Just Some Random Thoughts

Price Chopper has started offering delivery so now you can be over-charged from the comfort of your own home.

Because we’re chefs, and because The Wine Bar is a good restaurant, we make our own catsup, cut our own fries, make our pasta fresh, and we’ll even return to making American cheese for burgers. We make stuff from scratch because we know how and that’s because to buy stuff pre-made would make us a lesser restaurant.  We’ll go back to making our own bread as soon as the now dead mixer is replaced. We do it because we’re chefs.

One Caroline is for sale.

In Saratoga it’s not uncommon for someone to sell a failed business.  It’s not uncommon for someone in Saratoga to buy a failed business.

Nobody ever goes out of business, they lose their lease, their rent was doubled, their insurance was cancelled, the traffic patterns were changed, food trucks ran them out, the taxes killed them, they couldn’t get employees, their suppliers couldn’t get their product, they couldn’t devote the time, they had health problems, their cat died……..No one ever just had a business that failed.

Tate:  “I’m gonna let you share your money with me.”

Because they’re here for an experience, not just to be fed.

We do need people on the fringes.  They set the boundaries on both sides.  We need boundaries.

Reading the Craigslist restaurant jobs section is entertaining.  I recently saw an ad for a dishwasher asking to “attach your resumé”  I have been doing this for 18 years and I have never seen a dishwasher with a resumé.  Show up close to the time you’re scheduled, stay sober, do the work you’re asked to do and I’m happy.  And for goodness sake, don’t get arrested during service.

Some folks are very good at pointing out what’s wrong, but lack the skill at presenting a solution.  I suspect they also have no desire to present a solution.

I’m searching for a new sous chef.  I have a love-hate relationship with hiring new people.  On one hand it gives you the opportunity to meet new people and bring some fresh ideas and personalities into the fold.  However, it can be a real pain in the ass because the majority of young people in this business do not know how to go about applying for a job and following through properly with the process of getting hired.

A couple of weeks ago I posted an ad on Craigslist for the sous chef’s position that specifically said please include a short note that tells my why I should call you for an interview.  “I have included my resumé” is short but it just won’t motivate me to call you.  I also like to ask that applicants include their resumé in both the body of the email and as an attachment.  I like to see who can follow directions.  Most of the respondents cannot follow directions.

“Where are you at?” is not a cover letter.

I reached out to one young fellow and asked if his schedule was open for an interview.  The response was “just let me know when and I’ll be there.”  OK, Tuesday at 10:00 am.  “Where are you located?”  417 Broadway (this is when I start to have doubts because I would have just Googled it).  Chef arrives at work early to interview candidates and gets an email at 9:43.  ” I am terribly sorry but I didn’t receive this email (the one giving the address that I sent early yesterday) until late last night. I can try to reschedule for later this week.  Is there anyway we can talk today just to get an idea of what the job is about.”

No, there’s no way we can talk about the job.  I was prepared to do that at 10:00.  My ad spelled out that it was a sous chef’s position and the expectations that are attached to the position,  you know where the job is and you have full access to the internet.  The process tells me a lot about what kind of employee you will likely be.

Next interview is at 11:00.

He showed.  Good candidate.

It’s being suggested that we train and arm teachers to prevent or curtail mass shootings in schools. That’s probably expensive.  Imagine if we had invested in education and our school systems long ago.  That investment could have included better access to mental health care, better pay for teachers, and better training for those teachers so they could recognize issues sooner in at risk kids.  Pay now, or pay later.  Also, let’s say we arm teachers, or hire veterans and/or off-duty law enforcement officers.  What happens when mentally ill gunmen decide it’s easier to go to the mall, or the beach, or the county fair…….?  Let’s just arm everyone. Good luck at the shootout folks.

I think about this shit, but it’s not all I post about on Facebook. In fact my political posts are minimal.  It’s good to share information but an awful lot of you are sharing garbage, not facts, and certainly not information.  Also, many of you are so one-dimensional that your posts have become predictable and irrelevant.  There’s more to life.

