There is perhaps, no regret. But there is nostalgia. If I'm allowed to call it that.
Up to this day I always told myself that the greatest opportunity in my career was to work in that little cafe in the Queen City. That greatest opportunity that was too short because I let it go. In that little cafe where everything was Larousse. If you tried to cover up bubbles in your chocolate pudding with some ganache they would definitely know about it, and you would get your ass whipped. If you missed a step in making the stock there was a high chance you'd not live to see the next sunrise. In that little cafe.
It was too short an opportunity. Sure I got a copy of the recipes. A friend of mine from that same cafe who only stayed as short as I did sold a recipe for 30,000 PHP. I had a notebook full of recipes from the place but somehow I didn't want them exchanged for 30,000. I was part of that team when the place was in its opening stages, and if you read the notebook, you could see how the recipes progressed, changed over time, as we recorded what worked and what didn't. How one chef did it compared to the other.
As I moved over that knot in my life, I came to the hotel that I had fond memories of as a trainee. I thought life sucked, and kind of regretted having to lose all the Larousse-ness of that cafe. See, hotel survival was on a different level of culinary trickery, to the point where you swore you could be a chemist. If the recipe called for raspberry but you didn't have it, and it was needed badly or you could be on the morning papers, something came out of your ass that apparently made the guests think it was raspberry. Nothing like a little food color to do the trick. So this kind of skill also earned some points in my experience book, I guess. It was really handy. But I didn't expect to do it very often. And really, I always took pride in my work.
I was nothing more than an entry level cook, the lowest of all the commis in that hotel, but I was working with foie gras. I worked with liquid nitrogen and sous vide and Paco jets. To some this was nothing new. I went to Thailand and was surprised at how liquid nitro found its way in a stall in a mall like it was some cookie treat. Sous vide was introduced in the 70s so, that was expected too. Still, even as I thought at the time that this kitchen was outdated, I could never have experienced all of these in that cafe. I could never have lived to work with Michelin Star chefs and chefs that appeared in international magazines. As I left that hotel they hosted two more rounds of guest chefs, and I thought well damn, I missed another Michelin Star opportunity.
I did not regret it 100%, leaving. Because my life there was hell. Despite the enthusiasm I felt knowledge-wise, my bosses made sure I did not enjoy it. When I moved to another hotel, which was where I currently worked, I thought it was going to be better. "State-of-the-art" when I heard it. I assumed, something beyond the 70s. Beyond the foie gras and the truffle and the nitro and the Paco and the xantan and the foam and the dry ice and the espuma. A true five-star experience that perhaps brought back the Larousse that I missed, a place that debunked all kinds of magic tricks to make that mayonnaise or red wine sauce. And a place where new people shared new ideas. Culinary-wise, I was bored out of my mind. We couldn't even afford the local brandy to marinate chicken liver with. Did I regret it?
To make things easier I heard the news that the first hotel was closing down. Good on you to have been closing just as I left. You know, something to blow raspberries at. Not going down with ya, I thought. That's what you get for being mean. Your hotel closes down. And it was all fine now, I could move on from the Michelin Star guest chefs. Then an old colleague from that hotel posted a video. It was a tribute to all the culinary adventures the hotel had to offer. And I saw the kilos of foie gras, that I never got to touch again after coming to the new hotel. And tears fell. Soon I began to cry. It was as if I was mourning over something.
The foie gras. The xantan. The truffle. The nitro. The paco. The foams. Stuff that I played with to make amuse bouche. Just amuse bouche. And I never got to see them again. It was not an episode of frustration that I often had with the new hotel, but this time it was more of a welling sadness. And that's how it came to be that the sight of foie gras made me miserable. I loved food in that miserable way.