“And I Quote”

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of Marco Pierre White stuff on YouTube.  I’ve watched him before, but lately I’ve been really paying close attention to what he’s saying while he goes about his business. As I listen more and more I realize that he constantly says stuff that should be written down, so writing stuff down I’ve been doing.

Then, I thought It might be fun to feature a few of his quotes and perhaps a couple from other chefs and how they relate to my experiences in and observations of the restaurant business in general.  It could be fun, so here goes.

 “There’s only so much squirrel a man can eat before he’s called a liar.”  I find this akin to theme of The Emperor’s New Clothes. When people with apparent great taste are saying a place is great, then you don’t want to embarrass yourself by saying you don’t get it.  I guess it’s better to see the clothes rather than have your own opinion.

“You’re being judged by people with less knowledge than yourself.”  Having your work critiqued is essential, not matter what your work is.  The problem today is that anyone with internet access can be a published food critic.  The Capital District must have at least 25 active dining blogs, some of which are good.  Add Yelp and friends, and social media and we find ourselves knee-deep in reviews and critiques not worth the paper they’re printed on.  Now, I’m not talking about the casual post on Facebook when someone has a few words to say about a place they just visited, I’m talking about the people who really think they have some great knowledge of food and dining and are the ones who berate a restaurant because the don’t have gluten-free pasta, or fresh tomato for their burger in January.  Anyone can start a blog and spew nonsense, Hell, your reading proof of that right now.

“I like a proper chip.”  No story, I just like that one.

“I’m much happier feeding people who come in once a week rather than feeding a room full of strangers because of your price point.”  It’s as if I said it myself.  I love knowing the people I cook for.

“I’ve fed the public for a very long time, and I know what they are.”  When I talk about you people, I’m doing it from 16 years worth of kitchen experience and 10 years worth of retail experience. Don’t be offended, I’m just reporting the facts both good and bad.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love you.

“What better way to celebrate an animal’s life than by eating it.” That’s for the vegetabletarians.

Chefs, as a whole, say yes to any project, fundraiser, or tasting because they have such a generous spirit (Charlie Trotter).”  Go to all the charity events in the area, you’ll see Yono at most of them.

“When someone says they hate scones, it generally means they’ve never had a good scone (Unknown).”  I always tell people that there’s nothing I don’t like, as long as it’s prepared properly.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me “oh, I don’t like…….” Then I make it for them and they like it. I made puttanesca for a dinner party once and a good friend who had never liked the dish prior really enjoyed it. He now orders it anytime I make it at the restaurant.  I’ll get him on sweetbreads next.

“The way you make an omelet reveals your character (Anthony Bourdain).”  Making a proper omelet is a skill, and a process far beyond scrambled eggs.  Everyone’s looking for an easy way out, with goofy folding pans or waffle iron-like appliances that make omelet-like things.  A proper omelet, like a proper chip, is easy once you learn the right technique. If a cook has no desire to learn to make something the right way, I cannot believe that any other part of their life is any different.  Also, like a pizza, an omelet shouldn’t be overloaded.  The dry and overstuffed typical diner omelet has lost its way, and is so telling of the American palate for food and life.  Have some character, learn to do something right, and don’t be a glutton.

I’ll leave you with a few more Marco Pierre White quotes without comment, just because I think they’re brilliant and they say something about me.

“Every chef thinks he’s Picasso, but this is not true, you can only sell a plate of food for so much.”

“If you caught a fish every time you went, you’d get bored.”

“True success is self discovery.”

“Don’t push me, I don’t think you know what I am, I control myself very well.”

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A Plate of New Snippets

Alfredo is not a sauce.

As of late, chefs have been putting their food on/in anything but a plate.

A local blogger kept suggesting to me how I should write, and what I should put on my blog. This individual who apparently wasn’t happy with my subject matter and style recently, got a little testy on Facebook, then unfriended me. It’s my blog and I started it for my own reasons, and those reasons do not include creating a blog for you personally.

People used to come into our (mine and Jenn’s) pasta shop, The Yawning Duck Pasta Co. where we made fresh pasta and sauces for retail sale and tell us all the things we should do.  Things like “you should open for lunch.” “we’re not a restaurant,” we would tell them, “we are not permitted.”  Most suggestions were not what people thought would help our business, they were generally more based in self-needs and wants.

Cheese on a board is common, and acceptable, even a slate is ok but please don’t write the name of the cheese on it with chalk. It was cool for about 20 minutes and it’s dirty. I remember the cheeses I ordered.  If you cannot identify the cheeses you’ve been served then a good server should be able to tell you.

Try new things.

