Monday, December 27, 2010

Tradeshows - Florax Loaves and Munchkins

I remember back when trade shows were a staple in the hospitality industry. Until recently we used to have the UpShow each February at the Convention Center in Minneapolis, but for reasons to numerous to report this Shindig finally shut down.
Back in the day it used to be a spectacle event, the UMBA (Upper Midwest Baking Association) would even ride its coat tails.

Back then the bakers had reputations of drinking like thirsty pirates. I'll never forget the afternoon when the boys from Custom Bakery were break dancing in the foyer of the Hyatt when the crew from Baldingers strolled past. A huge fight broke out, there was mayhem everywhere, but within a hour you could find both sides nursing their wounds together while exchanging stories and formulas in one of their ingredient purveyors V.I.P. booths.

As years passed, things have tamed down a bit, the main event each year was the contest for the top cake. When you entered the special "Cake Room" it was kinda an Alice in Wonderland experience. There were tremendous looking entries that were nothing short engineering marvels.

Next to each one of these pieces stood foxy models that were rumored to be prostitutes. Of coarse this was never proved, but urban legend declared that if you picked the got the chick standing next to it. I don't know why, but we all wanted to believe this was true.

Sometime around 2000 or 2002 I did a lecture entitled Sourdoughs from Around the World. At the conclusion of my dealio I picked up a couple left over loaves, they were Italian Florax sourdough batards which where chalk full of bell peppers.

Florax is the Italians Oven God and each year they have a special day where the peeps pay tribute to this baking deity. In the center of the country is a region called Umbria, and it's residents are known for their "Burn Cafe's" where every loaf that comes out of the oven has a charred cinder crumbwall. This produces a buffer against the heat and allows the peppers juices to develop. The loaves taste wicked good.

Remember in the movie Moonstruck where Cher and her dad are sitting at the table scraping ash off the breakfast bread? I'm guessing it was an Umbria Burn loaf, anyways as I'm walking down aisle at the trade show, I passed by many of the exhibits that I had seen in years past, but then all of a sudden I looked up and there stood this little guy with Wizard of Oz posters around him, at closer look it was Micky Carrol.

Micky was the Munchkin that coined the phrase "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." He also was the munchkin you see playing the violin.

His booth was pimping nostalgic posters and for a mere 20 bucks you could recapture your youth by purchasing an autographed version.

When I approached the table Micky was engaged in a conversation with some woman, he was explaining that he was already wealthy, but he liked to raise money for cops and kids in the St Louis area, but as Micky's pitch turned more into a ramble...there was some whip cracking lout who told my favorite munchkin to tone it down and get back to work. The 2 guys would exchange wicked stares and Micky would eventually go back to being Mickey.

After sharing a story where Cardinal baseball legends Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire stopped by his house to donate dozens of bats to one of the upcoming cop fund raisers Micky noticed me and the loaves that were in my hand.

Like a midway pitchman, he started to reel me in and taunt me with jabs about my uniform, loaves and general demeanor. You can't help but feel honored when a munchkin politely roasts you.

After further investigation of my sourdough loaves Micky asked if they were Italian, when I replied "Yes.", he told me that in the "Olden Days" he used to emcee nightclub shows for Al Capone's night clubs, and in that era you never knew who would show up on the stage that night.

He mentioned that his favorite person to work with was Mae West (when mentioning this he raised his eyebrows in an amorous way that made the crowd watching him roar) because she realized big things come in small packages.

Then I asked Micky if it would be alright to ask a personal question, when I got his permission I tossed it at him "In a world of Political Correctness, is it safe to make references to Munchkins, or should we use the term Little People?"

Micky smiled and responded "Let me tell ya kid, you are what you are. There is no changing that, and I am a Munchkin."

When it was time for me to move on I handed Micky the Florax loaves and he genuinely seemed touched. In fact, he grabbed a black & white 8x10 of a younger him on the Yellow Brick road and wrote "To Klecko, who makes the best bread in the world...your friend Micky Carrol"

He smiled really big as he handed it to me, but then his whip cracking partner demanded "that will be 20 bucks!" and the 2 of them went back to fighting.

You almost had to think this Good Cop-Bad Cop routine was part of the show. Either way, I pulled a 20 out of my wallet, tossed it on his table and told Micky to give it to the cops.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Part 3 of 3 "Gay's - African Americans & Women"

