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.

It’s in the Book

I’ve started outlining a book, It will be stories and adventures about my life in the restaurant business.  You’ll hear about the good times, the funny stories, the great people I’ve met and become friends with, and all the assholes in between.  I should probably write it snippet-style so people can read it in the bathroom.

I suppose in someone else’s book I’d possibly be one of the assholes in between.  I know I’m tough to get along with.

Unlike on this blog, names will be included, the good guys, and the bad guys.

I just went three weeks without an alcoholic drink of any kind for 3 weeks.  That’s one for the record book.  I’m drinking bourbon now.

There’s a fine line between business and art.  I first heard this from Mario Batali.  It’s true. By the way, many of the baking recipes in his books don’t work.

Regarding Rascals: Clearly a fool and his money are soon parted.  Seriously, how can someone be so careless with 3.2 million dollars?  I’ve seen it more than once.  Rich guy has money, thinks the restaurant business would be fun, gets eaten alive.  This is not a business that supports jumping into big ideas without a long background of experience.

As I remember, Angelo Mazzone owned at least two smaller places before buying The Glen Sanders Mansion.  I don’t see him blowing 3.2 million.

One of the first things I do before I leave work at night is check “the book,” which is actually a computer screen with Open Table on it.  It’s also one of the first things I do when I get in.

Some restaurants, even thought they have Open Table reservation booking service still keep a hand-written book separate from the reservations that were made via the web.  That often leads to over extending the wait staff and the kitchen.

Properly keeping a restaurant’s reservation book organized, accurate, manageable, and communicated to the kitchen is really quite easy as I have noticed over the past few months.  Over the past years I was led to believe it was a very tricky job understood by no one.

Jenn and I are getting ready to close the books on 2016, and can now do so now that all tax related info is in. Sometimes in my tax-paying life I collect more than one w-2 per year.  For last year I actually collected 5. Since I was employed by The Wine Bar into the first week of January, and did 2 temporary consulting jobs, it looks like a lot, but it isn’t quite so many in reality.  I think you can tell a lot about a business and the people running it by the order in which you receive your stack of w-2s. The first one I got was from the Inn at Saratoga, whose ownership has other successful businesses.  That was followed by The Inn at Erlowest and Chez Nous in the past weeks, both run by proven successful businessmen.  I just received the form from The Wine Bar, and am now waiting for one more.  I’m certainly not saying that getting w-2s out in a timely manner is an indicator of how well a business is run, but it gives a small window into management’s abilities, but I think it does.

After Hours

There weren’t many places I liked to drink after work when I was able to walk home.  I’m not a social person, and find drinking alone at times to be perfectly acceptable given the right barkeep. After a busy and stressful dinner service in an over-booked restaurant it’s generally peace and quiet I like. I enjoy a bit of loneliness, and do my best to fend off attempts at conversation from fellow bar patrons.

I miss living in Saratoga and I miss leaving work and stopping at Wheatfields for a drink or two (certainly not for the food). What I liked about going to Wheatfields is that no one from the restaurant business went there, and the last thing I want to do after work is talk shop. Most restaurant people can’t function on any plane but the work plane, and that is intolerable.  Another thing I liked about stopping at Wheatfields was not only were there no restaurant people there, but there were almost no people at the bar by the time I got there.  The last thing I wanted when I got done with work was people around me.

Several years ago I left work early one evening when I was feeling particularly down about something and wanted to stop somewhere different for a drink.  Feeling the need for some new scenery, I chose a spot whose bar I hadn’t been before but owed a visit to since the (partial) owners had been to the Wine Bar several times. I like to frequent businesses that come to my place of employment.  I sat at the bar at this fine dining spot and was offered something to eat by one of the owners and I tried to decline as I wasn’t too hungry but it was sent anyway.  It was the worst chicken liver pâté I’ve ever been obligated to eat.  It was served microwaved. Over microwaved.  Then, something else arrived, unwanted.  Fried calamari with pre-made bottled Thai chili sauce.  It was ok, but I just wasn’t hungry.  I ate what I could, finished my cocktail and asked for the check from the bartender.  The food was on the bill which I paid and left with a fake thank you and difficult smile.  Ownership has changed, there’s a different chef now, and I believe it’s now worth a visit.

