OH OH BAM-BI-NO’S

There came that one day when I just, no longer wanted to be an auto mechanic. My hands were constantly stained with grease and grime, I worked in an environment full of VOC’s and I have no doubt that smelling gasoline and solvents, all day, every day, did nothing to help my personality. Even though I had a union job, making good money, I quit. Wait for it. To become a bartender.  Little did I know, that one decision who forever change the course of my life and provide me opportunities to see the parts of the globe I honestly did not know existed.

I chose not to go to college straight out of high school. Being bullied in grade school, I opted for the rebellious teenage mantel during high school. I proudly graduated with a C average. Straight A’s in auto shop, D’s in every other course. (These were the years when one would not be failed out of high school.) Back then it was as acceptable to enter the Trades as it was to attend college. You could also pay for college, live, eat and have a few beers on minimum wage job back then too. (I’ll save the social commentary for the next election.)

I was fortunate enough that my father offered to pay for my tuition at a 9 month trade school in Phoenix Arizona, called Universal Technical Institute. Deciding to wait until September to start classes, missing the heat of summer turned out to be a wise idea, I packed up my belongings in an old steamer trunk and took the family car, now mine, through the desert into the Great State of Arizona.

“Living on the road my friends, was meant to keep me free and clean.”

All was well and good. I got a job, sharpening saw blades. Having always been handy, this seemed an appropriate manner in which to earn my living. I rented my first apartment and experienced my first roommate. Oddly enough, he and I shared the exact same birthdate. Same date, same year. Cheers to you Keith. Now to set the stage a tiny bit more. I had recently spent the last few seasons working at the Renaissance Faire. For those of you born later than I was, consider it the Burning Man of my time. Hippies, marijuana and communal showers. Everything a teenage boy needed to . . . well . . . be a teenage boy.

I made dear friends at the Ren Faire, many I still have today. All were my senior. So imagine coming from a smoke enhanced, communal hippie setting only to find yourself into an anxious group of turgid (Yes I know what turgid means and I mean it here.) 18 year old men. I felt, and was, most certainly out of place. What I needed was to find, my safe place. Enter Gina and the Statler Lounge. At that time in Arizona the drinking age was 19 and I was 18. While this was mildly problematic I thank Gina for never carding me. The Statler Lounge was the first place where I learned that you could lose money playing pool. That there were many kinds of mixed drinks, other than the Highballs and Gimlets that my parents enjoyed, and that some people could be very nice.

Gina was the bartender. She was old, 40 I think. Back in those days you could run a tab.  The very first night I drank more than I could afford. I was embarrassed and asked to pay it the following week. Which I did. I was shy at the bar but kept coming back every week on Friday night needing a safe place of my own. I never ran my tab that high again and only ever ordered 2 drinks even though I wanted more. Gina taught me about tipping and I started to feel like I fit in. Gina, it turns out, was from San Francisco. She recognized the Bay in me and took me under her wing. About 4 or 5 Fridays into our relationship Gina made me a deal. She promised to rip up my tab if I would do just one thing for her. Near the end of the night she needed help carrying out the beer from the back room to the bar to restock the refrigerators. The cart was too heavy for her to manage easily. My job on Friday nights became this: Drink for free; bring the beer from the back.  I had my safe place. When I finished my technical tenure, I was proud of what I had learned and was ready to return to the City by the Bay. Even before I left I missed Gina. I miss her and the Statler Lounge today where I had become a regular. And yes, I miss the free drinks. Yukon Jack and grapefruit juice, if you must know.

Last week I popped into our newest Italian restaurant in town: Bambino’s at 301 Georgia At. Does it remind me of the Statler Lounge? Not really. It more reminds me of a little bar and Italian restaurant that I worked for in Rodeo. That was my first job as a bartender after a few years working as an auto mechanic. That place had the Statler Lounge feel and great Italian food to boot in a family friendly environment. It was that job that sent me to my next where I ended up managing restaurants, then to culinary school, then abroad cooking on motion pictures.

Bambino’s is that kind of family friendly restaurant. The evening I went, I saw a few of my Vallejo friends enjoying dinner in there as well. The food was well prepared, their cooks obviously skilled at their craft.  I chose the Chicken Marsala. The chicken was tender covered in a light mushroom sauce. The dish was served with an expertly blanched bit of broccoli that served as the perfect foil to the rich chicken sauce. That and glass of Chianti had me saying ‘Per Piacere’ for more.

