We Lost a Good Guy

I didn’t know him well, but our paths through the Saratoga restaurant landscape did cross briefly.

He was a sous chef in the kitchen when I arrived.  He was welcoming, friendly, and eager to learn new things.  He expressed interest in furthering his culinary talents.  I found him to be a good student, and a positive person to have around.

There was one problem with him, he was drinking on the job, and had issues with drugs.  Did that make him a bad guy?  Of course not.  It did however make him a bad employee.  Over the years I’ve been guilty of having a beer, or a shot of something to “settle my nerves” during particularly stressful times, but to simply consume alcohol or use drugs has never really been my thing.

I started to suspect something was going on with him and kept a watch on things until one hot day when we were both drinking Gatorade.  At one point I grabbed the wrong bottle and got a snout full of vodka.  He was fired and, on his way, out I asked him to get help with his issues.  He said he would, but I should have known better.

A few days ago, he lost his life to heroine.  I didn’t know him well, but I liked him.  He was friendly to me the few times I saw him since I facilitated his firing.  He appeared to harbor no ill-will.  That was apparently who he was.  Since his death I have seen on social media an awful lot of positive comments about him and I knew it firsthand nice he was and how friendly he was.

He was a talented young man who had a problem.  He knew it, I knew it, and I have spoken to people recently who knew it.  We should have known better.

I’m certain this is my last post for the summer.  I’ll be too busy with work and I want to get a project off the ground that I’ve been working on too slowly.  This project is literally a matter of life and death.

Chefs 4 Chefs needs some attention and that’s what I’ll be working on while I’m not in the kitchen.  I call anyone interested in helping to email me or message me on FB.  I also encourage anyone who wants to sit and talk over a cup of coffee to do the same, I’ll make time for you.

This is an important project that needs to get off the ground.  Depression, drug and alcohol use, and other issues are too common in our kitchens and I don’t see much of a support system out there.  Step up, be a leader and mentor and join me in curbing some of the problems that face our industry. Like Chefs 4 Chefs on FB (a website is coming) and watch for a get-together soon to talk about how we can help.

Just continuing to fire people and have someone else take on their issues isn’t working.  We should know better.

How Do You Get To Broadway?

Broadway is coming alive more and more each day as it does this time of year.  As we head towards the opening of ‘da track’ I can see an uptick in activity both on the street, and by city maintenance crews primping the visible parts of the town so it’s ready for visitors.  Time to get the flowers right, fix the streets, and make sure the homeless population is fully aware that Broadway is off-limits.

When I take break at work I like to look out on Broadway.  I can see the many changes that have occurred over the years as I lament for the days when Cecil Myrie would strum his banjo in on a bench in front of the parking lot that is now The Washington building.  This is before street musicians needed a permit.  I wonder if the Jehovah’s witnesses need a sidewalk permit to set up in their various spots on Broadway.

Speaking of The Washington Building, my long-time friend and former sous chef at both The Wine Bar and The Merry Monk Dan Chessare will be opening a Jewish-style Deli called Saratoga’s Broadway Deli sometime in July.  It’s always difficult to give a specific starting date due to the number of moving parts involved with opening a food service establishment.

I can certainly vouch for his dedication and experience.  Before working with me at The Wine Bar he did 9 years at Scallions, so you can trust he knows how to make a sandwich.  He’s been working hard on perfecting his breads, and I am confident this will be a much-needed place Downtown.  A good quality sandwich is hard to come by.

Look for his place behind Kilwin’s in the Washington building at 420 Broadway. Also enter through Northshire Bookstore. See you there.

How does Godzilla win every time?  Fixed?

While walking around Broadway recently with Stella and Tate I was coerced into one of those over-priced dog places because the kids wanted to go in and see the $27 Red Sox tee-shirt for a dog.  You know the place, the one with its sidewalk sign further from the building than the city ordinance allows.  Anyway, the children wanted to buy some dog treats that are $12.95 per pound which is more than I paid for Prime NY strip loins for the last menu.  I decided on the half-pound minimum and watched as the clerk added the selected peanut butter flavor into a bowl sitting upon a scale not approved and certified by the Saratoga County Bureau of Weights and Measures.  As a chef I’m pretty good at weights (not lifting).  After she poured the scant number of treats into a bag I knew it was light, so I observed as she replaced the bowl to the scale and noticed that it was not on zero.  I mentioned it to her and she removed the bowl and showed me that it was.  I let her know that I was not buying the bowl and I like the scale set with the bowl on it.  After she doubled the quantity of tasty dog biscuits I wondered how many times she had sold that bowl.

I do love dogs.

