Come and Knock at my Door

Unfortunately I’ve felt a desperate desire to write about this week’s happening. It just doesn’t get round my head that the world can be so cruel, so closed, so vulnerable and at the same time so blind, so narrow-minded, so narcissist. What am I talking about? Yesterday happened a terrorist attack in Barcelona, fifty meters away from where I work and very close to where I live. I was on my day off so I was at home. I was supposed to go out at the exact time of the incident, but for some reason I felt very tired all of a sudden and I decided to take a nap. Soon I woke up with some messages on my phone asking if I was ok. I didn’t know what my friends were talking about until I realized I could hear a lot of sirens and helicopters around my neighborhood.

I went online and everything was real; the images of my street, my work, my people. I’m not going to get into details, everyone knows what happened. I stayed hours locked down at home, on my own, talking to people about it and letting everybody know I was ok. I was trying to keep up to date with my work colleges that were still locked down at work with no prevision on when they would get to go home. My street was closed, police officers yelling to people so they would stop trying to go and see what everything was about. It wasn’t pretty, why would you want to try and see it?

And that’s why I’m writing today. When I woke up, I didn’t want to go to work, I didn’t want to walk through that street, I didn’t want to see it. I was already feeling it in my bones, why see it? It came to the moment I had to go out. First thing I noticed was the silence; even though the streets where filled with people, no one was talking. All around the Ramblas streets were blocked by police cars and police officers. Candles were lit all the way down. I saw some people gathered around some roses that were put on the road on a heart shape. I started to cry; the energy around there was immeasurable. I had to wipe my tears and get to work.

The restaurant was empty, everybody with their faces looking down. Not a smile, why would there be a smile?

Time for my break and I had to walk through the Ramblas down again. On my way back there were a lot of people just taking pictures; pictures of people praying, pictures of people lighting candles, pictures of the journalists that were filming. I got really upset. I just don’t understand how the human being became so blind that the only way they take all this tragedy in is registering a nation’s suffering and sending it on WhatsApp to someone across the globe to see how bad it is.

At work I found out that last night, the owner was even considering keeping the doors opened and making some money out of people’s desperation. The restaurant is fifty meters away from the terrorist attack, the police recommended that everywhere nearby should stay shut because they were looking for the murderer and even so my colleges almost had to stay open.

I just cannot understand people’s reaction to an atrocity that just happened and that has being happeing all around the globe. People have no filter, just for Instagram. People have no heart or compassion, all they want is to be the first to register a picture and have the biggest number of likes possible. And then we say there is no salvation, that is the end of the world and that violence is winning. Humanity is knocking at our doors and we are no letting it in. Instead, we are watching it all through an eight inches screen so that way we are safe right?

 

The Letter

I though nobody would ever get to see this, but I think it’s time to share something I’ve done about a year ago, related to a year before that. Everything desserves a closure, and I feel I have a lot of open things at the moment. I need to close them once and for all to be able to move forward and to grow.

This letter is on its original form, with no writting edition other that covering the name of the Chef I sent this to, just in case he doesn’t want the exposure.

