Kimberly Plafke, 34, from sunny south Florida, just outside of Miami.
Growing up had its ups and downs. I have a great family but both of my parents have been ill on and off for as long as I can remember so my brother and I got jobs very young to help pay bills (13/14 years old). My parents do work incredibly hard so between my upbringing from them, and working so young, it instilled in me a very strong, unending work ethic. Even when my parents were sick and times were tight financially, they always managed to bring joy to our home through cooking. Every important memory I have, I remember because of what we ate that day, with the memories sort of floating around the meal.
I would say two meals really remind me of my childhood, the traditional Jewish dinners my parents would cook from scratch which started my love of cooking (latkes, brisket, knish, kasha varnishkes)... and take out Chinese from up the street, which was an every Friday night things with my family and friends.
Right now I am the Production Manager of The Meat Hook. I also oversee certain items for some other branches of the company such as charcuterie and some meat fabrication for Cozy Royale and the weekend BBQ program we recently started in the backyard of the butcher shop. As the Production Manager, I am in charge of creating/producing all the sausages/charcuterie in the shop as well as our Ready to Eat items that folks can just grab and go. I also have a very large hand in the production utilization of all animals we use. I take lesser selling cuts, trim, unusual items like bones and pure fat and turn them into items people can eat or use in their cooking everyday that taste just as good as the more popular cuts. My background up until Meat Hook, however, is in BOH of restaurants. I was the Executive Chef of Grand Army Bar, Prawn Shop, Basil Hospitality Group, and Senior Sous Chef of all NYC locations of The Cannibal for many years. I didn't really make a conscious decision to get into this industry, it was more of a slow burn. It feels like I woke up one day and I was already cooking in kitchens for over ten years. Cooking is a thing that I know that I can do, so I do it. I literally can't imagine doing anything else. My family revolves around food, my life, my relationships, my work, my hobbies. Everything I do I think of in terms of the food industry.
The pandemic has changed my life, both personally and professionally. My parents are both high risk (end stage kidney disease for one of them, and Parkinson's for the other) so this is the longest in my life that I haven't been able to see them in person or fly home and help out around the house when they're at their worst. I'm not sure how much time they have left, and not being able to go back home and see them in fear of them getting the virus has been excruciating for me. Professionally, I pivoted from running a restaurant to being the Production Manager at the Meat Hook. It breaks my heart that restaurants are crumbling down around us with little aid from the government, and I feel guilty with how lucky I have been to be welcomed at Meat Hook with open arms, while others are struggling. So it has been a tough balance of enjoying my position, while still being aware of what is going on outside of these meat studded walls and being able to give/donate/protest as much as I can.
I think working in this industry during this time has shown me what people are really made of. They're either going to help/donate/protest and support people, be kind to people, and do their best to keep people safe. Or they're going to risk killing who knows how many people so they can hop on a plane and eat turkey with 20 of their mask-less friends across the country, for example. But what I have seen is the restaurant/food industry community is the most kind community to be a part of. I haven't met one person who works in this industry that hasn't taken every precaution to keep themselves and everyone around them as safe as possible.
The items I produce at Meat Hook change regularly, which is awesome because I am always creatively challenged. So it is difficult to pinpoint one item that is my favorite. But I can safely say the chopped beef pastrami I came up with for our weekend backyard BBQ program SLAPPPPPSSS, like, really really hard. I also love making porchetta di testa (deboned, seasoned and herb stuffed, rolled then sous vide whole pig heads, sliced paper thin).
The first place I am going to go eat in NYC once it's safe again is probably Cote Korean Steakhouse in the city. I could eat Korean BBQ every day of my life, it's my favorite thing, and they do it so well. Plus the vibe there is so great and comfortable and warm, and it's wonderful and interactive for groups.
It's hard to look past what's going on in the world right now and be excited for what comes next. But I always try to stay positive and I am really stoked on seeing my family when this is over. I am extremely excited for some upcoming projects Meat Hook has in the works for later next year, like a community apprentice/mentorship program. And I am immediately excited to eat one of the steaks we are dry aging in the shop the minute my shift is over today.
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