Comfort zones & currencies.

It was early January, 2017. I was so inspired by a trip to Thailand two years prior, that I decided to expand my horizon, again. This time: Spain. It was my first trip to Europe. I had been exposed to Spanish food for some time, and now with my ever advancing curiosity of foreign lands, their history & culture, and of course food, I couldn’t wait to get there and get going.

I miss it. I miss traveling. I long for the day that this world doesn’t necessarily return to normal, but to a state where we can again live our lives,  share moments, and make memories with those in other places on this Earth. 

That said, back to the subject. Arriving in Spain wasn’t easy. Under-slept, after a quick layover in Ireland (just long enough for a Shepherd’s Pie), my enthusiasm was spent in a quick burst of adrenaline. A quick check-in to the hotel, and off for my first tapas experience. Gathering a few of the small bites Spanish cuisine is known for, it was all enough to keep me motivated. Then, reality set in. A similar vibe to when I wandered down Khaosan Road, Bangkok, Thailand, at 4am after 24 hours of travel, to be appeased with a bowl of Panang curry before surrendering to the exhaustion & near regret I had as I felt lost and out of my comfort zone, wondering, “What the hell did I get myself into?”

Luckily, I was able to remember this mindset. I was able to recall that even with doubts that I had, more or less, jumped into a completely foreign land knowing not a soul, nor a plan written in pen, that after regrouping & resting, I would again be back to a place of joy. Comforted with this experiential ideology, knowing this too would pass, I felt my feels. Soon after, my trip was back on course. What a couple weeks it was. I hadn’t traveled much growing up. A quick trip down I-5 to Disneyland with the family was our every year or two trip. No planes, no foreign languages, no solo missions. Even when I did begin traveling further, it was often with others, and within the language confines where I could always find my way. 

But solo traveling? To a place where the words are different, as is the currency? Not to mention, well, everything else? To step out of the bubble we call our everyday lives left me in a place where there really was no turning back. I was here, with a return flight not scheduled for weeks. And learning that I needed a transition period in the first day or two, to openly accept that experience is huge. But being by myself meant I had to talk to others. I had to figure out a way. Whether they spoke English, or butcher their local dialect decent enough for some direction, you just make it work. 

Increasingly, that seems to be what the day to day is becoming in this world of ours. No matter where I am, you just make it work. Ideas & preconceived notions can be great, as long as the attachment to those results aren’t greater than your understanding of plans changing, and being willing to adapt. I’ve occasionally thought that I’ve known what I wanted in life. Maybe a goal here, a daydream there. But, for the most part, the journey I’ve had has been full of surprises. Some welcomed, and at times, some not so much. Regardless, where I find myself today is in a flow of moving it along. Fulfilling my spirit in the day to day, taking my chances and listening to the things that my soul asks of me. I believe this is what makes me a creative being.

I’ve spent nearly 20 years in the kitchen. And, I’ll most likely spend many more, or not. Who knows? What I do know, is that every time I’ve based a life decision regarding my career, a project, whatever, on the financial aspect, or the idea/illusion of safety or comfort, that thing inside me becomes dull. My yearning for “it” silences, and in turn, so does my inspiration & motivation. I’m best at my job when it’s a challenge. My response to given situations that require creativity, solutions, for me to be me? That’s when I awaken. So much so, that I’ve found myself, at times, making less than I did the day before, twice as happy simply due to what’s being asked of me. Not by a boss, per se, but by the Universe. Heck, there’s even time that I spend “working” without even a dollar coming my way. Yet, I sleep just as well, if not better. What gives?

An old friend recently shared something with me that may have seemed pretty obvious, if I had been paying attention and not distracted by shiny objects. He talked about one of the most, if not the most, form of currency: time. This sent me in a spiral. Not necessarily a rabbit hole downwards, but more so in a seeking of what this acknowledgement could mean in possibly improving my experience. 

Time. This thing that often we don’t feel we have enough of, or sometimes are misled to believe we have enough to spare. Something that allows us the freedom to follow our dreams, or a dread that keeps us in a fear that we should simply keep our heads down and continue pushing forward, no matter the cost. Yet, an occasional regret having not started something earlier, or wishing there was a pause button to buy us just one more hour in a day… It all re-enforces the fact that time is something that cannot be replaced.

In knowing this, I am not oblivious to bills. The expense of living, the shiny objects, the next new toy, I’m not resistant to any of it. I still have to search for that balance that will allow me the freedom from life’s unnecessary stresses, while not paying for it with my inner happiness & joy. I get it, things have to happen in this world. Many jobs & career paths are those of necessity. Without them, stores wouldn’t be open, hospitals couldn’t tend to those in need, and who would be there to extinguish the flames if firefighters weren’t around. For these people I am grateful. But these aren’t the people I am addressing & empathizing with. I’m talking more so to those people that are almost paralyzed if they feel limitations in their ability to create. 

I’ve even wondered if my decisions & choices could be deemed “selfish”. Having opted for one road vs. another based on what would fulfill me the most. I’ve tail spun to the point where I’ve said “yes” to things when my heart meant “no”. And to that, rather than feeling selfless, I wasn’t whole, I wasn’t present. That isn’t fair to myself, nor anyone around me. If I steer away from my gut, overthink how I may be perceived, or flat out, for lack of a lighter way of saying it, gave a shit of what everyone thought? I’d be alone. Frozen outside of what calls me. I wouldn’t have a chance to give this world the only “me” that it has. If I don’t make the time to have my experiences, then in turn share those stories, embrace my perspectives, make my food, create the photographs the way that I see them, and tell my story, then who will? I have found the value in who I am, and I know what the currency of time means to me. It is not something I plan, or even attempt to stock up on in any sort of way. Although, my mindfulness around in which the way it is spent has come to the forefront.

