A State of Independence

Chefs going out on their own.  Tyler DeGroff.  Enjoy your independence, best of luck to you.

Who might be next?

A table of four asks if its OK to change things around on the menu.  Chef tells server that it’s OK when they open their own restaurant and write their own menus.  Chef allows it because he is in the hospitality business.

Diner asks if I can make a different sauce to go with the lamb on Saturday night at 7:30, due to an allergy to carrots. Diner however is unhappy with choices that do not include stocks.  Stocks have carrots. Call me ahead of time and I will have something ready for you.  This is not Chopped, chefs don’t just whip something up in the middle of a dinner rush with the hope that it will be great.  Recipes and dishes are tested and tweaked before they hit the menu.

Early in my tenure at The Wine Bar I had a sous chef that I had inherited who was terrible.  One of his jobs during prep was to stretch out the pizza dough.  On this particular day we were to have twelve done.  After doing six he stopped, cleaned up his work area and began to do nothing.  When I noticed this I asked if he had done all the pizzas and he said no, that he was pacing himself.  I gave him his independence.

I enjoy reading Craigslist ads.  No, not those ads.  I’m referring to the ones advertising jobs in restaurants.  Most of them do not present themselves well.  Remember, the labor pool is very shallow.  There are too few qualified candidates in our business, so it just as important to make a good impression on them as it is for them to make a good impression on us. Also, when you get to the interview keep in mind that they likely have choices too, and they’re interviewing us as prospective employers as we are checking them out as possible employees.  If we don’t communicate to them that this is a great place to work and we’re good people to work for, they’ll move on.

People often say that there are not enough hours in the day. I disagree,  by the end of the day I’m exhausted,  24 hours are plenty. What we need is an extra day of the week. For me it would be a recovery day between Saturday and Sunday, that way I’m not a useless lump on a day I would like to be more enthusiastic about family activities.

I haven’t posted on the Yawning Duck page in quite a while.  I have an event coming up in a couple of weeks and you’ll see some pictures of a great Spanish feast.  Watch the Duck.

Rendered camel hump fat.

I’m working on the Spring menu for Chez Nous. Don’t look for it quite yet, that’d be silly as we’re going to get a bit of snow tomorrow.

I’m really trying to think independently of the classics.

Sweetbreads for sure.

Don’t confuse a symbiotic relationship with a host/parasitic relationship.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who the host is and who the parasite is.

You cannot push someone else’s envelope.

Did I remind you to watch the Duck?


Let Me Give You Some Advice

If I want your advice I’ll ask for it.

If you ask for my advice, it’s free.

One of the things I like to say is, “There are always more experts than volunteers.”  You know those people, the ones that are always telling others what they should do or how they should do something?  These are generally the same people who are the last ones in line when it comes to physically helping in any given situation.

Before the disposal of plan A, have a solid plan B ready to replace it. In fact, try to have a plan B just in case, you never know when you’ll need it.

One of the things I’ve heard hundreds of times over the years is, “You should serve……..”  No, you like whatever it is you’re telling me to serve, you’re not giving me advice on how to improve my business in general, you’re telling me how I can make my business suit you better.

Nancy Silverton is a bad-ass.

Mario Batali looks like Hell.

The last time there was a great musical act on SNL?

No, we should not be open for lunch. Another bit of advice I’ve heard over the years. Again, YOU want a place for lunch, but you haven’t looked at the numbers. You don’t even know what the numbers are.

When someone has made a life choice for whatever reason, like abstaining from meat, gluten, alcohol, or any other deliciousness, don’t give me shit or advice on how I can also improve my life by abstaining too.  I like that stuff, and I don’t plan on stopping. Pizza with sopressata and hot peppers washed down with a quart of beer makes life better. Period.

Yes, I drink at family functions, it’s necessary.

My advice to you:  If you’re a high-end restaurant, don’t do Restaurant Week.  You will be ashamed of the food you need to serve in order to provide a $25 meal.

If you go to a restaurant, don’t complain  about the prices.  You had the opportunity to look at their website prior to going. The onus is on you.  You do, however, have the right to complain about the quality.

