I Sometimes Wish We Chefs Weren’t So Cool

If chefs weren’t so cool, we’d have better food.

When I was eight years old I got cooking equipment for Christmas.  Not kid’s toys, but real kitchen utensils, pots, and pans.  I had decided very early in life that I wanted to be a chef and  decided late in life that I would actually be a chef.

When I was eight I had no idea what becoming a chef meant, what it entailed, and how to perform as a chef.  Of course, there aren’t too many eight-year-olds with dreams of becoming something who have much of a clue what’s involved with getting to their goal.

I really didn’t find out what becoming a chef required until I was 35.  No, it didn’t take me that long in the business to finally figure it out.  Aside from a spring semester and summer away from school working at Mike’s Pizza Adobe in Schenectady, I did not work in a restaurant until my mid-thirties.

When I was eight, when I was getting to the end of high school, or even when I was working my first kitchen job with the strong encouragement from the Dean of Academic Affairs at Siena, becoming a chef was not only misunderstood, it was seen as a waste life of by some people very close to me.  I returned to Siena for the my junior year of cross country with some “administrative help” and immediately decided I wanted to go to The Culinary Institute instead.  I was discouraged from throwing away my education to go sling hash.  That was the climate in the early eighties.  Being a cook just wasn’t cool back then.

I wanted to be a chef for the right reasons.  I had a real curiosity and love for food and really liked cooking despite not being exposed to the culinary world and its treasures as a kid.

Today it seems that too many cooks who consider themselves chefs want to be chefs for the wrong reasons.  Thanks to the Food Network and other entertainment and social media outlets that followed, we’re now in an era where too many young men and women want to be chefs as an easy way to become stars.

The problem is they’re not learning how to cook at a fundamental level.  Learning to cook is not their main concern.  Learning to cook cool dishes with cool ingredients is their main concern.

Some cooks know how to cook.  Some cooks know how to cook what they know how to cook.

What’s the difference?  Well, once you develop good cooking techniques and habits, the ingredients become almost irrelevant.  What I mean by that is that a good cook should be able to switch ingredients in and out of one technique without relearning a new cooking method.

In recent years I’ve run into too many cooks who learn to make specific dishes in various restaurants or they develop dishes on their own and stick with them because they know how to make them.  Ask them to make a different dish using the same techniques and it’s like starting from scratch.  Why?  Because cooks aren’t learning basic cooking methods first.

If I teach a cook how to pan roast an airline chicken breast, he or she should then have a pretty good idea how to pan roast a lamb rack or veal chop.  The method is the same even as we switch out the protein and spice profile.

I don’t know why culinary programs or chefs with new cooks aren’t teaching this, but it’s time they started.  Better yet, it’s time many young (and not so young) cooks stop trying to be cool, stop trying to get on Chopped, and stop trying to become social media stars.  Learn to cook first, learn to work in a professional kitchen, and pay attention to your profession rather than wanting the profession to pay attention to you.

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Allergies

This is a quick word or two prompted by this morning’s post on Daniel Berman’s excellent FUSSYlittleBLOG where he talks about food allergies and restaurants.  I’m always happy to see someone other than myself tackle the issue because it’s a real concern of mine on several levels.

I know I’ve talked about allergies on chefsday but I have not done a post dedicated to them.

Here is the comment I left on Daniel’s blog post: “This is an important subject to me for two reasons. First and foremost is that my seven-year-old daughter has a severe dairy allergy that is life-threatening. She had to have an Epipen once when an apple orchard made it very clear that their “homemade” cider donuts were dairy-free. Since they were apparently homemade we trusted them. The day after the incident my wife called to report the issue and they in fact were made with a mix that contains whey. This is a case when the customer was honest and the vendor was not.”
“As a chef who has had to deal with a real allergy I know what can happen when someone ingests something they shouldn’t. In my kitchen we take allergies very seriously and do everything we can to accommodate them. We change utensils, we are careful in our methods, and in our plating. It’s disheartening when a server reports back that the same customer with the allergy is sharing food with dining companions that contains the reported allergen. It happens more often than you’d think.
These scenarios have caused me to be skeptical. My wife and I don’t trust food vendors, and I don’t trust customers. While honesty may be the best policy, it’s not the common policy. It’s too bad because someones life could depend on it.”

