Masterchef Romania, new jury

According to Pagina de media, ProTv has announced  the new Masterchef jury. I was a juror myself  for two seasons and I enjoyed it. I commend their choice and each member of the new jury. Samuel Le Torrillec is a very talented chef, with a strong contribution to the creation of modern Romanian cuisine. Liviu Popescu has built a solid and impressive business having  cooking at its core. That alone should suffice when it comes to his credentials in judging a dish. My friend Razvan Exarhu has learned about cooking the hard way, in his own bistro. We’ve cooked together, we’ve eaten together and we’ve reviewed together so many dishes, that I can rest assured about the show’s future. Regarding the comments on how much of a celebrity  chef one  should be in order to be part of a cooking contest jury, be it for amateur cooks, like Masterchef, or  for professional chefs, you should take into account that, at international level, the show’s format is not limited to a jury panel made up exclusively of professional chefs, it also includes restaurateurs  ( see Joe Bastianich),  foodies, cookbook  authors, various gastronomy professionals. Even the famed Michelin guide, which awards the stars sought after by countless restaurateurs and professional chefs alike, is put together on the basis of judgment imparted by  several people, of whom only  handful are chefs. Therefore, when in the kitchen, we should pay attention to our pots and pans; while on the couch, we should focus more on not chocking on popcorn while enjoying (or not) a TV show. Godspeed, Masterchef!

Tricks of the trade. Stolen in Romania.

One of the roots of the deprofessionalization phenomenon happening in today’s Romania can be traced in the country’s history, way back when the saying “The tricks of the trade are stolen, not learned!” Was discovered, adopted and implemented on a large scale. Romanians turned out to be an incredibly at this, too proud to beg, too dumb to steal properly (this is from one of Sting’s songs, which obviously, is not about  my rant, but it seems to come in handy). The saying “The tricks of the tradeare stolen”, which can still be heard way too often, reflects our failure to provide and to demand education. Mentoring is as good as non-existent and graduates are, exactly as I was twenty years ago, perfectly unprepared to produce any added value whatsoever. We’ve all been stealing the tricks of the trade until the trade is almost gone. Anything that could be salvaged seems to come at a high price nowadays. Most likely because it is. Unfortunately we can’t mass-produce professionals, cheaper by the dozen. Or mentors, by the same token.

They don’t teach us in school, but it wouldn’t hurt if they did

I didn’t enjoy a single school day in the timespan between the age of 6 and 26. Twenty years of hardships, sometimes bearable, sometimes bearing the guise of attacks on freedom, conscience, personality, intelligence. It happened that I had few teachers I genuinely liked, whether I was good or average at their subject. My rapport with them was based  on their knowledge of  life and how to cure the  arrogance and ignorance I  was displaying in those days when I was no longer the introvert  they couldn’t pull many words from, without me being aware of all the aforementioned  “qualities” . To give you an idea of the sort of child I was, on my first school day, when I was six, I could already read. When I was seven, I had read more books than any of my classmates,  and by the time I was eight, I had read more books than all my classmates together. I think the only  one who came in close and even surpassed me on occasion ( without competing against each other) was my cousin Lucian, who was my classmate and who is very smart and an avid reader.

For reasons irrelevant now, reading books has always been a part of my life. It was my favorite pastime into my twenties and it still gives me joy. I realized I knew things, I was aware I knew more than my colleagues. I was too pure at heat back then to boast about it, and I had been well educated at home, based on ancient sayings (Self-praise is no recommendation etc.), but that didn’t change the fact that I was bored to death and I felt like I was being held back . The school was not good at it, neither was it curious, its main goal being the levelling of minds and personalities. My interest in school dropped to zero, while my thirst for knowledge was fuelled by random, and mostly meaningless readings, whereas I found myself at a loss on several occasions. I graduated year after year , sometimes at the top of the class, fearing my  parents or  out  of shame, which is in about the same range.

Watching the family’s children and those of my acquaintances, I have realized that, although many have changed, the system keeps on teaching people fear and shame, instead of courage, serenity and the freedom to change the perspective for a better understanding of the world. If someone had taught us how to read textbooks, we would have learned what too few people know, namely that this planet is populated by billions of worlds which can co-exist in harmony, effortlessly. For the time being, we only know the effort it takes to be something , without knowing how to effortlessly just be. Don’t think for a minute that I point the finger at the  Romanian school; it’s the same all over the world, which accounts partially for the history’s troubles we’re living to the full and which will become history tomorrow. Actually, I am not laying the blame on anyone, I am just speaking my mind as to what I would have liked to be taught in school.

