Nail Polish Snippets

The kids have gone to bed, and like most Sunday nights Jenn does her nails for the week at the dining room table.  I generally sit with her and write.

People love other people’s problems.

They also love to let them know what they ought to do.

If you’re an owner thinking of becoming an owner as I am be sure you’re willing to do any job in the restaurant, if you are not then reconsider your role as an owner.

When you make a dish with arborio or caronoli rice you have not necessarily made risotto, you have made a rice dish that may or may not be risotto based on technique and presentation.

If you don’t like being pointed at, don’t spend your time pointing fingers, unless you’re giving pointing in the mirror equal time.

Carpaccio is not about the thin cut of swordfish, mushrooms, or melon, it’s about the color of the beef. A little culinary license will allow other red meats, and perhaps even beets, but cutting anything thinly does not make it carpaccio.

While I enjoy sabbatical this summer, I’m going to work on my weaknesses in the kitchen.  While I think my plates have looked pretty good most of the time, I think I need to work on new techniques and some modern looks.  Study and practice, study and practice.  My planning on specific uses for leftovers and unused items needs to be a bit sharper.  For instance, my pasta doughs usually use a 2-1 yolk to white ratio, so I know I’ll have an excess of egg whites consistently.  Typically, I’d keep them in the freezer thinking I could use them for something in the future, but I need to plan to use them when I have them to ensure they get used.  I’m going to be a small operation and I’ll need to be efficient.

It appears mac and cheese with a bunch of shit in it is here to stay.

I Hate loaded fries, make good fries in good fat and you don’t need to cover them with cheese, bacon, chili, pulled pork and all the other crap people are covering them with.  This goes for burgers, and other foods too.

I think over-garnished cocktails are silly.  This seems to happen with the often incorrectly made Bloody Mary.  What I want is a properly make drink, correct proportions, and in the proper glass.  I don’t want a skewered shrimp, or strip of bacon.  Nothing that makes the cocktail difficult to drink.

Happiness isn’t in what you believe, it’s in who you believe.

I like useful décor.

Uniforms and appearances are not always an indicator of quality and excellence.  I was reminded of this last was at Jennifer’s old lady softball game and remarked to her about her team’s nice uniforms.  They didn’t have uniforms; I was just communicating in my sarcastic douche bag kind of way.  At least I’m self-aware.  Anyway, the other team had uniforms, looked good, and lost.

The first time I recall being faced with the reality that uniforms and appearances may lead you to believe that a group is superior but may not perform up to your level is in 1986 when our Siena College team arrived for a dual meet against Princeton in rented vans wearing low-budget mismatched warm-ups.  They were 12th in the nation the previous season, coached by Larry Ellis, the U.S. Olympic coach, wore beautiful Nike warm-ups, and had a nice touring bus.  The pre-race pep talk referred to the appearances of both teams and how that had nothing to do with our ability to win.  We won.  This story has a lot to do with the restaurant world.

Time to watch Fleabag.


Service Please

I like the optometrist at the Vision Center at the Walmarts. I brought Theresa there yesterday for an eye exam and I was in the waiting area one of the workers prattled on loudly about the exploits this past weekend between herself, her ex, and his current flame.  She was also overheard to say, “I’ve got three grown up adults living in my basement so I wanna know why my kids ain’t being watched.”   All the while there was a young guy popping in and out talking to her about how he’s sore from working out all weekend, and how people keep falling into the Grand Canyon.

Theresa picked out new frames while Momma put on her makeup in one of the mirrors.  We went up to the counter to give her the prescription and order glasses. As she started to help us her friend returned to show her pictures on his phone which to them seemed to be an appropriate thing to do at that moment.  I put an end to the visit rather sternly, and after having to respond harshly to the friend’s sass mouth, Momma was able to resume her work.  These two individuals simply thought it was ok to carry on with each other while she half-heartedly helped us.

I see the same thing in grocery stores often enough to call it a trend.  Cashiers jawing with one another about their personal lives.  Recently, the cashier in the lane I was in was complaining about other employees, exclaiming “I don’t keep my mouth shut, I tell it like it is.”  The person bagging said that she cannot, she’s a manager and it wouldn’t be right.  I of course chimed in with “no one should be doing it in front of the customers, management or not, it’s unprofessional.”

After the Walmarts, we went to McDonald’s.  Yes, I eat that crap sometimes, the sausage McMuffins with egg are the shit, so don’t judge me.  Like Redd Foxx said, “you’d feel awful stupid laying in the hospital dying of nothing.”  Anyway, the sandwiches came out and the young lady promised to bring out our hash browns as soon as they were up.  As we ate, I realized we weren’t getting our potatoes since she became engaged in conversation with a young man who was clearly there to entertain her.

