Chef John Malik

a writer trapped in a cook's body

F 86

May 27, 2016
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Good Humor is the Clear Blue Sky of the Soul

Not that long ago, just off the coast of south Florida, our country stood at the brink of an all out nuclear exchange.  Russian and American submarines, surface ships, aircraft carriers, fighters, soldiers, and strategic bombers gathered in and around the island of Cuba and stared each other down. The US Army had almost a half million troops in south Florida and the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command shuttled bombers to bases across the Gulf states.

McDill Tampa

McDill Air Force Base, Tampa, FL, late October of 1962. The flight line is choked with B47s, F101s, and F100s.

Why?

The causes that led up to this event are multi-layered and rife with political blunders by both sides, and the outcome was a brush with a global catastrophe the likes of which our planet probably wouldn’t have survived. Yet the only combat casualty was a native son, a humble man that loved Greenville and laid down his life in the quest for peace.

It’s tough to imagine such a scenario where two superpowers would rush into such a saloon fight with nuclear weapons, but that they did. At the time, both nations routinely threatened each other with mass destruction and this was less than 20 years after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, so the destructive capability of these weapons was no secret. So when Russia began deploying nuclear tipped missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles south of Miami, President Kennedy would have nothing of it and he ordered a blockade of Cuba. And of course, that sent off a global pissing contest between himself and Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev. For 13 days in October of 1962, all that stood between us and a nuclear exchange with Russia was the discipline of a handful of our leaders.

US NAvy

Russian submarine shadowed by a US Navy Sea King helicopter off the coast of Florida.

 

Takes spray over the bow while steaming in heavy seas, 12 January 1960. Note S2F type airplane at the rear of the flight deck, with its engines turning. Other planes visible, amidships, include AD and F4D types. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

The USS Essex played a critical role in the Navy’s blockade of Cuba.

In the days before Google Maps, there were photographs, taken on film that had to be carefully processed. And that’s where Rudolf Anderson shows up.

Rudolf Anderson is Greenville’s most famous veteran and the pilot of this iconic aircraft that takes center stage in Greenville’s Cleveland Park.  Major Anderson was an Eagle Scout, a Greenville High and Clemson University graduate who joined the Air Force in 1948. He was also the sole combat casualty of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

F 86

“Good Humor is the Clear Blue Sky of the Soul” ~ Rudy Anderson’s quote in his Greenville High senior yearbook.

During the height of the crisis, President Kennedy and his advisors needed daily intelligence on what was happening in Cuba. Kennedy was receiving mixed signals from the Russians and the only way to verify was through photographs. And Rudy Anderson was one of the Air Force’s best photographers. He was a U2 pilot that gained his reputation during the Korean War flying a camera-armed RF-86, similar to the one in Cleveland Park.

Knowing that Cuba was heavily armed with surface to air missiles that could be used against him, he suited up and flew his mission. After Major Anderson’s aircraft had spent an hour taking pictures, the Russian commander of a missile battery grew irritated and gave the order to shoot him down.

Several American commanders assumed we would immediately retaliate so bombers were loaded up, soldiers geared up, and carriers turned into the wind to launch strike aircraft. Yet Kennedy didn’t believe Khrushchev was the one that gave the order to shoot down the U2 and he bravely continued on a diplomatic path. General Curtis LeMay, head of the Air Force, would later refer to this as “the greatest defeat in our history.” Sorry General but a nuclear war would’ve been our greatest defeat.

When the original monument was being planned, many in Greenville wanted a U2 to serve as Major Anderson’s memorial but its wingspan is an astounding 103 feet and it just wouldn’t fit in that space and there weren’t a lot of U2s for sale, either.

U2

The U2 reconnaissance aircraft similar to the one Major Anderson flew in October of 1962.

So on this Memorial Day weekend, please take a moment to pause and reflect on those fighting men and women that gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country, and why we celebrate this day. And be especially grateful for the gift of a humble kid from Greenville who dangled his toes in the Reedy River, rode his bike across Augusta, and perhaps dreamed of becoming a pilot as he ran to class through the hallways of Greenville High.

Maj Anderson

Major Rudolf Anderson, USAF

Have a blessed and safe Memorial Day weekend.

And if you enjoy my writing, perhaps you would enjoy my novel, Doughnuts for Amy, published this year by Winter Goose and set in Greenville.

