Category Archives: food stories

Band of brothers..

Chefs are a band of brothers on many levels.
We are in the same trade for the same reason. The love of food!

a bad joke I heard which is sort kind of true is
Q” how many chefs to unscrew a light bulb?
A:”six.One to unscrew the light bulb and five to tell him how they did it at their other job!.”
That is so lame but at the same time so true. Get a group of Chefs around a table and you will hear stories about what ,how, when ,who ,where, why and so on. They will think the stories they tell are immensely funny and hilarious ,so do I , because we understand each other and that’s what creates a bond faster than in any other trade I know of.

We all go thru the same coming of age going up in the ranks and growing as a chef. We all had the hardest meanest, baddest, chef ever to walk this earth ..of course. So did I ,not only once but several times ….of course…
We care for one another in a way that it very hard to find in any other profession , that is partly because we see each other more sometimes than we do our spouses and family..chefs become your family, and as with any family there are fights but in this kind of family the language will put a pirate to shame and he would leave quiet.
Chefs will do anything to help each other out even if it is for the competition, we all know the pain of not having everything or needing something special or just needing to talk about food for an idea. We are their to help each other all the time.
Friendly competition at its best!
The camaraderie that exists among chefs are one of the most enduring and loving in a carefree way.
To be a part of al that is truly an amazing experience that has to be felt in order to fully understand.

The one thing that is always around is the ego, usually the ones who are a little bit insecure or new to the business will always try and show in what ever way they can that in fact they are the best. Seasoned chefs will see that and play along for a while and then let them know that NO they are not the best at what they do… Their ego is writing checks their culinary skills cant cash in. That person is quickly relegated to the bottom of the totem pole. However still part of the brotherhood of chefs.

Chefs thrive under pressure and the pressure is brought on to being the best in the brotherhood at cooking the best out of all…

The perfect employee

Does this person even exist ? Who is this elusive charachter and why is it so hard to find them?
The simple answer would be that they dont exist…and that’s why it is so hard to find them.

I personally think it would be quite bizarre if they did exist. Ask anyone if they have the perfect employee and they probably would say no …but I have this one person that comes close!. I have that too in my kitchen where I work. This brings me to the dynamics of any team working together and even more so in a kitchen where literally you have to work next to someone more than you see your significant other.

What I have learned is that you are only as good as your weakest link and there is no such thing as the perfect cook/chef/souschef/Executive chef etc..but there are some that come pretty darn close see even me admit that too. We are always told that in order to get better you have to train train train and hopefully your associates will become better at what they do but that only works if they are a good fit for your team and that will only make your team close to perfect.
If the new associate is not a good fit it does not matter how much you train train train it will not get better or any closer to creating the perfect employee or team.

I have many different personalities to deal with on a daily basis and they all have different needs and wishes and they all they think they are the perfect employee and why would they not think so? They might think so because the team is working as one and remove one associate and it becomes so much harder for the other ones hence that associate would think that they are the perfect one completeing that team when in actual fact it is a great personality fit for that particular team.

So when you think you have the one associate you think is the perfect employee you dont know it. It is that simple because it is noticed when a group is working together and everything goes like clockwork life is good. Life becomes really hard when one associate is missing or not working as they should because their job and duties is now placed on the others who for sure will say that the missing employee is far from perfect. As a matter of fact the team will let that person know exactly how they feel upon their return and that is far from perfect!

So it is entirely up to the manager to make sure that all the associates become the best they can be by positive encouragement and be a driving force by keeping everything in a positive environment that foster learning and creativity towards becoming the perfect employees. Sounds simple enough but sometimes it sounds simple to climb Mount Everest too.

So to answer my own question , no the perfect employee does not exist and if they did it would not be interesting to work because everything would be ,well perfect and if it always was perfect there would be no challenge , no new improvements that can be made and as a matter of fact if you think you have a perfect employee , you probably missed something somewhere in the hiring process.
We should always strive to find that perfect employee … Who knows you might succeed !! And when I do I will be sure to let all of you know and I will stand on top of mount Everest and let the whole world know as well , I will probably never succeed with either but that does not mean I will stop trying…..and by the way I am a little bit scared of heights so Mount Everest is ruled out… So the search goes on and on and on and on…..