Don’t stop here, read his post as well.  It’s good and it’s important.

If you have an allergy tell me, I’ll make sure you’re safe.  If you don’t like something, tell me, I’ll eliminate it as best I can without having to bring the kitchen to a halt.  Remember, we want to cater to your likes and dislikes.  Also remember, there are other customers who need to be served and the attention needlessly focused on you can take away from their experience.

Have some dignity, don’t be selfish, and be honest.

We’re Different Than Nine To Fivers

For those of you who may be confused:  This is not a food blog.  This blog is about the thoughts, experiences, memories, victories and failures, and world view of an irrational, recovering depressive chef with a fair amount of anxiety that battles alcohol misuse and demons while trying to maintain a family and restaurant kitchen.  While I mostly talk about food, restaurants and kitchen life I also talk about my life which is often affected by working in an industry full of misfits and socially unacceptable individuals.

I have little interest in food blogging.  I thought I did once, but I don’t.  Sharing recipes is not my thing.  I work hard to develop recipes and plates so I’m not about to give them away. Perhaps it’s time for this old dog to get paid. You want a recipe? Google it.

I could try to add reviews to this goofy little blog, but I actually work in the restaurant business and don’t get to go out to dinner that often. It would be refreshing to have more actual culinary-minded writers doing reviews however.

This is a great commentary on on food blogger, The Food Babe.  Just because someone writes about a subject doesn’t mean they know what the Hell they’re talking about.  Heck, I’m not even sure I know what I’m talking about half the time and I know what I’m talking about.

Life in the restaurant business, especially for those of us who work for the dinner crowd is a life that many nine-to-fivers simply do not understand nor do many empathise with.  Our world is on a schedule that often conflicts with the real world and the people we associate with are either the other square pegs or those who don’t realize it’s time to go home.

What seems to be a productive time for many nine to five conformists is the part of the day when we can fit in our leisure time, enjoyable activities, or hobbies since our evenings are spent at our jobs. When most people are enjoying themselves we’re working, so don’t judge us if we spend time enjoying ourselves when you’re working.

Of course, I use conformist in the most affectionate way possible.  Many of us want to be regular people.

If you call in sick to many jobs not much changes. If you call in sick from your kitchen job your co-workers will have to work much harder.

Nine to Fivers sit at their desks and buy tickets to plays. concerts, and ballgames without much regard for their jobs.  We see events and often wish we could go.

Kitchen jobs attract people who cannot sit in chairs (bar stools excluded) for too long, cannot be confined to a desk, and often lack the attention span to do jobs that take all day.

People are often jealous of my wife because she’s married to a chef and must eat great meals all the time.  Uummm, where do you think her husband is at dinner time?

Chefs are plumbers, dishwashers, carpenters, therapists, bail bondsman, taxi services, janitors, career counselors, first aid specialists, customer relations experts, financial planners, students, teachers, human resource managers, referees, scavengers, party planners, delivery drivers, surrogate parents, and anything else that needs doing.

There are three seats in a row open at a bar.  A guy comes in alone and sits in the middle seat pretty much rendering the other two seats useless.  Is he?  (a) clueless  (b) socially awkward (c) a self-absorbed asshole

You need just the right mix of fear and bravery to survive.

I often hold grudges too long.

Don’t get ruffled when we don’t answer your 7 pm text until 9:30.

Turnt, dank, and bae, are understood while they’re, their and there are not.

The cashier, I’m sorry. The customer service representative at the  Hannaford’s after a slightly difficult customer transaction confided to me that she hates her job.

All purpose flour isn’t.

I was thinking of opening a cakery but then I realized that cakery isn’t a word.

The list of people you judge should include yourself.

Here’s the scene:  Tate’s sitting on the toilet, and Stella locks the door and closes it on him.  Enter Dad:

“Tate, can you wipe your tush and unlock the door?”

“No, there’s no more toilet paper.”

Kids.

It’s more difficult to install a door knob assembly than it is to remove one.

Blamestorming:  Time figuring out who to blame for a problem rather than finding a solution.

I certainly don’t begrudge day people their life-style, but I wish you could all understand us a little more.  We cannot make social plans easily, we miss many events, we are tired all the time, we don’t always eat well, and we tend to socialize after-hours when bars are the only thing open.  We don’t live on a predictable, easy to manage schedule. Bear with us, and we’ll bear with you.

