Two nights ago, I was in involved one of those instances in which I couldn’t sleep, and my mind started wandering to a familiar topic. Yup, food and the restaurant life. As a result, I came up with three blog topics that I thought would keep me busy for a while and I entered my thoughts into my phone’s notepad.
I awoke thinking I had conceived several pearls of wisdom during the night then I looked at my phone to view what I was sure was an ample supply of fodder for some topics, I quickly realized these thoughts were not enough for full posts.
I have concocted an additional format for chefsday called pearls. They’re like snippets only longer. The idea is still the same. When I really don’t have much to say I can still post under the premise that I think about things that produce well thought out and developed topics.
I’ve been thinking about what draws people to certain restaurants in Saratoga. The standard answers are good food, prices, service, portion size, great patio, and proximity to home. One thing I have observed over the years is that the people of Saratoga (in general) love the new and popular spot. The ability to add to any conversation “I’ve been three times already” is of real value in boosting one’s social standing, at least for a few moments.
For many, the popularity wears off quickly. Salt and Char comes to mind. It was all the rage as people couldn’t talk about it enough. Big majestic building, millions spent, celebrity chef, shiny new kitchen, and all the buzz of an over-grow bee hive on a summer day. Turn a few calendar pages, replace celebrity chef with another celebrity chef, replace actual working chef several times and……… Haven’t heard much lately.
Once the new restaurant shine wears off it’s fun to see what’s left. While it may be a Saratoga thing to do, I typically avoid the new kid on the block and seek out those that have remained open and steady year after year. The Old Bryan Inn does what it does well. Chianti is as busy as always. The Wine Bar has been open for almost 19 years. These places are not hot and new, but there’s a reason they’ve been open so long. I’ll also include the no longer new 15 Church, continuing to thrive despite being past the excitement of the just opened status. After examination one can tell what the real gem is, and what’s fool’s gold. If course, there are always exceptions, no names mentioned.
As the heart of the summer settles in, and the six weeks of mayhem about to start I’m pleased that the fall menu is well underway. I’ve been increasingly diligent about getting the next season’s menu done well ahead of time to ensure that I have time to prepare. I need to be sure the products I want to use can be sourced easily, that we have whatever equipment we need to prepare everything properly, that the menu design can go through the proper process, and that both the service staff and kitchen are up to speed on everything they need to know for a successful menu launch. While there are always flaws and snags, the early preparation can minimize any problems.
The problem I’ve been having is that I’ve started to feel a bit confined by both our current menu format and by my commitment to Mediterranean influence. There’s nothing wrong with either scenario, but as a chef with the desire to exercise creativity it is within my nature to want to try new things. Falling into the trap of keeping the status quo because it works can cause one to become stale and unmotivated. A stale and unmotivated kitchen can often become evident to the clientele and sharply affect business.
The need to branch out from my Mediterranean influence is a bit irrational since my mastery of other cuisines is limited. I can produce other flavor profiles well enough, but not with the confidence of staying within my wheelhouse. I also know that the flavors of the Mediterranean are numerous and my playground within the vast area is open to both many flavors and interpretations. I’ll stick to what I know. Besides, I don’t see anyone else capturing that flavor spectrum in Saratoga.
As far as the format goes, I do believe that one should stick to what works as best they can. I also believe that change can be good, even refreshing and enlightening. So how to capture both philosophies is the task here. The general idea of food at the Wine Bar has always been a small, well crafted menu offering small plates and two portion sizes on entrees. There’s no reason the stray from that, but within that framework I think we can offer something new with a few refreshing ideas that will keep the Wine Bar doing what it does best, and at the same time creating a new experience.
“How are the gnocchi?” “Very good, but my wife’s are better.” “You’re a very lucky man, but can your wife make these gnocchi while she’s making all the food for everyone else in this dining room are the same time?’
“you’re such a good cook, you should open a restaurant or catering business.”
“I know what I’m talking about, I didn’t go to culinary school (she took some classes as a hobby) for nothing.”
Civilians too often know the difference between a seasoned professional and a hobbyist, a foodie, a restaurant groupie, or whatever you’d like to call those folks who like to hang out on the fringes of the restaurant and good food world. There’s nothing wrong with these people, but they should not be confused with those of us that have dedicated their careers to learning and doing day after day.
Food blogs are fine, some are excellent, but most are written as a hobby and are often not backed up by years of experience behind a hot stove in a busy kitchen.
The Food Network generation has been cursed with a little bit of knowledge, and a little bit of knowledge can be very annoying when one brings it to a restaurant with them. The desire to design your own menu means either you should have one of your wonderful dinner parties or better, yet you should put up the cash to open your own place.
Yes, I understand the hospitality business, but let the professionals do what they do best.
The next time the electrician comes to your house ask him if you can plan out his work routine for him or her.