Where Do We Go From Here?

I worked on restaurant lines for the most of the past 18 years.  During that time I’ve lost a parent, two siblings who were in their forties, and my ex-wife and mother of my oldest child to cancer and helped carry too many caskets of family and friends out of churches.  I’ve divorced and remarried.  I’ve opened two restaurants, one by myself.  I’ve  watched my wife give birth twice.  I have sat in waiting rooms while one of my children was having major surgery on more than one occasion.  I waited while my youngest daughter lay listless in a hospital bed for eight days with an unidentified illness. I’ve visited my oldest daughter every day for three months while she was in the neonatal ICU after being born at 2 lbs.  18 years was enough, with all life has thrown at me to add to the emotional pressure of the restaurant business, I knew it was time to quit.

Shrimp is over-rated.

Keep in mind the physical toll life has taken on my body.  What many of you people with nothing better to do than read my goofy little blog don’t know is that I was a highly competitive long distance runner through college and for about 12 years after.  I averaged 70, often hard, training miles per week for a solid 12 years.  That includes peeking out at 100-120 miles a lot of weeks, and a lot of hard competitive racing.  So, I’m looking at a good 30+ years of a physically demanding way of life.  I’ve had 2 hernia surgeries, a bunion surgery, and heel spur surgery within the last 5 years, so before I completely fell apart, I thought it best to quit.

Rather than fitting our lives around our jobs, wouldn’t it be great if we could fit our jobs around our lives?

So, I’ve retired from the restaurant life, what now?.

As most of you reading this know,  I have started a business called The Yawning Duck Culinary Services. I direct you to the Facebook page since our website, www.yawningduck.com is a work in progress, and I promise to have it done soon.

When asked by my lovely wife what I was thinking about doing over the 4th of July weekend,  I said we should have a bbq, byob, and invite the neighborhood.  She was surprised, because as she put it, “You’re not very friendly.” She also pointed out that most people already have plans. “Perfect! Most people won’t come, and we still get credit for the invitation.”

I have teamed up, so to speak, with Serendipity Cooking and Arts Studio in Saratoga as a place to hold some events and do some cooking. I have been known to serve some great beer-friendly food at Rare Form Brewing Company in Troy, I’ll be at The Cheese Traveler this summer for a couple of their Friday Night Cookouts, and I should start doing some events at Great Flats Brewing in Schenectady soon. These are all fun. What I like doing the most is going to people’s homes and cooking for them and their guests.  The Yawning Duck personalized dinner parties are not to be out done.  If you’ve ever wanted to entertain at home while also being a guest at the party, then I’m the guy that can make that happen.  And, no, you won’t be left with doing the dishes.

One of the things I’m loving right now is getting to know my family.  That seems like an odd statement. I mean, I live with these people, and have been living with them for some time.  Too often working in an industry that takes up a great deal of your time and energy, especially the nights and the weekends, and being so tired on your day off it’s hard to do many of the things that 9-5ers take for granted.  I’ve been cooking dinner and eating with everyone around the table almost nightly for a few weeks now and I’ve got to ask, what the Hell have I been thinking all these years?

Tomorrow I start another detox diet, 10 days, perhaps more.  I’m also going to go 30 days alcohol free.

I’m not sure where The Yawning Duck is going to fly, but I know what I’m capable of without the restrictions of any ownership uneducated in the ways of food and the culinary arts. For the first time in many, many years I am without an employer that lacks any quality experience in this field. As the Yawning Duck, I can cook like I have not cooked in a long time, if ever.  I look forward to exploring what I can do, and I’m so proud to have Jennifer and Theresa as partners.

That’s a Problem


Please stop calling each other Bro in print/social media posts and comments.

Bruh is an even bigger problem

Bartender:  “Chef, do you have any olives?”

Chef:  “Yes, I’ve got olives.”  (some of you know where this is going).

Bartender:  “Where are they?”  “Can I have some?”

Chef:  “They’re not the olives you need.”

Bartender:  “Where are more of the ones I need?”

Chef:  “They are in the bucket in the walk in cooler.”

Bartender:  “I know, but that bucket is empty.”  “Should I bring it up?”

Chef:  “No, It may be keeping the other items in the cooler company.”

Bartender:  “Oh, OK.”

