A Fat Guy in Saratoga

Yesterday morning I Weighed in at 227 lbs

When I was a competitive long distance runner I stayed between 139-142 lbs.

I would be comfortable at 185 lbs

Between not working and starting a drug that may cause weight gain I’ve become a fat guy.

This is starting to read like Daniel Berman’s post on FLB today which is funny because I wrote the bulk of it last night.  The love of good food is just one of those things that can allow your weight to get away from you.

Last Thursday I went to Planet Fitness to sign up for a membership.  After the obligatory spiel about how great they are and a brief tour (I cut it short when we got to the tanning rooms and decompression kind of bullshit chamber). I was prepared to pay for a membership which is only $10 per month.  I was asked for a check so they could get the routing and account numbers for automatic monthly payment.  Since I typically do not carry my checkbook I offered to pay for the entire year’s membership all at once.  Interestingly enough, they told me they can’t do that.  I never did get a clear answer why they can’t do it. I went back today with a check.

1 hour bike ride yesterday, I’ll start at the gym on Thursday.

Yesterday I went to lunch with two very dear friends.  I ordered a black bean burger and a side salad.  I like black bean burgers, but I love real hamburgers and fries.  I’m really going to try to have some control.  I ate the burger because I was hungry but it was mushy and tasteless, and the salad that came with citrus vinaigrette was inedible.  It desperately needed salt, and the over-used dressing was far too acidic.  Please invest in some tasting spoons for your new restaurant.

The food service labor pool in Saratoga is already shallow.  Two more places will open in a week or two at The Adelphi.  Something’s got to give.

The time spent with these friends was wonderful and needed, I was hoping the date wouldn’t end when it did. These are two special friends. Besides, they paid for lunch.

If you have a closed mind, please allow your mouth to follow.

I hate that Guy Fieri is famous and makes a lot of money.

Being a good restaurant does not make you an essential restaurant.

Too bad restaurants need a “hook” of some kind to get you in.  How about you make your hook great food at a decent value with good service?

Other people’s problems often become your problems, so if you’re selfish, help others with their problems.

I hate selfish.

I love shellfish.

Vegans will beat a dead horse, they just won’t eat it.

I’m doing some research for a project I’m working on and part of that includes reading through lots of menus from Saratoga restaurants.  It occurred to me that if I wanted to open a restaurant in town that captured what might be the average diner I would compose a menu consisting of those items that are on more than enough menus.

Tuna nachos/tacos

Salmon, Salmon, Salmon

Crab Cakes

“Upscale” Burger with Cheddar, Caramelized Onion, Bacon, on Brioche Roll

Taco Tuesday

$1 oysters

Out of season Brussels Sprouts

Wedge Salad

Please, more Burrata, it’s not on every single menu.

Mmmmmm, Balsamic Drizzle.

The other part of my research led me to ask a question on Facebook.  What kind of restaurant/food is missing in Saratoga?  So far there are 269 comments.  My question had nothing to do with wanting to know what kind of restaurant/food was missing in Saratoga as I already know that.  I wanted to know if anybody actually cared that there are things missing in Saratoga.  Once I take a closer look at the thread I’ll publish my thoughts.

If I put all the micro greens I’ve ordered in the last 10 years on one Sid Wainer order I don’t think I’d reach my minimum. Please stop over using them, please.

I looked at a retail space yesterday. Just looking.

 

 

 

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Whose Dish is This?

I’m feeling in a pretty tough spot right now. It’s difficult for me to keep this blog focused on the daily adventures of a chef because I’m not sure I am a chef right now and I worry that my writing will reflect the fact that I’m not doing too much cheffy stuff.   I hesitated to post this and I hope I don’t bore you.

I have an admission to make.  I’m hooked on phonics.  I’m getting help.

Back in July Steve Barnes on Table Hopping asked if a restaurant or its chef owns a specific dish.  I had thought about commenting on that topic but could not really come to a conclusion in my feeble mind.  If a restaurant has a signature dish, and the new chef continues it, it belongs to the restaurant.  If a chef arrives at the restaurant with his/her signature dish then it leaves with the chef.  For me the gray area is when a chef develops a dish while at a restaurant.  Since the chef is being paid to develop menus and specific plates then I lean only slightly towards the restaurant owning the dish exclusively.   Can the chef use the same dish at another restaurant?  The topic came up in my head because there’s a picture of a dish on Sperry’s website described in this week’s Times Union review of R & R Kitchen and Bar.  Same chef, same dish, two locations in Saratoga.  I don’t know when Chef Bowden developed the dish, but my conclusion is that there’s co-ownership. As much as the restaurant invested in the chef to develop menus, the same chef has invested time and effort, often away from the kitchen on his or her own time, even prior to actually developing the physical dish in a specific restaurant.  I’ve done that before, had an idea for a dish but never made it until I was in the right kitchen.  One pet peeve I do have is when restaurants continue to show photos of a chef’s work that is no longer available.