Surprise, I’m not drinking bourbon while I write.

I’m drinking rye with a splash of Campari.

SNL while I write.

We have a government full of cowards.

My advice to you:  Don’t go to Nemer Volkswagen. Worst customer service I’ve ever experienced.  We’re Honda owners now.  I really miss my Jetta TDI. I wish Volkswagen and Nemer had better service, they have great cars.

My advice to you: Don’t go to Famous Footwear in Wilton, NY.  The over-zealous manager clearly did not read my last post, Leave the Chef Alone.  I made it very clear to him that I would be picking out new work shoes all by myself today. He didn’t believe me and insisted on helping me.  I did get new work shoes today, somewhere else.  My feet still hurt.

Enter the end zone like you’ve been there many times.  If you win something, keep it cool.

My advice to you:  Watch this. It’s a few years old but fun.   Puddles the Clown and Post Modern Jukebox performing Royals. Better than Lorde.

I’ve been preoccupied.  I can do better. Less classic, more inventive to come.

I’ve been given a lot of advice lately.  In the words of my late father, “Do what yous want.”



Leave the Chef Alone.

I drive up and down the NYS I-87 almost daily.  As a result of a trend I’ve noticed I have made up a new drinking game.  The speed limit is 65, I go 75, certainly not the fastest guy on the three lane highway.  I stick to the middle lane and pass on the left as needed.  So, here’s the game:  When you pass a Toyota Prius that’s going 55 in the middle lane take a shot.  When a Prius is being passed by someone in both the left and right lanes simultaneously take two shots.  You’re sure to be loaded by the end of most trips.

I do not advocate drinking while driving.  If you’re one of the slower drivers on a highway and you very rarely pass anyone, STAY IN THE RIGHT LANE and leave me alone in the center lane.

Last week was Restaurant Week in Schenectady.  It sucked.  We were completely booked up for the five days that we were open, we went through far more bread per person than normal, the FOH was short-staffed, and there were several very new members of the service team.  Pretty much everyone did a great job, worked hard and we got through it alive.

The last order of the week:  Server comes into the kitchen clearly looking for something in the pass.  As we’re well into our clean up, with all the food wrapped and stored I looked over to the young man.  “Whatcha need?”  “I’m looking for table 33, Two beef, a chicken and a cassoulet.”  I hung my head because I knew I was about to add about a half hour to my very long week.  The order had come in earlier on a ticket that started with a series of voids, so it was overlooked.  Why it came in on a void ticket is beyond me.  I can tell you this, don’t put a very new employee on the floor as a server when it’s busy if you can avoid it.

Keep an eye on The Duck.

I sometimes understand the guy that goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back.

Sunday morning I went out for light bulbs, I returned home right after.  It’s home and I like it there.

I was strongly encouraged to attend a birthday party for a 5-year-old at a bowling alley on Sunday.  Not that I don’t like the folks who were hosting the party, quite the contrary, but I was planning to be home during the party taking a nap. It was one of those things you look forward to during an especially difficult week.  I was impressed with a young lady named Gabby, the Bowling Alley employee that was running the party.  She was on point, entertained the kids. helped them bowl and kept everything moving on a tight schedule.  I’ve seen restaurant professionals that couldn’t keep a function on schedule to save their lives.  I still would rather have been left home alone but it was fun to see Gabby at work, shaming many of the people I’ve worked with in the past.

There is a clear and remarkable difference between a professional and a hobbyist.

Sometimes my day consists of constant questions.

Sometimes I just want to be left alone, even if there are people around.  Sometimes I don’t want anyone around. Mostly I like most of the people around me.