In order to make your guests happy you need to be happy yourself.

Next week is Restaurant Week in Schenectady.  Better them than me.  Restaurant weeks have run their course.

 

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Time Out

As a young man I was a pretty good competitive runner.  I was always an advocate for taking necessary days off during training and a break after each competitive season.  I knew a lot of runners who were very proud of their consecutive days running streaks.  Hearing that someone has gone out running for 536 consecutive days may sound impressive to the casual jogger or non-athlete but what I observed was that most of these guys were mediocre competitors and often underachievers.  I think the same philosophy can be applied to my occupation.

Both our bodies and our minds need proper rest.  I’m not just talking about just a good night’s sleep,  but a break that gives us time away from our daily mental routine and away from what we spend the bulk of our physical energy on.  It’s unfortunate that most people cannot afford to take extended breaks and that most employers do not have such a system in place for such a luxury.  In most cases it’s unreasonable to expect our employers to give long periods of time away from our jobs, or numerous smaller vacation stints.

I think it would benefit restaurants that are attempting to be competitive from both a service and culinary viewpoint to find ways to get their employees proper rest so they are not simply mediocre at their jobs.  It is however difficult in our business to have key people from both the FOH and the BOH not in the restaurant as much as possible.

I was speaking to a dear friend a few days ago, a chef, who was telling me that tears are not uncommon after work due to working such hours, often seven days per week.  I know this person, a creative, hard-working and devoted chef that will give 100% under good conditions.  This can happen in many occupations but I see it all too often in our industry.  It needs to change, and we need to demand a better quality of life.

This past May I made a self-discovery that my work was not what I’m accustomed to and not up to the standards I set for myself and knew I couldn’t continue to function in a high quality environment.  Move forward eight months and I find myself with a newfound clarity that I haven’t had in a very long time.  I feel more creative, quicker in thought and more motivated than ever.  With an extended break I learned a lot about myself and not only am better off for it, people around me in the workplace are too.  It’s not something we all can afford to do, but we as a group that own and work in restaurants need to find a better way of doing things.

Food service is a hard business with a generally high turnover rate and low profit margins.  We are  strapped with a tough-guy mentality that says you get to work no matter what and you sooth your wounds of the day with some alcohol or weed then move on to the next day, the next week, month, and year.  That’s no way to run a business, and no way to live your life.  Being a chef, a cook, a bartender, or a server requires a lot of creativity, clear thinking, and fast-moving.  The tasks involved with working in a restaurant are much easier done by happy, fresh, and clear-thinking individuals who look forward to going to work.

I’m Still Me, But a Happier Me.

I’ve been back at The Wine Bar for just over a month.  I think it’s going quite well and I’m happier than ever.

As I re-entered a professional kitchen I was curious about how I’d handle the job now that I’ve got some answers to questions, a pretty clean liver, good sleep, and some antidepressants drifting through my brain. I also have a renewed intensity and focus on doing great work.  I am still me though.  I’m definitely calmer, more patient, and more willing to take time with service staff with questions, thoughts, and ideas.  When service kicks into full gear I’m still me.  Focused, direct, and demanding.  Not in a bad way, but in a “now is the time to work” kind if way.

I have noticed during my years in the kitchen that the FOH people who don’t like quality chefs and cooks very much are the ones that are either not very good at their jobs or they are not committed to doing a good job.  On the same token, it’s typical that the kitchen people who have no problem with poor performing FOH people are usually uncommitted and low quality cooks that have little interest in food.

I’m very focused on my work and the work of the kitchen staff during service.  I am abrupt and precise in my communication when conveying what needs to be done. I make no apology for who I am when it’s crunch time.  If you’re not up for crunch time then the restaurant business isn’t for you.  If I make you uncomfortable, then the restaurant business is not for you.