I am happy that we have another place in town.

May each meal bring you joy and every companion, happiness.

Tommy Judt

CHILLY OR CHILI? BOTH ACTUALLY

I sincerely do not know what to do. You see, I have this problem which, in all honesty, has at least a dozen solutions that I can think of right off the top of my head. But today, for me, it seems to be going much deeper than that. Question: Have you ever had someone tell you, You need to get out of your head and back in to your body? Continue reading “CHILLY OR CHILI? BOTH ACTUALLY”

MY OH MY, MAYA THAI

I remember living with my father after my mother passed away. It was an interesting/tricky time for the both of us. Dad was still hurting from losing his best friend of 40 years and I was starting a new business catering on motion picture sets. Needless to say our schedules were out of sync. When I was working, I was away 14 hours a day. When I was off, well, I was there all the time. For my dad, even after a long vacation, he had not adjusted to being retired and so I became the target of more than a few needling comments. Now please do not get the wrong idea. We were not the Bickersons, not at all. This was the best time for me, getting to know my father. I hope that he would say the same thing about me. I think he would. Although . . . I am sure that I challenged his thinking on more than one occasion. One time I remember in particular. Continue reading “MY OH MY, MAYA THAI”

ON FOOD AND COOKING

Years ago I dated a charming woman who took me home, for Sunday dinner, to meet her parents. Upon hearing that I had been a chef, her mother immediately scrapped the mac and cheese idea and put out her best meal: Turkey, stuffing, gravy, the works, in July. I remember that she sat nervously, watching me as I took in my first few bites. Now I am going to Continue reading “ON FOOD AND COOKING”

SUNDAY DINNER

Sunday dinner was always a thing growing up.  We ate promptly at 5 and there was always roast chicken or beef for dinner, with mashed potatoes and gravy of course.  During the week we would dine on the mainstays like spaghetti or goulash, and of course tuna casserole. But it was on Sunday that mom did some cooking. You have read here that my mother was a lovely woman who could burn water. This is Continue reading “SUNDAY DINNER”

I AM A SOUL MAN

This next sentence may not be exactly true but here it is. I first remember hearing the song Soul Man while watching the movie The Blues Brothers. Like I said, that may not be exactly true because I knew the words and sang along with everyone else in the theater. Feeling uneasy about my memory, as I am want to do these days, Continue reading “I AM A SOUL MAN”

THE BIG NIGHT

There are two best days in any restaurant owner’s life. The day they open and the day they close. I have experienced both. It had always been a dream of mine, since I was a very young man, to own a restaurant. Even my mother and father supported the idea and offered to work for me. Either, or the both, of them would have made excellent hosts. My restaurant was in Emeryville, in the shopping center where Trader Joe’s is located. I took over an old Hobbee’s and made it into a sweet little place. Actually Continue reading “THE BIG NIGHT”

PATRIOT OR LOYALIST?

Perhaps the first lesson of etiquette that I learned as a young man, after put the napkin on my lap, or don’t cry over spilt milk was the proper use of the fork. I remember my mother, whom I sat directly across for the dinner table. Demonstrate the proper way to cut my meat. Fork in left hand, knife in right, pierce the meat with the fork and cut off a small bite with the knife. Then set the knife down, transfer the fork to your right hand and take a bit. Rinse well and repeat. (She did not say the last, it just seemed to fit in my head.)

 

Being the curious young toddler that I was I asked the inevitable: Why? Continue reading “PATRIOT OR LOYALIST?”

TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT

“I’m hungry.”

“Yeah, me too.”

 

This seemingly innocuous phrase is repeated in some form or another in most every household one could think of, including mine. The difference in this case is that we are both food industry professionals who have spent long hours in the kitchen preparing and cooking food for an eight hour shift. So what does that mean? Well, it’s kind of crazy. Let me back up and start with an old saying about chefs and restaurants.

 

Never trust a skinny chef. Continue reading “TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT”

NOTHING MATTERS, EVERYTHING MATTERS

The first job I got, while attending culinary school, was for the Bank of California as a cook for their Executive Dining Room. The Chef, Bob, ran the kitchen for the employee commissary and the dining room. He was a nice enough fellow and tolerated the newness of my techniques. You see, I had just started my studies and the needle on my skill meter had Continue reading “NOTHING MATTERS, EVERYTHING MATTERS”