Talking Out Loud: Kim Kaechele

 “Talking Out Loud” is a series of short interviews with friends, strangers, family, etc that focus on how they are living their lives out loud and to the fullest. I have trawled self-help web sites, read countless books and worked with a few coaches to find out how I can better myself.  However, the advice I find the most meaningful, the most inspiring and most sincere is that of every day people; their life experiences have given them insight and perspective that I lack. In “Talking Out Loud”, I use the subject’s own words and thoughts to present what I think it means to live out loud. 

I am happy that my culinary school friend Kim Kaechele agreed to participate in Talking Out Loud.  The first time I really talked to Kim was during our Product Identification class and I was struck by how thoughtful she appeared.  She seemed deliberate and fully conscious of those around her.  When I talked to her, I felt for the first time someone was listening and not merely waiting for their turn to talk.  She turned into the “heart” of our class and eventually was elected our group leader.  I may have called her “Momma Bear” due to her maternal nature, but rest assured she was quite able to swing with the boys in the kitchen and repeatedly  proved herself as the voice of reason in hot-headed situations.  And did I mention she is a cutie and a half?  And she has the music hook-up thanks to her many years working with music agents for some of today’s hottest bands?  So from backstage concerts with Dave Mathews to gutting squid, I will let Kim tell you about her journey….

Name: Kim Kaechele

Occupation: Culinary Student, Culinary Institute of America

1) What is your earliest memory of food?

This is less of an actual memory and more of a memory that I’ve formed because it has been told and retold at family gatherings for years. My mother was extremely proud of the fact that I was an adventurous eater, even as a baby. I never fussed over food and always ate everything she put in front of me.  She began to experiment with giving me more bold and challenging flavors, including thai bird chilies that we grew in a window box outside our kitchen. To her amazement, I’d chomp them down and appear to be perfectly happy. A few months later when I started to talk, she realized that maybe I wasn’t quite so adventurous. My first real word came out during my dinner time as she put some fresh picked chilies on my tray and I very loudly and clearly said “No” 

2) Your Mom is a chef/owner of a restaurant ….how did that affect your decision to attend culinary school?

My mom is my personal hero. She is an amazingly talented chef and I am always amazed by her ability to prepare sophisticated dishes that are comforting, yet refined. She has always supported me, but made sure to let me know that the life of a chef and restaurateur is not an easy one. It’s a physically demanding job, one that doesn’t afford you much in the way of free time. Chefs rarely get to spend the holidays with friends and families and are often on the complete opposite schedule than the rest of the world. I am grateful for her wisdom and the fact that she is always honest with me. Her insight and experience will just help me on my path and having her as a resource gives me a distinct advantage, especially for our upcoming class “Cuisines of Asia.” My mom is the type of person who has infinite patience for my endless questions and always humors me, a culinary newbie, as I discover new techniques and ingredients that she’s been using for years.

3) In a prior life you worked in the music industry.  The folklore of the “musician rider” is mythic…..first are all those silly requests true?  If so, what is the strangest thing you have ever seen written into a contract?

Hmmm…this is a great question and I wish that I had kept a running list of these things while I was working as a promoter.  I did sign a NDA while working there and so I wouldn’t be able to give away anything super juicy, but there are a few websites out there that post these things for those that are super curious 😉 One thing that people don’t really think about is that musicians and their crews only request certain things to make their environments feel more like home. The real working bands of this world, the ones that tour relentlessly and often spend weeks and months away from their families and friends. Some venues don’t put a lot of care and thought into the variety of food options that they offer. Could you imagine having to choose between pizza or hot wings every single night for weeks on end? I have a couple of great friends who are “roadies” and one trend that they’ve done over the past few years to ensure that there is some variety in their lives is to break up requests by days of the week. As an example on M, W, F they ask for turkey deli meat, tortillas, and cheddar cheese to stock their bus. Tuesday and Thursday it’s hummus and pita and veggies trays. My friend will joke that it’s a way to create a constant, he’ll wake up in his bunk without a really clear idea of what town or even what state he’s in, but once the bus stock arrives, he’ll at least have a fighting chance of knowing what day it is. 

4) What is one of your favorite dishes?  Why? And where do you get it?

Pho, hands down is one of my favorite dishes. I only really go to one place to get it and that’s a tiny Vietnamese owned café near my parents house. I make it a priority to go there every time I go home. It’s become a tradition for my mom and I to go there and we chat for a few quick minutes before steaming hot bowls arrive to the table and then we doctor up the soups with as many chilies as we can stand (yes, I grew out of the “No” phase of chilies) and slurp them up in blissed out silence. My mom always has jasmine tea and I get cafe sua da – an iced drip coffee sweetened with condensed milk. 

5) For many people, their perfect moment of happiness seems to involve friends, family and food (the “F”s of life)……what meal would you serve to your friends and family in that perfect moment of being?