On our way out I approached the counter and she got a stunned look on her face and said she’ll get our hash browns.  No apology.  I said we were done and didn’t want them and would like a refund for the difference.  I also told her that if she weren’t so distracted with her friend, she might have remembered to do her job.   Her reply was (use your snotty voice) “Uh, that’s the owner’s son.”  To which I replied, “does his father know his son is disrupting his business?”

What’s my point with those tales of poor service?  Poor service.  Poor service is now the norm.  It seems like most younger people are so distracted with other activities that the jobs they’re being paid to perform are now an afterthought.  It has become ok to chat with your friends, get mesmerized with the owner’s cute son, be on the phone, stand at the hostess stand or behind the bar texting, ignore customers until you finish a conversation or a sandwich.  It stinks, and the labor pool is so bad in the hospitality and service industry that we find ourselves putting up with it.  I see this behavior everywhere I shop, and when I go out to eat.  I’ve seen it at work for the last half-dozen years or so.  The only place I’ve worked recently where it wasn’t tolerated was Chez Nous.  Bravo to Heather for that.  Otherwise, it’s common practice to be on your phone, be eating, and visiting with both your friends and coworkers in view and earshot of customers.

So, what is it, are owners stuck because the labor pool is so shallow?  Or, are young people just not hip to the idea that being at work means being at work, and it’s not a social event?

Moving Parts

This past weekend I had to repair my lawnmower which was very disappointing because it’s not very old and it’s a very well-regarded brand.  I won’t tell you what kind it is, but I would not recommend a Troy Built machine.  The engine is great, a Briggs and Stratton, but the rest of the mower is falling apart after just four years.  I’ve already had to do repairs on the grass chute and the blade mount, both requiring some innovation and patchwork.  As I was replacing the broken front axle that has rotating offset mounts and adjustment clips with a simple straight rod and simple stationary mounts it became clear to me that this mower has too many moving parts.  The more features a machine has, the more moving parts, and the more chances for breakdown.

I started thinking about restaurant equipment and the simplicity of stoves vs. the complexity of line coolers.  A stove rarely breaks down, and when it does the repairs are generally quick and inexpensive.  A cooler on the other hand has more moving parts and the chances for mechanical failure are increased.  When a cooler lets you down it’s normal that you’ll be writing a more substantial check.

The rational leap from restaurant equipment to restaurants was made as I worked on the mower.  It occurred to me that a lot of restaurants have too many moving parts. The problems we face in is that the labor pool is shallow, and sourcing consistent product is difficult in this area, even from the best suppliers.

Labor, the people who work directly for us daily and procuring product are just two of the many moving parts to a restaurant.  Other suppliers of goods and services like linens, cleaning, equipment maintenance, trash collection, flowers, paper goods, cooking fuel for some places, banking, licenses and permits, menu and wine list printing, social media and publicity/advertising, and small wares like plates, silver, and glassware other things that must be dealt with on a daily basis.  There’s more, much more.

I’m just looking at the two most fickle parts tonight but could write volumes on all the things that could go wrong every day in the hospitality world.  The general public never sees most of it, and their experience is often not affected by the daily mishaps and missteps of all the individuals need to make a restaurant function, but the errors, breakdowns, and failures are there.

Labor is tough.  The people available right now are not the people that were available when I started out.  I just do not remember it being ok to miss work or be late for almost any reason.  Young people, and some older think concerts, family picnics, hangovers, nights out with friends, sunshine, no money for gas, the bus was early, my alarm didn’t go off, my dog is sick, I forgot to do laundry, my Mom took my car, I had to stop for coffee, the mechanic took longer than expected, I have to watch my brother, and a host of other things that seem to come up like never before.  It is too common for restaurants to be short-handed.  The next time service is spotty or slow keep in mind that the labor pool stinks and keeping fully staffed on a nightly basis is almost impossible.  Labor is the most difficult moving part to maintain.

Today’s waitstaff today is made up of people waiting tables until their fine arts degree pans out, or until they can save up to move to California.  I’m generalizing, but my generalization is based on experience.  Professional servers are a thing of the past.

Cooks are mainly dishwashers that moved up, and never had a real desire for the job, and culinary graduates that weren’t aware that they would have to work.  Again, a generalization based on experience.

Dishwashers? Good luck with that.  When they show up on time, sober/straight, and ready to work it’s a victory.

