Pay the Man

I love Amazon.  I know I shouldn’t for so many reasons, but it makes my life so much easier.  When I need new work pants, I click on buy again, select my quantity and color and wait two days for my new Dickies Original Fit™ work pants.  It saves me from having to visit the store.  I know my size from when I purchased a few pairs at a retail store.  I’ve done the same with the Dr. Martins I wear in the kitchen but made my original purchase at a brick and mortar location.  Why not just try them on at the store and then just buy them cheaper on-line?  Because it’s kind of a jerk thing to do.

I was in a retail store in Saratoga recently waiting for the owner to finish with a customer who was shopping for some high-end knives to use at home.  He was educated about the difference between German, American, and Japanese steel, blade types, sharpening angles, and all relevant information needed to make an informed purchase.  At the end of the lesson the customer declared that now “has a lot to think about.”  And left without as much as a thank you.  Just before I could say to the proprietor that he was probably sitting in his car ordering a set of knives on Amazon, he said to me that “he won’t be back, he’s going to order them on line.”  “I just gave him a free twenty-minute education on knives.”

I used to see this years ago when I owned the pro shop in the Finger Lakes Tennis Club.  People would try a racquet or two on the court during their league play, then show up the following week with one of the same models.  The same story when I was the footwear manager for Dick’s Sporting Goods.

I’m ok with catalogue shopping or ordering on-line, it saves me a great deal of time and effort, and I’m a busy person, so the time-saving is valuable to me.  What I won’t do, and you shouldn’t either is spend a lot of a retailer’s time to be educated, and to be sized for something you have no intention of buying from them.  It’s rotten, and a real asshole thing to do.  Their knowledge and time are worth something, and you need to pay for that.  So, the next time you need something that is cheaper on the interwebs and you take up a store owners time and make use of his or her knowledge then save yourself a few bucks by ordering it from Amazon, I hope you get a cheap knock-off from China.

I’m suggesting a $25 non-refundable deposit when a store worker will spend more than five minutes to educate you on a product that you intend to buy on-line.  The money goes towards your purchase if you end up buying at the retail level.

This behavior is akin to the folks who book three restaurants for tables of eight in the same area during Parent’s Weekend, at graduation, or on Traver’s Day then deciding where to go when their group gets together, failing to cancel the other two reservations leaving a restaurant with unused, or under-utilized space that they must pay for.

The next time you ask why things are more expensive at certain locations, ask yourself if it has anything to do with your behavior. Perhaps there’s a nice balance between supporting local businesses and using on-line purchasing and reservations for your benefit.

The bottom line is, if you use someone’s service, take advantage of their education and acquired expertise, or ask them to reserve time or space for you, then you should pay for it.

The next time you ask a chef for their recipe, think about that.  Try calling an attorney for free legal advice or going to your doctor for a free consult.

Pay the man what he’s due (her too, for all you NPR listeners).



I’m Opening a Restaurant

“I’m opening a restaurant!”  People with the dream of opening their own place love to say that, but too often do not have the right space, the right concept, enough money, or get sucked into a bad lease or partnership which leads to e failure.  Even if the above isn’t true, mismanagement, opening for the sport of it, or a change in the business climate without adjustment will lead to an eventual demise.

When you want to have your own restaurant it’s very easy to make poor decisions when faced with the opportunity to have one or move into what is believed to be a better space.  I’ve made plenty of rash decisions, especially when it was in reference to something I wanted so badly that my judgement was clouded by desire and dreams.  Wanting to oversee your own kitchen or dining room is no different.

I recently read a story about a new restaurant opening in Saratoga and it got me thinking about this topic.  It’s something I have thought about many times over the years as well as taking the leap myself.  These questions are based on my personal experience, my victories, and my mistakes.

Is the lease favorable and manageable?  This is one of the things you need an attorney for.  Reading it carefully, and “my buddy is in real estate” doesn’t cut it.  Pay someone who can give you solid advice and negotiation points.  I once looked at a spot for a sublease and asked the potential sublessor what would happen if she went out of business before her three years remaining were up.  No answer.  I once was presented with a lease where the landlord wanted me to be responsible for structural repairs and equipment maintenance.  I asked if he was willing to have an inspection of the building and appliances and he refused.  Bye said I.