Chef:  “Well, it’s Friday at 4:30, I can’t do anything about it now.”  In the future if you let me know you’re low on something I can order more.”

This has been an ongoing problem with front-of-the-house staff for as long as I can remember.  That’s not my problem anymore.

How many restaurants  train and teach their service staff?  I don’t mean showing a new employee where everything is, and the general outline of the operation.  How many actually train them to be really good at their job?  How many restaurants have the capability?  Yono’s, 15 Church, The Wishing Well?  Some of the Mazzone properties?

The same could be asked of the kitchen too.  One of the things I realized, and that self-evaluation aided my decision to retire from the restaurant kitchen is that I was no longer interested in training people, especially when their focus wasn’t 100%. It was clear to me that it wasn’t the way for chefs to conduct themselves.  I’ve trained a lot of cooks, and enough of them have gone on to be good chefs, so I’m quite sure I did my job well.  If however you’re not willing to do the proper training, to make your service or kitchen staff better at their jobs, get out of the business, you don’t belong.

What you see at your table is only a small part of a server’s job.  It’s an important part, but not the only part.

When people think out loud it often exposes many of the dumb thoughts they have and their limited capacity to think in a reasonable or organized way.

The term “cooked to perfection” on menus is a problem.

Decisions, both daily and big-picture stuff should be made through experience and a well thought out plan. Not by whimsy and desire. The means are not the way to the desired ends.

This blog was recently called unpolished and unfiltered (all in an appreciated positive tone).  Yes it is unpolished, but it is quite filtered, and there are a lot of folks who should be thankful about that. Yes, I may be kind of a good guy on some level, but don’t let that get around.

Never throw your kitchen under the bus to a customer, especially when whatever problem is occurring is not the fault of said kitchen.  Customers don’t like it, and the kitchen doesn’t like it either, it creates a pretty large problem.

Here’s one reason chefs move from job to job, from a Craigslist ad:

Please send a resume for immediate consideration. Include a cover letter about yourself.45-55k salary to start. Based on experience. We are an independent with 2.5mil per year sales. Full banquet room and pub style menu. We need a leader that is organized, disciplined, creative and wants to work.

2.5 million in sales, and you’re paying 50k for a chef. 
I’m aware as anyone that margins are slim, but we as a group need to make more in this very difficult business if we’re going to be encouraged to stick around in the same kitchen long-term.  Like I said, this is only one reason chefs move around, by far not the only reason.  I’ll write a post dedicated to the topic in the near future.
It’s important to keep irons in the fire, you never know when you’ll need a hot one.

Ducking Retirement

 

I have been doing a lot of reflection about this blog and what it says about me and how I’ve been feeling.  I looked back over a lot of posts and tried to find any trends and what they mean.  What I noticed was that my posts are more negative and there are fewer narratives, less writing about topics and more snippet themed rants.  When I started this blog I wanted to give those not in the business a sense of what it was like to be a chef. The following is my first post, pretty much in its entirety.

“I am starting a blog about the daily life of a chef. Sometimes it will be fun and interesting, and other times it will simply be the mundane details of life for a chef in and out of the kitchen. I’m a poor speller, I have a potty mouth sometimes, and I sometimes write things after a bit of bourbon so don’t criticize me for the things I already know.”

“My purpose is to practice writing, something I used to be quite good at but have not done in many years, and as an outlet for some of the great stories, victories, frustrations, and thoughts that come out of life in the restaurant business.”

Being a chef is great, it has wonderful rewards, and can be a fulfilling life for those cut out for the commitment it requires.

As readers of this blog, and those familiar with the local restaurant scene will recall, I made a decision to leave the business when my daughter Theresa’s mother passed away in May of 2016.  That decision was made during a very emotional time, and the careful planning that should be associated with a major life move wasn’t done. Steve Barnes on Table Hopping showed me deep kindness when he allowed me to tell my story, and the support I received as a result was well needed at the time.  However, the time which came as expected, was still too soon and like many people in our situation were not prepared on many levels.