A couple of years ago I stopped by a restaurant after work for a drink and to say hello to the owner who I like very much.  While enjoying an incredibly well-crafted cocktail the chef came out of the kitchen to say hello.  I had never met this individual and the first think he said to me was “how many covers you do tonight?”  In my head I said “I don’t know, it’s none of your damn business, but they were all good.”  The reality is that I don’t count covers at the end of the night.  I instead reflect on what was good, what may have been better.  I think about how I performed, how the staff performed, and how we worked as a team. I think about any issues, address them, then move on to the business of the next day.  That starts by checking tomorrow’s book, not reveling in doing more covers than the next guy.  It was kind if a jerky question.  McDonald’s counts how many burgers it sells with little regard for the quality of those burgers, and with little regard how your employees are treated.

One thing I’ve never been a big fan of is hanging around work after hours.  The shift drink is nice, but when allowed it’s best in the form of a cold beer enjoyed in the kitchen during clean up.  Sitting at the bar of your work place has never really appealed to me. What’s worse is hanging out at your work place on your day off. Your social group should not consist only of those people in your current job, if they do, get a better social life. Seriously, that’s not commitment to your job.  If you’re doing it because you get free booze,  you may in fact be stealing with the aid of the on-duty bartender.  Owners, watch those employees that hang around too much as they are probably drinking your profits.

I once worked for a guy that forbid his service staff (almost all female) from sitting at the bar after their shift or on their days off.  He asserted that it’s a space for customers, not employees  I agree with that, but his reasoning was that he didn’t want them sleeping with the customers.  While that may have been his reason, you just don’t say it to them.  He didn’t last.

I sometimes miss my stroll home including a stop for a couple of pints or a solid Manhattan followed by a slice or two of pizza for the walk.  After hours now I just drive home, pour a bourbon, and reflect in a typically quiet house which I really like because Jenny is there with me.

I Couldn’t Think of a Name for This Post

My wife just asked, “Would you like a person like you?”  My reply:  “Of course not, who would?”

I’m fully aware how difficult I can be.

“I’m getting too old for this shit.”

One of my favorite spiritual hymns is We walk among the unbright.  I made that one up.

I was having a discussion recently with someone I admire about how time just keeps rolling along with no regard for anything but itself.  He seemed a bit melancholy about the fact that we cannot just enjoy a specific period of our lives that is satisfying.

I may have mentioned before, Time by Pink Floyd is my favorite song. One line “and then one day ten years have got behind you” sticks in my mind like poorly made demi glace on a cheap steak.

I know of a well-regarded chef in our area that always used powdered demi glace mix from Knorr, as well as a lot of other pre-made sauces, marinades, and convenience items.  Vendors, cooks, and restaurant people in general like to talk about who orders what.

If you need to save time with a pre-made product, find good ones that you couldn’t make better yourself. Find a good, all-butter puff pastry, a well-crafted veal stock reduction, or breads that come from a real bakery instead of a production facility.  It’s ok to use these items if you don’t have the right labor, the adequate equipment, or if time just does not allow for some of the time-consuming tasks that can be done outside your own kitchen.  But don’t be lazy. Make what you should.

I’m watching the National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson.  These kids are young.

I hate to sleep with my feet covered.  I have made it clear to Jennifer that when I die I need to be buried with bare feet.  She just threatened to have me buried with steel-toed boots and a wool scarf.  I hate scarves.

The folks that have not figured out the difference between your and you’re have brilliantly replaced both with ur. What a time-saver, learning is such time-suck anyhow.  Please tackle the their, there, and they’re problem next. America is waiting.

As I think about the remaining opportunities have left in my career, I am faced with the reality that my time as a chef is likely more than half over, and I don’t really think that I’ve used my time well. I have certainly squandered some good situations and have not always made the best use of my time. On the other hand, I have too often been hindered by restaurant owners and managers that either do not understand the business, or have too little desire, passion, or knowledge to be in the business.

Restaurants, please stop doing this. It has nothing to do with bruschetta. This is from a local restaurant:
Bruschetta Chicken – 25
Seared chicken breast, light tomato broth, fresh basil, tomatoes, balsamic drizzle,
Asiago cheese, Parmesan polenta,
Naming the hamburger after the name of your restaurant seems silly.  If I’m eating in your restaurant, I’m pretty confident what I’m ordering is from your restaurant and not from a different restaurant.

Please don’t call duck fat grease.  Crisco is grease.