During my life, it's usually been men who have taught me how to use my hands, but it's been women who have shown me how to conquer the world with my heart.
I will have to be careful not to attach spotlights and neon to my soap box on this topic, but I have never seen a group of people that has been mistreated in the hospitality industry as women.
Several years ago I was the key note speaker at a Women in the Food Industry business conference. The event took place at a restaurant in the Mall of America. As I prepared to step out onto the stage, I got really nervous.
Now for those of you who know me, you might find that hard to believe, but I have to tell ya,  I think the thing I was most nervous about was that I would dissapoint. I would fall short in distruting wisdom and dissapoint my audience.
So, I walk onto the stage and say "Hi I am Klecko, I am a man, I don't know why they want me at a woman conference, but when I found out there was 100 of you, and I was the only guy....I didn't ask any questions!"
Then the girlios start laughing as I segued into a list of bulletpoint topics.
Now I had sat through some of the other female presenters speeches and took mental notes. I simply marveled at the fact that over a course of 5 hours and a half dozen presentations, not once did i hear any af the following words.............
Instead my collegues were giving presentations like Finding Your Validation in the Workplace. There was another woman who spoke professionally as a motivational speaker, her deal was entitled Birthquakes and at its conclusion she gave handouts that asked us to use a number scale chart to gauge your confidence.
Then there was the 2 "Good Looking Chicks", you know....every conference has these two. They are young, pretty, savvy and give you the impression that you're kinda a dumb ass because you  have never figured out how to find the pot of gold with ease like they had.
OMG, all the women circled them like vultures with numorous questions, but most of them revolved around how hard was it to go into business with your best friend, do they seperate their business and proffesion lives. and all that sort of jazz.
So I'm up on stage, and much of what I saw that day nullified what I was going to preach. during public speaking gigs, I am pretty steadfast in following my script, but maybe it was the spirit of Polish Jesus, I don't know......but I set aside my clipboard and started free flying. Now the one thing I had going for me is that many of these woman knew me, or had heard of me, but as I started giving some of my impressions as to what I had observed, it started to get a little tense.
I discussed a mindset that has to take place in business, and to acheive this mindset you have to start at the dollar sign and move backwards, you don't worry about validating yourself, birthquakes, and the last thing you want on Earth is to be "friends" with anybody you work with.Proffesional respect will suffice.
OMG.....that comment stirred the beehive, I might as well made Hitler jokes or blasphemed Christ cuz the women turned on me and rattled my cage......hard! They remained steadfast in the belief that business and friendship were a secret formula to success.
But when my speech was complete, I stuck around and tried to decompress the energy, it is not good to send people home stressed from an event that is sold as uplifting and liberating.
Nest I shared stories in a more intamite setting about how many of my female cohorts in the Food Show had never been mentored in business principal basics. Often times men will try to impress women that if they use stern business practices they will be a "BITCH". If I had a dollar for everytime a female food service worker had confessed that they would have......or should have.....but they didn't because they did not want to be perceaved as a bitch, I'd be retired by now.
Then there is the whole sexuality element, and where would you start with that? But, I've seen it 1000 times over. I've baked with women who worked a dozen hours a week and got paid for 40 because their male boss was screwing them.
When a man engages in this kind of swap, the repercussions are huge. word gets out, rumors fly, and the worst ramification is transpires......gender trust is lost.
I could recite a mental list of these sick events, but it would take half a day and I always feel gross for a couple days after thinking about it, but the bottom line is this.....Men are intimidated by women. they know that if given an equal chance, women will do a better job.
It is amazing how liberated the fairer sex has become in their private lives.When people watch movies the Stepford Wives or shows like Mad Men, they will dialouge for hours how exploited women have been over the centuries and how now days women have become self actualized, I don't think so.
Remember, I am not talking about souls here, if so you could turn to Jesus, John Paul, Malcolm X or Ghandi, but we are talking about women in the Hospitality Industry, and what it will take for them to ever get a fair shake, so ladies to do this the only thing you'll need to remember is that money governs power. Take control of cash and you'll be in control of your own destiny.
As I close down this rant, I want to say, this topic is so steril, calculated, void of emotion that is seems kinda sickly, but thats what it smells like in the corridor of power folks.If you want to share in the plunder, you might want to invest in a mask, cuz you'll need to get used to that odor.
Francesca, Pam Sherman, Joan Ida, Lynn Gordon, Stephnie hats off to all of you.
I believe that eventually women are going to become more assertive and take oppurtunities that rightly belong to them, and if they are in the Twin Cities, they will realize that the women listed above are just some of the trend setting pioneers that opened the door in the same fashion that Jackie Robinson contributed to healing baseball.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Baking / A Very Klecko Christmas

I believe it. i believe it with all of my heart, and all of my soul. The items you bake during the holidays can have more impact, more influence on a person than money, gifts or promises. I have known this secret for years and tried to be a good steward with it.
When throwing this topic out, some have suggested that cooked meals or even booze could compete with baked items during the holidays, but I'm not buying it.
You see most people like to use food as a time machine to bring themselves to a specific person,place or experience from a favorite period of their lives.
Many people have been surrounded by cooks or drunks on a daily basis , but unfortunately, many people don't bake, or get to be in the presence of bakers unless it is Christmas time.
Yulekaga - Stollen - Fruit Cakes - Mince Meat Pies, if you can replicate somebody's family formula, you will own them for life. Sure it will never beat their Grandmothers but what a responsibility huh?
That is why I believe that it is good karma to bake something special for somebody new each year and get it to them with no strings attached.
This year Debora Gilson worked with me on making top end British Fruit Cakes. This technology was somewhat new to me. We made a commercial jag for our Retail customers, but Danny Klecko also made a small personal family batch for himself and his closest loved ones.
This year he made a dozen loaves, and as he dropped them off to him VIP of VIP relatives, neighbors and friends, he told them...."Christ had 12 disciples and Danny Klecko has 12 fruit cakes, I am bestowing one unto thee."
When the recipents realize that they were getting one of your "Family Batch" you could see it in their eyes how grateful they were. I witness this every year. Often times the person won't even speak, as if words may seem like blasphemy.
This year I knew for months that I wanted to give one of these fruit cakes to the woman who runs the Penzey Spice store on Grand Avenue in St Paul. I don't know why my minds eye focused so hard on her, but I really love her and her staff. Their store can be likened to a bakers toy box.
When I went in a few days ago, I didn't even buy any spices. I just walked up to the counter and to my dismay....she wasn't there. I freaked out momentarily, but then I calmed down....I knew destiny would conclude the transaction.
I'm guessing there was like 30 people in the store, and 4 staff were out working the floor. Now when most writers tell you there is 30 peeps in their story, you can usually bank that there is only 14, most writers embellish because they hate their lives and feel as if they need to improve it, but you guys know I am kinda a narcissist so i don't need to pad my feelings right? but yeah, there was around 30 of them all checking off last minute items from their shopping lists.
Even though my friend wasn't in sight I asked "Where is Boss lady?" I didnt even know her name, but she has gray hair and speaks kind to me every time I am there, and her voice is so calming I almost find our visits therapeutic. I really covet my brief stints with her, and isn't that how you get what you want? If you are needy like me, you learn quickly that if you suck too much life out of a few people to often, you are back to being alone, so the key is to surround your life's routine with people that make you feel good.
Did I mention I was wearing my work uniform? Klecko shirt, tall white floppy cap, Red Wing steel toes and shorts (even though there was about 6000 inches of snow outside.)
So now the gray hair lady comes out from a curtain, exactly like the Wizard of Oz did and she smiled, but asked "Am I in trouble?"
Now all the people in the store looked in my direction, and I didn't want that, because I was prepared to embark on one of my years most intimate moments, and at certain times even Danny Klecko can be shy, but I didn't want a queer awkward pause so I just spit it out...."Like Chirst had 12 disciples, Danny Klecko has 12 fruit cakes made exclusivly from his family batch and this is one of them for you."
Now the gray hair woman stops, and her face was blank, after a second I deduced that she was choked up. I reached across the counter and handed it to her, and as she took it, I spun around really quick to get out of there. When I spun I noticed everybody (not most) everybody was watching us and about 4 strides into my departure I heard "Klecko" friend apparently didn't want me to leave, but I was scared because for me, this isn't just about her, it is about me too. I like to do this because it gives me a rush. My rush was already a little tarnished because as I mentally fantisized about this exchange, there was never a lot of people in my imagination.
When I turned back to face her, I didn't want her to ruin our joy with the old "they gave me a gift, what can I scramble for to return the favor". often times people will do that, and that rusts my desires. I'm figuring maybe the gray haired woman is gonna try to drop a pepper shaker on me, but my surprise, she just stood there, and then she skipped around the counter and hugged me real tight. usually people don't hug like that unless they are at funerals. I think I was really embaressed because I don't like getting hugged. It creeps me out, but one of the young employees said "OMG...I think Klecko is blushing."
I've always felf blushing is a weakness, but I have to admit. I liked it, I liked her hug it in ways that I don't know, so I can't really explain it, but it really felt good.
I hope in this Christmas season you will have a chance to make somebody feel as good as the Penzey spice woman made me feel.