 

Going To California

Jenn and I weren’t sure of anything until late Friday night so we kept things mum on a very important decision we’ve had to make.  Jenn recently got a contract offer to be The Chief Administrator for the OB/GYN Department at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, California.  The position carries with it a seat on the Board of Directors.  We were quite settled on our resolution until the concrete offer came and we opted to revisit the decision  process with an actual sense of reality.

It’s a life-changing move, and making the decision to haul your family across the country should not be taken lightly.  We had decided prior to the offer that we would go since it’s not only an enormous career opportunity for Jenn, but without a doubt I would love cooking in the Napa Valley.  When the moment of truth came however it was far more difficult to imagine such a titanic move.  We came to the reailization that we would have to leave everything behind that we as a family have come to know and love.  Facing saying good-by to our jobs, school, friends, and our home made us take a second look at what we thought was a done deal.

After further discussion we concluded that this is a once in a lifetime career move for Jenn, and a chance for me to head to one of the  foremost culinary meccas in the country and bring my Mediterranean approach to cooking to its fullest potential.  The kids are still young and Theresa could use a change of scenery.  It’s settled, we’re going to California to start a new chapter in our lives with hearts full of expectation for fuller and more meaningful lives.

I’ve always thought that it’s important to expose your children to as many adventures and experiences as possible.  This move will not only make us more financially capable of doing that, it will put us in a part of the country that we think will lead to the kind of lifestyle we want.

Jenn will be heading out in late May to have an orientation period while I stay here with the kids to pack for the move, get the house on the market, finish the school year, and tie up all the loose ends that come with such an endeavor.  She will head back briefly in late June and we should all be on a plane for good in early July.

We haven’t told the kids yet but I think they will show a mixture of sadness, and excitement.  We will assure them that we’ll come back and visit as often as possible to celebrate holidays like April Fools Day.

500 Words of Nonsense

Some of this is about food and the kitchen. Some is political.  Most is nonsense.

Display your knowledge and hide your ignorance.

People give up easily when someone asks “guess what?”  The immediate response is “what?”  No one even tries to guess what.

I suppose it’s OK for a writer to talk about food with very limited culinary knowledge since I’m a culinarian who writes without very much grammatical knowledge.

Be true to yourself and you will go far.  I was told that in 5th grade by Mrs. Barcher, but I’m just figuring it out now.  Wtf have I been up to all these years?

Every once in a while I need to go to the Walmarts and today was one of those days.  While getting through the experience I made up a drinking game that can make your next Walmarts trip bearable.  You’ll need a flask or a water bottle filled with your favorite booze.  Whenever you see either a significantly overweight person riding one of those hoveround shopping carts take a drink.  If they’ve got an oxygen tank take two drinks.  If you see someone in yoga pants who’s clearly putting ten pounds of potatoes in a five-pound sack then take a drink.  If they’re not wearing a bra take two drinks.   There are more things you could add like people wearing pajamas, but that’s most likely enough to get you drunk in a hurry.  Please, remember to use uber.

Hey lady, your kid running around at Uncommon Grounds bothering people is not cute and he’s not the highlight of everyone’s day.

Beware of smoke and mirrors.  People are often fooled by advanced techniques, rare or expensive ingredients, or cuisines in which people are unaware of their authentic flavors and preparations.

Riddle:  You walk into the Senate Chamber and are asked which side of the aisle is the thief sitting on? It’s a trick question.

The following tacos will be on the upcoming happy hour menu.

Chipotle Braised beef – espresso hot sauce, sour cream, lime cabbage, cilantro

Rock Shrimp – peach and jicama slaw, cilantro, salsa verde

Vegetarian – saffron rice, grilled asparagus, refried black beans, red jalapeno crema.

Let me get this right, the NRA pays political bribes called donations so that it can protect its 2nd amendment right to defend itself against a corrupt government?

If I opened a restaurant and accepted donations only would I be accountable to the government?

I’m just rambling over a tub of coffee.

On line culinary school?

More from the upcoming Spring menu:

Radicchio – green beans, oranges, hazelnuts, white balsamic vinaigrette

Rock Shrimp Pizza – ricotta, bullhorn pepper, arugula, lemon

Vegan Paella – saffron rice, artichokes, asparagus, peas, roasted peppers, grilled ramps, smoked paprika oil

With all the inspirational quotes people post on Facebook I’d like to see more discouraging quotes for balance.