I declared that Theresa and I would be doing private catering under the Yawning Duck name, and we did some nice events.  I also had the opportunity to do some consulting projects.  Yet, things were not going well as she was not fully comprehending the loss of her mother and the sudden changes in her life.  The truth is, as an individual with Cerebral Palsy, it’s very difficult for her to understand what happened, and what will happen.  Also, we rushed into the situation without a proper business plan and marketing strategy. The lack of direction made the project unworkable.  Again, the emotions were high, and the sense of loss made it easy for me to make the choices I did. The truth is, we were not prepared for the days ahead.  I am grateful for the ability to have been able to take some time out of the restaurant kitchen and help not only Theresa adjust, but to be a full-time part of the overall adjustment for our family.

Last September I got a Facebook message from a friend that suggested I talk to Rob Gavel, the chef at Chez Nous in Schenectady who was leaving his post for another chef’s position.  While I knew I needed the financial security of a full-time job,  I really wasn’t looking too hard.  I had read many good things about the restaurant so I followed up and within a couple of weeks I was back in the kitchen full-time.

I have been cooking on restaurant lines for the majority of the last 18 years. Too many restaurants, too many hours and nights, and too many missed family events.  I’ve been pretty lucky with holidays, working mostly in places that close on major holidays in lieu of an as good as possible quality of life.  Quality of life continues to be lacking however. I’m tired, I’m sore, and the reality is I’m becoming increasingly bitter which is no fun for anyone.

Doing the daily grind at 53 has gotten tough.  There are too many aches and pains.  As some recall I had heel and bunion surgery a couple of years ago. The heel feels better with the bone spur gone, but there’s no improvement otherwise.  My feet range from achy to painful on a daily basis. My hips are sore, my knees on occasion, and the arthritis in my hands can make a long day and night in a commercial kitchen unpleasant.

I’m also starting to find the variety of personalities involved in this business both exhausting and difficult to deal with.  I have certainly had hundreds of employers, co-workers, and vendors over the years, and I have even liked some of them. Yet, at this point I just don’t want to deal with the myriad of individuals I come across every day.

It’s time for me to retire from the restaurant cooking line as it just isn’t fun anymore.  Retire from cooking professionally?  Not a chance.  I am leaving this time with far more thought, more planning, and a better grip on finances.  The Yawning Duck Culinary Services can at this point become viable, I can enjoy my family and home more, and I can be of greater help to Theresa who is a project and at some point in her life will be without me and will need some skills she does not have at this point.  No, I don’t expect to make tons of money, but I can make life become better for all of us.

I will remain a member of the Chez Nous family, helping as I can in the weeks to come and I am grateful to be a part of their experience. More to come on this topic.

I have some wonderful events planned as The Yawning Duck including our Kick-off on June 10th. More to come on this topic too.

 

 

I Left My Snippets in Saratoga

For the majority of about 12 years I both lived and worked in Saratoga, first alone, then with Jennifer, then came Stella, then Tate. We bought a house in Schuylerville, added Theresa to the mix, and I got a job in Schenectady.  I miss Saratoga.

I miss sitting on benches on Broadway with Jennifer and watching people try to parallel park.

I miss being able to walk to work.

I miss being able to have a drink or two after work and walk home.  I simply don’t drink and drive, not a single mile.

It’s a menu, not a list of ingredients in which to construct your own meal.

I don’t miss a city that does not encourage its property owners to keep their sidewalks clear of ice and snow even though it’s a walking town.

I don’t miss the complaining about parking by people who want to park at the front door rather than walk a few blocks.

Saratoga needs a few more handicapped parking spots on Broadway.

I sometimes notice that people park in a handicapped space, the handicapped individual stays in the car while the driver runs into the store.  I notice this while I helping Theresa out of the car and she walks with her crutches past said space.

I don’t miss track season or the people who come with it.

Good dishwashers, cooks and chefs are not paid what they’re worth in most locations.  Owners that wonder why they cannot keep good help in the kitchen are the ones paying line cooks $12 per hour and cannot deliver on the promise of enough hours.  That’s one of the reasons for the high turnover rate, but that’s another story for another day.

I miss being able to stop by other restaurants to chat with my chef friends.  Saratoga is a restaurant town, and there’s a culture of restaurant people. People like to be with like people and talk about common issues.

Saratoga could use some diversity in people ans restaurants.

I liked having choices for dinner and take out.  Schuylerville is void of those things.

Taco Tuesday,  oyster night, wine Wednesday.  C’mon Saratoga, you’re better than that, aren’t you?  I know there’s creativity in that town somewhere.

I’ll be back in one form or another.

