That’s Not My Job

I was reading a FB friend’s post about an interview that went south when the young man being interviewed explained to his potential employer that he left his last two positions because he was asked to do something that “wasn’t his job.”  immediately a bunch of random snippets ran through my head.

When you work in a restaurant, pretty much everything is your job at some point or another.

I recently saw an ad on Craigslist for an Executive Chef’s position, got my resume updated and started composing a cover letter with some degree of hope and potential excitement.

Part of my process for healing is to not repeat mistakes I’ve made in the past.

When you see an ad for a sous chef and line cook the next day for the same restaurant looking for an Executive Chef you wonder if that’s somewhere you should send your information.

Many chefs do move around often, but if you read Craigslist enough you’ll find that there are a lot of places that are continuously hiring.  The truth is that there aren’t that many great places to work, especially for a group of people who are often strapped with emotional issues.

And on the third day the same place has an ad for a dishwasher.

There are plenty of people on both sides of the restaurant employment game that have their shit together.  Just not enough of us.

I feel really good about finally working on getting my shit together.

Jennifer and I are going to some dear friend’s home next Sunday for dinner where two dear friends will join us.  I’m really looking forward to getting out of the house aside from going to Hannaford, Healthy Living, or Target.  I’m getting a bit of cabin fever without heading out to work every morning and with Winter on the horizon I fear it will get worse.

Six months ago I dreaded going out of the house, especially to a job I had no interest in doing.  Now I’m looking forward to doing it again.

When you run a restaurant, every job is your job.

I’ve worked for a lot of people who wouldn’t be caught dead in the dish pit.  They’re either out of business or constantly struggling.

I’ve never held a job as a dishwasher.

Some places are successful due to their location, some are successful despite their location.

I’ve done a lot of dishes in a lot of kitchens.

What makes a good chef’s job?

Autonomy.  If you’re going to hire a chef and pay them a good salary then let your chef do the job you’ve hired him/her to do provided they’re keeping costs in check and are producing good product.

Credit.  I once worked for a chef/owner that took credit for my work.  I once worked for an owner who claimed to be a chef, and would claim responsibility for the menu and the quality of food

Fair pay for hours worked. I’ll work hard, and I’ll put in the hours, but you’ve gotta pay me.

Financial support.  Ya gotta be able to pay your bills.  I want to order the food I need without being concerned about vendors looking for COD payments and you’re nowhere to be seen. Don’t bounce paychecks.

Ability to understand and contribute to the business in a positive way.  If you have no desire to contribute with a day’s work, or to work hard during service then stay out-of-the-way, especially if your behavior has a negative effect on the business.

Education.  As a leader (owner) you should be educated, and continue to educate yourself.  As a leader you need to make sure your staff is educated, and that they’re working on educating themselves.  Also, allow time for education for both the FOH and the BOH.

Some owners spend a lot of time sitting at the bar, some do not.

The ability to recognize what is likely an unhappy work situation is something that I’m finally developing.

I’ll miss wine at Thanksgiving dinner.

What’s so difficult about saying “excuse me” or “pardon me” at the grocery store?

Chefs can get too creative before they learn good technique.  Learn to caramelize onions properly before you attempt a rift on French onion soup with Gruyère foam and beef gelee.

I’m going to work on getting off of caffeine next.

Just kidding.

I’ll miss Bourbon in preparing for Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m doing a Moroccan inspired Christmas dinner this year.

I don’t need the alcohol to help cook the dinner, it’s to help prepare me for having family here for dinner.

I’m not a fan of lunch.  I don’t like making it, I don’t like eating it, and I certainly don’t like working it.  Lunch comes at a very inconvenient time of the day for me since I’m typically busy prepping for dinner.

Excellent post on Daniel Berman’s Fussy Little Blog recently.  I reminds me of a place I was chef for a while.  We had great food and a decent wine list, but for some reason ownership insisted that all beer should be the same price, $5 per bottle at the time. Sam Adams was the high-end beer.  A little effort would have gone a long way. One sous chef who was well-schooled in the craft beer scene even offered to revamp and oversee the beer list.  In many restaurants, one aspect that falls short whether it’s part of the beverage program, the desserts, or the service. If you as the owner or manager cannot cover one of the bases find someone who can. It will help your bottom line.  I find that a passion for the business is a key to success, not just a passion for one piece of the business.

