July 3, 2022

Part II Discussing Mental Health Inside The CIA with Chef Abbey


As a young lady, chef Abbey Miller thought she wanted to be a crime investigator. Little did she know she would make it all the way to the CIA... but the delicious one: The Culinary Institute of America. She was the first recipient of the Anthony Bourdain Scholarship from the CIA.  Hear what it was like attending the CIA, and listen to Abbey talk about the importance of a healthy culinary culture, mental health, and her realization that there is true nobility in cooking for others when “everyone needs to eat”.


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Transcript
Chef Abbey:

I will tell this to everyone I crossed paths with till the day I die is that in order to make the world go round, everyone needs to eat, the world cannot live without very true the restaurant in the food industry. And the same thing goes with health care, the hero workers as well. The things that we can't live without, I think are these types of jobs are definitely one of the most under appreciated.

Michael Dugan:

I was obsessed just like you about food and then the culture and chef's and I realized that, I wanted to be a chef, and then went to cooking school and I basically just dove in. I didn't care about anything else. It just my life and I collected 66 cookbooks a year and a half? That's, yeah, let's see, we didn't have the food channel back then. We had cookbooks we had the VHS and I think the DVDs are coming along for me I'm a little older. I kind of grew up with, I went to cooking school, I did an internship or apprenticeship. It really was because I worked for a country club. I met this amazing chef , chef Michael. I can't remember his last name right now, but he was I think French Canadian. And it was this incredible experience I'd never been through before where I just saw all this food, fine dining food. I had never seen and I tasted peanut butter pie and boullibase and halibut. All these incredible dishes that came from all over the world. I met with a Romanian Baker at the country club. I became friends with them. And he gave me his secret peanut butter pie recipe. And that kind of experience is so powerful and then the chef. Chef Michael took me into the walk in after about six months because Michael you are doing a great job as a prep cook right as just starting out over prep food. And I would go home probably like you did Abby and I would take out when it first learned to saute I took out a bag of frozen peas and I put in a pan and I would flip them in the air and they would go all over the floor. And I did that for a week and then all of a sudden they landed in the pan. So that's how I learned to saute. That was before cooking school. And then I would take a bag of oranges and I would learn how to basically filleted them is what my wife calls where you peel it with a knife and you have to get the curvature of the fruit right. You have to know where that curve goes because you don't want to lose any of the fruit. So took a whole bag of oranges I went over to my parents and I peeled them and gave them dishes with oranges, orange juice, I use the oranges up right but it was a practice thing to get the skill down. And the chef knew that I was doing this. So when I was in the walk-in and he took me in the walk-in one day and said I got some good news and bad news. The good news is I want to keep you the bad news is that I can't pay you. Literally another six months was an unpaid internship where I almost went broke. And then I turned to him after a year and I said I have to go. I love you. I love what you've taught me because he taught me everything. There were no boundaries anymore. When I was his apprentice, I could work any station, right? I could work alongside people because he wasn't paying me and what I remember is he hooked me up with a really great French restaurant and then I did another partnership. Because I was a prep cook dishwasher eventually line cook and I learned all the intricacies of fine dining, small French restaurant. It's amazing that you get so hooked on this stuff, but do you make a decent living wage in the beginning? No. I mean, that's that's the real problem. Right? It's not as valued as it should be. I've had conversations with Chef Jensen about and that's the real issue is people need to see the value of what people in the hospitality are doing. Especially during the pandemic, they're keeping everybody fed, right. Whether you go and you dine, or whether you take takeout they should be honored and respected and instead people complain. They complain about the service. I found myself guilty of doing it once and I went, Wait a minute. These people are working so hard, and they're short staffed, of course this service is going to suffer. But the bottom line is we do it because of our passion. We do it because we're obsessed because it's something that we are so excited about being creative.

Chef Abbey:

It comes down to not only the people inside the industry understanding that but the people outside the industry having some type of basis knowledge of everything. What we go through and what we do and what it takes to get from the cutting board to the plate. Maybe it would help that sense of understanding and compassion that's needed a little more at restaurant establishments.

Michael Dugan:

Can you share a little about your journey now moving forward in clubhouse, what happened? There? What was that experience like? Or is that experience like?