I tend to judge people very quickly, so if you meet me plan on making an impression that I would approve of.  Keep in mind that I can at times be both judgemental and wrong.

I always have my ducks in a row, not necessarily in the right order, but certainly in a row.

I miss living close to my friends and cooking for them more often.

I miss living close to my friends and having them cook for me more often.

I miss stopping for coffee with friends before work. Dennis, Mehmet, Tom.

America: Made in China

The Office was a great show.  Jenn and I are re-watching the series on the interwebs.

Use there, their, and they’re on a sentence.

There are a lot of restaurants that think their service is better than they think but they’re wrong.

There are some things I miss about working at the Wine Bar, and some things I don’t.

Don’t treat your friends well at the expense of the people who work for you day in and day out.

There is no I in restaurant.

There are some restaurants that think their food is better than they think but they’re also wrong.

Use your and you’re in a sentence.

If you’re going into the restaurant business you need to be prepared to put the needs of others ahead of your own.

A lot of restaurants open and close in Saratoga.

I don’t recommend going into the restaurant business with less than three years experience in said business.  Ten would be better.

Not going into the restaurant business is probably best.

My sous chef Patrick said people need to start cultivating talent rather than just trying to recruit talent since there isn’t enough talent in Saratoga (and other places).  I agree.

I’d like to start a mentoring program.  Young cooks are too often misdirected, or not directed at all.  I think I’ll attach it to The Yawning Duck Culinary Services.  It should be a free program offering guidance, advice, and a link to the needed resources necessary for success in the culinary life and those things that go with it.  Life in the business is tough, and there should be more help available.  Help and direction should be a part of the Saratoga restaurant culture.  Let’s start there.

Culinary schools do not create cooks and chefs, they create culinary school graduates.

Whether you’re running the front of the house or the back of the house you need to be qualified enough to cultivate talent, train employees in proper methods and procedures, and shape your staff in the way you want and need them to perform,  People are generally willing to perform the tasks that leaders both know how to do, have done, and are willing to do. A paycheck is not enough, everybody who works gets a check, it’s an expected part of employment. You need to offer more and you need to show more.

I have little turnover in my kitchens, and there have been a lot of people who have worked for me in more than one place.

Darwin’s theories apply to restaurants.

Use to, two, and too in a sentence two times.

I don’t plan to get into the restaurant business again because I’m too old and would only last two months physically since I would work too hard as I understand the work required for success,  so no, I’m not going to do it like some are encouraging me to do two or more times a week.   I didn’t say it would be a good sentence.

Going into business?  That’s another story to be told another day.

Too Much, Too Few, Too Many, Too Bad………..

Mexican themed restaurants, bloody Mary garnishes, bad pizza, cream cheese on bagels, qualified restaurant workers, restaurants, volunteers, complainers, experts, hours in a chef’s work week,  long weekends, snow days, kale salads, vegetarians that eat fish, vegans that show up on Saturday at 7:30 wanting you to construct a special meal, gluten-free, cheap wheat, cheap food (there’s a difference between cheap and inexpensive food), dogs on Broadway (Saratoga), hype over mediocrity, distance between great restaurants and my house, time with my children, time with friends, independence, stuff to do, things to do, IPA selections at Price Chopper, great tacos, $12 instant mashed potatoes.

Take a break.

Throw some corned beef on it or in it and you’ve got a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day special.

Hot pastrami sandwiches in my life, servers who come into the kitchen and tell you they’re going to put an order in, googling for information, self-sufficiency, ability to problem solve, plan b, servers, bartenders, cooks, compassion, understanding, silliness, drive, sunshine, chili dogs, road trips, days off, freedom, craftsmen, hot baths, cold drinks, smokey jazz clubs, credit given, crispy chicken livers with fig jam, crispy sweetbreads with lemon, Yono’s, sports bars, Beekman Bistros, internet in the kitchen, laziness, true restauranteurs, chance takers, cereal choices, independent restaurants, news sources, trust, I, we, inventiveness,  steadiness, know-it-all, unreasonable confidence,  fish frys, quality produce purveyors,  quality seafood purveyors,  salesmen, account representatives, green beer, humbleness,  humility, people who can’t tell the difference between instant and real mashed potatoes, good pho,

Take another break.