May 8, 2016
by ChefJohn
1 Comment

I’m Not Ready

“You’ve got a perfectly good room upstairs so why the hell are you looking for an apartment?”
Dad’s words thundered through our small kitchen and Mom was visibly embarrassed. I didn’t know how to respond. I was 21, a college graduate, and at the end of the summer I would embark on three years of culinary school in New Orleans. I only had to find a summer job in the right restaurant that would hopefully turn into something full time. Then an apartment and roommate would follow. So why on earth would I want to move back home?

Dad was flummoxed by my silence and he stormed off. And within a week I had found a job in a fine restaurant and moved to New Orleans.

On this Mother’s Day of 2016, our church honored our high school seniors. They sat up front, they made up the bulk of the altar participants and one even gave the sermon. My own son wore my cassock and wooden cross as he performed his chalice bearer duties, sharing bread and wine with our parishoners. As the service ended and the priest and acolytes processed out of the church, I couldn’t help but stare at the empty altar.

Cross

At that moment, I should’ve felt a Father’s pride and a sense of honor yet I felt as empty as that altar. And I saw my own Dad walking up the stairs of our small south Louisiana house and hesitating at my empty bedroom. How many times did he stop and gently push that door open and see me, all of three or four years old, running into his arms and excitedly screaming “Daddy”?  How many tears did he wipe away after I left? Dad was a man of the law and he rarely dealt with me in areas of gray, it was usually black and white, right and wrong. And for whatever reason, as I was growing up, we didn’t have enough of those Father and Son talks. That summer, instead of gently telling me this would be our last chance to spend a lot of time together and perhaps make up for those missed opportunities, he issued a guilty sentence and stormed off the bench.

In our church, on Mother’s Day, with everything I hold dear within an arm’s reach of me, I had a terrible sense of misfortune. My son is a good kid with a strong sense of right and wrong and a desire to help others yet at that moment I felt nothing but regret and loneliness. My heart felt as empty as our altar. I should’ve felt pride and a strong sense of accomplishment and instead all my sins felt as fresh and raw as a hornet’s sting on a pretty summer day. Had I properly cherished each day? Had I taken every opportunity to show him the ways of the world and the movement of this earth? All those moments came rushing back at me and I saw my own four year-old son waving goodbye as I went to work.

You’re not ready. It’s too soon. We haven’t had enough time together. You don’t understand the complexities of life as I do.

The judge

Please don’t leave me son because I’m not ready to face the world without you in the house.

And in that moment I understood my Dad and his inability to counsel me. It all made sense. In his time, Dad parted ways with his family and went off on a grand adventure, then school, then law school. And his own family, first generation immigrants, were very proud of him.

When it was my time to leave the house, I couldn’t sense my Dad’s heartache through his boisterous pleading and it all felt so confusing and nonsensical. He didn’t know how to say “You’re not ready and you still have a lot to learn.”

He was right. I know that now.

I forgive you, Dad, and I miss you terribly. And you’d be very proud of your grandson.

 

granpa tom with tudor and holly jan 07

And if you enjoy my writing, perhaps you would enjoy my novel, Doughnuts for Amy, published this year by Winter Goose and set in Greenville.

Numbers

April 29, 2016
by ChefJohn
2 Comments

Five for Ten

There goes the neighborhood.

As the accolades pour in for my beloved hometown of Greenville, it all comes with a Yogi Berra sort of price tag. No one goes there anymore because it’s too crowded. Seriously, if you live anywhere but Main Street, visiting Main Street now feels like going to a new town.  As commercial builders rush to capitalize on our publicity it’s getting harder for us locals to enjoy the show. And now we (some of us) have a new reason to cringe, Chef Sean Brock just announced a third location of his stunningly delicious Husk Restaurant, you guessed it, on our Main Street.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love everything about Husk. Especially the part about it being in Charleston. Chef Brock’s pimento cheese, pork rinds, crispy pig ears, cornbread, pork belly, and fried chicken were perhaps the finest examples of these Southern staples I’ve ever had. And the cocktails from Husk’s bar and the professionalism of the service are both world class. However, unless you live in New Orleans or New York City, one should be expected to travel outside of their own city to have the most memorable meal of their life.  The fact that Husk is in the glorious, magical, far away town of Charleston makes a visit so much more special. When I visit Charleston, I don’t mind dodging horse-drawn carriages, bumping over the occasional road that belongs in Game of Thrones, and the inevitable seersucker spill in the harbor because I know that a life-changing meal awaits. And when I do travel that far east, I’m wearing my best linens and one of my wife’s handmade ties.

