Category: Writing

December 31 / Service 101

foodwoolf season finaleEver noticed that the best shows on TV communicate a particular theme each season?

Shows like Homeland, the Killing, Mad Men, and other past greats like The Wire or The Sopranos tell complicated stories with dramatic themes like: you can never go home, you can’t deny your true nature, or the past will always catch up with you. 

If the writers have done their job well, the theme of the show is reflected in the main and secondary storylines all the way through until the televised narrative comes to a dramatic end.

I’d say that if my life was a series, this season has been full of wonderful narrative twists and turns—some expected and others completely unanticipated.  The season in my life and on has been about big changes that began with small actions and events.

By aligning my personal and professional goals with my internal compass I saw how the incremental turns could lead to entirely new vistas.

The theme of 2014: Actively live in the paradoxes.

The paradoxes:

  • Give in order to get

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable

  • Go slow to move faster

  • Get small to go big

Whenever I made leaning into a paradox a priority throughout my days in 2014 I saw extraordinary things happen. When I actively chose to do the opposite of easy—picking up the phone when I wanted to not call back, sending a generous email to a stranger rather than ignoring their request—I found success, generosity, abundance, and work that I have always wanted.

November 15 / Regional recipes

I am to be my mother’s summer prep cook. I am nine. My uniform for work is simple. I’m dressed in a one-piece bathing suit and wear swimming goggles pulled so tight over my face, the skin underneath puckers from the suction.…

September 3 / Restaurant Consulting

Sorry it’s been a little quiet around here lately. There’s a good reason, though. I’m almost done with my first draft of my e-book on how to become a restaurant consultant! Hooray!

I’m working hard to detail the steps I took to building my business as a successful restaurant consultant. I want my book to serve as a resource for anyone who wants to start their own consulting practice, creative business in the food industry, or be a private chef.

I’m eager to publish because I want to help as many people possible to find the answers to questions about starting their own business as a restaurant consultant or private chef.

July 9 / Writing

I follow a twenty-something woman with a messy ponytail and rock tee-shirt into the air-conditioned coffee shop.

A tall Latino man in a Coffee Bean baseball cap waits for her behind the register.

“Good morning,” he says with a smile. “How may I help you?”

Her face is expressionless as she keeps her eyes down. She scans the multitude of apps on the screen of her sherbet colored iPhone.

“Iced blended,” she says. A double-click with her agile thumb launches an app.

“What size would you like,” he asks.

“Regular,” she says, annoyed. Her mouth is angry. “Put some whipped cream on top.”

The tall register man leans closer. What did she say?

June 23 / Service 101

Restaurants are built on two major principles: serve great food and give great service. Problem is, many restaurant owners fail to take the time to chart out what specifically they want their service to look and feel like or invest the funds to create a solid service program.

When things start to go off track, sales slump, and Yelp reviews get increasingly worse, that’s often when people at the top begin to wonder what they need to do. When things are going wrong with a business, many hope they can find a quick fix to a bigger operational problem.

It doesn’t matter if you are about to open a restaurant or have been up and running for years, asking for help from a hospitality consultant like can definitely speed up the process and make a positive impact on your bottom line (just ask my clients!). But beyond a shot in the arm from an inspiring workshop or coaching session, restaurant owners and managers need to take a long-term commitment to working hard on daily maintenance of hospitality principles with their staff.

June 20 / Writing

It is morning in Los Angeles. Not yet 9 am, and I have claimed a corner high-top table at Republique, my new favorite restaurant by my friend, Walter Manske. I turn on the computer and prepare myself for a morning of writing. I have notes, a pot of coffee, and soon, the breakfast I ordered.

Moments later, a runner places a wood board before me. On it is a freshly baked baguette with a trio of white porcelain dishes: one holds soft butter; a pot of handmade strawberry jam; and another, two soft-boiled eggs.

The yolks are orange as sunset and hide behind translucent whites cooked so slowly they appear to be made of custard. I pull a coin-sized bite from the baguette. I marvel as the crust explodes into tawny shards.

I dip the soft interior of the bread into the egg yolk and take a bite. Suddenly, sensory memories flood my consciousness. I am transported to an early morning in Angers, France several decades ago.

