Chilean Sea Bass gets “Best Choice” from the Seafood Watch Program!
For the Blog history See the Archives
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Image from Wikipidia-click for licensing
Great news for the culinary world! After a year long re-evaluation of the Chilean Sea Bass (aka Pantagonian Toothfish) fishery, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program has updated the status of this fish from “Avoid” to include both a “Best Choice” and “Good Alternative” selection, while keeping the “Avoid” rating for fish from certain areas.
In 2006 Seafood Watch first added Chilean Sea Bass to their list, with the rating of “Avoid”. It listed multiple concerns with the fishery including: over fishing, bycatch of sea birds, illegal fishing, and poor management. But over the past 7 years many of those concerns have been adequately addressed by the fishery with help from the fishermen, conservation groups and scientists.
Specifically, Seafood Watch states, “When buying Chilean seabass look for options from Heard and McDonald, the Falklands or Macquarie as a "Best Choice," and Ross Sea, South Georgia or Kerguelen as "Good Alternatives." Or look for the blue eco-label of the MSC for certified sustainable products.”
Lunch with Chef Graham Kerr
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
I recently had the great pleasure of participating in a lunch with Chef Graham Kerr. Tulalip Resort’s Executive Chef Perry Mascitti had held Chef Kerr as an inspirational figure who helped move him into the culinary arts. What Chef Perry remembered most about The Galloping Gourmet series with Graham Kerr was the passion that Chef Graham had for food, and the pleasure he obtained from cooking.
Turns out Chef Graham Kerr lives close by, so they talked on the phone and set-up a meet & greet luncheon with Graham Kerr and the Tulalip Chefs, which includes me! I had watched his shows some as a kid, and remember his big smile and English accent. But meeting the man in person left a much bigger impression upon me than his TV shows ever did. He is a genuinely gracious and humble person with a palpable passion for food. I very much enjoyed the person I met in Chef Kerr. And he wore his classic suspenders in case we wanted to take photos! (which you can tell we did!)
So, a little history: about 20 years ago he changed his culinary focus from “everything French” to using “plant foods”, and now he spends time promoting the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables into our diets. This change was the result of health concerns both for his wife and himself, and the proof of how well these dietary changes have affected him is evident by his robust energy and enthusiasm at the golden young age of 79! True story…he’s 79, but he seemed soooo much younger than that!
He shared stories and examples of how important “plant foods” are, especially to off-set the typically poor American diet and intake of free radicals in our diet. The average American eats less than half of the quality fruits and vegetables that they should for a healthy lifestyle. “I’m not saying that everyone should become a vegetarian. I’m saying that we should eat more of this (vegetables and fruit) and less of that (proteins and processed foods).” It’s a matter of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into our diets, which in turn will help counter the effects of the free-radicals we consume in the normal American diet.
We discussed how, as chefs, we promote to our customers, and the public at large, what to eat. We establish the trends and support their continued trendiness by what we put on our menus and on our plates. Chef Kerr explained how he was on a Harley, racing down the road at full throttle, life and cuisine flying by him at a rapid pace, enjoying every second. Until he came to the end of the road, locked up the brakes, and came to a careening stop at the edge of the cliff, half over the edge and staring the 1000 foot drop in the face.
Now he is following his course backwards, saying to friends, colleagues, people in general…”slow down! There’s a cliff up ahead!” But like most chefs, and indeed most people, we think we will blaze down the road enjoying life all the way, eating whatever we want, doing whatever we will, and have a sudden end at the last moment. But the reality is that sicknesses set in which are a result of our diet or lifestyle, and our end may not be as fast and glorious as we had imagined. Chef Kerr’s passion of the past years is to educate people how to live and enjoy life longer with better health through the consumption of flavorful “plant food” recipes.