Slicing something very thinly does not make it carpaccio.

Local can be overrated.

Thomas Keller insists on Maine lobsters at the French Laundry rather than those from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

I’d tell you who the biggest skirt-chaser I’ve ever worked for is, but It’s Confidential. Some of you will know what I’m saying here.

My last post had a lot of typos and grammatical errors. Sorry, I didn’t proof that one due to my desire to post after a long absence, and several fingers of bourbon.

I only watch the Golden Globes for the political commentary. I mean, why not? The information is as reliable as any other news source.

Overdue Snippets and Bits

Where the in Hell’s name have I been and what have I been up to?

Yes, I’m aware that I haven’t written in quite some time.  My life has changed considerably and I’m trying to adjust. With Theresa now living with us, and a new position, something had to be put on the back burner.  Now that things have started to settle down, and the holiday season is over, it’s time to write again. This won’t be my best post, but it gets me back into the swing of things.  More will follow, and I think I’ve got some interesting topics to cover.

Theresa is doing well, the healing and moving forward are a slow.

Speaking of sauerkraut, a new dish on my winter menu at Chez Nous will be braised wild boar belly, smoked duck sausage with apple brandy, pheasant sausage, oak barrel aged sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, and home-made mustard.

I left you at 4.6. and you dropped to 3.8.

So, for those of you that don’t know, I am now the chef at Chez Nous in Schenectady.

Following are some of the things I have now that I did not have before that I have now:  Modern, working equipment.

Here was the scene at work this past Friday, I describe it for those of you who can’t understand why you pay the prices in a restaurant that you do.  In the kitchen was the service man from Action Commercial Appliance Repair, a company I strongly recommend, In and out was the delivery driver from Century Linen, a company I absolutely do not recommend, upstairs was a technician from Time-Warner, In the office was a representative from the POS company, and in the basement was a contractor trying to figure out our return air situation.

It’s been a year since I left The Wine Bar. I miss a few of the people, but not most of the people. The good ones, the ones I liked came to work with me anyhow, since I was clearly the problem.

There’s a real plus to having a chef that’s fully committed.

Some people think I should be committed.

I hold a grudge.  Often longer than necessary.

As a chef, the leader and manager of the kitchen I’ve always been well-respected by the people who work for me.  The way you gain respect in a restaurant is to be smart, to work hard, to make significant contributions to the cause, and to do the things necessary for success.  When, in the restaurant culture you can do those things, you’ll be respected. If you cannot do those things, you will not be respected no matter what your position.

Would you believe some restaurant folks have their friends write glowing reviews for their restaurants. While you’re only fooling yourself, you’re amusing me.

Over-growth is a cornerstone of mediocrity.

Say yes, we can do that to your guests whenever possible, it’s just good hospitality.  Saying no alienates them and sends them to other restaurants.

Gray Kunz is no longer associated with Salt and Char, or any Adelphi project as reported on Table Hopping :  I did do a one day stage at Salt and Char at the end of September before accepting the chef’s position at Chez Nous. What I saw even back then was a pretty good restaurant, but little evidence that Chef Kunz was still present and that he had very much influence on the kitchen and the products being used. While it may still be a decent restaurant, it clearly never got off the ground as the restaurant we were told it would be.

I saw some things, but I won’t say.

While at my first restaurant job, a place called Mike’s Pizza Adobe, my employer told me to never hire family.

One project I’m thinking about starting is an Anthony Bourdain-style book about my experiences in the restaurant business.  There’s an awful lot of stuff I have not told you about an awful lot of people.

When I retire I’ll tell you about the restaurant owner that would sit at his desk in red bikini underwear.  I’ll tell you about the absolute meanest pair of restaurant owners I’ve ever known.

Here’s a good story about the virtues of take-out.  I’ve told it before, I just can’t remember when and where, especially now that I’ve had some bourbon.  Yes, folks, bourbon and blogging reunited and it feels so good. Years ago I owned a place called Theresa’s Italian Grill.  I started without much money, and was in a bit of a financial fix when a wonderful woman, Joanne DeVoe of DeVoe associates, a marketing and PR firm stopped in and asked for some take-out.  Two orders of chicken alla cacciatore.  Long story made short, she called me later that night with a glowing review of the meal and promised to get some reviewers in there. It happened, great reviews, business was saved.  Yes, take-out can be good.