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The end goal

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We all have different goals in life and what we want to achieve. For some, the end goal is to make it to the end of the day.As young adults In school all we want is to finish the day, the semester and school completely.At least I did. But as I have gotten older I realize that setting goals is not a bad idea at all. I have achieved a lot of goals so far.. And have many more still to achieve. Day by day and month after month and year after year. I set reasonable goals , I am not going to be an astronaut and go to the moon but i can be over the moon for achieving a goal, but sensible goals , achievable goals. Goals that will make me better at my craft that in turn will make me better at life !. I used to laugh it off in my younger years when someone told me to set a goal…jeez thats for old people..setting goals..well here I am

I now make it a point to set a goal for my day ,week, and month and so on because doing so gives more structure in life and that in turn will give control back where it belongs,to me, and not with someone or something else. I started out thinking that I am going to have my own restuarant and do my kind of food and that is a great goal to have but not for me not now and not any more ,just not that interested in that.I hear that a lot now when I interview potential candidates for a cooks position and the “whats your goal ” question comes around it usually is answered by ” I want to have my own restaurant ” great goal by someone idealistic enough to believe it can happen but after a year or so once they see all the hard work and dedication that is needed for some reason they change their minds and have a completly different goal. Some will stil forge ahead and start their own business which is awesome.

My goal …I have many and as my life progresses an oppurtunities come and go, my goal is to be better every day ,to be recognized for what I do and to create better cooks by doing just that..setting a goal. Knowing your end goal is just as important and knowing where you want to be at a certain point in time in your life. What is the end goal really? The end goal would be to know where all the other smaller goals should take you. There will always be detour and those minor hindrances should not stop you from achieving your end goal.

So the enthusiastic cook interviewing for the first job and wanting his/her end goal to be his/her own restaurant that’s the end goal, the smaller goals should be how to get there! Not as easy as you might think. Always work hard and the formative years are the ones that shape your integrity as a cook and chef ,the work ethic should be to work harder faster better more than anyone around you. Working hard will make it easier to reach the end goal but that does not mean that it will be reached faster, only that you will be better at your craft once arrived …and then it is time to set a new goal.Is where you are now your final destination?I should hope not perhaps for the time being..but now time to set many small goals that will lead you to another end goal..and on and on and on and on and on…

The end goal..sound rather dramatic and somewhat final ,it kinda is but it isn’t, only if you want it to be. I am a firm believer now more than ever that the end goal is just a culmination of achieving many milestones and smaller goals and a start of something new that will keep it all interesting and fresh and it should act as a inspiration to want more ..you only get out what you put in..so having stood on my soap box and preached about reaching goals and achieving the end goal ….here goes!

The nerve

The nerves of a chef are very frail and without hesitation will snap at a simple hello on a really bad day.The enormous stress a chef is under on a daily basis will make a lot of other jobs seem like cakewalk.I always say that when someone completely loses it in a bad way they usually have lost all control in a situation and the only way to reign them self in is to release the anger and then feel like a complete jackass ( but no chef will ever admit to feeling like that) now over the years as you progress as a chef your learning curve gets very steep about what works and what doesn’t , yelling and screaming does not help you further your career at all. Being close to a control freak will alleviate some of the stresses because you are in control..just don’t lose the control. As a good manager you need to share your knowledge of control to the other culinarians around you otherwise life is very very complicated and your whole life will be dictated about what goes on in the kitchen if you are not there. Keep your temper in check by being in control and share that control with others and you will live to see 50 without a heart attack. A great chef will cook for anyone anytime and procure almost anything and everything but the moment the chef will have to cook for a table of his peers the nerves will become like spaghetti because all chefs knows the ins and outs and know there is nowhere to hide ,they will undoubtedly be the harshest critics since they are in the game as well and know what to look for and can easily pick you and your food apart and have you reduced to sitting in a corner shaking uncontrollably and wishing it would all end right here and now…unless you have been in complete control all the way..I would still not poke a friendly bear no matter what ,you just never know….
There are three things that will really test a chefs nerves .. A hollandaise that breaks , a soufflé that either won’t rise or is collapsing right in front of you and ignorance. Drives any chef closer to the edge.
But the one thing that is the hardest to do is to just let some things go.. There are some things that just is not worth it ignorant guests who just don’t get it ..it is almost as if they sometimes just want to be so special that they will order the most ridiculous things and then once completed their meal they complain… That will test any chefs nerves …
I don’t think any chef loves to have a reputation as a yeller and screamer. One thing is to be passionate and in control a completely different thing is to yell and lead by intimidation , the first will lead to success the latter will successfully alienate your cooks and team. Learning to stay in control is the way to be..I learn that everyday !!

