it’s the shortest day at 67 miles. Days two and three start at 7:00 am so my goal on those days is to start at the front, stop as little as possible, and get the work done by 12:30 or so before the day really heats up. Otherwise I’ll bake in the sun and all that sweating and exertion will put me at risk of cramping.

So even though I only rode 35 miles, I got in almost 3,300 feet of climbing. And more importantly, I felt solid and strong, especially on my last trip over the mountain. I won’t do that much climbing in the entire RTR so with six days before we depart, I think I’ll be okay. I’ll have a recovery day tomorrow, a hard ride on Sunday, an easy day on Monday then I’ll hammer with my guys on Tuesday evening. Wednesday and Thursday will be very light days but I’ll eat and hydrate like nobody’s business.

Would you like to tag along with me across South Carolina? Then just make a donation to my efforts by clicking here.

July 5, 2016
by ChefJohn
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See Food

The old joke of a cyclist during racing season was the “I’m on that See Food diet. When I see food, I eat it.”

And that’s how I feel right now. Last week I put in almost 250 miles and this week I hope to match that. And of course my metabolism is through the roof.  I’m always hungry and it seems like I’m always eating. My car is full of crumbs, the sink is full of dirty  dishes and my cycling jerseys are full of wrappers.

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A cyclist’s snack.

That’s the thing about cycling. It’s a compelling combination of mechanical and aerobic energy. Unlike running, or crossfit, or kayaking, or surfing, or stick and ball sports, cycling has a mechanical component. So the cyclist must produce enough energy to propel his machine forward and in turn, the machine carries the rider. Consequently, the aerobic component can be significant. On last year’s #SCRTR, I estimated almost a 20,000 calorie burn.  So not only were my legs constantly spinning, my jaw was constantly moving, too. It has to be done, though. On a multi-day event such as the #SCRTR, you have to eat today before to provide the fuel for tomorrow. And if you don’t keep up with your calorie intake, you probably won’t recover in time for the next day’s ride. So that means leading up to the ride, you have to get your body to the place that it can hold that much energy; diet, water intake, and aerobic activity leading up to day one is critical.

Your muscles burn glycogen, not ice cream. That’s the fuel that your body makes out of food. Like a car at a gas station, the digestive machine of your body loads up your muscles with glycogen and the heavier you’re exercising, the more efficient your body is at converting and storing glycogen. If your body doesn’t need the glycogen, the extra calories become fat. Right now, I’m converting a lot of chicken, potatoes, broccoli, Chick Fil A, oats, and pizza into glycogen.  And at the start of the #SCRTR, I want my gas tank crammed with as much fuel (glycogen) as possible.  And when I’m loaded up with glycogen, I can sense it. Like a properly tuned car waiting for a light to turn green, my body positively buzzes with anticipation. And having the proper amount of fuel will keep me going, prevent cramping, keep me motivated, etc…

As of today I’m off alcohol, down to one cup of coffee a day (alcohol and caffeine are diuretics) and drinking a lot of water. I’ll have a few craft beers once we arrive in Charleston.

Busters 6

“Road Work”

Would you like to join me on my journey across South Carolina on the Ride to Remember? Then please click here and make a donation and your money will motivate me to ride all the way to Charleston.

 

July 4, 2016
by ChefJohn
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Ain’t That Tough Enough?

The best way to approach a long distance event such as the #SCRTR is through a six month, properly planned, concerted effort.  Well if you’ve been following along, you know that I don’t have that luxury. Most of the riders would likely start their training efforts in January or February and gradually up their mileage until a week to ten days before the big event, then taper down. You don’t want to do a big effort a few days before a huge effort. Trust me.

Since I’m short of time, I’m concentrating on saddle time and sheer grunt. Saddle time because I need to toughen up all those body parts that will take a beating over three days, and grunt to get me mentally prepared. I know cyclists that spend a lot of time in spin classes or on the Swamp Rabbit Trail in the belief that this is enough training to get them through the #SCRTR. Maybe so, but that’s not going to work for me. So this morning I did a double of Paris Mountain. And good gosh almighty was it hot and muggy.

Why a double? Once you’ve climbed over a mountain, any mountain, it feels great to get to the bottom. And it’s tough to convince yourself to turn around and climb the damn thing again. It’s quite the mental challenge and the first couple hundred feet really hurt. It’d be much easier to roll into the 7-11 and grab a Gatorade. So that’s why I do it.

Strava

Because no spin class, no trainer time, no cross-fit session, and no treadmill can instill the desire to force yourself back up a mountain you’ve just climbed. Especially when it’s 91 degrees and 80% humidity and all you want is a Gatorade and an ice cold swimming pool. There’s just no substitute for the road.