So, for the lunch I selected a smorgasbord of fresh vegetables to lay out in a farmer’s market fashion so that he could choose what he wanted and start playing. I had red and gold beets, sea beans, assorted mushrooms, chicory, chard, snap peas, squashes, heirloom tomatoes, shallots, salsify, and many other “basic” items available, plus an assortment of fresh herbs. Six of the Tulalip Chefs (including Chef Perry and myself) gathered in the Blackfish kitchen with Chef Kerr. He looked at the assorted produce (smiled), decided what to make, and asked us to dice a variety of specific vegetables while he and Chef Perry hit the stove to start preparing the dish which he referred to as a Skagit Skillet, a play on an old French recipe.
Food and Beverage Director Lisa Severn attended the lunch and presented Chef Kerr with a Tribal blanket, and "raised her hands" to him, which is a symbol of friendship and welcoming. And the dish, although "simple" (chefs classify most vegetarian dishes as "simple" because they lack protein preparation), was complex in flavor and perfectly prepared...very enjoyable and satisfying.
Then we sat down and enjoyed good company and good food!
Proper Seating and Flow of Restaurant Customers
Sunday, February 10, 2013
If you work in a restaurant then you are familiar with this question. How many customers are too many in one seating? There are two clear perspectives of thought regarding this subject: the Front of the House (FOH) perspective and the Back of the House (BOH) perspective. Speaking from the Back of the House, it seems that the Front of the House perspective often is to simply seat as many people as possible, regardless of the outcome. Got 100,000 seats open?...seat them all!! The kitchen's perspective is to seat as many people as the kitchen (and Waitstaff for that matter) can execute in a timely, professional manner with a focus on quality and successful execution leading to happy customers. F6CHGCXDX579
What often seems to happen, however, is that many guests will show up all at once, the restaurant will be seated all at once, the waitstaff scurry around and take all of their orders from all of their new tables, and then turn in all of their new orders and tables at the same time. This results in slamming the kitchen and giving them more plates than they can possibly produce in a timely fashion (we have 10 burners but suddenly are slammed with 25 sauté items!). The result is that customers will wait for their food, while the kitchen tries to dig itself out of the hole and waitstaff stand around asking, “What's taking my food so long?” And when waitstaff go back to their tables and respond to customer comments about why it's taking so long, the most frequent answer to the customer is that “the kitchen is behind”. Wrong! The Front of the House failed to manage the seating!
What often happens next is that the kitchen will hit high gear, food slams into the “window”, and now the waitstaff cannot pick-up food fast enough. The cooks yell, “take this food out! Get it out of the window!” Then the kitchen comes to a halt while they wait for the servers to deliver food.
From the kitchen perspective, noNe of this is a kitchen problem. The fact that the kitchen was buried is because the Front of the House failed to manage the customer seating. It is the responsibility of the FOH to manage the flow of customers, to speed up one table and slow down another, to drag a few tables for 10 minutes rather than seat everyone at once. If the kitchen where to put up 40 plates all at once for one waiter and then complain about taking so long to get the food out, that would be unjust. The same goes for the Front of the House when they slam the kitchen. It’s about planning and controlling the flow.
I know that the customer is going to have to wait, one way or the other. They will either have to wait to get a table, or they'll have to wait for their food. The kitchen believes that it is better to tell the customer (customers with no reservation) that it's going to be 30 - 60 minutes before you can be seated rather than to seat the customer quickly and then have them wait a long time to get their food. It is a better customer perception to have to wait to get a table (unless they have a reservation of course) and then once they have arrived at their table to have a quality experience. Rather than be quickly seated, and then sit and wait and wait and wait and wonder what is going on before they can get their meal.
I would like to propose two questions to two different groups of people. First question is for people who are in the industry FOH and BOH. What are your thoughts on this topic? Is it better to have the customer wait to be seated, or is it better to get them seated and make them wait for service and food? In which situation do customers leave happier? In which situation do you spend more time and money trying to recover the table?
Second question. When you go out to eat, would you rather sit at the bar or in the waiting area for 15 minutes before being seated? Or would you prefer to be quickly seated and then have to wait a prolonged period of time for your meal, wondering what is taking so long?