Dear Chef,
This is a letter that was never supposed to be written nor sent. Still, I don’t think I’ve said to you all that I felt like when I left. Maybe today I don’t mean anything but a broken and messed up mind that just couldn’t take the pressure. Maybe the last memories you have of me( if you have any memory at all) were of me crying for some attention and care, yelling angry wondering where have all my good days of BSK gone. It doesn’t matter now because after almost a year ago I was something I’m not anymore and most of it I owe to you.
I was really hurt, I thought I was weak and that I had given up on everything you taught me and everything I could be one day. It took me several months to recover from everything and to have the courage to write this letter. A thank you letter.
It doesn’t mean I agree with everything you’ve said to me, but it would be silly if it happened that way. I just wanted you to know that you were and are a big part on my professional growth. For the things I did and the things I don’t accept anymore, for the standard and discipline that I don’t leave behind not even for a second. For the team work and the strength you showed we need to have to survive in this industry.
I always believed in you as I think you believed in me, and it broke my heart having to go, but it was the best for me and for my mental health. Until now I think that I wasn’t good enough and that’s why I broke down. I thought that either I stayed strong and made part of this culinary army, or I should leave it all behind and go do something completely different.
I want you to know that everywhere I work I pick a mentor, someone that is my mirror, my biggest example and that I always will care and think about within the tiniest details of my day. Since I chose you I haven’t found anyone else. In a certain way its good because I’m having to be my own mentor. On the othe hand I miss having a strong figure that can calm me down and tell me how good or bad I’m doing.
Where I work now I’m still a demi, even though I take lots of responsibilities, run pastry and larder and prep for sauce. I have time to breath when I need to, I even have time for a 30 min break when I’m on a double shift. We make really nice food and I’m proud of myself. I just miss my mentor being proud of me too.
This letter is to thank you for teaching me to be strong, organized, to be a leader, an example, a rescuer. Because of what I’ve learnt in BSK and because of the routine we had there, I’ve learned how to be the opposite around here. I don’t stress as much because I can see the solution, I have more time so I know how to handle it better than anyone else. Nobody knows how is it to really run against time like we used to.
This letter is to thank you for all the times you pulled me outside to know how I really was, for all the hugs and all the pushes you gave me believing that I could do better and better every day.
I’m sorry I let you down, I’m sorry I couldn’t get my head around my problems. What I did was just to stand up for me and stop. Stop and think if that was really what I wanted for me and if It was what I wanted to become. Now every little bit of knowledge I’ve got from you and some other chefs I carry with me forever.
I think not many people would even care to write a letter like this, but I believe I have a mission in this life and it’s not to be indifferent, not to be replaceable, not to be invisible. I hope I made some difference in your life while I was there, and I truly hope, from my heart, that you have an amazing life and that you always reach what you seek for.
Thank you for everything, and I hope we meet again someday to have a beer and share all that’s been going on in our lives. I buy!

Sincerely,
Sophia Corá

Back to Day One

Is funny how things turn up the way they do. This morning I woke up and realized two years ago I moved to London without looking back. I remember two weeks before that I was really anxious trying to decide whether I was going to move to Madrid or to London and I realized that August was the worst month to move to Spain so I chose England instead.

Once I decided that, I started to send CVs to everywhere I was interested on working at. There were more than thirty definitely. I remember being by the beach in Italy with my friends, and waking up at seven AM and starring at the phone waiting on answers. I got four of them and I bought the tickets for the week after that, booked a hostel at a central area so I could get everywhere with the tube without getting lost and that was it. I was going to London on my own.

When I started packing I tried to leave everything I could behind; moving on your own can be quite tough (and heavy). There were only three objects I couldn’t leave behind and they were my coffee mug, my moka coffee maker and a coffee tin I bought in Rome that I used to put the coffee powder in. I could leave everything behind but that.

That was one of the toughest weeks I’ve ever had in my life, but luckily I was so into it that the fact that I didn’t have a house, that I didn’t have a job, that I didn’t know anyone whatsoever there and that I was short of money, all of that didn’t scare me once and all I was concerned about was to make things happen.

This morning my routine was a repetition of what it was two years ago. I woke up early, took a shower in a house I share with other six people, made some fresh coffee that I took from the coffee tin in my moka coffee maker, poured it inside my coffee mug and had a quick breakfast with the same ingredients I used to have in London – white bread, cream cheese and ham. It was like living inside a flashback, where everything is new but it feels right, where the people I know I don’t really know but I have to trust them because I have nothing else left and that I have to live one day at a time, otherwise I’ll go crazy.

Today I was living the same day I had two years ago, but with a lot more stories to tell, many won challenges and a huge collection of failures. Today I asked myself if everything I’m doing is worth it, I asked myself if I’m getting somewhere or will this routine be played on repeat over and over again. I don’t know. I hope not.

