Chef de Brigade resurfaces


In 1975 John McPhee published a story called Brigade de Cuisine about a chef he calls Otto, who ran a 55-seat restaurant with no help except for Anne, his pastry chef/wife, their children (who served the food), and a dishwasher on the weekends. Seven years ago as a dear friend of mine was closing his French Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles to move back to Tokyo, I borrowed McPhee’s line where he asks the chef if he could sit in his kitchen and take notes.


This April my profile of “Chef Otto” will be published online at by Black Balloon Publishing, and the only thing that could possibly make me any happier is knowing that the Chef de Brigade is coming back to the states.


You lucky people of Seattle will now have a chance to taste this guy’s food. Don’t be turned off by the name of the place (Yes, it’s called I Love Sushi, the one in Bellevue). Just know that even though “Otto” is not a sushi chef this place is owned by the same people who own Shiro’s, and if you follow the hype, both owner, Shiro Kashiba, and sushi chef Daisuke Nakazawa (who recently left Shiro’s and is now running Sushi Nakazawa in NYC) apprenticed with Jiro Ono from the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” You can imagine they take their fish-craft very seriously.


Add to this “Otto’s” weird obsessive concept of how things should taste and be cooked, and his commitment to achieve particular flavors and textures by controlling how everything from the trimming of herbs to how to clean to the pastry brush, and you’re going to be saying “I loaf loaf loaf sushi.”


For those of us stuck in Los Angeles, there’s the hope that “Otto” will someday come back here, but in the meantime for sushi there’s Kiriko Sushi on Sawtelle. These guys are buddies.


What do they talk about during a precious layover at LAX? An 80 year old sushi chef just outside of Tokyo who’s the hands-down grandmaster. All skills, no hype. From what I heard: Sushi chefs that have been at the top of the business for 40+ years eat his food and get goosebumps. Always room for improvement, as “Otto” likes to say.


Love Will Tear Us Apart

I made a pork loin the other day, stuffed with salt-cured olives, pickles, and pistachios. It came out a perfect spiral, dripping with juicy bits, but because of work/schedule/whatnot we didn’t get to eat it that day so I put it in the fridge.

Yesterday David busted into it for lunch while I was out. With an awesome knife from Cut it’s easy to get carried away with how thin you can slice the thing, and no matter what you do the hunk stays perfectly put together.


Then came this text:



Pretty much sums up the secret to why we’ve stayed together all these years.

And now to curb the sappiness of this post a little:

Celery Root Soup vs. me

It’s supposedly winter, and despite the high 80′s temperature it’s still the season for soup. I’m batting 0 for 3 in the celery root soup department, though, so I’m thinking I should cross that recipe off my list.
A month ago I thought I bought celery root and I came home with horseradish. It was a little difficult to tell what it was at the store. I had a cold, and couldn’t smell anything. I was going to bite into it, but the grocery boy was staring right at me. Never mind that horseradish root looks a little “schlongy.”


A week later I saw celery root at the Malibu farmer’s market but couldn’t squeeze them into my bike jersey. At a couple pounds a piece they’re not the kind of thing you want to be dragging down the PCH anyway.

Finally last week I came home with the right thing but left the burner on too high and boiled the soup into a charcoaly mash of smoked root bits. I had a cold (same one as everyone seems to have), and couldn’t smell the smoke until the smoke detector went off, and then went off, and went off some more. Sigh.

Good things come to those that fail though. I finally decided to do something with the horseradish so I turned it into horseradish. It’s hotter than crap, in fact it’s holy mother blow your head off good. So here’s to clearing up all sorts of sinus issues. Prime rib, deviled eggs, sausages, herring under a fur coat, anyone?



It used to be that whenever I saw a car with a New Mexico license plate I’d say “Ooh, I wonder if I know them?” It drove all my friends crazy, for the first few years of college when I actually did know most of the happy yellow plates that went by, and then because I kept on saying it even after California seemed inundated with them.

A convergence of people from Los Alamos, however, calls for some kind of vortex. Add to the evening an almost full moon and you know it’s going to end in a bust by the LAPD. Last night at the Talking Stick Coffee House in Venice, two of my dear old friends from high school played music on guitar and percussion. In total there were four of us from Los Alamos, one from Albuquerque and then the old guy that went on after them said he spent his formative years in New Mexico. Let the vortex begin.
I have to say the music was incredible, but I knew that. That was then, and this is now.


Dan Ward was a trumpet player before, and now he plays classical guitar with hands any Spaniard would die for. John Bartlit turned a tambourine into an art form you want to spend your whole life trying to learn. His excuse? When you ride a camel all you have is a tambourine. It must be able to be played as a bad ass instrument.