Chef Abbey:

Clubhouse started all because of the Anthony Bourdain scholarship that I had received through the Culinary Institute of America. It wasn't until submitting those scholarships sitting behind the desk at my library job on campus at 11 o'clock at night, just typing because I'm tired and bored. My mom has been bugging me for months to do these scholarships. And she's like Abbey, just sit down and do them they're extra money you don't know what you could win and I was like, fine. And so finally at the library job for the heck of it. I'm just gonna sit and write. And it wasn't until then that I discovered my true love for writing, describing food through writing bringing it to life. So I wrote a lot of the scholarships and I was fortunate enough to win a lot of them as well. After graduation. I got in touch with Dan who's a Dean of Business Management at CIA. I got in touch with Chef Jensen and Chef Mimi and the James Beard Foundation. And that's when we all kind of came together and did this room through clubhouse to talk about the process of writing that scholarship and what was going through my mind and why I wrote what I did. I was super new to clubhouse. I believe that was my very first time experiencing the app and let alone really talking to that many people at once because that's something I'm not super familiar with. Chef Mimi after that took me under her wing, as well as Chef Jensen. I worked with them. If over the past few months and in the club Food is religion. I am so fortunate enough to meet so many people and how many people I've connected with that are in California or in Singapore it's crazy. Yeah, and it's amazing and it's definitely allowed me to understand my love for public speaking and my love for the different side of culinary because culinary doesn't always have to be in the kitchen. When I graduated from school from college, I was super unaware of what to do because right when I graduated that was when COVID was going on. I graduated by sitting in my living room watching my speech play on my TV.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah my wife was the same she got her master's degree online.

Chef Abbey:

Definitely the unexpected type of graduation and after that I didn't know what to do because that was the time that I discovered I really want to write. I want to get into the editing and food photography and write and bring stories to life. I had no idea how to I was super lost and I was a system manager at this desert place in Pittsburgh. At the time I was living with my significant other was working at this milkshake place and it was very, very cool place in Pittsburgh. I offered to take photography photos and my photos, got them published in a magazine for their first time and that's when I was like, Okay you can really do this.

Michael Dugan:

Let's pause and give a shout out to this place. What's the name?

Chef Abbey:

The Milkshake factory so yes, it's in many locations and it was a super super fun place to work at. They actually started as a chocolate factory that turned into a milkshake place. I offered just out of my free time. I wanted to really take photos for them. And I got a lot of great ones. And that's when I truly realized where I was most happiest and at the time though I was still struggling with a lot of mental health issues and just realize I just wasn't happy in that type of work and I was like Abbey just get yourself back in the kitchen you need to be in front of the heat for a little bit get back into what you used to do. I headed out to Utah to help Stein Eriksen for their winter season. I was communicating with one of my good friends and chefs at work at Stein Eriksen and many months beforehand so I knew they needed help. I love that place definitely for everything that it has taught me so I headed out there. I lived with my best friend that I met an external for a little bit living in Utah. That's definitely when clubhouse sort of exploded for me definitely when I realized how much I loved it and how much I liked the writing and the public speaking. I would be at work in the kitchen. There is nothing more that I want to do right now then go right and go talkin in rooms on clubhouse. The more I worked with Chef Mimi and the more we got into deeper topics and the more connections I built with you guys. Honestly I look at food is religion and the people that I've met through clubhouse, I've learned it's more than just a community it feels like a family to me. I remember Michelle Gill, The Grief Curator talking about wanting us all to get together and I'm like absolutely. If we can all somehow gather up and meet we all have opened up in some way or another. It's like public healing in a way your healing with all of these other people and even the more you tell your story, the less it hurts and the more it feels empowering to talk to other people about it. And that's definitely what I love most about it.

Michael Dugan:

And that's that's incredible. A huge shout out to Chef Mimi and Chef Jensen from Best Served Podcast. They are heroes of the hospitality industry.

Chef Abbey:

Oh my gosh, absolutely. Chef Jensen, alongside doing the Anthony Bourdain podcast through clubhouse. He had reached out to me one day I have this really cool thing that I want you to be a part of and it was the 868686 challenge.

Michael Dugan:

We got to talk about that.

Chef Abbey:

And he reached out to me and said I know you love writing and your writing is great. I want you to like submit a piece. And I was like absolutely. And I definitely chose obviously the idea of outside life and how to deal with it while working in the kitchen and that's sort of the topic I pushed myself towards when I sat down and decided to write and the title of my article for that challenge was The Kitchen A Hell Away From Hell. So everyone's probably wondering what does that mean?