Well, it’s good to be back, I’ll write again soon, and next time with some actual interesting content.

 

Roasted, Sautéed, Broiled, Fried, and Poached

While preparing for the job search I’m thinking about my strengths and weaknesses.  I think one of my biggest assets is that I’m a stickler for proper cooking technique.  If you’re going through the cooking process, then doesn’t it make sense that you do it properly?  I’ve worked with some really good cooks in the past, but I’ve also seen a lot of bad ones over the years.  Yes, I have weaknesses and faults too, but it’s always been tremendously important to me that the food be done to the best of my ability.  Doing something to the best of your ability means learning how to do that thing you’re doing the right way.

While a chef can be a great technician, it does him or her little good without the support of other management or ownership.  That includes the ability to source good product, hire good cooks, and work with a well-trained service staff.  Tom Burke and Paul McCullough at 15 Church are good examples of providing what is necessary for a successful kitchen.

There’s nothing like an extremely hot grill.

I dig properly poached high quality salmon.

Too often a restaurateur must ask themselves “do I want a great restaurant or do I want to make money?” Few can do both.

Is it poaching in olive oil, or is it a variation on confit?

Franco Rua of Cafe Capriccio recently cooked beans in a flask. That’s not only old school, but it’s also cool. He does a lot of old school cooking, therefore, he’s cool.

I’ve seen too many examples of cooks confusing boiling with poaching.

I once worked with a guy that called it ploaching, and I couldn’t tell him otherwise.

Really good roasting of fruits and vegetables requires knowing why you’re roasting them, and what the desired end result should be. Too many cooks think it’s just to cook them.

Fried food in a mini shopping cart or fryer basket is not cool, especially if the fried food is of poor quality. It’s not kitschy either. I was recently served stale, over-seasoned potato chips in a mini fryer basket.  Good thing the beer was good

I’ve been poached.

Sometimes a wannabe should be, sometimes not.

I’m not against new things, but I do find a lot of modern cooking methods and ingredients to be too antiseptic for my liking.  With that said, a lot of these new techniques require a lot of skill and knowledge.

I love a clean and neat kitchen. I was in a kitchen last week that was dirty, and that was before the kitchen staff was in.  If you cannot take pride in your workspace, how can you have pride in your food?

Learn proper technique above all else, if you have a good palate then good food will follow.

Most cooks who “work sauté” do not know how to sauté properly.  They use too much heat, do not get proper color on proteins, and add liquid too soon.  Despite what bad menus say, it is impossible to sauté in white wine or cream sauce. In fact, you cannot sauté in any kind of liquid or sauce.

When someone who knows next to nothing about cooking and food tirelessly argues with you about cooking food.

Putting a bunch of stuff in a blender generally does not result in pesto, so lets stop calling a bunch of stuff whirled in a blender pesto.

Worst braise I’ve ever witnessed:  Barely browned, unseasoned chicken placed in a deep hotel pan with miripoix, and mushrooms, covered with red wine and placed in an oven for an undetermined period of time and called coq au vin.  It was done by someone who thought they had learned everything about professional cooking and I could not teach them otherwise.  Good, satisfying braises are long affairs that result in deeply satisfying flavors.  I now have the urge to make my chicken alla cacciatora.

This is unrelated, but it bares repeating: When you take a picture off the internet from another restaurant and represent it as your work without giving credit, and without making the potential customer aware that it’s someone else’s creative work, that’s deceptive and wrong.

The maillard reaction is important to understand.

Please cook your pasta in a very large pot of rapidly boiling and well salted water.

Blanching requires ice.

I never cook lobsters whole. The claws and tail cook at very different rates.  I also like to keep the bodies seperate for stock so some of the parts can be taken out, like the gills which can add bitterness to the finished product.

 

The Duck Isn’t Flying, So Back To The Kitchen

One of the things I’ve tried to do in this blog is to give an accurate accounting of what it’s like to be a chef, and be in not only the throws of restaurant life, but in life as a whole.  It’s not simply cooking great food and making people happy.  The life can be a grind, it can be frustrating, and it can depend on others to do their jobs well and  I’ve always reported on that with accuracy and honesty, and will continue to do so. Therefore, I present this post in that spirit, because this is the current state of this chef.