Internet Idiot

If there is any of you out there who feels the internet is no longer the poppy field of 7-8 years ago, when you couldn’t wait for an “ on to off” meeting to see eye  to eye with other internauts, drop a comment to this post. If any of you feels that the internet is full of idiots who have ruined  it, leave a comment here. Mind you, everybody   feels the same, the “idiots”, especially the “idiots”, included.  I am aware of the psychological explanations and consequences of this tsunami of ignorance to the extent one learns about it from internet research, well documented research, unlike those carried out by British scientists.  I know them partially due to my wasting  way too much time  and energy either hating  the “idiots”, or trying to convince them that there’s more to life, that not everything is fishy, or catastrophic, that… It’s taken  me a few years of hackles  and of frustrations to take life for what it is, to take people for exactly who they are  and accept  you cannot change anyone. All you can do is to speak yourself politely, to be understanding, to be patient, to avoid conflict, to keep away from hogwash, not to lie down with dogs, not to retaliate. In reality, the only thing you defend when you fight with someone over the internet is your own ego whispering into your ear that you have a reputation to protect. Which is totally irrelevant for your life in particular and for Life in general. It was a hard lesson, but I’ve learned that I can choose  not to retaliate. It’s been incredibly difficult, but I’ve learned to pay attention and to understand what it means for me to feel offended or assaulted. Once I got it, it became completely irrelevant. Do I have  “clouds”  casting shadows on my online life?  Yes, for sure, but now I know they will pass ne  by. I let them pass me by, I have no reason whatsoever to keep my head clouded. I choose  light. I choose to shed light, instead of waiting for validation. No lamp has any expectation whatsoever from the room it lights up. Do you want to be the lamp in your life?

Light yourself  up and wait   for nothing in return. Ask not why people are mean, why some are full of hatred and others troll just for the sake of it, why do they jump at someone’s throat like a pack of wolves. You can learn all about it in books, but knowing the answer won’t help.

PS.it would have been cool if this post had been sponsored by Ikea, but it isn’t.

Omran of Aleppo

“Sometimes it can be like this too, daddy”, my two-year old son Vladimir sometimes tells me when he tries to explain things, but he doesn’t have enough vocabulary for it. If I were to put into words the images below, I’d have to call it quits and admit I’m lost for words. But I know perfectly well what to do so that this kind of images is never to be seen again: to look at them like you’d look at yourself. Yes, to them, to all the others. But how to do it, when we’re so different, aren’t we? How to look at a Syrian child, who barely escaped death, like you’d look at yourself, when you can’t even look at your child, when he or she is screaming for an  hour for no apparent reason. When you get the urge to break your neighbor’s fingers, the same one who is drilling holes upstairs, on Sunday at noon. When you hate the guts of the guy who’s just cut in front of you and you’d run him or her over, when…

We’re so sensitive to the point that we’ve become insensitive. Omran of Aleppo, I see thee.

No breaking news from Crete

No breaking news from Crete. Yes, we enjoy thriller stories, cliffhangers  or stories whose  beginnings hold more surprises than the end ( if told by Tarantino), but lately we seem to be chasing cheap thrills and drama. Instead ,today I  would like to present you with a story lacking drama, but filled with innocence. While in Crete, I’ve met a  young Romanian who works there and who offered me ten minutes from his life. Check out my conversation with Florin Fotache, student from Iasi, in the new  episode from  Out of the kitchen.

That’s how I get to be the talk of the town

Not for nothing do people say I’m arrogant, that I don’t answer to emails and I don’t like sharing. Now seriously, would you have liked to spend two- three, maybe six hours of your life to answer an email with short, on- topic questions, like the ones below, especially if the email, coming from a stranger, ends the way it ends (the email excerpt is copied/ pasted here, I will not edit anything for fear I will burst into laughing again; I have made one change only to protect the sender’s identity, who is but one of the tens of people who email me every month on the same subject, using the same tone):