I recently had a burger and homemade chips.  The chips served in a mini fryer basket were stale.  Instead of the cool basket why not just serve fresh chips on my plate? The burger was good, the company was excellent.

Has anyone had Franco Rua’s cured meats at either Café Capriccio or Capriccio Saratoga?  The man is an artist.

I like my dinner on a plate, almost always.

I went to work for a little while this week, did some sit-down kind of work.  I’m still in a boot and on crutches.

Is pork belly being over-done?

I recently had dinner in a very nice restaurant and was served a steak on a wooden plank with a crack in it.  The steak was very good.  The problem was that the juices from the meat ran under the board and created a puddle on the table which was not only a mess, but caused the plank to slip and slide on the table as I cut the steak.  Also, the sauce was served on the side in a cream pitcher. How do you sauce on a flat board neatly?

I read a claim the other day that corned beef on anything but rye bread is wrong.  I’ll have to disagree.

I really need to bring my media crap together.  I have this blog, a personal Facebook page, a Facebook page (which I haven’t touched in far too long) for my catering business, The Yawning Duck,  and an unfinished website for my catering business. None of this stuff is connected.  I’m going to try to change that this weekend.

This young blog has surpassed 10,000 views earlier this week.

If you enjoy this blog, feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook.

I’ve been thinking about trying twitter again, but I think I just don’t understand it.  What’s the advantage over Facebook?

I have been asked to make someone a porchetta for their Easter dinner.  While I don’t celebrate Easter, I might as well make two and eat one with my family.

Jenn and I catered our own wedding three years ago.

What Bugs the Kitchen?

Restaurant owners and employees have to deal with a lot of different personalities, behaviors, and service issues as part of the business.  That’s the bottom line, it’s part of the business.  It’s not likely that a restaurant can post a list of rules like those on the wall as you exit the bathhouse on your way to the pool. Bad, annoying and sometimes rude behavior is something that often needs to be tolerated at some level since a large enough portion of the dining public falls into one of those descriptions, and to keep that segement of the population out of your business would be financially devastating. As long as the bad behavior doesn’t become disruptive to the normal course of business, we as restaurant people accept the fact that there are those individuals who either do not know how to act in a restaurant, or they have little regard for others.  With that said, I have found that most people are a pleasure to serve, and make what we do very rewarding.

What if however the business wasn’t so beholden to a thin profit margin?  What if we could post a list of rules that had to be adheared to in order to make our work even more pleasurable, and eliminate behavior that takes away from the dining experience of the courteous patrons in a particular venue?

Certainly these pool rules sighs would vary depending on the type of restaurant. A fine dining, white-linen spot and a sports bar would have differing rules concerning shouting. What about those things that should apply at any establishment? There should be a list of rules that apply to all restaurant patrons, in all restaurants.  Here are some from a kitchen perspective that should be on the list. In a later post I’ll cover necessary rules from a servers point of view, then I’ll cover things that restaurants do that annoy customers.

1. Don’t write your own menu.  Pubs, sports bars, diners, and chains and generally have large menus with enough selections that you should be able to find something you like.  Fine restaurants have chefs who (should) put a lot of work into the menu, with careful thought to going into composing plates that work well.  Don’t start asking the kitchen to come up with new dishes at 8:00 on Saturday night.  They are busy and in a flow.

2. Actually read the menu and understand what you’re ordering.  Don’t just see steak and order it mediun rare and have no other knowledge about what is going to come on your plate. When it arrives with Gorgonzola butter, and you then inform the server you have a dairy allergy, the kitchen will have to make you a new steak.  Aside from wasting a steak and creating unnecessary work for the kitchen you’ve spoiled now the dining experience for the rest of your party since they have their food and you do not, all simply because you failed to read the menu.  Of course, the dishwasher will be eating well.

3. Don’t lie about an allergy.  If you just don’t like garlic, or a lot of it, then that’s what you need to tell your server and trust the restaurant to do the right thing.  If you don’t trust the restaurant, then you should find a new place.  What happens when you say allergy is that the kitchen will use a bunch of new utensils, equipment, and preparations, something that may slow the flow of service. This has to be done since real allergies can be dangerous and should be taken seriously.  The problem is that when patrons are constantly crying wolf, a less than conscientious kitchen may start to doubt what you are saying and let their guard down a bit.  If all night people have been claiming false allergies and someone then reports a dairy allergy, a lazy kitchen may think eh, it’s just a little lactose thing, there’s only a touch of butter, it won’t kill them.  Well, if our little Stella has even a tiny bit of butter we’re either taking her to the ER or using an EpiPen.