As many of you are aware from a previous post I, with support from my family, decided to give private catering and consulting a shot, with the hope that I could make a fair living while providing care and support to the newest member of our household.  While I had a great consulting gig this summer that allowed me to be there for Theresa, and I had some small events, I cannot see too much on the horizon that will allow me to make an adequate financial contribution to our household.

Perhaps our decision was made with too much influence from the strong emotions of the time just following the loss of Theresa’s mother, or just maybe the decision to leave the  professional kitchen was made with the hope that we could do something to ensure that we had control of our own culinary destiny.  Either way, things have not panned out as we had hoped, and will not in the foreseeable future.

I suppose we could give it more time to see if the Fall season and the Holidays bring a change in our business outlook, but do we dare take it so far that we end up a situation that forces us to make major financial decisions? This little culinary services operation at this point is not worth the risk, and it’s something we can revisit far down the road if need be. So, with Theresa now in a full-time day program for the first time and working towards some life goals, it seems like this is the right move for the good of the family as a whole.   With a mortgage to pay, and a family to feed, I have to do what’s necessary and look for a chef’s position and get back into the kitchen.

I am grateful for the ability to spend the last several months with Theresa and getting her settled in her new home. In retrospect I should have just called the move a sabbatical or a leave of absence from restaurant life to focus on family matters so the door to the kitchen was left open, but again, deep emotions and uncertainty can play a huge role in decision-making as I have learned. I did the right thing at the time, and I need to do the right thing now for both myself as a chef, and also for the entire family as a father.

With that said, I am in a state of flux and am looking to take on private functions, but am looking forward to opportunities to find myself running the right kitchen again.

The truth is folks that I miss the action of the restaurant kitchen and the opportunity to create menus suited to my skill set. I miss the action on a Saturday night, and I miss the challenge of making each person who sits down for a meal very happy with their to allow me to cook for them. I do belong in the kitchen, and I belong there more than I’ve been lately.  I’m a happier person when I’m in a professional kitchen, and that is important for the balance we need in family life.  With Theresa finding her place in our family, It’s time for all of us to find similar roles as members of the group.  Were not there yet of course, but with Jenn doing well in her job, Stella starting first grade, and Tate doing his part as the adorable youngest member of the family, it’s a good time for me to return to my proper role as the happy, grumpy, tired, creative, hard-working guy known to the family good old dad that is also a good and dedicated chef.

Snippy Snippets

Sometimes a shallow labor pool can work to your advantage, and even be entertaining.

I’m seeing that some restaurant folks have drifted away from the spirit of the pop-up dinner.  What I’m seeing is events catered by established restaurants being called pop-ups.  The pop-up was established by chefs without restaurants that wanted to showcase their talent in varied locations, often done somewhat illegally with very short notice on the location so they wouldn’t get caught , then a message would be put out on some form of social media or by text to those who reserved spots at the table   The pop-up is now being done by large-scale caterers and restaurants with very accessible  advance notice. There’s nothing cool about that.

This is not cool.  Someone said it’s akin to what McDonald’s does when they show you photo of a perfectly made Big Mac, then you go to the restaurant and the one you get is a mess.  It’s not the same.  What McDonald’s is doing is showing you their own work in its best possible form, then giving you the same work with less effort put into it. When you take a picture off the internet from another restaurant and represent it as your work without giving credit, and making the potential customer aware that it’s someone else’s creative work, that’s deceptive and wrong.

When Jennifer and I operated the Yawning Duck Pasta Co. we decided to hold communal dinners by putting the two 4’x8′ farm tables I had made together to form a large square with sixteen chairs around it.  I called the Saratoga Springs Building Department just to see if there was any permit we needed.  The first thing I was told was to get an architect, which would run us $1500.00.  I thought it was a joke and I told them I thought I could figure out how to place the chairs evenly around the table without professional help.  It was no joke and the now retired building inspector had no sense of humor.  I told him we could not afford that and would not be doing the dinners in our pasta shop.  We must have done at least ten of them.  What’s the statute of limitations on illegal dinners?

I take pictures of my work using my cell phone all the time during dinner service.  Take advantage of the slower parts of the night, either at the beginning or at the end when you’ve got time to snap a pic or two before the plate goes out. This way you are representing your work as it really goes to actual diners.

“Every time I go there its bad.”  Then stop going.  Who has regular customers that complain every time they’re in?

It’s not that you’ve over cooked it, it’s that you served it.

