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.