A Few Pictures, And A Few Words

Some of what’s happening at work.

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Venison Loin seared in olive oil, then roasting in butter, rosemary, sage, and thyme.

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The finished dish. With cider-mustard demi glace, warm Brussels sprout and apple slaw, and chestnut bread pudding.

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Crispy duck confit, orange-green peppercorn glaze, and sweet potato-chorizo cassoulet.

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Vegetarian Sampler.  Eggplant meatballs, tabbouleh, falafal, and lentils. Along with tahini, hot sauce, and yogurt.

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Grape leaf wrapped swordfish, gigante beans, farro-olive salad, pickled caper berry, charred lemon.

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Handmade orecchiette, speck, rapini, chicken broth, Parmesan, olive oil.

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Something I miss about summer

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Fall is good too, it has cross country.

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Boy, that’s old.

Post Surgical Buzz

As I recover from my second surgery of 2015, I have some time to write, to catch up on some reading, and to work on some other projects I’ve started.  Unlike the foot surgery, I’m out about one week, not eight.  Most of what follows are feeble-witted thoughts over many hours as I recover (with codeine) on the couch.

“Am I the only one who fills these water pitchers?” I see who fills them, and it’s a valid question.

Customer after being told about the veal special:  “Oh, I couldn’t eat a baby animal, I’ll have the lamb.”

I told myself  “Don’t say anything stupid like you did after your last surgery. ”  Apparently,  after my bunion surgery, I came out of anesthesia talking about my inguinal region.  So I made sure to remind myself as I woke this most recent time not to be an ass. Funny though,  this would have been the time to discuss with pride said region since a young woman gave me a nice haircut prior to the surgical procedure.

“I’m buying medical grade clippers.” Is what I said to my wife as the young lady was gently clipping away.

I should remind myself not to be an ass more often. It’s sometimes too late.

I can count the number of times I’ve been in a cab on one hand.

A couple of nights ago I wrote on Steve Barnes’ Table Hopping blog on a post referencing a long closed Guilderland restaurant called Coco’s. I commented that I once had one of their old banquettes in my home that sat 10.  After a good dose of pain killers I thought it was an interesting snippet. When I read the next morning I realized it wasn’t interesting at all.

I write some stuff here too.  https://www.facebook.com/yawningduck/

“Take your time with this, just do it quickly.”

There are always plenty of experts, but very few volunteers.

Just because it’s Italian doesn’t mean it needs garlic, and just because it has garlic doesn’t mean it’s Italian.

Sometimes it’s better for cooks to do less. Sometimes they need to do more.  Knowing the difference is important.

I had a dream last night that there was a moss-covered bison crossing State St. in Downtown Albany.

When some chefs have had enough of the kitchen life they retire and become SYSCO reps or work for a retirement community. I can’t see myself doing either one of those things.

I’ll still cook great food when I retire from daily grind of the restaurant kitchen.  In fact, I think I can cook even better food without the restrictions caused by working for the general public.  I’ve dabbled a bit in private catering under the Yawning Duck name and I think the demand for my  personalized dinners and cooking classes in the home will rise. That, my friends is what I see myself doing in the years to come.

Started working on a winter menu last night.  Broth is a theme I’m thinking about, meaning my lobster pho could resurface. Also considering an $18 chicken noodle soup.

Work clean, neat, and organized.

The Miami Dolphins are terrible.

If you want to be a very good professional cook, learn flawless technique first and foremost.  Cooking with heart and soul is essential, but pointless without great skill.

I don’t care if stores are open or not on Thanksgiving, and I don’t care if people go shopping or not. Those folks are free to do as they like, just as you are.  I’m cooking a turkey from Stonewood Farm in Vermont for family. And yes, I’m throwing caution to the wind and stuffing the bird as my mother did for many years without anyone getting sick.

People tend to complain an awful lot.

I’ll leave you with this humorous tidbit I ran across while wasting some time on this here interweb.  It’s from http://notalwaysright.com/tag/restaurant

Customer: “I’ll have a meatball sub, no onion. I’m allergic to onion.”

Me: “The meatballs have onion in them. What else can I get you?”

Customer: “The meatballs only have a little; it’s fine.”

Me: “You have informed me you have an onion allergy. I cannot serve you any products containing onion.”

Customer: *huffs* “Fine, I’ll have the chicken sub!”

Me: “Ma’am, last week you made me remake your food because of a tomato allergy. I cannot serve you any product with tomato.”