Seven Days

Years have passed by and I’ve realized more and more that any decision, any change, any wait, any disappointment or any conquer lasts only seven days. My latest happening was my break up. Now it’s been exactly one week. In that week I cried too much, I spent money I didn’t have to sleep at a hotel, I hated myself.

On the first morning I woke up early enough to get the very expensive breakfast I paid for and enjoy the rest of my day searching for rooms to rent. That same day I had a viewing. And I had to go to work. That same day the viewing was disastrous and that same day the man, that once was the love of my life and that now I had wrecked everything because of who I am, told me he was leaving the country. That same day I went to work and had to sleep at a friend’s house. This friend I’ve met one week before.

The next morning I had to go to work again, and received calls from many rooms to visit, some very far from work, some very tiny, some very expensive. I made a reservation at a hostel until things got sorted out. I had a hand bag with enough clean clothes for a week, toiletries, uniform and socks. I went early to the hostel to drop my bag and go to work. In the middle of the afternoon he came to say goodbye, he was leaving that night. My heart hurt like it hadn’t hurt for a long time. Everything was so real at that moment. I had to go back to work. He didn’t want to wait for me to finish the shift to say goodbye. I went back to our old room and managed to stay there for a couple more days. I went back to the hostel to pick up my stuff – by that time it was already eleven in the evening. I went back to work to drink. I met a Scottish man that paid for a couple of my drinks. I went to our old bed and didn’t sleep.

Next morning I had to work and I had a viewing. The room was expensive but good enough to start again – with a bed, a desk and a shared balcony. I took it immediately and went back to work to give the guys the good news. I was starting to feel better. That same day the owner of the old room texts me saying I had to leave the next day because they needed to paint the room. My stress allergies started coming back instantly and I was freaking out again. I was so upset he wasn’t helping me out that I simply said I wasn’t leaving and that he had to deal with that. I think I was so straight forward with him that he didn’t even argue. Two days from then I packed everything and moved all my things to the new room, but I couldn’t move in completely yet, I just dropped all my life in a place that could be my new home. But it couldn’t be that easy right? So I put all my things inside the lift and went down by the stairs, but of course the lift got stuck with all my stuff in. I had to call the owner and I had to wake up the building manager. I did it. I called a taxi and it didn’t come. I waved to a taxi driver and he stopped, he didn’t want to take me but at the end he did. He moaned all the way. He wanted to leave me with all my five bags a block away from my new home. Finally at the building I managed to carry everything upstairs and the moving was done. I went back to work. I slept at my friend’s house again.

The next day I worked again. All of those days I had to drink quite a little bit too much so I could sleep. My last night out we went way too far with the drinking, but it was worth it. We danced, we met people and we even bounced out of a fight.

On the seventh day I was settled. I had my new room with all my things, I had new roommates, new neighborhood, new friend. On the seventh day I was feeling empty, starting again, alone.

I Carabinieri

I remember I was just washing some spinach and talking to one of my colleges on a very hot day of July. The restaurant was empty because it was low season for Florence; at least that’s what they told me at work although soon I would find out it was for another reason.

The thing is, having a business in Italy is kind of complicated. I’m not going to talk about mafia because I have no bigger knowledge about that but basically everything has to go through some big guys and if they don’t approve yours plans, they will find a way to knock you down – not in a physical way but they will ruin your career.

Back to my very boring day, it was before lunch service when it all happened. It took me a while to understand what was going on but all of a sudden the restaurants Maître d´ came inside the kitchen and said the Police were in and asked us all to go upstairs to our lockers and bring down our documents. Immediately I ran and got mine (because I was more than sure that I had every single document I needed to be working in Italy) and gave it to him. All of us did. A few minutes later I get a phone call from the Head Chef telling me to get out of the restaurant from the back door. I told him I couldn’t because the Police already had my passport; they already knew I was there.

So that’s when the trouble began. After a few more minutes the Police called me and the pot washer. He was from the Philippines. They sat me down and started asking me a lot of questions like where I was from, when did I arrive in Italy, how did I get my passport, how did I start working there and the most important question of all: how long had I been working there. I was shaking and very nervous with my very basic Italian and not understanding why the fuck was I being investigated like that.