So I turned around at the bottom of Altamont and pushed myself back over that damn mountain. Was it hard? Yes it was. But imagine the amount of suffering and trauma a family goes through when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. So I turned around and climbed that damn mountain. Again.

The Ride to Remember (#SCRTR) is a 250+ mile bike ride across South Carolina and it’s the largest fundraiser for the SC Alzheimer’s Association. Would you like to join me on my mission to be a cog in the wheel of the mechanism that finds a cure for #ALZ?  You don’t have to climb Paris Mountain with me, you can make a donation, any amount will do, and it’ll go to the Alzheimer’s Association. And your donation will be the fuel I need to get me across South Carolina.

11 Days before we ride and I’m feeling more confident.

And if you need a reminder of why I’m doing this, your answer is right here.

 

July 3, 2016
by ChefJohn
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The Recovery Ride

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When one is seriously training, you cannot afford to take a day off. Even though I had a long ride yesterday, this morning I got out and put in 20 miles. I didn’t push myself but rather concentrated on keeping my legs turning at a steady pace. I need to keep my legs loose and if I were to take a day off, it might feel good not to train but I’d probably set myself back. Keeping the legs turning helps prevent cramping and it keeps the tendons and muscles loose. 12 days until the #SCRTR. 

July 2, 2016
by ChefJohn
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The 20 mph Vista

It’s the vista. When one climbs onto a road bike and heads out for a ride, the beauty of God’s creation is at your beck and call. Whether you ride at a 15 mph average or 20 mph average, the opportunity to get out and experience the glory of this earth is well within your capability. On today’s ride we traveled through Greenville, Laurens, and Spartanburg counties.

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Today was a long day, 58 miles with some folks from Team Vive and my teammate, Julian Loue. Also on today’s ride was Craig Rogers, owner of Border Springs Lamb. Craig is a rock star in the world of food and he’s one of the best known producers of lamb in the US. We’ve chatted via social media but never met face to face. Craig is also a damn cycling machine and he knows how to put down the power. Craig is also new to cycling and in a year he’s lost 80 pounds. I said 80 pounds. So not only is cycling able to transport you through beautiful countryside, it can also have amazing health benefits.

We got a late start this morning and the heat really got to some of us. We made several stops for water and with the early afternoon temps approaching 93, we really needed it.

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Today’s course courtesy Strava.

 

Even though it was hot, we had gorgeous views and blue skies. Today was all abut time in the saddle. When you prepare for a long distance ride, it’s not just your legs that have to get into shape. Shoulders, butts, hands and neck can all take a beating so you’ve got to toughen up all those areas. Stretching, weights, and yoga can all help. But nothing takes the place of riding.

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This is about the 40 mile mark. As you can see, I’m pretty comfortable on a bike and riding hands-free isn’t a big deal.

So for the week that just ended, I’ve put in 213 miles. If I can have another week like this, then I should be ready to roll come July 15th.

The #SCRTR is 13 days away.

Would you like to come along with me? Then make a donation to the SC Alzheimer’s Association and I’ll write the name of a loved one (that’s passed away or is challenged by #ALZ) on my jersey number.

 

July 1, 2016
by ChefJohn
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The Cheers of Buntings

During the summer time, the Upstate is visited by thousands of Indigo Buntings. These gorgeous little birds are commuters. They come here during the spring and summer to enjoy the scenery, the great food, the beautiful countryside, and to raise their families in peace. In the fall they’ll head home. To South America.

Indigo Bunting

Buntings have a beautiful call and I find that there’s a slight variance in the call. These guys prefer to hang out on the edge of a tree line and sing. So if you’re a runner, walker or cyclist, you’re liable to hear them.

Today I rode with my buddy Julian Loue. We’re both behind in our training and on a long climb that hurt way more than normal, I pointed the bunting’s call out to Julian.

“So if you’re feeling sorry for yourself on this climb, just listen to the call of this 4 inch tall bird. He’s probably saying, “Hey asshole, I flew here from freakin’ South America. So get your ass up that hill you puny human.”

Of course I could be wrong.

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Yours truly with my fellow Coast Buster, Julian Loue

If you’d like to fuss at me while I’m climbing up a hill, feel free. Just make a donation first to the SC Alzheimer’s Association. And thank you.

As of today I’ve got 14 days before the #SCRTR. Today I rode 31 miles and that included almost 1500 feet of climbing. This week I’ve put in 155 miles and set a P/R up Paris Mountain.

And if you’d like to hear the call of the Indigo Bunting, just click here.