While I was chef at a Saratoga restaurant I was asked to develop a version of tuna nachos. Never again.

On days I go to see my therapist I’m generally quite stressed.  I like going, and I look forward to my appointments.  The stress isn’t due to anxiety leading up to a visit, it comes afterwards, following some tough stories told, and the feelings that go along with telling those stories.  I swore off alcohol on Sunday, at least for a month or so, and by Wednesday (therapy day) evening I had a real hankering for a few fingers of whiskey. I didn’t have any, and I’m glad for that small victory.

I take the sandwich density laws very seriously.  Hence, I find almost anything on a proper bagel is silly.

I just read through a recent batch of recent Saratoga County restaurant inspections.  There’s no excuse for the number of violations some places have. No excuse.

Posting and sharing on Facebook does not make you an activist.  Going out and actually doing something related to a cause makes you an activist.  The key word there is active.

The restaurant business has too many users and not enough mentors. too many bosses and not enough leaders.

If you’re over 40 and still wearing knee-length cargo shorts, stop.

I often observe in public men’s rooms that an alarming number of men leave without washing their hands.

When I was at The Wine Bar and we would have a pizza with sausage on the menu we would make our own fresh sausage with ground pork, fennel seed, coarse black pepper, and salt as a base recipe. It was cheap and easy to make. Why then in the name of Charles Darwin would pizza joints use that creepy rabbit poop looking pellet sausage or the pre-cooked sliced sausage that ends up looking like pepperoni jerky?  Use fresh sausage and put it on raw so the fat melts and flavors the pie.

Calling it authentic doesn’t necessarily result in good food.

If someone has a physical injury or illness it’s understandable why they cannot work. If someone has a mental illness people can’t understand why they’re unable work.  It’s easy to say “I’m having bunion surgery, I’ll be out of work for 10 weeks.”  However, “I’m really depressed and have no interest in my work, my family or my friends and getting off the couch is a real struggle” is generally replaced with a more plausible reason.

Just because it’s produced locally does not mean it’s better.  Yes, I’m saying that local can often be overrated and over appreciated.  Also, using local ingredients does not make you a better cook, being a good cook makes you a better cook. Good cooks use the best available ingredients., local or not.

I’ve started composing dishes. No particular reason, just practice.  The significant part of that is I want to do it, and seem to enjoy doing it again.  I’m even developing and testing recipes.

Judge me as the man you know me to be, not the man you think I am.

I’ll be back.

The Discomfort of Happiness

I certainly don’t want to turn this blog into a personal journal about the trials and tribulations of my mental defects, even though it’s kind of what this blog has been. It’s supposed to be about being a chef, and all the things that go along with it, and that as I have learned is a big part of it.

I have discovered since my last post that there are a significant number of chefs locally that are experiencing or have experienced similar issues. I have received multiple notes from them outlining their experiences with depression.

I hesitate to use the term mental illness only because I think of people who have far worse problems than I do that have little chance of ever leading a normal and productive life.  Me? I’ll be fine.G

The restaurant property at 62 Beekman St. in Saratoga is available.  I kind of want it, I kind of don’t. I’m just not sure I’m ready for that right now.

We have a dog now. I love dogs. The dog will be good for me. She has taken a real liking to me. She’s my friend.

I’ve had difficulty in my life maintaining long-term relationships of many kinds.

You should go to Mio Posto in Albany.

Continuing my bit from a previous post naming people on my Facebook friends list I’d like to spend a day cooking with: Greg Kern because he’s a brilliant baker and pastry chef, and I need to improve those skills, and because he gets it. Jennifer Hewes, because I haven’t cooked with her in a long time.  Brian Malone I recall his genuine appreciation for good food and coo king and I’d love to reminisce about old times. Al Woodard, then we’d be grubbin’ on a Sunday, and because Al is about the nicest person I’ve ever known.

Perhaps it’s odd  that for the few days since writing my last post The Not-So-Great Depression I’ve really felt down.  I was exhausted after writing the bulk of the text in one sitting and I think I’m feeling some real cleansing effects from that exercise and will snap back in a day or two.  Some sunshine would help.

I see my therapist tomorrow morning.  As I entered his office for the first time he said I should sit wherever I was comfortable and my only concern was what will he be thinking about my choice, what will it tell him about me?  I sat in his desk chair.

I got myself some new eye glasses that are blue and match my eyes nicely. They are the pair I wanted last time but was hesitant.  I’m happy with my purchase.  The moral of the story: If you want blue glasses, then damn it, get blue glasses.  They’re also my first pair of bifocals.