At the end of the day, I notice a few things to remain true. If I have done the things that keep me whole, made the effort to be the best version of me I can be, not only am I fulfilled, but so are the ones closest to me. If I stop talking about the work, and do the work (even if its just a small chunk to make progress), I feel I have placed value on my time. For someone like me, which you either may be similar to, or at very least are entertained by the way someone can just keep trudging along, my interaction with this world is a constant two way street. I don’t want more from the exterior than I’m willing to give. I’ve simply come to terms that the one & only way I can make any sort of impact on this one chance I have, is to find the outlets that allow my inner self to shine the brightest way possible. The affects & results of these efforts are beyond my control. So, I’ll just focus on my work. Left foot, right foot… Oh, it all sounds so simple.

R

Think, but don’t sink: Avoiding the Sunken Cost Fallacy

I had just began culinary school. Some conversations were had prior to with family & friends, as I was seriously contemplating a career that would more or less eliminate any personal life. Weekends & holidays would probably be shot, and I’d be a passing ship in the night to anyone who didn’t live a work life like mine. I had held a few jobs in my experience, but none that went along the lines of a career. This wasn’t just a potential job scenario, this was a direction.

I recall speaking to one of my chefs. He shared with me a few stories from over his 15 year career, and all I could hear was “15 years doing anything, consistently?”

Hey, I was in my early twenties. What did I know about anything long term? Looking back, I remember my father returning home from work one night, blinging a new gold watch he had received from the bank in which he was employed. 30 years of commitment, and he was rewarded handsomely. All I could think was “A gold watch? For free?”

Not considering he had returned to the same office, day after day for a number of decades, spending his only life in the same surrounding, doing what some people considered the norm for a good amount of time. With this perspective, a gold watch doesn’t have the same “bling” it did when I was a kid. But that was life, working to live, and pretty much living to work. The hamster wheel, the longevity, the Mondays. In comparison, 15 years for the chef I spoke of earlier wasn’t as long of a streak, but it was impactful enough to be remembered all these years later. Especially, since I’m closing in on 20 years as a trained chef, myself.

And what a journey it’s been. All of the years of trying to know more than I did, the lessons, the things that went wrong, and the miracles that went right. The memories of the growth I hadn’t realized was taking place until I was mature enough to look back and see the progress. The dedication I’ve given, the constant learning, whether through experience, research, or simply looking to be inspired. Every waking moment had something to do with bettering myself as a chef, even if it was deciding where to travel, and what I could learn about their history & cuisine. Of course, yes, I also lived. Scuba diving, hiking, turning up the music and driving with no destination… But, more so, every meal I ate, every time I cooked in a foreign land, and every step I wandered in markets or cities elsewhere, was perceived in my mind as a way to become a more versatile & knowledgeable chef. Although, if you were to ask me, sometimes I focus more on what I don’t know. Hey, I’s a work in progress.

In a previous writing, there was a reference to looking for inspiration to the point of procrastination. And, although I am guilty of not always choosing the most productive path if I was to compare, this journey has given me what I need to be where I sit today.

So, where is that? I mean, where am I? Well, literally, I’m in front of my iMac. We’re shut down. The world around me has altered the belief I had that the food biz was bulletproof. I mean, people will always have to eat, right? Well, I guess when a majority of what you do is based on a social aspect; music tours, large events, yachts on charter, etc., nothing is indestructible to a pandemic.

Although, even before the shutdown, I had been curious of a few things. I enjoyed writing, although sitting still was never my thing, and well, I still haven’t learned to walk and type. My iPhone’s camera was pretty cool, and I found myself in awesome places, so some great shots were created. Knowing there was more to capture, I picked up a camera and began to learn what the hell an aperture was, and why light matters in composing a shot. But, I’m not a writer. I’m not a photographer. I’m a chef, right? 20 years isn’t 30, so I better just stick to what I know, it’s my career. 

So, wait. Where does this theory come from? Why should I only stick to that aspect of my life? Growing up in a time where the people close to me were identified by their careers, and having a driven force in myself to want to be the best, I’ve been consumed. I know this. When it comes to spending any additional time away from bettering that aspect fo my life, I begin to wonder if I’m wasting my time. If I should fight any desire to do anything else, and just buckle down, ignoring a parallel passion or curiosity. Staying true to the inspiration vs. procrastination theory, I don’t feel my energy is being wasted. So what gives?

My time.

Well, hello new fear! Seems that when I exit that comfort zone, yet again, even with knowing what growth can take place outside of said bubble, it’s never easy. I mean, if I move on to something else, or simply add to my resume of life, any moment spent away from food must translate into my time to this point was a waste, right? (Disclaimer: I know the level of crazy this sounds from an outsider perspective.) At what cost could even considering a different direction take?

I’ve fallen for many things in my life that later proved to not be as it seemed. By definition, a fallacy is a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound argument. When I was introduced to the theory of the Sunken Cost Fallacy, I was a bit relieved. Turns out, there is actually an observation that already exists over some thought processes I was experiencing first hand.