I understand striking while the iron is hot, but if events like St Patrick’s Day do not fit into your general business model, accept that you may be quiet and allow the amateur drinkers to go somewhere else for that one night. If your business hinges on a few events throughout the year then perhaps your business model is not made to hold up.

Old friends, new friends, sincerity, hospitality professionals, chefs on TV, chefs in the kitchen, deliveries from farms, chefs in gardens, gardens, convenience foods, seasonal menus, people who understand seasonal menus, changes, goat on menus, ethnic food, coffee breaks, hard work, people willing to work hard, people who understand what hard work is, people who think they work hard, but don’t, Wal-Mart, responsibility, irresponsibility, silly gadgets, fads, time around the dinner table, sarcasm, culinary schools, cooking schools, use of the word chef.

Finishing bits:

Arguing with a chef is like trying to wrestle a pig in Jello pudding.  Sooner or later you’re gonna realize that the pig likes it.

A better name for an oven glove in a professional kitchen is a bitch mitten.

I don’t care where you came from, I am however interested where you’re going.

Who’s they, and why is it their responsibility?

Yes, there is such thing as a stupid question.

It’s always time for a cookie.

BOH screws up order, kitchen’s fault.  FOH screws up order, kitchen’s fault.

I’m not perfect.

In the end, if you can say the words of Randle Patrick McMurphy, you’ll be OK, I think.  “Well, I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.”

 

 

A State of Independence

Chefs going out on their own.  Tyler DeGroff.  Enjoy your independence, best of luck to you.

Who might be next?

A table of four asks if its OK to change things around on the menu.  Chef tells server that it’s OK when they open their own restaurant and write their own menus.  Chef allows it because he is in the hospitality business.

Diner asks if I can make a different sauce to go with the lamb on Saturday night at 7:30, due to an allergy to carrots. Diner however is unhappy with choices that do not include stocks.  Stocks have carrots. Call me ahead of time and I will have something ready for you.  This is not Chopped, chefs don’t just whip something up in the middle of a dinner rush with the hope that it will be great.  Recipes and dishes are tested and tweaked before they hit the menu.

Early in my tenure at The Wine Bar I had a sous chef that I had inherited who was terrible.  One of his jobs during prep was to stretch out the pizza dough.  On this particular day we were to have twelve done.  After doing six he stopped, cleaned up his work area and began to do nothing.  When I noticed this I asked if he had done all the pizzas and he said no, that he was pacing himself.  I gave him his independence.

I enjoy reading Craigslist ads.  No, not those ads.  I’m referring to the ones advertising jobs in restaurants.  Most of them do not present themselves well.  Remember, the labor pool is very shallow.  There are too few qualified candidates in our business, so it just as important to make a good impression on them as it is for them to make a good impression on us. Also, when you get to the interview keep in mind that they likely have choices too, and they’re interviewing us as prospective employers as we are checking them out as possible employees.  If we don’t communicate to them that this is a great place to work and we’re good people to work for, they’ll move on.

People often say that there are not enough hours in the day. I disagree,  by the end of the day I’m exhausted,  24 hours are plenty. What we need is an extra day of the week. For me it would be a recovery day between Saturday and Sunday, that way I’m not a useless lump on a day I would like to be more enthusiastic about family activities.

I haven’t posted on the Yawning Duck page in quite a while.  I have an event coming up in a couple of weeks and you’ll see some pictures of a great Spanish feast.  Watch the Duck.

Rendered camel hump fat.

I’m working on the Spring menu for Chez Nous. Don’t look for it quite yet, that’d be silly as we’re going to get a bit of snow tomorrow.

I’m really trying to think independently of the classics.

Sweetbreads for sure.

Don’t confuse a symbiotic relationship with a host/parasitic relationship.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who the host is and who the parasite is.

You cannot push someone else’s envelope.

Did I remind you to watch the Duck?

Let Me Give You Some Advice

If I want your advice I’ll ask for it.

If you ask for my advice, it’s free.

One of the things I like to say is, “There are always more experts than volunteers.”  You know those people, the ones that are always telling others what they should do or how they should do something?  These are generally the same people who are the last ones in line when it comes to physically helping in any given situation.

Before the disposal of plan A, have a solid plan B ready to replace it. In fact, try to have a plan B just in case, you never know when you’ll need it.