As I sit in the window at Uncommon Grounds and write this crap I watch people walking by and wonder so many things.

I didn’t read this, and it’s not edited.

Controlling The Heat

Over the past few weeks I’ve been interviewing prospective sous chefs.  One of the things I make clear during conversations is that I’m a real stickler for good technique.  What’s the point of getting good ingredients if you’re not going to cook them properly? More about that later.

I started thinking about this post when I was driving to work one morning.  I was the second car in a line of cars at a red light. When the light turned green, the car ahead of me who was signaling for a left turn just sat there rather than pulling up into the intersection so the line of cars behind her could proceed by going around just to the right.  It used to be that I’d give a good honk of the horn, but it occurred to me that if the person is so unaware of their surroundings, is so inconsiderate, so ignorant, and has no concept of good driving technique, they are not likely to have any idea why I’m beeping.  Why just add to their confusion?

Good technique is important while driving or cooking so you don’t cause me to lose what’s left of my mind.  For driving it’s not only crucial so you’re not a pain-in-the-ass, but so you’re not a danger on the road.  For cooking it’s mostly the difference between mediocre food and great food.  It’s also about safety in the kitchen.

Many years ago I worked in a very small kitchen in Albany.  One of the techniques we had to ensure safety in those tight quarters was to say “going under” clearly before opening the oven door to prevent injuring your line mate.  I was a sous chef at the time and the chef who liked to smoke pot all day would say “going under” after opening the oven.  It was obvious he had a bit of a mental handicap due to his adolescent drug habit.  On one particularly hot day I was wearing shorts and had an oven door opened on my calf.  It hurt.  That was a technique unique to that kitchen, but I still do it out of courtesy in the small Wine Bar kitchen, and it really works when you’re not high.  Another technique (aside from solid cooking procedures) he ignored was to use a dry towel to grab pan handles from the stove.  At the time it made me feel better to heat up his handles significantly without his knowledge.  I’m beyond that type of vengeance at this point in my life, but back then the faint sound of skin searing on a hot pan handle was insanely satisfying.  I only mentioned to him once that he should have a side towel, but he knew better.

One of the biggest mistakes in cooking made by unrefined professionals is not controlling the heat.  A lot of cooks know two settings on the stove top – off and high.  Everything cannot be cooked at full tilt.  Duck breast, for example, is one of the most improperly cooked proteins I know of.  With such a layer of fat, a duck breast must be started in a cold pan on very low flame that can be increased as the fat is rendered out.  This is a simple concept, yet almost every cook I see wants to put it into a searing hot pan to get a crisp skin without the important first step.  Even if you’re going to sous vide it, it still needs a fairly slow rendering first.  Then cook to about 135° in a water bath and sear it after.  There are so may different flame settings that should be used in the kitchen that aren’t learned by cooks.  Crank up the heat and shake that pan with unreasonable movement and noise seems to be the norm.  Is it the sense that gentleness and care have no place in the kitchen amongst the tough guys with burns up their forearms?

I see too many cooks with poor skills.  They have good ideas, they work hard, and want to be good at what they do but have come up through the ranks without learning precision when it comes to proper technique.  Some of that includes knowing the nature and properties of ingredients and how they react to heat.  Sugar burns quickly, fat renders slower than skin browns, whole butter burns fast in extreme heat, potatoes cook unevenly in boiling water, over-browned garlic gets bitter, and you cannot sauté on full-blast.

The professional kitchen can be a harsh environment.  The language is coarse, the characters are not always predictable, and the pace is wildly hectic.  We cannot always control those things, but we can and should control the heat.

Be gentle.

Shopping for Snippets

Cigarettes and Coca Cola.  It’s no wonder you don’t feel well.

It has been decided by the smoking community that cigarette butts belong anywhere you want to throw them.

You have to care about the people you’re cooking for and planning menus for in order to do your best work.

Gimmicks and hooks are not the same as legitimate concepts and themes.

Try to see things from the other person’s point of view.

