The Underdog Kitchen

By Jon Hillenbrand In Fake Cooking Blog, Stories

When I was a young lad, my grandfather and I would cook in the kitchen together.  He was a great chef who cooked in the Marines during WW2 and later in Europe where he met my grandmother.  We would cook for hours and examine the language of food to create the most amazing culinary poetry.  He taught me the importance of texture, impression and idea.  Often he would say to me, “Boy…are you listening to me?  This is important…”.  And I knew that he was about to blow my mind with his paradigm of the art of cooking.  Ideas would bloom like cream clouding within Turkish coffee.

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Jalapeno sprouts

One day when I was eight years old, he sent me into town to the fru fru hair salon next to the Price Chopper that my grandmother used to attend every Wednesday for hours.  “Hefe,” he would jokingly call me, “head down to the salon and pay this money to the owner.  Your grandmother forgot her purse again.”  So I hiked up my shorts and socks, tucked in my white t-shirt and hoofed it down to the end of our street, around the corner and up the long hill into uptown.

Half way there, a group of three bullies from my school saw me and rode their dirt bikes over to me.

[stag_columns][stag_one_half]Half way there, a group of three bullies from my school saw me and rode their dirt bikes over to me.  They circled around me and threw taunts my way.  I was always skinny and picked on as a kid, but I never backed down from a fight, which I now think is why the bullies liked to pick fights with me – the challenge.  As soon as I knew there would be blood, I would sling arrows of hatred back at their taunts in the form of the worst swear words I could imagine, conjured up from the deepest parts of my soul.  Always they laughed and always they would push me back and forth and then someone would slug me in the stomach until I couldn’t breath.  I’ll spare you the details, but I lost.  However, I held on to the money and one of them went home limping.  I dragged myself over to the salon so I could pay the bill and just go home and scream into my pillow.[/stag_one_half] [stag_one_half_last]The moment I entered into the salon, the ladies saw me and immediately surrounded me.  They crouched down to me, wiped the scrapes and dirt from my face and quickly lavished me with sympathy and hugs and fingers wiped under eyes.  They shared their own scary stories of growing up.  One of them said how I reminded them of their favorite kind of character in the movies, the underdog, and they all agreed and messed up my hair.  For years after, I would wave to them from my bike or car and they would yell, “There goes the Underdog!”  But while I was there, they gave me a haircut including a wash and head massage.  It was all new and felt pretty great.  I had a girl on each hand cleaning my dirty fingernails while they traded comments about how cute I was and what a brave boy I was for bringing the money over in the face of those bullies.  I have to tell you, for as badly as the trip started, I felt much better by the time I got home.[/stag_one_half_last] [/stag_columns]

“Well jeesh, did you fall in the river?  What took you so long?”

I walked in to the dark kitchen and my grandpa peered up from his coffee and paper and said, “Well jeesh, did you fall in the river?  What took you so long?”  He saw my fresh haircut and commented, “Did they give you the royal treatment?”  I told him the whole story and he said that the greatest food in the world could taste like garbage if the person consuming it has had a bad day.  A meal is a time not just for offering a consumable, but for giving a service.  You must approach every customer as if they have been having the worst day of their life.  Bring them away from their problems if just for a moment and share your passion.  Show them a different world full of deliciousness and happiness and you will make them the most content person on God’s green Earth.  “If you can’t solve their problems for them, you can, at least for a little while, help them to forget.”

1 Comment
  1. […] my last post, I talked about my reasons behind starting my own restaurant in NYC.  The Underdog Kitchen was […]


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