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.

When a Plan Comes Together

As of late, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Inn at Saratoga.  I’ve been there a great deal the last week because as one line cook was on vacation, the Inn and another cook had to part ways, leaving the kitchen pretty short-handed.  So, I went from consulting chef to line cook for the week.  My feet hurt.  Much of my time has been spent doing prep work, and other tasks that are not really part of my original focus.  It’s a good thing I can cover a lot of ground when I need to.  One great by-product is that I’ve been able to spend a lot of extra time with the rest of the staff that will be with the Inn moving forward.  Mike, Alan, Dan, Jennifer, and Keyonna are going to make a very good team and I’ll be happy to be in their corner long after my time is up there.

I’m pleased to have helped facilitate the addition of my friend Alan to the Inn. He will be bringing almost three-years of experience at the Wine Bar, two and a half of that under my direction.  He will be a great asset as he knows my food style and my standards well.  Alan is as steady as they come, and it is my opinion that this new setting will allow him to develop his own style and ideas. His potential has not yet been realized.

Whenever I read about a restaurant closing on local blogs I’m always amused by the commenters that want to know about their $50 gift certificate. Someone has just lots their business and quite possibly their life savings, employees have lost their jobs, and vendors may not be getting paid for the products they have provided.  But you, Mrs. Whataboutme, need to know how you’re going to be compensated for the gift you got from someone who couldn’t think of what to get you for Christmas.  Since restaurants go out of business all the time

As of late I’ve unfriended some folks on Facebook because of their politics.  No, I’m not intolerant, and I am very open to opposing ideas.  However, when your political and social views show clearly that you’re an uncaring, unreasonable person then I don’t need you in my life.  I respect your right to be on any point on the political spectrum you see fit as long as you care about all the other folks on the spectrum.

Ok, I am intolerant. Of the intolerant that is.

Fox news is for affirmation, not information.

Speaking of Facebook, Steve Barnes just posted that today marks 20 years at the Times Union.  He tells us that Table Hopping has received 185,000 comments.  This blog has received 265.

I’m hoping to start teaching some classes at Different Drummer’s Kitchen in the Fall.

I hope Salt and Char does well.

Bar stools are a very important part of a watering hole’s decor.

Sometimes employers don’t appreciate what an asset some employees are.  Getting to know them helps.  Observing them is not the same as getting to know them.

Our house has been like an insane asylum lately. The problem with that is that I’m not sure if I’m a doctor, an orderly, or a patient.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is my favorite movie.

I’m really hoping this Yawning Duck thing works, it’s good for our family life.

Must. Finish. Website.

 

Question: What are the Capital Region’s Iconic Restaurant Dishes?

I’m going to try something new that should actually be old.  As those of you that follow chefsday know, I sometimes go a month without writing which goes against my original intention for starting in the first place.  As I continued this blog I started to put an unnecessary minimum of 500 on my word count.  That limited me and I began to discount ideas for posts because they could not be expressed quickly and briefly. In my first month which started mid October 2014 I posted 7 times.  I’d like to post more often so I can practice writing, and because I’ve got ideas and thoughts that I’d like to share.

One of those ideas that came to me while I was watching a video posted on Table Hopping of Franco Rua of Cafe Capriccio make eggplant with four cheeses.  It so happens that was the first thing Jim Rua taught me at Capriccio when I started there as a sous chef in 1999.  It had already been on the menu since 1982 when the restaurant opened, so that makes it 34 years now.  I’m guessing it has stood the test of time.

The last video I saw on Table Hoping was of Ric Orlando making his well-known purple haze shrimp, another dish that has held up over the years like Madonna.  His blackened  string beans too have been featured on TH.

Two other dishes came to mind as I thought about what other Capital Area preparations have a long history.  Jim Rua’s greens and beans Passanante, and his calamari neri.  So, aside from the five dished mentioned here, which are probably in the top ten of the area’s iconic dishes, what are some of the items that are long running and as great today as they were long ago?  Leave a comment and I will post the unofficial results in a week or so.