When your friends tell you you’re a great cook and you should open a restaurant chances are that putting on nice dinner parties does not qualify you for the business unless you have a lot of money and are willing to spend it.

I misuse commas all the time.  When I pause to think I generally put a comma in. My writing follows my thought cadence. Look at it this way, I’m displaying my thoughts in alphabetic symbols, not writing.

 

 

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Indian Giver………

……….is not only derogatory, it’s based on historical lies from a cultural misunderstanding pertaining to trade and gift-giving.  As Thanksgiving approaches children are still learning the incorrect historical lessons in school of the Pilgrims and their relationship of the original owners of the land we call America.

The term Indian giver when I was a kid was used to describe someone who took back something they had given you.  I strongly suspect that it was the white man who did most of the taking, and taking back throughout the early days of our history by broken treaties, and reclaiming of land “given” to Native American populations.  As a holiday gesture I unofficially change that term to Pilgrim Giver.

That however is not what this post is about.  I’m thinking of the wonderful gift of Indian spice blends and the vast array of curry preparations available to those who explore the intricate cooking of India.

Some years ago I had a young line cook working for me, a CIA graduate.  We were discussing curries in the kitchen one day and he used his very expensive culinary education to exclaim that he thought there was only one curry.  You know the one, coconut milk, ginger, tomato, and generic curry powder.  Simmer a protein in it and presto! quintessential Indian curry.

The complexity of Indian cuisine is one I hope to understand better.  I certainly accept the fact that I will never have a grasp on it as I do Mediterranean cooking, but if I can get myself beyond the simple use of basic garam masala, generic curry powder, and a chutney or two I’d be far better off as a cook.

Since I’m home to cook dinner almost nightly I have discovered that it’s easy to fall into a rut, especially with young kids in the house (one of which has a dairy allergy).  Stella seems to have passed from her phase of hating almost everything to excitement over trying new foods.  She has even fashioned a chart to keep track of everything she adds to the list of new foods she’ll eat.  Last Sunday’s roast duck was huge hit and she had requested it for Christmas dinner.

Yesterday I decided to do some simple Indian cooking since the kids are exploring new tastes and I introduced them to some curries. Nothing I can call regional or authentic, but both a learning experience for me and something different on the dinner table.  As Jennifer said at the end of the meal “I really needed this.”

Above is one of several spice shelves in our kitchen.  As my exploration continues we’ll need more shelves.  Below are whole spices toasting in a cast iron pan which were used for a cauliflower in coconut milk based dish.  I wish I had a photo of it even though it needs tweaking.  I made a total of three different blends each with unique characteristics and applications. One thing I had to be mindful of was the heat level for the kids.

Below is a tomato based lamb and pumpkin curry which was great.  Jennifer and I agreed that the chili paste we each added at the table was needed to bring out a lot of the flavor.  Theresa liked it, and was told it was lamb and not beef after the meal.

While the lamb simmered I put Tate on naan rolling duty.  He rolled then I hand stretched them before throwing them directly on the top of my makeshift tandoori oven.

The finished product.  They need a bit of work, but the kids loved them.  Seeing them puff into pillows was particularly fun for them.  “Pillow bread” is now in our repertoire and simple to make.

Two pizza stones close together and an oven at 550° did a nice job with a tandoori style pork tenderloin.  Rather than using yogurt I used dairy-free sour cream from Wayfare available at Healthy Living.  It has a thick creamy texture like Greek yogurt and a pleasant tangy flavor.  Te mild spice blend was perfect for the kids.

It was a satisfying meal rounded out with some basmati rice and a couple of glasses of flavored seltzer.  I think the kids would be fine without having my version of Indian food again except for the pillow bread, but I will definitely continue to explore and learn.

Old Fashioned Snippets

 

Cage free means nothing.