Michael Dugan:

Gotta read it.

Chef Abbey:

Read it. Beginning to finish.

Michael Dugan:

Yes,

Chef Abbey:

I will pull it up real quick. It was definitely a vulnerable point when I sat down to write it and I wasn't , I didn't understand how many people would be reading these articles until after the fact. But I think after submitting I'm glad I did that. So I'll start from the beginning. And it says growing up I struggled with self love more than anyone could have ever imagined. I was a lion's roar that wasn't heard. I was a person based upon her mistakes and the baggage she carried behind her. Nothing else and nothing more. I dealt with an abusive father more than 40 times in my life, dealt with sexual assault and was constantly told by those closest to me, it happens to the best of us. I've dealt with a multitude of people who love you one day and act like you don't exist the next and yet I've managed to crawl my way up every single mountain every single crater and I've always done it myself and a life that felt so unfair to me. What did I do? I joined the restaurant industry a hell away from hell. I pushed my way through the Culinary Institute of America, earning my bachelor's degree in business management and a minor in Asian cuisine. I placed fourth and my first ever food competition. I won over 20,000 in scholarship essays and I even traveled to Singapore. I pushed my way through school because I knew my lion's roar was meant to be heard. I knew there was someone more than average looking back at me in the mirror day in and day out and yet each day there's always something more to improve on. Mental health is not brought up enough especially those that serve people daily, and yet can barely manage to uphold their own with minimal pay and no recognition. It's hell but in the best way possible. As a chef I cook not to get recognition I cook because at the end of the day, there's nothing that makes me feel more alive, walking into the employee locker room and knowing you kicked butt during dinner service. Knowing you're the only female on the line and you wrote it out with ease. It's an exhilarating rush that makes up for the late nights long hours and missed opportunities because you had to work to love this industry is to live within this industry. But it's the thrill of the job that constantly keeps me alive and prevents me from not thinking about those real life problems. I feel most alive where I'm at most uncomfortable meaning when a kitchen scares me or when the head chef is too intimidating. I know not to run because I'm in the right place. The only way towards success is to push through the times where giving up feels like the easiest thing to do. I've been through my fair share these past few years I surrounded myself with people who only wanted to tear me down. And yet I thought they had my heart and their best interests when in reality the second I started chasing my dreams and stopped fixing thiers. I noticed my true worth. Sometimes at the end of the day I think that perfect work life balance can be as simple as waking up looking in the mirror with gratitude and getting your butt to the kitchen or to the office to prove to yourself that yes, you can do it. So that is my article, very vulnerable. Super, super thankful I got it out there.

Michael Dugan:

Abbey you should be proud. That is incredible, incredibly honest and real. And I'm just I'm feeling tremendous emotion right now and I think a lot of people that are listening will. You painted a true picture of things that do happen and you came out of it.

Chef Abbey:

Thank you. Yeah, no, I think a lot of people look at industry workers or even healthcare workers. Sometimes they want to look at them as these strong people who just push through the bull crap day in and day out. Sometimes we do break down once we step out of those kitchens. Step out of the offices or hospitals like we do carry all that on us and so I think it's definitely something to be aware about.

Michael Dugan:

I remember a chef from cooking school Chef Hawley use to bust hats. He was he would split a hat. He would get really stressed. Because he would take the whole school on. Imagine this big heavyset guy that's like six, I don't know 6'6 6'8 I mean, tall right and then you add a chef's hat to them. This is towering figure gets red in the face and you watch the sweat. And the hat literally splits so it takes it off and jumps on it and you're really frustrated that something didn't turn out right some banquet wasn't working, but we're students, right? We're all students. We're all learning. We're all on the same journey. And I just remember that the pressure and the intensity of things can be can be hell, but it can also be heaven because there's so many amazing things that happen. I just think back to this Romanian Baker, where we shared cultures and he was so proud to share this coveted recipe with me. Teach me how to cook it this peanut butter pie. I just I'll never forget. It's kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time, I think but and it's not for everybody. We know that. But it is for a lot of people and there's a lot of great reward if you connect with the right people. So speaking of connection, is that right now? Are there any chefs that you follow? Or that we should follow?