Only 324 words, I’m worthless.  Talk to you folks tomorrow, if not sooner.

Snippets and a Sysco Matter

I think the difference between a drunk and someone who likes to drink is that the person who likes to drink knows why they may not feel well, the drunk has no clue.

My favorite dogs are the Beagle and the Border Collie. My least favorite dogs are the West Highland White Terrier and any dog in a purse or stroller. Keep in mind, it’s not the dog’s fault.

Social media is a great place for folks to display their ignorance if they so choose.

It’s also a great place for the misinformed to share their information with other misinformed individuals.

Pro tip: If the chef is drinking Gatorade diluted with water, then make sure you choose another color of Gatorade to mix with your vodka while at work. That way the chef doesn’t pick up the wrong bottle.

The president of Sysco-Albany came to visit me a few days ago because one of the restaurants I’m doing some consulting work for has ended a 20 year relationship with them.  The kitchen manager had expressed a dissatisfaction with the level of service and asked me what a good alternative would be.  I’ve always been a fan of sales rep, Mark McNary, who now works for Performance Food Group so I gave him a call, he set up the account in a day, and the restaurant saw its first delivery the next afternoon.

The president of Sysco asked me why I don’t like Sysco.  I said, “Because the president of Sysco doesn’t know enough not to drop in unannounced to see the chef during dinner service.”

I have been invited by the president of Sysco to visit their facility in Halfmoon to see their operation, their quality, fresh produce, seafood, and meat programs.  I’ll take him up on the offer, and I have no doubt I’ll see some great things because they actually have a lot of great products and terrific resources.

The issue is that while Sysco tells me they’re trying to be more product driven, what they don’t seem to realize is that chefs that use great products are generally better chefs that are busy producing and have very little time to deal with minimal service. Chefs who use prepared ingredients don’t need the same level of service and have more time to hold a clipboard and do their own legwork.

I’m working with a guy now who considers himself a kitchen manager.  When I get done with him we’ll call him chef.

My wife says I should work for Sysco because they could use a guy like me.  I’m not sure I’d fit in, I can be kind of a jerk.

Jerks often get results.

I’ll be doing another Friday Night Cookout  at The Cheese Traveler on the 29th of July.  Argentina will be my muse, and you can expect some handmade sausages made with meats from local farms including Tilldale Farm in Hoosic. Having done a couple of them now I feel like I’m comfortable with the venue and you can expect this one to be especially good.

I like to see chefs write seasonal menus, take advantage of what’s fresh, make an effort, cultivate learning in their staff, work clean, take chances, know their venue and clientele,  focus on their kitchen, show interest in the entire restaurant, know their strengths, know their weaknesses, eat a Big Mac on occasion, and drink after hours. I like a lot of other qualities too.

One of the restaurants I’m working with in a consulting role is The Side Room located in The Inn at Saratoga.  I have spent a great deal of time there over the six weeks and can tell you it’s a great place to be.  Well, a very nice position has opened up in the kitchen and if you’re a dedicated line cook with a love of food and would to take on a leadership role, or you know someone looking to take the next step in their culinary career, then let me know in the comment section.

Shameless plug: The Yawning Duck

Some of the people and places that have shaped the current food culture in the Capital Region.  I’m thinking Stewart’s, The Purnomo family, Sysco, Adventure in Food Trading Co., McDonald’s, Steve Barnes, Ric Orlando, Jim Rua, Angelo Mazzone, Italian restaurants, Daniel Berman,  Jaime Ortiz, Vic Christopher and Heather LaVine, Wal-Mart, Gordon Ramsey, The Food Network.  Who am I missing?

A New Menu for The Inn at Saratoga, Cookouts, and Dinner Parties

Since my last post I’ve been very busy with a wide variety of projects including some consulting work for The Inn at Saratoga, some Friday night cookouts for The Cheese Traveler in Delmar, and some private in-house dinner parties. Most importantly I have been helping Theresa settle into her new home here in Schuylerville.