One of the things I’ve heard hundreds of times over the years is, “You should serve……..”  No, you like whatever it is you’re telling me to serve, you’re not giving me advice on how to improve my business in general, you’re telling me how I can make my business suit you better.

Nancy Silverton is a bad-ass.

Mario Batali looks like Hell.

The last time there was a great musical act on SNL?

No, we should not be open for lunch. Another bit of advice I’ve heard over the years. Again, YOU want a place for lunch, but you haven’t looked at the numbers. You don’t even know what the numbers are.

When someone has made a life choice for whatever reason, like abstaining from meat, gluten, alcohol, or any other deliciousness, don’t give me shit or advice on how I can also improve my life by abstaining too.  I like that stuff, and I don’t plan on stopping. Pizza with sopressata and hot peppers washed down with a quart of beer makes life better. Period.

Yes, I drink at family functions, it’s necessary.

My advice to you:  If you’re a high-end restaurant, don’t do Restaurant Week.  You will be ashamed of the food you need to serve in order to provide a $25 meal.

If you go to a restaurant, don’t complain  about the prices.  You had the opportunity to look at their website prior to going. The onus is on you.  You do, however, have the right to complain about the quality.

Surprise, I’m not drinking bourbon while I write.

I’m drinking rye with a splash of Campari.

SNL while I write.

We have a government full of cowards.

My advice to you:  Don’t go to Nemer Volkswagen. Worst customer service I’ve ever experienced.  We’re Honda owners now.  I really miss my Jetta TDI. I wish Volkswagen and Nemer had better service, they have great cars.

My advice to you: Don’t go to Famous Footwear in Wilton, NY.  The over-zealous manager clearly did not read my last post, Leave the Chef Alone.  I made it very clear to him that I would be picking out new work shoes all by myself today. He didn’t believe me and insisted on helping me.  I did get new work shoes today, somewhere else.  My feet still hurt.

Enter the end zone like you’ve been there many times.  If you win something, keep it cool.

My advice to you:  Watch this. It’s a few years old but fun.   Puddles the Clown and Post Modern Jukebox performing Royals. Better than Lorde.

I’ve been preoccupied.  I can do better. Less classic, more inventive to come.

I’ve been given a lot of advice lately.  In the words of my late father, “Do what yous want.”

 

 

Leave the Chef Alone.

I drive up and down the NYS I-87 almost daily.  As a result of a trend I’ve noticed I have made up a new drinking game.  The speed limit is 65, I go 75, certainly not the fastest guy on the three lane highway.  I stick to the middle lane and pass on the left as needed.  So, here’s the game:  When you pass a Toyota Prius that’s going 55 in the middle lane take a shot.  When a Prius is being passed by someone in both the left and right lanes simultaneously take two shots.  You’re sure to be loaded by the end of most trips.

I do not advocate drinking while driving.  If you’re one of the slower drivers on a highway and you very rarely pass anyone, STAY IN THE RIGHT LANE and leave me alone in the center lane.

Last week was Restaurant Week in Schenectady.  It sucked.  We were completely booked up for the five days that we were open, we went through far more bread per person than normal, the FOH was short-staffed, and there were several very new members of the service team.  Pretty much everyone did a great job, worked hard and we got through it alive.

The last order of the week:  Server comes into the kitchen clearly looking for something in the pass.  As we’re well into our clean up, with all the food wrapped and stored I looked over to the young man.  “Whatcha need?”  “I’m looking for table 33, Two beef, a chicken and a cassoulet.”  I hung my head because I knew I was about to add about a half hour to my very long week.  The order had come in earlier on a ticket that started with a series of voids, so it was overlooked.  Why it came in on a void ticket is beyond me.  I can tell you this, don’t put a very new employee on the floor as a server when it’s busy if you can avoid it.

Keep an eye on The Duck.

I sometimes understand the guy that goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back.

Sunday morning I went out for light bulbs, I returned home right after.  It’s home and I like it there.

I was strongly encouraged to attend a birthday party for a 5-year-old at a bowling alley on Sunday.  Not that I don’t like the folks who were hosting the party, quite the contrary, but I was planning to be home during the party taking a nap. It was one of those things you look forward to during an especially difficult week.  I was impressed with a young lady named Gabby, the Bowling Alley employee that was running the party.  She was on point, entertained the kids. helped them bowl and kept everything moving on a tight schedule.  I’ve seen restaurant professionals that couldn’t keep a function on schedule to save their lives.  I still would rather have been left home alone but it was fun to see Gabby at work, shaming many of the people I’ve worked with in the past.

