Game Seven and Other Stuff

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

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

Just the sight of Joe Buck irritates me.

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

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

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

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

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

John Besh

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

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

We need more cooks and fewer Executive chefs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Buck certainly can beat a topic to death.

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

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

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

Saying penne pasta is like saying apple fruit.

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

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

Congratulations to the Houston Colt .45’s.

Welcome back to Boston, Alex Cora.

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

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

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

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

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Influences, Inspirations, and Aspirations

Throughout our lives we are all influenced and inspired by many people, places, and things.  I as a chef am susceptible to many outside factors. A picture of visually appealing plate on Google Images or an ingredient I’ve never used can influence me to try something different, and meal in the right restaurant can inspire me to improve my work, and aspire to achieve more. So, I thought I would write down many of the influences, inspirations, and aspirations in my life as a chef.

My earliest influence as a chef was Mario Batali. Not the pink-faced obese Mario, but the owner of Pó in Greenwich Village from the Molto Mario show on The Food Network. Remember when they used to have actual shows about real food with real chefs?  Before I actually worked in a professional kitchen I used to video tape all episodes of Molto Mario and watch them over and over, retaining as much as I could about cooking techniques, Italian products, and food history. It was a great show because it was simple and about cooking and the love of Italian food culture. I knew then that that’s the type of cooking I wanted to do professionally.

In 1982 I was taken to a new restaurant, Café Capriccio in Albany. Our waiter was Billy Karabin, a legend. He wore a different tuxedo jacket every time he came to the table.  I told the people I was with that It was the kind of restaurant I wanted some day.

In 1998 (the year I started cooking professionally) I opened a small Italian restaurant in Glenville, NY called Theresa’s Italian Grill. With too little money and too little experience it closed after 14 months. It was said at times that my food reminded them of the cooking of Jim Rua, chef/owner of Café Capriccio.

In 1999 I went to work in the kitchen of Café Capriccio and learned that my cooking was not yet like that of Jim Rua. I learned about putting simple flavors together for wonderful rustic Italian, and some Spanish influenced dishes. Jim Rua to this day has taught me more about cooking than anyone else. If you’ve never seen him work, you have no idea what he can do with the most basic staples. His presentation of individual dishes is not overly exciting, but the experience of the entire meal is.

This philosophy was reinforced when I went to Italy with Capriccio’s travel group in 2002 and stayed at Fattoria Lavacchio, a working farm and vineyard outside of Florence. It was here I saw where the simple, earthy, and organic cooking was a way of life. I’ve never experienced life that way and never have since. I do however refer to it in my mind many times when I plan a menu, a meal, or a single dish. Thank you many times over, Jim for the experiences you’ve given me.

The other thing I learned at the Café was the importance of great service and a solid service system. That responsibility fell on Bill Karabin, a constant educator. He saw to it that there were no amateurs on the service floor, he insured front waiters were well-trained and back waiters often waited many month, or years before gaining front waiter status. Billy’s lessons are still with me and I hope to use them more extensively one day.

For too many years after the Café Capriccio I waffled around in too many Capital Region restaurants void of influence and inspiration.

In 2011 I landed the Chef’s position at The Wine Bar and the freedom to be creative has found its way back into my life. I have become far more serious about my career on the last 18 months than ever before. I closely follow chefs like Thomas Keller and Daniel Humm for inspiration for what is possible.  My friend Jason Baker has given me great insight into the drive for perfection  Dominick Purnomo of Yono’s  has shown me, and others that wanting the best for the local clientelle is not just bullshit, but the proper way of doing business. I’ve worked for many people who say “I want the best,” but do not know what that means. Dominick travels, visits the best restaurants and educates himself in the art of being a great restaurateur.

Also, Tom and Anne Gaughan for their approach to life, Mehmet and Mary Odekon for their hospitality and appreciation for what I do, Jonathan Stewart for his dedication to the proper tending of a bar, and Dale and Judy Evans for their work ethic. There are many others who have influenced parts of my life other than my work as a chef. Perhaps in another post you’ll meet them.

Finally, I am most influenced by my daughter Theresa, who for all the obstacles she has faced, still loves life. And, my wife Jennifer, who supports what I do in many ways.

My aspirations are simple, yet complex. At some point I want my own restaurant, with all of these influences put into play. I want to see what is possible in the 518. One day perhaps.