Not too many weeks now until Jude and I pack our lives into my little car and depart for Northern Ontario. Actually, the packing has already began, the culling of clothes and books and supplies and packing a huge Rubbermaid bin full of spices, TVP, curry pastes, Freezies, sprinkles and other odds and ends more readily available in Southern Ontario then they are at the end of the highway in the north. Its the time of year where the elation about returning to the bush is at its high point, but when you also start remembering all the crummy details you’ve let go over the winter. Maybe when we stop going back is when we stop forgetting the shit details, even just for the winter.
“Oh fuck,” I remember I’m going to have to coerce the bus into starting after a winter of sitting at Ryland, climb into the hood and fill it with coolant and pray that it will last through the season. A sticky-note on the dash of my car reminds me to buy chlorine testing strips at Tap Phong, a mop head, nitrile gloves. I know there’s a cupboard door that needs to be fixed, a countertop that has to be caulked back to the sink, a fridge that needs to be screwed back into the wall. The entire thing will need to be emptied, scrubbed top to bottom with bleach, swept of mouse nests and detritus. The gas lines need to be checked, the propane hookups repaired. The stoves need to be cleaned of dust and lint to prevent the fun of fireballs shooting out the doors at random intervals. Add zip-ties to the shopping list, and a 7/8 crescent wrench. Oh, and a paint scraper for the flat top, and low gauge wire to tie the burners in place so they don’t fly free when jouncing down the thawing logging roads.
Many years of restaurant experience, cafe management, bush seasons and travelling are culminating into a more organized season. My desktop is covered in laminated order sheets, par levels included, printed recipes, a day planner, a binder with handily marked tabs for invoices, orders, meal planning, vegan recipes, a pouch for pens and markers. Laminated check sheets of sundry items, a planter ‘survey’ for food preferences, allergies, and birthdays, a budget assistance sheet. I have absorbed and learned this information over the past years by exposure and practice and it is a strange and gratifying feeling to call it into service and have it there. I am forestalling what I am capable of forestalling, combating what can be combated with prep. There’s nothing that can be done in advance about days where Sysco runs late and food doesn’t arrive, the reliable roar of the diesel generator abruptly cutting out, a snowstorm blowing into the forest in the middle of May and freezing both water and propane lines. There will be days of total bullshit where something fucks up with the water pump or the bus breaks down on the side of the highway, or somebody steals the 2×4 used to secure the dry storage trailer door, or a bear invades the dry storage trailer (which hasn’t happened yet, and god willing, won’t.)
Restaurant cooking has become pretty pale in comparison. I’m tired of little boy’s egos and egotistical chefs who don’t even make good food. I’m tired of sacrificing my personal life and happiness to make absolute garbage food and listen to man-children talk about pussy and cocaine while plating meatloaf sandwiches, as if they’re rockstars of some sort, marooned in small town kitchens. I know there’s another restaurant world out there, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, but I’ve lost my access to it. There’s a restaurant world where we fire out 100 cover services in a 30 seat restaurant, laughing so hard we cry and staying late to butcher chickens and octopus and seal endless bags for sous-vide and blanch potatoes and start bread to proof and work, industriously, on every, tiny detail of sublime food made from scratch. That’s the world where I can handle the criticism and the sixteen hour days and the egotism, when my boudin blanc and my sourdough compete for attention and when the bewildered chef asks, “Are you fucking retarded?” it isn’t out of meanness, just legitimate curiosity about the fact that I can’t seem to work to his standard. And somewhere else, there’s an old Bluebird bus, where I dig a hole for the grounding plate and hook up the generator, the propane and the water, light the pilots and smelling of diesel and pine needles, the primordial cries of cranes and forest creatures echoing around, crooked cakes baking in the bus that’s parked on a slant and a bottle of Baby Duck chilling in the freezer.