A Weekend in Hudson

A recent weekend saw a very rare occurrence, a weekend without kids or obligations.  It took us a couple of weeks to decide where to go, but one thing was certain, it had to include the kind of dinner we almost never get to go out for, and lots of strolling. Before we had kids Jennifer and I would spend a lot of our leisure time strolling up and down Broadway in Saratoga.  Sometimes we would take day trips to places like Lenox, MA, or Rhinebeck, NY for a change of scenery and an inexpensive lunch somewhere.  We were kind of broke and could rarely splurge in those days.  Fast forward to current times and things are different.  We have pretty good jobs, and can afford to choose to go to pretty much any restaurant we want.  Now is that we have offspring to care for we have few chances to have some time to ourselves.  Well, the stars aligned and we had an overnight in Hudson where we planned to have lunch at Swoon Kitchenbar, dinner at Fish and Game, and breakfast at Café Le Perche.  We added a couple of stops in between and had ourselves a fine holiday.

With Theresa at Nana and Pop’s, and Stella and Tate at Grandma and Papa’s, we were clear to head south and stuff our faces.  Our first stop was Swoon.  I’ve wanted to check this place out for a few years now because there was a sweet couple that came to The Whine Bar and always told me that my food reminded them of the food at Swoon.  We had a pretty light lunch of crispy artichokes, country pâté, and a few cheeses. Our only wish is that there was fresh baguette with our selections rather than crackers and crostini, clearly done well ahead of time.  We did however enjoy the busy place and I thought I would like to return for dinner as I was a bit worried about our upcoming dinner due to pretty lukewarm reviews on that interwebs for F&G.

After lunch we checked into our hotel which was within strolling distance from all our planned stops.  With dinner reservations at 6:30 we had plenty of time to walk and shop on Warren St.  We decided that either a cocktail or a cup of coffee was in order, so with a bit of booze under our belts from lunch we opted for coffee at Verdigris Tea and Chocolate.  We could have had tea, but tea is only for ladies, the infirmed, and the English.  We ordered two coffees for ‘here’ but were informed that they were out of mugs and did we mind if our coffee was in to go cups.  “You’re out of cups?” I thought, and I wanted to tell them to go wash some.  Imagine if I had a server tell a diner that I would be serving their dinner in a to go container because we were out of plates.  The coffee ran out after filling the first cup.  It wasn’t very good coffee anyway.  Should have had tea.  The Mast Bros. goat’s milk chocolate was good.

We arrived at Fish and Game a little early, but our table was ready and we were accommodated by a friendly and efficient hostess.  I was pretty excited about the upcoming experience because it is not often in life that I go to a high-profile restaurant despite my career and love of great food.  I also wanted to see which was warranted, the James Beard award or the 3 out of 5 star average on Yelp and multitude of poor reviews on Op en Table.  We started with a couple of $15 cocktails, not overly expensive for a well crafted cocktail, but these were small, very small.  My warm ‘Here comes Doctor Joe’ was good, but served in a demitasse teacup. I felt kind of dainty.  The meal followed from there, small and expensive.  Small is fine. As Thomas Keller says, a good portion leaves you wanting one more bite. Expensive is ok too, as long as you get what you pay for.  I won’t go into detail, but we did not get what we paid for. One thing I will mention in some detail is that we were served very rare and cold chicken livers (from the wood-fired oven).  When I pointed out to one of the service staff that we could not eat them she somewhat argued with me about them.  Perhaps she has blind faith in the kitchen and their ability to do things without flaw, but I do not after the experience, and I’m guessing that James Beard would not eat very rare chicken livers. After a few hundred bucks in on just small plates we decided to forego desert and get a sweet somewhere else.

We walked into one spot well-known for sourdough pizza and were real close to getting a table and a small pie. Yes, we were still hungry but we refocused on dessert and headed to Ca’Mea for Tiramisu, lemon tart and a couple of the grandest pours of Strega I’ve ever seen.  Strega is 80 proof, and I suspect the young barkeep was not aware of its potency as she likely doesn’t sell too much of this golden-yellow nectar of the gods.  The about 4 oz pours were a surprise, and at $9 we decided to have another round which made for a tough morning.

After a nap in a very comfortable room at The Barlow, we made our way back out to Warren St for a nice walk and breakfast at Café Le Perche.  The entrance was stocked with some great offerings from an imported-from-France wood-fired brick oven.  We could have grabbed a couple of coffees to go with a fist full of croissant and been very happy, but the need for a more substantial offering due to the generous snifters full of after dinner drinks made us take a seat by the fireplace and enjoy a good French brunch.  When in Hudson again I would try them for dinner.

