Chicago, James Beard, & Decisions | Pt. 1

So much has happened since I last posted a proper update, but I’ll spare you the hum-drummery, the “catching up” minutiae of the past few months, year(s)?  Because I have a feeling this is gonna be long:


It’s true, I (was) still in Kansas.  Halfway through culinary school at Johnson County Community College even.  I do love my job/apprenticeship that lets me make good food with fun people.  My new love, my “second career”, my artistic switch to a different medium.  But if you know me, you know I’ve never been able to stay in one place very long.  I get bored easily, I suppose, or try and outrun my brain.  So I started looking for opportunities.  I had this dream of rooting down in my home state, of opening a small restaurant, which then became a food truck, then a small market/deli, but I just don’t know if that’s who I am…who I’ve ever been, and maybe it’s just time to stop fighting it.

I’ve been doing well in school.  I feel at home in a kitchen.  But I’d be lying if the male-dominated bullshit that I’ve been scrawling about in my small notebook hasn’t pissed me off enough that I started seeking outlets.  I found a program through the James Beard Foundation, “Women in Culinary Leadership”.  It is basically an accelerated, 8-month culinary program with different restaurants around the country.  I applied.  I was gifted some amazing recommendation letters from people I absolutely respect and admire.  I chose only restaurants within a day’s drive (I have health issues, my family has health issues).  Lo and behold, I was selected for a Skype interview for a restaurant in Chicago.  I passed that, knew by that night I had 10 days to figure out how to get up to Chicago to do a tasting (all of this is SO out of my comfort zone, as the restaurant was/is an ethnic fusion establishment).  I figured it out.  I have not been feeling well, and the whole time my anxiety and nerves were through the roof, but I got it done and got on a train.  I wanted a train so I would have time to think, to plan, to research.

I got into Chicago around 3pm.  I had a rolling bag and a backpack and foolishly (stubbornly) decided I would walk to my hostel.  It was hot, I’ve had terrible back/hip problems, and have GI issues as well (hello, stress!)  Got to the hostel and it was a damned oasis.  It was further than I thought.  I watched the spider remaking its web on the outside of our window for I don’t know how long.  Amazing view though.

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That was one of two photos I took.  Me, the “photographer”.

So, I relaxed.  I showered.  I wrote this:
“This place smells like every place. The hostel, the McKittrick. Sunscreen, Louisville. The cold humidity of the lakefront, New Orleans in Winter. I’m being confronted with my body’s New World Order in relation to how I think of myself, a traveler, always in motion. Now limitation. Things I could once do without a second though, give pause, regret. It makes me sad, but it’s also a relief. Things are just different now, and I can’t force them back the way they were, just adjust and move forward.”

Then I went in search of a Walgreen’s and got exhausted, was in pain.  Ended up getting European-picnic style dinner from Eataly (which was on the next block, and I hate how much I went there).  But, you know, when you’re tired, when you’re confronted with Life Changes, Body Betrayals, you just need a cocktail in your room, arancini, black rice salad, fresh fruit, and dark chocolate.

Fun Fact/Honest Sidenote: C turned into D during this whole trip and I don’t think I can stay in hostels anymore.  It’s not exactly private.

I had one whole day before I had to do my tasting menu (four dishes, two in line with the fusion concept, two of my own).  I set up a time (2pm) with the Sous Chef to come in and look at the kitchen, pantry, walk-in and see what I would need.  I had the morning to try and not freak out, to just relax and think.  So I decided to walk a few blocks to the lakefront and grab a coffee.  I stumbled on a market (Ok, it was a fucking Whole Foods.) and grabbed a sourdough roll, a small wedge of cheese.  I was going to keep the European picnic train rolling.

I got to the lakefront and it was cloudy, colder than expected, and of course, windy.  I was starting to feel exhausted, so I sat on the steps and was just situating myself when I noticed a gentleman walking by and boisterously interacting with everyone.  It’s fine.  I lived in L.A.  I lived in New Orleans.  I can handle a little crazy.  I acknowledged him kindly and he started on his way, then doubled back.  Crap.  He started a conversation, I responded.  I was polite, but reserved.  I tried not to engage, but it didn’t matter.  With some people, it doesn’t matter.  He kept going.  And going.  He was animated, and a few times invaded my personal space.  As a female, you gauge every conversation with a male stranger and I couldn’t figure out the threat level on this one.  I honestly couldn’t.  I sat there, just listening and nodding, trying to figure out if he was full-blown unstable, delusional, or completely with it and just aggressively oblivious, to the point of not caring.

It was becoming clear that I wasn’t going to have some time to myself to think and then that started to piss me off.

But then, then I realized the dynamics of the situation weren’t that simple.  I sat there, a lone white girl, one an only somewhat busy lakefront, with this man, yes, this black man, standing over me being loud and occasionally getting close.  Then I noticed the cop cars.  They drove by, slowly, five or six times pointedly looking in our direction.  As much as I wanted out of that situation, I knew there was nothing I really could do unless things really and truly took a wrong turn.  And then I felt pissed because I was trapped, and I let myself get trapped because I had so much on my mind, so much stress, I didn’t feel like being called a bitch right then just to end it.  I was vulnerable and distant and it pissed me off more that another human being didn’t pick up on that, or simply didn’t care, and disengage.  And I was/am pissed that the reality of our country’s racism threw a wrench in the good ol’ fashioned “this man is borderline harassing me.”  So I sat there and took it.
The fucking levels, man.

I thought my best hope was going to be to simply say I had to be somewhere in a few minutes and got up to start walking.  He kept talking, non-stop, all these stories, grandiose stories, walking alongside me.  I would stop, nod, say I had to go and start walking again, and he ended up walking with me saying he was going in the same direction.  I knew there was a Target a few blocks away, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going “shopping” with me, so when we got to the corner, I tried to make my exit.  He mentioned again that he was taking me to a movie next week and if I wanted to come eat at his workplace, it would be on him.  I’m not sure why he thought I was a local, but after obligingly putting his email in my phone,  I let him down and finally walked into Target while he watched.

I walked around for awhile, long enough that he should be gone and went back to my hostel, mentally and emotionally fucking exhausted.

I hesitated sharing this, because it involves difficult issues and frankly, I’m scared to say the wrong thing anymore.  But it happened, and it’s as true as I can tell it, and if anything, I suppose it shows the difficulty of modern human engagement.  Just try not to hurt anyone, or get them hurt, I suppose.  I could’ve been more assertive, but the only thing he took was my time and mental energy.  All I could think about was de-escalation and even if it took an hour and a half (no joke), I guess it worked.

Also, dudes, fucking stop it.  Fucking stop dominating women without their consent.  Because that’s what that is.

This is ridiculously long and I’ve not even started day 2.  This is what happens when you don’t write for awhile.  Maybe someone got something out of this….more later

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