Well, another change to Broadway on the way is the arrival of Pig and Whistle.  Looking at menu from their Burnt Hills location on-line on can see an attempt to inject an Irish theme by having a having a couple of Irish standbys and putting Guinness in their French onion soup and BBQ sauces. I understand they plan on employing 40-50 people.  I could not imagine the task of trying to hire that many cooks, servers, barkeeps, and dishwashers in Saratoga that time of the year.  Finding one or two is problematic enough.  I would worry that all the good ones are taken by then.  The “complete cosmetic makeover” should take only two to three weeks, unlike the several month makeover for the new Cantina done by Bonaccio, the largest construction outfit in Saratoga.  I suppose we all have a different concept of complete makeover.

The Saratoga restaurant scene is crowded, it’s competitive, and it’s a gang-rush from the opening of the racing season until the Saturday of the Travers.  Preparation is key, without it the season can be a real learning experience.

I like spending time on Broadway.  I like people watching from a bench where I can ask myself many questions in my head about the many kinds of people I see.  I like watching people try to parallel park their cars into spots big enough for a bus then realize they don’t have the ability and bail on the spot.

Jenn and I got engaged on Broadway.

Remember when Andrew Brindisi would be outside his place like a carnival barker trying to get people to come in?

The greatest thing I have ever seen is a gut parallel park a forty-foot US Foods truck in front of 392 Broadway in order to make a delivery to the Circus Cafe, soon to be Pig and Whistle.

If you’re heading to Broadway this summer look in the mirror before you leave the house as I may be sitting on a bench making fun of your outfit in my head.

Also, remember to be kind to all of the hospitality workers during your visit.  we’re sometimes overwhelmed and giving up a lot of summer activities for your benefit.

A New Menu Of Snippets

I launched my 19th menu at The Wine Bar this past Friday.  Aside from the tremendous task of prepping a full menu there’s a great deal of effort put forth by a lot of people in the restaurant to pull of a successful menu change.  Servers learn the new items from a guide I prepare a couple of weeks in advance, someone spends a lot of time formatting and making sure the final printed copy has no errors with the help of several proof-readers.  Another person is responsible for inputting the new menu and pricing into the POS system.  It’s really is a full team effort and I’m thankful for all the help from both my kitchen staff and everyone else for the hard work and for putting up with me while I demonstrate my stress level on the days leading up to the presentation of our summer offerings.

I’m also grateful to the ownership for allowing me to be a chef and cook as I know how to.  I’m convinced it makes a difference in the food and I think our clientele can tell the difference between a chef-driven menu and a menu created without passion based on old standbys and trends.  This is true for other good restaurants.

I recently read that quinoa is on its way out and farro is next in line.

Every restaurant should be required to have a poke bowl.

A juice, smoothie and avocado bar coming to Saratoga. Oye vey.

Remember the cupcake trend?

Some Saratoga restaurants don’t change their menu for the summer. Just the prices.

I was reading an on-line review for another restaurant when the line “a bit pricey but worth every penny” caused me to ask the writer (who was available for conversation in my head) if it’s worth the price, is it really pricey?

I recently ordered takeout from the Falafel Den in Saratoga.  I’m not sure if there was less sense of urgency or less flavor in the food.

I recently overheard a server explaining that he can’t work Sundays because he has a boat.

The woman in line before me was discussing with the cashier how Velveeta shells and cheese with bacon and hot dogs was her favorite meal.

Out for a beer recently and the bartender asked me what kind of flavor profile I liked.  I said beer. Oh, the eye roll and look of derision on his face.

I like my beer beer flavored and my coffee coffee flavored.  Anything else is something else.

My sous chef has a knack of calmly stepping in to address server inquiries at a time when such inquiries cause me anguish.

He also steals my towels an awful lot.

I do admit to being unreasonable at times due to my unreasonably high expectations of the other humans in most situations.

Some arrive and leave like thieves in the night.

I wasn’t particularly happy with my crazy doctor.  He was ok, and I’m sure he helped me, but I just couldn’t seem to make a connection.  I called a new shrink who never called back.

I recently tried to help someone improve their life with opportunity, patience, teaching, and decent tools to work with.  Then I got shit on.  It’s all good, I have a great kitchen and have unloaded my life of the stress of trying to make you better. Thank you.

There’s a big difference between you must and you ought to.

tailgaters make me slow down, for safety’s sake.

When a sales rep from a vendor that I don’t use pops into the restaurant unannounced I tell them they have 30 seconds to tell me why I should give them 5 more minutes. Very few stay for more than a half-minute.

Cell phones are a major distraction in the workplace.