Well, I don’t know when we’ll get out again, but I’m sure the time spent together will be as special and as memorable as this experience.  I savor these times with Jenny.

Things I’ve Been Thinking About

I mentioned in my last post that I’m outlining a book about my experiences in the restaurant business.  I’d like to do a chapter called “The Best of and the Worst of.”  It’s a take on those “Best of” issues we see in various newspapers and magazines.  Here’s a preview:  Best restaurateur I’ve ever worked for is Angelo Mazzone.  Not necessarily my favorite (I liked working for him, it was at The Lodge for the summer of 2003), but certainly the best. The worst?

Can you be deeply passionate about what you do for a living and be easy to work with at the same time?

I often write between the lines.  Some of you can read between the lines, some of you cannot.

Century Linen recently changed from kitchen towels in flat stacks of 50 bound with a narrow plastic strap to wrinkled bags of 50 that smell like grease.  The sales rep told us we could have towels delivered the old way for 3 cents more per towel. So, we can get what are supposed to be professionally cleaned in industrial machines in smelly bundles, or clean, unwrinkled towels for an added price?  I don’t recommend this company at all.

I think I wrote and posted during last year’s Grammy Awards.

Vapid is underused.

They dug Celine Dion up.

Why after 50 years of life have my nose hairs decided to grow at an alarming rate.

I miss Dale.

Chefs are now putting the same stuff  that they used to put in tortillas in steamed buns, and thinking it’s innovative.


Some snippets are written for just one person. If you don’t understand a snippet, it likely has nothing to do with you.

Graduating from culinary school, or a culinary program does not make you a chef.  What it makes you is a culinary school graduate.  Doing what a chef does in a chef’s position is what makes you a chef.

Don’t participate in Chowderfest if you haven’t actually paid into the event and are officially part of it.  Yes, some restaurants do that.  Some even do that with Restaurant Week. For those places it should be called Restaurant Weak.

Schenectady Restaurant Week is soon.  Oh boy how I love restaurant week.  $25, two glasses of house wine, extra bread, and a $5 tip.  No, that’s not everyone, but it’s too common.

Keep an eye on The Duck, it ain’t dead.

I miss Tom, Anne, Mehmet, and Mary.

What the Hell happened at Rascals?  Ownership was either scamming or stupid.  Who puts $3.2 million into a place and lasts 7 months?  I find it difficult to believe that someone who can come up with $3.2 million is stupid.

Troy Kitchen had a couple of people move out of their food court recently.  Some of the comments and opinions I’ve heard come from people who don’t understand how this incubator works.  The Korean place was doing well and decided to move into their own place; the crepe place wasn’t, so it folded.  That’s how it goes.  An incubator is there so folks can go into business for a relatively small amount of money and see if they have what it takes to make it. If your favorite place moves out, there was a good reason for it.

I need an office of some kind, a place where I can have some peace and quiet sometimes.  The life of a chef is generally hectic, full of noise and questions from everyone else in the restaurant, calls from vendors, calls to vendors, and many other distractions to take focus away from your own cooking at times.  I suppose I should like the fact that almost everyone comes to me for answers about everything from kitchen questions and staffing issues, to customer requests and complaints about fellow employees.  I think my garage can use fixing up for a quiet space. Power tools and a laptop are all I need.  First projects are to work on my book and build a large farmhouse table that seats 12 or more.  The book is for therapy. The table?  Well, I think I may need that pretty soon.

Coming up:  A discussion of the importance of classic dishes in their original form.

It’s in the Book

I’ve started outlining a book, It will be stories and adventures about my life in the restaurant business.  You’ll hear about the good times, the funny stories, the great people I’ve met and become friends with, and all the assholes in between.  I should probably write it snippet-style so people can read it in the bathroom.

I suppose in someone else’s book I’d possibly be one of the assholes in between.  I know I’m tough to get along with.

Unlike on this blog, names will be included, the good guys, and the bad guys.