 

https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/11/09/restaurant-owner-arrested-for-choking-customer-over-cold-fries/23272075/  I’m not sure if he did it or not, but I’ve certainly been in his position.  When I was chef at Café Capriccio there was a prominent Albany dude that would come in regularly. His wife would order the eggplant with 4 cheeses and insist that it be bubbling hot when it came to the table.  She would gab for 20 minutes the send it back to the kitchen because it was cold.  Every time.

I say a lot of things, but there’s a lot of shit I don’t say.

The problem with social media is that you often have to interpret the tone and specific meaning of comments made by people who you don’t know. If you don’t have a good handle on what someone’s comment means, or how it was intended then it’s best not to respond to it.

http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2017/11/09/why-should-never-order-daily-special-in-restaurant.html

Many of the same restaurants are looking for help all the time.  If you see the same place on Craigslist constantly then think carefully before accepting a position there if you can help it.

40 days without booze, going well.  I miss beer the most. I don’t miss the intoxicated feeling.

It says “No Parking – Fire Lane”

It does not say “No Parking, unless you’re lazy, waiting for someone, or will only be a few minutes”

Forno’s, Chianti’s, dp’s, Capriccio’s, Lo Porto’s, and Villa Valenti’s are not restaurants in Lathams near the Walmarts.  Milano’s is in Lathams but not near the Walmarts.

The difference between the chaos my kids can cause and the chaos of a busy kitchen is that I seem to be able to control the latter much more easily.

Should it really take a basement full of people to count 711 absentee ballots?  And should it take enough of a day that they needed to break for lunch?  The cost?

David Chang opened a noodle bar back in 2004, that’s a long time ago and ramen is not the new trend many think it is.  With that said, it’s damn good when done well.  Sometimes even when it’s not done well.

Please don’t discount or mock someone’s idea, solution to a problem, or plan until you can come up with a better one.

Great food at the expense of a healthy food and labor cost has a short shelf-life.  There’s a fine line between art and business.

Political signs should only be allowed on private property with the permission of the land owner and it should be required that they be taken down within three days of election day.

I know it’s fun to see friends at the grocery store, but you don’t have to corral your carts in the middle of an aisle while you chit-chat about your son that just got accepted to Hudson Valley.

http://www.foodandwine.com/news/dominos-pizza-checker

I’m going for my third colonoscopy soon.  I’ve told this story before butt there are some of you that are new to chefsday, so here’s how my first one went.  As I’m in my final preparation phase on the table about to be rolled into the procedure the nurse asks me if I have ever had this done before and I responded “not professionally.”  The look on her face was as blank as I’d ever seen on a person.

When did it become a thing to pile a bunch of crap on french fries?

https://www.jesrestaurantequipment.com/building-a-restaurant-when-you-cant-afford-a-ventilation-hood.html  If you cannot afford a hood, you likely cannot afford to open a restaurant,

From Craigslist:

We are open 365 days a year, must be able to work a variety of nights (must be available to close), weekends, days and holidays.  We are a high volume, fast paced restaurant and are looking for people to grow with us as a company. Please send resume to email given with the title “Line Cook.”  All new hires start at $10hr with quick advancement based on capabilities and performance.   $10 per hour and be available 365 day or night?

Paying restaurant workers more will do some things.  It will reduce the number of restaurants which will add to the customer bases of the ones that remain and it will develop better cooks because of increased dedication to what can be a more lucrative career, it will aid in employee retention, and will raise the overall quality of restaurants.

I’m off alcohol, using my cpap for better sleep, used to my “crazy” medicine, and through therapy have some new perspectives on life.  I’m not fully there yet, and have some issues to deal with and some work to do but……

I’m more than ready to cook again.

Better than before.

Thanks to the Vegans

Too often during a busy restaurant service someone with a dietary restriction will throw a wrench into what was a properly working machine.  It’s not that we chefs don’t understand allergies, special diets, dislikes, special requests, and lifestyle choices, but when your choices, desires, and needs unnecessarily become our problem and the problem of a dining room full of guests, then it becomes an issue.