  1. Which, in your opinion, would be the riskier solution FOR THE BEGINNING: a fast-food restaurant in the food court at the mall, or in a smaller space, with ten tables, in a more central location (I’m thinking rent and exposure)
  2. What would be the minimum budget for both options? If now I had 30,000- 40,000 EUR, how much more would I need? I’m having in mind some EU funds also, but I am well aware that it takes a while until you actually receive the money. Still, I can recover some of my investment…
  3. Do you think I absolutely need a chef who knows the@#* cuisine or a good chef who can learn @#*recipes under my girlfriend’s “close watch”? :))
  4. How many dishes do I need in the menu, at least, for starters? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to instantly get the maximum ROI, with a small investment ( any Romanian’s dream), but I’d rather be cautious and reduce risks.
  5. What do you think would be the best way to promote such a restaurant at the beginning?
  6. How much would a good chef, for a normal, no fuss restaurant, cost?
  7. How risky is to go for a more @#*restaurant in Romania?
  8. What would be the best selling price for a dish, for a plate?

I know consulting services are expensive, but firstly I need advice from an uber-knowledgeable person like you. I believe my questions are rather friendly advice and not at all consulting services…:)

Honest food

Patsiris is closed on Monday, starting with 1922. The current owner rented the place six years ago and works together with his family  in the small tavern near the entry to Kokkini Hani. They all have blond hair like German people, they speak English with a pleasant accent and they cook very well. I’ve eaten there three times, while I’ve tried the food at other taverns. I’ve eaten well everywhere,  including at the hotel (a thing of wonder considering the high rate of failed experiences with hotel food), but nothing compares to Patsiris. Sea-tasting fish, perfectly fried calamari, fried pork sautéed with onion, bell pepper, wine and olive oil, meaty anchovies, sharp cheese and a brilliant tzatziki. One can tell it’s not the best of times, that there are few tourists and that “The  economy is booming”- not, but one can also tell that people make the most of what they have. And there’s your answer to the question “Why is it so difficult, if not almost impossible, to find a Patsiris in the Romanian tourism?”. If you haven’t guessed it already, there it is: we have too much of everything, and that dilutes both our common sense and our imagination. My theory is validated by my experience on the Romanian seaside over the past two years and also by my experience during  each drive I take from Bucharest to Cluj, either through Prahova Valley, or through the Olt Valley. And no, I don’t have any expectations. I’ll stop myself short of stating the obvious and  I’ll report back when I have better news. Good news is when the bad food and the poor service are the exception, not the rule.

Hypocrite or ignoramus?

I remembered recently a joke from my childhood:

“Question:  How to call it right, nuclear or nucular?

Answer:  Call what?”

Drawing a parallel, the question “how to call it, ignoramus or hypocrite” with the answer “Call what?” requires a sequel: how to call  a person who only yesterday was cursing the  athletes representing Romania at the Olympics, and who is now flying the banner of national pride shouting  “ Romania is a champion in fencing/tennis/ whatever/  our heroes!”. Athletes in general and Olympians in particular are not a nation’s heroes; they can be at most their own heroes. They are well aware of the fact that they are nothing but gladiators at the mercy of a wavering and mad audience, incapable of true empathy and devoid of compassion.  Nevertheless, even if they carry this weight on their shoulders- for one cannot deem support the audience’s  victory cheers and the booing  when defeated- these athletes fight tooth  and nail, with all their might, giving up time from their life. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t. I love them regardless, perhaps because I know what it’s like to be knocked-out in a game you set out to win. While I have some understanding for Romanian sports officials (I do not approve of them) when they hold press conferences to vituperate against the athletes they have sent to Rio (smearing others to mask one’s own stench is symptomatic), for you, couch potatoes out there, who are quick to pass judgement, what’s your excuse?

Holiday to Crete

Kokkini Hani, ten kilometers (or so) away from the Kazantsakis airport in Heraklion. Last night, dozens of planes flew above the beach, one every two minutes. The rhythm has slowed down a bit today; now there’s a landing every five minutes. Unheard of airlines bring hundreds of tourists and leave them in this shabby airport by the sea. The porters here are among the most hardworking I have ever met since I started travelling by plane. Mind you, they are not very well paid, the same way those who work in resorts, hotels and taverns are not very well paid either. And yet, they are polite, respectful and quite professional. They rejoice when they receive tips, but they earn them with a smile on their face and with a sort of shyness I’ve never encountered so far. I will not write anything else about the Cretan holidays; the things I mentioned above caught my eye and I felt like sharing them with you.