I just went three weeks without an alcoholic drink of any kind for 3 weeks.  That’s one for the record book.  I’m drinking bourbon now.

There’s a fine line between business and art.  I first heard this from Mario Batali.  It’s true. By the way, many of the baking recipes in his books don’t work.

Regarding Rascals: Clearly a fool and his money are soon parted.  Seriously, how can someone be so careless with 3.2 million dollars?  I’ve seen it more than once.  Rich guy has money, thinks the restaurant business would be fun, gets eaten alive.  This is not a business that supports jumping into big ideas without a long background of experience.

As I remember, Angelo Mazzone owned at least two smaller places before buying The Glen Sanders Mansion.  I don’t see him blowing 3.2 million.

One of the first things I do before I leave work at night is check “the book,” which is actually a computer screen with Open Table on it.  It’s also one of the first things I do when I get in.

Some restaurants, even thought they have Open Table reservation booking service still keep a hand-written book separate from the reservations that were made via the web.  That often leads to over extending the wait staff and the kitchen.

Properly keeping a restaurant’s reservation book organized, accurate, manageable, and communicated to the kitchen is really quite easy as I have noticed over the past few months.  Over the past years I was led to believe it was a very tricky job understood by no one.

Jenn and I are getting ready to close the books on 2016, and can now do so now that all tax related info is in. Sometimes in my tax-paying life I collect more than one w-2 per year.  For last year I actually collected 5. Since I was employed by The Wine Bar into the first week of January, and did 2 temporary consulting jobs, it looks like a lot, but it isn’t quite so many in reality.  I think you can tell a lot about a business and the people running it by the order in which you receive your stack of w-2s. The first one I got was from the Inn at Saratoga, whose ownership has other successful businesses.  That was followed by The Inn at Erlowest and Chez Nous in the past weeks, both run by proven successful businessmen.  I just received the form from The Wine Bar, and am now waiting for one more.  I’m certainly not saying that getting w-2s out in a timely manner is an indicator of how well a business is run, but it gives a small window into management’s abilities, but I think it does.

After Hours

There weren’t many places I liked to drink after work when I was able to walk home.  I’m not a social person, and find drinking alone at times to be perfectly acceptable given the right barkeep. After a busy and stressful dinner service in an over-booked restaurant it’s generally peace and quiet I like. I enjoy a bit of loneliness, and do my best to fend off attempts at conversation from fellow bar patrons.

I miss living in Saratoga and I miss leaving work and stopping at Wheatfields for a drink or two (certainly not for the food). What I liked about going to Wheatfields is that no one from the restaurant business went there, and the last thing I want to do after work is talk shop. Most restaurant people can’t function on any plane but the work plane, and that is intolerable.  Another thing I liked about stopping at Wheatfields was not only were there no restaurant people there, but there were almost no people at the bar by the time I got there.  The last thing I wanted when I got done with work was people around me.

Several years ago I left work early one evening when I was feeling particularly down about something and wanted to stop somewhere different for a drink.  Feeling the need for some new scenery, I chose a spot whose bar I hadn’t been before but owed a visit to since the (partial) owners had been to the Wine Bar several times. I like to frequent businesses that come to my place of employment.  I sat at the bar at this fine dining spot and was offered something to eat by one of the owners and I tried to decline as I wasn’t too hungry but it was sent anyway.  It was the worst chicken liver pâté I’ve ever been obligated to eat.  It was served microwaved. Over microwaved.  Then, something else arrived, unwanted.  Fried calamari with pre-made bottled Thai chili sauce.  It was ok, but I just wasn’t hungry.  I ate what I could, finished my cocktail and asked for the check from the bartender.  The food was on the bill which I paid and left with a fake thank you and difficult smile.  Ownership has changed, there’s a different chef now, and I believe it’s now worth a visit.