We chefs think fast on our feet and can work with what we have prepared to fulfill special requests without much trouble.  The issue becomes unsettling when a kitchen is asked without notice to prepare a dish that doesn’t exist on the menu, and the prep hasn’t been done for that dish.  For example, I was once asked to make demi glace without onions for a steak the diner was ordering.  I don’t always expect every diner to know the process of each dish and its components.  But I do expect them to understand when I tell them what they are requesting isn’t possible.  I explain that the next time they’re planning to come in, they can let me know ahead of time and I’ll have both the time and product to make them something good.  And I even give out my cell number.

When a server enters the kitchen during a busy service and says, “We have a vegan on 12, she would like to know what you can make her,” I get a bit annoyed.  Not because we have a vegan on table 12, but because more often than not, the kitchen is unable to put together a suitable dish.  Simply taking whatever vegetables you have in-house and grilling them does not constitute a proper dinner.  I would rather put together a well-composed entrée for someone so they don’t have to be disappointed in their dining experience.

It has been suggested to me in the past that it would be smart to keep some items around just in case you get a request for a vegan meal.  That sounds good, but when you consider that only .5 percent of the population has chosen a vegan lifestyle, it negates the possibility of having good quality fresh ingredients on hand to work with on a consistent basis. One of the things I insist on is fresh, quality ingredients, otherwise it’s not fair to you, the diner.

The most difficult meal to make well off-the-cuff is a vegan meal, at least for me.  As I mentioned, simply grilling some vegetables is a cop-out and does not offer a proper dining experience.  I use a lot of animal products and believe in their use.  I cook fries in duck fat; I glaze vegetables in butter; I use lard, bacon fat, and rich stocks.

What I’ve done over the years is allow some individuals to shine a poor light on all vegans, giving me a real distaste for the chosen lifestyle.  It’s not only unfair to ask a kitchen to work an unreasonable request into a smooth flow, it’s also selfish.  I’ve had vegans and vegetarians (and others with dietary restrictions) call ahead to let the kitchen know they’d be in that evening and they’d appreciate if there was anything I could do.  My error is that I judged all vegetabletarians based on the actions of a few selfish ones.  This is a mistake people make with many groups and it’s just plain ignorant.

As I thought more about this subject I realized that not only should to accept vegans with an open mind, but I also owe them my gratitude.  My daughter Stella has a severe dairy allergy (the carry an EpiPen kind of allergy, not the “I don’t like onions” kind of allergy).  Thanks to a higher demand for products that are dairy-free, Stella can enjoy things like Ben and Jerry’s ice creamish kind of stuff and home-made pizza with Miyoko’s Creamery’s Fresh VeganMozz, an excellent product that melts beautifully.  Tonight we’re having Beef Stroganoff made with WayFare’s vegan sour cream, also an excellent product.

While we do not keep a diary-free house, we do use a lot of products that are substitutes for the real thing, and do some pretty darn good cooking with them so Stella can enjoy dinners as much as the rest of the family.

Given proper planning, I can make tasty things like vegan-friendly scalloped potatoes, mac n’ cheese, and even vegan demi glace and am happy to do it.  But please vegans, don’t ask for a special meal in restaurants at 7:30 on Saturday night.  The few of you that do it are spoiling an otherwise happy lifestyle for the majority of your brothers and sisters who are, as I’ve come to realize, very nice people.  Real people.

Again, thank you vegans for allowing me to cook for Stella, and welcome to my world and thank you for allowing me into yours.

Game Seven and Other Stuff

As I sat and watched game seven of the World Series I typed whatever random thoughts hopped into my dysfunctional mind.

I really do try to be nice to everyone until they prove to me that they don’t deserve it.  Some people present early evidence.

Just the sight of Joe Buck irritates me.

I really need to update the about section of this blog.  That then me isn’t the now me.

Too often chefs and restaurants in Saratoga are limited by the shallow labor pool as a result of too many restaurants, and too many mediocre restaurants that produce poorly trained cooks.

We all have issues, I clearly have issues, and our industry has issues which gives many of us issues.

Video has finally been charged with murder in the death of the radio star

Every year people seem shocked that Christmas is coming so soon.

John Besh

Sexual harassment is huge in the restaurant industry, from the top down to the bottom up.