We live in an area that loves simple cooking and straight-forward dishes made from products that are easily recognizable and effortless to obtain.  For those of us that like to stray from the middle of the box out to the boarders and beyond it’s a crapshoot trying to keep interesting items on your menu.  Suppliers do not stock large amounts of specialty items, or too often less popular things are special order only.  Good luck being eclectic and interesting on a consistent basis.  A 40 lb. case of random boneless skinless chicken breasts?  Sure, there’s all you want.  A case of Romaine, a 4-gallon case of Ken’s Caesar dressing, and some Sysco pre-shredded Asiago and you can serve grilled chicken Caesar salads to your heart’s content. Wait, what about tainted lettuce?  Nope, even the supply of the mundane isn’t guaranteed. Just another moving part that can break down.

We spend too much time covering up the blemishes of an often-seamless appearing operation.  My question as I plan my own restaurant is how do I eliminate, or greatly reduce the chances for breakdown?  The answer hit me as I was changing the front axle on my mower from a complex machine with multiple moving parts to a simple machine with no moving parts.

Eliminate the moving parts!

Sure, that’s easy on a lawnmower, but in a restaurant that depends on many individuals to open each day?  Sure, I believe it can be done successfully.  No waitstaff, very limited seating, and a menu that’s written daily based on seasonal and available products. I’m eliminating those moving parts and others.  That’s all for now, a full disclosure of my plans is coming soon enough.

Friday Night Nonsense

Some people simply don’t know what they don’t know, and they’re too stubborn to admit that.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time with my eight-year-old Stella.  Since she was home sick, we thought a low-key activity like pasta making would be a great project.  Before heading out to the pediatrician we made some duck egg pasta dough and wrapped it well.  Upon our return we rolled some sheets to use for ravioli, garganelli, and bowties.  I also showed her how to make sheets with whole parsley leaves in them.  We also used some of the dough to make cavatelli with the small hand-crank machine and by hand with a gnocchi board.  She especially liked the part when I hooked up my cordless drill to the cavatelli maker and produced noodles at an alarming rate.

What impressed me about Stella is that I didn’t have to ask her to do things, she took initiative.  I didn’t have to show her things twice due to great aptitude for pasta making and because she paid attention.  She worked the whole time and took no smoke breaks, she didn’t have to check her phone, get a soda, or feel the need to get some air. How refreshing, and what a nice change from late-arriving twenty-somethings who feel it’s ok to take 20 minutes upon arrival to get changed, fix a cup of coffee, and chat with the bartender before starting actual work.  She also didn’t ask for Saturday off, ask if she could leave early because she needs to give her dog heart worm medication by 9 or the pooch will die.  That’s code for I want to take a shower and get dressed so I can meet my friends out by 10.

As one goes from place to place it’s easy to leave physical elements behind.  Pans, plates, tools, spice blends, or coffee makers.  Some places however are resistant to retaining non-tangible things you try to leave behind.  Knowledge, work ethic, ingenuity, and tenacity are things I have been able to leave with some organizations and individuals, but some places have deep cultures of indifference, indolence, and a general disregard for progressive thinking.  It has always felt like I have failed when I’ve left places with those poor qualities, but I when I look back on my years in the kitchen, I reminisce about all the people I’ve come across and how many are doing well in the industry.  I may not leave a legacy as the long-time chef at one spot, but I find satisfaction that I have left my mark on places and people in the business.

I don’t typically unfriend people simply due to differing political stances.  I respect informed, well thought out opinions based on facts and knowledge of events and situations.  However, I found it necessary when someone claimed that Barack Obama was the laziest and worst (he said the “worse”) president in history because all he watches is Fox News for information, and because he’s possibly a racist.  This was an individual who I worked for when I was just starting out and I thought his box full of knives, ability to keep up on a busy sauté station, and knowledge were impressive.  Then, I became a sauté wizard, got a bunch of knives, and gained far more knowledge than he will ever have.  So, since you have not been relevant for many years, and since your ignorant views are offensive, to Hell with you.  This is not a defense of President Obama, but a defense of reasonably formed opinions.

I’m not sure I should keep the last paragraph in this post.

Here’s how owners who have never done an hour’s work in the kitchen see it: “I pay you by the hour, so you need to continuously work while you’re here.”  As a chef, who knows how hard the job is, this is how I see it: “You are paid at a rate of $12.00 per hour, and work an eight-hour shift, that’s less than $100.00 to prep and hold down a station for dinner service.”  If you want to take 15 minutes to sit on a milk crate and eat a sandwich or bowl of pasta then go ahead, if your shit’s together.  If you want to take a pizza home on a Saturday night, then you’ve earned it.