Are your partners trustworthy?  I don’t mean that you trust them against theft or other wrongdoing (if you’re not already convinced of that, get new partners), but can you trust that they are in it for the same reasons, are they an asset to the business?  Are they fully committed to the project?  Again, see a lawyer for an agreement. It’s easier to do it before the project than after.

What makes you atypical and does it make sense?  How will you stand out from the crowd?  “I want to have the best wings in town” does not set you apart, but believe it or not, I’ve heard that more than once when opening restaurants for people.  The clown that opened It’s Confidential on Caroline St. thought the best wings in town would be enough of a draw.  No experience, no clue.  Be serious and honest with yourself, how will you be different or better than what’s available?  Being different is good to a point, but you need to be sure that people get your concept and are willing to support it.

Does the area need another restaurant of that type?  Mexican, Italian, steak house?  Look around and ask yourself if the area you’re looking to open needs another Mexican restaurant, Pub, or Deli.  Can the population support your style of restaurant?  If there are already 4 other restaurants close buy in a city of 30,000 people doing what you propose, then you may want to rethink your concept.  “We’ll be different.” May not be the answer.  Italian is the exception.  With the success of Cantina on in the middle of Broadway in Saratoga I would be unwilling to open a Mexican restaurant, (no matter how different you think it would be) in location with a poor history and no visibility.

Do you have proven success in restaurant management?   No experience is likely to be a sure path to failure. There are exceptions, but I have seen very few people with limited experience be successful.

Can you really cook? Is your food good?  Make sure. Cooking Christmas dinner and receiving rave reviews from your family doesn’t add up to success. The restaurant business is not the same as a dinner party for eight.  It can be eight at 6:00, and a couple of fours and three deuces at 6:30 followed by a more tables of two, three and four.  If you’re going to run the kitchen, make sure you can cook well on a professional level. If not expect to add a chef who will be the highest paid employee on your payroll

Can the labor market support another restaurant?  How hard it to hire and retain employees at your current job (assuming you’re working in the restaurant business)?  If it’s difficult, what makes you think it’ll be easier when you’re the boss?  It likely won’t.  The most successful restaurants I’ve ever worked in had more than one long-term employee and limited turnover.   It’s not uncommon to have turnover, but I have seen first-hand what rapid employee turnover can cause a business to be either unsuccessful or less successful than it should be.

Does the space have a positive history?  What has preceded you?  If it was a run of failures, then rethink the location.  It just may not be the spot for another restaurant.  I’m really referring to the upstairs at 17 Maple in Saratoga where I recently learned that it will become a Mexican restaurant in April.  While the run of failed restaurants that have used that address is not a guarantee that the new entity will fail, one must wonder if this is the place to open yet another place.

Who will design and maintain your website and social media outlets?  Today’s business climate demands strong online presence.  Spend the money on a professionally designed website and have someone very qualified to handle social media.  It’s very important to be ahead of the curve on social media and it takes someone with both the time and experience to make it work for you.  Don’t leave it to a staff member who will simply post stuff without knowledge of the product, or a good understanding of how social media works, how to create quality photos, how to communicate flawlessly and clearly, and how to present captivating video.  Amateur work shows.

Do you have enough capital?  The best way to make a small fortune in the restaurant business is to start with a big fortune.  Be realistic about expenses, expect the unexpected, and don’t think your projections for income are accurate.  Also, don’t expect all the people who say that if you ever opened your own place they’d be there.  They won’t. Expect to have zero income for at least six months while still being responsible for paying all the bills. Can you do that?  If not, reconsider opening or raise more money.

Are people willing to support your kind of restaurant?  I worked at the now closed Chez Nous in Schenectady for eight months, and my efforts to convince the owners that a high-end French restaurant will fail in Schenectady went by the wayside.  I contended that a bistro model would allow them to keep the French theme while allowing me to hit a style and price point more appealing to the fine folks of Schenectady, the city I grew up in.  Give the people what they want, and if you don’t have what they want, or are unwilling to do be flexible, then don’t open

Does your family support your decision, and will they help support your business?  Probably not, and not likely.

