Thursday, January 19, 2012

Participant Observation

Our culinary staff has experienced tremendous growth this season here at the Sunrise Park Resort Hotel. We began this season with an intensive two day training where we covered professional culinary culture in the world today as well as other renown chefs/restaurants in America and abroad. We also examined the evolution, state of and future of Native American Cuisine in this country. We reinforced the fact that although we draw inspiration from other chefs and their restaurants respectfully, we are not trying to be like anybody else but ourselves. 

This image to the left is of Sean Johnson on the grill station and Marques Hinton(wiping plate) on the saute station in between preparing courses for the Chef's Table in the background on 1-13-12.

Our chefs here are participating in a culinary evolution in Native American Cuisine in Indian Country. They are participating in their own culinary evolution while learning from each other. There was little to no culinary culture here in the White Mountains, so we simply created it for ourselves.

This is a re-post of something I wrote that quickly sums up how I see what we are experiencing.
Laying a solid foundation for Native American Cuisine in our region is a daunting task. We cannot rush to produce very intricate dishes without risking simply becoming another bastardized version of "fusion cuisine". We move forward working to understand the history of our culinary culture and people while methodically cataloging "classics" in our culture, Western Apache Acorn Stew w/ Racket Bread is an example of a classic that can become an inspiration for other versions.

My perspective is that what is happening for Native American Cuisine in our subculture of American culture is somewhat like what happened in France among chefs like Fernand Point, Alain Chapel, Michel Guerard, Jacques Pic, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, etc.. and all that occured with Haute Cuisine, Nouvelle Cuisine and how that has affected "Avant Garde" Cuisine to this day.

Our progress must be meticulous, calculated and deliberate. As a young line cook, I wanted to rush to the "mountain top" and quickly produce a 5-star Native American Cuisine restaurant. Although I know it is very possible to do, I am learning patience. I look at the evolution of cuisine in France like I mentioned above, and the growth and development has been gradual and generational. My foresight allows me to understand that it will be the same way for Native American Cuisine. It is important for me to not loose sight of humility, patience and historical perspective, because I feel like I am part of something great in Indian Country.

Signage in our kitchen at Sunrise Park Resort

There are many things that are out of our control, yet the most important thing we have absolute control over is our minds. So by creating an environment that places a high value on training and mentorship we sharpen each individual by allowing them to fill 'roles' as students and teachers within the our kitchen. We sharpen the mind to enhance and strengthen our individual work ethic and character.

The cooks/chefs in our kitchen are strong kinesthetic learners and have learned many classical culinary fundamentals in a short time frame while operating a business. This is "Character Driven Cuisine" as we like to call it, because none of my cooks have been to culinary school and the culinary students that we did hire jeopardized their own opportunity and quit for whatever reason. I stress that culinary school is very valuable but not a requirement to becoming solid cooks/chefs--it all boils down to individual character and desire to succeed. 

I tell my cooks/chefs that, "Your mind is the sharpest knife that you can ever have. You can choose to maintain your knife and treat it with respect, keep it sharp, protect it and use it properly for good and it will take you far...OR you can neglect your knife(mind) let it get dull, misplace it, misuse it and disrespect it and it can become a very dangerous weapon that can destroy. The choice is yours to use your mind and skill so that it enables you to succeed..." 

We reinforce the historical and cultural idea of "Apache Power" in our kitchen..."Each individual has a certain 'power' in the kitchen, a certain role that is essential to one another. Each individuals 'power' enables the 'band'/kitchen to function and thrive. For example, one person is good a fresh pasta making, another at cooking meat, another at prep, another fills the role of porter and server. Our roles or 'powers' are interconnected and our restaurant cannot function with out people and the talents they have individually, so respect for each other's 'power'/role is critical and also a very age old White Mountain Apache way of life. It applies to our cooking and professional cooking in general."  That is one example of how we look at our work and how it connects us to history, place, identity, culture and world gastronomy. "Apaches are powerful people", is the "famous" and known statement, we do acknowledge it with humility and respect. For me, as the chef, it is amazing to see the growth among our crew.

Participant Observation is a key element that I reinforce in our pre-shift meetings daily. We dont just get lost in our work, we watch others as they lead by example. It is important to observe while you participate because it is possible to not observe while you participate. So by simply being aware of the work of others, one can increase the learning experience by making a simple conscious choice. This is very important in our work.

More signage we believe in...
I am waiting on more images of our Chef's Table. I will write another entry about the chef's table, the dishes, sauces, and other elements that push us in a creative direction. 

So stay tuned for more information here in "APACHES IN THE KITCHEN".

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