I had a full hearing evaluation this week, If you want me to hear you speak into my right ear and avoid a whiny voice, like an Ed Sheeran song.  I have no Idea who Ed Sheeran is, I asked Jennifer to name one of those whiny-douchey male singers that seem to be on the radio these days.

I often don’t know what the Hell I want, but I’m getting closer to figuring it out.  I know I want to cook, I just don’t know the venue.

I suspect that when I cook again it will be better than ever.

Sometimes I just want to be left alone, sometimes I’m lonely.

Enough about me, tell me something about yourself.

If I haven’t said thank you to anyone for the kind notes of support, then I’m saying it now.  A lot of people have told me what courage it took for me to write and publish my last post.  Perhaps, but the real courage comes from finally admitting the problem to yourself.  If you’re feeling like things haven’t been right then talk to someone who can help or that can point you in the right direction.  Be your on hero.

 

 

 

 

 

The Not-So-Great Depression

This is a longer post than I usually write and I considered breaking it up into two or three posts but it’s an important topic and all my thoughts should be together.  Please read it all, and include the links to other named articles, I feel they’re an important part of this post.  “Additional reading here” are links for those who want to learn more. By allowing me to share this post with you as part of my self-discovery and healing I hope you’ll understand me better and you’ll also understand many of those crazy folks in the back of the house that just don’t seem to function like most people.  If you identify with what I’m experiencing then find a source of help (message me through Facebook if you like, I’ll chat with you in full privacy.  I’m no expert, but I’ll listen).  I started with my doctor and he was able to set me off in the right direction.

Speaking Out by Chef Daniel Patterson hits very close to home. I don’t mean close to home as in I know someone like that, I actually mean closer.  This could have been written by me.

I’ve had this article saved for a while, but hadn’t really read the whole thing until a week after officially being diagnosed with a long-term depressive disorder, given a prescription and a referral to a therapist.

I’ve been taking my medication for a few of weeks now and I can see clear glimpses of happiness, increased energy, and motivation. It’ll be a while before I see a marked improvement, but I’m on the right road, and feel a strong sense of hope that I have not felt for far too many years.

Depression in the professional kitchen is a big problem.  I suspect the profession in general lures a particular type of individual, and those of us that work in the industry are prone to mental illness and defect, compounded by long stressful hours in a usually hot kitchen day after day.  We’re under-paid, over-worked, and often under-appreciated. Many of us are haunted by the pursuit of perfection. We miss weekends and holidays with family and friends, we drink too much, use drugs, have a high divorce rate, and are typically out supporting each others’ bad habits late at night.  Long-term relationships with regular people are usually difficult to maintain because of our schedules, workloads, and emotional defects. Additional reading here.

I think about how my career and life has gone, and one thing I have come to realize over the past couple of months or so is that I’ve been chasing happiness for a very long time (or often running from it).  I have left a lot of chef’s jobs not because the job solely made me unhappy, but because I was unhappy long before I started any job in this business and I was simply seeking something else, something that I had convinced myself would make me happy. I am sure that there are a lot of fellow chefs that can make the same claim. We move around a lot, and I’ll venture a guess that the common thread is depression.

In my last chef’s position, especially, I exhibited most of the following symptoms of depression.  Many of them were also part of my regular routine for the better part of my career and my life as far back as I can remember.  I have had one session with a clinical psychologist, and part of my therapy includes writing down some of the shit in my head that pertains to my depression.  I have chosen my blog as a place to write some of it with the hope that some of my fellow chefs and restaurant workers (or anyone else that has felt like crap most of their lives) will recognize some of these symptoms and talk to someone about them. I found this list of symptoms here through an old Table Hopping post on depression in the restaurant industry where most of the comments show a lack of understanding what depression is.

 