So many things about being mixed in with the general public are troubling to me.  I’m certainly more tolerant than I used to be, but there are some things that 20 mg. of Lexipro per day can’t fix.  Shopping is a difficult task as I have to be among the population and deal with the poor habits of consideration for the other humans they display simply to irritate me.

One thing I like to do as a distraction to the ill-will they shine on me is to take pictures of products I find interesting.

If you’re the obnoxious loud-mouth in the group, stop it.  You’re not fun, you’re not the life of the party, you’re an obnoxious

I went to one of the two breakfast places on Broadway in Schuylerville with Theresa yesterday (Tuesday).  Theresa ordered a couple of eggs and a big pancake.  I indicated to the server that the pancake was raw in the middle and she offered to throw it back on.  What?  It already had butter and syrup on it.  I said no.  The pancake that went uneaten was still on the bill.

Mac’s in on Broadway in Schuylerville is closed on Tuesdays.

Guinness is in the chip business.  No, not chips like an Irishman would know them.  Guinness is dead to me.

 

Polish nachos.  I’m half Polish, I can say that.

Paint and sip, plant and sip, quilt and sip………..When I used to drink Bourbon you know what I liked to do while I sipped?  Nothing, just drink.

A woman gave a 2 year-old a chocolate cupcake with green icing at 9:30 in the morning at the diner last week.

Dogs>cats

Chefs 4 Chefs is in its infancy, but I have the feeling this will turn out to be a worthwhile project.

Finally someone has made the peanut butter and jelly sandwich accessible to everyone.  Website on the way.

I wish unicorns were real and candy corns were make-believe.

Spring menu is pretty much done.  We’ll launch in a few weeks.  The calendar says Spring but the weather does not.

Quail – moroccan spice, peaches, ginger, honey, blood orange vinegar

Scallops and Sweetbreads – truffle risotto / morel mushrooms / asparagus / bordelaise

Lamb Chops – orange-chili glaze/ warm bean, bulgur & mint salad/ yogurt / toasted walnuts

Chef’s starter sauce?  Not this chef.

When you have kept the same hair style as your yearbook photo and you graduated in 1977.

How does this work and how does it last?

 

Wild blueberries, fresh from the farm.

 

A tobacco and whiskey candle.  So, like my neighbor Mildred’s breath?

This is one about the only good scene from Chef and I could watch it several times per day.  It has bad words.

Here’s a deleted scene from Burnt.  Chefs/servers, we’ve all wanted to do this at least once.

Insert adolescent remark here.

 

Pleasures of the Past, Thank You

There are a lot of things that are fun.  Going out to dinner and a movie is fun, but it’s generally not a memorable pleasure unless you’re a hardcore movie buff.  I’m not.

There are a lot of things that give me great pleasure at this point in my life.  Most of those things involve my wife, my children and as of late, my work and the interactions with the people there.  It wasn’t that long ago that nothing gave me pleasure and I was sure I would never enjoy anything again.  Those days are behind me and I have found a renewed love for certain activities.  My family, friends, and cooking are at the top of the list. I suppose writing belongs in that group but I see it as a way to express my feelings whether those feelings be positive or negative.  The physical act of writing does bring a small level of pleasure but it’s the sharing that I love more than sitting and typing.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t type well.

I came up with this idea for a blog post this morning when I was thinking about baseball and how much I used to love to play the outfield.  When I was a kid my brother Dan and I would go to the park not far from our house and he would hit my fly balls all afternoon.  I couldn’t think of any better way to spend a day than shagging baseballs.  As I got a little older I would head to the park on many summer days to play baseball with a group of friends. Sometimes we had enough for a full game, sometimes we’d have to modify the rules for a total of twelve kids.  One thing was a constant, I played center field.  I was the fastest kid around and I could cover a lot of ground.  Running full speed through the grass to track down a deep fly ball was about to most fun a kid could have at 12 years old.

When I turned 13 I joined up with the Babe Ruth league in Rotterdam.  I found out what fast pitch was and never had a coach who could teach me to hit.  I guess when your sons are on the team it’s more important to help them become mediocre pitchers than it is to teach the other kids how to play baseball.  I lobbied the American League to adopt a DCF to go along with the DH so I could just play the field and not have to hit.  They didn’t respond.

I still have memories of running through the grass in the sunshine to catch a ball that no one thought I’d get to.  I still get pleasure from those thoughts. I just couldn’t hit.  Thanks for nothing Mr. Tama and Mr. Lawrence.