A couple of years ago I stopped by a restaurant after work for a drink and to say hello to the owner who I like very much.  While enjoying an incredibly well-crafted cocktail the chef came out of the kitchen to say hello.  I had never met this individual and the first think he said to me was “how many covers you do tonight?”  In my head I said “I don’t know, it’s none of your damn business, but they were all good.”  The reality is that I don’t count covers at the end of the night.  I instead reflect on what was good, what may have been better.  I think about how I performed, how the staff performed, and how we worked as a team. I think about any issues, address them, then move on to the business of the next day.  That starts by checking tomorrow’s book, not reveling in doing more covers than the next guy.  It was kind if a jerky question.  McDonald’s counts how many burgers it sells with little regard for the quality of those burgers, and with little regard how your employees are treated.

One thing I’ve never been a big fan of is hanging around work after hours.  The shift drink is nice, but when allowed it’s best in the form of a cold beer enjoyed in the kitchen during clean up.  Sitting at the bar of your work place has never really appealed to me. What’s worse is hanging out at your work place on your day off. Your social group should not consist only of those people in your current job, if they do, get a better social life. Seriously, that’s not commitment to your job.  If you’re doing it because you get free booze,  you may in fact be stealing with the aid of the on-duty bartender.  Owners, watch those employees that hang around too much as they are probably drinking your profits.

I once worked for a guy that forbid his service staff (almost all female) from sitting at the bar after their shift or on their days off.  He asserted that it’s a space for customers, not employees  I agree with that, but his reasoning was that he didn’t want them sleeping with the customers.  While that may have been his reason, you just don’t say it to them.  He didn’t last.

I sometimes miss my stroll home including a stop for a couple of pints or a solid Manhattan followed by a slice or two of pizza for the walk.  After hours now I just drive home, pour a bourbon, and reflect in a typically quiet house which I really like because Jenny is there with me.

I Couldn’t Think of a Name for This Post

My wife just asked, “Would you like a person like you?”  My reply:  “Of course not, who would?”

I’m fully aware how difficult I can be.

“I’m getting too old for this shit.”

One of my favorite spiritual hymns is We walk among the unbright.  I made that one up.

I was having a discussion recently with someone I admire about how time just keeps rolling along with no regard for anything but itself.  He seemed a bit melancholy about the fact that we cannot just enjoy a specific period of our lives that is satisfying.

I may have mentioned before, Time by Pink Floyd is my favorite song. One line “and then one day ten years have got behind you” sticks in my mind like poorly made demi glace on a cheap steak.

I know of a well-regarded chef in our area that always used powdered demi glace mix from Knorr, as well as a lot of other pre-made sauces, marinades, and convenience items.  Vendors, cooks, and restaurant people in general like to talk about who orders what.

If you need to save time with a pre-made product, find good ones that you couldn’t make better yourself. Find a good, all-butter puff pastry, a well-crafted veal stock reduction, or breads that come from a real bakery instead of a production facility.  It’s ok to use these items if you don’t have the right labor, the adequate equipment, or if time just does not allow for some of the time-consuming tasks that can be done outside your own kitchen.  But don’t be lazy. Make what you should.

I’m watching the National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson.  These kids are young.

I hate to sleep with my feet covered.  I have made it clear to Jennifer that when I die I need to be buried with bare feet.  She just threatened to have me buried with steel-toed boots and a wool scarf.  I hate scarves.

The folks that have not figured out the difference between your and you’re have brilliantly replaced both with ur. What a time-saver, learning is such time-suck anyhow.  Please tackle the their, there, and they’re problem next. America is waiting.

As I think about the remaining opportunities have left in my career, I am faced with the reality that my time as a chef is likely more than half over, and I don’t really think that I’ve used my time well. I have certainly squandered some good situations and have not always made the best use of my time. On the other hand, I have too often been hindered by restaurant owners and managers that either do not understand the business, or have too little desire, passion, or knowledge to be in the business.

Restaurants, please stop doing this. It has nothing to do with bruschetta. This is from a local restaurant:
Bruschetta Chicken – 25
Seared chicken breast, light tomato broth, fresh basil, tomatoes, balsamic drizzle,
Asiago cheese, Parmesan polenta,
Naming the hamburger after the name of your restaurant seems silly.  If I’m eating in your restaurant, I’m pretty confident what I’m ordering is from your restaurant and not from a different restaurant.