I have never condoned the use of personal insults towards staff.  I once worked for a guy who would call the all female wait staff some horrible names.  I told him the next time I heard it I was leaving.  This is the same guy that would leave between lunch and dinner service and walk down to Di Carlo’s Gentlemen’s Club and get his drink on.  He was no gentleman

If you would prefer to explain to customers why you’re out of 25% of your menu, why the chicken tastes like wood or why the salad dressing is only vinegar then it would be just fine to have a chef that has his or her focus on things besides preparing for service, doing precision work, and keeping their thoughts on the job.  Perhaps you’d even like to deliver brownie sundaes.

I have never gone to work to make friends, I have friends.  I have never gone to work to listen to music, I have a radio in the car.  I don’t go to work to eat dinner, I eat at home.  I don’t go to work to plan my after-hours activities at the front podium, I plan my social schedule on my off time.  I go to work because I love what I do, to make a living, and to fulfill my commitment to whoever is paying my salary.

While I still hold the same intensity during dinner service, I find that overall I’m in a much better mood at work,  I accept the things that are out of my control and I am noticing that my emotions recover from tense situations much faster than before.  When I have an issue with service I’m able to address it and move on from it rather than carrying it throughout the night.  I’m able to talk issues over in a professional and calm manner at the appropriate time .  Most people are responding to that well, and I’m happy not only for myself but for them since solid work relationship is healthy for everyone.

As I adjust to my new demeanor and get used to my new colleagues I am thankful for a new life as a chef.  I know my reputation can preceded me and I’m working hard to clear the past and make a new impact on many levels.

While I hunt for a new sous chef I can’t help think the future at The Wine Bar is full of possibilities.  I have some great candidates, one in particular would really help me elevate this kitchen.  Cross your fingers, this could be a very good thing.

I don’t like sneaky people. I do sometimes enjoy when sneaky people make the mistake if thinking they’re smart enough to dupe me.

My new menu is in full swing and I can’t help but be excited for the Spring me and with today’s warm weather I’ll be encouraged to write down some possibilities.  My weekend specials will start to reflect my ideas for future dishes as I put thoughts to paper then to the plate.  By the time the tulips are blooming I should have some wonderful things for you to eat.

If you feel everyone around you is preventing you from doing your job properly then perhaps you need to look at the common denominator.  You.

Chef answers phone, caller asks if he’d take a short survey, chef asks if it has anything to do with the juxtaposition of one color to another and the caller leaves the chef alone.

Government officials can use the money they get from the NRA to wipe the blood off their hands.

If you think you need an assault rifle then you’re not mentally fit enough to own an assault rifle.

Celery leaves are underrated and underused.

I had and interview set up with candidate for my sous chef’s position at 11:00 Monday morning.  At 11:15 I contact the candidate and ask why he’s not here.  “I had to give my friend a ride to Vermont.”  The same method you informed me that you were interested in the position is the same method you let me know something came up and you’d like to reschedule.

Supermarket cashiers: Please learn the difference between parsley and cilantro. Also, your employer has put a bag holder directly behind you for a reason, to place items in the bag as you scan.  Supervisors:  Let the cashiers know how to place items in that bag directly behind them as they scan.

Chef answers phone, caller asks for the owner or manager (my cell is my business # for the Yawning Duck). Chef tells them if they can give him their name I will buy whatever they’re selling.  Caller hangs up.

People generally do not order fish that you can’t buy at Price Chopper.

I didn’t proof read or edit, you’ll be fine.

Cooks: If you’re feeling down, unhappy, having trouble with anything at work, or just want to pick my brain on any subject I’d love to help.  PM me through Facebook, or email me. dominiccolose@gmail.com  I’ll make time for you.

Experienced chefs and other professionals:  I’m getting a mentorship program started.  If you think you can help out some of the younger cooks in our industry let me know. As I get this off the ground I’d like some input and help creating a network of professionals that can be part of this program.  This includes mental health professionals, lawyers, financial advisors, and anyone that can provide some direction to those who either don’t know where to go, have limited means, and simply need someone to talk to.

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.

 

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.