They Said It, Not Me

Following are some of my favorite quotes from chefs.

“It’s so good to be classic and not trendy.” ~ Chef Gabrielle Hamilton

My work is based on classic Mediterranean cooking and ingredients that have been around for centuries.  I try hard not to follow trends, trendy ingredients, and the latest and greatest techniques.  I certainly do learn new things, new ingredients, and new techniques but I will always stay true my roots and present classic cuisine first, and add new methods and flavors second.  I think if your work is based on the use of trendy products and techniques it appears forced and exposes a chef’s lack of education, knowledge and experience.  That comes through the food as mediocrity.  Learn the trade before you learn the tricks of the trade.

“A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music.  He understands how things go together.  For a chef, once you have that basis, that’s when cuisine gets really exciting.” ~ The late Charlie Trotter

For me this is closely tied to the previous quote, almost an extension of it or the next step in the thought process.  Classic technique and ingredients are so important when building a solid foundation of knowledge and experience no matter what your cuisine.  I can make you a Thai dish that’s pretty good, and most people would like it a lot.  I can make you a Mediterranean based dish that’s great, and I would be hard pressed to find anyone that didn’t like it.  The difference is that I have a limited knowledge if Thai cooking.  Good enough to pass but never great.  My wide array of knowledge of Mediterranean cooking and ingredients however allows me to draw from a much larger pantry of methods and flavors that I can easily improvise on the classics and go from pretty good to sublime simply based on my knowledge.

“We go through our careers and things happen to us. Those experiences made me what I am.” ~ Chef Thomas Keller

If we learn from the things that happen to us we are truly better for it even if it takes us many years.  One of my goals in the restaurant world is to help young cooks understand how their experiences shape the kind of chefs they’ll become and how they can be happier and more productive in both their careers and in life.  Working for shitty owners and in kitchens with chefs that exhibit a poor example of the profession are no excuse for becoming a solid and respected performer.

“We’re hoping to succeed; we’re okay with failure. We just don’t want to land in between.” ~ Chef David Chang

You want to play it safe?  Mediocrity will be your reward.  Time to take some well-calculated chances.

“When you have made as many mistakes as I have then you can be as good as me.” ~ Chef Wolfgang Puck

I have been through the “trial and error” phase.  Young cooks, you should go through it too.  Your advantage is that I will alert you to the mistakes.

“Chefs are leaders in their own little world.” ~ Chef Eric Ripert

Not everyone understands our world.  That’s OK, let them be critical.  Our gift to them is making them feel better about themselves.  Yes, I’m talking to you anonymous blog commenters.  There is a difference between an educated critique and sitting on your ass bitching and throwing barbs. Your Hot Pocket is ready.

“I would much rather be a chef who remembers I am a cook then a cook that thinks I am a chef.” ~ Chef Ric Peterson

“To me, there’s no great chef without a great team.” ~ Chef Daniel Boulud

This is not just about the kitchen staff, this is about all the people involved in the daily operation of a restaurant.   A breakdown in any area can hinder the performance of other parts of the unit.

“If you have a restaurant with a great chef but no one goes, is he really a great chef? ~ Chef David Kinch

I don’t have anything to say about this one, I just like David Kinch.

“I always thought I was as good as anyone else but I was never in the club.” ~ Chef Jake Bickelhaupt

 

Have a great weekend folks, thanks for reading.

 

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Snippets of Closure

I’m writing this collection of snippets this afternoon during the snow because The Wine Bar is closed tonight.  I truly appreciate the concern ownership has for the staff and not requiring us to be traveling on hazardous roads, especially after dark.

“Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers, and the customers will come back.” ~ J. Willard Marriott

One of the things that gets me through the winter is spending time developing the Spring menu.

How does hand cut linguine with scallops and sea urchin broth sound?  Perhaps a healthy grating of bottarga as garnish.  I can call it roe roe your day boat.

I’ll wait until next Fall to introduce duck, duck, goose.

My list of experience has resulted in having taken over my share of existing restaurant kitchens.  It’s rarely easy, and sometimes downright hostile.  Those stories are for another time.  My current takeover has been pretty darn good.  My advantage however is 41/2 years in that kitchen.  It also helps that the current kitchen staff is very receptive to the change and looking forward to learning and becoming better at what they do.  I’t’s funny, the kitchens that I got the most resistance from had a staff with poor kitchen skills and a track record of low quality cooking.

Keep in mind that this blog is not required reading.  Sometimes I say things that need saying.

Antiques Roadshow is quite a wild ride.

Have you ever thought that what you’ve always believed is believed because you’ve always believed it?

Apparently Charles thought he was in charge to a greater extent than he actually was.

Professional golf is insignificant without Tiger Woods.  A few weeks ago he finished about 70th in a tournament and he was the lead story, the winner was an afterthought.

Our current menu has no bacon or pork belly.  People still seem to like it.

I apparently have a neighbor who likes to throw his dog’s poop bags in our recycling bin.  When I find out who it is I will have a surprise for him.