Here are some snippets, I’m drinking Bourbon, so I may wander.

Owning a restaurant is more than a full-time job.  If you’re unwilling or unable to work long hours almost every day then it’s not for you.

Be wary about hiring family and friends.  They may be ok, but too often they will think they have a pass when it comes to being a solid and committed worker.

Hire professionals

Have a clear theme, a clear picture of what you want to be, and carry that theme all through everything you do.

Make it clear what you are and carry yourself and your new restaurant with a consistent theme.  The decor, the music, the food, the service, the stationary, the uniforms, everything must be consistent

Don’t make your restaurant a party for you and your friends.

Respect an animal’s death.

A host or hostess, either one. Essential. Sometimes it’s the owner, sometimes it’s a warm inviting person.  The host, from open to close is so important.

Red wine inspires cooking.

Food cost is overrated.

Don’t take wine too seriously.

Wine is fun.

Find your place

Servers should not have cell phones during service.

Work is not a picnic.

Eat before you come, eat when you get home.

Work.  Do whatever needs doing.

Be relevant, as a restaurant and as a chef.

I hope to be a happy old man.

I love cooking for people, people who appreciate cooking.

I would love to have a small restaurant, and I’ll leave it at that.

Stuff in My Head

When you cook the foods from a culture, and I’m not talking about simply using the ingredients from that culture’s cuisine, but claiming to be representing that culture, then do it with respect, and not as a gimmick or a marketing stunt.

Brady won’t be around much longer.

Mahomes will.

I’m strongly considering getting another tattoo.  I want something that makes sense, something that represents who and what I am, not who and what I think I am or want to be.

Mariano Rivera was an unsuccessful starting pitcher.  He entered the Hall of Fame by the first ever unanimous vote as arguably the best relief pitcher ever.  Find your niche.

When carrying three plates requires the server to hold one of them like a football and alter your plate presentation.

I once worked with a server who at 76 years old could manage to carry five plates.  The problem was that when she hit the dining room she forgot where she was going.

Wouldn’t it be cool if phone chargers were all the same?  I think we all know why they’re not.

An underage drinking sweep by the SLA on the day of Chowderfest could raise some funds and perhaps help return to an event about chowder.

I heard from a beer distributor that Chowderfest is the number two-day for beer sales in Saratoga behind St. Patrick’s Day.

People who cannot bother to clear the snow off their rear window before they drive.

If you think inspirational quotes, motivational sayings, and posters designed to stimulate your desire to excel are going to bring you success, then you’re nuts. They’re not, only you can stimulate your desire to excel.

I’ve started writing the spring menu.  I will stray from my norm. It’ll be good, I assure you.

Clarity and conciseness.

There are about 5000 gods worshiped by humans, yours is the right one, I’m sure.

I love when people come to work 15 minutes late, then stand there complaining about not being able to find parking while holding a cup of hot Dunkin Donuts coffee.

A shift starts at 5, you arrive at 5:01, clock in, get dressed, make your greetings, settle in and are ready to start working at 5:15 or so.

Either they’re too lazy to work or they’re stealing our jobs.  Make up your minds, which is it?

About 50 million Americans receive government assistance, a little over 20 percent of the citizen population.  Non-citizens do not qualify for public assistance.

Mussels with Pernod and cream go to the table, couple eats half the mussels, send mussels back requesting more broth, chef does his best to add more being careful not to overcook the existing mussels.  Couple not happy with the refill, while asking for a third helping of bread. Chef explains to server that the broth is made by cooking the order of mussels with butter, Pernod, and cream.  Couple doesn’t understand and isn’t satisfied, asks bartender. Chef drinks Pernod.

Tate had surgery today for umbilical hernia.  Yesterday the hospital called me to update their demographic information.  After the usual name, address, and employer, ethnicity comes up.  I said, “that question is irrelevant”, but the woman says, “we like to ask it.”  I said you like to ask irrelevant questions?  “No, I don’t,” she claims.  “Would your wife consider herself Hispanic” comes next.  I said, “I thought you didn’t like asking irrelevant questions.”   I added “I’m not answering questions that have nothing to do with Tate’s health, or billing and insurance.”  She moved on.  My wife, who is a medical administrator calls me “non-compliant.”  I find that title complementary.