False news and propaganda is spread by both sides of the political spectrum.  I simply don’t trust anyone with a staunch ideology one way or the other.  If your inflexible and fail to consider alternatives to your way of thinking, then you’re as bad as the opposite pole. It’s also brain lazy to take the same basic position in every situation.

People often assume that my statements about situations are opinions rather than statements of what was observed.  Sometimes I’m not like a news report on cable TV, sometimes I’m just reporting what happened.

They sell us water.


The thought of death and what it means has been on my mind for over a week now.  Between the very recent loss of a forever chef, hardened kitchen survivor, and great story-teller, the not so recent loss of close family and friends, and the future loss of my own life have brought feelings of mortality to the surface of my conscience.

Dark topic?  Sure.  But it shouldn’t be as dark as we make it out to be.  Death is sad, death is final, and death leaves us with too many regrets.

Death however is an opportunity for those of us left behind to celebrate the life of a loved one or an admired one.

The sad news that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide smacked me hard.  I’m not typically affected by celebrity deaths, but then again, I don’t normally identify with too many celebrities.

Anthony Bourdain was different.  He genuinely lived the tough industry life.  He did drugs hard, he drank hard, and he worked hard.  He was the real deal, so when he spoke of the kitchen lifestyle he spoke with more than sufficient experience to have unquestioned credibility.

Those of us in the business identified with Anthony Bourdain.  He was everyman.  He had been through all the situations and parts of kitchen life that are there to bring us down, and to destroy us.  He was strong enough to endure the drugs, alcohol, and torrid lifestyle that has taken on the appearance of urban legend.

So, we thought.  In the end something wasn’t right with Chef Bourdain.  I have no Idea what troubled him.  I’m not sure he may have known what troubled him.  I don’t know if it was an emotional issue or a chemical imbalance.  I don’t know if there was a brain malady.  We’ll likely never know.

As someone who has been in the industry for almost 20 years and had dealt with depression for as long or longer I can tell you that the disease is easy to hide, even from one’s self.  It’s easy to function, and it’s easy to lead what appears to be a normal life.  Still, something is wrong inside of you and it’s sometimes too late to find a reasonable solution.  Anthony found a solution.  It was his way out of something so dark that leaving his loved ones behind was the only way. It’s not cowardice, it’s not the easy way out.  It’s deeply sad that ending your own life is the only way.  How dark that place must be.

His death started me thinking about the reality of death.  I’ve always know about death and what it means.  It’s an obvious concept on the surface.  You’re alive, then you’re not.  In our culture however, we most commonly look at death as a terrible loss to be followed by sadness for the person we’ve lost.  The sadness can last for a lifetime.  Typically, the only comfort people can count on is the thought that “they’re in a better place.”  Heaven is a way for folks to feel better about death, a mythical place where the deceased float on clouds in eternal bliss.  I’m not buying it.  As an atheist I have decided that the best way to feel better about death is to celebrate life.

While concluding that the commemoration of life is far better and healthier than the sorrow of death I started thinking about what my life means to those I’ll leave behind. I’m scheduled for a biopsy on a new mole kind of thing on my arm and with a very strong family history of cancer I have things checked out that need checking out.  It’s likely nothing, but I haven’t pissed off enough people in my life, so I want to hang around a while longer.

My two favorite songs are Time, and Wish You Were Here.  Both by Pink Floyd

I am thankful for those who have been a part of my life.  Although I miss them I find that by celebrating the time I shared with them I can learn to appreciate the gifts they gave me.  My sister, my brother, my father, Lynne, and Anthony Bourdain all gave me something in life, and even more in death. Thank you for living, and I forgive you all for dying.

The Cusp Of Summer In Saratoga

As summer approaches I see all around Saratoga people and businesses getting ready for the onslaught of visitors to the city.  It’s tough for the folks who work in the service industry.  While everyone else is enjoying summer, nice weekends, sitting on patios on Broadway drinking gin and tonics we’re working to make your visit the best possible.

I have almost desire to visit the racetrack.  I’ve developed a bit of a disdain for horse racing in recent years.  Workers live in barns not quite as nice as the accommodations the horses get while in town and some of the horses who are not volunteer athletes die either on the track or soon after because of injury.

Another sign of summer’s arrival is the number of Craigslist ads and posts on Facebook looking for restaurant employees.  The labor pool is very shallow this year because of the increasing number of eateries in Saratoga and because ICE has been rounding up a larger-than-usual number of undocumented workers in accordance with the policies of the current administration.  There are just not enough qualified workers to go around in Saratoga and I would expect this to be a very stressful season for a lot of my industry mates.