We’ve really got to find a way to treat our line cooks and dishwashers better, it’s a tough job.

Eight-year-olds should not have what looks like a beer gut.  I really shouldn’t either.

Fox News is for conformation, not information.

Someone recently threatened to sue me for blasphemy.  I laughed and I laughed.

Blasphemy is an impossible offence.  Since it is the act of speaking sacrilegiously about a figure called God, and the being many call God does not exist, then blasphemy cannot exist.

It’s my well-informed opinion, believe what you wish.

Prime rib vs. Ribeye steak. It’s a tough lesson.

A comment on my recent post asked that when I opened my restaurant if I was going to talk to my customers in the way I write on this blog.  The blog and the restaurant are two separate entities and I mostly know how to act in public.  With that said, I will have a set of standards for both myself and my customer base.  I will not surrender those standards.

Why do people continue to call chicken tenders boneless wings?   Putting Buffalo sauce in it does not make it a wing, boneless or otherwise.

Dogs are not children, and I’m offended by those that make that comparison.  Creating a human child, carrying as part of your body for nine months, and raising a child is in no way like getting a puppy.  I love dogs, but reality is reality, and please stop pushing them around in strollers thinking they’re babies.

If your Saratoga restaurant needs the Summer season to survive, then perhaps it’s not the entity you may think it is.

I was at Stella’s softball game here in Schuylerville and overheard a few people talking about a Saratoga restaurant.  The woman reported that there was a $17 pasta, and a $39 steak, and that for $39 you ought to get the whole cow.  Well, when you go to the big city you gotta expect big-city prices.

I’ve lived in Schuylerville for 4 years and have eaten one steak in a restaurant here.  That was enough.

Calling it a steakhouse doesn’t make it so.

Whatcha Gonna Do

As many of you are aware, I am in the planning stages my own project in Saratoga.

Here are a few thoughts just to give you a glimpse of what I’m working on and what I hope to be doing soon.

I’ll be serving well-crafted Mediterranean plates in a contemporary and creative style using the flavors of Morocco, Spain, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Tunisia, France, Algeria, Syria, and Israel.  Each dish will not necessarily be from one country, but will express the ingredients, techniques, and tastes of the region.

Yes, I know there are a few more countries on the Mediterranean Sea, but you get the picture.

We’re having a garage sale on May 18th, maybe I should sell tacos at the same time.

My lamb Bolognese has its roots in Italy, but the use of lamb, mint, feta, pine nuts, and raisins collects the flavors of other nearby cuisines.  Perhaps it’s no longer Bolognese, but it’s a good way to communicate to people what the dish started out as before it was kidnapped by my brain and made into something unique, and expressly mine.

The cuisines of the Mediterranean are connected in so many ways that it’s impossible to separate them by borders, political ideologies, religions, or even continents.  There are too many historical reasons why Spanish food is closer to Sicilian food than Sicilian food is to Milanese food.

I will not serve chicken breast ever again.

It will be chef-driven cuisine served in a unique, comfortable and convivial format.

Seating will be very limited.

I look forward to making my rabbit pâté again.

When people are two-faced, the only thing you’ll know for sure is that you can’t trust either of them.

There will be plenty of fresh pasta, as in Yawning Duck kind of fresh pasta.

I will not allow employees to use cell phones in view of customers.

I’ve been doing a lot of character development for the short story I’m working on.

I’d like to keep Wednesdays open for special events, like fundraisers, cooking classes, and private functions.  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday will be open for dinner.

Social media will be important, and you’ll need to follow along on Facebook and Instagram to know what’s on the menu each week, and what Wednesday’s are about.  The website is being worked on. That too will be kept up-to-date weekly, an easy task, but all too often ignored.

I did a lot of planting in the garden yesterday. I’ll have some nice produce to work with.

I will cook everything the way I believe is best, I cannot cook properly if I’m anticipating a possible allergy (claim) or dietary/lifestyle choice.  Pasta has gluten, risotto has dairy (never in the form of cream), I use rich chicken stock often, and there are onions in a lot of things.  I must cook along unrestricted guidelines in order to make each dish what it should be.

I will cook a lot of food that has no gluten, meat or dairy since the cooking will be Mediterranean based.

Don’t however ask for gluten-free pasta, there’s no such thing. Get the gist?

Things will be made and presented as designed, as tested, and as described on the menu.

Try your best not to work for less than you’re worth.

Make sure you know your worth.

I will express who I am as a person and as a chef.  I will be accessible to everyone due to the open kitchen.  I plan on being available to everyone, answering questions, telling stories, and talking about food and wine. Blah, blah, blah….