I understand that the perspective of the House is to capture as many customers as possible. Even if that means making them wait for their meal. At least they will end up paying a check and contributing funds to the House. The kitchen contends that a quality customer experience will cause that customer to return again and again. While a negative customer experience may cause the customer to never return. Therefore, slamming as many people into the restaurant as possible may not necessarily generate you more funds in the long run. If the House believes that filling the restaurant with as many customers as possible is the best way to capture revenue and promote their business, I would suggest giving the matter more thought.
Every restaurant has disputes between the FOH and the BOH. These disputes revolve around the difference in perspective between them, as well as their different priorities, tensions and challenges. To properly assess and navigate through this minefield there are two guiding principles. Number one: what is best for the business. Number two: what is best for the customer. Pretty much any issue between the front of the house and back of the house can be resolved by applying these two principles. The highest priority is what is good for the business. But that is very closely followed by what is good for the guest. For instance, it is good for the guest to receive an extra pound of king crab for free. The guests would love that and the waitstaff's tip would probably go up because of it. But that is bad for business, and therefore it is an improper decision. On the other side of the coin, is it good for the business to advertise a pound of king crab, but only present the customer with half a pound? That saves the business money, but it creates a very negative perspective in the eyes of the guests and will negatively impact the future revenue of the restaurant.
So let's get down to the nitty-gritty application of these two principles. You have a customer who is dissatisfied with their meal. Is it better to buy their meal, or simply apologize and hope that they'll return again. In this situation it is better to lose money in the short term, i.e. offer them another entree option, a free dessert, buy them a drink, or pay for their entire meal, whatever seems appropriate to recover the guest. You may lose money on this one meal, but you will probably recover that guest so that they will come back again and hopefully with more people. It makes better business sense to lose money in the short run and gain future revenue. Of course, you need to evaluate the customer and then decide whether or not they are someone you want to return again. Are they sincere in their complaint, or are they someone who simply complains in order to get something for free? If you recognize a trend with certain customers who always come in and complain in order to get something for free, in that situation you are better to cut them off and lose their business because they're costing you money every time they come in. They are freeloaders and not worth your time or the money you spend on them.
Habitual complainers. Every restaurant will have habitual complainers. You should keep a list of these people. Keep track of their phone numbers, the names they use (some use various names), credit card numbers, etc. These people are parasites upon your business. You need to evaluate whether or not they are worth compensating every time they come in to dine. If they contribute in some way to your business, then it may be worth keeping them. But if they contribute nothing, but only come in to get some type of free discount every time, then you need to cut them off and ask them to take their business elsewhere. You can do this in a polite fashion by saying something like. " I'm sorry, it appears that we can not meet your needs. We would appreciate it if you would take your business elsewhere."
The Professional Chef and Stress Management
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
As professional chefs we work in an inherently stressful environment. Our daily routine is a constant grind to meet deadlines and reach for perfectly prepared & presented cuisine. For the restaurant chef it is the grind of meeting that 15 minute ticket time over and over again for hundreds of customers in a shift. For the banquet chef it's putting out multiple events for hundreds or thousands of people all scheduled at virtually the same time. And for the catering chef it's the ability to prepare food off-site for a multitude of people, with the realization that the off-site equipment will probably not work.
Our stress comes from the drive to meet these deadlines while delivering plates which we are proud of. Every hour of every service we are either praised or criticized by every dining guest...over and over again. Add to this the business stress factors of budgets, food cost, staffing, and all the “joys of being a manager”…it’s a wonder that so many of us thrive under the duress.
As we mature in the industry, we learn the skills/tricks which help to minimize our stress. Here are a few things I have learned. Please use the comments section at the bottom of the page to add your own experience to the list.
After Hours Stress Relief
In our industry we can have good, bad, and downright bloody ugly days. We've all experienced a shift after which we simply wanted to go home, crawl under a rock, and @#%$! die. Everyone, especially chefs, need a way to unwind outside of work. And although alcohol may help us unwind, it is not a legitimate pastime! Scheduling time to relax is just as important as scheduling time to do your inventory. It is a necessity for your continued success.