Customer: “Yes, you can! I get them all the time.”

Me: “Store policy has changed. I cannot serve any customer any food that may have been contaminated with anything they label as an allergen.”

Customer: “Fine, I was lying. Give me my sub.”

Me: “As you have given me conflicting information I must err on the side of caution. I cannot serve you tomato, onion, wheat, gluten, dairy, eggs-”

Customer: “WHAT! I never said I was allergic to that stuff:”

Me: “Ma’am, whenever you have us remake food we must enter the reason in the register. And all your credit card purchases are saved in the system. Should we look up your purchases?”

Customer: “Get me your manager!”

(I run in back and tell him what’s going on. He gets an evil look on his face.)

Manager: “Hello, ma’am, I understand you’re confused about our new store policy?”

Customer: “Your employee here refuses to make me food even though I told her I am not allergic!”

Manager: “So you aren’t allergic to onions or tomatoes or wheat?”

Customer: “No, I am not.”

Manager: “Ma’am, you just admitted to lying about allergies. So you can either pay for every sandwich you’ve ever had us remake, or get out.”

Customer: *runs out of the store*

Culture on the Line

Lets warm up with a few snippets, then we’ll get into the crux of the matter.

I’m having surgery for a double hernia tomorrow morning. I cannot have anything to eat or drink after midnight, so I’m keeping a good beer-drinking pace as I write due to the early quitting time.

I had my pre-op interview today. The nurse I spoke to kept me on the phone for 25 minutes. Towards the end she asked if I experience bouts of sadness. I said “I’m about to.”

She also asked if I was ever tired during the day. “I already told you I’m a chef, right?”

Hospitality: Either you get it or you don’t. It cannot be taught, it cannot be mandated.

Go get ’em Sylvia Meder Lilly, owner of Lark + Lilly Wine Bar and Kitchen.

I’m picking the Royals in 6 games.

I’m rooting for the Mets.

I don’t like the new Colonel Sanders. I know he’s not real, the old one died.

 

Walk into just about any good restaurant kitchen and onto the line during a busy dinner service and you won’t see male, female white, black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, young, old, fat, thin, conservative, or liberal people working.  We don’t see those distinctions in the kitchen.   You’ll see a chef, a sous chef, line cooks, and dishwashers working as a cohesive unit. They’ll all be speaking the same language which is typically a mix of English, Spanish, sometimes French, and kitchen lingo which includes tons of sexual innuendo.  http://firstwefeast.com/eat/kitchen-slang-101-talk-like-real-life-line-cook/

Kitchen workers will communicate every move to their coworkers with a bevy of slang terms and flirtatious come-ons that would turn a nun beet red.  For example, “Coming on your backside” means that you’re approaching from behind to move down the line and you don’t want your coworker to move back.  It seems impossible to be working with sausage and not make some sordid reference to your own manhood, or offer a portion to a fellow cook’s mother. For those with no experience in a professional kitchen, this could seem juvenile and at times offensive. The fact is, that it’s part of the common culture that exists, I believe to break the tension that’s there as a result of the pressure to perform at a high level every night under constant time constraints.

Each day has time limits. “We open for dinner service in 40 minutes, get your shit together, make sure you’re stocked” calls out the chef. “Rush coming in 30 minutes.”  It’s constant, we in the kitchen have deadlines all day,  and we watch the clock like Hermie watched Dorothy. Yes, that’s a Summer of ’42 reference.

There are other reasons for this crude culture in the kitchen.  Up until recently, a large percentage of line cooks and dishwashers were made up of those who had to choose between the kitchen or jail.  I’ve had the police come in one door while dishwashers have run out the other door.  I’ve bailed line cooks out of jail. I’ve driven co-workers to rehab. Restaurant kitchens have traditionally been a haven for punks, thugs, drunks and addicts.  While this is not as much the case anymore, the remnants of the rough days of kitchen life still exist.  I do believe that the kitchen is being inhabited by more professionals today as the job of chef and cook are not seen as fringe jobs for the otherwise unemployable.

Another aspect of kitchen culture is the lack of the call in sick. It very rarely happens, unlike the front of the house. For example, I worked all Summer with a double hernia because it’s my job to be there getting the the food out to the diners. It’s not just me, most cooks I know do the same thing.  I have a cook who’s been with me for over two years and the only day he’s missed is when he was rear-ended by another driver on his way to work and had his car totaled.  My sous chef of a year and a half hasn’t missed a day. We cooks go to work, and we don’t let the others down. That’s the culture.