The concept of this mistaken belief, is that sometimes we opt to not move to a different trajectory, follow a new vision, based on the time we have already invested on our current course. Whether it be a job that no longer serves you, a relationship beyond joy for either taking part, or anything where the choice to continue is based solely upon the notion that to alter or end it, would create a perspective of previous time wasted, is all make believe.

I recently listened to a podcast called A Beautiful Anarchy by David Duchemin. In Episode 40: Feed The Fire, he speaks of keeping our creative fires lit. And how just because we might step away from one fire to stoke another, it doesn’t mean the original ambers don’t remain. Continuing on, he references that sometimes we just need to walk away long enough to gather the wood. Otherwise, how can we continue to fuel the fire. The takeaway for me here, is that my fire is the creativity, not the outlet. And that is what I seek, whether in the kitchen, out in nature armed with a camera, or at home in front of the screen as my fingers try to keep up on the keyboard as my mind speaks loudly & quickly. Shifting my mindset elsewhere doesn’t mean I’ve wasted anything to this point, for I wouldn’t have the experiences to share if I had done anything differently. I believe feeding one passion not only provides fuel towards another, but certain characteristics, traits, and lessons can be carried over from various aspects of my life to enhance those other experiences. 

Through this, I can see & hear, touch & taste, and soak in this world for all that its meant to be.

Grateful for my own permission to live what I dream.

R

Wait until now: Seeking inspiration through clouds of procrastination.

It would seem only fitting that with both a career & hobbies that are both deemed creative, that one would seek all of the inspiration that they could. Researching, reading, seeking… whether it be another article in the latest food publication to inspire a menu, or a YouTube video with some pointers on where I can point the camera, I had to realize that, at times, reading someone else’s writing was simply my justification for not doing my own work. And, I believe that’s where this has once again rounded its way around the track to find myself at a familiar land. The one in which I remember, nothing can replace doing the work.

Here we sit, in seemingly Year 6 of the Pandemic! Coronavirus has had us sheltered, divided up amongst those who are essential, and those who simply need those essentials. All the time in the world, and yet, if I was to compare where I could have been at, should I have held myself to a productivity standard through one of the most uniquely strange, challenging, & fear inducing times of my lifetime, I may believe I “should have” done more. So, before we go too far from here, let me throw out a disclaimer: I am not subscribing to this theory.

First off, as I’ve mentioned, I don’t know how to handle a shutdown of the world. Myself, nor millions of my fellow humans know how to handle this seemingly apocalyptic time from experience. We all trudge, and hopefully fight to live another day. Secondly, any time I spend in the purgatory known as regret, reminding myself that if I had started something earlier I’d be further along, is another moment I am not present. It is also crucial to remember, if all things happen as they should, I wasn’t who I needed to be to get started until I actually begin. The reminder here is in the earlier sentiment that most of the things I work on; cooking, writing, photography, etc. are almost exclusively derived from a feeling, a vibe, a calling. When the tumbleweeds roll by, and the cobwebs form, it can become almost crippling to get out of the starting block.

Ok, so I believe the point has been stressed that inspiration is key to my progression. Alternatively, procrastination? Well, that’s a foe that has all been all to overbearing at times. What I’ve learned through countless hours, days, whatever, is that at times, I am capable of accomplishing a ton in matters of quantity. But, at the end of the day, many goals will still have not been met, ideas stalled into a state close to preconception. The amount of ‘work” I’ve actually done just to avoid doing the real work, the creative, the inspired, the fulfilling, is hysterically ironic, in a very non-amusing way. Projects I have put off for a while, or even chores, repainting the walls… all examples of things I’m willing to do rather than sit. I recently read something relatable in the book “The War Of Art”. To paraphrase, “The writer doesn’t have a problem writing, they have a problem sitting down to write.” 

This proves true, in my experince. Yes, when my back is up against the wall, I can accomplish miracles. Like in 7th grade, putting off for a whole month the science project I would start & complete the night before it was due, to receive one of my rare A+ grades. In hindsight, maybe that teacher didn’t do me any favors as I’ve seemed to develop my own quiet in the chaos. Even knowing that the last time in a given situation, I could have avoided the stress and prepared better, got more out of the way earlier, set myself up for success, given the opportunity? Amnesia kicks in and well, lets just say I’ve wondered how I’ve gotten here again. 

It could seem to some that this is simply my admission to getting distracted easily, that I sit in a place always wishing I had done more. As these are not exactly untrue statements, they are not the purpose of this writing. The purpose of this is proof. The motive behind the words you’re reading is served as the example that rather than sit here, regret not writing earlier, and opt to sit lost in my thoughts, I began to type. My desire is to remind myself, among sharing with others, that no matter how crazy the world is outside of our front door, how quickly comparisons & frustrations can set in scrolling social media, and how many things you have yet to complete (or even start for that matter), there is a simple fix. Get to work.

Don’t worry about finishing it all today, and definitely don’t let the impossibility of finishing tomorrow deter you from working today. I’m better, more productive with smaller goals, doable tasks. I’ve also personally witnessed those baby steps turn into strides. It’s also becoming more apparent that every word I type, every recipe I attempt that turns into a success or lesson, & every photo I take that I may think just isn’t worth the push of the shutter, they’re all parts to the puzzle. They become part of my experience, components to my process.