Tate’s fine. Surgery was this morning, he was running around this afternoon.  I had the same procedure in 1964, but I was sliced open and certainly not an outpatient.  Who says America isn’t already great?

Today the Chocolate Lab named Piper who lives with us was trying to tell me something.  I asked her if Timmy had fallen into a well.  She asked me who Timmy is.  She’s too young to get that joke.

Sometimes it’s best to doing nothing about something.

Some of in this business have the opportunity to work for some of the few great restaurant owners.  Here’s a great testimonial to one of the good ones, on of the families that make a difference.

I’m lucky, I work for people who care, and make my life in this business easier.

I knew a Mexican

I’ve known a lot of Mexicans in the restaurant business, which used to be a thing in Saratoga before ICE started getting rid of the good dishwashers, prep cooks, and line cooks.

Saratoga in general wants good restaurants, luxury hotels, and a well-groomed city.  What they don’t want (in general) is Mexicans, low-income housing, and it’s less fortunate showcased on Broadway.  Saratoga has gotten rid of most of the Mexicans, (but still loves to celebrate and profit from Cinco de Mayo to its fullest).

Americans love Mexican food, especially tacos.

Americans love products made with cheap labor.

Too many Americans use the drugs run by the cartels who can make life difficult for people trying to live a decent and simple life which in part causes the influx of people coming across the southern border to escape the violence and to improve their lot in life by doing the jobs Americans are unwilling to do or do well.

One issue with running a kitchen in Saratoga is that Saratogians don’t raise a lot of dishwashers and line cooks. Too many of the white young folks in Saratoga have no sense of responsibility, no sense of urgency, and no work ethic.  Concerts, family trips, birthday parties, and hanging with friends seems more important than learning the value of employment. Of course, if you don’t need the employment, that employment has zero to little value.  The reality is that I prefer people who need a job and are committed to it.  I’ll even take that over young people who tell me they want a culinary career but can’t seem to be able to be committed for whatever reason.  Nope, give me an energetic young person who needs the job, and can learn, that’s who I want working for me.

When you take great risks to cross the border however you can for work, you are clearly 100% in need of a job, and chances are you’re going to be thankful for your employment, show up on time, and not ask for every other weekend off.

Many years ago, one such young man was presented to me at the kitchen door.  He spoke no English, he was anxious, and tremendously out of his comfortable, yet uncomfortable environment.  I gave him a job despite what I may have known to be true about this young man. His paperwork checked out with the payroll company, so I had done my due diligence.

The young Mexican quickly learned English, his 4th language, got his own apartment, and as it turns out was a great trumpet player.  He was also a committed employee.  This is more than I can say about too many of the young people I have hired in Saratoga restaurants.

I’ve sat and shared meals with a good number of Mexicans, all of them a pleasure to break bread with.  Tortillas actually.  I’ve learned about Mexican cooking and culture, and I’ve learned that building more tables and fewer fences (or walls) is the best way to make our small world a better place.

Guess Who’s Back?

Back again.

It’s me, Mr. Wishy Washy.  When I stopped writing several months ago, I thought I had nothing left to say on this blog, in fact, I thought blogging was getting tiresome.  The fact of the matter is that I was spreading myself too thin and it was easiest to give up writing.  I often make rash decisions, and I sometimes don’t consider all the possibilities before I make decisions.

Well, I’ve cut my work schedule down to four days and have turned down several outside catering gigs lately to have more time at home for family and fun projects like writing.

I’ve also met with a social media/web specialist so I can get my website, my blogs, and Facebook pages under one umbrella.  One of the issues I faced and led to the decision in part to quit chefsday was that my work was too scattered.  Being more organized in my web presence may help. We’ll see.

I think almost everybody makes decisions like I do, or at least has a similar thought process like I do.  I just happen to do my thinking out loud and in public, so perhaps I seem like I can’t make up my mind.  I don’t know, it’s hard to determine.  I guess I cannot commit to a reason why I appear to be all over the road.