When I have lunch in my town of Greenville, I might be wearing matching socks.

So my fellow Greenvillians and soon to be visitors, if you want a memorable, handmade lunch and you’re not wearing your finest seersucker or don’t feel like fighting off a TV crew from the Travel Channel for a parking spot then read on.  Here’s five recommendations for a great lunch, far from downtown, where you’ll spend less than ten bucks.

Susie & Ed’s Italian Kitchen

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“This is my good side.” Susie & Ed’s Italian Kitchen

I love this quirky place. First of all, it’s in the tiny burb of Conestee, the building has a face only a brick salesman could love and they’re third generation restaurateurs. Their mainstay is their delivery business, and on Thursday and Friday, they also serve lunch. That’s right, they serve lunch two days a week. And the food is a carbohydrate lover’s dream. Pasta, eggplant, lasagna, and sandwiches, subdued with hearty meatballs or pan-fried chicken breasts, drenched with handmade tomato sauce then covered with mozzarella. If it’s winter time or I’ve got a 60-mile bike ride in my immediate future, I have no problem downing an entire chicken parmesan sandwich, which probably packs enough calories to feed a family of four. Susie & Ed’s delivers family size portions of their seriously delicious Italian staples Monday through Saturday and usually has something available in their to-go section.

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Chicken Parmesan Sandwich from Susie & Ed’s

 

Mekong

MeKong

Mekong is a great example of what a hard-working family can do with an abandoned Arby’s and a few empty pickle buckets. Drive behind this place and you’ll see what I mean. Using captured rain water, bus tubs, and five-gallon buckets, the Tran family has created a mini farm where they grow their own peppers, herbs, greens, sprouts, etc. At Mekong they serve a wonderful array of Pho, noodle, and rice dishes punctuated with lemongrass, curry, chili, and basil. Their Kim Chee is spicy and effervescent enough to satisfy devotees and their steamed duck bun is a favorite treat amongst Greenville’s culinarians. Their Pho, redolent with handmade broth, sliced jalapenos, and their own fresh herbs, is stunning delicious and will set you back a whopping seven dollars. Mekong is on Wade Hampton, just north of Pleasantburg Highway and they serve lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Mekong garden 2

Mekong’s garden. Doesn’t get more local than this.

 

The Hungry Drover

John Wilson

Hungry Drover’s John Wilson

John Wilson smiles readily, waves heartily, welcomes you boisterously, and cooks passionately. He’s got an infectious personality that makes a trip to the Drover a worthwhile experience and he serves up plates of biscuits and grits that are worthy of a bucket list. The wait staff is quick with the coffee pot and quicker with a compliment. The menu is chock full of Southern goodness that will impress even the cousins from Atlanta. Handmade sourdough breads, locally produced sausage, handmade pimento cheese, stacks of smoky bacon, homemade pies, and bowls of butter-infused stone ground grits await you in the suburbs of Tigerville. Expect to pay about six to eight dollars for one of their signature plates or sandwiches.  And if you’re a fan of pie, share a slice of their toasted coconut cream pie.

drover counter 2

Hungry Drover sells bread, sweet rolls, and some locally handcrafted jewelry and art.

Mike & Jeff’s BBQ

Mike & Jeff

If one of the various BBQ associations ever decides to give architectural awards for the most unassuming smoke shack, then Mike & Jeff’s could be a front-runner. This place is as “joint” as they come yet the food and service are all first class. They’re on Old Buncombe Road in an industrial, blue collar side of town yet they attract a wide range of clients. From attorneys to brick masons, everyone is made at home. For less than eight dollars, Mike & Jeff’s serves a pulled pork sandwich with a couple of sides. Add a glass of sweet tea and a tip for your smiling server and you’ll leave a ten-dollar bill on the table.