As I look up, I see the words accumulating. Another blog entry is done. I have completed a task, and I feel accomplished. You undoubtedly know that feeling, and the avoidance that feeling may have in your life could be something you relate to or not, I don’t think that’s the important take away here. But, if you have at least taken a moment to read this, allowing me to share my experience, then maybe you’ve had a slight adjustment in perspective to realize that just because you haven’t yet, doesn’t mean you can’t. So, do it. Find that passion, find that thing you’ve avoided that could bring you joy, and block off some time for you. Those around you, known or not, will benefit from what you have to offer. 

Many limitations we have are placed by ourselves. Therefore, allow yourself to break through them. No telling what may be on the other side. Best of luck!

R

Moments make the memories.

There was really no choice. No options, no “How would you like yours?”

Except for the occasional addition of a meat option, it was always the same: rice & bean burrito with a fair amount of melted cheese. My father would double park the Oldsmobile Cutlass in the red zone on our way from my Nana’s house in the Mission District in San Francisco. My mom waited patiently in the front seat, ready to move the car if asked. He would return armed with a plastic bag full of foil wrapped Mexican sleeping pills, as they have been dubbed by a close friend. Monstrosities dwarfing any frozen burrito I had ever had, these things were not to be taken lightly. Although they were something to be appreciated, and that, I did. I mean, it was no surprise to me that I was being raised by a Mexican man proud of his ethnicity. A constant pot of refried beans with a stack of tortillas within arms reach was the a given. It would seemed strange if it wasn’t there. Shopping lists started with salsas, then the other condiments. He also had his little quirks, his comforts. “Why the hell does he keep a ziplock bag of my mother’s fresh baked cookies in his car?”

Nostalgia.

All of the things that may not make sense, nor ever noticed to a certain level, become the moments that shape our upbringing. Food & music are very similar in this capacity. After working years in the music industry, I can now hear a song by Sia, and be transported back to a city in which we toured. A meal I ate in that town, amongst a crowd not even knowing she was there, or who our group was. Tupac comes on, and I’m taken back to the 90’s, vividly remembering things I haven’t thought of in years. Ok, fine, maybe there were a few other reasons for a memory lapse or two, but I’m finally starting to grow up, maybe. November Rain begins to play, and at first, I sometimes tear up with it’s attachment to personal loss I’ve experienced. By the end of the song, I’m lifted with memories of seeing them live at AT&T Park, before heading to San Diego, CA, to cook for Guns & Roses at their show two weeks later.

So, to me it’s simple to relate these two wondrous aspects of life. What else transports you? For me, I know when I hear someone speak of clam chowder, my Godfather, Fred, may he rest in peace, is right next to me at Fishermans Wharf. I’m realizing my disgust for clams is totally made up & fabricated in my head. This shit is delicious.. And, although I may or may not have had better chowder since, is not the point. That’s where it was lodged into my psyche. Like the first time crab became Dungeness crab. Then became fresh, cracked, & picked Dungeness crab. Who knows? Maybe I’m just weird. Maybe, I’m just a wildly obsessed food lover who found his calling in the world of all things to be eaten, and that’s just who I am. Or, maybe there’s something to be said about the balanced smells of vinegar, garlic, soy sauce, and pork running through my mom’s kitchen that led me decades later to follow that nostalgia all the way around the world, to the Motherland of the Philippines. There, I would enjoy adobo with my Lola, in her home in the village of Tolosa, on the island of Leyte, shortly before she’d pass. Close your eyes and think. What is the dish that brings you back? And where are you now, even if for a moment?

Alright, enough with the sidestepping. Today started a bit heavy for me. But, once a day like this becomes recognized, that weight can become emphasis. The energy can be transformed as you see fit. Two years ago, today, my father passed. Not getting into the details, and although it wasn’t sudden, it still remains an experience in which my grief has morphed into a complex set of stages. A relationship of two hard headed stubborn individuals, who rode roller coasters of ups and downs, almost as literally as the coasters he made me join him on at Great America as a kid. This, years before my balls were ready for that fear, regardless of my size meeting the minimum height requirement for the amusement park. We were the closest, then we weren’t, before we were again. Alzheimers took him years ago, then eventually his body left us, too. Through growth and experience, though, I get to be with him. And honestly, we are closer than ever.

Yesterday, I sat with my brother & his family. We ate burritos from a local taqueria. Our Papa was there.. The tales of the SF burritos came alive as we devoured these tortilla wrapped piles of deliciousness. After I left, on my drive home, I reached over and grabbed a chocolate chip cookie from a bag my mom had packed for me on an earlier visit. Not even the question of ‘why a bag of cookies in the car seemed so normal’ crossed my mind. I can’t be the only one who tries to not be like their parents, to inevitably find out that, yes. You see where I’m going with this.

We’ve all grown up eating whatever it was that our families saw fit. At home, out on adventures, simple, traditional, whatever. Some more common than others, but that’s beside the point. The idea, though, is basic. It’s a given opportunity to remain close to the times of your life that you enjoy looking back on. A bond with the memories of loved ones that may or may not still be present.

Going forward, its an awareness that I can now have as to what opportunities I can provide to those in my life, professionally or personally, that may stick with them, decades later, thinking to themselves, “I remember the 1st time I had seafood fideua..” (Go ahead, Google it, I’ll wait).

