Monday, January 2, 2017

The Progression.....

My grandfather, the first Yankee Chef
.....of three generations of Yankee Chefs(Yup, I can hear it now. The Yankees are going to have a head fit about me using the word YANKEE as a stand-alone word, hahahaha)

(Although I owe much of my worthiness to my stepmother, Anne, and I can't even begin to thank her for all she went through while I was growing up, this post simply alludes to the three Yankee Chefs)  

I have been blessed with a lineage of a true Yankee(there I go again), the love of the violin, the never-ending desire to learn, the incessant need to read and the DNA of a cook.

My father, the second Yankee Chef, never considered himself a chef, nor did his father(my grandfather Samuel)before him. He never wanted anyone to call him such because he considered himself no better than the "next fellar" on the line with him. I have people calling me chef when I walk in through the door of my neighborhood store, and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is "JIM! Call me JIM!". 


Dad at Howard Johnsons

It was that sort of personality, and subsequent work ethic, that both separated all three generations of Yankee chefs from those who think of themselves as above their peers. But at the same time, endeared ourselves in the circle of those who were prep cooks, dishwashers, fry cooks and the like.

All three of us went through the toil of learning our craft from the ground floor up, rather than jumping into the cooking schools that, for the most part, churn out students that demand a 6-figure income immediately upon graduating without knowing what the pleats on a chefs hat is.

Samuel Bailey(the first Yankee chef)was born in 1902 and chose, as his first career, the violin. He attended the Boston Conservatory of Music and graduated in 1922. During his stint at the school, he picked up the dish rag and washed dishes, learned the craft of cooking in the Boston area and, as time progressed without the income of teaching, he toiled away at various restaurants in Massachusetts and Maine.

In Bangor, Maine, he cooked at well-known places such as the Bangor House and the old Adams House. He also cooked as lesser known establishments whose names are lost to history.

In the 1940s, he was in Lincoln, Maine with his only son, Jack(my father)and opened up Sam's Clam Shell, on the lake downtown. Through the generosity of his brother 'Woody', he bought his deep fryer and was not only known for his breaded and batter-fried clams, but also for his hot dogs that he plunked down in the hot grease, only to emerge blackened and split. I don't know how long he keep the shack running, but it was only for a couple years.

He is then found in Bangor with his sweetheart Doris Street. She, too, was a cook and one of the most no-nonsense, stubborn and cantankerous woman I ever knew. How my grandfather and her ever cooked side-by-side together will never be understood. For there are still stories abounding about how she used to get so mad at Sam that she would chase him around the kitchen with a cleaver!

We loved her dearly. For it was this type of woman you want in your corner when the times got tough.

The love of music, his violin and the determination of hard work was genetically passed to his son, Jack, when Sam died in 1967.


Jack(Dad)began his cooking career while in the Navy from 1956 to 1960. He always told me it was the best job he ever had and it was, by far, the most enviest of all jobs aboard a destroyer.

Upon his honorable discharge, he and his father opened up the Bangor Exchange Restaurant, at Pickering Square until 1963.

The cover of Dads journal of expenses for the Bangor Exchange


When it closed down, he started cooking at Howard Johnson's Restaurant in Bangor, working his way up to chef. It was here that I fondly remember taking our weekly car ride with my brothers and sister for that anticipated ice cream cone. Times were simple and that truly was a treat at the time.
Other restaurants Jack cooked at were the Bangor House, Quality Bakery, Checkmate, Brass Rail, Peter's, Perry's, Judy's, Treadwell's as well as a few others I will refrain from adding so that you don't all asleep. During this time, my father entered the Northern Conservatory of Music and excelled until they decided to shut the doors on the students. What a shame graduation would elude him but I was gifted with his music books from the school, as well as Sam's books from Boston.

In 1976, his and my mother loaded us kids and moved lock, stock and barrel to Canaan, Maine. This little corner of the "boonies" was the site of his very first restaurant that Dad could call his own. It was called Dickey's. From there, Mom and Dad opened Oak Pond Restaurant in the same town, ran the Eaton Mountain kitchen and then back to Dickey's, this time renaming it the Canaan Country Kitchen.


Dad worked side by side with one of the best chefs in Maine, in the way of Florence Stearns, of Skowhegan. She owned the Candlelighter, which was an upscale restaurant in the heart of the city. But because of personal events, my father and I ended up together, with the rest of the family living with my mother.

Together we moved back to Bangor during my senior year of high school and each found a job cooking at Peter's.


Boy, I thought life was tough when my father wanted me to dishwash and learn cooking at the age of 14 at Treadwells!


While we both worked at the same restaurant in '79/'80, I worked the 3-11 shift, which meant directly after school, I needed to be in the kitchen. And this was full time.

How I balanced making a living, having a social life with my best friend Rob, becoming a magician and escape artist, boxing AND making sure my homework was done I will never know! I often tell my children about this in order that they may THINK before the next time they speak about how rough it is to balance their time with the ps4 and homework, LOL.


It was still just me and Dad and I think the best way to describe my motivation was my endearment to my Dad, my devotion to him, my adoration.....

He was my world and there was no better man in my eyes than him. Sure, we all had our faults, our pitfalls and our weaknesses. Hell, I was the slave to the bottle for many years, but not in the sense of it ruining or controlling my life, but the omission of any asset that I could have easily acquired had it not been for spending my money on beer.

My fathers' struggle was the opposite though. After over 10 years with a new liver, my mentor passed in 2001. He passed on the same hard working attributes that his father gave to him, to me.

I also was the benefactor of the same violin my grandfather used, and the same one my Dad played throughout his life. And yes, I have been a violinist since the age of 6 believe it or not.

I held just as many jobs in the restaurant industry as my grandfather and father. I jumped from one kitchen to another, never to stay in once place very long. It wasn't because I couldn't handle it because I was NEVER fired from any job I held. I think it was my missing youth re-emerging and wanting to experience everything I missed out on while young. Women, fun, adventure and the like.

Killarney's, Judy's, Perry's, Checkmate, the Chuck Wagon, Donnely's, Governor's, Coachhouse as well as various restaurants around the country during my "ambitious" days shaped me into a cook/chef that can stand up to any television chef as well as any line cook anywhere.
Could this be the FOURTH Yankee Chef?

At the time, I just wanted a paycheck to cover my social life, not realizing that I was learning more and more as time progressed. Even though I didn't have a "pot to piss in", I was inadvertently expanding my knowledge of the craft.

My life has not even entered into its' final chapter. Although I have brought myself up by the straps of my boots, I continue to love what was handed to me, and am grateful that the two Yankee Chefs before me has transformed a simple and humble boy into a man that can challenge absolutely any line cook anywhere, and I mean from the greasy spoon diner to those on television that cannot go on with their lives unless they are referred to as CHEF.

Step back and ask yourself, "Are you really better than the cook that works incessantly just to get by?"

I was that guy and will raise my fathers spatula to anyone who believes otherwise!



                                It's Just That Simple!


Anonymous said...

I, too, started from the bottom up but my disdain for those chefs who think they are better than everyone else is far more...well, disdainful, hahahaha. It reminds me of guys who are going bald and decide to shave their heads so no body will notice, LOL. Both types are people who are trying to elevate themselves outside the dome of reality.

cougarwithclass said...

What a handsome line up of family. From your grandfather down to you. So incredibly manly, even more so with the pink coat. Holler when and if you are ever single, hahahaha.