Not me: Pear Tarts

Every day, the hosts and servers at Sound Food threatened to yank this tape out of the machine and throw it into the blender.

The Me Too movement pointed a finger at politicians, TV hosts, the clergy, military personnel, restaurant chefs and managers, financial wizards, corporate higher ups, athletic trainers, comedians, and Hollywood players but it seems to have skipped rock stars. It’s hard to imagine that rock stars never took advantage of their stardom—I’m just sayin’.

Until this year, I hadn’t thought much about sexual harassment in my old work world. I started my restaurant career on Vashon Island when I was thirty—past the “sell-by” date in restaurant years. Sound Food wasn’t a brutal, pressure cooker stereotype but a hippie-tinged cafe where hostility and aggression were rare and bullies or predators just didn’t fit in. Women played major roles: three of the night cooks, two of the bakers, a janitor, most of the waitron units, half of the owners, and four of the hosts were women. Oh, there was definitely crude language, inappropriate humor, politically incorrect banter, sharp criticism, and personalty clashes but it was always out in the open and part of the everyday fabric of restaurant life

Sexual harassment didn’t show up for me in Los Angeles either. Although sharp-tongued, perfectionist men ran both Stratton’s and Trumps kitchens, as far as I knew, neither used his power to force favors from the people in his employ. When I worked for the 1984 Olympics Committee, two women (my supervisor and her boss) hired me to replace the existing chef because they didn’t like working with his aggressive attitude and large ego. And in a Susan Feniger/Mary Sue Milliken or Tom Douglas restaurant, tolerance for threatening behavior was inconceivable. Anyways, I never did have to resort to a defense recommended by one of my mentors: “Just give him a good kick in the shins.”

I am not dismissing or discounting anyone else’s experiences and maybe I was just lucky, but it just never happened to me. Oh I was yelled at, fired, criticized, blamed, and ridiculed—but never groped. Maybe I was too old or too happily-married, or perhaps an encounter with someone who wore baggy hound’s tooth-checked pants and a ridiculous paper hat, smelled like duck fat, and was so sweaty her socks squished doused the fire before it was lit. 

So while I didn’t see sexual harassment, I did see an industry that treats its employees poorly. Food service workers are routinely overworked and underpaid, in a physically demanding, poorly equipped, marginally safe, and just plain unpleasant work environment. Breaks are few and either discouraged or not allowed—so cooks, dishwashers, and prep staff often work eight to twelve hours without a rest. Again, in my experience, Feniger/Milliken and Tom Douglas were the exceptions and ran kitchens where staff meal was planned and break hours paid for. 

There’s pressure on restaurant kitchens today to develop a more enlightened attitude and to transition from the exploitative, old-school culture into one that supports an employee’s physical and mental well-being. Of course that means higher prices which neither management nor the customer wants. Hiring that considers more women for management positions and puts less emphasis on the wonders of young men could also go a long way toward creating a better work environment. So, maybe it is time for a good shakeup.

Here are a few random Chicago shots.


Chicago River

Chicago Tribune 

In a previous post, I mentioned Chicago’s winter tradition of calling dibs on just-shoveled parking spaces with lawn chairs. Yesterday on my way to the cleaners, I saw this window display about a neighborhood shelter raising money by auctioning chairs painted by local artists.

Tom Douglas’ Pear Tarts with Caramel Sauce

Poached Pears:

  • 3 ripe but firm pears
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 4 c. water
  • 1 t. vanilla
Dissolve sugar in water over medium heat. Peel, core, and half pears. Add to liquid and poach gently until pears are soft. Will take approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove pears from liquid, cool. Blend ingredients in mixer or food processor until smooth.
Almond Cream:
  • 4 oz. almond paste
  • 1⁄2 c. sugar
  • 3 T. soft butter
  • 2 egg yolks
To make the almond cream, mix the almond paste and sugar using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer. The mixture will look crumbly. Beat in the butter, bit by bit. Add the egg yolk and mix until creamy and smooth, set aside.
Caramel Sauce:
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1⁄2 c. water
  • 1 1⁄2 c. heavy cream
  • 3 T. soft butter

Dissolve sugar in water over low heat, shaking constantly. When sugar is dissolved, raise heat to high until sugar is warm brown. Remove from heat and add cream—be careful, it will splatter. When caramel stops bubbling, return to medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add butter, keep warm.

Using purchased frozen puff pastry, cut into squares 5” by 5”. Place squares on parchment-papered baking sheet. Spread 2 T. almond cream in a circle on each unbaked square. Top each with a thinly sliced poached pear half. Dot with butter and bake 20-25 minutes at 400°. Pour small amount of caramel sauce on dessert plate. Set tart next to sauce, garnish with whipped cream. Serve with extra sauce.

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1 Response to Not me: Pear Tarts

  1. Jenni says:

    Oh, Marla, I love this one! Great history. When Chris and I were first married in the fall of 1970, I worked as the meat grill cook at Perkins Pancake House in Meadville. PA. One morning as I was frying bacon, the manager came up behind me, put his arms around my waist, and pulled me to him. I was so shocked that I reacted by giving him an elbow to the solar plexus that sent him crashing into the microwave. There were no repeats. Your story is so balanced and perfectly told. Thanks!

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