Anything you enjoy doing which takes your mind off work is a worthwhile stress relief. It could be an outdoor activity, watching movies, karaoke, video games, enjoying good conversation, reading, working in the yard, chess, working out, or anything else which you enjoy doing. For me, playing World Championship Poker or Halo4 is an excellent outlet. I can hook up with friends across the globe at any hour for gaming and social interaction.
Mise en Place is Everything
The better your mise en place is organized the better your day will be. Training our crews to be properly prepped increases their speed during service, decreases their stress, and results in consistently more successful service periods.
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
Many of my best laid plans have been dismantled by Murphy's Law. It's never enough to make a plan solely based upon what you need to accomplish. Your typical plan of action covers what needs to be done on a normal day...here’s my menu, here’s my prep list, and this is who’s responsible for each station. Your next step should always be to evaluate how that bastard Murphy could show his face and screw everything up. Always have a “plan B” to cover the things which could go wrong. Plan B provides a solution for things such as when ovens go down, guests arrive late/early, being short staffed, and the hundred other things which could go wrong. This is especially necessary for banquets/catering and off-site events. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
Seconds Save Minutes
This is related to mise en place, yet different in that it helps define some things which should be part of your mise en place. If you can shave five seconds off the service time of every dish on your menu your speed of service increases while the stress level on the Line decreases. Saving five seconds on 300 covers eliminates 25 minutes of time during service. That's 25 minutes less work that your crew needs to do in order to produce the same number of covers. Seconds save minutes
For instance, a burger restaurant can do this by simply pre-making all their burger sets. By pre-assembling the lettuce, onion, tomato, and pickle into one unit the Line saves a few seconds on every single order during service because they only have to touch the plate once instead of 4 times.
Manage Them Up or Out
The single most important ingredient for managing your stress is to have a well-trained, reliable crew. Knowing that your crew have both the ability and professionalism to reproduce your menu according to the recipe, standards, and presentation which you have established goes a long ways to reducing a chef’s stress.
If your staff does not prepare food according to your standards, you need to first train and educate them how to do it correctly. But then, if they are either unwilling or unable to perform, it’s time to swing the ax. Get rid of the non-performers because they are like a cancer in your crew, causing strife, apathy, and resentment among the rest of your staff. The same principle applies to those good cooks who are constantly calling in. No matter how good their skills are, they are of no use to you if they don’t show up for work…get rid of them. The rest of your staff will love you for it.
Only Work for Management Whom You Like and Respect
All of us have worked for that imbecile manager or corporation who sets unachievable budgets or goals and then tears you up for not being able to achieve it. Endure them only as long as you have to because their arrogance and stupidity will not change.
There are other types of poor management as well. The bottom line is, if you are unhappy in your current position because of those in authority over you then it’s time to move on. Put in your year (for resume history purposes), do your job to the best of your ability, don’t burn bridges, and get out.
Deal with Problems... In a Constructive Way
Do not ignore problems... they rarely go away and usually only get bigger. Every chef has their own challenges based upon their own unique personality and operation. If you see a problem, deal with it immediately. Decide what needs to be done, when you will do it, and what type of follow-up is required.
Taste of Tulalip 2012
Sunday, November 18, 2012
If you live in the Pacific Northwest then you have probably heard of the four diamond Tulalip Resort Casino. This year was the 4th year of the now regionally acclaimed Taste of Tulalip, a two day food and wine experience which surpasses many such events on the West Coast. Each year we try to do something just a little bit “bigger or better” than the year before. Friday November 9th featured the 7-course Celebration Dinner for 400 people (tickets sold out about 2 months before the event, so plan ahead for next year!). And Saturday November 10th was the Grand Taste event, featuring 135 wineries and a plethora of tasty bites, all prepared by the talented Tulalip chefs.