Merry Christmas - I love most of you

Friday, December 17, 2010

Klecko and the Mormons

When most people hear about the Mormons, they think about missionarys, funny underwear or a cat named Joey Smith. I think all those things are what they are, but the part that really floats my boat is the Mormon people. They are a people of action and have saved my life a couple times over.
Klecko was born in Los Angelos CA, my father was pretty much a drugstore cowboy that would travel across the state robbing pharmacys.Our apartment was in Ingelwood. Most of the people there were modest poor folks or ex Navy and Marines, but then a little thing like the Watts riots changed a lot of the neighborhoods around the neighborhood of my youth..
I don't remember those day. I was simply too young, but when I look back at the old photos I note that we had poinsettas everywhere.
When my father split for good, my mom and an uncle decided to take my sister and I back to Mpls. Somewhere in Salt Lake city our car crashed on the freeway and everybody was messed up. My mothers arm was crushed and they didn't think she would be able to use it again.
I wasn't in a kid seat, I don't think they were common in 1965. So when impact occured, my baby body flew through the air and crashed into the glovebox. Danny Klecko broke every rib and was pretty messed up.
My Grandmother flew to Salt Lake city and before she checked into a hotel she came straight to the hospital. She consulted with the doctors and stood along side the nurses.As you can imagine, most of the staff was Mormon.
When my Granddmother told the nurse that she would be back the following day the lady insisted that Grandma should stay with her family. My Grandma was pretty up tight, but that nurse wouldn't take no for an answer.
When they got to the woman house, the host called her friends and arranged for rides,meals and all that kind of stuff for my family.
Have you ever tried to recall the first thing that you recall in your life? I'm not 100% sure, but I think mine was in that hospital. I was like 2ish, but I really think that was it.
My first experience in life I was laying on my back staring at bright florescent lights. I think it was hurting my eyes, and then a body eclipsed it. I know this is going to sound so metrosexual......but it was a really hot looking chick with blond hair, and her tone was comforting. It made me feel good. she didn't pick me up though, she just kinda hung over me and there was like this bright halo kinda deal hanging over her head.
The Klecko in me has decided that the aura might have been that eclipsed light, but the Danny in me wonders if maybe it was an Angel.
I hate when people pull that new age stuff on me, but it seemed so-so Holy, it is my first memory of life.
When we got to Minnesota my family knocked around a few different places, but as mentioned in my last blog, during the Woodstock event my family bought a house in Crystal.
My neighbors "the Jermasek's" were Mormons. I met them because I was spying in their garage, and there was remnants of a Kool Aid stand that they had broken down earlier that afternoon. I knocked over all the glass glasses that were on a TV tray, and they shattered everywhere.
Like a dumb ass I darted home and told my mother, and you know what she did...she made me go confess to people I had never met, and she wouldn't come with me. I had to go alone.
I was too stupid to lie and fake that I apoligized, instead I went to the door and wailed like an Old Testament phrophet!
Mrs. Jermasek answered the door. Can you imagine going about your daily grind and some blubbering kid is found crying on your doorstep?
She just hugged me and said I shouldn't worry. in hind sight I value that moment because Mrs. Jermasek isn't a huggy type person, like Danny Klecko....I think she has space boundries.
Growing up I spent more time at the Jermaseks house than they did. They had around 90 kids so some have suggested that I just didn't get noticed in the shuffle, but every single Sunday when they went off to Temple I would sneak into their house. On the stove there was always a couple loaves of Mrs. J's banana bread, and I ate some every week and nobody said anything.
when Ed's (Mr. Jermasek) silver Bonneville pulled into the driveway I would shut off the television, run around to the front of the house and act as if i was just getting there. On more than one occasion somebody would ask who ate the banana bread and you know it....Mrs. Jermasek took the wrap for me saying that she ate it.
I think those banana bread loaves were what made me want to become a baker. Nothing in my life not only tasted so good, but made me feel so good as well.
sometimes I like to bake something special and give it to somebody in hopes that I will be able to return the blessing that the Mormons have always piled on me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Isn't it cool how much street cred Jesus Christ gets, and we really only know about the last three years of his life, and that occasional story we hear from time to time about him doing "His Fathers Work" while hanging at the Temple.