I lied, and I signed underneath it. Even though I had no idea what was going on, I thought that saying I was there for 4 month would make it worse, so I said it was my first week. And that was it, I lied to the Italian Police. Me, a just-born Italian was already in trouble. I was shitting myself. But that’s not the end.
After the Police left, I went back to the kitchen in shock, angry, crying and yelling to the only responsible around that was the Maître d´, asking what the hell was all that about. Not only was I confused but I noticed the Sous Chef and the other Japanese guy that we had in the kitchen had disappeared before the Police arrived.

The head Chef called me again. This time I answered and said I’m never coming back to work. I said, with my very poor Italian, that what happened was unacceptable, that I shouldn’t have gone through that, that I signed documents on my first day so that everything up to date.

He said the Sous Chef was hiding around the corner and that he wanted to talk to me. I got changed, picked up all my knives and went to talk to him expecting an explanation, an apology. All he did was laugh because I was crying and told me to stop crying that this was nothing. That he had been illegal in Italy for ten years and that he got used to running and that that happened all the time. I didn’t want to hear. I just wanted to get home.

Finally, after all, the Head Chef tried to call me for three days and I just texted him saying I didn’t want to know about him or the restaurant anymore. He understood but still tried to cover his ass. He said that I should have never given my documents to the Police, that I should have escaped like the others and that now they had to pay a fine because I was irregular on the papers. I just gave up on them.

In the end, days after what happened, all of us from the restaurant staff got together for a farewell. They found out what happened that day and they explained to me. Apparently the owner of the restaurant had broken a partnership with the big guys so they called the Police on him, saying they knew he had irregular people working there. Not only that, but they also knew neither the owner nor the Head Chef would be there that day to cover things up. It was all planned, and it worked. After that the restaurant shut down for ‘refurbishment’. It re-opened one year later.

The Irish Man

It was another day in the kitchen, but only my second day on the larder section because they needed someone to give them a hand, I don’t even remember why. Suddenly, out of the blue, this guy (that I have never spoken to before, just seen him walking round the staff area) walks in on the middle of service while I was platting a steak tartar, and asks – are you Sophia?

Quickly I looked up and I saw him, with his long perfectly shaped beard, a long straight hair that every girl would wish to have it naturally like that and wearing the management blue suit. I answered – yes. He immediately changed his frowned face and said he had heard I was very creative and good with flavour combinations and he wondered if I could help him out on creating a couple of cocktail garnishes for some drinks he had created to present in France.

Between the chef calling on tickets and me plating dishes, I asked him to tell me more about the cocktails, and he did. Within what I think was about two minutes in real time (I’ll tell you more about chef time later), I suggested an edible rose petal garnish and he just said it was a great idea. Next thing I see is two bartenders running around and asking me how to get it done and where to get the ingredients because he needed 80 portions of it for the flight he was taking two days after.

Ever since then I started thinking about my interest on cocktails and how I never got to work at a bar, a dream I’ve always had. After a while I started getting closer and closer to him and the bartenders, helping developing techniques to make their lives easier with my cooking and baking knowledge.
And so I asked to have a working experience at the bar. I had to do it on my day off, but I couldn’t be more excited. It felt so right, as if I’ve been waiting on that moment to happen all my life. I loved it, and asked to get transferred, but obviously it wouldn’t be that easy. It was a hard time in the kitchen with people leaving, head chef getting sacked, and nobody wanting to be on pastry other than me and another girl.

Finally, after two months waiting and a lot of pressure put on the management, I got it. And that was when my life changed. I got to know the world of talking to costumers, of looking clean and tidy, of having set breaks to eat, of diving into a sea of brand new information. It was a period were everyday I was learning something new, tasting, creating, being happy (I even asked for extra hours).

The thing is, this Irish man called Shane Kilgariff opened not only his bar doors for me, he opened his mind and heart. I am thankful every day for making the move from the kitchen to the bar, and it’s because of this opportunity that I had, or even better, that he gave to me, that the direction of my whole career has completely changed.