Don’t believe everything you read.

People want restaurants to do grass-fed, locally raised meats, and local produce. They just don’t want to pay what it costs.

I love pie.

Yes, I’m still a chef.  Here

Somewhat coincidently, several days before I started my work for them, the Inn  at Saratoga was reviewed by the Times Union and the printed review will appear in the July 3rd edition, several days after I helped launch the new menu which is very different from what they were doing before.  I have read the review and have no argument with it in regards to the meal except for the implication that I had any input into the menu and the dining experience had by the reviewer. I didn’t, the timeline in the review is not accurate.  The Inn management team recently expressed a strong desire to upgrade their dining following the renovation of The Side Room and decided to hire me on a short-term basis to develop a menu and recipes, train the staff in correct  technique and kitchen procedure, implement some cost and pricing controls, and organize the daily functions of the kitchen.

Starters, Small plates, Sharables

Cheese and Charcuterie – single item or a choice of three items from a daily selection.  $8 each or $22 for three.  served with baguette, fig compote, and fresh fruit.

Grilled Vegetables –  served with lemon vinaigrette and yogurt.  $6 each, $16 for all three artichokes, eggplant, or asparagus

Mediterranean Dips – house made hummus, tzatziki, or baba baba ganoush   $7 each, $18 for all three.  served with warm pita

Spiced Almonds – roasted with fennel and rosemary   $6

Chicken Wings – whole grilled, north african tamarind  bbq sauce. hot, medium or mild   $14

Crab Cakes – avocado crema, fresh tomatoes and corn relish $14

Boquerones – marinated fresh anchovies, cherry tomato and garlic confit, grilled baguette   $13

Grilled flatbread – roasted tri-color tomatoes, housemade mozzarella, fresh basil, and arugula   $12

Duck Fat Truffle Fries – finished with parmesan, garlic mayo   $7

Salads

Farmer’s Market Salad –  local greens, fresh vegetables, olive oil, sea salt   $9/14  

Caesar Salad – classic homemade dressing, garlic croutons, marinated anchovies   $7/12   add grilled chicken  $7  

Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Salad – feta, basil, mint, arugula   $12

Seared Tuna – cucumber, heirloom tomatoes, red onion, olives, basil, olive oil, Bordeaux vinegar, arugula   $1

Sandwiches

Hamburger – house made american cheese, slab bacon, bourbon onions, apple cider catsup   $16

Grilled Chicken – slab bacon, avocado mayonnaise, heirloom tomato, local greens   $14

Vegetarian Patty Melt –  hand-made veggie burger, caramelized onions, swiss cheese, rye   $13

Grilled Cheese

black Forest ham, dijon, gruyere, fried egg on top   $14

duck confit, brie, sour cherry jam   $14

lobster, brie, gruyere, scallions   $17

heirloom tomato, homemade american, arugula   $12

all sandwiches are served with either duck fat fries or a side garden salad

Entrees

Roasted Halibut – summer squash, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, corn, basil-lemon broth   $16/30

Grilled Lamb Chops – baby potatoes, fava beans, rainbow carrots, pearl onions, swiss chard, lamb jus   $17/32

Prime New York Strip – roasted potato medley, succotash, chimichurri butter   $19/37

Hannah’s Beef Brisket –  crushed potatoes, glazed summer vegetables  $15/27

Free-Range Half Chicken – with rosemary and garlic, pan jus, potato pancakes, sautéed greens   $25

Wild Boar Bolognese – with house made tagliatelle   $12/23

Sweet Corn and Lobster Risotto – with asparagus  $18/34

I’ve done a couple of Friday Night Cookouts at The Cheese Traveler, and plan to do more. They’re fun, and the food is always great. Don’t let the summer go by without attending one whether it’s me cooking or anyone else.