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Greenville Memorial Hospital

That’s right, I said hospital. Although they would prefer you call it a health system, it’s still a big building where doctors operate on people and care for the sick.  The lobby of our largest hospital sports a food court that can handle hundreds of customers at a time, and still provide reasonably delicious food. Underneath their 1980’s cut glass roof, the atrium lobby houses several fast-food standbys and it’s their cafeteria that I’ll recommend. And before you turn your nose up, think about this. Under that bustling roof you can enjoy baked or grilled fresh fish, real fried chicken, pot roast, a variety of fresh vegetables, a salad bar, a sandwich bar, a great selection of beverages, and excellent service all for less than ten bucks. We are talking about a hospital so the food won’t challenge your palate yet it’s properly prepared, served hot, and the staff knows the value of a smile. Seriously, if you’re on the south side of town with a limited amount of time for lunch, it’s hard to beat this place. And you might just sit next to a dermatologist that doesn’t mind looking at your rash.

GHS Hot Bar

Service with a Smile at the GHS Cafeteria

 

So there you have it. If you’re looking for an interesting or fun lunch away from the crowd of Main Street then consider one of these favorites. And let me know what you think.

February 28, 2016
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Greenville Small Plate Crawl

Three years ago, my friend Nicole Livengood cooked up a food-centered event for Greenville. It’s the Small Plate Crawl and it gives diners the ability to sample tastings from numerous restaurants in just a couple of days. I hope you’ll participate because it’s quite clever and fun. It’s easy to play along and only requires a few clicks of your mouse and you’re off and running. Please understand that you’ll be served tastings that will hopefully entice you into returning to your favorite restaurant and spending real money. The restaurant business is very unforgiving and unless you’re Chick Fil A, profit margins are usually in the single digits. So get out there and enjoy the crawl then make your plans to return and enjoy a full meal.

Passerelle John Malik

Passerelle Bistro

Here’s her official press release:

During this delicious three day event, crawlers travel from restaurant to restaurant sampling the best of Greenville’s and Travelers Rest’s culinary scene. Many of Greenville County’s best restaurants are offering special Small Plate menus, priced $4 to $10, showing off their Chef’s talent and restaurant cuisine.

No ticket is needed. Just print a Passport at GreenvilleSmallPlateCrawl.com/Passport and plan your path using the interactive map via the website. A Passport isn’t required, but is a reference for participating restaurants and times. Crawlers scan QR Codes with their smartphone at each stop for automatic entry into prize drawings based on the number of restaurants visited during the three day event.  Prizes include restaurant gift certificates from all Crawl restaurants, gift certificates to local shops, and a Grand Prize of an overnight stay at Hyatt Regency Greenville with $100 towards dinner at Roost. Winners will be contacted by email. Crawlers may also take selfies with their Passports tagging #greenvillecrawl for a chance to earn prizes.

Restaurants participate during lunch, dinner, or both, as indicated on the Passport (http://greenvillesmallplatecrawl.com/passport/) and the Restaurants page on GreenvilleSmallPlateCrawl.com (http://greenvillesmallplatecrawl.com/restaurants/ ).

Groups and sharing are encouraged during the crawl.  This is a rain-or-shine event. Small plates taste great no matter what the weather!

 

Greenville Crawl Logo w Date2016

RTR jersey

January 27, 2016
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Honor Thy Mother

When I was 13, I participated in a cycling fundraiser for my Boy Scout troop. I had to ask people to pledge a certain amount per mile I would ride. Most of the folks I went to agreed to donate .25 cents per mile. They were shocked when I rode 40 miles.  My mom wasn’t surprised when I started racing bikes in college

My Mom loved cheering us on.  She didn’t really understand sports, whether it was my brother’s football or rugby games or my cycling, yet she knew we were out there giving it our best shot.  The first time she saw me race was in Lafayette, LA on a tight, winding two-mile course that was part of the Acadiana Festival.  It was typical south Louisiana hot and muggy afternoon.  I baked, withered, then fell away from the lead group and managed to finish in 9th place.   I kept thinking I had the wrong gear set, hadn’t trained properly or didn’t have enough water the day before.  It didn’t matter.  Dejectedly, I pedaled over to her.  She immediately hugged me and told me how much she enjoyed herself.

“It was like watching a ballet on wheels.  The way everyone bent into the corner in unison then twisted upright.  The movement, the sound, the colors.  You were so elegant and the sound the bikes made as you all whizzed by.  It was all so…wonderful.”

I was drenched in sweat and disappointed in my performance yet I couldn’t help but smile.  Mom found the beauty in the sport.  She didn’t understand the tactics or technique but she certainly knew how to make me smile.

Many years later, after Dad passed away, she started forgetting things. Small things at first, then larger things, such as the names of her grandchildren, where I lived, and what I did.