I got lucky one day in High School when a teacher was talking about a six-minute mile.  I did some quick math in my head and based on what I remembered about my time for a quarter-mile in gym class in Middle School I declared that I could run a six-minute mile.  So the bet was that I go out after school to the track and run a mile by myself.  Never having trained, running on basketball sneakers and with no acquired sense of pace I ran a 5:57 mile.  The victory got pizza for the class but In that bet I won a future.  It got the track coach Mr. Nelson Griffin (a great coach and great man) and the athletic director Mr. Ray Vacca to convince me to go out for cross country, and eventually track my senior year.  Thank you Mr. Gerry Ostrander for taking the time at the end of your day to discover my running talent.  I’ll never forget you.  A thanks also goes out to Mr. Jesse Robinson, the Assistant Principal who took an interest in my success since I had been in his office often for disciplinary issues.  He used to come to the meets to see my races and actually followed my results into college, which I would have never attended if it were not for some outstanding educators.  It was when Mr. Griffin asked me where I was going to college that  I even considered going to college.   They don’t need guns, they need support and to be paid.

I had no intentions to write this post this morning, and I had no idea this was the direction it would take.  I wrote the title and was going to write the first couple of sentences and save it as a draft.  Here I am 30 minutes later about to post.  Thinking about something pleasurable from the past took me someplace else and it reminded me of some of the people who made a difference in my life.

Take an interest in someone’s life.  You may just help them discover something in themselves, and you may even discover something in yourself.

I am encouraged further to get chefs 4 chefs off the ground.  I’ve been without a sous chef for about a month and time has been tight.  I’m about to make a hire so I’ll have a few extra minutes to touch base with those of you that have already reached out to offer assistance.  If you want to get involved send me a note.  dominiccolose@gmail.com

Peace.

 

Coffee, Quiet, and Snippets

I had a small place in Glenville years ago and as the chef/owner I would shovel the sidewalk, do the dishes, cut the grass, and mop the floors.  Whatever needed doing was what I did.

The owners at The Wine Bar do the same.

Not too long ago I worked for an owner who actually didn’t know how to clean.  That wasn’t the first time, but it will be the last.

During my interview process for a sous chef one candidate who had a common  past employer described him as being dishonest and using fear and intimidation as a means for motivation.  That’s old-school kitchen management and has no place in today’s kitchen.  Things are changing and that should not be tolerated in any workplace.

Tell candidates who came for an interview that they didn’t get the position if you’re not going to hire them out of professional courtesy.

Is it reasonable to call the current employer of candidates who didn’t show up for a scheduled interview to find out if they’re ok, that you were worried about them since they hadn’t shown up for their interview?

I love naps on Sunday afternoon.

Everyone has left for the day, I’m sitting writing these feeble and random thoughts in a quiet house with a cup of coffee.  It’s a rare and glorious treat.

I recently bought work pants labeled relaxed fit.  Is that code for fat bastard fit?  Remember the husky section of the boy’s department at Sears?

The owner Adventure in Food emailed me personally about some changes to their product line.  It wasn’t generic with the name personalized in the greeting for each chef in a mass mailing.  It was personal with conversation specific to me.  That my friends is why I like small companies.

I called Earth and Sea for some uni last week.  The owner answered and said “Chef, to what do I owe the pleasure?”  He knew it was me through caller ID. We had not spoken in some time but he knew I was back at the Wine Bar through this blog.  Do you think the president of SYSCO reads my blog?

I did cross paths with Mr. President a couple of years ago when he came to see me unannounced during dinner service.  I wrote the following:   “The president of Sysco-Albany came to visit me a few days ago because one of the restaurants I’m doing some consulting work for has ended a 20 year relationship with them.  The kitchen manager had expressed a dissatisfaction with the level of service and asked me what a good alternative would be.  I suggested Performance Food Group so I gave them a call, set up the account in a day, and the restaurant saw its first delivery the next afternoon.”

The president of Sysco asked me why I don’t like Sysco.  I said, “Because the president of Sysco doesn’t know enough not to drop in unannounced to see the chef during dinner service.”