For the first time since 1972 I have little interest in the Olympics.  I remember Mark Spitz winning 7 gold medals, and remember Frank Shorter winning the marathon.  I also remember the theme song on ABC, and Jim McKay.  I also knew that I wanted to be an Olympian, long before I knew I could run.

Steele Johnson is a member of the US Olympic diving team that is.

 

That’s enough tote bags.  One of the cool things to give out at events is an Earth friendly tote bag, one you can bring to the grocery store or farmer’s market so you don’t have to use plastic bags.  Well, we’ve got at least 30 of them at our house, and I’m sure that in 30 years it will become an environmental problem here in the US as we tend to beat a dead horse and over-do things to a fault.

Speaking of dead horses, I’m not sure I’ll get to the track this season.

Cooks that have no interest in food, politicians that have no interest in helping people, doctors that don’t have a few minutes to talk, restauranteurs that think they’re always right, customers that think they’re always right, people who aren’t aware that they’re not the only people at the farmer’s market, people who tailgate on the highway when you’re passing the schmuk in the middle lane going 60mph, even though you’re going 75 mph, the left lane was not made just for you, and when I’m done passing I’ll move over.  People who travel in the left lane, people with little interest in learning to do their jobs better, people who think Fox News is news, people who think MSNBC is news.

No matter what restaurant job I’ve ever had, in both fine dining and pubs alike, I’ve always given my best effort and I’ve always demanded that all those around me give the same effort.  When that effort is not supported throughout the restaurant then it’s very difficult to have a truly great restaurant. The lack of effort across the board is why most restaurants are not great.  Some have great service and just ok food, some have great food and just ok service. This is why in our area Yono’s stands out, they have both.

Welcome to Saratoga Salt and Char.  I have not been yet, but I’m told that quality of the food matches the quality of the service.

This is unscientific, but my observations tell me the most frequent types of vehicles that tailgate are the Audi, BMW, and Lexus.  See a pattern here? I’m not saying all owners of these types of cars are assholes because I have some dear friends that own BMWs and they’re not assholes.  Like I said, this is unscientific so I cannot confirm or rule out the douchiness of the others.  The other vehicle that I tend to have six feet from my bumper at 75 mph is the unnecessarily large pick up truck, like the Ford F-250 with the squirrely little fella driving.  I’m not saying he’s trying to make up for any short comings, but it would explain why you need large off-road tires and roll bars in and around Albany NY.

Also unscientific.  My observations tell me that at least 30% of men do not wash their hands after using a public restroom. I’ll leave you with that.

 

 

Hot for Teacher

Teaching, I mean really teaching someone to cook is a very difficult task.  If they do not have a genuine interest in food and how it should taste there’s no chance they’ll learn.

There are three types of cooks that I’ve trained over the years.  First, and my favorite, is the cook who knows he/she doesn’t know everything and will listen to what you tell them and pay attention to what you show them. They also pay attention when you’re not showing them something.  They learn to understand why you do things a particular way and embrace proper technique.  They also seek information and ideas outside of work and generally end up as chefs.  Second is common, tolerable, and often necessary due to a shallow labor pool.  The cook who pays attention and tries within the work environment to mimic my techniques and present the plates as I would.  They do their job well and have a clear understanding in the professional kitchen.  The third kind of cook has little interest in the food, and is simply there because they started as a dishwasher and moved to the cold station after a while. They’ve been cooking in sub-par in kitchens most of their working days, and see no reason to learn anything new.  They also don’t understand why I’m such an advocate of proper cooking technique, and a clean and organized work environment as the foundation of a quality kitchen.  These guys are a bad seed in the kitchen and will bring the whole group down with their poor attitude and lack of desire to learn.  They are what sports bars were created for.

Some guys have a bigger mise en place than others.

I was going to write something witty here, but I forgot what it was, I should have written it down.

Gray Kunz is in Saratoga. Most people have no idea what that means.

Many years ago I bought a new text-book, The Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky. If you buy cookbooks for recipes, then this is not the book for you.  If you buy it because you are learning to cook then I recommend you get a copy.

“The accomplished chef understands how taste works, what its components are, how it can be layered, how it must be balanced, and so on.” – Gray Kunz

Typically you get what you pay for.