Once we spent an entire week with her. We stayed with her, cooked and cleaned for her, drove her around town and took her to visit her friends. After we left and arrived back home in South Carolina, I called her to tell her that we were safely home.

She replied that she would hurry and open her front door.

“South Carolina mom.  We just got home in South Carolina.”

“Oh.”

Alzheimer’s stinks. A diagnosis is a death sentence.  It doesn’t matter how old or young or healthy you are. It’s going to kill you, maybe slowly, maybe quickly. On the way to your death, you’ll forget everything that makes you special and unique. And you’ll slowly break the hearts of your loved ones.

This July I’ll make my third bicycle trip across South Carolina in the Ride to Remember. Although me and my teammates will have a great time and see parts of our state you’d never see from the interstate, it’s still a fundraiser and I need to do my part and raise money.

My goal is five thousand dollars.

Let me remind you. Alzheimer’s has a 100% fatality rate. There are no survivors. And chances are that you’ve got someone near and dear to you that has or will have Alzheimer’s. If Alzheimer’s is going to be beaten, it’s going to take money. Your money.

Won’t you please help me with a donation?

December 19, 2015
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Merry Christmas Brother Malik

I routinely attend church. And it’s a very nice church. Our house of worship is about 190 years old with soaring ceilings, gorgeous stained glass, hand-finished wooden pews, an enormous organ, brass fixtures, and a marble topped altar. Our worship services can be incredibly inspirational and our rector is a gifted speaker, able to deliver a stirring message of redemption and resurrection in twelve minutes flat. My church has completed a host of humanitarian projects in this town, this state, and in Haiti. These projects are significant in size and scope.  My church does. We don’t talk about the plight of the less fortunate, we get out there and do something about it. We study the bible, participate in outreach, and we make it our mission to create positive change in our community.

Yet for all the time I’ve spent in that breathtakingly beautiful building, the most “church” I’ve ever experienced has been in the gymnasium of a 40 year-old prison in the southern part of our county.

“Brother Malik, I’ll pray that you and your family accept the grace of God into your heart and have a Merry Christmas.”

I belong to a group of men that routinely visit a prison run by the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Recently I made my seventh foray into this particular prison. It’s brightly lit at all hours and it’s ringed by layers of fifteen foot high fences and concertina wire. When we visit, it takes about forty five minutes for our group to get through the layers of security before we can make our way to a rough-hewn, barely heated gymnasium. And it’s in this gym, amongst repentant murderers, bank robbers, and drug dealers, that I’ve come closest to God.

“It’s through the Grace of Jesus Christ that I am free, truly free.”

These men have shown me the meaning of Christianity, the true meaning of forgiveness. One gentleman serving a life sentence told me that it is only through the gift of God’s grace that he knows true freedom.  He lifted his eyes and took in his surroundings and said that there is no limit to God’s grace. “These walls, all this wire, these guards, this lousy food, none of this is strong enough to keep out God. It’s here waiting on us and all we have to do is open our hearts and accept it.”

The men I’ve met in prison don’t spend their time complaining about their lot in life, cellphone coverage, the car that’s seven years old or the grass that needs to be cut. They’re quick to smile, to shake hands, to hug, and to praise God. They long to hold their loved ones, to watch the sun set, to sleep in their own beds, and to spread butter and jam on a homemade biscuit.  They desire nothing more than to visit a neighbor, to cut their own grass, enjoy a hot shower or a home cooked meal. And they’re incredibly grateful for a visit from a friend, or a stranger.

“There is no limit to what God can do and I’m living proof.”

Perry

What does Christmas mean to you? At its most basic, what does it really mean? We can give presents to each other, to people that we love at any time. There’s nothing stopping us from mailing cards, sharing cookies, having the family over for dinner or wishing the happiest of wishes on our friends and family. We needn’t wait until the 25th of December for this. On the 25th of December, Christianity remembers and celebrates the birth of Christ. The Son of God. He came to this earth to live and die as a man, to live a Godly life, to offer us forgiveness and Grace only to die as a prisoner. He was condemned to die by a military ruler, nailed to a cross and in his final hours, he pardoned another prisoner that was also sentenced to death.  At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of this man.

Just because I visit a prison or go to church, I am not a better person than you. I am not holier, I am not more worthy, and I will not have an easier time of getting into Heaven. But for a few hours on a Saturday morning in December, I was shown the true meaning of Christmas.