To get back into the swing of things, let’s do some snippets.

Her self-serving style, her “look at me” kind of prose has no place in our culinary panorama.  I think she’s of little to no value to the local restaurant scene and writes and reviews with a vindictive tone that should preclude her from judging the work of others. I know without question that her food and restaurant knowledge is lacking.

Once you accept you are being judged by people who have less knowledge than yourself, then what’s it worth?  Marco Pierre White

She may be nice otherwise, but having a hack review our work just isn’t fair play. The TU should be better than that.

Chowderfest was a wreck again this year.  Someone argued with me about my criticism.  He said people could go earlier and stick to quiet venues like the City Center and places on the outskirts.  Why? Is it fair that because places start serving alcohol at 8:30 am (Farmer’s Hardware had a pre-party with drink specials) and idiots don’t know how to act in public when they get a couple of drinks into their feeble brains that families cannot enjoy all the venues offering chowder? Why should they be the ones to have to be selective?  Let’s load the drunks into one venue and let those interested in a community event have the run of the city.

St Patrick’s day will be here soon enough.

Most of the Mexican workers have been chased out of Saratoga, leaving a serious lack of decent line cooks, prep cooks, and dishwashers.

Saratoga has 4 Mexican restaurants, and celebrates Cinco de Mayo (not a real holiday) with full gusto.

My former employers, the owners of Chez Nous in Schenectady have decided to close their doors.  What I like about their closing announcement was their honesty.  They flatly said we simply aren’t doing enough business and the place is losing money. They gave it a shot, on their own, with their own funds, and that’s worth something.  It’s also far more than most people accomplish.

Most place who decide to call it quits make up a story rather than admit a failed business.

The Braeburn Tavern on Broadway in Saratoga is for sale after a short stint.  I recall a lackluster meal there while being the only table.  Apparently, they’re leaving the location to “focus on another project.”

My son no longer likes baloney. He forgot to tell me after I put it in his lunch.

Did you see this in the Times Union?

I’ve been using CBD oil for about a month now, I’m feeling a little less anxious, and my focus and thoughts are clearer.

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of cooking a large meal for the staff at Yono’s/dp for their annual staff party.  What a great gesture and show of appreciation for their staff, and what a great time I had working in their kitchen.  Thank you.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Wednesday.

A lot of people have no understanding what happens in a restaurant before the door is open for service, nor do they understand the number of moving parts involved.

I get road rage in the grocery store.

Good to be back.

Final Snippets

I haven’t written in a bit.  Yes, I’ve been very busy, but the reality is that I just haven’t had much new to say.  Well, I have, but most of what I’ve had to say covers topics I’ve exhausted already.

Today, on the fourth anniversary of this blog I’ve decided to end it.  I want to continue to write, but I just think I’m ready for something new.

You don’t necessarily have to be good at what you do, you merely need to convince people who you are good at what you do.

I mentioned not too long ago that I was outlining a book, so I’m going to focus more writing time on that project.

I loved working for Jim Rua.  I found him to be generous and caring.  He gave credit for your ideas.

I hated working for John LaPosta.  I found him to be mean and uncaring.  He took credit for your ideas.

Oh snap. You didn’t say that?

I like where I work now.  It ain’t perfect, but no place is.  Accepting that has really made a difference in my life.

Some people love to tell you what they can do for you, others will do them.

I don’t like sneaky people.

Thank you all of you for giving me support following my post about my battle with depression, it meant a lot to me.  I’m ready to help others in our industry with similar issues.

I reserve the right to start a new blog at some point.

I was in the checkout at The Hannaford’s and the cashier told the customer in front of me that she didn’t trust doctors and would rather die than go to one.

My continued recovery from depression has left me with a new clarity and ability to understand things I hadn’t for a very long time.   That is really starting to show up in my work.

Theresa, Jenn, and I knew one of the young people who perished in the recent limousine crash in Schoharie

What the Hell? This story gets more fucked up every day.

I got a call this evening from some dipshit asking me to support some republican candidate.  I told her I’d rather die than vote for a republican in today’s climate.

I voted for Reagan.