Really? Dominic the Italian is turning French?  No, not a chance.  I have however been leaning far to the French with my cooking thoughts

“Above all, keep it simple.” – Auguste Escoffier

I watched a very good movie a few nights ago, Haute Cuisine. It reminded me once again of having very tight standards as being a very important part of being a great cook.  It will require you to read subtitles, so if you’re not bright, you’ll have to miss it.

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” – Julia Child

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”  Also Julia

One of my early teachers, even before I worked in a professional kitchen was Mario Batali. I used to record his Food Network show Molto Mario and then make the things he made.  I wouldn’t follow his recipes, but I would follow his technique.  He explained how to sauté, how to braise, how to make a proper vinaigrette and so on.  He made me understand that once technique was mastered, the ingredients can be switched in and out to create your own versions of a recipe, or to create your own recipes.

 

I was at Hannaford yesterday waiting to buy some cod loins. The woman ahead of me asked for about 12 ounces of salmon fillet without any of that flappy stuff.  After the fish guy trimmed off the tasty belly and put the fillet on the scale he reported that it was “about three-quarters of a pound.”  She replied “I don’t know what that is.”  I turned to her as If I Only Had a Brain played in my head and said he’s spot on, that’s your 12 ounces.  Her reply was “are you sure?”  “Yes, I’m sure, I wasn’t absent the day they covered basic math.”

While I have picked up a great deal of cooking knowledge from people I’ve worked with, I’m for the most part a self-taught.  The bottom line is that you can learn if you want to.  Also, there’s nothing wrong not wanting to learn to cook. Of course, not wanting to learn ensures that you’ll not have a place in a kitchen I run.

Working on the Chain Gang

I take Theresa to a weekly appointment that takes an hour. There is a Dunkin Donuts and a Starbucks within walking distance and since what Dunkin serves is barely coffee, I go to Starbucks. I do want them to know however that no matter how cool they think they are, it’s still small, medium, and large, and no matter how many times the coffee pourer person lectures me about their sizing, I’m still going to call it a large.
The look on Theresa’s face when I told her knife skills are getting much better and she’s doing a great job helping me in the kitchen was tremendously touching.  Cooking is in her DNA
Donald Trump is a fear monger.
I’ve got sleep apnea.
One of the things I love about using produce from my garden is that when I peel, trim, and cut the vegetables I put the scraps into the compost for next year’s garden.  I like the idea of using this year’s garden to help next year’s garden.  Each year’s garden links to the next.
I was at Hannaford today and Theresa said she would like roast beef for dinner.  They only had bottom round roasts in the case and nothing at the counter.  The meat lady asked me what I was looking for and I said a decent roast like a rib or sirloin.  She said “we have chuck roasts.”  If you’re going to dress like a butcher, please act like a butcher.
Of course the same can be said about people who wear any uniform.  Alex Rodriguez struck out 4 times last night.
While buying beer at Hannaford on my way home from work last night the cashier had to get approval from the supervisor.  He called over and the supervisor motioned  back  that it was ok to ring up the beer.  It seems as I get older that supervisors ok alcohol sales from farther away each time.  There was a time when the supervisor had to walk up to the register to look at my ID, now they can tell I’m old from 30 yards away.
I recently stopped at Hannaford on my way home to buy beer from their decent selection. Upon checking out the cashier asked if I needed a bag and I told her no, that I was just going to drink it on the way home. Oddly, she seemed like that was a pretty normal thing to say, like she hears it often.
I go to Hannaford a lot, and I buy beer a lot.
There’s one cashier at Hannaford that chews gum very aggressively.  When I was a manager at Dick’s Sporting Goods I did not allow floor associates to chew gum.
We took a full milk crate of pickling cucumbers out of the garden today and we’re out of vinegar.  Off to Hannaford, again.
Dick’s is well named, based on my experience there.
I worked for Dick’s when the company was much smaller.  They wanted to start an employee newsletter and there was a contest in place to name the publication.  My suggestion The Dick’s Insider was not only rejected, but I was spoken to by upper management.
I rarely go to Price Chopper, this, and practices like it are the reason why. They’re snakes.  Guess who’s going to pay the fines?  If you guessed the customer then you’re right.
Does anyone actually think the gas gimmick at Price Chopper is real?
Lobsters are on sale this week at Price Chopper, $5.99 lb
I  was washing some onions from the garden a couple of days ago and was really enamored with the rich soil smell.
I wonder what Senator Joe McCarthy would think of Donald Trump’s association with Vladimir Putin.