Chef Abbey:

Connections in terms of chefs to follow? Oh my gosh, I feel like I should be naming every chef that I've connected. They're all incredible. And my personal hero that I look up to that is unfortunately no longer with us is Anthony Bourdain. And I just got a book of his for Christmas and the other day I finally just sat down to watch his documentary that recently just went out. And I cried. I felt the emotions high and low and it was incredible watching that movie. Oh, gosh, just made him more of an inspiration to me. And I sense that, his love for writing and bringing the it to life, his love for traveling and his ability to be super vulnerable in the sense that, he's human like all of us and he's struggled in all of those ways. Trying to balance that the industry life with, outside life and a lot of chefs old and young are struggling to do that. It's hard for me to wrap my head around because it doesn't have to be like that becausesome of our greatest inspirations is pushing them to the edge. That says something that something needs to change. He definitely taught me. Friendships are created over eating like any meal together, and I totally believe that and I will believe that for as long as I live, that, create these friendships and these connections and relationships through eating a meal and sitting down at a dinner table together. And I just thought, it's so important to me, I think for as long as I live, I'll be building those relationships and friendships, through food and my love of food. I hope everyone does the same as well.

Michael Dugan:

We're in the section now called let's get cooking. Have you traveled outside of the US or just in the US?

Chef Abbey:

I have traveled to Singapore, Malaysia. I did that during my four month study abroad trip. I want to say last year but that it's been two years now because time has been flying. But it was an absolute incredible trip.

Michael Dugan:

What was so great about it can you tell us a little bit about any restaurant that he went to or a favorite place that he visited.

Chef Abbey:

I think I guess emotional experience I remember was the sensory overload when I arrived to Singapore in the way their culture worked, and the what they ate for breakfast and how different it was from America. And that's sort of what I based my entire capstone project off of was the idea of how different breakfast culture was in Singapore versus America. Yes. And I actually I just want to read a really small excerpt from my article of me traveling to Singapore because go for it. This definitely explains the feeling of arrival in Singapore. It was only the crack of dawn, when my plane landed in Singapore, exhausted from the past 17 hours of flying airplane meals that were more scary than appetizing and noises of unhappy children raining throughout my ears. I wanted anything that was both edible and enjoyable, despite the fact it was only six in the morning. The airport seemed lively and joyful. Food places were opened down the embellished hallways that filtered throughout the airport, and my stomach seems to growl echoing off the walls so it seemed pickiness still creep through my groggy eyes and there I was. Passing up countless choices, eventually making my way to a ramen place. As poignant as it is the name has escaped my mind but the flavor of the food will be imprinted amongst my taste buds for as long as I'll remember. I indulge in a bowl of pork tonkatsu ramen, the flavors swirl around my mouth like an electric current. The warm broth cozied up my tired body allowing me to feel rejuvenated. Here I was treating myself to a bowl of ramen a meal I'd normally eat anytime during lunch or dinner minutes after I arrived in Singapore at 6am in the morning, right in that exact moment. I knew there was something peculiar about Singapore's food culture, but it had to figure out so I wanted to read that for you guys because to me that explains my whole journey every single day throughout Singapore. Each day was a sensory overload. Finding new and little things that they do, that I found to be so unique in their architecture. Oh my goodness is absolutely beautiful. It's it's incredible. It's just when you're walking through the city of Singapore, you're just an absolute awe. It's definitely a place I want to travel back to that's for sure.

Michael Dugan:

I have it on my list for a different reason. But now I have really have it on my list. I saw show with Anthony Bourdain, where he visited Singapore I think he'd be stuck stuck or something and he missed a plane or something and he was stuck. So he's talked about how much you could do in Singapore and kind of anyway, the real reason for me is that I went to school at Washington State University and I got a hotel restaurant degree after cooking school, a few years later, and then I left the business. But it happens. There are reasons right so just just don't worry about it. I met this friend of mine named Christina and she was from Singapore and we became really good friends and we became connected to food, meaning that I shared what I knew about European styles and things and she shared her Singaporean styles and it was this amazing blend of the Asian culture and the American culture. I've always wanted to go visit her in Singapore, because that's where she lives and so it just brought back these memories. She came to my house in Seattle for Thanksgiving and met my parents and we're just really, really good friends. And we were also very competitive at Washington State University. We would both interview for every opportunity that came up for internships and that's also how we became friends. The memory oh my gosh, you brought up this amazing memory and and now I want to go there even more, I mean I feel really driven.

