What I Learnt From Saying Yes to Everything
WHAT I LEARNED FROM SAYING YES TO EVERYTHING
4th Annual Field To Table Dinner
at the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Rendezvous 2019
“Hell yea I can cook, and I would love to be a chef at the Field to Table Dinner!”
My enthusiasm quickly faded as soon as I hung up the phone, I had sunk into my office chair and instantly start to rub my temples in anticipation of the stress from the reality of what I just promised was settling in. Shit, what did I get myself into? I am an extremely talented eater, not a chef.
Channelling Derek Sivers and his wise words, “the standard pace is for chumps.” I wasted no time scrolling through my phone and messaging the few chefs I knew that would tolerate my 101 questions on how to execute a winning dish. I even YouTube videos on how to entertain guest and tell jokes like a true Benihana chef. I’ll even admit there was even a poor attempt to mastering the famous onion volcano trick.
The day I received the email introductions to all the chefs that would be apart of this wild game feast, my stomach contents nearly ended up on my keyboard. These were the names of people I admired, respected, and have fuelled my passion for hunting and gathering my own food. Everyone’s names had the title chef attached it and their credentials, but besides my name, all it said was, “Jenny Ly, stoked to be part of this crew."
After some fresh air and a few cigarettes, I wrangled my fear of failure into a manageable state. I let the initial shock marinate in my mind, long enough for a few pounds of caribou meat to thaw out. Then I fought past the terror of failing miserably and started cooking.
Originally the plan was to make a Bò Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew), I figured you can’t fuck that up. The one-pot-wonder was seasoned similarly to Phở Bò with star anise and cinnamon. Everyone loves Pho, right? But I when I ran over my idea with Grant Alban, the director of the dinner, and heard his lack of enthusiasm over the idea of a hot dish being served in an unconditioned barn; I knew I had to go back to the drawing board.
At one point, I actually got on my knees and prayed for a miracle because no new ideas were not coming to mind. I use to sell catering services, therefore I fully understand the logistics of how complicated it can be to execute a dish while cooking in front of people and all the variables to consider. Which meant I was overthinking it and was being extremely methodical about my approach. I wanted to ensure there was some live-action cooking in front of the guest but not keep them waiting too long on their food. While also guaranteeing I had enough time to make a genuine connection with each individual at the table. While juggling all the possibilities I felt like John Nash, in a Beautiful Mind, losing my mind.
Finally, after running my ideas past everyone that would listen, I narrowed down my thought process and knew that I wanted to make a sausage because wild game grind was easy to source and manage. I racked my brain for a meal I might have enjoyed on my many trips to Vietnam. It was important I bring my Canadian-Vietnamese heritage to the table.
Memories of wrapping these bite-sized fatty sausages in rice paper filled with fresh herbs, pickled carrots and vermicelli noodles came to mind but I had no idea what the dish was called. A quick Google lead me to a few videos of street vendors making something similar, and I was delighted to discover the minced meat was wrapped in caul fat.
A special occasion dishes such as these lemongrass and 5-spiced sausages are passed on verbally. Measurements are described as pinches and handfuls and are seldom written down. Each family adds their own twist, therefore, decoding this recipe was an adventure in itself. To my horror, I couldn’t find any recipes online. I called up my mom, my step-mom, and every auntie I knew. They all gave me a rough idea of ingredients but ultimately it was all trial and error for the next couple of months.
Gameday came and through the buckets of sweat, dogging peanut oil splatters, a few too many glasses of wine, and gulps of scotch later, I kicked some serious ass!
The next morning, I woke to a hangover from hell and several pats on the back for the show I put on during the 4th Annual Field to Table Dinner. I felt like Harry Houdini, I had achieved an illusion of confidence, professionalism and pure entertainment for the guest who sat at my table. I was proud of my practiced production and I couldn’t stop grinning despite the throbbing headache.
I hope this experience encourages you to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, despite how terrifying it may seem. And motivates you to explore every avenue you're curious about! Going through this learning curve and talking it out with the other chefs I realized I am no different from the person beside me. They were all once where I was! Those that had succeeded at their craft had kept hammering away at it until they got comfortable with the uncomfortable.
As a matter of fact, the professionals were the most supportive, they understood where I was coming from and cheered me on harder than anyone else. I learned that having the drive to succeed is essential but it’s as equally important to put yourself in front of those that you admire and aspire to be like; to put the ego aside and ask for help.
A special thanks to Chefs Derek Gray @derekkgray and Connor Gabbot @taluscreative for allowing me to ask a million questions and putting up with my nervous ramblings. JR Young for driving to an Asian market in California, using sign language, and showing up with 20lbs of caul fat 48hrs before the dinner, after I lost all hope of sourcing some in Idaho. Finally, all the friends and volunteers that would take up a whole page to list out, you know who you are, thank you!
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share this cherished recipe and pass on a bit of my Vietnamese heritage to you. Click here for the recipe.