Yes, I know republican should have been capitalized, but they don’t deserve a capital letter unless they can get rid of all the assholes like Mitch McConnell and the number one asshole Donald Trump.

Hey, your portfolio is strong, who cares who’s getting fucked.

One would think It would be fitting that I consume Bourbon while writing my final post, but I chose oak cask-aged Irish whiskey instead.

Quitting drinking is one of my next tasks.  If you have been paying attention you know it’s been a struggle.

Well, I told you I have nothing left to say.

My goal was always to write at least five hundred words.

There you have it. Five hundred final words. Thanks folks.

You Own It

Take ownership

I’m feeling at peace right now, if only for a little while.  No, I’m not on a morphine drip, which often sounds comforting.  I’m alone.

It has been rare as of late since the kids were out of school for the Summer, and more recently I’ve been on vacation in a cabin at Minerva Lake.  That sounds comforting as well until you realize it’s with your extended family on your wife’s side.  Good people? Yes.  Is it a peaceful vacation?  Not really.

My friend told me about a scene in a bar recently when he was having a drink(s) with a professional stand-up comic.  Someone asked the comic to tell a joke, and the comic asked him what he does for a living.  The bar patron told him he’s in construction to which the comic replied, “build me a fuckin’ deck and I’ll tell you a joke.”

I get it.

When you’re in certain occupations people expect you to perform your work for free on your off time.  Cooking, serving meals, and cleaning up afterwards is one of those things people do not see as chefs and other restaurant people performing their normally paid-for jobs.  “They do it because they love it.”  No, we often do it because it won’t get done otherwise.

Well, put that expectation to rest.  Don’t ask your mechanic buddy to look at your car, don’t ask a doctor pal to check the weird rash on your balls, and don’t expect free restaurant quality meals from your chef friends and relatives without some sort of payment or trade.  I’m done giving it away to those who do not have an understanding or appreciation for what I do.  I own that talent, I’ve worked hard to develop it, and I do it for long hour on many days.  I don’t always feel like doing it on my off time.

Last week we went to my friend Mehmet’s house for dinner.  He’s a great cook, especially Turkish cuisine.  What a great time we had.  It was so nice to visit with friends that we do not see enough of.  I owe these people a meal.

When I was put in charge of the footwear department at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Syracuse, the store manager Steve Ruskin told me to take ownership of the department and to make it mine.  I did.  It was great advice and I use it to this day.

One of the reasons I’ve had success at The Wine Bar is that I’m allowed to take ownership of the kitchen.  I, of course don’t mean literal ownership, but I am for the most part left to run things as I see fit. As a result, I run the kitchen as if I were the actual owner, paying close attention to costs, quality, and maintenance of the equipment and the cleanliness of the structure and storage areas.

I try to allow individuals to do the same in my kitchen.  Within the basic framework of our layout, I insist that cooks and dishwashers set up their stations in a way that best works for them if it fits into the overall function of the kitchen.  If the results are good, and the set up allows the cooks to work in a clean manner, I’m happy.

Last week Stella and I were driving down Broadway in Schuylerville and she noticed that a small restaurant had moved up the street.  I told her we should open our own restaurant in the vacant spot and with excitement she agreed.  I asked her what kind of place we should open, and she said, “It should be a kind of place that Schuylerville doesn’t have.”  If other owners would follow that logic we might have a little more diversity. She’s seven and has more of a clear idea than a lot of prospective restauranteurs.

Oh’ I forgot to tell you, Dick’s is properly named.


Why?  Because they own the place and perhaps they don’t want to have to get in at 9 am to prepare for the complaining lunch crowd in their place splitting a sandwich and having a glass of house Chardonnay, then leaving a $3 tip for servers who hate the lunch shift.

They ponied up the money to open a business, and it’s their decision.  That’s why.


It’s All About That Base

Many years ago, when I was a competitive long-distance runner there were two competitive seasons.  In the Fall there was cross country and road races. In the Spring and early Summer there was track.  What the two seasons had in common was that they were precluded by a base-building phase that consisted of a lot of long steady runs with minimal fast running and typically no racing.  It was the work required to build lasting strength and a solid foundation for an increasing amount of fast running in both training and in racing.   The same kind of base-building is a requirement in many occupations including those jobs in the kitchen.

