Welcome

 

           
  For more than thirty years I’ve worked as a professional chef in restaurants, hotels, and for families in their homes as a private chef. Recently I decided to acquire a deeper knowledge of food by returning to college, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics. As a working chef I have put in the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell suggested was needed to become expert in any field of endeavor in his book Outliers.  More
  More About Kirke  
       

 

Do We Really Want To Do Without Immigrant Labor?

by Kirke on February 24, 2017

I have been derelict in not having written sooner on this subject. For more than 30 years I’ve worked as a chef in large and small hotels and in various restaurants around the San Francisco Bay Area. I have been very fortunate to have worked alongside immigrants from many nations, although mostly with those from Mexico and Latin America. My Latino heritage co-workers have been the most loyal, hardworking and reliable staff I have ever worked with. Some of them were working in the U.S. legally, most were not. All had Social Security cards and paid payroll taxes. In some cases, these were the only workers that applied for jobs as line cooks, dishwashers and busboys. Frequently, were it not for these workers, I would not have been able to open the doors. I could count on one hand the number of European heritage citizens that applied for a dishwashing position. I will concede that when I began my culinary career I lived in the Midwest where there were virtually no immigrant workers at the time. I started out as a dishwasher, learning skills that I would find useful later, as you will see.

I was perfectly happy with the fine applicants of Latino extraction wanting to work in my kitchen. For many, work in my kitchen was their 2nd or 3rd jobs per day, much to my lament. Often, they were working that hard so that others in their extended families could stay home and care for newborn or elderly family members. At one restaurant located in a somewhat remote suburb, my kitchen employees would carpool to work, hitching a ride with the one fellow who happened to have a driver’s license at a time when California law prohibited undocumented immigrants from acquiring the permit. Not helpful. You can imagine what could happen if that one legal driver became ill. Most of these workers gained extensive cooking skills from their long hours in multiple kitchens. I did work with many culinary school trained cooks and chefs, but the most highly skilled cook I ever had the pleasure to work beside was a Guatemalan gentleman I will call Pedro. I first met Pedro when I was hired to update the kitchen and menu in a well-known, established Bay Area restaurant. He had been there for years, working his way up from dishwasher to kitchen manager. Of all the dozens of cooks I ever worked with, Pedro was the best. Every meal he prepared was perfectly done. Every rack of lamb was cooked to the correct temperature (doneness), every time. They say you can be taught to cook, but you are born knowing how to roast. And, when Pedro was expediting on the line, things were calm, organized and enjoyable for all. I was very sad the day I had to move on to the next chef position, leaving Pedro behind. I later heard he went on to run the kitchen. No surprise.

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I don’t think that those that support President Trump’s immigration policies realize the invaluable, sustained contribution immigrants make to many small businesses and homes, work that many Americans refuse to do. I won’t repeat here the foul insults Trump levels at the dignified, hardworking people that help keep our economic engine running. It is not a new phenomenon for current U.S. citizens to denigrate the latest wave of immigrants that have had to uproot their families, escaping persecution, famine or war. How quickly they forget the time when their families had to do the same, as all but the indigenous have. But to hear the inevitable hateful rhetoric come from the leader of our country, his own family a benefactor of Lady Liberty’s largess, marks a very sad day for our country. Will Trump’s supporters send their sons and daughters to kitchen back doors to help run the restaurants that they patronize Saturday nights?  My first day as executive chef at a small hotel began with an ICE raid resulting in the deportation of my entire dishwashing crew. I found myself scrubbing pots that first night. The following week there were no U.S. born dishwasher applicants to be found. I had to hire someone to keep the business open. I was fortunate to find a new staff of hardworking immigrants sent by word of mouth to do the difficult job of cleaning the dirty dishes, pots and pans for the well-heeled patrons of that hotel.

The argument is often made that hiring undocumented immigrants bring down wages for U.S. born citizens. Well, using my own life experience of working in the immigrant free Midwest of the seventies as an example, I started dishwashing at minimum wage, although I did get promoted to full time pot washer at $3.75 per hour. A better argument can be found in this recent article by conservative columnist David Brooks in the New York Times entitled “The National Death Wish.” He uses the example of the construction industry, which is unable to find enough workers to meet demand. And he cites the success of cities like Houston that are thriving with a diverse immigrant population.

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Throughout my career I had the honor of meeting and working with many wonderful people, and in some cases much of their family. People like Alfredo. As a boy he learned to be a fisherman in El Salvador. He had to choose: join the rebels or die. Or he could try for political asylum in the land founded by immigrants, the land of freedom and hope. He started as a dishwasher. Then he began helping serve desserts. Soon he was making the desserts, doing most of the prep work, making fresh pasta and of course, filleting fish. Alfredo’s Spanish was so influenced by his indigenous language that at first, most of his Latino co-workers could barely understand him. But he learned English quickly, just as he did everything I taught him. A chef could not ask for a more dedicated, intelligent employee. I can only hope that Alfredo went on to apply for citizenship. An American could not ask for a better fellow countryman.

References:

Soble, J. (2017, February 12). The immigrant-free economy. New York Times Sunday, Sunday Business.

Brooks, D. (2017, February 24). The national death wish. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/opinion/

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             Cozzolino Pumpkins, Purveyor of Fine Gourds

 

Time is running out to find the best, most colorful pumpkins in the country. You might think I exaggerate, or you might believe that size is the determinate factor in crowning the finest pumpkins in the land, as the media would have you believe. But the Farmer’s Market at the College of San Mateo on the peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area is where you can see for yourself these unparalleled gourds on display for purchase. But hurry, because Halloween is just around the corner and you will want to WOW! all the young ghouls and ghoul-parents with your fine taste in pumpkins.

 

                                                                 This is Tony!

 

Tony Cozzolino is a fellow 2011 graduate of San Francisco State University where he obtained a degree in Biology. He and his wife, Stephanie, then took over the family farms based in Half Moon Bay. Tony is a descendant of Salvatore Cozzolino, who in 1924 was one the  first to establish a farm in what is now Millbrae, growing vegetables and later flowers. There is still a street named after the family in the now residential neighborhood south of San Francisco. The Cozzolino’s not only produce what are undoubtedly the most beautiful gourds in the land, they also farm herbs, flowers, corn stalks, Indian corn, hay bales and lovely Christmas trees. In a show of civic duty, they offer pumpkins to local schools at discounted prices.

 

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Tony Cozzolino’s pumpkins are also available in association with Pastorino’s Farm 12391 San Mateo Road (Highway 92) in Half Moon Bay. And don’t forget to stop by at Cozzolino’s Christmas Trees at 501 San Mateo Road, also in Half Moon Bay, located on Highway 92 next to Spanish Town, for the finest freshly cut local trees. But, hurry to the Menlo Park and College of San Mateo Farmer’s Markets while the best gourds are still available. Visit cozzolinopumpkins.com  for more information, dates, times of operation and locations.

 

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Reference:

Fredricks, D. (2011, June 6). Where have all the flowers gone? Retrieved October 19, 2016, from http://www.smdailyjournal.com/articles/lnews/2011-06-06/where-have-all-the-flower-growers-gone/160270.html

 

 

 

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