(skip to 3:50 for pure genius)

After their set some guy came to the cafe and there was a transaction where money was exchanged for a telescope. The woman who bought the telescope looked it up and down, through it and at it, examining everything except for the almost full moon. We stood in the parking lot, discussing stars, what else. On a backpacking trip you can tell the people who are from Los Alamos because they’re the ones who pack dental floss. Looking up at the stars it’s the Los Alamos people who say there just aren’t as many as there used to be. Someone made a joke that it must be because some of the stars burned out, but the Los Alamos response was that actually many of the stars we see are burnt out, and yet they’re still there, waving.

Dan reminded us of when some fool paid John, Dan and myself to play jazz at a wedding, and John said yes that was ridiculous. “You had your trumpet propped up on a bunsen burner.”
It was my one and only paid gig as a musician. Time was ticking. The yellow plate state rules, but the vortex has a limit. Soon the cops came full speed into the Subway parking log, busting a Datsun hatchback or Chevy Nova. Of course I had to go and see what color the plate was.

Shim-miel! Shim-mazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated

Since I started tooting around on my bike, I’ve noticed an odd pain on the outside of my wrists. It’s sensitive to the touch, and annoying when trying to open jars. My latest theory is that my hands are too small for the average distance between handle bars and brakes, and it’s causing me to twist my wrists and put pressure on some nerve that doesn’t like to have pressure put on it.


In the biking world as anywhere there are shim-eisters that will sell you all sorts of fixes and magic pills for your bike-related woes. To be sure your Bike Fitter is the real thing you have to Face Time with him over a chunk of caramel. Then when he says use a shim, you got to use a shim for everything.




Bundle Love and GRL power


I’ve always had a thing for words that describe a group/cluster/measure of things. There are just some phrases that feel good to say: “lashings of scones,” “a garrison of cheese,” or “a screaming of Shelties.”


Bundles of merino wool from Rapha though, until today, have only been available for men. It isn’t enough that women get the short shrift when it comes to bike fit. It isn’t enough that when the person in the back of a tandem bike is a girl, the most common thing people say is “She isn’t pedaling.” A ha ha ha! It isn’t enough that guys on anything other than a non-Costco bike get “stared at like a boob” by other guys for only the time it takes for the light to turn green and not a second longer.

At least *you* guys get a bundle discount on the shirts that make beating your ass up the hill less sweaty and more pleasurable. When I asked the folks at Rapha why the men’s merino shirts had the discount but not the women’s their short reply was that they fully agreed.

Today they came through, bundles in short sleeve or long, and I put in the first order. It’s a sweet way to put your money where your mouth is.



I’m not interested in whether Jonathan Franzen hates Twitter, or bashes Oprah and Rushdie, and I could do without knowing about his blue-balled boner and coin-tossing rage, and financial status:
news but nearly fifty years after Marshall McLuhan wrote “the medium is the message,” after who knows how many gazillion downloads of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Commencement speech,

“…It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.

This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t. You get to decide what to worship…”

I confess to feeling some version of disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Jonathan Franzen, unabashedly, unironically gives his “Freedom” away. To what? To an ad campaign.

“…And yet, to echo Kraus, I’d still rather live among PCs. Any chance that I might have switched to Apple was negated by the famous and long-running series of Apple ads aimed at persuading people like me to switch. The argument was eminently reasonable, but it was delivered by a personified Mac (played by the actor Justin Long) of such insufferable smugness that he made the miseries of Windows attractive by comparison. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about the Mac: what would there be to say except that everything is groovy? Characters in novels need to have actual desires; and the character in the Apple ads who had desires was the PC, played by John Hodgman. His attempts to defend himself and to pass himself off as cool were funny, and he suffered, like a human being…”

Franzen sees himself as the target of the campaign, but he allows his reaction to the ad to dictate what computer he buys. He’s trying to see reason in the ad, he’s even given the characters personalities. Hello! It’s a bloody ad. (OK, he tries to distance himself by naming the actors who play the Mac and the PC rather than just calling them The Mac and The PC, but he ends up looking like the computer geek that grows a ponytail so that he doesn’t look like…ahem…a computer geek.)