We never hear about Jesus as a teenager, I mean did he have to say "No" to drugs? Was there ever a "Hot" Corinthian chick that tried to make him stumble like the time that pastry chef Squirrel Head broke into my apartment and tried to.....well, and I didn't.

then there is Kid Jesus too. When did he get picked for whatever the Hebrew equivalent to kickball is?

Please don't think I mock the Messiah, I love Jesus very much.....I'm just saying there were a lot of life pages missing from his biography and people want to know what his deal was.

I often wonder if people of the world ever wonder about little Danny Klecko's Hidden Years.

My Mother was divorced back when it was pretty much unheard of,  I was the only kid in Crystal Heights Elementary School with divorced parents. My mother moved us to Crystal MN sometime during the Woodstock Festival.

My new suburban neighborhood was cool...we had like 29 boys and only 4 girls, back then I liked that ratio. Of all the boys I was in the bottom 10% age wise. I've pretty much been surrounded by mentors my whole life.

I remember during summers he used to play a game called Hawaii 5-0 on our bikes, me and 1/2 dozen other squirts would ride up and down Georgia Avenue on our 1 speeds singing the show instrumental sound track while a dozen older boys on 10 speeds would say "Book em Dano" and chase after us.

The goal was to evade our captors and be the last kid busted. A bust consisted of a 10 speed slamming into the side of your 1 speed. Usually we'd fall onto the asphalt, or hit a curb and most of the times the game would come to an abrupt halt so we could mend our scrapes and bruises.

One of the "Older kids from the neighborhood who never played was Joey Trubell. Joey was like our neighborhood Fonzy. He was the first guy (maybe in the world) to ride BMX before there even was BMX.

Trubell had this sic looking sparkling / metallic green Schwinn Sting Ray, and it didn't come equipped with that humiliating "banana" seat that the rest of us had. His bike had a single seat that was covered in fake Lambs wool.

One day a dozen of us had set up a crude wooden jump in the middle of Georgia Avenue and were playing "Evil Knevil." While we did this Joey watched from his garage. He'd lean up against that bike and beat down a Marlboro Red, I swear to Caesar that kid came out of the womb smoking a cig, but anyways....he scoped us out for awhile, that is until Larry Micetell approached the start line.

Larry was one of the few kids that was a little younger than me. we always fought for scraps of attention, street cred or remnants of berry Kool Aid. We were 9 or 10 by this time and I started to find a little more favor with the bigger kids, that is until his family got hit by a train.

I wouldn't make that up, a train hit their station wagon while they were on a family vacation. Dad was killed, mother had a baby in the oven.....the baby died, and the Mom lived but was busted up a bit.

As you can imagine some of the older kids cut Larry a break, and that pissed me off. I couldn't compete against abject travesty! I am ashamed to say that sometimes I'd invite the "Youth Posse" over to my house to play "Larry Micetell."

The rules of this game were simple, you could select any of my Match Box cars or Hot Wheels and you'd place it on the O Gauge scale rail road track, and when that American Flyer came rolling around the bend, full speed, huffing synthetic smoke out of the have to scream "Look out Larry!!!!"

When the collision occurred, you'd then make crashing sounds and then start laughing. I'm not talking giggles here, we'd laugh tell our guts hurt.

I regress though, Larry's up at the line getting ready to launch and Joey says to wait up and walks his bike down the driveway and then proceeds to come up the street. When he was around 20 feet away Joey asked Larry if he wanted to give his Sting Ray a try.

None of us could believe what we heard. even the older kids were tripped out. Joey had been know to crush skull of anybody who molested his bike while it was unattended. Once a kid named "Bunce" dripped grape Popsicle on the fake Lamb wool seat cover and the rumor was that he was forced to roll naked through a mud puddle (however that may have been urban legend.)

Larry was thrilled at the opportunity, and Joey actually help swing the young kids leg over the crotch bar before issuing the following instructions........

"OK Larry, if you want to stick your jump, you got to peddle your ass off, get a good head of steam and hit that F-ing jump with everything you got."

The rest of us were in utter disbelief. when I recall the jump, I swear to you I see it in slow motion, just like Knievel's Wembley stadium jump in London!

Larry shot out of the blocks like a bat out of hell. The kids feet turned like well oiled pistons. when the Sting Ray hit the jump, it didn't make the usual thud noise, it whispered. The bike shot up in the air and Larry stood erect on the bikes peddles.

Remember, I'm seeing this right now in slow motion (LOL) and just at the point when the bike stopped going up, and just before the bike started coming down....the fake Lamb covered seat ever so slowly dropped off. Joey had loosened the grip screw.

Larry doesn't know this. He has a big dopey smile on his face. the rest of of screamed "Sweet Mother of Christ!!!" and then "BAM" everything comes back in full speed. The bike lands hard and Larry comes down on the seat pole. You couldn't even hear his Wranglers rip it happened so fast.

There was a shriek like I had never heard before or since. Larry toppled to the side, and sure enough the seat pole was lodged up his butt. He began screaming bloody murder. Usually when something like this happened on Georgia Avenue, the protocol was to bail before adults got involved.