The wine list will be simple but well-thought out, approachable, and most of all, fun. No bargains for us, but there may be bargains for you.  I’m not going to serve cheap wine.  Inexpensive perhaps, but not cheap.

I will not do happy hour; this place will not be about specials, and mark-downs.  The people who decide to dine early will be treated and charged the same as those who decide to dine late.  No specials, it will be a short menu changed weekly.  There might be room for a special night, perhaps on those open Wednesdays.

Wine will be served in simple glassware without theater.

The golfer is John Daly.

I love a good Arnold Palmer on a hot day.

I will not sell gift cards.

There are two kinds of owners, those who get in the dish pit, and those who do not.  The difference between the two does not necessarily indicate success or failure, but it certainly says a lot about the chances for success or failure.  It also says a lot about one’s motivation for being in the business.

I plan some time in the dish pit.

As things become finalized and the picture and timeline become clearer I’ll pass along a more comprehensive report.

Thank You

On Monday night the Chez Sophie reunion dinner took place in honor of Chef Paul Parker who’s undergoing treatment for cancer.  The turnout was great, the spirits were high, and the sense of community was inspiring.

I learned of Paul’s illness when I was sent a link to a GoFundMe page set up by a family friend with a goal of $10,000.  My first thought was that I wished I could just put the whole amount in.  Then I thought about what my wife and I would contribute, and we discussed and settled on a figure.  As I was at work later that day prepping for dinner service, I had an idea that would allow me to contribute the whole 10k and more.  What we did on Monday night was spawned from that thought and with the help of a lot of community-minded individuals we exceeded the monetary goal and more importantly we showed a family that they are not alone in their fight, but have an entire team in their corner.  As someone who has witnessed the fight against cancer too many times, I know what an emotional boost can mean to someone who’s ill.  Paul, we’re on your side and will battle with you.

In the Spring of 2004, I had just started working at Chez Sophie in Malta.  One night after service my car wouldn’t start, and it needed to be jump started by Paul and Cheryl’s SUV.  Before I left for home Paul had me take his cell phone with me in the event I had further car issues.  It was a small gesture, but It was the first time I learned that Paul cared about people other than himself.  It was the first in a series of kind acts I saw over the years and now it’s time for him to be able to draw from the good acts he’s committed over time to help himself.

My wife commented that whenever someone needed a job, all they need to do was go to the kitchen door and ask if there was anything available.  There were so many times that the restaurant couldn’t afford another employee, but he’d say, “come in Friday at 2, we’ll find something for you to do.”  I think people often forget or are unaware that Chez Sophie was not just a great restaurant, but a place where people came first.  We we’re fed well, we were always paid, and we had the opportunity to accumulate great memories and cultivate friendships.  Thank you, Paul and Cheryl.

The list of people who contributed was lengthy, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention in some way those responsible for making the evening a success.

For use of the site of the Chez Sophie so many people were a part of, the Fodero Diner in Malta, Dunning Street Station I thank owners Chef Scott Ringwood and Bob McKenna, General Manager Diana Murphy, and Chef Bruce Jacobson.  Diana took care of many details along the way and was on hand for the evening to assure things were as they needed to be.  Scott and Bruce were indispensable in the kitchen.

The kitchen crew was rounded out by Dominique Brialy, Mark Graham, Ali Benamati, and Nick Yusavage.  Thank you all who made the work light with your help ideas, and most of all your spirited camaraderie and focus on the goal.

To our service team who came together and reminded me what a professional service team looks like, I am grateful for your efforts.  It was a difficult job that was performed well.  Jennifer Derby Colose, Jay Christiansen, Micki Lee, and Patrick Gilgallon.  Also, on the Bar, Mitch Rowen.  All these professionals are Chez Sophie alumni, and it shows.  They stepped into the roles without missing a beat and more importantly, they turned 100% of their gratuities ($1500.00) over to the fund-raising effort.

A proper Chez Sophie experience would not be complete without great wine and great wine service, which was made possible by  our event sommeliers, two of the best in the business who not only gave their time, but also contributed and/or facilitated the donation of all the wine consumed (some of it in the kitchen).  Dominick Purnomo (Yono’s) and Joseph Armstrong Winebow), thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was one aspect I didn’t need to worry about as I knew it was handled by two gentleman who are on their game time and time again.