Please don’t call duck fat grease.  Crisco is grease.

Slicing something very thinly does not make it carpaccio.

Local can be overrated.

Thomas Keller insists on Maine lobsters at the French Laundry rather than those from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

I’d tell you who the biggest skirt-chaser I’ve ever worked for is, but It’s Confidential. Some of you will know what I’m saying here.

My last post had a lot of typos and grammatical errors. Sorry, I didn’t proof that one due to my desire to post after a long absence, and several fingers of bourbon.

I only watch the Golden Globes for the political commentary. I mean, why not? The information is as reliable as any other news source.

Overdue Snippets and Bits

Where the in Hell’s name have I been and what have I been up to?

Yes, I’m aware that I haven’t written in quite some time.  My life has changed considerably and I’m trying to adjust. With Theresa now living with us, and a new position, something had to be put on the back burner.  Now that things have started to settle down, and the holiday season is over, it’s time to write again. This won’t be my best post, but it gets me back into the swing of things.  More will follow, and I think I’ve got some interesting topics to cover.

Theresa is doing well, the healing and moving forward are a slow.

Speaking of sauerkraut, a new dish on my winter menu at Chez Nous will be braised wild boar belly, smoked duck sausage with apple brandy, pheasant sausage, oak barrel aged sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, and home-made mustard.

I left you at 4.6. and you dropped to 3.8.

So, for those of you that don’t know, I am now the chef at Chez Nous in Schenectady.

Following are some of the things I have now that I did not have before that I have now:  Modern, working equipment.

Here was the scene at work this past Friday, I describe it for those of you who can’t understand why you pay the prices in a restaurant that you do.  In the kitchen was the service man from Action Commercial Appliance Repair, a company I strongly recommend, In and out was the delivery driver from Century Linen, a company I absolutely do not recommend, upstairs was a technician from Time-Warner, In the office was a representative from the POS company, and in the basement was a contractor trying to figure out our return air situation.

It’s been a year since I left The Wine Bar. I miss a few of the people, but not most of the people. The good ones, the ones I liked came to work with me anyhow, since I was clearly the problem.

There’s a real plus to having a chef that’s fully committed.

Some people think I should be committed.

I hold a grudge.  Often longer than necessary.

As a chef, the leader and manager of the kitchen I’ve always been well-respected by the people who work for me.  The way you gain respect in a restaurant is to be smart, to work hard, to make significant contributions to the cause, and to do the things necessary for success.  When, in the restaurant culture you can do those things, you’ll be respected. If you cannot do those things, you will not be respected no matter what your position.

Would you believe some restaurant folks have their friends write glowing reviews for their restaurants. While you’re only fooling yourself, you’re amusing me.

Over-growth is a cornerstone of mediocrity.

Say yes, we can do that to your guests whenever possible, it’s just good hospitality.  Saying no alienates them and sends them to other restaurants.

Gray Kunz is no longer associated with Salt and Char, or any Adelphi project as reported on Table Hopping :  I did do a one day stage at Salt and Char at the end of September before accepting the chef’s position at Chez Nous. What I saw even back then was a pretty good restaurant, but little evidence that Chef Kunz was still present and that he had very much influence on the kitchen and the products being used. While it may still be a decent restaurant, it clearly never got off the ground as the restaurant we were told it would be.

I saw some things, but I won’t say.

While at my first restaurant job, a place called Mike’s Pizza Adobe, my employer told me to never hire family.

One project I’m thinking about starting is an Anthony Bourdain-style book about my experiences in the restaurant business.  There’s an awful lot of stuff I have not told you about an awful lot of people.

When I retire I’ll tell you about the restaurant owner that would sit at his desk in red bikini underwear.  I’ll tell you about the absolute meanest pair of restaurant owners I’ve ever known.