Cheers to you, Shane!

A Coffee with Marc

The way we met was quite unexpected. Actually I was basically a stalker. My former boss had told me about Marc Alvarez when I said I was moving here, so I follow him on Instagram. Once I saw a picture of him flying to London, I gave him a bar hint to go. And that was it, all the contact we had, until last week.

I was sipping a Negroni at a bar when I realized that if I wanted some things to happen I would have to make them happen. So I texted him again on Instagram and asked if he would be interested in having an informal chat with me. Surprisingly he said yes, and we agreed on having a morning coffee.

 

I picked him up at Enigma and we walked to a coffee place he usually goes called Cuba de Janeiro. Thank god he is a talker, so I didn’t struggle whatsoever to get to know him. So we ordered our drinks, and he started talking about how Enigma is and what is it exactly. For those who don’t know, Enigma is one of the six restaurants owned by Albert Adriá, one of the most well-known Chefs in Barcelona. If you still haven’t got a clue of what I’m talking about, give it a quick Google, he is a big boy around here, and almost around everywhere.

Back to Enigma, what the hell is that? So basically is a restaurant that, what I understood, is to blow your mind away. Secret code to get in, several rooms you go through until the end where the bar is (and each room has a name, a concept and an outstanding architecture), and of course an amazing crew behind it all.

So Marc is part of this crew, actually, a big part of it. He is just not only responsible for all the company’s bars but also is part of the staff at Enigma, at least for now. He creates everything, makes research travels and reports it all back to Albert.

The thing is we didn’t just talk about this restaurant. We talked about Heart, the Ibiza project from the company that just now, on its third year, is opening its big wings and flying. We also discussed about Trip Advisor and how people taking pictures of their food could end up destroying everybody else’s first impressions on the dishes.

Putting that aside, the main part was talking about creativity (at least my favourite part). How does he create such innovative drinks? Where does the inspiration come from? Well, those questions weren’t exactly answered. Why? Because they didn’t need to. He comes from a humble family where things had to be done, where if you don’t ask you don’t get. He started working in hospitality very early and even though that wasn’t his main graduation (he graduated on Biology), he dedicated to it, and like always, with a little bit of luck and a lot of dedication, he caught Albert’s attention.

He had a massive challenge ahead of him, but that didn’t stopped him on going far and getting him to be the recognized bartender that he is today.

There is just one thing though, and this goes straight to you Marc. You still owe me a drink, remember?

Maybe, maybe not.

On January we decided we were going to move to Barcelona. Not only that, but we would try and work with the best. We sent CVs to everyone we could, and then this dream company answered back showing interest in us. Until then we were feeling high up in the sky.

We had a couple of skype interviews we were in. Everything was set. There was only one problem, it wasn’t the positions we wanted, neither the restaurant we wanted from the company group. At first we both said yes for the fact that once you are in, you are in.

Arriving in Barcelona we had one day to get the documents done and the day after we started working. Everything went very well and quick. I was going to be a part-time runner and Matt would be a help cook. We signed for it.

First day and problems already started. I was barely introduced to everyone and they put me to clean all the dining room. Until then it was fine, I know what a runner has to do. But little by little I started asking myself if I would really be up to doing that, for that pay, to maybe get transferred to the bar(the place I had originally applied). The thing is, everything had to be done with extreme dedication, and don’t get me wrong, everywhere I worked I dedicated myself. But maybe this time it wouldn’t be worth it. And it wasn’t.

By the fourth day we were both destroyed. We were both asking ourselves why we took a slaving, disrespectful and exhausting job.
It all came down to the fifth day. That day I realized that even with a part-time pay, I had done a fifteen hour shift (reaching 56 hours that week), at two o’clock in the morning we were still cleaning down and waiting on a staff meeting to resume the day. And the climax of the night was an extended meeting until four o’clock with the most clarifying speech I could have ever heard.