December 31 / Writing

cup of lifeEarly in my twenties I designed a tattoo to be placed onto the soft spot of skin near my ankle. The tattoo artist placed a thimble-sized chalice, made of curving blue lines that overflowed with abundance.  I named it “The Cup of Life”. It was to be a pictogram of who I was–a life-force so strong it bubbled over the top.

Over time, the meaning of the tattoo morphed to fit my changing personality. During my dating years, I joked with suitors that my tattoo was proof that I was the Grail; a treasure worth pursuing.

During my years as a successful mixologist, the tattoo was evidence of my commitment to the fine art of creating and enjoying cocktails. Later when I began studying wine–the history, varietals, characteristics, regions, flavor profiles, and wine makers–I thought the tattoo proved my enthusiasm for wine.

Then, three years ago, I gave up drinking all together.

Once I took away the daily act of wine tasting and removed boozy cocktail making from my skill-set, my tattoo trademark seemed inaccurate. During the summer months I tucked my ankle behind my leg to hide my insignia. Who I was and what I stood for was uncertain. I was undergoing an overhaul.

April 15 / Writing
March 18 / Business
dear company X
To Whom It May Concern

Got an email yesterday from an internet promotional firm, Company X* today. The first line hit me like a shot of fear, pulled straight from the freezer.  “A website is only as good as the kind of traffic it has,” the email read.  The only measurement of my writing, the email’s author suggested, was in the number of visitors who come to my site. The email wasn’t done there. If I really cared about the perceived value of my blog I would invest in Company X’s services to boost my organic page ranking on Google. I would email right away to sign up for specialized SEO improvements and program for other B2B thingamabobs.

Rather than write a vengeful response, I hit delete. It was the kindest thing to do for everyone involved. Because there’s no point in getting upset, angry, or hurtful.  This little blog isn’t trying to compete with Corporate America or The Number One Website in America. What that salesman was selling doesn’t apply here. My writing is quiet industry, not big business.

Now I’ll be honest with you. I hear plenty that sometimes makes me wonder about this stance. There are plenty of sources that are quick to remind me that if I don’t stay ahead of SEO/Marketing/or traffic rate monitoring I’m already too far behind to catch up. But I know in the center of my being that the only way for me to truly succeed is to think differently.

Being an entrepreneur or blogger today doesn’t mean following the same rules as big business. We gotta work small to go big.

Outside of Industrialist Thinking

Seth Godin — an entrepreneur, marketing guru, and best-selling author of over a dozen books — proposes that successful entrepreneurs of today need to avoid the industrialist mindset and be creative in our approach to business.  Unlike the olden days of success measured by the millions, the entrepreneur of today can’t expect to win over the entire world. The modern businesswoman must figure out how to deeply impact a thoughtful few.

If we create something special that can inspire or profoundly move just ten people, Godin suggests, those individuals gush to a handful of friends about the great thing they just found. Those friends will tell ten people, and if you move that group too, you’ll watch as your work creates a fully vested, heart and soul marketing campaign for your unusual website/brand/product. By working small and thoughtfully, you can grow big from the bottom up. Momentum builds.

February 28 / Writing
"Loco" A wire sculpture by Brooke Burton
“Loco” A wire sculpture by Brooke Burton

Ever feel like your creative well has run dry?  Sometimes wonder if your artistic muse has packed her bags and high tailed it to a town far away?

If you’ve ever worried you might never have another great idea in you, I’ve discovered a sure-fire solution to a blocked creative process: Give up reading and social media for a week.

Get Quiet

Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist Way–a twelve week program that mends the artist and their process–suggests that the best way to get your creative ju-ju back is to detoxify from our modern day information overload. Unplug the TV, step away from the internet, put down the magazines, and stop reading other people’s words for seven whole days.

Though the idea of giving up reading and social media may seem impossible, I’m here to tell you that it is achievable and–once you get through the first wave of detoxification–incredibly rewarding. After just a day of getting away from my usual media inputs, I began to see immediate results. The mental space once dedicated to Twitter messages, Facebook status updates, or obsessive internet surfing–became free real estate for creativity. Inspiration flowed through me without interruption.