Do we really have 50 essential restaurants in the Capital Region? Not really, I’m thinking 20 at very most. Perhaps we have 50 individuals important to the local restaurant/food scene. Off the top of my head while watching baseball: Steve Barnes, Eric Paul, Dominick Purnomo, Bob Lee, Paul Mccullough, Rob Handel, Angelo Mazzone, Joe Armstrong, Vic Christopher, Daniel Berman, David Gardell, Dimitrios Menagias, Yono, Eric Guenther, Jim Rua, Greg Kern, SCCC, Jonathan Stewart, Michael Mastrantouno, Donna Purnomo.  There are more, and I know I’ve overlooked many and there are those that I’m just not aware of.  Help me out, who’s on your list that I’ve not included?

We need more cooks and fewer Executive chefs.

We need more owners that understand the difference between a Chef and an Executive chef.

Truth be told, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been an Executive chef.

I recently read an ad for an Executive Chef’s position (for a local independent brand) that oversees 4 units.  The pay was listed at 45K.

Low pay is a big issue in our business, from top to bottom.

When the last restaurant you worked in still uses photos of your work for new posts on Facebook

I look forward to hanging out by the sauna at Crossgates Mall in my bathrobe while eating BBQ flatbread

Filling large take-out orders is not what I’d consider catering.  Apparently Chipotle does catering.

Jenn and I need to get to 15 Church sooner than later.

Joe Buck certainly can beat a topic to death.

Stop bastardizing carbonara.  If what you’ve made is not carbonara, call it something else.

English is many people’s 2nd language, even when it’s their only language.

I’m going to start on two new projects next week.  One is outlining a mentoring program where us old experienced chefs can help out young cooks on their way up.  I really think we need this.  Message me on Facebook if you think it’s something you’d like to be a part of.  Sometimes people just need someone to talk to with all the things we deal with in the industry.

Saying penne pasta is like saying apple fruit.

Putting the ball in play is also important in baseball.  Kind of important in life too.

I don’t need the shit that goes along with all the shit.  I have no intention of being over-dependent on the labor pool in my future endeavors.

Congratulations to the Houston Colt .45’s.

Welcome back to Boston, Alex Cora.

I generally dislike running specials out of my kitchen unless I’m gauging a dish for a new menu.

There are typically three kinds of specials: “we’ve got some surplus product” or “use this up before it goes bad.”  That’s the reason I don’t order specials, I don’t want your “about to turn product.”  There’s the owner that simply likes specials, they want one app, one entrée, and one dessert every day. I hate that, it breeds poorly thought out dishes.  Finally, there’s the “trying a dish for an upcoming menu to get some feedback and test the execution in the kitchen.”  I don’t mind that one as much since it’s likely something the chef has been putting some thought into rather than simply cleaning out the cooler.

I once saw cream of cheese soup on a specials board.  That’s what happens when you force it.

Very recently a special called NY Strip Parmesan:  NY strip grilled to order, finished with marinara and melted cheddar cheese served over penne pasta.

Food Memories in the Future

We all have food memories.  Many chefs are inspired by those remembrances and cook based on those flavors and recollection of the times in their lives that those food tastes represent.  It’s not actually what I’ve done during my tenure as a professional cook but as a chef moving forward it’s something I’d like to change.  I’m not sure what the future holds for me professionally, but I do know I’m feeling good and am ready to get back to work.  I’ll do things on my terms and I’ll be inspired by my memories.  I’ve earned it.

I cannot decide which is my favorite pizza, sausage and mushroom or anchovies and hot peppers.  When I was a kid we would order three eight-cut pizzas for our family of six.  Two were plain cheese and the other was sausage and mushrooms which was for my father and oldest brother, both deceased.  Eating that pizza always reminds me of them and those times.  We also got Pepsi in glass bottles when we had pizza so it’s even better with an ice-cold Pepsi.  Anchovy and hot pepper pizza just tastes so damn good.  I don’t tolerate hot peppers like I used to.

Veal Marsala was the last dish I plated at the long lamented Theresa’s Italian Grill.