It was a speech made by the Head Chef. It started with – If you don’t see yourselves on this journey with us, you should leave. We are at a moment where we want the second Michelin Star. It would be insane not to want it. We are working hard every day to get to that point. If you are here just to pay your bills, you might as well go search for another job. If you are here and you don’t aim to be a head- waiter, or a Chef de Partie within the years, you should go. We have no time to waste on people that doesn’t want what we want. And that is the second Michelin Star right now.

It was all I needed to hear. On that day I arrived home at five in the morning. On that very day I wrote my resignation letter saying I couldn’t go through with all that bullshit (obviously I didn’t write it like that). Basically, I would work my ass off as a runner, to maybe get to be a waitress, to maybe be able to request a transfer to the bar, maybe. For me that was a lot of maybes just to maybe get to work side by side with the bartender I wanted to, maybe three years from then.

That’s just not my style. I decided to leave everything and maybe I’ll get there running from the other side.

My first Chef

Once again I was doing a stage at a very well-known kitchen in my home town. It was my first time being part of a service, I spent 6 months there. The chef was the most lovable, yet temperamental person I had worked for. I started on pastry learning the basic stuff like crème patissier, lemon tarts, glazes, etc.

After one month on pastry I asked to be transferred to the main kitchen, so I could really feel if the kitchen was the place to be. They started putting me on starters, then slowly got me involved with the mains and afterwards they were even calling me to help out on the big functions around the city.

A lot of stress happened, of course, but that wasn’t the high point.
After six months there (on an unpaid stage), the pressure on me was getting higher and higher, and I just didn’t want to be part of that anymore. It was time to move on.

I was scared the chef would hate me when I told him it was my time to leave.

The opposite happened.

One day I pulled him to the side and told him I had to go, that his kitchen had a lot of problems that I couldn’t put up with anymore. That maybe I wasn’t mature enough to deal with them or maybe it was just a bad management issue. I could hear myself saying that and seeing him yelling back at me for being so arrogant.

The chef was speechless and said that no one had ever told him that. That he knew things weren’t perfect but that nobody in 6 years of business had had the guts to tell him what made them leave.

He thanked me.

He said he was very happy with everything I had done for the restaurant and that he knew, from the first day that he met me, that I wasn’t like everybody else and that he never expected me to stay.

He said – you don’t belong here, you belong to the world, and no one can take that away from you. I hope to see you soon, sit down, have a beer and hear all of your adventures.

Now every year I go back home, I do exactly what we agreed on, and the respect that I show for him, he shows back.

Italian Lemons

I was staging in Florence at a fine dining restaurant. They didn’t let me touch the pans, I was working for twelve hours a day just washing salad and cleaning after the chefs. I also had the very important task of squeezing fresh lemon juice to dress the salad. For three weeks I was doing it as normal – grabbing the hand squeezer.

One day when it wasn’t so busy, the chef looked at me and asked how I was doing the lemon juice. He said it was wrong and he showed me how. He grabbed three pots and said there were three different ways of extracting the juice, it all depends on how you want the end result to be.

I was astonished by it, I couldn’t believe there was such thing. Other apprentices gathered around, they were all as curious as I was.

The chef sliced three halves and said that you can squeeze it normally, you can squeeze it sideways and you can squeeze it upside down. The first juice came out fresh, but slightly bitter. He explained it was because when you rub the sides of the pulp and the inside of the skin it mixes the citric juice with the bitterness of the skin. If you want that, great.

If you don’t want that, if you just want the citric taste you should just push the sides of the half lemon into the squeezer, so you extract purely the juice. It tasted just as he had said so.

The last and most important way of doing it was surprisingly amazing. He said, if you want the sourest taste of all, you do it upside down, because when the juice drops out of the lemon, it carries with it all the essencial oils that come out of the outside of the skin.

It may sound so silly, but with that simple share of knowledge, a tear drop came out of my eye. It was one of those eureka moments where I realized why I wanted to be a chef.

The smallest details can change everything, even a tiny drop of Italian lemon juice.