I also need to acknowledge business owners Matt Funiciello of Rock Hill Bakery, Gary Warrington of Edelweiss Veal Co., and Eric Guenther of Adventure in Food Trading Co. for generous donations of great product, and Mark McNary of PFG Foods, Dale Miller of Maple Leaf Farms, Douglas Bernthal of Skurnic Wines, and Ryan Moore of Lauber Imports for facilitation of product donations

Finally, T.R Laz for his work in providing photographic memories of the event, and Jonathan Anthime Miller for providing wonderful music.

To all those who provided items, services, and artwork for the silent auction, a genuine thank you, as the bids were plentiful, and the result beneficial.

Living a life in a specific way can cause you to have people come to your aid without a thought.  It’s not charity, it’s drawing on assets that you have earned and banked.

To all the people who donated, cooked, organized, served, and attended, thank you.

Amused to Death (a Roger Waters Song)

I am grateful for being given the opportunity to return to The Wine Bar and lead the kitchen for the last 15 months.  I was at a low place in my life both emotionally and professionally just a couple of years ago and getting back to a familiar kitchen was the best thing for me at the time.  My creativity was stagnant, and my ability to thrive was almost non-existent before my return.

I have over time regained both my desire to be creative, and my aim to be a better and more influential chef.  As I look to the future, I have come to the realization that for further growth and satisfaction I need to venture out on my own and see what I can do as a chef when I am able to set the parameters and make my own rules.  In short, I need to express myself as a cook and as a person in my own arena.  Much more to come on that.

Therefore, it was necessary to resign my position of Chef at The Wine Bar to find my optimal place in the culinary landscape as I strive to reach my potential.  My last dinner service was April 6, 2019, a little sooner than I intended, but too often circumstances around these decisions fall out of your control and the influences of others’ actions can thwart even the best laid plans.

Again, thank you to the Wine Bar for giving me the ability to find my way again and the chance to grow as a person.  I think the last year has been mutually beneficial for most of us as we gained some great memories.

After three stints at The Wine Bar, I can assure you that there will not be a fourth. I’m going in my own direction, and at the age of 55, I’m hopeful that what is to come will be my last culinary adventure.  I have a few things left to prove to myself, and not much else to give any other owners, as I have extended myself beyond what many of them even know, and have too little to show for it.  I’ll put much of that on me, but this industry does not reward too many people for their hard work and dedication.

The dedication will now be to myself, my personal projects, and to my family.  I will promote my brands, and my projects, and work hard to make each one a success.

The Yawning Duck  will be my new restaurant, opening in 2-3 months.  In the mean time I’ll be offering catering services through the Yawning Duck, I’ll be working to do what I can to help those in our industry who need it through chefs4chefs, and I’ll keep you informed about my life on chefsday.  More on my plans in a separate post, soon.

What I will offer as advice to those who are in business or management, spend less time and effort trying to catch people doing something wrong and put more into noticing all the things they do right, and acknowledge it.  They’ll be happier, you’ll be happier.

Chez Sophie Reunion: For a Good Cause

As many people who follow restaurant news know, former Chez Sophie (and Rare Earth Wine Bar) chef/owner Paul Parker has been diagnosed with cancer of the tongue and lymph nodes in his neck.  The prognosis is good, but too often with cancer treatment comes financial difficulty.  I have decided to organize a fundraiser to help offset the costs of treatment, and to help supplement the family’s income while Paul is out of work, and to allow him to focus on getting well.

On Monday April 29th there will be a fundraising dinner event at Dunning Street Station at 2853 State Highway 9 in Malta, NY.  The site is the former long-time home of Chez Sophie where so many of the restaurant’s classic dishes were created and maintained.  The building is going back in time thanks to the generosity of owners Chef Scott Ringwood and Bob McKenna, and Dunning Street/Lake Ridge general manager Diana Murphy.

The doors will open at 5:00 with a cash bar for cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres.  There will also be an opportunity to bid on some great items in a silent auction.  Those who are not having dinner are welcome to attend and say hello to some old friends, have a drink, and help support the effort.

Dinner will seat at about 6:30 with a quintessential tasting menu from the former great restaurant.  The group of chefs assembled thus far include me, chef and owner of Yawning Duck Culinary Services, and chef at The Wine Bar; Mark Graham, Chef de Cuisine/ Adelphi Hospitality; Dom Sud; Nick Yusavage, Executive Chef at Pasta Pane; and of course, Scott Ringwood of DSS, and Lake Ridge.  I am working at locating others and hope to add to the list.

Service will be coordinated by Diana Murphy of Dunning Street, and by Jennifer Derby Colose, who worked at the old spot, and was FOH manager for Paul and Cheryl at the Hilton site for a couple of years. There will be former servers and bar staff on hand to complete the reunion.