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The Bacon..

bacon slab

Bacon..just hearing it makes me all warm and fuzzy..I like bacon. The uses for bacon reaches far beyond the breakfast plate and sometimes unfortunatly into some sweet concoctions as well.I have never been a fan of the bacon craze that involved dipping bacon in chocolate or dipping donuts in bacon bits…no bacon does not belong there at all, I have never liked shock value cooking at all ,salted caramel bacon,bacon dipped in chocolate..just because the two are some of the tastiest items in the culinary spectrum does not mean that they should be combined,i can live with out the frankenstein cooking all together and i sleep good at night too!

Bacon does belong on my breakfast plate nicely crisp and the grease used for my eggs and potato. Bacon also does belong as crispy little bits of deliciousness in my fully loaded baked potato. When I make a potato soup or anything vegetable creamy soup I like to have some battonets of bacon sauteed in with the vegetables just to add that smoky bacony awesome flavor. When making a warm dressing such as bacon potato vinagrette…or when steaming some mussels and render some bacon down first in the cast iron skillet and then some shallots letting them get nice and brown in the bacon grease ..while it is all getting friendly and releasing all flavors mingling in the bacon you add some mussles some wine ,a knob of butter cover the whole thing with a lid while the smoky bacon flavor makes its way into the mussels or when you take thick rashers of bacon and wrap them delicately around a beef tenderloin or lay bacon strips on top of your meatloaf and bake the whole thing with the bacon grease seeping into your meatloaf or doing the same thing with your whole pork loin and baste it as it is releasing the smoky flavorful fat,or when the bbq is getting hot and burgers are cooking adding some cooked bacon to the burgers are just simply a brilliant idea.. I could go on but I am sure you get the gist of how good it can be …just don’t for all things good and holy make a dessert of the bacon….just don’t .

 

. So what do you look for when in the store looking for bacon..well if they are thin and packed in such a way that they are ready for the microwave..dont..if they don’t have that rosy red fresh looking color to them..dont.. but if they are looking nice and juicy with a good fat to meat ratio and a good looking outside that genuinely looks artisanal you have a winner.When I say good fat to meat ratio I would like to look for 60% fat and 40% meat is a good start.
Some will say that bacon is not healthy and straight up bad for you and that’s probably true but I am a firm believer in moderation….no need to eat bacon every day, no need to use bacon in every soup you make , no need to cook your breakfast potatoes in the bacon fat or the eggs for that matter.. All I am saying is use don’t abuse and every now and then it is ok to use bacon without overdoing it.
One thing the bacon craze has brought to all of us is at least for me the appreciation for really really good smoked thick cut bacon. When you go to a fast-food restaurant or a restaurant that really don’t care about what bacon they use as long as it is the cheapest you get crispy thin cut weak tasting rasher of mishandled pork belly…who likes that? but when you spend just a little bit more you get perfection and one of many reason why bacon is regarded as the food of the gods…thats just how good it gets. A little bit of research and some know how of what to look for and spending just a little bit more will make your meal that little bit extra ,that little bit more,that one step closer to a perfect meal…thats what the bacon can do for you and thats not bad at all…not bad at all…

The potato

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Who knew that a tuber that is not very pretty but can easily be transformed into something elegant, that we call potato or apple of the earth would become what it is today, the versatility of it is alomost unsurpassed . We consume it almost every day in some shape or form and why not it is delicious. It is used for breakfast ,lunch and dinner and late night suppers. It is used in almost every cuisine across the globe. They come in as many colors as the rainbow and in just as many varieties…around 5000 known varieties worldwide and about 200 wild …just potatoes. The research that has been made on the worlds fourth most grown crop is just simply staggering and it has shown that the humble tuber originated in Peru /Bolivia and the Andes. Humans have cultivated it for thousands of years. As humans ,when we stopped hunting and gathering and we settled down and started growing our crops and of course started fermenting the tubers and thats how vodka came along and aquavit and so on . I like potato vodka,always have ,with its nice and smooth pleasant burn..

The potatoes versatility is simply staggering in the professional kitchen. In Europe it is a part of almost every meal,boiled ,fried,pressed,baked,roasted,steamed,shredded ,sliced ,diced ,in soups both hot and cold ,in dressings ,in salads both hot and cold and cut into as many shapes as there are varieties . I could go on but would run into the risk of sounding like bubba grump counting off all the ways to cook shrimp in “Forrest Gump”. Potatoes are served morning noon and night as well as overnight. They are everywhere on a menu as apps entrees and desserts.I my self is very partial to boiled potatoes with my meal and making my own mashed potato on the plate with my fork to make sure I get everything of the plate to savor every last bit of my meal, in southern Europe they use the bread in the same way..to me it is just not the same.Nah give me some potatoes instead.

