Thursday, March 3, 2011

White Flag

After running myself ragged and after another sleepless night, I'm waving the white flag. I admit I can't do this business the way I want to do it all by myself. It's been a difficult run for me since my ex-partner Joel and I split. Despite our different ways of approaching things, my most profitable ventures have always included him.

Trust is a difficult thing when it comes to running your own business. Why is someone helping me? What do they expect out of me? Can I afford the type of returns they are expecting? Do they want a piece of my business? Am I going to get royally screwed because of this?

These are just some of things constantly running through my head when people start to broach the topic of "investing" in me. I wouldn't have such a hard time with it if the constant fear of failure wasn't always at the forefront of my mind when it comes to other people's money. I don't want to lose their money. I don't want to owe them money. I'm still struggling to shake off debt, and it doesn't feel good to work your ass off only to write a check to companies who have got you by the balls.

I always had a special place in my heart for my culinary school friends because I feel as though we toiled through the same battlefield. However, I'm the first one to admit that I've been dicked over more than once by a few of them. Stolen decorating ideas, stolen recipe "secrets", and flat out lying has happened.

I was watching Top Chef last week. In that episode, one culinary genius Richard showed his idea book to another contestant, Mike. Richard is full of gastronomic concepts and very innovative recipe ideas. No sooner than he had discussed this concept of a chicken "Oyster" (a very flavorful small piece of meat that attaches the leg bone to the thigh), and serving it up like a real oyster inside of a oyster shell with an oyster jus with Mike, that dude steals the entire concept and uses it to win $5000 on the quickfire challenge, and then sheepishly thanks Richard for the "inspiration".

Inspiration my ass. He flat-out stole the entire dish out of a fellow chef's concept book! No shame. No guilt. All he said was that Richard should have used it first. Ha. Ha. Ha, he laughed as he ran to the bank with his $5000.

You can't patent a recipe. It's impossible. However, there is a moral code among chef that you just don't do. Stealing another guy's idea is just fucking douche in ANY profession- let alone a kitchen. It shows lack of respect for your fellow colleague, and it show a lack integrity on your part.

A couple of years ago, an old culinary school friend of mine, Maurice did this to me. He called me out of the blue, after not having heard from him in over a year, and I met up with him for a couple of beers. It was great catching up with him, and he revved up my engines about getting back into the swing of things- balls to the wall. He was on his way to Spain to compete for a special executive chef position with a posh resort hotel. out of hundreds of applicants, Maurice and my other friend Kelston both made the cut to go to Spain to develop a menu, cook it, and present it. He didn't tell me all that when we were throwing back drinks. He wanted to go down memory lane and talk about all the pot luck parties we used to have in Brooklyn. I was known for my varieties of empanadas and my ex Joel was known for his fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth pernil.

I have a very open policy with food. You ask; I share. I told him about all the different flavor combinations I had, the technique I used to layer flavors, and even the way I kept the diced peppers crunchy inside the shells. I even told him how Joel made him pork shoulder. To make a really long story short, he went to Spain, made up a bullshit story of having Spanish roots in his family and having these recipes passed down to him from his grandmother, and then went ahead and used both dishes I just told you about, as well as other dishes from other culinary friends of ours.

It's not so much the recipe part that killed me. Like I said, sharing a recipe doesn't irk me. I didn't appreciate the pretense or the lie. He didn't need to butter me up with some beers and a potential cake order to get the recipe out of me. He should have just told me the truth, and I would have given the information happily, and wished him luck, to boot.

Last year, Maurice was killed in Europe. We heard it was drug related but whether it was an overdose or a drug-related homicide was never clearly stated. We got together, as friends, and had a mini-reunion and a small memorial for him. Everyone knew what he did, and the majority of the people didn't want to memorialize him, no matter how long we've known him; dead or alive.

Originally, they had asked me to write a nice poem for him. I struggled with it. When I first found out what he did, I was furious with him and fired off the most intense email I had ever sent anyone before in my life. In short, I had said in very colorful language that if he had just asked me for the recipe as a friend, I would have given him that PLUS more to help him out. The fact that he went to such great lengths to be sneaky spoke mountains about him character and I never wanted to hear from him again. For months he texted, called, and tried to email, but I would not respond. He eventually stopped, and then I heard about his death.

It's easy to forgive someone who can never hurt you again. I struggled with my actions, wondering if I was too hard on someone who wasn't much different from the rest of the opportunists running around out there. While I was still working at my cushy day job, he was out hopping around from gig to gig, trying to make a name for himself. He was just trying to be as cut-throat as everyone else out there finding a well-paying gig. It hurt that he's gone and we didn't make peace, and it hurt that he left this world with so many people quite angry at him.