December 31 / Desserts
December 24 / Mindfulness

coffee shop coffee on foodwoolf

I owe a debt of gratitude to a woman who verbally attacked a young cashier the other day. It was a small act of cruelty that lingered with me for days. I couldn’t shake it until I could find a positive solution to my pain.

I was at my local coffee shop, the day after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The sun had just come up. Sleep and sorrow wrapped around me like a fuzzy scarf. The vexed woman spoke with the cashier in a disappointed tone.

“What do you mean you’re out?” she said.

“I’m sorry,” the cashier said. “We are out of the green tea powder right now. May I get you something else?”

The customer seethed.

“I can’t believe you don’t have my drink,” the woman said.  She ranted about professionalism, disappointment with the cashier, and dismay at the coffee shop’s business practices.

A manager stepped in and offered apologies.  A free beverage was proposed.

“I came here specifically for that drink,” she said.

The manager packaged up a complimentary bagel and a beverage for the woman. She offered it with a smile and a sincere apology.

The red-faced woman snapped the bag from the manager’s hand and stormed out of the shop without a word.

It was just barely seven in the morning.

86 Happiness

I couldn’t fathom the source of her outburst. How a missing green tea powder could inspire such venom so early in the morning was incomprehensible. Pain and anger felt for lost children I could understand. And yet, for this woman on this particular day, an 86’d green tea powder really cut her to the core.

A few hours later, I noticed I was still thinking about the coffee shop melt down. Rather than move past the incident, I replayed the events in my mind’s eye over and over again. I started to embellish the memory. I added fictional speeches in which I would express the need for compassion and gratitude in a broken world. I became anxious for the staff’s well-being, worried they were traumatized. I concentrated on her angular gestures, the tone of her voice, and the way she carried herself as she moved past the barista station.  Honestly, I was kind of obsessing over the whole thing.

I shared with my husband how torn up I was over the coffee shop blow out. Rather than belittle my caffeinated fixation, he kindly suggested that I take more time to explore the root cause of what had me so upset.

A walk around the block helped calm my thinking. By the time I returned to my apartment’s gated door, I realized I shared a trait with the ill-tempered customer. I, too, felt a disproportionate amount of emotion over a minor thing. I had what the unhappy woman had: an amplifying mind. I magnified the coffee shop mistake and transformed it into a grave injustice.

Seeking a solution, I reached out to a dear friend. My companion grinned as she prescribed a set of contrary actions to alleviate my condition. She suggested I do five to ten unselfish acts of kindness for the next few weeks, making sure that no one noticed. The goal of my work, she expained, was to spread joy to others and keep the whole business to myself.

“These mitzvahs,” she said, “are only for you and God to know about. No one else.”

November 29 / Blogging Insights

Food woolf anniversary of five yearsOn November 29, 2007, I made a decision that would start a chain reaction of transformation and change. I wrote a recipe for a dish I developed and clicked the “Publish” button for the first time on. Five years ago today, I staked a place for my little blog, Food Woolf.

Even the smallest action can result in big change. Just ask a ship captain how a simple adjustment of just one degree–sustained over time–can seriously alter a boat’s final destination.

A life changing meal in Panicale, Italy brought me the awakening I needed to wake me up to the need to enjoy my life as an artist. I was an isolated, frustrated screenwriter with few film credits to her name and no Hollywood sale to pay the bills. I was constrained by my art form. The act of screenwriting felt far too futile and dedicated to the constant practice of living in fantasy.

The decision to start my blog was the result of a resolution to try something different. Food Woolf would be my place to offer up weekly literary homage to food, cooking, and my life as a restaurant professional. I would use the blog to motivate me to leave my home and document my life in the world.

It took me a while to sand down the edges to get to the core of what this blog was about. My first post began as a kind of love letter to Nancy Silverton and a conversation we had about a recipe I developed. Over the years I dabbled in restaurant reviews, food profiles, and even did the occasional food news round up. I charted my irrational fear of baking, and spoke about the challenges of being a waiter.

Along the way I found my voice.

November 22 / Fruits

I always thought of myself as a mature kid. Markers of my full grown abilities were imagination, a faculty for prolonged unsupervised play, and a talent for cooking.  If I could cook–it seemed–I was old enough to take care of myself.