I remember as a kid my mother made a dish we called noodles and eggs.  It was made from a soft egg and flour dough rolled to about 1/8 inch thick and cut into approximately 1/2 inch by 1 1/2 inch strips.  They were then boiled until floating then cooled then cooked in beaten eggs, like making scrambled eggs (more noodles than eggs).  This was my sister Elaine’s favorite dish and she would always request it on her birthday, which she shared with her twin brother Dan.  I’m not sure it was his favorite, but it was a mainstay on October 22.  I don’t think my mother has made it since June 13, 2000 which was 3 days before Elaine’s death.  I’ve never made the dish but I think my daughter Stella whose middle name is Lainey, the name I called my sister, would like the dish, it’s time to make it.

I grew up in a home that didn’t have a lot of extra money, my mother worked and my father often worked two jobs and dinners were sometimes of the frugal nature.  As a child I wasn’t really aware that some of the meals were on the table due to their low-cost, and it often didn’t matter as we loved many of those meals.  One of the few things I remember my father making was fried dough.  He would hand-stretch small pieces of pizza dough and fry them up into puffy misshapen pillows and feed them to a plate on the table where my brothers, sister, and I would grab at the hot stack wanting to get butter and sugar on one before it cooled.  I need to make that soon as well, my kids would love that as much as my siblings and I did.

Vegans are real people too.

Another dish my father served me was bananas and milk.  I recall having a dentist appointment and my mother had gone to work and I was home with dad who gave me a breakfast of sliced bananas with milk and sugar sprinkled on top.  I recall how simply delicious it was.  Well, I went to the dentist, had nitrous oxide, had a tooth filled, woke up and vomited.  I don’t remember where the communication failed, but I wasn’t supposed to eat before the appointment.

Perhaps it was that lack of communication that contributed to my parents splitting up when I was 12.  The first meal I had at my Dad’s apartment was spaghetti and meatballs, it was one of his favorites and one of the few things he could make.  I do remember the salad all these years later.  It was iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and canned black olives.  What I really remember is the way it was dressed.  Poured on in this order was olive oil, a heavy dose of salt, red wine vinegar, and a little liquid from the olive can.  It’s still my favorite salad and I have it at home in that way or close very often.

The other person that made salad like that was my first wife’s grandmother. There were a lot of Sundays at her house in Troy eating hand rolled pasta and a pot of Sunday sauce.  The pork neck bones that simmered in the sauce were such an important part of that meal for me. The flavor of melted connective tissue and cartilage dug out from between the small bones with tender bits of meat remains one of those flavors that I enjoy with my eyes closed.  There was also a uniqueness to her sauce, and her arrival at that taste remained a secret to pretty much everyone who ate there.  One day she whispered the secret it in my ear.

Whenever you showed up at her house, expected or not, you were going to have a meal.

While living in Troy when Theresa was quite young, I would take her to The Vanilla Bean Bakery on Saturday mornings to pick out a Sesame Street cupcake.

The first dinner I ever made was chicken cacciatora at eight years old.  I make it differently now.

After my running career was over at Siena I decided that I would continue running competitively and see how far I could go.  Between some income from coaching and a bit of prize money from racing I made an ok living.  I shared an apartment with a couple of fellow runners in Albany and we would eat elbow macaroni and jarred sauce quite often.  One treat we had was a spaghetti with clams dish that one of my roommates made once in a while.  It was canned clams, sliced onions, garlic, cooking wine, oregano and the pasta.  It was like a bad recipe you’d see posted on Facebook but it was a break from the other stuff we ate and I really enjoyed it.

Jim Rua at Café Capriccio showed me the best way to make pasta with clams.

The first thing I learned to make at Café Capriccio was eggplant with 4 cheeses. Brilliantly simple, and simply brilliant.

The first time I ate foie gras was during the summer of 2003 while working as a line cook at The Lodge in Saratoga.  The culinary staff included Jaime Ortiz, Brian Molino, and Ken Kehn.

At the beginning of our relationship, Jenn and I would spend considerable time having cocktails on Caroline St. in Saratoga.  I recall one night at about 2am we hit a popular late-night food joint for what was my first doughboys.  I soaked them in jalapeno sauce and gobbled them down.  Delicious. I gave Jenn a hot sauce kiss and her lips have been on fire ever since.