Cheers, to wherever your palate & memories take you. 

Thanks Papa,

Your son,

Reino

Hell Of A Career Choice? Yes, Chef.

For years now, I’ve sought out the relief & enjoyment of a Monday. In the same manner most celebrate the consistency & finality of a Friday, the beginning of a calendar week usually lets those in hospitality know they’ve survived another weekend. I recall as if it was yesterday, considering a career in the kitchen, being told that I may want to check with those close to me as I’m considering forfeiting my nights, weekends, and holidays to jump into a career path that benefits from working to please others while they are relaxing, socializing, & celebrating. I knew when I had the blessing of family & friends coincide with my desire to move forward, regardless of the market research, I was on the right path. But what a path it’s been.

Imagine being an artist, a creative of some sort. Now, include the fact that your work is not something that is so undoable to the average human. Turns out that, additionally, everyone is a consumer of your field. Hell, we’ve all been eating food our whole lives. It’s inevitable that this leads some to be just as knowledgable as us chefs, “foodies” per se, doing what we do as mere hobbies from other careers, or cooking merely to survive. So, what is it that feeds our desire as chefs to put our whole heart on a plate, figuratively? Rather than painting a picture, and setting it in a frame, allowing it to hang in view, waiting for the right person to lock eyes on it, realizing “thats the one!”, our soul often spends ten times the time it takes to make a dish that it takes to be consumed, sometimes eloquently, and many others as quick a shark devours a sea turtle. Our tangible becomes but a memory.

Then, unlike any museum or institute of hard work on display, it’s time for the feedback. The same green bean with a bit of bite is perfectly done to some, yet underdone to others. Some get freaked out over scrambled eggs that aren’t as dry as the plate they’re put on. To each their own. We all have taste (or lack thereof, depending on who you ask). Believe me, those that are in this for the right reasons have a level of giving a fuck what you think more than those in many other careers. Knowing this, chefs are faced with decisions throughout their journeys; using the experience gained in their training & upbringing vs. knowing their audience, and remaining who they are while progressing by pleasing palates. If this was our only focus, it would almost seems acceptably simplistic. Now, let’s welcome in the other aspects. Rarely is there a chair under our ass. We do sit, eat to study, maybe turn a stainless steel table into a desk to jot down some menu ideas, but usually, we our on our feet. It’s a physical job, one where we may stand still making sure a tomato sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot, or literally racking up steps on our daily count because its time for service and no one sits still with the echoing of “behind!” & “corner!” throughout the chaos. Occasionally, we will be spoiled with a crew that can share a vision, work as a well oiled machine towards a common goal. Although, there are the times where we, as chefs, become counselors trying to harmoniously gather a bunch of misfits to not take each other personally, to not think too much on their own, and at the same time, do the job necessary without having their hand held. 

But we’re rockstars, right? Or so TV would have you believe. Maybe financially cared for? I mean, these should make any of this tolerable. Reality is, I’ve never mopped so many floors after becoming a chef, nor have I found my pot of gold. I live minimally.. Prioritizing what is needed, but doing what I need to to enjoy this one life that I have. I may have cooked on television at times, but it was a hustle, a grind. Not so much the Emeril “someone tie my apron & handle my mise en place” kind of appearance. 

I live in an atmosphere where I can add to my tattoos without judgement. I have an opportunity to give in to a sometimes vulgar culture, or bring a positive outlook. I can follow a historical presence of alcohol and drug addiction into a hole, or I can show that I can still be successful and sober. Most importantly, I have found a career where I can play with food, and I’m lucky enough to have found people who will pay me to do it. It’s who I am, it’s a key aspect of what makes me happy. How many of us can say we get to live our passions? I’ve made some good food, I’ve eaten my share of phenomenal food. I’ve laughed with clients, and I’ve barely survived services with some bad ass chefs. 

Is our path ideal? Absolutely not. Conducive to a “normal life”? Not for a moment. That said, I couldn’t see my day to day being focused on anything other than food. Dishes I’ve made, and plates yet to be created. Ready for more? Yes, Chef… Hell of a career choice.

The Outside May Never Fix The Inside

It seems to remain true, “The outside may never help the inside”.

Years ago, I shared my experience speaking to a large group of like minded individuals in Mill Valley, CA. Expressing my truth, practicing transparency, I became vulnerable, putting aside any lack of control I would have on the judgement of those around me. That day, I grew. My spiritual self began to gain confidence that who I was was perfectly ok. After this meeting, a man came up to me and thanked me for the words I shared, going so far as to relate to some of the things I had said. Who would have thought? All of this “stuff” I’ve been through can be made into good use. The surprising fact, more so, was that this gentlemen was someone whom I had believed to be a pretty happy human. Growing up, watching his shows & movies, he was the one making us laugh, making us smile. Although, in the end, I would never realize how he really felt until this man, Robin Williams, would take his own life.

Shortly after his death, a joke re-emerged that had been around for a while. It tells the tale of a clown:

“Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, ‘Treatment is simple. Great clown, Pagliacci, is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says, ‘But doctor, I am Pagliacci.’”