But we couldn't do this. even though I was not a strong Allie, to flee the scene would have been ultimate Judas. Me and a couple other younger kids held Larry down while the older kids tried to yank the bike out of his ass, but no go.

eventually the grown ups did get involved and I sidled off the scene.

Everything was quiet the next few days. Joey Trubell didn't show his face the rest of the summer. Larry told us that the doctor said the pole went so deep it almost knocked his nuts off.

When I asked him if it still hurt he answered in his typical uncouth manner "Every time I turd it pulls off a scab, and I can't go to the Crystal Pool anymore, the chlorine hurts my butt hole."

After hearing that.....I pretty much swam every day.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gays-African Americans & Women (Part 2 of 3)

Gays - African Americans & Women..........


I've never been a fan of apoligists who say they are sorry for things they are unfamiliar with. Or people who preach about what they don't know. My next submission deals with a pretty tender topic. My point is to recoed observations and let you decided how you want it to effect the lives of your family and your community.

It is safe to say that Danny Klecko grew up pretty sheltered, I never saw anyone who wasn't white until I was 4. My ignorance was washed away when a garbage man pulled up to my Granddmothers house and a black guy was riding shot gun, he was the dude that would hang off the back of the truck and pop off at each stop,then he empty your can into the back, and then he'd hop back on and roll down to the next stop.

The guy was nice, he smiled and called me "Old Timer", and I can't tell you how good that made me feel, but as much as I was digging the moment, it took back seat to the fact that this guy looked like nobody I had ever seen before.

Sure I'd seen African Americans on TV, but I had also seen Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster! I was so intrigued that I ran up to this guy and I reached out and carefully touched his arm. The guy laughed, but my Granddmother dragged me into the bathroom and made me wash my hands.

In 6th grade Wilson Stanford was the one and only African American in my elementry school, By 12th grade....I think Cooper High School had less than a dozen non white students.

So that's it, by the time I was a legal adult, I didn't have squat in terms of social diversity experience.

When I entered the Hospitality industry that changed dramatically. Remember, this was before the Food Network debuted. People didn't pay 5 digits a year to sling hash, bake bread or cook family dinners. If you worked in "The Show" chances are you were a drop out, an immigrate, out of prison or the armed forces. Basically you were somebody that respectable parents didn't want their children to be exposed too.

Baking was probably the last "Culinary Group" to become segregated. While minorities held jobs as line cooks, wait staff and never saw this practiced in bakeries. In most shops the "N" word was used as an adjective, and without flinching.

Most baking staff's were still last generation Euro's, much like myself.....a Pollack who remembered a childhood where the "Foreign Tongue" was just as common as English, when we tried to speak Polish, it usually produced a backhand or verbal thrashing at the least.We were to grow up American's and pursue the dream.

I've sat in rooms with management staffs of "respectable" companies and listened to "charge" people discuss what they referred to as The Black Strategy. If you have never worn a blue collar, you'd be shocked to know the hiring practices that took place. I remember working at one place where there was over 100 employees and the strategy (or more accurately - the running joke) was to hire 1 African American male, and he was made supervisor of the least impotant division of the company.With pride the manager said that that's all it would take to deflect Liberal's.

People dog on the Germans for remaining idle while the Jews were mistreated, but we (I) chose to not make waves, we chose to keep jobs that paid minimum wage over making a stand.When you worked in the Hospitality industry in the 80's there was no reason to have self esteem.

By the late 80's things started picking up for the African American baker. Most of the Old Euro's had either retired or died. The African American bakers took those jobs. In a 3 year span I worked with a group of black men that opened my eyes to how sick society can be when one group stands in the way of another.Not only did they teach me baking, but life lessons as well.

Jerome McDuffy may of had more impact on me than most. His life and mine were pretty much mirrored reflections of one another. Jerome trained me in at one place on Closing Ovens (this is basically a 6p.m. - 3 a.m. shift.)

This was a position up from working the bench, the hours sucked, and if the packers noticed something got omitted during the nights production, you had to stay late and make that as well, about once a week you'd get off around 7 a.m.

Jerome would be moving into a better position, so on the last night of my 1 week training he told me to be careful....the cops like to pull you over when this shift gets over. Jerome drove a Cadilac and estimated that he was pulled over between 20-30 times going home during that years.......and the white oven guys? Never.
Not even once.

*Sidenote - Jerome left after a few months and I didn't see him for around 10 years. My son was Co Captains with another kid named McDuffy on the 2010 Highland Scot's football team, sure was Jerome's son. when we saw each other in the bleachers and saw our sons running the squad together, we both smiled so big, I think we might of even hugged, and if you know Klecko....he's not a hug guy.
The Scots ended up winning the Twin Cities title game, both kids were All Conference. McDuffy's kid was Offensive player of the year, and my kid what the Highland Park Male Athlete of 2010.

At the begining of the 90's was when the Hispanic bakers entered the industry and drove out the African Americans, but the "Illegal Aliens" post will have to wait for another day.

I wish this post had a happy ending, or even constructive solution, but I am not the one to offer it. I've seen all to often how many times the African Americans are not afforded equal oppurtunites in the work place. It seems like everytime their community gains the slightest traction.......People outside of their community offer up justifications and excuses.

Not that it means anything....but Danny Klecko wants to be on the record for saying he pays tribute to the African American bakers, they are a noble-noble group of men and women.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gays-African Americans & Women (Part 1 of 3)

Gays - African Americans & Women (Part 1 of 3)

Part 1 - GAYS

Over my next 3 blog posts, Danny Klecko is going to talk a little about 3 very different groups of people that have made major contributions to the Twin Cities Hospitality industry. The one thing each of them share in common is.....their groups have been persecuted and seldom thanked for the contributions to the metro's dining options.

In opening what could be a sticky can of worms, I would like to state for the record that I am in the debt of each one of the forementioned communities.