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness – I cannot say exactly what I’ve been sad about, but there are a lot of things in my life that I’ve never dealt with the way that I should have. The emptiness is evident in my recent lack of enthusiasm or from limited fulfillment I’ve had from any success.
  • Frequently feeling irritated, anxious, frustrated, or angry – Anxiety has always been a big part of my life that I’ve been able to hide well.  Irritation and frustration have always been commonplace for me as well, especially in the kitchen.  I have simply had a difficult time understanding why FOH employees rarely took as much interest in their jobs as I have, or why there were certain owners that didn’t understand the value of putting in a good day’s work in their own restaurant. The frustration often turned to anger, sometimes warranted sometimes not.  I often enough looked for reasons to get angry.
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, helpless, or guilty – Guilt for sure.  Lots of it and for a long time. Feeling worthless? Not necessarily, but I don’t think I’ve ever put myself in place where I belong.  While I have often shown myself to be confident in the kitchen, I have always been filled with self-doubt.  I have always wondered if I am the chef that people say I am, and my abilities really as good as my performance.
  • Fatigue and decreased energy – I was always tired at Chez Nous.  It was definitely not from over-working or long hours. That was one of the easiest chef’s jobs I’ve ever had.  I could have worked harder, but what was the point?
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits – Chefs have strange eating habits anyway, that doesn’t mean we’re crazy.  Work with food as we do, and the hours we work and you’ll have offbeat eating habits too.
  • Inability to concentrate, remember details, or make decisions – Focus has been a big issue for a while now, but is improving as I recognize my issues and deal with them.  Tasks like writing a simple holiday menu seemed like a difficult job as my level of enthusiasm dropped.  I got to the point that caused me to put forth sub-par work.  Product ordering was also difficult, I sometimes would go without items rather than try to concentrate on the responsibilities of my job.
  • Sleep disturbances, such as sleeping more than usual or insomnia – Sleep disturbances aplenty.  It’s common for me to wake up in the middle of the night and wonder how things can go badly the next day at work.
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable – This is became very clear to me at the end of my time at Chez Nous.  I had little interest in cooking, developing menus, or new dishes and recipes.  I didn’t care, and I got to the point that I didn’t care that other people didn’t care.  Quitting the restaurant life seemed like the only viable option.  That’s just starting to change for the better as I start to adopt a sense of hope with the acceptance of my illness and the seeking of treatment.
  • Unexplained body aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems – Most of the aches are due to many years of abuse to my body, some perhaps due to my mental issues, it’s hard to tell.
  • Thoughts of death and suicide – I have never considered suicide, it seems like too much of effort.  Honestly, I’ve certainly thought of it, how I would do it, and what the effects on others would be but I has never been a serious consideration.  I could not imagine being so deep in depression that I would take my own life.  As much as I feel poorly most of the time I still like life, and even some of the people in it.
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, or movement – Years on busy restaurant lines have made it impossible to think and move slowly.
  • Reckless behavior – If you consider heading down to the walk in cooler at The Wine Bar every once in a while following a stressful event or dinner rush to have a beer as reckless, then yes.  Otherwise, no.
  • Substance abuse – Depends what you consider abuse.
Thanks for listening.

A Bridge of Snippets

Here’s a few feeble thoughts to bridge the gap between my last real post and the next real post.  I will tell you this, my next one will be my most personal to date.

Jenn and I like to buy our own cooking and kitchen supplies for home, we have specific tastes, style and requirements.

I’m a much better cook than administrator.

It’s often appalling that some people call themselves a chef.

How about a dinner party centered around my life in the restaurant business.  Some of my favorite dishes, and some of the best unfiltered stories from my experiences? Would you attend?

I don’t like cooked strawberries, raw are fine. I don’t like raw blueberries, I like them cooked.

People I either know personally, or are acquainted with on Facebook that I think I could spend a day cooking with: Jennifer Derby Colose, she’s my all-time sous chef, Matthew ‘Fuj’ Scher, we have not met in person, but he’s helped me out, and seems really nice, and fun to be around. He’d also bring good beer and/or whiskey. Robert Rymarz, his story is fascinating, I’d love to hear it while we worked. I’ll mention more in a bit.

Jenn, Theresa and I had a meeting and decided that ordering pizza from Caputo’s would be the best way to get dinner on the table.  We had separate cars, so Jenn ordered and was to pick up the dinner while I headed home. During the ordering process Jenn asked if two of the chicken wings could be taken out and packed separately so Stella could have them as we worry about her diary allergy.  The response from the young lady on the phone was “no, we don’t do that.”  As it turns out the owner knows how to correct a problem.  I wasn’t happy about the response so I wrote a review on their Facebook page.  Within 30 minutes I got a response from ownership and we had a conversation about what happened. He called the Wilton location, redirected the young lady’s thought process, offered to replace the order and promised a free order next trip.  I then deleted the review from their FB page and the owner asked me why. I said “because you took the necessary steps to correct the problem and as someone in the hospitality business I appreciate that, so you don’t deserve to have that review.”  I have a new friend, and will be enjoying their food again.

There’s a lot of new restaurants in Saratoga either just opened or about to open.  I can predict with almost pinpoint accuracy how things are going to go for each of them.

Small menu people!  Focus your efforts on fresh, thoughtful food.

I’ve had some really bad jobs.  What the Hell was I looking for?  I kind of know the answer to that, and soon you will too.

I worked briefly many years ago at the Seven Horse Pub.  One premise I was hired on was to reshape the menu which didn’t go well. The owner thought the bigger the menu the better. “No, you really don’t need 7 versions of your grilled chicken sandwich.”   The freezers were jam-packed with crap.

Define what kind of place you want to be, make it something that people want, stick to it, and do it well.

You cannot open a restaurant for everyone.