 

Home Cooking

My liver must think I’m an asshole.  I suppose some people with poor judgement also think I’m an asshole.

Mistakes are better seen as discoveries.

Some differences between a home cook and a (quality) professional is that the professional takes recipes, ideas, and dishes a step or two further than the home cook.  We add things beyond a written recipe, use advanced techniques, we have access to better and hard to find ingredients, and we (most of us) cook to please, not just to feed. With that said, I know some fantastic home cooks that have given me some great dining pleasure.

Typically, when I’m invited to someone’s home for a meal, I don’t care what they make. I’m usually just happy to eat a meal sitting down for a change. Chili dogs, tater tots, and a seat at your table are good enough for me.  I’m not saying that I’m looking for an invite, but I’m off on most Mondays

I’ll never forget the first time Jennifer and I ate at Mehmet and Mary Odekon’s house.  He’s from Turkey, and a great home cook. It was a spread of Mediterranean-Middle Eastern delights that have since inspired me often in my own cooking.

I don’t always enjoy cooking at home.  While we do have a much bigger kitchen in our new house, with a large island,  I’m just not used to the flow there yet.  Also, I can’t use the same level of heat sometimes required for restaurant level cooking.  We really need an exhaust hood at some point.

An awful lot of people think Jenn is so lucky to be married to a chef and they ask if she gets great meals every night.  Silly people, I work at night.  Of course, I work during the day too.

I do enjoy cooking for friends and family at home, especially dinner parties.  With lots of wine.

The Yawning Duck.

I’ll be having hernia surgery next Tuesday. I’m sure, based on the increasing discomfort level that working all summer with the hernia wasn’t the best thing to do.  During the busy season however, you suck it up and do your job.

It cost me 30 bucks in co-pay to get checked for said hernia. I’m sure there are cheaper ways to get a similar experience.

I was born with an umbilical hernia, and had surgery at 6 months of age. I do not have a belly button as a result.

I have no place to keep lint.

I have won many bar bets due to my lack of a bell-button.

A big influence on me, when it refers to service in a restaurant was a 1982 visit to a new restaurant, Cafe Capriccio. Billy Karabin was our waiter.  Then, working there years later, I learned what was possible when it comes to service.

Service, really good service is a constant pressure, like a tourniquet.  If you let loose a bit, the bleeding may not be controlled.  The kitchen is the same way during a dinner rush.  While the experiences of the front of the house and back of the house are different, they’re the same.

My brother Dan passed away 10 years ago at the age of 48, My sister Elaine 15 years ago at the age of 43.  They were twins. Their birthday is Thursday. Cancer, both.

Noodles and eggs, Schlitz, and the band Chicago. The good Chicago from the 70’s, not the crappy version of the 80’s.

Random Weekend Chit Chat.

The difference between a chef and God is that God doesn’t think He’s a chef.

Everyone who wishes to get married should be able to get married, except couples who share a Facebook page.

“Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.” Anthony Bourdain.

A warm plate is more important than a scattering of unwilted micro greens.

When I tell you my good idea and you claim it as your own, it’s ok, I have more good ideas and all you have is the one you borrowed.

A few hours alone to prep for a Saturday night can be tremendously productive, therapeutic,  and  satisfying.

I’m writing some of this as I steal a few minutes of peace before we get busy here at work. It’s  6:00, and the kitchen is finally ready to head into what looks to be a very busy Saturday night. I’m really going to enjoy the next two days off. Tomorrow night I’ll be making paella for the family.

When you’re the slowest moving car on a three lane highway traveling in the center lane and getting passed on both sides. YOU’RE IN THE WRONG LANE!

I worked for a guy some years ago that would always claim a new recipe or dish as his own, and explain it to the staff as if he had come up with it himself, when in fact I did. Generally, the habit of taking what doesn’t belong to you is a way of life, and catches up with you at some point.

One of the worst jobs I ever had was at a place called Reel Meals. It was one of those movie theaters that served meals. There were three screens, and each one sat 70, 80, and 90 people respectively.  The movies were spaced 30 minutes apart,  which means you had to put out over 200 meals in 90 minutes. Then you’d  prep for the later showings. Weekends were the worst, there were matinees, which meant we did four turns. That job didn’t end well. One good thing was we were allowed two shift drinks, and the bartender wasn’t too bright and he considered a Guinness and a Jameson as one drink.