December 10, 2015
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Garlic & Gauloises

Now that I’ve been picked up by a real publisher, I’ve found that I have a new family. I’m now a part of the Winter Goose Publishing family and all of us lean on and support one another. We disagree, we laugh, cheer and occasionally poke good natured fun at one another. I haven’t quite figured out where I fit in; at times I feel like a big brother and at other times the red-headed step child. I’m trying to read all the books written by my new family but as you can imagine, that’s quite challenging and I’ve got plenty of excuses.

Kathryn

Kathryn Mattingly, my fellow Winter Goose author

I am a big fan of Kathryn Mattingly and she’s sold me on the crime novels of Hemmie Martin. Hemmie is English in the literal sense and my friend Kathryn recently profiled her, on her own web site.

“Hemmie spent six years living in the south of France, and currently lives in Essex, England, where being a novel writing specialty nurse apparently wasn’t enough, since she and her husband also board guide dogs in training.”

That sounds so perfectly English, doesn’t it?  Hemmie Martin’s latest novel is the intriguingly named Garlic & Gauloises and I’m happy to share the cover.  To read more of Kathryn’s interview with Hemmie Martin, please click here.

Garlic &

December 5, 2015
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Defeat, and Victory

The look in my son’s eyes was something I hadn’t seen in him before. He clutched me, hugged me as only one that benches 225 can, and bawled loudly. In 18 years, he’s never cried like this.  I offered the only words that seemed to make sense. “You did your best.”

He’s a football player. A right guard, on the offensive line, a senior for a high school football team that’s won four consecutive state championships. He’s also the smallest lineman on the team. Throughout his three years of varsity football, he never faced off against a smaller opponent. Likewise his team often faced bigger, faster, stronger opponents. But more times than not, my son and his team prevailed. Why? They never gave up, they had excellent coaching, they practiced often, they watched film, they did all the little things that most other football teams do, they just did all those little things better than their opponents. So much so that they earned four consecutive state championships and are title holders of the longest (high school football) winning streak in South Carolina at 55 games.  The Christ Church Cavaliers were expected to win.

TD

That’s my son in black.

My son has two enormous state championship rings that he cherishes deeply. Rings that were earned with blood, bruises, sweat, and teamwork. And he desperately wanted that third ring to cap off his senior year.  After all, for a high school football player, what could be better than finishing his senior year with a state championship ring?

It feels great to come in first. Heck it feels great to come in second or third place, for a little while. If you’re competitive then you’re going to get tired of third or second place.  It’s inevitable. And sometimes the difference between second and first place can be but a few tenths of a second. Victory can rest on the foot of a kicker, the reach of an outfielder, or a final kick to the end of the pool.  Win or lose, competing on a team teaches us invaluable lessons of sacrifice, cooperation, communication and preparation. And a team is only as strong as its weakest player so the team either plays to their individual strengths, or loses by its weakness.  So if the team is going to win, the team has to prepare and learn how to do the little things just a tiny bit better. Doesn’t matter if you’re a pro football player, a cook, a mechanic, or a customer service rep at the cable company. If your team is going to get better, you’ll have to practice and prepare and learn how to do something better than you did it yesterday. And if you bleed, so much the better. When we hurt ourselves, physically or mentally, through competition, then we’re much more likely to learn.

I still remember the first time I burned myself in a kitchen. Not only did it hurt but it also made me less effective as a teammate and I wasted time taping my thumb. With a taped up thumb on my dominant hand, I was a less effective and I forced my teammates to pick up my slack. But I learned a painfully important lesson that I’ve carried with me ever since. It’s all about the team and an effective team does the little things better than their competitors.  And now that I consult, I’m always surprised by the restaurateurs or chefs that don’t understand this. Your team must be prepared, must be coached to victory and victory doesn’t happen without intense preparation and immaculate teamwork.

My son’s football team did not win their fifth championship. They lost to a better team in the playoffs. They gave it their all, they supported each other, covered each other’s weaknesses and exploited each other’s strengths. And with about three minutes left in the game, they were down by three and driving to the goal. Unlike in years past, their opponents did not falter. The Cavaliers fought to the end but they lost. They did not get a trophy. Instead they got to cry in the arms of their mothers and fathers. They tasted defeat.

“You did your best.”