People sometimes ask me if I an interested in consulting on their project of opening a restaurant.  I tell them what I charge and I don’t hear back. Then things like this happen.

I’m not saying to hire me to ensure success, but get some experienced professional consulting and follow the advice you paid for.  The restaurant business is very difficult, so don’t just think you can wing it.

Make your servers learn the menu no matter what kind of restaurant you have.  There’s not much more annoying to a chef than to have a server come into the kitchen and ask a question that they should know the answer to.

Rob Handel, because he does some really interesting shit.  Mohammed Mohonni Malih, because I would like to improve my Moroccan cooking.  Mehmet Odekon, because I would like to improve my Turkish cooking, and because I miss him.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I worked on restaurant lines for the most of the past 18 years.  During that time I’ve lost a parent, two siblings who were in their forties, and my ex-wife and mother of my oldest child to cancer and helped carry too many caskets of family and friends out of churches.  I’ve divorced and remarried.  I’ve opened two restaurants, one by myself.  I’ve  watched my wife give birth twice.  I have sat in waiting rooms while one of my children was having major surgery on more than one occasion.  I waited while my youngest daughter lay listless in a hospital bed for eight days with an unidentified illness. I’ve visited my oldest daughter every day for three months while she was in the neonatal ICU after being born at 2 lbs.  18 years was enough, with all life has thrown at me to add to the emotional pressure of the restaurant business, I knew it was time to quit.

Shrimp is over-rated.

Keep in mind the physical toll life has taken on my body.  What many of you people with nothing better to do than read my goofy little blog don’t know is that I was a highly competitive long distance runner through college and for about 12 years after.  I averaged 70, often hard, training miles per week for a solid 12 years.  That includes peeking out at 100-120 miles a lot of weeks, and a lot of hard competitive racing.  So, I’m looking at a good 30+ years of a physically demanding way of life.  I’ve had 2 hernia surgeries, a bunion surgery, and heel spur surgery within the last 5 years, so before I completely fell apart, I thought it best to quit.

Rather than fitting our lives around our jobs, wouldn’t it be great if we could fit our jobs around our lives?

So, I’ve retired from the restaurant life, what now?.

As most of you reading this know,  I have started a business called The Yawning Duck Culinary Services. I direct you to the Facebook page since our website, www.yawningduck.com is a work in progress, and I promise to have it done soon.

When asked by my lovely wife what I was thinking about doing over the 4th of July weekend,  I said we should have a bbq, byob, and invite the neighborhood.  She was surprised, because as she put it, “You’re not very friendly.” She also pointed out that most people already have plans. “Perfect! Most people won’t come, and we still get credit for the invitation.”

I have teamed up, so to speak, with Serendipity Cooking and Arts Studio in Saratoga as a place to hold some events and do some cooking. I have been known to serve some great beer-friendly food at Rare Form Brewing Company in Troy, I’ll be at The Cheese Traveler this summer for a couple of their Friday Night Cookouts, and I should start doing some events at Great Flats Brewing in Schenectady soon. These are all fun. What I like doing the most is going to people’s homes and cooking for them and their guests.  The Yawning Duck personalized dinner parties are not to be out done.  If you’ve ever wanted to entertain at home while also being a guest at the party, then I’m the guy that can make that happen.  And, no, you won’t be left with doing the dishes.

One of the things I’m loving right now is getting to know my family.  That seems like an odd statement. I mean, I live with these people, and have been living with them for some time.  Too often working in an industry that takes up a great deal of your time and energy, especially the nights and the weekends, and being so tired on your day off it’s hard to do many of the things that 9-5ers take for granted.  I’ve been cooking dinner and eating with everyone around the table almost nightly for a few weeks now and I’ve got to ask, what the Hell have I been thinking all these years?

Tomorrow I start another detox diet, 10 days, perhaps more.  I’m also going to go 30 days alcohol free.

I’m not sure where The Yawning Duck is going to fly, but I know what I’m capable of without the restrictions of any ownership uneducated in the ways of food and the culinary arts. For the first time in many, many years I am without an employer that lacks any quality experience in this field. As the Yawning Duck, I can cook like I have not cooked in a long time, if ever.  I look forward to exploring what I can do, and I’m so proud to have Jennifer and Theresa as partners.

That’s a Problem


Please stop calling each other Bro in print/social media posts and comments.

Bruh is an even bigger problem

Bartender:  “Chef, do you have any olives?”

Chef:  “Yes, I’ve got olives.”  (some of you know where this is going).

Bartender:  “Where are they?”  “Can I have some?”

Chef:  “They’re not the olives you need.”

Bartender:  “Where are more of the ones I need?”

Chef:  “They are in the bucket in the walk in cooler.”

Bartender:  “I know, but that bucket is empty.”  “Should I bring it up?”