In addition to these two main events, there were numerous additional special features which made this year’s Taste of Tulalip one of the Pacific Northwest’s must attend events. Special features included:
- a cooking demo by celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson, 3-Time James Beard Award Winner & TV personality
- Craft Beer Garden in the Oasis Pool room
- “Thirsty Girl” Leslie Sbrocco was the celebrity emcee and conducted a wine seminar
- Private Magnum Party featuring some highly sought after & elite wines
- 135 wineries from the West Coast, France and Italy
- Rock-n-Roll Cooking Challenge Cook-off with Chefs Gerry Schultz, Brent Clarkson, Robin Leventhal from Top Chef season 6
- Guest judges for the Rock-n-Roll Cooking Challenge Cook-off included:
- Chef Marcus Samuelesson
- Chef Wayne Johnson
- “Thirsty Girl” Leslie Sbrocco
- Mauny Kaseburg
Taste of Tulalip Celebration Dinner - Go Big or Go Home!
The Celebration Dinner was a 7-course food & wine pairing with each of the seven Tulalip chefs (yes, Tulalip employs seven professional chefs, each to oversee a specific venue at Tulalip, with Executive Chef Perry Mascitti overseeing them all) preparing one of the courses and a team of about 45 kitchen staff helping to plate each course, and 30+ waitstaff to deliver plates.
As chefs we are by necessity creative thinkers. We are constantly in situations which require us to think outside of the box. For us there are no problems, there are only challenges for which we need to provide a solution. Every chef has victory stories which are the result of a night from hell. A very few of my challenges have included: “Two of the four ovens are down?! Run the menu with plan B.” “The power is out but the gas still works…we cook by candlelight tonight!” “13 banquet functions within 30 minutes… WTF!? OK, I’ll make it happen.” “Feed 30,000 people lunch? We’ll get the plan in place.”
Our job as chefs constantly has us overcoming obstacles in order to produce something incredible for our guests. To be honest, when other service providers (such as my cell phone company) tell me that they “can’t” help me, it pisses the hell out of me. It means that they are too stupid, or too lazy, to offer proper customer service. They don’t know customer service like we do.
Each of the Tulalip chefs had their own special problem to tackle this year. Chef JP (John Pontichelli) had the unfortunate task of pairing a salad course with a red wine! Good luck buddy! His solution was a wonderful pairing (see below).
Banquet Chef Gerry Schultz’s challenge was to produce fine dining quality plates throughout a seven course dinner for 400 expecting guests with only 15 minutes to plate each course. He did this by setting up five serving lines and having around 45 kitchen staff cooking and plating. He drew upon staff from his own crew, from the various resort restaurants, and from the stewarding department. Executive Chef Perry Mascitti also arranged for a number of volunteer culinary students from the Cordon Bleu culinary school to assist.
Chef Gerry was an organizational sage! He had to instruct 40 people how to plate 7 courses they had never seen before, and each course had to be precisely presented & completed in about 15 minutes! He had each chef photograph their dish a month earlier and provide a plating diagram so each of the five plating lines would know how to execute each dish. He had diagrams, photos, and great communication so that nothing was left to chance. All his preparation left minimal chance for that bastard “Murphy’s Law” to show up (I hate that guy!).
My challenge was to prepare 400 hundred portions of perfectly cooked king salmon using a new method in which the salmon is semi-poached from the bottom up leaving the top eighth of an inch raw. In the Pacific Northwest we like our salmon MR to M, and the idea behind this dish was to put the MR on top of the salmon rather than in the middle. The dish was called “naked salmon” and it appears like sushi on the top, but is cooked on the bottom three quarters. This method gives it a stunning presentation with the glistening red-orange raw flesh on top, and it retains the wonderful natural flavor of the salmon.
I mentally labored over the firing time as if it were my first soufflé. Fire it too late and the entire event goes on hold while everyone waits for my dish to be ready, making for an awkward stall in the flow of service. Fire it too early and the salmon dries out and turns to dog food, ruining the reputation of the entire event. (Damn it! We should have eaten at McDonald’s!).