There are some people in this world who have their opinions & views of these instances where people can no longer fight their demons. No matter what I think, I know that as of today, I have never been able to relate to an understanding where this could be my outcome. Have things been bad? Yes. Have I felt it be easier should I not have to fight anymore? Absolutely. Although, I have never found it necessary to take such a drastic action. But who am I to have judgement over it? I can only pray that a day never comes where I can comprehend this as an option. Some of the strongest words can sound like the contrary. To admit defeat, to surrender, to ask for help, or at very least acknowledge the despair, these are just a few ways those around us have any control in helping. 

At the time of Robin Williams final days, I had just begun a two month stint as a chef on tour with a number of bands, including AFI, 30 Seconds to Mars, and Linkin Park, featuring frontman, Chester Bennington. Over the course of this time, I was adapting to a new lifestyle, myself, as I was just over one year clean & sober after what seemed like a lifetime of searching for a solution. Having a clear head, a focused lens to look through, I took part in an extraordinary tour, bringing happiness & joy to tens of thousands of fans across North America. Chester, notably, had this connection, this ability to draw in and relate to those in the crowd who felt he gave them hope. I watched this man, heard his words, and witnessed his impact, then & after, as his career continued. Our conversation at the end of the tour will never be forgotten, as he thanked me for my hard work & motivated me to keep pushing forward.

In May of 2017, work placed me in Seattle, WA. It was hard, in just the few days I was there, to not be made aware that this city had lost one of their own just days before. Chris Cornell of Soundgarden had taken his own life, to the surprise of many, in a time where those closest to him believed him to be a decent place. Knowing that my previous boss was a close friend to Cornell, it was no surprise when Chester would speak up regarding depression, suicide, and reminding everyone that we are not alone.

Linkin Park wasn’t one of those bands or artists who promote a cause and step away. I witnessed these guys stand up for what they believed in. On our Carnivore’s Tour, we shared space with the IAVA (Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America), a group dedicated to helping veterans & combatting suicide. Groups of veterans would attend the shows, tour the backstage area, and I am so grateful I had a chance to share this experience with these heroes.

Feeling as though I knew his take on the matter, I found myself in disbelief & shock when I was made aware through a text that on Cornell’s birthday July 20th, Chester, himself, would be found after taking his own life. As a close friend of their personal chef, Gray Rollin, and one who considers that whole tour family as part of my own family, there was no question how hard this was going to hit home. A few months later in October, I felt such a mix of emotions as I traveled to Southern California to be reacquainted with LP’s production manager & good friend, Jim Digby, and so many others of that tour family. Being a part of a night at Hollywood Bowl, surrounded by Linkin Park & so many special guests there to show their support was something I will never forget, as the show started with LP’s hit “Numb” being played around an empty microphone in the spotlight, where Chester would have been standing. Ten thousand plus, singing along as they realized this reality. If anything could emphasize the following phrase, it was this moment. #FuckDepression

Nearly a year later, none is forgotten. I continue to trudge along my own path. Remembering that self care is the best way to care for others, since if I am not healthy & present, what good am I to anyone else?

Then this week hits. Before the ink dries in the headlines of designer Kate Spade taking her own life, I was awoken to a radio show putting together statements that in my half slumber began to piece together. Something drastic has happened, and without another second of sleep, I was up. Social media took no time to let me know what had happened. Anthony Bourdain had taken matters into his own hands, and his experience had ended.

I try to not think of these matters in levels of impact or importance. They are all part of my experience, and thus have different effects on me as a person. I can say that as a chef, one who appreciates writing & sharing, and of course traveling & eating, that Tony B. was more than just an influence in who I am, as a person, and absolutely in my career. I’ve made my way from the popular city of Barcelona, Spain into San Sebastián, simply because Bourdain noted it as a “food lover’s paradise”. His insights into lands that I’ve traveled or hope to one day have inspired me more so than any other stories or experiences that I’ve come across. And I’m not alone. From “A Cook’s Tour”, a show dedicated to food in other regions, to the more recent “Parts Unknown”, which has shifted the balance to being partially about food, but almost more so the place, culture, and people, Bourdain invited us to see that none of us are alone. We are all humans on the same Earth having our unique understandings of what life is. Although sharp witted and often opinionated, he taught us something we may not have even realized we were learning.

I’m sad. Between suicide, and other deaths caused by decisions made by people I know, I’ve lost so many. Some closer than others, but parts of my story, nonetheless. I have crossed paths with many fighting battles with alcohol, drug use, depression. I am submerged in a career as a chef in a food service industry that has it’s glaring share of people pushing through personal struggle. At this same time, I am inspired. I get the opportunity to continue living. I get to be an demonstration of what fighting this battle and coming out on the other end can look like. I battle addiction, alcoholism, and a number of other challenges on a daily basis. But questions motivate me to seek answers, bad moments don’t have to be bad days, and I can start over at any given moment. 

Any less than perfect moments will pass. They always do.. I just have to remember this.

My empathy has grown, my humility is a constant work in progress, and I just hope that those around me know that I am here if they ever feel that no one else is.

I’m tired of loss. I’d be naive to think it will not continue more so as I continue to grow older. So, today, I will not take this moment for granted, I will try to not assume I know someone else’s battles, and I’ll try to remind myself & others, we are not alone, nor can we do this alone. 

I believe any one of us just want to know that it will all be okay, and it will.

Rest easy, Mr. Bourdain.

-Chef Reino

Thai It All Together: Learning what I thought I already knew.