This topic floated to the top of my sea of thoughts recently when a young member of my kitchen staff decided, with almost no cooking experience, take a job as a line cook in another restaurant.  Fortunately, he was convinced to stay in my kitchen and learn as much as we could teach him about food and its preparation.  I like the kid, and he has an aptitude for the work, and it’s also what he wants to do with his life.  My sous chef and I will make sure he starts to build a strong base of knowledge and experience before he takes the next step in his career.  Just as the long-distance runner is sure to fail without the base of hours of running, so to will an individual fail when thrown into a position they’re not prepared for.  Not only is this young man avoiding a bad experience, he’s avoiding taking a step that may waste valuable time in setting off into rewarding career.

Being willing to do the necessary base work is what finds a lot of young cooks-turned-chefs producing mediocre food and running poorly managed and even dysfunctional kitchens. Laying the groundwork is well worth the time investment.  Some years ago, I had a young fella washing dishes for me who declared that he wanted to learn to cook.  I told him to go down to the walk in cooler and get a box of shiitake mushrooms that were on the right-hand side, first row on the shelf about waist-high.  He came up with them with great anticipation and was sure he was going to make something with them.  I showed him how to trim off the stems with a paring knife, and to save the stems for stock.  Disappointed, he corrected my intentions by informing me that he wanted to cook, not prep.  I sent him back to the pot sink.

I recall a story told by a famous French chef about how he got his start in kitchens when he was 13.  I simply cannot remember who was, Jacques Pepin I believe, but I’m not sure.  He wanted a job in a small bistro in France and took himself to the back door of the kitchen and asked for a position, so he could learn the trade.  The chef instructed him to return the following day and he would teach him how to cook.  Upon returning the young apprentice was shown a tower of pots and pans with instructions on how to clean them.  He did it, and every day for six months continued to do it at the chef’s instruction.  Finally, the young man asked the chef about cooking.  He peeled potatoes and onions for the next six months.  He never quit, he never complained, and he became a great chef.

Young cooks listen up.  Do the work.  Peel the potatoes, slice the onions, wash the pots, mop the floors.  Do all of it as well as you can.  Construct a strong base of knowledge, experience, and excellence on which to build your career.  It’s all about that base


August is a Lost Month

Remember the old TV ads touting Saratoga as “the August place to be?”  I don’t know if those ads still run since I do not have cable television.  It is the place to be in August, but I think it’s the year-round place to be and I suggest that people discover that there’s a lot more to this city than horse racing.

The truth is, many of us in the hospitality field would rather be somewhere else than Saratoga in August.  Most of us love what we do, and will continue to do it, but August is a lost month for many of us.  During August I work, I sleep, I mow my lawn, and I sleep some more.  There are too many things left by the wayside this month that really need to get done.

Theresa is a project herself.  Regular readers of this blog know the background, and those of you who know me personally are aware of the effort it takes having her in our home.  In late July she moved in with her friend and her parents for what was supposed to be a trial week.  They changed all her doctors, pharmacy, and programs and benefits to a new county in a hasty manner then decided it was too much for them to handle.  The timing was great!  August is not the best time for me to get everything back on track.

Having a five and seven-year-old at home for the summer can be fun.  I had planned to do more activities on my days off than I followed through on.  We did some things, had some fun, but not as much as I had hoped.  I went into summer knowing that I owed them since last summer was spent wallowing in depression.  I found it difficult to even get off the couch to perform the most basic functions of life.  This year was much improved, and my desire to spend days with the children was certainly better.  There were however too many days that I was exhausted from long weeks and an almost overwhelming workload.  It was better, and I’ve enjoyed the activities we did.  I just wish we had done more.

Having a house with a lawn and garden, and prospective home improvement projects both inside and out requires the kind of time not possessed by a chef during August.  When the time is available, the energy is not.  Jennifer and I have a lot of things we want to get done, let’s hope fall brings us renewed energy and an abundance of time to continue working on our family’s home.  That enormous dumpster in our driveway isn’t going to fill itself.