4. Don’t go out of your way to tell the staff that you’re a food blogger, have a large twitter following, or will be writing a Yelp review.    We don’t care.  A quality kitchen does its best no matter who’s sitting at the table.

5. Don’t bring in food and ask the kitchen to cook it. You are having dinner in a restaurant, not taping an episode of Chopped.  Yes, it happens. Someone once brought in a can of Spam and asked the server if the chef would use it to make appetizers for their party of four.  The Spam never made it to the kitchen. I think they were from New Jersey.  As well, you may be proud of the 8-point buck you dropped last fall, but don’t ask if I can cook the uninspected meat in my kitchen.  You shoot it or hook it,  you cook it.

6. Show up on time. Especially if you’re a large party.  Since a smart front of the house staff will not book too many resrevations at one particular time, your party of 10 will dictate when many of the other reservations are booked close to your requested time. If you show up 30 minutes late, linger at the bar for a drink, then sit for dinner you may wonder why service is a bit slow or the food is taking a bit longer than you’d like. It’s because you altered the restaurant’s schedule and now the staff is spread a bit thin.

7. Don’t pretend to be a vegetarian. I recently had someone request a special meatless meal during a busy dinner service even though there were meatless options.  I made the special meal and then was told by a server that the same woman was sharing the sausage and rapini pizza her dining companion.  If you’re one of the 3% of the population that has made a choice not to eat meat, that’s fine. If you are pretending, please don’t.

Well, those are some of the things that bug us. Like I said, it’s a real pleasure to serve almost all of you, and you make what we do very well worth it.  To those of you that do these things and many other annoying things, try to work on being a good patron.

Snippets of Current Events, Trends, and Observations

Why are the same restaurants hiring all the time? Yes, I read Craigslist all the time as entertainment.

A fool and his money are soon parted.

I haven’t been bowling in years.

There’s a sucker born every minute.

We have a chain restaurant coming to Broadway in the middle of downtown Saratoga.

The merger between Sysco and US Foods is out, at least for now. I really couldn’t care less either way. I don’t use either one, and likely never will. As for the rest of you, you are on your own.

Kale is out, cauliflower is in apparently. I’ve been using both for years.

Tipped employees will go from $5.00 per hour to $7.50 per hour next year. When a dishwasher making $9.00 per hour asks me why he can’t have a raise I’ll have to explain to him that we need to pay the tipped employees more. The political geniuses that came up with that can feel good about themselves, and that’s what’s important. I suppose what they’re thinking might be, “We would actually prefer to appear as if we were helping people rather than actually helping people.”

My new policy for 2016: Tip less and buy a round of premium beers for the kitchen.  That doesn’t include diners and the like.

ESPN reports in a headline that Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees hit a home run off an 88 mph fastball in a Spring training game.  Luke Montz, a minor leaguer in the Red Sox organization also hit one, but that wasn’t mentioned.

Good luck in your new gig, AJ.

An 88 mph fastball is batting practice speed.

Sonic is coming to the Capital Region. Do they have anything new and special to offer the area? People seem excited about this. I’ve never been to a Sonic, and chances are will never go.

The National Restaurant Association reports that the demand for gluten-free options is on the decline. Last year it was ranked as the #5 trend, this year it’s ranked at #16.

The top three trends are locally sourced meat and fish, locally sourced produce, and sustainability.

The Sox beat the Yankees today. That will be a trend this year.

I will talk about the Red Sox often, as I will see/listen to about 150 of their games this season.  I do get the live feed to my laptop, and I do have a bit of space in the kitchen for said laptop.

A spring lamb stew might be nice on the menu. I’d call it a daube Provençal however to justify the price.

Duck rillettes, duck liver pâtè, and duck prosciutto may very well be the charcuterie selections this Spring. That way I can buy whole ducks plus extra livers and have plenty of bones for stock, and skin for smoked cracklings.  Some weekend I’ll get some duck eggs and make duck egg pasta and use said cracklings for duck carbonara.

I haven’t really been able to cook much the last few weeks, hopefully next week I can manage something when our friend Tom is in town.

Spring Menu, A Work in Process

Since I’ve been stuck in the house for almost three weeks now, I have a lot of time to work on what I hope will be an exciting Spring menu.  I’d like to take you through the process of how I head towards a finished menu.

At The Wine Bar I keep a small menu with the same basic outline:  6-8 starters, 2-3 pizzas, cheese and charcuterie selections, and 6-8 entrées (available in full and half portions). These numbers will vary depending on the time of year, with Summer having the largest number of selections because of the volume of business, and Winter the least because it can be quiet. Keeping the small menu especially ensures freshness and quality.  I’m thinking small for early Spring since the busy season doesn’t kick in until June, thus reserving room for more weekend specials when we anticipate being busy.