I love the very first crop of new potatoes that come along in the spring ,nice little sweet jewels of the earth that is gently scrubbed to get rid of the dirt then boiled in salted water with some fresh dill..the true smell of summer for me. I like to eat the little spring spuddies with some sour cream ,red onions and baltic pickled herring. That is a very scandinavian way of eating them by the way. I also love a good simple Niceoise salad with cold boiled potatoes and fresh green beans and boiled eggs. I could go on and on about what I like with my potatoes but that would be another bubba Gump count off …love the guy and the movie however..

In this day and age we are very fortunate to have almost all varieties available to us  at any time of the year and to be able to learn from using them and to share that knowledge with our guests and fellow cooks and chefs both old and young….So next time you are in a nice restaurant and looking at the menu you will probably not find a lengthy description of the potato and variety used simply because we all think a potato is a potato is a potato. The sad part about that is that it is true. We are so accustomed to have “just “french fries and we don’t really care what variety it is ,the research has already been done into finding and sometimes genetically modify it to become the  the best french fry with the proper “snap” when we eat it  at the restaurant..kinda sad really. If our customers only knew….but then again I don’t think most of the guests would care for what variety of potato it is but if it is genetically modified and has been treated with pesticides and that’s important and a good start if any ,to know more about the spud.

I my self have always liked the fingerling varieties and the purple peruvian and the kennebeck and bintje and russet and king edward and red pontiac and superior and bamberg and amandine and potato potato potato. All it takes is a little bit of research and knowhow and your respect for the humble tuber will change and it will become a challenge to find the best variety…now to educate our customers..without sounding like Bubba Gump thats a challenge in it self.

 

 

The Hotel

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The security of having a job in a business filled with shuttered windows and broken china..here and celebrated one day only to be gone the next , is not all that great unless you create that security for your self!. I have sometimes been scoffed at for choosing my jobs in the larger hotels around the globe but there are several reasons for my choosing to do so…I will get back to that later…
The insecure feeling of working in a establishment that might not be there the next day is something I would not want to deal with or live under that kind of pressure, sure if I was eighteen again and none the wiser ,sure no worries but now I am not that young anymore and need the security a larger hotel can offer me. Since I have not stopped learning ,never will, a large upscale four /five star hotel offer so much more. I pick up the phone and know that any vendor will do anything that they can to secure my business and they know the bill will get paid on time. The buying power in a hotel is so great and that brings the opportunity to see and cook with so many more and different vegetables meats etc… If for example I need to sample beef for a specific dish or sample various oysters or I need to see samples of gluten free breads I know that most if not all vendors would fall over each other for that kind of business..that’s a good feeling to know and have since I will be able to procure the best for my guests. In a smaller establishment that would not be so easily achieved since the volume of business just isn’t the same ..simple as that.
The flexibility the secure hotel will offer is something that is hard to find in smaller establishments since the pool of resources is far greater in a large hotel environment. I don’t know about you but I like that , a lot.
Like I mentioned earlier I have been scoffed at for only working hotels in my career but the truth to that is firstly I really don’t care what others think or say ..secondly it has and continues to offer me more of everything as in money ,learning new things ,meeting more chefs with diverse backgrounds and knowledge to share and if I for what ever reason need a new job somewhere having known names on my resume’ really helps since a hotel has to be very careful who they hire being that I am in close proximity to celebrities and millionaires if not billionaires that need security and knowing that they will not be treated in a bad way,for some reason there are idiots who want to hurt people who are famous which is disturbing in a way.
So when my resume’ lands on a HR directors desk I know that it will get looked at first vs the one from Billy who worked for the best restaurant in the next town over…at least that’s what he said. The security in knowing that is comforting. Since the job is secure the longevity follows because of the secure future of any freestanding restaurant just ain’t that great, chefs tend to stay longer at hotels be use of the ever changing challenge presented every day and that is as simple as that. I like to think that I can work towards a six figure job now at a large hotel vs an unknown figure at a free standing restaurant…my opinion only…don’t get me wrong there are many many really good free standing restaurants that are very successful for many many years …as a matter of fact one of my absolute favorite restaurants is in the big apple and have been there for decades and is world renowned …but i still would not want to work there…I just really like their food! I also like my security of my job I now have and will enjoy working at for years to come. I am not done learning and need to be able to cast a wide net that will give me the knowledge that I want to be even more successful and keep on pushing day in and out….love it