I’m watching the Mets and Cubs as I write.  This is the point in the game where Joe Madden thinks he’s outsmarting everyone.

I like when my work is respected , and that respect is shown by working hard to make sure my work is well presented.

I have a small collection of antique kitchen equipment.  My favorite piece is a cast iron pasta machine from the early 1900’s

 

 

More Short Stories

I’ve decided to stay up late and watch one of my favorite shows, Perry Mason so I might as well write as I pass the time.

In the restaurant kitchen when the orders are rolling in there’s plenty to do. When the prep is done and the rush hasn’t hit, or when the rush is over, there’s still plenty to do.  A good line cook knows this, and knows what to do when there are no orders.  This is best illustrated by a story told to me by a Richard Smith who owned Dick Smith Sporting Goods in Downtown Albany many years ago.  When I was on the cross country team at Siena we used to run from campus to his store to buy running shoes.  Years later, after he had closed his store, and I was the footwear manager at Dick’s Sporting Goods at Crossgates Mall, he worked for me and would tell me many stories about local sports legends.  One in particular has stuck with me because it can be applied to the kitchen.  Richard explained to me that he was with legendary SUNY Albany basketball coach Doc Sauers at a high school game scouting players and Richard noticed that he seemed as though he wasn’t watching the action. He asked Coach Sauers about it and he replied “I know what a good player does when he has the ball, I want to see what he does when he doesn’t have the ball.”

This next story was told to me by a great chef, and great man.  He was working in his kitchen when a customer popped his head in and said “Johnny (fake names used), that was a great meal. I ought to have you come over to the house and cook a meal.” Then, looking at the young dishwasher, he added  “and you can come and do the dishes”  Well, apparently the chef didn’t care much for this customer, and had a fatherly affection for the young employee replied “how about you do the dishes and Kevin here can come over and fuck your wife.”

Apparently, the same young man was involved in an altercation with some rival youth and was beaten with a baseball bat. The ambulance personnel declared him dead, informed his family who in turn informed the restaurant that he would not be in to work because he was dead.  As the legend goes, he “came to” at the hospital, was treated for his injuries including a broken jaw and decided to leave and go to work that day for his scheduled shift.  So, the next time you feel like calling in sick, remember, there was a young man who was declared dead and still went to work.

I have a lot of great stories, and when I retire from this business I’ll tell them all. For now, enjoy the ones I can tell.

Ok, one more.  On a hot summer afternoon while working in the kitchen I had to go to the restaurant owner’s office to discuss something.  I knocked on the closed door, heard a “come in” and walked in to a creepy man sitting at his desk in nothing but a pair of red bikini underwear.  Like I said, It was a hot summer afternoon.

Finding My Way Back

When you order a hamburger and  you don’t want the roll, tell your server, then we won’t waste a roll.

Duck fat fries are back on the menu.

The vegetarian sampler plate is selling well. I suppose vegetarians are people too. Sort of.

I had a very difficult Summer for me, and some of the people in my life.

I’m really tired of seeing young people in my life fight cancer.

I like fried green tomatoes, and Fried Green Tomatoes.

I haven’t felt like writing this blog lately for various reasons.

I’m thinking it’s gonna be the Cubs and the Blue Jays in the World Series.

It sure isn’t gonna be the Red Sox.

I had a nice time at the SPAC Food and Wine Festival.

I’ve really got to get to some restaurants outside of Saratoga.  Peck’s Arcade is at the top of my list.

I don’t do well with clutter.

If you have a real allergy, please tell your server. If you do not have a real allergy, but just don’t like something, be honest and say “I don’t like……..”  Here’s why :  http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2015/10/14/why-food-allergy-fakers-need-stop/PB6uN8NF3eLWFjXnKF5A9K/story.html

A few words about some items on the new Fall :

Endive salad – Elegant

Chicken Livers with grapes and pickled cranberries – Fun

Pickle Plate with home-made bread and house made butter – Funner

Pork Rillettes, Country Pâté, and Duck Liver Mousse – Frenchy French

Swordfish – Mediterranean

Chicken – Gone

Venison – Spectacular

Vegetarian Sampler – Necessary

Turkish Custard with Figs and Honey – Interesting

Hooray Mets

This is a pretty short post, I need some time to get back into the swing of things.  I’m guessing there are some significant changes coming in my life.  More to follow on that. Maybe tomorrow night.