With that settled, I think about some of the products I’d like to use and make a list of the usual Spring suspects (fava beans, morels, asparagus, ramps……)  and keep the list in front of me while I start to work on a particular dish.  Some are easy, like the steak frites that I’m bringing back, and some take days to weeks to get a preliminary dish composed.  One disadvantage I’m facing right now is not being in the restaurant kitchen to try some things out. I’ll have to try some things at home, and most things when I get back to work.

I really love skate wing and have been wanting to do it for a while now.  I thought about it when preparing the winter menu but it is a highly perishable fish so I thought I’d wait until business was a bit more brisk. I was watching a video of Chef Bryce Shuman of Betony in NYC cook skate a few nights ago and I became inspired.

Skate is good dredged in Wondra flour and pan fried, so I figured that’s what I’d do, except I recall having a nice bin of potato flour in the kitchen, and it works as well as the Wondra.  Since that will satisfy those taken in by the gluten-free fad, the preparation won’t have to be changed from one diner to the next.  I was thinking a fish and chips kind  of thing but my fryer is small, and since I’m doing steak frites I don’t want to commit to another fryer item or do something that close to fish and chips.  This is the kind of stuff you need to think about when designing a menu, especially when your kitchen is small and the equipment is limited.  I thought about it for a couple of days (while I worked on other dishes) and came up with potatoes rösti which are basically coarsely shredded potato pan-fried in butter or other fat in thick pancake form. They can be done ahead of time and finished by a method we affectionately call oven-chucking. It will then be one component of the dish that will require very little attention during service.  This will be important since the other fish dish I’m planning will require several pans and considerably more attention.  I’ll do them thick so they’re crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside.  I haven’t decided on any additions like onion or herbs. The potato will sit under the skate, and be topped with lemon-arugula aioli and pickled ramps for those who like tartar sauce.  I think a drizzle of malt vinegar reduction might work as well but I’m becoming dangerously close to a “twist on” fish and chips. I’ll likely choose another acid. Certainly no slaw of any type. So there you have it. Fish and chips that has no desire to be fish and chips.

The other fish dish will require five pans, which my sous chef Patrick will hate me for since he picks up the fish on busy nights when we have three people cooking. Another thing to consider when designing a menu is who is going to execute each dish, and what are their capabilities.  I have no issue with giving Patrick a five-pan pick-up.

Pan 1: saffron butter poached halibut.

Pan 2: carrot risotto finished with sea urchin butter.

Pan 3: Pernod braised bibb lettuce and baby fennel.

Pan 4:  glazed spring carrots, and radishes.

Pan 5:  warm pea tendril broth.

Of course, he only has six burners in his station so I’ll give him a cold seafood dish as a starter.  I’m not quite as far along as the other two fish plates, but I’m heading in a good direction.  I’d like to do quick blanched calamari, hamachi crudo, and rock shrimp ceviche on avocado puree. My thought for garnish is spicy cucumber relish, pickled green strawberries, tomato oil, and micro basil or cilantro.  Still working on this one.

Well, that’s a small taste of the Early spring menu and how I got there.  Other things I’m working on are Spring vegetables in bulgur and pumpernickel “soil,” Arroz con pollo with chorizo broth and padron peppers, petite veal chops with Parisian potatoes and glazed vegetables with sauce Robert, a lamb burger, and foie gras tortelloni with lobster medallions, lobster-Madeira reduction, uni emulsion, and tarragon.  All these are works in progress.

For dessert, I’m thinking free-form blueberry crumble with ginger curd and sweet lemon goat’s milk yogurt, Moroccan spiced carrot cake, and peanut butter cup with chocolate ice cream on peanut butter cookie crumbs, and a salted peanut brittle stick. I’ll keep you posted on the process and the progress.

I Quit, What I Miss, What I Don’t Miss, and Surgery Update

I Quit:

Having tolerance for others that do not want to achieve at the same level that I do.  Successful people surround themselves with like-minded people.

Bourbon and Rye. I was averaging three or four drinks per day. That’s too much.  I’ve had three drinks since February 16th, all beer.

Accepting a ceiling.  If there’s a ceiling I’ll punch through and build stairs.

Producing food that’s “good enough.”  The food scene in the Capital District has improved, good enough will not be enough to compete.  What’s happening in Troy is intriguing to me, there’s a new wave of restaurant owners that are allowing chefs to be chefs.  Those of us that have been cooking for a public that has accepted less than our best need to be on notice.  I see your bar, and I raise you a bar.

Refined sugar. This one will take me a while as I have a sweet-tooth.