There is a clear and remarkable difference between a professional and a hobbyist.

Sometimes my day consists of constant questions.

Sometimes I just want to be left alone, even if there are people around.  Sometimes I don’t want anyone around. Mostly I like most of the people around me.

 

 

A Weekend in Hudson

A recent weekend saw a very rare occurrence, a weekend without kids or obligations.  It took us a couple of weeks to decide where to go, but one thing was certain, it had to include the kind of dinner we almost never get to go out for, and lots of strolling. Before we had kids Jennifer and I would spend a lot of our leisure time strolling up and down Broadway in Saratoga.  Sometimes we would take day trips to places like Lenox, MA, or Rhinebeck, NY for a change of scenery and an inexpensive lunch somewhere.  We were kind of broke and could rarely splurge in those days.  Fast forward to current times and things are different.  We have pretty good jobs, and can afford to choose to go to pretty much any restaurant we want.  Now is that we have offspring to care for we have few chances to have some time to ourselves.  Well, the stars aligned and we had an overnight in Hudson where we planned to have lunch at Swoon Kitchenbar, dinner at Fish and Game, and breakfast at Café Le Perche.  We added a couple of stops in between and had ourselves a fine holiday.

With Theresa at Nana and Pop’s, and Stella and Tate at Grandma and Papa’s, we were clear to head south and stuff our faces.  Our first stop was Swoon.  I’ve wanted to check this place out for a few years now because there was a sweet couple that came to The Whine Bar and always told me that my food reminded them of the food at Swoon.  We had a pretty light lunch of crispy artichokes, country pâté, and a few cheeses. Our only wish is that there was fresh baguette with our selections rather than crackers and crostini, clearly done well ahead of time.  We did however enjoy the busy place and I thought I would like to return for dinner as I was a bit worried about our upcoming dinner due to pretty lukewarm reviews on that interwebs for F&G.

After lunch we checked into our hotel which was within strolling distance from all our planned stops.  With dinner reservations at 6:30 we had plenty of time to walk and shop on Warren St.  We decided that either a cocktail or a cup of coffee was in order, so with a bit of booze under our belts from lunch we opted for coffee at Verdigris Tea and Chocolate.  We could have had tea, but tea is only for ladies, the infirmed, and the English.  We ordered two coffees for ‘here’ but were informed that they were out of mugs and did we mind if our coffee was in to go cups.  “You’re out of cups?” I thought, and I wanted to tell them to go wash some.  Imagine if I had a server tell a diner that I would be serving their dinner in a to go container because we were out of plates.  The coffee ran out after filling the first cup.  It wasn’t very good coffee anyway.  Should have had tea.  The Mast Bros. goat’s milk chocolate was good.

We arrived at Fish and Game a little early, but our table was ready and we were accommodated by a friendly and efficient hostess.  I was pretty excited about the upcoming experience because it is not often in life that I go to a high-profile restaurant despite my career and love of great food.  I also wanted to see which was warranted, the James Beard award or the 3 out of 5 star average on Yelp and multitude of poor reviews on Op en Table.  We started with a couple of $15 cocktails, not overly expensive for a well crafted cocktail, but these were small, very small.  My warm ‘Here comes Doctor Joe’ was good, but served in a demitasse teacup. I felt kind of dainty.  The meal followed from there, small and expensive.  Small is fine. As Thomas Keller says, a good portion leaves you wanting one more bite. Expensive is ok too, as long as you get what you pay for.  I won’t go into detail, but we did not get what we paid for. One thing I will mention in some detail is that we were served very rare and cold chicken livers (from the wood-fired oven).  When I pointed out to one of the service staff that we could not eat them she somewhat argued with me about them.  Perhaps she has blind faith in the kitchen and their ability to do things without flaw, but I do not after the experience, and I’m guessing that James Beard would not eat very rare chicken livers. After a few hundred bucks in on just small plates we decided to forego desert and get a sweet somewhere else.