The Yawning Duck has also been busy with dinner parties.  You too can have us do a customized dinner party in your home.  Yes, this is a shameless plug.  But, if you like Mediterranean cooking, and want to be a guest at your own party, then you’ll call me.

We do food for cocktail parties too.

Theresa is doing as well as can be expected.  I’ve said it before, she much stronger than she appears.

The kids like having her here.  Stella loves to play UNO with her, and Stella generally wins.

I do miss the dinner rush, I don’t miss the late nights and the foot pain.

Donald Trump is an asshole. Think before you vote.

The Red Sox are losing 20 to 2 right now.  Their pitching is not so good.

 

 

 

 

 

Loss and a New Life

I know it has been a long time since I’ve written, but the inspiration just hasn’t been there. I now have a story to tell. Steve Barnes so thoughtfully told me, “It’s your story to tell,” and he said he wouldn’t post on his blog, Table Hopping, the news or the reason that I have left The Merry Monk, a position I started just a short time ago. Instead, he said he would post a link to this blog so I could tell the story.  I’m not sure he knows how thankful I am, and I appreciate him letting me tell you. Again, thank you, Steve.

Those of you who are close to me are aware that I have a daughter Theresa from my first marriage.  She is about to turn 23 in June.  Theresa has Cerebral Palsy and needs assistance with many daily activities that most of us take for granted.  When my first wife Lynne and I split up about 12 years ago, Theresa remained with her in Niskayuna and has blossomed into a wonderful young woman under her mother’s guidance.  Lynne has driven her to hundreds of appointments, classes, and activities over the years, cooked her countless meals, helped her with simple tasks that get her through each day, and has sacrificed many of her own needs and wants in order to give Theresa what she has needed.

About four years ago, Lynne was diagnosed with cancer, and from the day she learned her fate, she fought the good fight.  She continued to do her best for as long as she could. Her parents, who are two of the finest people I have ever known pitched in endless hours to help with Theresa.  Lynne’s husband, a very special and caring individual, put forth an effort that was not required.

Saturday, May 21st, Lynne lost her battle with cancer, her wonderful husband lost a great wife, her parents lost their second child, I lost a dear friend, and Theresa lost her mother.

As a working chef, I have always worked a full load and a half in the kitchen, often departing home early in the day and returning late at night.  It’s what’s required to do the job and anything less would not be acceptable.  The issues associated with that life are many and sometimes difficult to overcome.  The life I have always chosen was my own, but the fact is, it wasn’t always just mine to choose.  That fact was always true, but is no more true than it is now.

So, Theresa begins a new life, a life with me, Jennifer, Tate, and Stella in her new home in Schuylerville.  Life will change for all of us.  Theresa will adjust to a new routine, I will adjust to a life away from the restaurant kitchen, the children will adjust to having Theresa here and occupying what was once their play room, and Jennifer will take on the responsibility of being the woman in Theresa’s life that will be there for her instead of her mother. She knows that she will never replace her mother, a task no one could or should do.  Such a great responsibility, which she is willing to do without question or complaint.  We will all do our best and will make mistakes along the way. We will face challenges, we will fight with one another, and we will fight for each other, we will cry, and we will make it work. We will all make it work because we all love each other, and we have no choice but to make it work.

So yes, I have left The Merry Monk. I have left the daily grind of the restaurant kitchen in order to take on the challenge of continuing the efforts of some great individuals. Yes, Theresa will still have most of those people in her life, but she will begin a new adventure and with that will come some new relationships, new victories, and new challenges.  One of the challenges we face is getting Theresa to a level where she has greater independence.