When I first got into the baking industry I was a mere teen. My development was broadened by learning how to scrub muffin tins, mixing bowls and packaging products. Within a couple of years I headed over to Dunwoody Instatutue and signed up for the Professional Bakers course.

While enrolled (and I am going to date myself now) I also took on a part time job as a "bakers helper" at Sherman's Bakery, at their hub location in the South Town Mall. I got the job because I was referred by a school class mate named PHIL.

I had heard of "being gay" and called teamates "gay" when dropping ground balls during our baseball games, but I guess it just never registered in my mind that people actually were gay.

Phil was meticulous, well spoken and very kind. In most ways he was the bi polar oppisite of my other baking classmates. Sometimes I would eat lunch with him and he would tell me stories of how he enjoyed competitive ballroom dancing, sewing and doing floral arrangements.

On my 18th birthday I had to work that night and was a little dissapointed because back then...18 was the legal drinking age. Some of the shops resident thugs encouraged me to move swiftly so if perhaps I finished quick enough...they just might take me to the Rialto to catch my first full screen porno. That made me blush, but not nearly as much as when Phil walked into the shop (it was his night off) wearing his tight black disco slacks and a studded shirt.

In his hands were a homemade birthday cake (he had spent his whole day off making it for me) with candles ablaze. In a clear falsetto he lead the crew in singing me happy birthday. I was kind of touched by the gesture.

After blowing out the candles Phil seemed a little nervous, after most of the crew went back to their tasks, he approached me as I inserted flavorings into croissants. Then he asked me if i wanted to go to the bar with him after work. I told him I might be getting out late and I wasn't sure, but I did say that maybe I could meet him for a couple in downtown Mpls (this is were my apartment was during Dunwoody).

Phil's eyes lit up, and to his delight.....he suggested that perhaps we should meet up at the Gay 90's. This suggestion hit me in the head like a 5 ton anvil.

"Phil, we don't want to go there.....thats for gay people!"

I think the Earth's clock stopped because everything seemed all suspended. Phil stood there motionless, he didn't flinch, he didn't say a word.....and then it hit me "OMG - really? I didn't know. dude you go ballroom dancing with hot chicks all the time."

Phil laughed and mentioned that thats how he thought I would know he was gay.....according to him "What straight guy would do that?" I would be a flat out liar if I said I was'nt a little freaked out. I was, but not so much because Phil was gay. I was freaked out by my ignorance. I had never had a friend that was openly gay.

I was pretty up front that I kind of liked girls, but I would be willing to stop in with him, and he agreed. As all this was taking place, my supervisor Mikey Hall just snickered and watched us with his peripheral. when Phil left, Mikey came over and started filling croissants with me, after a little silence he asked..."So, what's turning queer?" then he started to laugh.

All of a sudden I became embarresed, I was a young kid and bankrupt of confidence, I wondered how much grief I was going to get. I liked Mikey, he was cool, maybe the fairest boss I ever had. He took us into the parking lot and smoked his weed with us while listening to the Talking Heads. He always had good weed.

But Mikey ended up telling me that he liked Phil and as I got older (and ecspecially if I lived in Mpls) gay guys would approach me pretty often. Mikey went on to mention that it just wasn't a deal. While he was telling me this the rest of the crew heard the conversation, but nobody ever chimed in. I thought I was going to get crucified. It was good for me to have Mikey Hall as a mentor while a was a young man because his point of view is seldom in the majority in the Food Show.

Restaurants, Bakeries, Hotels and Casino''s all the are usually surrounded by crews that lack education and are intimidated. How many Homo Phobe's have I seen running down the line swiping the hand vertically with some guys butt crack while screaming out "CREDIT CARD" or "VISA DENIED".

I'll never forget one shop I worked in, most of the bakers were Irish, and most of these guys were also drunks. This crew showed absolutely no mercy to anybody new. One day a recent hire walked onto the floor. Typically it is protocol for an admin or supervisor to usher them in, but on this occasion it didn't happen. Little Tony entered into thr middle of the production space and waited for somebody to tell him what to do. I was a new hire myself, so i just waited for a superior to hook him up.

Little Tony was frail looking, his hair was bleached and feathered and his body was David Bowie thin , he was kinda a spindly waif. He also wore thick rubber gloves that were somewhat transparent and it appeared that he had wounds on his hands.............

within seconds guys were spinning their aprons around so they would cover their butts instead of their front side, and Devaney started singing the chorus from the Lion King. In the commercial baking industry, reciting Elton John lyrics is code for "I think that guys a queer - don't you?"

Little Tony ran out of the shop and never came back. None of the supervisors had the decency to even aknoledge him. When the door slammed closed many of the guys laughed and Devaney challenged Little Tony to see if he could take over Macauley Culkin's spot in Michael Jacksons bed.

That's right folks, I could continue to rattle off dozens of other examples were gay men and women have been berated in the Hospitality Industry and nobody has done a thing about it.

The default response is that they need to grow a thicker skin, after is the Food Show and nobody gets out unscathed. I simply don't buy it.

A few years back I hired a guy who lived next door at the Mission. He had lost everything to drugs. The guy was young, good looking and was up front when telling me that he didn't want to be a lifer....he just wanted to work long enough to save for a car. Eventually he wanted to move back to Mpls and work at a hotel.

The guy's name was Tarrack, and let's just say he was really dainty. The way he moved made you think that he had been raised with a silver spoon in his mouth. He didn't know how to find that "extra gear" and could only lift bread pans 2 at a time, but I liked Tarrack, and I usually don't let charity interfere with business decisions, but I really wanted to be part of the solution.

I thought back to all the gay guys that got hammered on over the years, back then I wasn't in a position to make a real difference, but now i was.