Chef Abbey:

Oh my god from the chili crab. There black pepper crab. Hinese chicken. Oh my gosh, it's all mouth watering and delicious.

Michael Dugan:

And it's also a blend of other countries. Right.

Chef Abbey:

So it is a melting pot. Yeah, Malaysia

Michael Dugan:

Yeah. And it should be on your list. And it sadly it sadly was cut short because of COVID. But I definitely want to make my way back there. Just just to eat and go out to a hawker stall. It's just I don't know it's a hard feeling to describe but their way of life abroad. I think that made me realize my love for experiencing, different cultures in the 3d way just going out there and experiencing that way not through a computer screen or a textbook. It's just it is a feeling that is unimaginable and it's something everyone if they have the chance to do should go out and do because when you become humble towards another culture and immerse yourself in it. You just each build the amount of respect in love and it's just it's very heartwarming and it's definitely something I want to base my career at the moment trying to figure out my way to get thier. That's okay, we all go through that you're young. It's it's the beginning of your life journey. You got a lot of exciting adventures coming up. Can you describe any of your specialties that what type of cuisine Do you like to cook? I know you minored in Asia cuisine, so I'm very intrigued, but I would love to, to hear or have you describe a couple of your specialties.

Chef Abbey:

Oh, okay. So the first one it might come to a shock because everyone's probably expecting me to say something savory, but a specialty of mine is making cheese cakes. As silly as that sounds. It's something I do on the side. I know I've started to sell a few to some people and family and friends. I like to get really creative with them whether it's a turtle cheesecake with candied pecans on top of banana split cheesecake, strawberry tart, raspberry jam. I've definitely tried many different varieties and over time it I've had so much fun experiencing manipulate, manipulating the recipe and changing the ingredients and about to perfect the texture and flavor that I want. And it actually has taken me two years to finally put an official recipe in my note to my phone that I feel comfortable enough with because I haven't officially come across one until just a few months ago. Definitely something I like to do on the side.

Michael Dugan:

Any entrees?

Chef Abbey:

Entrees my favorite to make oh my gosh I would have to say would be anything pasta. It definitely has to be fresh pasta, egg pasta is my favorite but then of course you have no key that I actually just made some the other day and you can do so many different varieties and just whether if you saute and brown butter or if you have an actual sauce on it, that's delicious. Other things and there's so many things I want to just think of right now that I've been talking about. Asian cuisine wise, I absolutely love making homemade spicy orange chicken and homemade dumplings, because that's a must. Learning about dumplings in Singapore that was actually my weakest moment. But that was that's kind of what made me not want to stop practicing making them because they are a challenge. Getting them the perfect steam and a perfect sear without it sticking. That's definitely hard to do. Let me think going down cooked at home seared scallops, that's always a fun thing. And specifically because it's always fun to get that perfect crust on it because it's so easy to over cook scallops, really one extra second and they're overcooked and chewy and it's definitely fun to work. Oh god, there's just so much.

Michael Dugan:

I'm gonna have to pick one but five, I believe. I'm the same. I can't stop here. So now. I have a big challenge for you. And I stumped chef sometimes on this. So are you ready? I'm ready. All right. In your experience, it could be at the CIA Culinary Institute of America or just in working in a restaurant. What one time do you remember where you had a major kitchen disaster?

Chef Abbey:

A major kitchen disaster?

Michael Dugan:

And some people skip this question. I don't think you'll skate it.

Chef Abbey:

It was my first day on externship in Park City, Utah. And it was two days before Christmas. And so the kitchen was an absolute madhouse. We had every front of house staff there every back of house staff was there. Here's me the new xtern and also one of the only girls in the kitchen uniform, nervous as all hell. And I go to the dish pit and I turned around to go somewhere else at the time and I bumped into a server that has an entire tray of food and glass cups, and not all over on the floor and it shatters everywhere and the kitchen that was in that house goes absolutely silent every eye is on me. I have absolutely no idea what to do. At this point I just accepted my feet as like back to school they don't want me here and I will never forget I went to go through rather than mop bucket and after I picked up all the little pieces. I went to go grab the mop bucket to pick up the spill. And my chef at the time Chef John absolutely loved him. I learned so much from him. My first day he looks at me and he yells and he was heavy. He's like what the hell are you doing? He runs over to the dirty towel bed grabs a handful of dirty towels and just throws them on the floor and he says think smarter why are you grabbing the mop I can yelled at me like the kitchen still silent. And I didn't say anything back the only thing I said was Yes, Chef. And that was definitely one of my first real fine dining kitchen experience disasters. I definitely felt every emotion possible in that moment. And it's definitely a moment I will not forget.

