I love surprises, and for my 47th birthday yesterday, Karen planned an overnight in Omaha, and it was just what the doctor ordered.

We ended the day at one of my favorite places in the world for live music. Mr. Toad’s is a small, corner bar in the Old Market with a small jazz combo that performs every Sunday night, and has done so for years. A few cats abide here (and I use that term respectfully, as that is how they refer to themselves) that are as faithful as a church lady, and last night was no different, so I pulled up a chair next to LeRoy, who seems to know everything I wish I knew about jazz. He me gave the back-story on the new guys sitting in with the group this session.

After being engulfed in the busy set, my head came up for air as the band took a break, and that’s when it dawned on me that there were eleven people in the audience. For a band this good, why were there no more than 22 ears to enjoy it? I wanted to feel bad for the musicians, but then I caught myself and realized that would not be necessary.

The guys played for each other as much as they did for us, and as they were packing it up at the end of the gig, one long standing member said thanks to the guest saxophonist, who replied, “thanks for the chance, man, I love it.”

Yes, he did. That much was evident.

I’m drawn to jazz because of the energy it emits. Much of the genre is meant to be enjoyed in the moment, because that is how it is created. A good session is one that simmers with a blend of that energy released together in concert with the other musicians in the mix. The more skilled the release, the hotter the music becomes. If you notice a similarity to creating good food beginning to form, the comparison is not stretch.

As a wannabe musician, I picture myself being able to release that energy via an instrument. But as a chef, I have that same opportunity to affect the outcome of my food. It takes the same coordination and communication between the line cook, the sous chef and the garde manger as it does between the brass and the rhythm section. The back and front of the house must be playing off the same charts; else cacophony is all the customer hears.

In both food and music, how you perform today is no guarantee of how it’s going to taste and sound tomorrow. Leftover bread and leftover songs don’t sell well.

I think we all have within us a level of energy that needs to be released. Energy found in the form of anger, grief, anxiety or creativity will eventually find an exit point. The question is; will it be intentional or accidental? Will it be constructive, or will it leave collateral damage. The oil spewing in the Gulf is a case in point. Properly contained, it can power a whole region. Mishandled and it becomes a pollutant of equal magnitude.

My restaurant has been an intentional effort to release my creative energy in a productive way. It is my canvas upon which I paint with simple food and drink. People who ask me how or why I work so hard and I say it’s only because there is still energy fueling it. If that fire fades from a lack of fuel, so will my cooking. This is another reason to maintain a sustainable life.

Like the musicians last night, if their main reason for playing is the approval of an audience, that’s a little like trying to heat the stove with kindling. It just won’t last. There has to be a pleasure in the act itself.

Granted, I admit that I cook to make people happy, but the x-factor in the equation is the number of people I need in order to feel like I’ve done my job well. Will I cook with the same commitment knowing that it might only be for eleven people, or do I need a house of a hundred to give me incentive to do my best? I don’t always have control over how many covers I serve, but I can dictate to my hands to work and play hard, regardless.

…and a scotch for the gentleman

One thought on “…and a scotch for the gentleman

  • June 29, 2010 at 2:50 am

    your metaphoric euphoria of an explanation of what chefs and jazz jammers do blew my mind. very thought-provoking and a great read!

    (and i actually didn't know that Mr Toad's had a live jazz set every sunday night. i need to get up to OMA and check that out. thanks for the enticement!)

    this post also reminded me that i need to get my rear in gear and bring a friend in for breakfast. i love making converts of first time visitors to your little kitchen palace of delight.

    i'm also craving bleu cheese ciabatta… 😉

Comments are closed.