The best thing to sooth your face after shaving is something sold as hemorrhoidal wipes.  No, I’m not kidding.

Kylie Jenner had a baby.  Who cares?  She named it.  Who cares?

I really like a slow and easy Sunday morning complete with a pot of coffee, pancakes, and sausages.

I cannot tell you how many times over the years a server has put an order into the POS system and then come into the kitchen to see if it went through.   “Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.”  Yes, you can really communicate from one room to another.

When you make comments anonymously they are of diminished validity and merit.

I got into the express line at Hannaford the other day and the woman ahead of must have had 25 items.  She noticed the look I gave her and asked if I would like to go ahead.  I said “no, I’ll let you live with the guilt.”

It’s called a touch screen, not a finger-smack screen.

If for some ridiculous reason you need to write a check at the grocery store please don’t wait until the cashier gives you the total before you decide to dig through your purse looking for your checkbook and a pen.

Mrs. Hallisey, a frequent substitute teacher in third grade called me inappropriate on more than one occasion.

 

Saratoga Chowderwreck

I’m not sure what year I first experienced Chowderwreck in Saratoga.  Perhaps it was 2010 as a regular citizen rather than as part of a participating restaurant.  Two places were enough.  The first was about a twenty-minute wait and the second a bit longer.  I remember the second chowder on my itinerary as inedible and thinking there’s no chance I’m waiting in another line for a scant 3 oz. portion of chowder or some concoction people are calling chowder.  That doesn’t mean there weren’t (and still aren’t) places making good chowder or soup.  It was just that I’m an impatient person and wasn’t willing to gamble 30 minutes of my time in hopes that I would stumble on a culinary gem.

My next experience was during a short stint at The Seven Horse Pub.  I was called into work early to help prep more of their “award-winning” seahog chowder that contained no seafood aside from Sysco lobster base.  The lines were long and the building was packed with obnoxious drinkers.  I remember thinking to myself that most of these people aren’t as good at day drinking as they were passing out on the sidewalks and vomiting in the streets.

There’s an award for most chowder served.  What about the most served chowder?   Southwest……….

I believe in thinking outside the box.  But chowder is chowder, and soup is soup.  In other words, variations on chowder start with chowder and the chef’s imagination leads it to something interesting, but still chowder.  Soup is still soup.

My first time making chowder for this event was at The Wine Bar in 2012.  I went against the grain and made clam chowder.  It was a lot of work.  Hard work doesn’t scare me a bit.

I have never had a desire to win Chowderfest.  My philosophy is that the best way to promote the virtues of your restaurant is to work  hard every day and make it the best you can.  Winning event prizes does nothing to better your food and service.  In fact, too much focus on outside events can deter you from what’s important.  While I will agree that some events are a good way to support a favorite cause or to help expand your customer base, it’s a waste of time and resources to extend yourself for a day to cater to a crowd that will not improve your business throughout the year.

The current state of Chowderfest can best be described by a prominent local musician. He said the following:  I’m not crazy about the direction of Chowderfest in Saratoga. Without getting into a whole diatribe I will cite a few things that I witnessed while being on-site between the hours of 2-7 pm. At least 4 fights and countless inebriated people being tossed out of bars. Three young ladies sitting in the snow vomiting. One of them had their cooter out. Completely overwhelmed staff at every corner. Plates, cups, chowder, human chowder, broken glass, piss. Everywhere. It was disgusting.”  This has also been my observation over the past few years.

We decided not to serve chowder at The Wine Bar this year, but we did open at 11:00 rather than our usual 4:00.  It’s difficult not to take advantage of having 30,000 people walking around in February.  We served our happy hour menu and of course, drinks.  The food part was easy.  The difficulty really fell on the FOH staff.  These events in Saratoga bring a different crowd, a drinking crowd.  As 2:00 rolled around the place started filling up and the party soon got into full swing.  From the kitchen I could hear the hooting and hollering, the f-bombs, and the general obnoxious behavior not generally occurring at WB.  There was a customer complaint about the language flying around, and one of our employees that was using the men’s room reported that a couple of drunken yahoos were trying to break the door handle while he was in there because they wanted to get in immediately.

I’ve come to expect this behavior at Chowderfest, but for some reason I’m always surprised by the behavior of grown-ups.  I’m not only talking about the 20-something crowd, I’m talking about the 40-50 crowd. The two men trying to break into the men’s room were my age and clearly intoxicated.  This is the scene all over town. If you didn’t attend and only saw a blurb on the news, it looked like a family-friendly, meet-your-friends-for-some-chowder kind of event.  Sure, of the 30,000 that attend there were plenty of folks having a good time waiting in line with their friends and rating all the entrants.  Their experience was chowder-centric and they acted like adults.

You cannot tell me it’s just a few bad apples that give the impression of a wild drinkfest.  There are an awful lot of people who come for the party with no interest in the spirit of the event.  Given a choice, I’d avoid Saratoga on Chowderfest day, as well as St. Patrick’s Day and May 5th.

Complaining without a solution is just whining.  I’ll give you some thoughts on that next post.

Peace.