Michael Dugan:

Wow, yeah, that's that's a good kitchen disaster. I'm rating them on the show. That one's pretty high up there. Yeah. I've had a few I was bussing tables when I was kind of getting into the industry and I never really bussed tables before so I had this big tray with these water glasses with filled with ice and it was heavy. And I walked up to this table and I was trying to put the water glasses down and the whole tray fell and water just went everywhere all over. And I kept my job. It's very glorious and glamorous, but it's part of how you pay your dues. I'll never forget that but I've had I've had some kitchen disasters, but that's something that I remember from actually listening to you and your story.

Chef Abbey:

Really quick if I go back to a kitchen disaster, it was at school, actually, with my class at the time. And this is with two of my very close friends. In class and we were in America's cuisines with a really well known chef at the time. She was rated to be one of the top teachers for the class and one of the more difficult ones that were claiming are not me specifically but my friend Diego interested in and Mark are cleaning the fryer and I think if anyone has experienced this, they know how terrible the cleanup processes they dumped the fryer oil all over and then during their process of mopping it up, we're all watching the chef's just staring at them waiting for them to be done. So we can end the class and they're about to go push the mop bucket back to dump it and the mop bucket temps all over the floor. And so we watch them up again in watching them take it to them obscene thinking this is it. They don't the mop bucket for the third time in our watch. I will never forget my chefs the look on her face and the disappointment and me knowing I technically I have to take the heat as a team leader. Alright, come on guys. And knowing then, like at the time they were just laughing hysterically because at that time there's like nothing else to do. Because it was all genuinely accidental. Just the worst three coincidence back to back and that was definitely kitchen class disaster, that's for sure but one that we look back and laugh hysterically now.

Michael Dugan:

What's interesting is people may not realize but if you're the lead, you might be graded on how you react to that. Depend on disaster and how you recover, right?

Chef Abbey:

Yeah, were sort of laughing under their breath to themselves and they had to shamelessly mop it up for the second time.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, I remember a lot of these things. I mean, it's I think it's just so common in industry and even in cooking school. As we take this out. Do you have any special message for us that you want to share and help? How can we support you and the culinary community?

Chef Abbey:

I would say that my special message that I have to share for that the new incoming young chefs that are coming into the industry and even the older ones is to never feel like you aren't powerful enough to have a voice whether you're just starting out or you're up at the top you will always have a voice and you will always have a chance to speak up and you should always speak up and empower yourself in the kitchen as you want. To be empowered in real life. And that's something I'm currently trying to teach myself and try to bring awareness to others because I think we all have to realize our strengths as individuals the younger generation going into the industry, we all have to realize how strong we are if we come together and continue to speak up and choir positive changes for the industry that will do nothing but better the world as it is and how we eat. So that's my special message to everyone.

Michael Dugan:

That's a great message. And I know people are excited about this episode and they want to connect with you. How do they find you?

Chef Abbey:

The best way to connect with me currently is both through my Instagram account, which is Chef Abby Miller and that will give you the ability to email me through my email as well. And I also love to connect with people through clubhouse so if you'd like to also follow me on there, join the club through this religion because not only will I be talking about important mental health issues, but you'll come across so many people and so many topics that I'm sure any one of you guys who are listening right now will 100% have a place in will be welcomed in to talk about whatever your heart desires to talk about and get out there. Clubhouse or Instagram just follow me back channeling I'll usually answer anyone back right away. I'm pretty quick on that.

Michael Dugan:

Chef Abbey, thank you so much for being a guest on our show and you truly are a Voice4Chefs.

Chef Abbey:

Thank you so so much for having me. I'm so thankful I connected with you through clubhouse and now through this amazing podcast, and I'm super excited to work