To pull this off, I used multiple improvised poaching stations and had all my salmon staged in 2” perforated hotel pans. One Tilt Skillet held 4 pans, four 6” hotel pans set over a flat-top griddle was my second station. And finally, another 6” hotel set over a broiler created my last station. All were set at about 190°. This allowed me to cook 200 of the needed 400 portions, then quickly rotate and get the second batch of 200 fired, timing it so it was done as my course was being plated.
Of course, I had done a dry run with 8 portions… but not with 200 fired at a once! Cooking time would certainly take longer. In the end, I fired the first half of my salmon during the plating of the second course (I was the fourth course). I stored it in a hot box set at 135° for 20 minutes and pulled the second batch of salmon as we started the plate-up for my course. Whew!!! Even though I’m a heathen I thank God for help on this one! Perfectly cooked salmon is Awesome! Overcooked salmon is dog shit.
Another challenging course was the Wagu Filet Mignon Pair. Chef Perry wanted it served on a small metal plate so that it was still sizzling when it hit the table. These little plates were at 750°! As this course was served you could hear 400 sizzling steaks, and the aroma of the wagu coupled with the wine made your head spin with pleasure.
The evening involved hours of preparation followed by a 3 hour adrenaline rush during plating. At the end... a great sense of relief and satisfaction of not only completing the challenge, but having done so with excellence. Thank-you's and pats on the back all around, then I slammed an Upside-down Old Fashioned (made w/ Knob Creek Bourbon) and a double Absolute Cran to start the wind-down.
Taste of Tulalip Celebration Dinner Menu 2012
Holiday Lobster Wedding - Chef Gerry Schultz
Lobster Terrine, Chanterelle Mushrooms Peppadew Peppers, Vanilla Shallot Foam, and Micro Greens
Pumpkin Lobster Bake, Pear Chestnut Relish
Italy, Vignalta Pinot Bianco ‘Agno Casto’
Asian Soup Duet - Chef Brent Clarkson
Lime, Galangal, Daikon, Coconut, Tarragon, Thai Basil, Dungeness Crab, Miso, and Gyoza Ravioli Stuffed with Maitake, Porcini & Shitake Medley
France, Famille Perrin Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape ‘Vielles Vin’ Blanc
Micro Green Salad With Duo Of Duck - Chef JP John Pontichelli
Smoked Duck Sausage- Stuffed Honey Crisp Apple Topped with Quail Egg
Pancetta-Wrapped Duck Sausage
Arugula Micro Beet Greens with Lavender-Balsamic Mist
Oregon, Penner-Ash Pinot Noir ‘Pas de Nom’, Willamette Valley
Salmon Two Ways - Chef David Buchanan
Orange-Tarragon Cured Sockeye with Lemon Oil
“Naked” King Salmon With Bellavitano Gold Pesto
Washington State, Woodinville Wine Cellars Cabernet Franc
Intermezzo - Chef John Jadamec
Hot and Cold Item, Fire and Ice if You Will, On One Plate
Grilled Fresh Pineapple with Touch of Chili Powder, Cayenne Pepper & Sugar
Green Apple Mint Swirl Sorbet
Snake River Farms Wagu Filet Mignon Pair - Chef Perry Mascitti
Cave Bleu Huckleberry Demi, Gremolata Gele’e, Chive-Red Peppercorn Aroma Drop
California, ZD Wines, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
The S’more - Chef Nikol Nakamura
Flourless Chocolate Cake, Honey-Vanilla Marshmallow and Graham Cracker Sticks
Parting Gift - Chef Nikol Nakamura
Milk Chocolate Covered Holmquist Hazelnuts
Washington State, Eroica Riesling Ice Wine ‘Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Ernst Loosen’, Columbia Valley
Rock-n-Roll Challenge Cook-off
This is a fun mystery box style challenge which paired two teams of chefs against each other. When they opened the mystery box they found Live Maine Lobsters! They had 10 minutes to create a menu, then 30 minutes to compose a dish for the judges, followed by samples for the crowd.