Chef:  “No, It may be keeping the other items in the cooler company.”

Bartender:  “Oh, OK.”

Chef:  “Well, it’s Friday at 4:30, I can’t do anything about it now.”  In the future if you let me know you’re low on something I can order more.”

This has been an ongoing problem with front-of-the-house staff for as long as I can remember.  That’s not my problem anymore.

How many restaurants  train and teach their service staff?  I don’t mean showing a new employee where everything is, and the general outline of the operation.  How many actually train them to be really good at their job?  How many restaurants have the capability?  Yono’s, 15 Church, The Wishing Well?  Some of the Mazzone properties?

The same could be asked of the kitchen too.  One of the things I realized, and that self-evaluation aided my decision to retire from the restaurant kitchen is that I was no longer interested in training people, especially when their focus wasn’t 100%. It was clear to me that it wasn’t the way for chefs to conduct themselves.  I’ve trained a lot of cooks, and enough of them have gone on to be good chefs, so I’m quite sure I did my job well.  If however you’re not willing to do the proper training, to make your service or kitchen staff better at their jobs, get out of the business, you don’t belong.

What you see at your table is only a small part of a server’s job.  It’s an important part, but not the only part.

When people think out loud it often exposes many of the dumb thoughts they have and their limited capacity to think in a reasonable or organized way.

The term “cooked to perfection” on menus is a problem.

Decisions, both daily and big-picture stuff should be made through experience and a well thought out plan. Not by whimsy and desire. The means are not the way to the desired ends.

This blog was recently called unpolished and unfiltered (all in an appreciated positive tone).  Yes it is unpolished, but it is quite filtered, and there are a lot of folks who should be thankful about that. Yes, I may be kind of a good guy on some level, but don’t let that get around.

Never throw your kitchen under the bus to a customer, especially when whatever problem is occurring is not the fault of said kitchen.  Customers don’t like it, and the kitchen doesn’t like it either, it creates a pretty large problem.

Here’s one reason chefs move from job to job, from a Craigslist ad:

Please send a resume for immediate consideration. Include a cover letter about yourself.45-55k salary to start. Based on experience. We are an independent with 2.5mil per year sales. Full banquet room and pub style menu. We need a leader that is organized, disciplined, creative and wants to work.

2.5 million in sales, and you’re paying 50k for a chef. 
I’m aware as anyone that margins are slim, but we as a group need to make more in this very difficult business if we’re going to be encouraged to stick around in the same kitchen long-term.  Like I said, this is only one reason chefs move around, by far not the only reason.  I’ll write a post dedicated to the topic in the near future.
It’s important to keep irons in the fire, you never know when you’ll need a hot one.

Ducking Retirement

 

I have been doing a lot of reflection about this blog and what it says about me and how I’ve been feeling.  I looked back over a lot of posts and tried to find any trends and what they mean.  What I noticed was that my posts are more negative and there are fewer narratives, less writing about topics and more snippet themed rants.  When I started this blog I wanted to give those not in the business a sense of what it was like to be a chef. The following is my first post, pretty much in its entirety.

“I am starting a blog about the daily life of a chef. Sometimes it will be fun and interesting, and other times it will simply be the mundane details of life for a chef in and out of the kitchen. I’m a poor speller, I have a potty mouth sometimes, and I sometimes write things after a bit of bourbon so don’t criticize me for the things I already know.”

“My purpose is to practice writing, something I used to be quite good at but have not done in many years, and as an outlet for some of the great stories, victories, frustrations, and thoughts that come out of life in the restaurant business.”

Being a chef is great, it has wonderful rewards, and can be a fulfilling life for those cut out for the commitment it requires.

As readers of this blog, and those familiar with the local restaurant scene will recall, I made a decision to leave the business when my daughter Theresa’s mother passed away in May of 2016.  That decision was made during a very emotional time, and the careful planning that should be associated with a major life move wasn’t done. Steve Barnes on Table Hopping showed me deep kindness when he allowed me to tell my story, and the support I received as a result was well needed at the time.  However, the time which came as expected, was still too soon and like many people in our situation were not prepared on many levels.

I declared that Theresa and I would be doing private catering under the Yawning Duck name, and we did some nice events.  I also had the opportunity to do some consulting projects.  Yet, things were not going well as she was not fully comprehending the loss of her mother and the sudden changes in her life.  The truth is, as an individual with Cerebral Palsy, it’s very difficult for her to understand what happened, and what will happen.  Also, we rushed into the situation without a proper business plan and marketing strategy. The lack of direction made the project unworkable.  Again, the emotions were high, and the sense of loss made it easy for me to make the choices I did. The truth is, we were not prepared for the days ahead.  I am grateful for the ability to have been able to take some time out of the restaurant kitchen and help not only Theresa adjust, but to be a full-time part of the overall adjustment for our family.