As a special and very appreciated treat, Dominick Purnomo of Yono’s/dp had volunteered his time along with Joe Armstrong of Winebow Inc. to pair wines and provide wine service for the evening.


Bean Paste | Warm Rock Hill Bread | Olive Oil

Country Style Pâté| Dijon and Whole Grain Mustards | Pickles

Crab Cake | Lemon-Caper Mayonnaise | Micro Salad

English Pea and Cucumber Soup | Crème Fraiche | Pistachios

Veal Scaloppini | Lemon Cream| Braised Carrots

Crispy Duck Breast | Apricot and Green Peppercorns | Wild Rice

Camembert | Fig Jam | Candied Almonds

Almost Flourless Chocolate Cake | Whipped Cream | Fresh Berries

The cost of the event is $100 per person for dinner, wine, beer, and cocktails are additional, plus tax and gratuity. The wine pairing will be $50, a true bargain, or you can choose your own beverages.

You can call Dunning Street Station at 518-587-2000 starting Tuesday, April 9th to reserve a spot.   Please, do not leave a message as you may not be guaranteed a spot.  All proceeds will go directly to the cause. 

Keep in mind, this is a fundraising affair and a dollar value cannot be placed on the outpouring of support, the effort necessary to create this event, and the special evening this will be.

I remember one of the first things said when the opportunity to move from the diner to the hotel came up “Now we can finally get health insurance for Randy (long time dish washer).”  I never forgot that, or the generosity Chez Sophie showed many people over the years.  It’s time to repay.

If you have any questions, or would like to help in any way you can, please email me at

We’re looking for product donations from food vendors, and items for the silent auction.  I will donate an in-home dinner for eight valued at $1000.  I also have a framed Chez Sophie print created and signed by Paul’s father, Joseph, that my wife and I will add to the mix.

There is also a GoFundMe page set up if you’re unable to attend the event but still want to help.

Are They Worth It?

I’ve managed people for a long time.  As a manager for Dick’s Sporting Goods, and as a chef I’ve had to make a career out of assessing talent and contributions vs. the wanting to keep or fire certain individuals on staff.  The final question we need to ask when deciding to either keep or dismiss an employee is “are they worth the trouble of keeping?”  If so, make sure you’re committed to putting in the work to fix any problems with that worker, if not, then let them go without hesitation.

I was listening to sports talk radio recently and the Odell Beckham Jr. trade to the Cleveland Browns was the focus of the discussion.  He was seen by some, including the Giant’s management, as a distraction because of his antics, his behavior on the sidelines, and his perceived disruptive nature.  One contributor to the talk defended OBJ and criticized the Giants explaining that an organization needs to weight out the pros and cons of an individual before deciding that he needs to be removed from the team.  Since I eat, sleep, and dream about work, I thought about how this rule relates to restaurants.

Having a good attitude, being reliable, and being good at your job is a no-brainer.  These people however seem to becoming less available.

How about the guy who shows up every single day, never requests time off, but despite being pretty good at his job, hardly ever does anything beyond the minimum required to maintain their position?  We need those without ambition to fill jobs in a consistent and daily basis without question.  Keep them and seek out others with ambition to train, develop, and advance.  Have peace of mind that the first guy is going to show up and keep a station covered. One less thing to worry about.

What if your chef is great, but is too hard on the staff, creating a scenario that causes servers to either quit or become poor employees?  If you’re unwilling to correct the reasons, she might be unhappy with the staff, the let her go, the problem will never be fixed and it’s time to move on and find a chef with lower standards. You’ll be happy because you do not have to address the underlying issue with training, the service staff will be happy, and the atmosphere will be more pleasant.

What if we invest in our people and they end up leaving?  What if we don’t and they end up staying?

We really need to take more interest in the people who work for us and attempt to show a reasonable amount of empathy for a situation they may not be able to control.

How about the great server who coworkers and customers like, but refuses to learn anything about the menu?  Depends? Are they required to learn the menu?

The guy who’s 10 minutes late every shift, but does a good job?  How about the one who is 10 minutes late every day and does a mediocre job?

My Siena College cross country coach said, “you’re fair by treating everyone differently.”

How about a server who’s so bad that his work reflects on and affects the work of others?  Incorrectly sending orders to the kitchen can spoil the cook’s ability to do their jobs properly. Failing to finish your side work or set up the night before can leave work for others, not allowing them to do other things. If being bad at your job makes others be bad at their job, then it’s time to find another line of work.

If a cook fails to do the necessary prep work on Tuesday then the cook working that station on Wednesday may have a tough time being ready for service on Wednesday.