As some of you know, Jennifer and I have been doing some small-scale catering under The Yawning Duck name.   Some of you will even remember The Yawing Duck Pasta Shop.  At age 13 Theresa would spend many Sunday afternoons at the pasta shop helping to make pasta dough, running the cash register, and testing the meatballs. So, for me, Jennifer, and Theresa it makes perfect sense to build on that experience and continue to develop The Yawning Duck.  Aside from the dinner parties and personal in-home cooking classes we’ve been doing, I will be doing some consulting, as well.  It gives me a way to earn a living, and it creates an environment for Theresa to gain some relevant life skills that she will be able to use to achieve her goals.  Most of all, it will allow me to give Theresa the time she needs and deserves.

Young Cooks, Listen Up

Become a great cook before thinking about becoming a chef.

I often hear the argument that 18-20 year-olds should be able to drink legally because they have the right to vote. Well, less than ten percent of 18-20 year-olds actually vote.  You want the rights, but not the responsibilities that go along with those rights.

Is it too much to ask for decent home fries in a diner or café?

We recently had dinner out in what I was told was a restaurant with a good young chef.  My three-year-old ordered kid’s Mac and cheese. Imagine my response when the server arrived and attempted to place one of those searing hot cast iron pans that are so trendy in front of the child while warning him that it’s hot. The entire meal was very disappointing, due to no attention to detail whatsoever.  Young cooks, the success comes when you pay attention to the little things.

My wife doesn’t like my writing cadence.

Please spend a lot less time and energy on your garnishes and a lot more time on your food and staff.

I really love hamburgers.

Know what you can do well.

I really hate to see people taken advantage of by people who think they have them in a situation that you have no options.  You don’t have to work for someone who will pat you on the back in order to distract you from the foot on your throat.

If you’re not working under a chef that can teach you on a daily basis, move on. The world is full of teachers. Keep in mind, initiative is your first step.

Go ask Ric Orlando for a job, do whatever he asks.

Are culinary schools teaching prospective chefs how to write menus? Are they teaching how to write a menu appropriate for the restaurant, and the kitchen they’re writing it for?

Choose limited excellence over unlimited mediocrity.

Think about the reason you want to work for a particular chef. Is it because he or she is a good influence on your career, or is it because they created and maintained the atmosphere of a fun house?

People who say the book is better than the movie have too much time on their hands.

I’m done with Chinese take out, I cannot trust where they source their products, and I find myself completely unsatisfied when I’m finished eating it. No

I’ve been witnessing the effects of improper training.

Sauté is a finesse skill, not a turn the fire up as high as it goes kind of operation.

Write a menu that fits the venue.

I put foam in the drafty crevices of my home this fall, I didn’t put any on my food. That worked out well.

Work clean.

Learn the basic cooking skills, and learn them properly.

Keep yourself organized.

Accept new ideas.

Take good care of your equipment.

Taste often.

Do not under any circumstances put cream in your risotto. Learn proper technique in order to get it to be creamy.

Watch YouTube videos of great chefs like Thomas Keller, Daniel Humm, and Heston Blumenthal. consume yourself with them, their lessons will stick and you will be a better cook.

Be ready for service.

Don’t be afraid to aggressively season.

Belgian Beer, European Food, and a New Adventure

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For the better part of the last five years, I’ve developed dinner menus with the thought of matching the cuisine to a basic selection of wine.  Well, that’s about to change as I will be taking over the kitchen of The Merry Monk in Saratoga as of Thursday March 24th. I couldn’t be more excited since I find food and beer pairings far more interesting than food and wine pairings. Overall, I find beer more interesting than wine.

Don’t get me wrong, I love wine. But the beer category has more varieties, styles, and flavors than wine could ever hope to have. While wine is produced well in a limited number of places, beer is produced everywhere, showing it’s versatility, its style, and its tendency to be loved the world over.

While beer is brewed all over the world, it is Belgium that is known as one of those special places for producing great beers, and having a long tradition of excellent brewing.  I will not get into the history or the unique quality of Belgian beer against the often dull and pretentious nature of wine.  That is an argument for another day as my focus is not on the merits of beer over wine, but the task of making The Merry Monk a great dining destination among the several good choices in Saratoga.