It was my first morning waking up in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had arrived the previous morning by an overnight train from Bangkok, where I had spent the first couple days of my trip to explore and acclimate. Although I had time, I wanted to waste none, therefore jumping into one of the activities I had my heart set on for this trip. I wanted to experience Thai food. Eating it, learning it, and most importantly making it. I had heard about cooking classes in this region, and luckily there was one located nearby the guesthouse I had chosen to stay. In making arrangements the prior afternoon, I had been given two options: a half day course there in the city, or a full day that would take me into the country, cooking farm-side. There was no question that I wanted to experience all that I could, therefore choosing the latter.

With a relatively early start, I grabbed a coffee Americano, and made my way to the culinary school located in town. There, I met our instructor, Palm. He spoke good English, with a great sense of humor, and had been raised nearby. A few other students had arrived visiting from France, and after a few more as well, I was the only one not speaking French. We left for the morning market, picking up more students on the way. A few English-speaking Canadians & Europeans evened out the bunch. Arriving at the market, Palm gave us a few minutes to spend some baht (currency of Thailand) on some of the many distracting food stalls that were already open for business. Here, a meal is a meal. Most everything you can find at night, is also out early day. Gnawing on our skewers of grilled meats, Palm began schooling us on many of the herbs & produce we would be seeing throughout the day. Tasting, smelling, touching these things (some recognizable, many not) was the beginning of an experience I could, before, only imagine. A late night and a rough stomach took one student out immediately, but for the most part, we were all in it for the long haul. We toured the market, asked questions, sampled ingredients, then it was time to move on. Our train awaited, and so we made our way to the station by pick-up truck. Piled in, we continued meeting one another and realizing the good fortune of having such a fun, energetic group. We boarded our train, meeting many locals, and even sitting in a car with a bunch of children on their way to school. The kids were as entertained by us as we were by them. Once we arrived to our destination station, nearly 17 km out-of-town, they continued with their farewells long after we walked out of earshot.

We strolled for a while, before arriving at a large barn. Not knowing if this was our final stop, we walked in curiously to find that this place was loaded with bicycles. We followed instructions to find a bike, and meet out front. From there, we happily cruised through the countryside. Feeling like kids, ringing the bells, and waiving to the locals furthering their curiosity of who the heck we were, Palm pointed out some of the larger homes, and how much they costed. Once conversions were done, realizing two million THB was roughly $60,000 USD, these borderline mansions were even more desirable. The look on his poor face when he converted the amounts I informed him houses sold for here in California. Things were so simple here. Here, there was just something special.

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We had arrived at our location for the day. A beautiful farm connected to an elevated house, hovering over numerous cooking stations. We gathered and made our way to the garden. Wasting no time, we had determined what each of us would be making, and listed the ingredients we would need to harvest. As a group, we wandered the land receiving descriptions and uses for each of the items we’d pass. I volunteered to dig for our ginger, taking what was needed & re-covering the root with dirt so that it would continue to grow. Then making my way over to pick green papayas, trim Thai basil, and pull up some cilantro, keeping the roots intact for the source of true coriander flavor. I learned the traditional way to cut papayas for Som Tum (papaya salad). Adding it into the mortar & pestles that are used for so many Thai staples. A great batch of Tom Kha Gai (coconut & chicken soup), red curry paste made from scratch then added to our curry dish, along with traditional Pad Thai (stir fried rice noodles) rounded out the rest of the day before we savagely picked apart some fried bananas & mango sticky rice. Palm’s questioning of my desire for spice led to some intense capsicum filled bites, making the temperature and humidity outside seem a bit more even. To this day, I think my tolerance for spice has remained borderline entertaining. All in all, it was one of the most memorable days in both my culinary & travel experiences. We finished up our feast and reversed our tracks making our way back into Chiang Mai. Mixing the heat, the long day, and a desire for relaxation, we all parted ways to our guesthouses. But, rest was short-lived.. I mean, it was almost time to start the next hunt for the next snack. It’s Thailand.. One never really stops snacking. And there are enough street food vendors to make sure of this.

Eventually, I would cross paths with friends from the States, and we would venture up to a small town called Pai, three hours and 762 curves away. Which, with its street market and fresh selection of food, was so memorable on its own. But, remembering Chiang Mai, and learning the authenticity of Thai cooking among the natives, is something this chef will never forget.

The Re-Fire.

Over a decade ago, I found myself working in some pretty decent fields for a number of reputable employers. And although I seemed to thrive in whatever environment I was in, I knew the sole purpose of showing up every day was to earn that check. Now, to almost all of us at some point, this is a no brainer. I mean, who doesn’t need to make a living?

It wasn’t until I had to genuinely ask myself what I believed it was that I wanted to do with my life. I had gone to a JC when I was younger, with no aspiration. I had worked jobs that had paid bills, but slowly nipped at my soul. So what was it? What was out there that could reward me, both financially and mentally? My previous jobs had consisted of sales, which was fine considering I deal with people relatively well. And I had worked years in accounting since numbers always came easy to me. But, neither field sat right down deep.

