Budget Cooking: Burn Notice

My name is Dan McCullough. I used to be a chef. Before that, I was a writer, but not a food writer. I wrote for newspapers, which were these big sheets of paper with writing and pictures on them that somebody delivered to your doorstep each  morning.

About 17 years ago, dissatisfied with the path of my journalism career, I enrolled in culinary school and traded  in my press pass for a chef’s toque.

Dan before he was a chef

Ever since then, I have been hanging around the restaurant industry in a variety of jobs — executive chef, dishwasher, the chatty bartender, the anxious restaurant manager, the overworked purchasing agent, the snooty server, the grouchy fry cook, the salad girl, the guy who takes out the garbage, you name it.

I’ve worked in fancy French bistros, rock’em sock’em banquet halls, busy downtown bars, and four different casinos.  I’ve gone to work in tuxedos, chef’s whites, t-shirts and cargo shorts, and designer suits.

Now, thanks to troubling economic times and an unexpected layoff, I suddenly find myself with enough time  on my hands to reflect on these experiences and write about them.

In other words, I got burned.

And I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences and have met all kinds of terrific people along my journey, but up until now I haven’t had time to process much of it. I can’t wait to get started.

So much has changed since the last time I sat down to write. For one, people write blogs instead of articles. These are published on the internet rather than in magazines or newspapers. These are read on iPhones, iPads and Kindles, things that were unimaginable
back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

But much has remained the same.  People still want to know how they can feed their families delicious, nutritious meals without going over their food budget. They want to know how to turn the essential human experience of preparing and eating food into something fun and enjoyable.

That’s where I come in: I can do  that!

If this blog were to have a mission statement, it would be:

“I want to share my experiences in the restaurant trade in a format that both informs and entertains; to help the home cook provide the best possible meals at the lowest possible prices; and to share insider industry tips and techniques for making the cooking  experience efficient, affordable and fun.”

Sure, you might call that turning lemons into lemonade, but isn’t that what life is all about? Adapting to  change?

My  last job, I had to get up at 3:45 every morning so I could take the L downtown where I would check in deliveries on loading dock by 5:30 a.m. Before that, I spent three hours/day driving back and forth between Chicago and my job in New Buffalo, Michigan.

So today, I’m actually grateful  to have some time between soul-crushing jobs to step back and reflect, to think about what it has meant and to try to pass on some of the things I’ve learned.

On USA Network’s television show  “Burn Notice,” ex-spy Michael Westen (played by the terrific Jeffrey Donovan) intersperses tips and techniques he’s learned in the spy trade with stories about helping people in trouble. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s a pretty good show.

That’s kind of what I’m aiming  for here. Although I’m certainly no former special forces agent like Michael, I think I can still use my experience to help people out during stressful times.

Except maybe without the trigger-happy ex-girlfriend.

So I hope you join me on this new journey. I promise to keep it fun and snappy. I hope to publish about twice per week. Maybe less if I have job interviews (So far that hasn’t been an issue).

Let’s see where this journey takes  us!

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