I also have some personal projects that need attention.  I’ve mentioned that I’m working on a book, and I’m trying to get Chefs 4 Chefs off the ground, an important project that I hope will foster mentorship in the restaurant community and help battle the depression issue in our industry.

All in all, it was a great track season as far a track season goes.  I designed a pretty simple, but good menu for summer, and the kitchen and floor staff performed well.  Aside from the usual number of difficult customers, the clientele was enjoyable and easy to work for.  I’m glad it’s (unofficially) over though.  Moving on to the Fall menu, some home projects, and some real-time with my family will be a pleasure and well deserved all around.

August Pearls

People Aren’t Sorry, But Should Be

Screw Urban Meyer and to Hell with Ohio State University.  I hope they never win another football game.  College sports in general is dirty and so are the coaches, athletic administrators, and booster clubs.

A few nights ago, a couple dined at the Wine Bar and on their way out thought it was ok to pull a sunflower from a display near the host stand and walk out with it.  A member of the WB team walked out and asked them for the return of the expensive flower.  The couple expressed no apology and claimed that they thought we were giving away the flowers since they were by the door. One of the problems, like the one in the Urban Meyer/Ohio State case is that people are not sorry for their bad behavior.  Urban Meyer apologized to the Ohio State Community (boosters) for poor judgement, but he has failed to be sorry for his true crime against the victim of his ignoring decent human protocol.  While stealing a flower from a restaurant that has just done its best to make them feel welcome and to provide them with a good experience, two people felt no compulsion to show any remorse, and convey any sort of acceptance of blame.  This is one of the things wrong in our world right now. No one is willing to accept responsibility on any level.

Organizations, institutions, and establishments are getting too big.  The human factor is dwindling, the importance of the dollar is growing.

Finding a Good Employee

I’m not perfect and my writing isn’t perfect, When I write to you people my purpose is to express some feelings, point some things out in my life as a chef, and try to illustrate in basic terms what the restaurant life is like.

When it comes to those things that are important, I find a proofreader or at least reread my text several times to make sure it reads well.  One of those important writings is an ad placed for new employees.

I like to read the craigslist ads for entertainment.  I recently came across this one:

It’s so bad it makes me think it’s not a legitimate ad.  It is wrought with spelling and grammatical errors, typos, and poor punctuation.  The worst part of the ad is that the prospective employer has no idea what a Chef de cuisine is.  They’re looking for a kitchen manager and pairing that title with chef de cuisine.

Better ads get better employees.  If this is a real ad, shame on them, and good luck drawing decent candidates from an already shallow labor pool.

It’s not a bad idea to have your neighbors think you might be crazy.

It’s Travers Weekend.  We’re booked.  Track season is starting to wear on me and I’m not convinced it’s the longer hours and the increased work load as the sole reason for my increasing exhaustion and irritability.  It seems to me that out-of-town customers are a bit more demanding and less tolerant of anything they view as not in line with their perfect weekend in Saratoga.  Perhaps the increased volume simply puts a greater number of difficult people in the mix of predominantly pleasurable clientele.

Last night, something that rarely happens added to my disdain for unreasonable people.  A dish came back to the kitchen with the claim that the scallops were not cooked all the way.  I quipped that the server should thank the customer for the compliment and that it wasn’t necessary to bring the plate back to show me the perfectly medium-rare bivalves.  The reality was that they wanted the now half eaten and hacked up scallops cooked more.  Since I can cook scallops as quickly as trying to make a presentable plate out of the mess handed back to me I made a new plate for the individual that had apparently been complaining from the time of arrival.  I thought they would be impressed and the extra effort would be a salve that would soothe whatever wound the grump had come in with.  Instead, upon being presented with the new plate the diner said they were no longer hungry and asked for the check. This is the type of person that writes a Yelp review about how the place was too noisy (during August in Saratoga), and they were served “raw” scallops.  They’ll fail to mention that they ate all their sweet corn and crab risotto and their starter.  They’ll fail to mention that they were offered another table upon arrival, and that they were given a new, full plate when they weren’t pleased with the preparation of their entrée.

It’s almost over.  I’m looking forward to a vacation in a cabin at Minerva Lake in a few weeks.

Fall menu on September 27th.