We walked into one spot well-known for sourdough pizza and were real close to getting a table and a small pie. Yes, we were still hungry but we refocused on dessert and headed to Ca’Mea for Tiramisu, lemon tart and a couple of the grandest pours of Strega I’ve ever seen.  Strega is 80 proof, and I suspect the young barkeep was not aware of its potency as she likely doesn’t sell too much of this golden-yellow nectar of the gods.  The about 4 oz pours were a surprise, and at $9 we decided to have another round which made for a tough morning.

After a nap in a very comfortable room at The Barlow, we made our way back out to Warren St for a nice walk and breakfast at Café Le Perche.  The entrance was stocked with some great offerings from an imported-from-France wood-fired brick oven.  We could have grabbed a couple of coffees to go with a fist full of croissant and been very happy, but the need for a more substantial offering due to the generous snifters full of after dinner drinks made us take a seat by the fireplace and enjoy a good French brunch.  When in Hudson again I would try them for dinner.

Well, I don’t know when we’ll get out again, but I’m sure the time spent together will be as special and as memorable as this experience.  I savor these times with Jenny.

Things I’ve Been Thinking About

I mentioned in my last post that I’m outlining a book about my experiences in the restaurant business.  I’d like to do a chapter called “The Best of and the Worst of.”  It’s a take on those “Best of” issues we see in various newspapers and magazines.  Here’s a preview:  Best restaurateur I’ve ever worked for is Angelo Mazzone.  Not necessarily my favorite (I liked working for him, it was at The Lodge for the summer of 2003), but certainly the best. The worst?

Can you be deeply passionate about what you do for a living and be easy to work with at the same time?

I often write between the lines.  Some of you can read between the lines, some of you cannot.

Century Linen recently changed from kitchen towels in flat stacks of 50 bound with a narrow plastic strap to wrinkled bags of 50 that smell like grease.  The sales rep told us we could have towels delivered the old way for 3 cents more per towel. So, we can get what are supposed to be professionally cleaned in industrial machines in smelly bundles, or clean, unwrinkled towels for an added price?  I don’t recommend this company at all.

I think I wrote and posted during last year’s Grammy Awards.

Vapid is underused.

They dug Celine Dion up.

Why after 50 years of life have my nose hairs decided to grow at an alarming rate.

I miss Dale.

Chefs are now putting the same stuff  that they used to put in tortillas in steamed buns, and thinking it’s innovative.

Chowderfest=Boozefest.

Some snippets are written for just one person. If you don’t understand a snippet, it likely has nothing to do with you.

Graduating from culinary school, or a culinary program does not make you a chef.  What it makes you is a culinary school graduate.  Doing what a chef does in a chef’s position is what makes you a chef.

Don’t participate in Chowderfest if you haven’t actually paid into the event and are officially part of it.  Yes, some restaurants do that.  Some even do that with Restaurant Week. For those places it should be called Restaurant Weak.

Schenectady Restaurant Week is soon.  Oh boy how I love restaurant week.  $25, two glasses of house wine, extra bread, and a $5 tip.  No, that’s not everyone, but it’s too common.

Keep an eye on The Duck, it ain’t dead.

I miss Tom, Anne, Mehmet, and Mary.

What the Hell happened at Rascals?  Ownership was either scamming or stupid.  Who puts $3.2 million into a place and lasts 7 months?  I find it difficult to believe that someone who can come up with $3.2 million is stupid.

Troy Kitchen had a couple of people move out of their food court recently.  Some of the comments and opinions I’ve heard come from people who don’t understand how this incubator works.  The Korean place was doing well and decided to move into their own place; the crepe place wasn’t, so it folded.  That’s how it goes.  An incubator is there so folks can go into business for a relatively small amount of money and see if they have what it takes to make it. If your favorite place moves out, there was a good reason for it.

I need an office of some kind, a place where I can have some peace and quiet sometimes.  The life of a chef is generally hectic, full of noise and questions from everyone else in the restaurant, calls from vendors, calls to vendors, and many other distractions to take focus away from your own cooking at times.  I suppose I should like the fact that almost everyone comes to me for answers about everything from kitchen questions and staffing issues, to customer requests and complaints about fellow employees.  I think my garage can use fixing up for a quiet space. Power tools and a laptop are all I need.  First projects are to work on my book and build a large farmhouse table that seats 12 or more.  The book is for therapy. The table?  Well, I think I may need that pretty soon.

Coming up:  A discussion of the importance of classic dishes in their original form.