That night my son played his best game, ever, but it wasn’t enough. And as their opponents celebrated on their side of the field, I saw all the faces of victories past. How many times had the Cavaliers sent other teams away in tears? How many times had their opponents withered under their intense pressure? How many times had they been the better team?

In the week past I’ve reminded him that more than one million kids play high school football and only a tiny fraction of these kids get to play in a state championship. Eventually my son will move on to another competition and the lesson of defeat will be invaluable. Being truly defeated, especially after you and your team has given its all, is an invaluable lesson that cannot be replaced.  That night, as he cried like a baby in my arms, I realized he had become a man.

Chef John Malik property

All smiles after a hard-fought victory

Learning to accept the bitterness of defeat is crucial to truly appreciating the sweetness of victory.

 

October 22, 2015
by ChefJohn
2 Comments

The Myth of Shooting Stars

This morning I saw a shooting star in the constellation Orion.

The meteor shower Orionids passes through every year about this time and many people still refer to these meteors as Shooting Stars. But I’ve known better for a long time. These aren’t stars but rocks, most of them are small rocks about the same size as the ones found in a gravel driveway. They’re debris from a traveler that’s tumbling through space at breathtaking speeds. You see, every year a particular comet passes through the earth’s orbit. This comet is a gigantic ice-covered rock that travels a predictable path. This rocky snowball is moving fast, 17 or 18 thousand miles an hour so it’s constantly shedding bits and pieces, just like Clark Griswold’s wagon in the movie Vacation.  This comet is shedding poorly stowed luggage, cups of coffee left on the roof, toys from the kids, hubcaps.  All that junk tumbles away from the wagon and gets yanked towards the nearest gas station and in our case, that’s the earth. These little pieces of the comet are pulled towards our planet and upon entering the friction of our atmosphere, they burn up into nothing.  Oh sure, they’ll burn rather brightly, so much so that from our perspective they’ll look like shooting stars.  But that’s only from our perspective. These meteors are just rocks, about the same size as the ones in the parking lot of your football field. Of course actual stars are about the size of our sun and in some cases, many times larger.

It’s all about perspective.

Captains

Christ Church football captains, 2015. #57 is Tudor Malik

Suppose we didn’t know better?  Suppose we sat outside on a clear, moonless night and watched these little pinpoints of shimmering light we were told are stars then one of them suddenly bolted from the sky.  Who wouldn’t think that one was a shooting star?

I’ve known people that died much too early because they did something dumb, they made a reckless decision that cost them their life. Parents, friends, colleagues at the time referred to them as shooting stars. But what they were really saying was that they were pieces of poorly secured luggage, cast off of a fast-moving, careening world that they were not prepared for and they burned up in the process.

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With Marine Corps Major Michael Middleton, Aircraft Commander of Marine One

I’ve also known people that did something brilliant many years ago and they’re still known for that one thing they did. Perhaps they scored an important touchdown or made a video that went viral, yet went on to make a mess of their lives.

As you gradually make your way to the front door of your own life, please do not look for a singular shot at fame, brilliance, or history. And remember that small, seemingly innocuous decisions can sometimes have dire consequences. One’s goal should not be to become a shooting star.

Instead, consider the sun. It’s often taken for granted. It warms the earth, provides sustenance and life, and more often than not, we enjoy its company, especially when we’ve had a long rainy spell.  I like that reference much better than the shooting star.  I have some friends that are like the sun and they make everyone around them happy.  They listen carefully, they treat others like they’re special, they’re always glad to see their friends, they help strangers in need without expectation of payment. Just like planets orbiting the sun, these people attract other good people.

I know you spend a lot of time thinking about how you will fit into the world.  So here’s your lesson for today and for the rest of your life.

Live for others, practice gratitude, say your prayers, help a stranger off the ground when they’ve stumbled and never take delight in another’s misfortune.  And if you beat someone in competition, beat them fair and square, then help them get up. And the next time you see that person, do not remind them of the time you beat them. Do not measure success by your bank account but rather by those you help when they’re down and out. Be the sun that shines and warms everything around you. Be the friend that others want to have. Be the man that other men will want to emulate. Be the son I’m proud of.

I love you.

chef john malik

Flying to NYC, he was four at the time

October 10, 2015
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Merci Beaucoup, Chef

“One day, you’re going to be a great attorney.”

“Yeah, uh, thanks, Dad.”