I learned the basics young. In nursery school my teachers showed me how to mix chopped cranberries, orange zest, and sugar in a bowl to make a simple cranberry sauce. By second grade I could put together a bowl of cereal without help, spread butter on toast, and decorate apples with cloves for Christmas ornaments. In third grade, I mastered cinnamon sugar toast and began learning how the numbers on the toaster could turn frozen food into something warm and satisfying. By the time I reached the fourth grade, I could make snacks for my brother and sister when we got home from school and oversee my siblings in their raucous play.

Being able to cook made me employable. I was a babysitter by age 10.

Maybe its because I was the first born. Perhaps, it was because I was self reliant. It may be the fact that I was an independent child capable of feeding herself and her siblings. I could re-heat chicken nuggets and fish sticks without anyone standing over me. I made pizzas out of pita bread, Ragu tomato sauces, and chunks of the random cheeses my mother bought at the grocery store. I was creative with my cooking. I found recipes in cookbooks and began dreaming of the meals I would cook.

Dreams become reality

The summer after I turned ten, my mother packed an extra big suitcase for a trip across the country. I held my breath as Mom filled the olive green suitcase with big sweaters, cotton pants, and prayer beads. She stuffed a canvas bag with my sister’s baby clothes and toys.

“Are we going on a trip?” I asked.

November 9 / Writing
September 15 / Service 101
September 8 / Writing

getting back to exerciseThe hardest part about being stuck in a rut, is getting yourself out of it.

Maybe you’re feeling derailed in your life or your job. Can’t get up the inspiration to cook. Perhaps you don’t quite have it in you to exercise like you used to. Maybe you find yourself staring at the computer screen, unable to create your next post/essay/letter to a friend/chapter of your book/poem/article/creative masterpiece.

The stuck-ness

There are times when I feel like I can do anything and everything. But sometimes, I feel truly stuck. I walk around the apartment aimlessly, eating granola and yogurt out of the container. I try to find my way back to the computer to write something and wish for motivation to come and overtake me.

But nothing happens.

‘Cause when stuck-ness comes and stakes a claim, there just seems to be nothing I can do to over come it.

Then I remember. There is a solution.

The solution

The best way for me to get out of the stuck-ness is to do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what I’m feeling. I have to practice contrary action.

If I feel unmotivated to write, I have to write for one hour.

If I don’t want to cook, I cook something.

If I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror because I feel uncomfortable in my skin, I go for a walk or a hike in a canyon.

If I feel lonely and don’t understand why no one is calling me, I pick up the phone.

If I feel anti-social, I go out and do something with friends.

June 15 / Writing

Ray Bradbury, a man of science, imagination, and other worldly creativity, departed this dimension on June 6th, 2012. Little more than a week since his death, many have written words of thanks and appreciation to applaud Bradbury for the limitlessness of his imagination and the power of his words.

Ray Bradbury was a teacher on the page as well as a mentor in life. Threading back through my memories, I can pin point a priceless interaction I had with the writer while I was attending film school. The year was 1999 and I was a hungry screenwriting student at a small Los Angeles film school. My screenwriting mentor introduced me to Mr. Bradbury at an on-campus event. I recall focusing on Bradbury’s hair–it was thick like a horse’s and colorless white–as he offered me surprisingly kind words of encouragement on the writing process. I was overwhelmed to be in the presence of such a famous writer, but his words gave me courage.

The brief encounter and his book “Zen in the Art of Writing” gave me the bravery to ask the man if I could take a stab at writing an adaptation of one of his short stories for a video assignment for my school. So blinded by optimism and hope, I didn’t even attempt any kind of promise of financial enticement. But then how could I? I was without any income and was living off a school loan that barely covered my rent, let alone a meager food allowance. I looked past my own lack of experience, crossed my fingers, and took the huge leap of faith.

Miraculously, Bradbury agreed to read my pages and think over my request.  I wrote a draft.  The director sent the pages along with the obligatory contract my film school required for usage of any original work.

In the interim, I chewed my nail-beds clean. I paced. I may have even drank a bottle of cheap wine to take the edge off.

Soon after, Mr. Bradbury’s responded.