Also, early in our relationship we were strolling through downtown Saratoga and hit the same popular late-night food joint for some more doughboys. They’re horrible things during the day.

Day drinking and a trip to Stewart’s may be in order.

My last drink was on October 6th

Potato chips, tuna sandwich with green olives, blueberry pie, and so many things I’ve enjoyed with my dear wife and constant inspiration, Jennifer.

I’ll Drink to That

It’s Saturday night and a lot of people are out having a nice (or not so nice) meal and a few drinks. Or perhaps they’re home enjoying a cocktail.  I love cocktails, and wine, and beer, and Bourbon in a glass, or gin in a glass……..You get the picture.

On Friday October 6th I had what most people would call a lot of Bourbon and as a result decided not to drink for a bit.  I tend to drink every day and it’s not just that I might drink a bottle of wine with dinner, but I may also have a beer or two while I’m cooking, or sip Bourbon at the end of the night while watching TV, writing, or developing menus.  I can be an aggressive sipper.

On Saturday October 7th I had a hangover, and on Sunday I continued to feel like Hell.  On Monday I felt worse, and on Tuesday I felt just as bad.  I read on the interwebs that headache, nausea, and breaking out in a sweat intermittently are all symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and I asked myself a question I’ve asked frequently enough over the years.  “Do I have a drinking problem?” Both my Grandfather and late brother were alcoholics so with my family history I’ve always thought I might also enter the family business.  On Wednesday I spent about an hour with my shrink talking about alcohol and it’s role in my life.

So, for now I’ve suspended my drinking privileges.  My therapist and I decided that I should quit for at least a year then see if perhaps I may be able to change my drinking habits.  I like that approach because I’m not convinced I’m an alcoholic even though I do have a pretty assertive drinking style.  I do love wine or beer with meals, and I enjoy social drinking when out with friends which I typically handle well without over imbibing and I’d hate to lose that aspect of my life.  My long-term goal is to be able to drink a bit on weekends and other special occasions without getting into the routine I’m now trying to leave behind.

The restaurant business can be a great catalyst for regular drinking as it’s pretty normal to have a shift drink followed by a stop out after work. While it’s common to go to a few watering holes here in Saratoga and meet up with pockets of off-duty cooks and servers I always made it a point to avoid work-related folk after a shift.  My unwinding routine was always to find a quiet spot and keep clear of business talk.  Those after-hour medicinal glasses of fermented and distilled beverages have always been the salve that soothed the mental (and sometimes physical) wounds of a long day of prep and long night of line cooking.  When I was chef at The Wine Bar I lived in town and could easily stop out and walk home.  Once I started driving to and from work as I did from Chez Nous the practice continued at home since the medication was an important temporary remedy from the persistent and unnecessary drama.

So, aside from depression running wild in the industry and in my life, alcohol misuse is another difficulty it appears I’ve also taken with me from that profession.  While I have a family history of both issues, a life in restaurants very likely exacerbated the problems greatly.  It’s possible I would be a sad and drunk regardless, but the kitchen life certainly made it more pronounced.

It really bugs me when people call ground beef hamburger. A hamburger is something you make with ground beef.

My therapy dictates that I handle much of my recovery from depression on my own.  While I get guidance from my therapist, it’s my responsibility to do most of the work myself.  One of the things I’ve taken it upon myself to do is write letters to people I was may have been an asshole to, or that I let down in some way.  I’ve done a few so far and I have more to do.  If we crossed paths over the years and you don’t get a letter then you may very well have been the asshole in our relationship.

I received one letter in return from a former employer I will always consider a friend and the response couldn’t have been better.  It really made my day.  I look forward to sitting down with him over a cold beer hot coffee.

What’s better than cruzin’ through downtown Schuylerville with the windows down and the sunroof open blasting Gloria by Laura Branigan?  Yup, that was me.

I got a c-pap unit on Thursday, my wife sleeps next to Darth Vader now.  Better sleep will help me in so many ways.  Having up to 93 apnea episodes per hour has caused me to go through most days sleepy for as long as I can remember.

“Every now and then I fall apart.”

I’ll be back once I’m all fixed up, and better than ever.

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.

 

 

 

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.