Last September I got a Facebook message from a friend that suggested I talk to Rob Gavel, the chef at Chez Nous in Schenectady who was leaving his post for another chef’s position.  While I knew I needed the financial security of a full-time job,  I really wasn’t looking too hard.  I had read many good things about the restaurant so I followed up and within a couple of weeks I was back in the kitchen full-time.

I have been cooking on restaurant lines for the majority of the last 18 years. Too many restaurants, too many hours and nights, and too many missed family events.  I’ve been pretty lucky with holidays, working mostly in places that close on major holidays in lieu of an as good as possible quality of life.  Quality of life continues to be lacking however. I’m tired, I’m sore, and the reality is I’m becoming increasingly bitter which is no fun for anyone.

Doing the daily grind at 53 has gotten tough.  There are too many aches and pains.  As some recall I had heel and bunion surgery a couple of years ago. The heel feels better with the bone spur gone, but there’s no improvement otherwise.  My feet range from achy to painful on a daily basis. My hips are sore, my knees on occasion, and the arthritis in my hands can make a long day and night in a commercial kitchen unpleasant.

I’m also starting to find the variety of personalities involved in this business both exhausting and difficult to deal with.  I have certainly had hundreds of employers, co-workers, and vendors over the years, and I have even liked some of them. Yet, at this point I just don’t want to deal with the myriad of individuals I come across every day.

It’s time for me to retire from the restaurant cooking line as it just isn’t fun anymore.  Retire from cooking professionally?  Not a chance.  I am leaving this time with far more thought, more planning, and a better grip on finances.  The Yawning Duck Culinary Services can at this point become viable, I can enjoy my family and home more, and I can be of greater help to Theresa who is a project and at some point in her life will be without me and will need some skills she does not have at this point.  No, I don’t expect to make tons of money, but I can make life become better for all of us.

I will remain a member of the Chez Nous family, helping as I can in the weeks to come and I am grateful to be a part of their experience. More to come on this topic.

I have some wonderful events planned as The Yawning Duck including our Kick-off on June 10th. More to come on this topic too.

 

 

I Left My Snippets in Saratoga

For the majority of about 12 years I both lived and worked in Saratoga, first alone, then with Jennifer, then came Stella, then Tate. We bought a house in Schuylerville, added Theresa to the mix, and I got a job in Schenectady.  I miss Saratoga.

I miss sitting on benches on Broadway with Jennifer and watching people try to parallel park.

I miss being able to walk to work.

I miss being able to have a drink or two after work and walk home.  I simply don’t drink and drive, not a single mile.

It’s a menu, not a list of ingredients in which to construct your own meal.

I don’t miss a city that does not encourage its property owners to keep their sidewalks clear of ice and snow even though it’s a walking town.

I don’t miss the complaining about parking by people who want to park at the front door rather than walk a few blocks.

Saratoga needs a few more handicapped parking spots on Broadway.

I sometimes notice that people park in a handicapped space, the handicapped individual stays in the car while the driver runs into the store.  I notice this while I helping Theresa out of the car and she walks with her crutches past said space.

I don’t miss track season or the people who come with it.

Good dishwashers, cooks and chefs are not paid what they’re worth in most locations.  Owners that wonder why they cannot keep good help in the kitchen are the ones paying line cooks $12 per hour and cannot deliver on the promise of enough hours.  That’s one of the reasons for the high turnover rate, but that’s another story for another day.

I miss being able to stop by other restaurants to chat with my chef friends.  Saratoga is a restaurant town, and there’s a culture of restaurant people. People like to be with like people and talk about common issues.

Saratoga could use some diversity in people ans restaurants.

I liked having choices for dinner and take out.  Schuylerville is void of those things.

Taco Tuesday,  oyster night, wine Wednesday.  C’mon Saratoga, you’re better than that, aren’t you?  I know there’s creativity in that town somewhere.

I’ll be back in one form or another.

I tend to judge people very quickly, so if you meet me plan on making an impression that I would approve of.  Keep in mind that I can at times be both judgemental and wrong.

I always have my ducks in a row, not necessarily in the right order, but certainly in a row.

I miss living close to my friends and cooking for them more often.

I miss living close to my friends and having them cook for me more often.

I miss stopping for coffee with friends before work. Dennis, Mehmet, Tom.

America: Made in China

The Office was a great show.  Jenn and I are re-watching the series on the interwebs.

Use there, their, and they’re on a sentence.

There are a lot of restaurants that think their service is better than they think but they’re wrong.

There are some things I miss about working at the Wine Bar, and some things I don’t.

Don’t treat your friends well at the expense of the people who work for you day in and day out.

There is no I in restaurant.

There are some restaurants that think their food is better than they think but they’re also wrong.

Use your and you’re in a sentence.