If a quarterback is no longer effective, then a receiver may not be able to perform up to his potential and can get frustrated.

Great service can make the food better, bad service will make for a more critical diner.  Bad food and poor kitchen performance can make the server’s job more difficult.  Find out which one is doing a good job and build your restaurant around them.

The Giants have decided that OBJ is not someone to build the next season around.  The ineffective quarterback is their choice, and they’re entitled to that choice.  The empty seats may tell them something in 2019.

Servers, if it takes 10 minutes for the food to go from the pass to the correct table then it’s going to result in cold food.

A server should never tell a customer that their errors are the fault of the kitchen.  Cooks are trained to have good memories.

OBJ may or not be likable, but his so-called antics are worth having his talent on the team, unlike the antics of some players who break the law, have domestic violence issues, and drug problems.  His behavior is mostly born out of passion for the game and a desire to compete, perform well, and win.

If your team members are performing their jobs well, or at worst, adequately and are otherwise good employees then keep them, train them, and invest in them.  Overlook their poor qualities if it does not disrupt the performance of the restaurant.   If they’re typically late, complain, call off often, AND, are not good performers then move on, they’re not worth it.

The Cleveland Browns will find that Odell Beckham is worth it.


Sandwiches, Sombreros, Sacrifice, Snacks, Sales, and Saws

The sandwich density principle is too often violated.  Why on Earth would you put tuna salad on a bagel?  Remember folks, the pressure required to bite through the bread should not exceed the pressure needed to displace the sandwich filling.

If your burger bun cannot hold up to the burger you create, rethink your burger bun.

Is it me, or has PYX 106 playing the same 100 songs for the last 30 years?

Adding Jameson whiskey or Bailey’s Irish Cream to a recipe does not make it Irish food, nor does cooking it in or with Guinness.  We seem to have a cultural insensitivity when it comes to food and cooking.  There’s no such thing as Irish nachos or Italian tacos, Buddha is not a brand name, chopsticks are not hair accessories, and pretending to celebrate someone else’s culture or holiday by getting drunk and wearing stupid looking shamrock hats or sombreros is not cool, you look like an idiot.

Using ingredients from other cuisines and learning to cook the dishes from other cultures is ok. Adapting recipes to suit your needs based on the products available to you or altered to the tastes of your personal taste is fine. Being inspired by cuisines of the world is a great idea, and can be enlightening, but too often companies, restaurants, or individuals make a mockery or misrepresent the foods that are an important part of an ethnic group’s culture or a religious group’s belief system.

Cook from the world respectfully, joyfully, and playfully.

Authentic is overrated.

Is a man who takes action because he wants his children to have a better life to be commended?  He does something that isn’t overly harmful to anyone, but it may take a spot at a major university deserved by another applicant who will likely go on to another college and do well in life.  Writing a big check is a sacrifice, and apparently common in the wealthy community where such sacrifice is necessary in order to give your offspring a better chance in life.

Some mothers walk 1000 miles with their children through harsh conditions in order to give them a better life.  Our nation, based on Christian principles would like to make sure that these people of zero means get in legally, like those Christian folks that founded the US did.

My college roommate, his father, and two of his brothers walked for 52 days out of Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took over

I’m at the Honda dealership as I write most of this.  There’s a mother and a chubby kid waiting, she has allowed him to have a complemtary can of Coke, a bag of Cheez-Its, a hot chocolate, a bag of Goldfish, a pack of Lorna Doone cookies, and for health reasons a pack of fruit snacks.  None of my business.  The furious crinkling of bags, the chewing and the slurping has become my business.  His mother should also turn her cellphone ringer down so everyone in the place does not need to be made aware of everyone of her many text messages.  She complains every time she gets one, but texts back every time, and of course she has her setting just so that each key press is audible to all. I do not belong in public.

Still off booze, I’ve been feeling good for the past few days.  I’m think I’m over that first hump.  Now to convince myself every day that I’m better off.

I really wanted a beer, or six with my corned beef dinner on Sunday.

While I’ve been sitting here at Saratoga Honda, I have seen almost everyone else waiting be visited by a “service consultant” who explains that they need something more than what they came on for.  My consultant, when explaining to me that there is a nail in the tire (I knew there was), expressed his uneasiness with only replacing the one tire vs. all of them since they prefer the tires match in wear level.  My question was “do you prefer for any safety reason or do you prefer $600 to $150?”  He said the one tire change would be fine.

So far, this is Chef’s day.

The car is ready.

I’m off on Wednesdays so I’m going to buy a new table saw and hang out in my garage/workshop with no one but my thoughts and Piper the dog that lives at our house.