When I hired him, most of my crew were shocked. The majority of them were Hispanic, and often times in their culture, being gay is frowned goes against that Catholic thing, But I reminded mas familia that a lot of Americans feel about the Mexicans like they feel about the gay community, and further more the bakery is not a democracy, but a dictatorship.....and I was Fidel

The first thing I had to accomplish was to put Tarrack in a position where he could gain street cred quickly, so I made him an oven guy. This is by far the toughest / nastiest job you can imagine.

On his first day we heard him asked across the bakery in a high pitched voice......"Do these hamburger buns need steamy weamy?"

My bench foreman looked like a dog when you pretend to throw a hot dog but really palm it. With a blank look on his face he asked "WTF......streamy-weamy, c'mon boss enough is enough."

I walked over to Tarrack's area and mentioned that kind of vernacular could launch the crew against him for life. He laughed really hard and then he stopped for a minute and said...."I am not really religous, but I did pray to God that I could find a job and get that car I wanted. I am thankful."

I smiled and then walked away thinking how sad that a man like Tarrack needs God to intervene in his dreams and asperations, but I guess.....sometimes if you are gay in a blue collar setting you just won't get a fair shake.

God doesn't need to give gay people an oppurtunity to find oppurtunity, the rest of us can do that, and it cost's none of us a thing.

This story has a happy ending. Tarrack worked with the crew for close to a year. The boys took him into the fold until he eventually left us. Several months later, it was snowing out and I was walking to the 74D bus stop when all of a sudden a big sedan pulled over. The passenger window rolled down automatically and a voice told me to get in.

When i bent down and looked in, it was Tarrack with a big smile on his face. I did hop in and he drove me cross town all the way to my front door. His life was on track, he found a new partner and was working full time at a Mpls hotel.

The outcome of this experience and my involvment in it made me feel so good about myself. Sometimes just not being a complete jerk can be enough to let somebody elses life or career flourish. you want to stand in the way of that?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Siberian Borscht Recipe

Typically in my "Last American Baker" posts, I try to share the world of Klecko with you guys. If you read my last installment, you may recall that I've been housing a 26 year old Siberian woman who was my interpreter while I was in the Asiatic Arctic of Russia.
Several days ago we canvased the entire Twin Cities pulling together the ingredients that would be necessary to pull off this masterpiece. that evening when the cooking portion was complete, I posted photos on my Facebook wall and several of you asked for the recipe.
Normally I would accompany this with with charm. clever musings and mass sex appeal, but today I had to bring my Siberean back to the airport so I kinda feel sad. You should know by now how sensitive Klecko can be.....but, none the less, life goes on and I suppose I should post this in case I get hit by a bus, or Facebook closes my account again!
( I will add a few old school notes for the purists, but there are short cuts for the Modern American)
Submitted for your approval -

                                                        Mosha's Siberian Borscht

#1 - Place 2 pounds of Lamb meat into your soup pot, fill it with water until the water is flush with the top of the piece of meat.Bring the pot to a boil, and when it reaches this point, reduce the heat to slightly above a minimal simmer, and keep it at this temp for 1 hour

* When selecting your lamb it is not desired to get ground lamb, only a savage would do this. We went to the butcher shop and purchaced a lamb shoulder. The smallest piece we could get was 4 1/2 pounds. The piece was frozen so the butcher cut it in half with his band saw and as we speak....the other half is in my freezer. Lamb shoulder is nice because typically it does not contain a lot of fat.

#2 - When the hour has become complete, add 5 red potato diced and 1 pint of grated cabbage and grated carrots.Let it simmer for 10 minutes

* If your are old school and want to make the USSR version, you can make what is called "Salt Cabbage". The do this, meassure out the pint of shredded cabbage and shredded carrot and then toss in a small ammount of caraway seed and about a tsp of salt. 
Place your hands into the ingredients, mix them around, and use your hands to squish the ingredients. Let the juices flow out.
Then put the mixture into a Tupperware bowl, but don't put a lid over it....cover it with a plastic bag. The mixture must sit out at room temp for a minimum of 2 days, but should not excced 3 days.

#3 - Now we will sautee. First we will use one white onion. It is better if it is bigger than medium, but smaller than large. Siberians dice this very-very small. Sautee in oil untill golden color and then toss them into the soup pot.

#4 - Remove Lamb meat and place onto a plate or platter

#5 - Now we will shred/grate or cut one good sized beet and sautee it. We are not looking for a color to tell us when the beet is done, we are looking for a texture. Basically you want the shredded beats to be soft. Place this into the soup pot and continue simmering.

#6 - Now you will add salt and pepper to taste

* It is my understanding that pepper is the one ingredient that differs the most amongst Russian opinion.

#7 - Add 1 bay leaf

#8 - Cut 2 cups of fresh parsley very fine, throw 1 into the soup pot, and reserve the other

#9 - Cut 1/2 cup of fresh dill and throw into the soup pot

#10 - Toss a Tbsp of lemon juice into the soup pot

* Beets will turn white while they boil, it is good to add the lemon juice because it will help the borscht / beets retain their crimson color.
We went Old School and went to the Kiev (a Russian Food store on West 7th street) and bought a paper envelope that contained "Lemon Citrid Acid". This is basically a a powdered form that looks like Pop Rocks.
Mosha says she prefers the Lemon Juice, but in Siberia.....real lemons are hard to come by.

#11 - chop the boiled Lamb meat into cubes and return them into your soup pot. Simmer 10 more minutes.

#12 - Ladle the borscht into indavidual bowls, the place a dollop of sour cream into the middle, then sprinkle the reserve parsely on top.

#13 - Add a nice black bread or rye on the side and you will have a real Siberean experience.