Ads are not meant to have smugness or desires, ads are meant to elicit from the viewer the emotion that ads can and should have smugness and desires, and someone who dares to say “But I’m enough of a child of the 60s to see a difference between letting your spouse remember your nieces’ birthdays and handing over basic memory function to a global corporate system of control” should understand the power of the global corporate system of control that is advertising:

From a profile of Naomi Klein written by Larissa Macfarquhar in the New Yorker and a permanent snippet I keep by my bed:

But students in 1996 weren’t interested in identity; what they talked about was economics. At the time, corporations were starting to make inroads into schools: soft-drink companies were negotiating exclusive deals; advertisements were appearing in bathrooms. There was a feeling in the air that corporations were getting too powerful—more powerful than governments, but not accountable to anyone except their shareholders. And, at the same time that big corporations were withdrawing physically from the United States and opening factories overseas, visually, even spiritually, they were everywhere, insinuating their logos into what had once been public space. Young activists found this especially objectionable, perhaps because one of the places into which corporations insinuated themselves most effectively was youth and activism, folding mutiny into advertising so deftly that resistance seemed futile.

Or…from something I wrote, (tldr):

At the roofline, spread across the width of the building, is the name of the company in steel letters so large the average human cannot take in the entire word in one glance; there just isn’t enough space to back up far enough. In the world.

In the hallways there are ads. Mock ads, historical ads, ads to throw darts at, ads to move you, and ads worth further study. Underneath the ads are long benches made of perforated metal. Inter-agency it’s a well-known fact the benches are hell to sit on, the backrests are too low, and the surface leaves a circular pattern on clothing. The only people who find this a positive thing are the junior coordinators, as it’s a foolproof way to keep track of who’s the client and who’s on the account team.

Lounge chairs and side tables with surfaces too small for laptops are clustered underneath orbs of designer lighting; these “landing pads” unify the long channels of work cubbies. The cubbies themselves are drenched in individualized tidbits — baby pictures, snapshots of sports stars, carpal-tunnel-preventing squeezy toys, wind-up toys that dance and fart and say hello in a foreign language, contraptions that spit out sticky notes in the shape of toast, and the occasional bag of herbal tea. The only uniform item on every desk in various shades of wear and tear is a single computer key, bright red with the word PANIC in white capital letters.

They, make ads. They have Creatives who sit on beanbag chairs and C-level executives who meet with the Creatives in Cones of Silence. They allow dogs, ferrets, and fish in the building. They next-day-air printers and laptops and ergonomic chairs so the traveling executives do not have to carry them on a plane. They have statistics centers, war rooms, brainstorm pods, tool kits, media resource libraries, Consumer Configurators, Personal Game Plans, “Negative-Free” zones, punch bowls filled with imported Italian mints, glass shelving stacked with abstractly shaped awards, huge microwaves, and an employee recreation area the size of a half basketball court. They have the smallest network server room and IT staff-to-employee ratio of any company their size and the largest plasma television screen technically possible hanging in the commons room 24/7-ing their ads. They are “Breakthrough.” They are “Integrated.” They are “Brand-centric.” They have no dress code.

My brain/bike on drugs


I’ve always dreamed of being able to straddle a bike and not rack my nough-nuts. No standing on tip-toes, no one foot up the curb. I also hate everything behind “girl” bikes, from the idea of “shrinking everything proportionally until she fits – she won’t miss/need/understand the power, control and comfort,” to changing the name of a bike from Roubaix (the finish in the famous Paris-Roubaix road race) to Ruby (?) to give it a more “je ne sais quoi WTF ‘Ruby’ means.” And let’s not talk about just slapping on some purple paint. Have you seen what purple looks like when it’s going really fast?


Getting a new bike is like trying to photograph a trout by holding down one part of the fish. It flops like a mother, and flips this way and that. Hold the top tube steady and the seat tube flies backward. Hold the head tube still and the handling goes out the window. In addition, smaller sized bike frames have this funny thing called Toe Overlap, where the foot in its most frontward position will hit the wheel if the wheel is turned far to one side.


Turns out I am 1/4″ taller than what some people say the cut-off height is for people to ride regular sized wheels without getting litigious with Toe Overlap. This 1/4″ is huge, it allows me to ride certain roller coaster rides, and I am able to get my bike on the car rack (yes tip-toes involved, plus I have to smash myself against the side of the car, but no curb necessary), but it won’t get me anywhere close to being able to straddle a bike. That’s because proportionally I am 50:50 torso:legs. I fold like a book. I wear 30-30 jeans. I’m cuboidal.

Here it is: my toe clearance, coming in at 7mm. Makes me want to keep my toenails trimmed.


You can’t always get what you want.

My bike-fit guy looks at the numbers and sees a bike. What I get is a bunch of numbers that don’t make any sense, only I think “They’re numbers! My buddies!” and if I stare at them long enough the mathematics will present themselves in some equation of a bike, only my vision comes with lunch.