This is probably the hardest question that you’ve asked so far. There are so many factors to think about, things I’ve learned in school that I didn’t consider before starting my culinary education. I paid attention to seasonality before coming to school, but never gave it as much emphasis as I do now. I wouldn’t be able to create a dish or meal without seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting the products available to me. I like to shop at a small, family run grocery store near me in Napa and one of the things I love most about them is that all of their produce is labeled with a small sign telling me where it was grown. It makes me think twice about buying a product if I see that it came halfway across the globe. Now that I’ve worked a little with volume production, I understand more about how to balance dishes with items that can be prepared in advance or hold well, so that I’d actually be able to sit down with my friends and family instead of being in the kitchen preparing a million things a la minute. My perfect meal would likely be served family style and would have garnishes, salsas, chutneys or condiments so people can play around with flavor profiles and dynamics. I like the idea that each guest can discover how salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami can play off each other. It’s something that we cover in each of our classes, but flavor combinations are endless and I hope that I never get to the point where I feel like I’ve exhausted the possibility of experimenting with flavor. I know whatever I’d prepare, I’d want to serve it on my favorite piece of furniture – an amazing modern glass table that I purchased in Charlottesville that has a built in reversible chrome and black lazy susan. I like the idea of giving the guests dishes that they share with each other and the opportunity to serve themselves or their neighbor, I think it creates conversation and interest which is also accomplished by seating people in the round as opposed to a long rectangular table. 

6) You are now 5 months into cooking school….what is the most difficult thing you have experienced since being in class?

Wow, there are a few things that I can think of…knife skills was particularly challenging for me – Courtney, you know the look I’d get on my face during knife cuts. People describe it to me as a cross between terror, panic and “don’t talk to me because I might kill you.”  I like to call it my “focused” face…I really don’t want to kill anyone, except for maybe the French who decided that round vegetables need to be cut into perfectly even and symmetrical squares and rectangles, I mean WTF? We as a class have had a few challenges – being late with food, setting things on fire, being unprepared for class, but that’s why we are in school, in a safe environment. We may make mistakes, but we always bring the heat and always shoot for a singular goal – to be proud of the food we put out.  

7) I ask this question of all the people profiled.  This blog is about many things but at its core, it’s about living your life to the fullest or living life out loud as I say.  So what does “living life out loud” mean to you?

Living out loud means to me that I’m living my life unafraid. I’m someone who has wrestled with this over the past year in quitting a career that I loved, moving 3,000 miles away and starting over from scratch. Sure we all feel fear and doubt at times, but when you look at the sum; the complete story of your life I want to be able to say that I honestly that I didn’t let fear hold me back. 

The Journey Is At Times More Important Than The Outcome….

Last night’s class opened up a can of “whoop a**” on me.  From the knife cuts (fluted mushrooms and tourne potatoes), the dishes we cooked for presentation (glazed beets, braised cabbage, duchesse potatoes) to kitchen clean-up (we stayed until 9:30pm cleaning) it was a stressful situation (in my opinion).  Over the last three months, I have had highs and lows in my affinity for culinary school and have  seriously doubted everything from my ability as a chef to my aptitude for remember information. My first day in this new course brought back all the feelings of inadequacy I felt the first time I stepped into the kitchen two months ago.

I have a tendency to psych myself out and to over-analyze situations — in essence, I scare the crap out of myself for no good reason.  This self-created anxiety is one of the issues I work with my counselor with because it tends to block progress in my case.  Modern psychology states that small amounts of stress are good for running at peak levels of productivity. I am unique that the thought of stress actually creates unhealthy amounts of stress.  I find it amusing that my classmates are always complimenting me on my calm demeanor in the kitchen.  It isn’t that I am calm at all — on the inside I am doing cartwheels but I know that if I don’t focus and try to control the internal chaos, it will have detrimental effects.  Once rolling, the stress compounds and that is when you find me a sweaty mess talking to myself in the corner or angrily yelling at my classmates over small things.  Neither is a good scenario, hence why I try hard to go in every day with a game plan and really not get too shaken up.

Because of this tendency, I often get lost in the moment.  For some that is a state they aspire to embrace but for myself it’s something I avoid. Many times in my life, I get caught up in the here and now, but never look at the path I am have or the journey as a whole.  As I get older, I am appreciating life as a whole rather than compartments. Yet, somehow this “whole perspective” is not translating to culinary school – this is a journey I need to remember because it has informed me about some much regarding myself. In life we can take many different roads, but those roads we take, well in particular, the road I have taken, I need to pay attention.  Yeah, sometimes we deviate or go off path – but that is the beauty of a well-lived life.

Last night, as I laid in bed exhausted, I thought of the poem by Robert Frost “The Road Not Taken”. I memorized it in elementary school for a contest and still remember it to this day, considering I can’t remember my Mom’s birthday, it’s no small feat.  Little did I know that some 20 plus years later, it would have such new meaning to me……

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.