* Notes - I have always made an Ukrainian borscht in the past, it was thicker in meat and veggies, the stirring spoon could be inserted into the pot and stand errect, however...the Siberean and a crisper flavor and more broth, unlike the really is more of a soup than a stew.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Klecko's Siberian Tour - Epilogue?

If you haven't noticed....Klecko has a few idiosyncrasies, I won't scroll down the list, because if I future political career could be destroyed, but one misconception about me is that I am uber social, this is true, as long as it is at a distance.

People think that Klecko is a 24 hour circus monkey. That's a total lie, I am only comfortable being a symbol crashing primate for...oh I don't know, maybe 12 hours a day. The other 12 I need to crawl into my cave and refuel with my dog pack and cyberspace friends. The nice thing about internet friends is that you have full control over their involvement in your life since they are on computers, it's totally different than working in the Food Show.

Sue McGleno and I bought our Highland Park home around 15 years ago, and other than family members, or our kids childhood sleepovers. We have never had house guests.Not a single one.In the hospitality industry, if you are good, if you want to succeed you have to constantly network. Part of this is accomplished by working events.

Everyday contains a high level of communication. Everyday requires conflict resolution, everyday is stroking ego's - picking up hangers off the floor and flushing toilets.

I am good at that, most people will say I am superb at it, but I'll tell you.......the second I cross my homes threshold, the draw bridge is raised, and the moat is filled. It's hard to get to Klecko at night, typically he is either with Sue McGleno or a's like a Zen Balance thing.

With all that said, I have broke this rule (which I never intentionally designed) as a young woman from Siberia is napping on my couch. Right now...this very second!
Her name is Mosha, and she was born in the Asiatic Arctic city of Aikhal (pronounced EYE-HAUL)and served as my interpreter for a government scope that I participated in during the Spring of 2006.

The whole excursion merits a screenplay, and one day it will happen, but listed below are just a few of the scrapes that fell my way, and it was Mosha who made sense of all of it to me and the people who were connected to me.

#1 - On my first night, I slept in a hut across from a pig sty, a cat got locked into my dwelling and peed on my hand, when I told the office woman the next morning they laughed real hard. My sponsor Sasha broke the cats neck in front of the workers as a sign that nobody should put a finger on the "Americone"

#2 - We were amidst "White Nights" and on one occasion a group of naked dudes (covered with modest towels) dragged me into a banya......i don't want to talk about the squatting or tree branch whippings that went along with that.

#3 - The smoking of Pig Dung Cigarettes and imbibing in Sumagon (A Russian version of Everclear)

#4 - Entering and Orthodox church and having a Nun looking woman yell at me (apparently I was standing on Holy ground) - funny thing.....when Mosha responded "Don't be upset...he doesn't know - he's Americone" the Nun looking woman replied "Oh, Americone huh? Why didn't you say so? Let him be he can stay."

#5 - Being invited by my CO-OP neighbor, a Yakutsian young man, to attend his murder trial

#6 Most importantly she was my voice that helped me communicate with the people who worked at the Versalles Cafe. this was part of the Kaskad Food Cooperative, the northern most in the world.

This month was the greatest period of my life. I believe beyond a shadow of doubt that it was one of the "God-Payback" things. People say God doesn't cut deals. I think those people are idiots. I have tried hard in my life, and I might not always have made the right choices, but I've tried hard none the less. If you do that, everybody gets a Siberia kind of dealio tossed at them. It's just how divinity works.

When I left I told Mosha that she would always be welcomed at my house, but she explained that it cost as much to fly from Aikhal to Moscow, as it does to fly from Moscow to the New York City, getting Visa's approved in Russia can be a little tricky as well.

As I went home, I was so thankful to be able to do my favorite thing, baking bread with the coolest people on the globe. I even built sourdough starters up bad a** is that? When we made banana bread (it took 1/2 a day and 10 000 Jeep miles to obtain 4 banana's) it was like discovering electricity.

Eventually when I had to go home, they place you through an arduous out processing experience. It could be pretty intense. The decisions I made could make or break Siberian careers.I sat at Moscow HQ for a 3 day exit interview,While this took place I could not help but think that the Movie Crocodile Dundee would have sucked if the woman interviewing Mick in Australia just packed up her tape recorder and went home.

The movie had to have him visit the USA. The bond of friendship is always strengthened by understanding. And understanding can never be accomplished unless both sides of the coin have been noticed.

So without getting all religious on you, I will tell you that for several years I'd whine at Jesus and say "Please Jesus, I don't know how all your ecclesiastical stuff works, and I know kids are sick in Guam, but C'mon.....let Mosha come to America. She might not be better than anybody else, but she was simply perfect to me, and gave me such a wonderful gift that I'd like to return this favor, and anyways...I lied, she is the best. She deserved this....Please Jesus - Please-Please-Pleasssse!"

So then I get a Facebook message that my little Mosha met and married a young man from Moscow named Victor, they married in the Motherland. You want to know how you can tell if a man will love his wife, look at their wedding photo's, it was obvious by theirs that Victor was smitten.

It turns out that this young groom is also an economics genius and was pursued to take training at NYU, He did, and he brought his young bride with him. They've been in Brooklyn for 8 weeks. Mosha has been helping him pursue assistant professor positions world wide, but yesterday Victor was summoned to interview at a very prestigious institute in Moscow, and guess what. His clever wife pointed out that tickets to St Paul were 1/2 the price of Moscow......Victor smiled, gave his blessing and entrusted his newlywed to Sue McGleno and me.

My skills in baking have impacted people and had positive impact on many folks from all corners of the world, but it has also paid me back 10 fold.

Today I got to spend countless hours at the Mall of America with my bride, and my Russian daughter. You know I must have been in a good mood, I didn't even complain once that we spent 3 hours in shoe stores.