If you’re going into the restaurant business you need to be prepared to put the needs of others ahead of your own.

A lot of restaurants open and close in Saratoga.

I don’t recommend going into the restaurant business with less than three years experience in said business.  Ten would be better.

Not going into the restaurant business is probably best.

My sous chef Patrick said people need to start cultivating talent rather than just trying to recruit talent since there isn’t enough talent in Saratoga (and other places).  I agree.

I’d like to start a mentoring program.  Young cooks are too often misdirected, or not directed at all.  I think I’ll attach it to The Yawning Duck Culinary Services.  It should be a free program offering guidance, advice, and a link to the needed resources necessary for success in the culinary life and those things that go with it.  Life in the business is tough, and there should be more help available.  Help and direction should be a part of the Saratoga restaurant culture.  Let’s start there.

Culinary schools do not create cooks and chefs, they create culinary school graduates.

Whether you’re running the front of the house or the back of the house you need to be qualified enough to cultivate talent, train employees in proper methods and procedures, and shape your staff in the way you want and need them to perform,  People are generally willing to perform the tasks that leaders both know how to do, have done, and are willing to do. A paycheck is not enough, everybody who works gets a check, it’s an expected part of employment. You need to offer more and you need to show more.

I have little turnover in my kitchens, and there have been a lot of people who have worked for me in more than one place.

Darwin’s theories apply to restaurants.

Use to, two, and too in a sentence two times.

I don’t plan to get into the restaurant business again because I’m too old and would only last two months physically since I would work too hard as I understand the work required for success,  so no, I’m not going to do it like some are encouraging me to do two or more times a week.   I didn’t say it would be a good sentence.

Going into business?  That’s another story to be told another day.

Too Much, Too Few, Too Many, Too Bad………..

Mexican themed restaurants, bloody Mary garnishes, bad pizza, cream cheese on bagels, qualified restaurant workers, restaurants, volunteers, complainers, experts, hours in a chef’s work week,  long weekends, snow days, kale salads, vegetarians that eat fish, vegans that show up on Saturday at 7:30 wanting you to construct a special meal, gluten-free, cheap wheat, cheap food (there’s a difference between cheap and inexpensive food), dogs on Broadway (Saratoga), hype over mediocrity, distance between great restaurants and my house, time with my children, time with friends, independence, stuff to do, things to do, IPA selections at Price Chopper, great tacos, $12 instant mashed potatoes.

Take a break.

Throw some corned beef on it or in it and you’ve got a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day special.

Hot pastrami sandwiches in my life, servers who come into the kitchen and tell you they’re going to put an order in, googling for information, self-sufficiency, ability to problem solve, plan b, servers, bartenders, cooks, compassion, understanding, silliness, drive, sunshine, chili dogs, road trips, days off, freedom, craftsmen, hot baths, cold drinks, smokey jazz clubs, credit given, crispy chicken livers with fig jam, crispy sweetbreads with lemon, Yono’s, sports bars, Beekman Bistros, internet in the kitchen, laziness, true restauranteurs, chance takers, cereal choices, independent restaurants, news sources, trust, I, we, inventiveness,  steadiness, know-it-all, unreasonable confidence,  fish frys, quality produce purveyors,  quality seafood purveyors,  salesmen, account representatives, green beer, humbleness,  humility, people who can’t tell the difference between instant and real mashed potatoes, good pho,

Take another break.

I understand striking while the iron is hot, but if events like St Patrick’s Day do not fit into your general business model, accept that you may be quiet and allow the amateur drinkers to go somewhere else for that one night. If your business hinges on a few events throughout the year then perhaps your business model is not made to hold up.

Old friends, new friends, sincerity, hospitality professionals, chefs on TV, chefs in the kitchen, deliveries from farms, chefs in gardens, gardens, convenience foods, seasonal menus, people who understand seasonal menus, changes, goat on menus, ethnic food, coffee breaks, hard work, people willing to work hard, people who understand what hard work is, people who think they work hard, but don’t, Wal-Mart, responsibility, irresponsibility, silly gadgets, fads, time around the dinner table, sarcasm, culinary schools, cooking schools, use of the word chef.

Finishing bits:

Arguing with a chef is like trying to wrestle a pig in Jello pudding.  Sooner or later you’re gonna realize that the pig likes it.

A better name for an oven glove in a professional kitchen is a bitch mitten.

I don’t care where you came from, I am however interested where you’re going.

Who’s they, and why is it their responsibility?

Yes, there is such thing as a stupid question.

It’s always time for a cookie.

BOH screws up order, kitchen’s fault.  FOH screws up order, kitchen’s fault.

I’m not perfect.

In the end, if you can say the words of Randle Patrick McMurphy, you’ll be OK, I think.  “Well, I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.”