Fortunately for me, I’m currently well-staffed and expect this summer to be one of the better ones in a long time for me.  My previous employment at The Wine Bar (and other places) required me to work six days per week for the season.  Now, during my present stint I’m only obligated to work five days.  That’s going to make a big difference for me as the extra day of recovery will enhance both my emotional and my physical well-being.  When I feel better I’m much easier to work with.

As a Saratoga veteran I have a good sense of what is about to come and how to best handle it.  When designing a menu for the summer there is an important thing to take into consideration and that is what people looking for.  My experience tells me that most visitors who have spent the day at “da track” are looking for things they’re accustomed to.  Steaks, lamb racks, chicken, lobster tails, scallops, familiar fish, and pastas all fit the bill.  I’m not indicating that people who travel from downstate are unsophisticated in any sense of the word.  What I have learned over the years is that most people who are traveling away from home are looking for something they recognize, and a meal is one place they can find something they’re used to.  While it’s fun to travel and experience new things, I find that most people become a bit homesick quickly and are looking for that safe place, a well-prepared dinner they’ve had before.

The summer menu will be about that, welcoming, familiar, and not laden with ingredients that need to be explained to them.  Keep in mind that I’m a chef and I will stray ever so slightly from that philosophy in a few spots.  For the most part, the summer menu is designed to be simple, quickly executed, and a comfort to our guests.

The menu is about done and will roll out on June 21st.  We are taking inventory of plates, glassware (several cases arrived yesterday), and our pans in the kitchen.  As my employer expressed yesterday, “there are a lot of moving parts to a restaurant.”  I replied, “most people have no idea how many.”

To all my colleagues in the hospitality business, have a great summer, it’ll be over before you know it.  Remember to take some time to have some fun and don’t overdo the nightlife.  To the visitors to the restaurants, keep in mind that the people working get a very limited summer.  We work a lot of hours and have little time for the enjoyment you’re experiencing.  Be patient, be kind, and be mindful of others.


Useless Snippets

I generally save worthless thoughts on my phone’s notepad then pass them on to you poor souls to suffer through when I get enough, or get tired of keeping them. Here they are.

I’m almost done with the summer menu.  Summer in Saratoga means a simpler, faster menu than I do for other times of the year.  It’s not a time to be ultra-creative, or to show how many preparations of steak that you may know. This is no time to present a 5-pan pick up for a single dish.  What I find most important is creating a menu that can be executed quickly, be of the best quality that you can get, and be performed flawlessly.  It’s a big thrill to have people say hello and let you know they make it a point to come back every year.  It’s certainly not just about feeding people, it’s about providing a dining experience while eliminating the items, steps, and situations that bring down a dinner service in a short amount of time.

Kiss – keep it simple stupid.

Judge Judy always says, “that’s hearsay, I don’t listen to hearsay.”

Yoga pants.  You should not be putting 10 pounds of potatoes into a 5-pound bag.  A recent Lake George observation.

How do you know when someone is on a fad diet?  They’ll tell you unsolicited.

At the bus stop the kids were each boasting about the cool things they were able to do.  One young fella piped up and said, “I can spit on my own head.”

When your tattoos are worth more than your car.  Another Lake George observation.

Some people wait for the water to boil, others keep busy while until the water boils.

I want to be like John Keating from Dead Poets Society.  I would have liked to have a teacher like that.  The closest thing may have been Jim Rua at Café Capriccio.

Perhaps a Dead Chefs Society.

Crap, I don’t have time to do all the things on my list as it is.  DCS will have to wait.

There’s a mole about.

Never tell your wife that a long weekend is a good opportunity for her to catch up on her chores.  Trust me, you’ll regret it.

Walking through BJ’s today I heard the following: “She really wants Crocs, but they only have black.”  “She’ll just have to bejewel them.”

Speaking of BJ’s, there’s a new place opening locally called BJ’s Brewhouse.  Some folks are up-in-arms because they call themselves a brewhouse, but don’t brew beer there.  Well, there are a lot of places that don’t do or are not what their name implies.  Get over it.  Price Chopper comes to mind.

Stress can take you away from your creativity.

Hummus is one thing; pureed vegetables are another.  Adding tahini to something does not make it hummus.

I’m sorry your kid doesn’t like anything on the menu. What word in the name made you think children’s menu?  Wine or bar?

Overheard while having lunch in Lake George: “They offered me full-time, but I’m not giving up my weekends.”  You ever wonder why some people drive a 1997 Chevy Cavalier?

A cabin in the woods.

Gossip and hearsay are like water. It goes its own way and is only as good as its source.

Gossip is unlike water in that the more it passes through filters the poorer quality it becomes.

I warned you they were useless.