Did he think being the president of Sysco and stopping in to see me would be a game changer?  He stopped in only after the sales rep stopped, then the district manager, then the regional manager.  “The buck stops here” doesn’t mean much once that buck has changed hands a few times.  By the time it got to the top it was only worth 42 cents.

It’s baffling how some people can become president.

I haven’t thanked All Over Albany in a long time for adding a link to my posts.  Thank you.

There are a lot of shitty crackers out there.  Triscuits are the worst.  No, Carr’s water crackers are.  Wheat Thins are pretty bad too.

Pacifism can get you killed.

Chicken in a biscuit.

A fair assessment can have an unfair presentation

As I close out my search for a sous chef I am reminded that you can learn a lot about a candidate by looking at their Facebook page.  I know I’ve told this story before, but it’s good and there are a lot of new readers.  I had a candidate for a cook’s position years ago who sent his resume the day after he boasted on FB how he told his boss to go f*** himself and walked out during dinner service.

Having a platform does not give you a valid voice.

“It’s not real until your wife is on board.” ~ Darryl, The Office

When are we going to give up on magic potions and miraculous foods?   teas, sorghum, quinoa, kale, oats, turmeric, ginger, juice bars, diets, high-fat, low-fat, no-fat, Jack Sprat, coconut oil, avocados, bone broth, grain bowls, gluten-free, caveman diet, chia seeds, vegetable smoothies, hemp, amaranth……………………….

Cavemen, and ladies ate like that for a reason, and that reason was not to tell everyone on social media what new diet they’re on.

Eat fresh foods, move around, enjoy life.  Stop killing yourself trying to be healthy.

Sheep eat what the other sheep are eating.

My editor isn’t home, so pardon the mistakes.  I’m a culinarian who’s not a technically good writer.

 

 

 

Reviewing a Review

Wednesday 2/28 – I’m starting this post the morning after Susie Davidson Powell came into The Wine Bar to review us for the Times Union.  It’s written a bit at a time as the process went from the visit to the printed results.  I don’t know how the review will turn out, but I have a pretty good idea. My goal here is to give you an intimate view of being the subject of a critical examination by the local press.  As chefs, we put our names on the menu and open ourselves up to critical review by both the press and by the dining public through internet review sites and as blog comments.   Most people have occupations that keep them hidden from public reviews yet have no problem being critical of those of us that make our living behind a stove.  Furthermore, they do it anonymously.  I’m all for speaking your mind, but it takes a bit of courage to do it as yourself rather than under a screen name.

We chefs who have culinary freedom speak our mind through our menus.  Those of us that take some chances run the risk of uninformed scrutiny by those who have a less than adventurous or educated palate.  The people who write reviews, restaurant blogs, or anyone who puts their name on products that will be seen or consumed by the public also expose themselves to examination.  That takes guts, and we understand the game before we play.  I can take it just fine as long as I’m judged fairly by a competent and non-biased assessor.

I’ll start at the beginning of the process and take you through the whole way, concluding with my thoughts once I see the results and digest what is said about The Wine Bar and my food.  I will write as things unfold, and you’ll see that being reviewed by the most-read local media outlet can be more than a visit and an article.  There’s a build-up and waiting period, there’s a first reading, there’s an initial reaction, a thinking period, then reaction from the public, friends, and co-workers.  It’s a lot to digest, as what I do is not only my livelihood, but it’s my life’s passion.

When I returned to The Wine Bar after a two-year absence I had a strong feeling that the Times Union would want to see how I was doing given my experiences and reporting of them over recent months.  That feeling certainly did not change the way I go about my business, but it did keep me on the lookout.

On Tuesday night I got an order in from a table of two ladies.  Three starters, a pizza, and four half-size entrées.  That’s a lot of food, so I was a bit suspicious.  I asked the server if one of the women had an English accent.  She did, so I knew what was happening.  No big deal, we just do what we do and see what shakes out.  I felt pretty good about the food I sent out, and I didn’t do anything extra or out of character for each of the plates because I think it’s important to get an accurate gauge of how we’re doing here.  Not only does it let me know our level of work, it lets me know how we compare to other restaurants that have been reviewed.

Thursday 3/1 –  I got a call here at work from Steve Barnes looking to set up a photo shoot for the upcoming printing of the review.  We settled on the following Wednesday.  It’s difficult to choose three or four items from your menu that you want to feature.  The easiest thing to do is start eliminating some items that you know won’t photograph well and decide from the remaining things.  Steve also gave me a couple of suggestions which I followed.