I think a lot about that scenario when I start to get antsy about my business. I still protect it as if it were my child, but I have to remember that, for the most part, the people who are trying to help me really just want to see me succeed. That's not to say it would have been wise for me to get into bed with some of the people offering a hand. You have to look at ALL aspects of a person before making such an important decision.

And I have. So, much to my disappointment, I went ahead and partnered up with someone. It will help take some of the pressure of getting ingredients and materials off my shoulders, and it will help with deliveries and new business. I thought long and hard about my choice before agreeing to this. The business is still in my name alone, and only I will manage the books. On the other hand, I'm working with someone I can trust with my customer list, my ingredients, and money. That's more than I've ever been able to do the last couple of years. The only other person I would allow in that deep was my mother, and with her new promotion, she just doesn't have the time to help me as much as I need help.

My new partnership works for the both of us. I have help in those areas I cannot attend to, because it's physically impossible to be in three different places at once. I have someone I trust talking to my customers, handling cash transactions, and garnering new business in different areas. He get's a nice cut based on business he generates and orders he helps me on. No contracts. No paperwork. Just a handshake and the word between two people. I'm glad I have one person I can still take at their word, and I'm happy my word still holds as much weight as it always had. The bottom line is: Katherine NEVER breaks her word.

I'm relieved and still nervous. Without personal ties with this partner, I'm hoping my business can start to flourish again. It doesn't help to grow my business when I can't keep up with the sudden influx all by myself. This solution takes care of that dilemma. 

So, I've waved the white flag and recognized that I can't do it all alone. Did I make the right choice letting this person in? I have yet to see, but I feel good about this place I've come to. I just have to have a little faith. ;-) Everything happens for a reason.


  1. Why are you purposely not saying who this person is? Please tell me it isn't who I think it is...OH, Kat....

  2. I feel the same way about ideas. I had a sketchbook stolen as a kid, lost for weeks, and only got it back with pages ripped out and things drawn in. I actually almost lost my sketchbook today while tying my shoe if not for some crazy kind old lady.

    I know you feel bad for this person because you weren't able to make piece before he died, but I wouldn't feel too bad. He made his bed, and had he not been cut down, he'd still be sleeping in it. I'm not sure what comic or philosopher said it but it was along the lines of we only like people after they're dead? I don't know, I just think you're a really good person, I wouldn't be that forgiving. :)

    And good luck with the new business partner! I hope you two really gel and are able to transform into a seamless cake-making machine! HOORAH! XO

  3. I don't mind sharing ideas in the kitchen. I know when I gel with someone if we click when we're cooking together. I just don't like sharing, and then having that conceited asshole turn around and brag to the world that it was all his idea. I wondered if I was just being too egotistical about it or if I had a valid gripe. After about a year and a half of that, I realized it wasn't my ego irking me, it was sharing my knowledge with the wrong kind of person.

    I've been through a lot with Maurice, and I can't exactly say he was a good influence while I was in school. I will say that he helped me find the "fun" me again, and when I went to excess, he didn't judge me. He just picked me up off the floor, cleaned the vomit out of my hair, and put me somewhere safe to sleep off the drunk stupor. Those were really dark times for me, but I was lucky enough to have a friend like him looking out so nothing really bad ever happened while I was being irresponsible.

    So, far things are working out well with the new partner. Just another one of those things that happened just at the right time with the right person. =)

  4. Sounds like a bit of ego irking you. You can't pretend like you don't have an ego, girl! You wouldn't be YOU without your swagger. And why not? You CAN swagger because you're fucking fantastic in the kitchen. So you have an ego. Admit it. Wear it with pride. You deserve to have one.

  5. Hey! Hey! Hey! Swagger or swagga is MY word! Come up with your own terminology!

    Of course I have an ego. I want to kick ass every time! I want to do what I do and be fucking awesome at it. Who wouldn't want that? Be proud of a job well done.

    When I'm cooking with a partner, though, I don't need the applause to know we did well. It's a "we" scenario, not a "me" scenario. The pride is in what we create together. It's sitting down to a fantastic meal we BOTH made and enjoying the food and the company and relishing in the fact that it was something we did together. There doesn't need to be one person holding a trophy at the end of the day in that type of scenario, but some personalities don't gel that way.

    Do I want credit for my work? Yeah, in all honesty, I do. When it comes to helping a friend or working with a partner; the credits that roll at the end isn't as important as knowing that we have mutual respect for one another. Someone else taking credit for my work or someone trying to hog the limelight when there are only two of us standing there is disrespectful in my book, and it hurts. I'm not gonna lie. I can get over a bruised ego faster than I can get over someone hurting my feelings.