Being in a position where I cannot thrive.

Facebook during work hours.

Settling.

Trying to have an intelligent and informed discussion with idiots and know-it-alls on various blogs.

I Miss:

The dinner rush.

The Turkish inspired lamb duo from the current menu.

Making extra duck-fat fries so I can eat some.

Bourbon and Rye.

Most of the people at work.

The pizza at The Wine Bar.

Walking.

Routine.

Running.

I Don’t Miss:

Gluten free.

Fake vegetarians.

Surgery Update:

The bunion/heel spur surgery went well and recovery is slow but sure.  I am not too mobile yet so I’m still quite dependent on Jenn for help. She’s been wonderful and  generally patient.

I’ve been home with the kids this past week and they have run (wheeled) me ragged. It’s like they know they have a physical advantage over me and are making the most of it. One saving grace is that 2 year-old Tate has discovered how to use the mouse and surf  PBS kids for games and YouTube for Old MacDonald videos. Normally I wouldn’t like a child to sit in front of the computer for an hour playing Peg+Cat games but it keeps him under wraps.  This works well until Stella decides it’s her turn.

I did get my stitches out yesterday and was given the go-ahead for a shower. I expected that not having showered since February 18th that a shower would be luxurious.  Not so.  Having one of those old people tubs with the little door would have been a huge help. Also, standing on one foot for a shower is pretty difficult. I need a waterproof chair for the next one.

Spring Menu Sneak Preview:

Five lily soup with sherry gastrique and smoked paprika.

All Jobs are Relevant

I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants. Some places for a day, some for several years. The heading on my résumé for my employment history has always said Relevant Experience. This way I can keep less-than-attractive stints off without being a fibber, since the ones I chose to include always seemed to be the ones that had some relevance to my cooking career.  As it turns out, I may have been a fibber all along.

Recently I posted some work history thoughts in the About section of this blog, with a link from my Facebook page.  A friend left a comment asking “what about Xx Xxxxxx?” I know he was kidding me because he knew as I did that the place was run ass-backwards, and I was only there for a few months before they closed. In fact,  I learned I was out of a job when it was announced on Table Hopping that they were closed for good while I was on vacation. So, the relevancy of this job was that I learned something about how not to treat people.

I started thinking about some of the not-so-great places I’ve worked and what value there was in passing through those spots.  I’ll just tell you what I’ve learned from some of them.

I was once hired by the owner of a newly renovated pub that told me he wanted to be upscale and do interesting food. The word gastro-pub was tossed around and the money offered was great so I took the job. As an added bonus, it gave me an opportunity to work within walking distance from my house instead of the 40 minute commute I was making.  One of my tasks, I was told, was to rewrite the menu, but that was not the case. He refused to change the Cheesecake Factory-length menu, citing for each item that there’s a particular customer that comes in for that item.  Don’t accept a job in a kitchen that has a tremendously long menu. I was also assured that the dump of a kitchen was next to be fixed up now that the public areas were completed.  It never happened. I learned from that experience that I need some documentation of what’s been promised in an interview. As Judge Judy says, “get it in writing.”

I was the opening chef for a new place and the name was stupid, and that right there could have been the total learning experience. Don’t work at a place with a stupid name. The owner had zero restaurant experience and made it clear that he would pay well for professional people to help him. My girlfriend (now wife) was hired to establish the wine program and hire and manage the front-of-the-house staff. While getting the wine list together it is customary to have wine reps come in with samples. Jenn and I participated in tastings, but the owner declined because he didn’t like wine.  Don’t trust any restaurant person that doesn’t drink wine. This place turned into a nightmare. At one point the owner decided all items in the kitchen will be made fresh every day. I asked “so you would like us to prep the entire menu every day?” Do not go to work for people who have no restaurant experience. (I had a relapse not too long ago).

Just as employers look for applicants that have not had too many jobs in a given amount of time, applicants should also be wary of  places that have a revolving door on the kitchen. So, do not go to work for a place with high turnover of staff.  Do your homework.

The first full-time kitchen job I got when I decided I would cook for a living was at a red-sauce Italian joint.  The owner would drive his truck to produce wholesalers and pick cases of tomatoes or lettuce that were being discarded because they were rotting and bring them into the kitchen to be salvaged and used for dinner service.  I learned that it is not ok to cook garbage. 

These are just a few of the things I have learned over the years working for the wrong people, just as I’m sure I’ve taught a few owners about hiring the wrong person.  But, because of both good and bad experience, I’m convinced I have a solid grip on this business.  I look forward to many more years of positive experience in this world, as I now have a good understanding of what not to do.