How could I tell my attorney father that a morbidly obese cook from Opelousas, Louisiana, a man that favored sweet potatoes and pork belly over Filet Mignon, had already set me on my career path to become a professional chef, and not an attorney?

Paul Prudhomme is the reason I became a chef.

I grew up in a large family in south Louisiana. My mom loved to cook. She grew up on a ranch in the middle of Mexico, where she learned to do everything by hand. As a mother to her own five children, she taught us many skills of self-sufficiency, one of which was cooking. And for whatever reason, I was the one that usually helped her in the kitchen. She taught me how to clean wild duck, pick out tomatoes, supreme an orange, and make a kick-ass beef stew with the humblest of ingredients. She was also a surgical nurse in a bustling New Orleans hospital.Chef Paul

In 1982 I was half way through my English degree and contemplating law school when Chef Paul Prudhomme became my mom’s patient. He was there recovering from surgery and through my mom, Chef Prudhomme and I had a week long conversation. Paul had recently opened his restaurant, K-Paul’s, and he was already attracting an enormous amount of attention. And he was doing so by highlighting the cuisine and staples of south Louisiana. Sweet potatoes, creole tomatoes, turtle, okra, scallions, blue crabs from Lake Ponchartrain, spicy Andouille sausage, bell peppers, head cheese, red fish, crayfish, and pork.

At the time, Paul was the unequivocal star of New Orleans and this new world of food. The best known restaurants in New Orleans were decades-old stalwarts of French~Creole cuisine; Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s, etc. Their restaurants served filet mignon topped with sauce Rochambeau, poached salmon with hollandaise, red potatoes carved into seven-sided tournee, true sole from Dover topped with crab and lemon beurre blanc, and cherries jubilee tableside.  The city’s most highly regarded hotel-based chefs were from Paris. They were the French culinary mafia and they took care of their own. These were chefs that created cityscapes out of pastillage (a paste of gelatin, water, and sugar), Easter bunnies out of blocks of ice, and flower arrangements from sugar and a blowtorch. Privately they sneered at our indigenous ingredients and their hotels spent small fortunes flying in Parisian ingredients. And in the middle of this, Paul Prudhomme burst forth.

In the early 1980s, our country was in love with bran muffins, quiche cookbooks, and wine coolers. Paul was the antithesis of all that, and what a media personality should be. He was wildly overweight, he had a thick, unrecognizable (if you weren’t from south Louisiana) accent and he was a cook.  Back then, cooks weren’t given much respect. Dining rooms, filet mignon, tuxedoed maitre’ds, and luxurious tablecloths yes, but not cooks, and especially American cooks, from the swamps of Opelousas. On the Today show he cooked a hash from sweet potatoes and did so just as one would cook a risotto. Sweet potatoes were something south Louisianans like my mom bought on the side of the Airline Highway. At the time, sweet potatoes would’ve been considered fodder for the staff meal by the city’s French chefs. And that gargantuan, bearded cook from Opelousas was cooking them on national TV. Hearsay!  “Did you see the Fat Man on TV?” That’s how Chef Paul was mentioned by the city’s French chefs.

As the de facto family cook, the kid that helped mom pick out sweet potatoes, creole tomatoes, and okra at our roadside stands, I was amazed.  I was already cooking at a burger joint in Hammond, LA and hosting pop-ups in my college dorm. If one of my friends would shoot a couple of squirrels, I was the guy that would turn them into a stew. And there was Paul Prudhomme, extolling me on through his many appearances, magazine covers, and cookbooks.

When Paul spent a few days in my mom’s care, through her we exchanged ideas on culinary school and chefs I should work for. He was the one that told me to go to culinary school in New Orleans because in a few years, the city’s chefs and cuisine would be in demand across the world. He made those of us in the kitchen proud to be cooks and he showed us a future full of opportunity.  At a time when the only food celebrities were Hollywood starlets or exercise fanatics, Paul was a guy that grew up hunting, fishing, farming, and cooking. He was the one that inspired a generation of chefs to champion their own region’s raw ingredients. Today’s farmer’s markets, foragers, regional bistros, craft brewers, and distilleries all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the “Fat Man.”

He was the champion of the Airline Highway sweet potato, the one that brought our humble south Louisiana ingredients into the forefront of the world’s food audience, and our first true American celebrity chef.

Merci beaucoup, Chef, and Godspeed.