Recently, I was chosen to run the kitchen of a fine dining restaurant in Saratoga. I accepted the position with the hope that I’d be happy with an established system that has a deep-rooted customer base.  I welcomed the opportunity to be part of a well-run organization with a long history of success.  I had a delay in starting due to another hernia surgery which gave me time to lay on the couch and really think about what I wanted as my career heads into its later years. I had been unsatisfied for a while and was looking for something different.  Parting ways with The Wine Bar didn’t bother me a bit, the relationship had run its course and it was time to move on for both parties. While I found an opportunity at The Inn at Erlowest that, through nobody’s fault, did not work out,  I’m actually kind if glad it didn’t  https://chefsday.wordpress.com/2016/02/07/no-room-at-the-inn/ .

So, as I deeply contemplated the ramifications of continuing to work in a fine dining setting, I got an offer to run the kitchen at The Merry Monk.  At first I turned it down because I had already made a commitment, and I had convinced myself that it was a good move, but as the time drew near for me to return to the kitchen I became very apprehensive, and realized what I really want.  I want to have some fun, and I haven’t had fun in a while.  So, I had to go back on my decision once I learned that the position at Merry Monk was still available to me.  I felt horrible, but what I figured was that it’s better to do it now than six months into a job that I didn’t want.  I’ve taken too many jobs over the years that were not right for me and they have never ended well.  What’s done is done, and I look forward to my new challenge.

Both the kitchen and the menu will be overhauled the first week of April, and a new sous chef and a couple of new cooks will be brought in.  My new sous chef is Dan Chessare, who was my sous chef for a couple of years at The Wine Bar. We had a great working relationship and he’s a real professional. I’m pretty excited to be working with him again.  I have interviews with a few cooks, some that I’ve worked with in the past.  There are some spots open, so of you’re looking to join a professional team that will be delivering some great Belgian/European inspired food without the pretense of fine dining, let me know by sending a note and resume to dominiccolose@gmail.com .  The best way I can describe the cuisine is gastropub-bistro, if that makes any sense.

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A basic outline for the menu is done, but not complete as there are many details to work out. Here are some of the ideas, keeping in mind that not everything is certain.  Naturally mussels and hand-cut fries will be important and have their own menu section.  There will be a selection of fun bar snacks, including fried smelts with a not yet determined dipping sauce,  roasted nuts, flageolet humus with house made flat bread, smoked duck chicarones, and a variety of cheese and charcuterie.  A vegetable section that will feature my 5-lily soup, and various Springtime salads and warm vegetable preparations like chicon au gratin.    A small plate section will include fried oysters, steak tartare, whole chicken wings, Parisian gnocchi with black pepper sabayon and Spring vegetables, and roasted bone marrow.  A street food/sandwich selection will have a great burger, a grilled duck confit reuben, a grilled Gruyère, Black Forest ham, and Dijon sandwich, various sausage sandwiches, lamb doner kebab,  fish and chips, and a trio of flammkuchen,  small German-Alsatian “pizzas” popular in Belgium.  Large Plates will feature Carbonnade, Seafood waterzooi, bistro style roast chicken. choucroute garni, oven roasted whole trout,  and of course, my steak frites that features a prime NY strip, duck fat fries, and bone marrow aioli.  I’m also considering offering the same dish with a smaller hangar steak.  Desserts will likely include Belgian chocolate cake or truffles, an apple tart, Dutch doughnuts, and of course a Belgian waffle.

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As I move into this role, I look forward to the future.  I’m not sure how much longer I’ll spend in a professional kitchen, and if I will ever get back to fine dining.  One thing is for sure, I’m going to make it a priority to have fun, and really enjoy what I’m doing.  I am inspired by places like The Ruck and Peck’s Arcade in Troy.  It looks like they’re having a really good time.  I’m going to enjoy the casual nature of what we’re doing, without trying to make every aspect of the dining experience perfect.  I think my food will be better for it.