Napoleon’s Winter

18 Mar

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Jacques-Louis David [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Spring should be a new direction. Or with the longer days and blossoms on the news, maybe I just think everything is dramatically starting over. My first spring here in New York still feels like winter (and will stay like that until Easter, I’m told), but it’s got all of the personal ups and downs I associate with spring, such as new jobs and ways of thinking. Two weeks ago, I moved a little ways uptown with a close friend from work.  The move wasn’t even ten blocks, but the trek uphill to our apartment felt like a journey, especially as my boxes were falling apart in my hands. I’ve also got to find a new laundromat.

I’ve got the one anchor that’s been with me since I landed here in the City: life in a restaurant. I started off wiping up high chairs and bearing the brunt of a cranky porter who wanted nothing more than to push my buttons. I’m now being shown how to complete inventory and order every wine on the list, the visual and gastronomic differences between Rosette de Lyon and Bayonne, and how to charge through the crowd between kitchen and guest with dropping a drop.

Moving is exciting but has a bit of regret involved. You’ve got to deal with leaving part of you behind, and advancing full-speed into whatever’s next, just like charging into the restaurant armed with a tomato soup. Luckily, I have friends to support me; together, we’re crafting the coolest crib in the city. But like any new move, it’s got challenges. The post-war-era pipes rattle like they’ve got to wake up the world, a cacophony of chitty-chitty-bang-bang clanking and clattering. And we discovered a mouse in the kitchen. At first, we yanked our feet off of the floor, darted our eyes to every corner and crevice, and felt the paranoia of a home invasion. Then, we named him Napoleon.

Ratatouille has always been one of my favorite movies. I like seeing the ambitious rise of wunderkind Paul Liebrandt in A Matter of Taste, or listening to Kenny Shopsin use sexual metaphors to describe his scrambled eggs in I Like Killing Flies, but I love cartoons, and Pixar ones have always been the best. The first movie I saw in theaters was Toy Story. Pixar’s is never stronger than in the Francophilic Ratatouille. I loved it for the story, the jokes, and of course, the food. The confit biyaldi that topples the big, bad critic made me want to learn French cooking. It’s also the movie that properly introduced me to Thomas Keller, who served as a culinary consultant for the project.

Rewatching it, I get a new sense of appreciation by relating with the movie. Linguini is an outsider, an American in Paris. He works from the very bottom in one of Paris’s top kitchens, sweeping up the floor and cleaning messes, with only a vague interest in what goes in. When given responsibility of cooking, he swings around like a carnival ride and jerks his arms choppily. I stride along and stop suddenly when running food to tables. I often miscount and drop a soufflé to the next table, who think it’s a gift from the kitchen. All the same, I feel like I’m absorbing the restaurant world in a great way, just like Linguini. Having a mouse in the apartment just completes the picture.

Napoleon was the first name that came to our minds, but given this polar vortex whirlwind winter, it seems appropriate. The short French dictator emerged from his Russian winter scarred and humiliated, but stronger. I hope to do the same, with or without a mouse guiding my cooking.


2 Responses to “Napoleon’s Winter”


  1. Photo Practice: Scattered Spring Salad | - May 28, 2014

    […] who-knows-how-many snow storms and a run-in with a mouse, I am glad winter is finally over. Spring produce looks like nature’s way of celebrating, with […]

  2. TBT: The Worst Waiter Ever | - May 29, 2014

    […] also makes me wonder about the more masochistic side of service. I know I’ve sung my fair share of praise for the irascible Kenny Shopsin. I loved being accosted and derided at Chicago’s Weiner […]

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