As I became more independent from family, self-sufficiency led me to have to fend for myself. This obviously included cooking. I knew nothing. Re-heating? Yes. Simple recipes? I could manage. Beyond that? You may as well ask me to speak a foreign language. Strangely enough, there was still some curiosity I had; some desire to learn. I knew I had a chef in the family, but what did it take for him to start in that direction? I had called my uncle, a well-known chef in Maui, HI, to find out what led him to develop a career out of what many people do to merely survive. I explained to him that my trips to the store for pantry staples were becoming mystery baskets of who knows what, and it somehow intrigued me. After some further research, consideration, and effort, I looked into culinary school and went to visit. There, they informed me of the toll this career takes, and that it’s recommended that we discuss with our family and friends their feelings on this, as this life can take away nights, weekends, and holidays as we know them. Willing to make this sacrifice, I moved forward, enrolled, attended (with perfect attendance, I might add..), and graduated with an Associates Degree of Occupational Studies of Le Cordon Bleu. This was a larger task than you may think, as I had never possessed very good study habits prior to.

Upon exiting the educational portion of my new career path, student or not, it was time to pay dues, start at the bottom. Again, all sacrifices I was willing to make. I proceeded to spend a number of years in both restaurants and catering, eventually cooking for tens of thousands of guests, clients, and customers. Being able to take part in restaurant openings, cater events in amazing places, these were all experiences affirming I was on the right path. Eventually, I had gained access to the world of tour catering. Here I would be able to put all skills to the test. This was big time. I began cooking for musicians and artists, traveling the country, riding tour busses, and catering to their needs on the road. All these different opportunities were astonishing. The experiences I was having, the recognition I was receiving, it was all a surreal experience.

Eventually, life was life, and plans changed as they always did. My short attention span, my uncertainty of direction, and constant questioning of the next step came into play. I would soon find myself switching gears to re-enter the world of restaurants. It was time to become a bit more grounded. Get back to living a somewhat “normal” existence, as if I ever knew what that meant. After a gig as Sous Chef of a successful restaurant in Marin County, again success called, and it was time… A chef’s dream. It was time to open my 1st restaurant.

I had been through this process before. From the ground up. But not “mine”, as a partner, financially obligated and soon to be, hopefully, rewarded as well. Latching onto this opportunity, my direction was again set, and the process began. This time around I was going to see what it took behind the scenes to get this thing going. We had decided on a name, had the location, and the dynamics & demographic were calculated. Over the course of the next five months, I sat with my partners through licensing, meetings, contractors, designers, and all of the other aspects of opening a restaurant.

In March of 2013, the time had come. We were successful in our task. The doors to our new lives had opened.

Greeted with open arms from the city of Santa Rosa, CA, everything was right where it needed to be. Or so I thought..

You see, there were underlying personal circumstances that were hindering me throughout. Going back way earlier than I was willing to admit. Normalcy of my behavior, the way I handled life had never been too much a nuisance, at least not to me. For a kid that grew up, blaming a great amount of self-destructive behaviors on “just being young”, similar traits in my later years were not so easy to dismiss.

To this point, I had lived my life with certain theories. Some of these involved the perception I shot for. Convincing the world I was ok, and as long as it looked that way, all was good. I was successful! I mean, who does what I did if they have a problem?

It wasn’t but 2 weeks after the opening that I had broken yet another promise to myself. Another word that I would change for the better, health wise, once things calmed down. What had happened along the way was a change in my motives. The inspired chef who had dedicated his life to mystery baskets, menu writing, pleasing people’s palates, had altered his priorities. I was now surrounding myself in a career that embraced the way I liked to live. I could eat, drink, drink (not a typo), and be merry. Although it was a different story in the morning. It had become more about me. What I was getting out of it. Going from working a dead-end job just to pay bills, to finding a love for a career, had circled right back to doing it for the money and the lifestyle. Being a creative culinary mind ran a distant 2nd. I had deteriorated mentally & physically. It wasn’t until the man in the lab coat spoke to me as I lie in bed that my body was not well. I wasn’t yet to the point of being unable to heal, but that’s where I was headed. It brought all of the initial exterior problems into perspective.

Luckily for me, this last broken promise would be the game changer. There would be no more living life in a way that would cost me what I had worked so hard for. I was going to get back on track, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

After some discussion with my partners, it was clear that certain things needed to happen for me to focus on these changes. Although I loved what we had built so much, it was best I stepped away. The restaurant was going to be a success, and I wanted to in no way jeopardize that. I separated from the restaurant, and put all of my energy & focus into getting me back, mind & body.

Throughout this process, it became clear that the field I was in is very enabling for someone of my personality. So, I had two options as I saw it:  change my career, or do what I need to do to get my priorities back. And thank God I was able to do just that. By following a few simple suggestions.

I found my legs again. I found my drive, my desire, my passion for my culinary life. I have remembered what it was that led me to the kitchen in the 1st place. I have adjusted and my motives are now realigned. I deal & react to life differently, and have a purpose.

To this day, I hold my chef’s knife again, embrace my creative side, and try my best on a daily basis to stay out of my own way.

Recalling working on the hot line in the restaurant world, the last thing you want is a returned dish. Hearing the chef or expeditor call for a “re-fire!” at first sound is a frustration; a feeling of failure. When, if you can put that aside, redo it with an even brighter outlook, it can be even more amazing than the first attempt. Sometimes, the experience of not doing it right is transformed into doing it better than you ever thought you could.

I see where I am in my journey today, and realize everything happens the way it’s supposed to. That said, I’d be naive to not realize what I am experiencing. It’s simply a re-fire of my career, and my life.