Here’s a good story about the virtues of take-out.  I’ve told it before, I just can’t remember when and where, especially now that I’ve had some bourbon.  Yes, folks, bourbon and blogging reunited and it feels so good. Years ago I owned a place called Theresa’s Italian Grill.  I started without much money, and was in a bit of a financial fix when a wonderful woman, Joanne DeVoe of DeVoe associates, a marketing and PR firm stopped in and asked for some take-out.  Two orders of chicken alla cacciatore.  Long story made short, she called me later that night with a glowing review of the meal and promised to get some reviewers in there. It happened, great reviews, business was saved.  Yes, take-out can be good.

Well, it’s good to be back, I’ll write again soon, and next time with some actual interesting content.


Roasted, Sautéed, Broiled, Fried, and Poached

While preparing for the job search I’m thinking about my strengths and weaknesses.  I think one of my biggest assets is that I’m a stickler for proper cooking technique.  If you’re going through the cooking process, then doesn’t it make sense that you do it properly?  I’ve worked with some really good cooks in the past, but I’ve also seen a lot of bad ones over the years.  Yes, I have weaknesses and faults too, but it’s always been tremendously important to me that the food be done to the best of my ability.  Doing something to the best of your ability means learning how to do that thing you’re doing the right way.

While a chef can be a great technician, it does him or her little good without the support of other management or ownership.  That includes the ability to source good product, hire good cooks, and work with a well-trained service staff.  Tom Burke and Paul McCullough at 15 Church are good examples of providing what is necessary for a successful kitchen.

There’s nothing like an extremely hot grill.

I dig properly poached high quality salmon.

Too often a restaurateur must ask themselves “do I want a great restaurant or do I want to make money?” Few can do both.

Is it poaching in olive oil, or is it a variation on confit?

Franco Rua of Cafe Capriccio recently cooked beans in a flask. That’s not only old school, but it’s also cool. He does a lot of old school cooking, therefore, he’s cool.

I’ve seen too many examples of cooks confusing boiling with poaching.

I once worked with a guy that called it ploaching, and I couldn’t tell him otherwise.

Really good roasting of fruits and vegetables requires knowing why you’re roasting them, and what the desired end result should be. Too many cooks think it’s just to cook them.

Fried food in a mini shopping cart or fryer basket is not cool, especially if the fried food is of poor quality. It’s not kitschy either. I was recently served stale, over-seasoned potato chips in a mini fryer basket.  Good thing the beer was good

I’ve been poached.

Sometimes a wannabe should be, sometimes not.

I’m not against new things, but I do find a lot of modern cooking methods and ingredients to be too antiseptic for my liking.  With that said, a lot of these new techniques require a lot of skill and knowledge.

I love a clean and neat kitchen. I was in a kitchen last week that was dirty, and that was before the kitchen staff was in.  If you cannot take pride in your workspace, how can you have pride in your food?

Learn proper technique above all else, if you have a good palate then good food will follow.

Most cooks who “work sauté” do not know how to sauté properly.  They use too much heat, do not get proper color on proteins, and add liquid too soon.  Despite what bad menus say, it is impossible to sauté in white wine or cream sauce. In fact, you cannot sauté in any kind of liquid or sauce.

When someone who knows next to nothing about cooking and food tirelessly argues with you about cooking food.

Putting a bunch of stuff in a blender generally does not result in pesto, so lets stop calling a bunch of stuff whirled in a blender pesto.

Worst braise I’ve ever witnessed:  Barely browned, unseasoned chicken placed in a deep hotel pan with miripoix, and mushrooms, covered with red wine and placed in an oven for an undetermined period of time and called coq au vin.  It was done by someone who thought they had learned everything about professional cooking and I could not teach them otherwise.  Good, satisfying braises are long affairs that result in deeply satisfying flavors.  I now have the urge to make my chicken alla cacciatora.

This is unrelated, but it bares repeating: When you take a picture off the internet from another restaurant and represent it as your work without giving credit, and without making the potential customer aware that it’s someone else’s creative work, that’s deceptive and wrong.

The maillard reaction is important to understand.

Please cook your pasta in a very large pot of rapidly boiling and well salted water.

Blanching requires ice.

I never cook lobsters whole. The claws and tail cook at very different rates.  I also like to keep the bodies seperate for stock so some of the parts can be taken out, like the gills which can add bitterness to the finished product.