On Saturday evening during dinner service, Susie Davidson Powell called the restaurant to interview the owner.

Wednesday 3/7 – I woke up and saw all the snow this morning I was worried that we’d have to cancel.  Not a big concern really, but I do like to stick to plans, otherwise I get a bit thrown off.  It’s like when my wife and I are at Target for glassware and she decides that we should get new shower sponges.  That’s a little jolting since I didn’t plan on getting a new shower sponge on that particular trip.  Well, the roads were fine, and we put out some nice dishes to be photographed.

Props to our garde manger, Gavin, for making an excellent chorizo, shishito pepper, and manchego pizza.

I’ve been thinking over the past week about the times SDP and I crossed paths and that two of those times that were not particularly positive.  First, I called her out on this blog for her not knowing what bruschetta is.  Secondly, just before the Summer of 2016 I was hired for an eight-week stint as a consulting chef for The Inn at Saratoga.  Between the time I was hired and the time I started my work, the restaurant was reviewed and there was a vagueness about the timeline of events surrounding her visit, my input, and the future success of the dinner service there.  While the comments on Table Hopping were minimal, it was clear there was a misunderstanding which she decided not to clear up as requested by the Inn through email correspondence.

Friday 3/9 – A couple of days before the printed review, but I read the piece on the interwebs.  It wasn’t what I expected, since I was confident that the level of food I sent out was excellent.  What struck me right away was that the things that she seemed to like were simply mentioned, almost glossed over.  The things she didn’t like were described in detail with her often-used flowery, non-food related analogies and descriptions.

I see a general lack of sharp culinary knowledge in her reviews and that includes the evaluation of my cooking.  One example is the yogurt with the lamb dish.  She describes a “pungent swoosh of lemon yogurt.”  She also indicates that it’s like “finding lamb in your dessert.”  Interestingly enough, there is absolutely no lemon and no sweetener in that yogurt.  It’s plain yogurt with orange zest.  That’s it.  Most food savvy people can distinguish between citrus fruits.

“What chefs should accept is that the people judging them have less knowledge that they have.” ~  Marco Pierre White

The more I read the review, the more I realize that it’s not too bad.  There are a lot of positives pointed out, and I’m confident any  issues can be rectified.

I will take full responsibility for the tasteless pizza crust.  This is actually an issue I addressed shortly after I returned to the job.  During my two-year absence some bad habits had been developed, like not following my dough recipe accurately.  This is something I will not only have to reinforce, but follow up on more closely.

The pâté will be checked and the procedure reviewed with the staff.  Again, I will need to follow up more closely.

The apparently over sweet tangerine sauce on the duck will be evaluated but unlikely changed.  The small portion gets a tablespoon of sauce, even if you think it’s too sweet it won’t “break the dish.”  As far as the lamb dish goes, I was told by a former sous chef with 15 solid years in the business who was dining at WB a few weeks ago that dish is possibly the best thing I’ve ever done.  I’ll take his well-informed opinion as a better gauge of the quality of the preparation.  A quarter-inch fully cooked piece of eggplant will be floppy.  Sweet and savory go together in many Mediterranean cuisines.  There’s sometimes a difference between not liking a dish and not understanding a dish.

One of the things I’ve been doing in my cooking upon my return to the stove is paying too much attention to how my food might look on Instagram.  I mean not consciously, but modern presentation has been part of my thinking.  Just look at the picture of the beef tartare accompanying the review.  I takes a lot of time during service, and some extra prep time.  When I examined the article for what seemed to be the 20th time I realized that having flaws in my flavors is unacceptable and I need to pay more attention to taste as I have always done in the past.  In fact, I’m deleting my Instagram account and not worrying what my food looks like on social media.  If you want to see it, come to The Wine Bar for some tasty but ugly food.

All reviews have merit and I learned some things from this one.  It will cause me to improve as a chef and will encourage me to keep a closer eye on the kitchen staff and the overall preparation of the food we put out.  I appreciate the effort of the writer, the editor, the photographer, and anyone who helped highlight The Wine Bar.  I think it showed us in a positive light, and it will help my job performance.  The winners here will be our customers who will see a marked improvement in an already great organization.