Team Bun Jovi consisted of chefs Gerry Schultz (Tulalip's reigning Rock-n-Roll Challenge champion), Robin Leventhal from Top Chef season 6, and Jeff Euteneier from Seattle’s Le Cordon Bleu Culinary College. Team Appetite for Destruction included chefs Brent Clarkson from Tulalip Resort’s Cedars Café, Brian McCracken and Dana Tough, both from the restaurant group of Sput, Tavern Law, and The Coterie Room.
Team Bun Jovi took the prize, giving Chef Gerry his third victory. Although, I heard that the judges were hard-pressed to choose a winner and that the count was close. The winning dish was a Saffron cous cous with lemongrass, herb and butter Main lobster Medallions, Micro green and Apple Salad, with Hazelnut vinaigrette & Holmquist Hazelnuts.
Other articles and blogs about the 2012 Taste of Tulalip:
Posts from Previous Years
Farm to Table Importance
Monday, June 25, 2012
Chef Thomas Keller was recently interviewed by the New York Times and portrayed as being unconcerned with sustainable products and sourcing local ingredients. I wish I could hear the entire conversation rather than the sound bites which fit the reporter’s agenda. But the article did get me thinking about the topic of sourcing local ingredients and its relation to the sustainability debate.
“Farm to Table” is a big deal. More than ever before we are seeing menus with local ingredients listed, media supporting the concept (and deriding those who don’t follow its beliefs), the Food Network portraying chefs talking about local ingredients, and so on. It is a big deal, and it is important. But is it the end all? Is it the most important aspect of a chef’s thoughts? Should it be the most important element of all menus? Are chefs responsible for promoting and supporting local ingredients, and teaching their staff and cliental about the “proper” way to choose food?
Personally I think that “sustainable” as it relates to seafood is very important and should be at the very least be a consideration for every chef as they right their menus. But Farm to Table and utilization of local ingredients is a completely different discussion. Vegetables by nature are sustainable so I don’t see much credence in lumping them into the sustainable issue. Sure, organic produce can enter the debate as being more sustainable than non-organic. But if the supermarket or vendor carries organic produce cultivated 1000 miles away and the non-organic produce was raised much closer to home… how much value for the “organic philosophy” is left after paying diesel or airline fuel for its delivery?
Is serving local ingredients more important than quality of product and diversity of menu? This is the point which I believe Chef Keller was making in the above mentioned article. Quality product and diversity of menu is more important to most chefs. And rightly so! Who cares if it’s locally grown but it is second rate, or worse, just plain dog food? And while every chef would love to source all their products from down the street, diversity in menu offerings is more important than trying to create a menu strictly from local vendors.
Again it is important to say that supporting local farmers and vendors is important, and menu items should try to source locally whenever possible. But designing menus based solely upon what is available locally is a recipe of success for less than 10% of restaurants (10% is probably way too high), and is a recipe of failure for the other 90+ percent. What about ethnic restaurants? If they have to source only local ingredients they are done… close the doors, no more Thai food for you!
And how about the months when the northern states are blanketed in snow? Are they to serve only locally canned vegetables? And what about food stuffs such as coffee, tea, spices, chocolate…? Serving local ingredients is a goal, but clearly not the end all. I believe that chefs should source as much local product as possible while still providing a diversity of ingredients, flavors and preparations for their guests.
Once you have decided to source local ingredients, there are some challenges which you need to attend to before implementing a “Farm to Table” or “Grown Locally” program. Here are some of the considerations which a chef/restaurant needs to attend to before committing specifically local products to the menu:
- Pricing – local producers sometimes cannot compete on the cost of goods
- Menu price- because of the (occasional) higher food cost of local products, the menu price needs to be higher which can limit customer traffic (remember that most restaurants operate with a small profit margin of 3% -8%)
- Quality – many issues can affect the quality of a product… bottom line is that a good chef is going to choose quality product first, regardless of whether or not its local product (who cares if it’s local but the product is garbage?)
- Quantity - can the vendor produce enough quantity for the restaurant
- Availability – is the product consistently available
- Transportation – does the vendor deliver 5 or 6 days a week
- Reliability – if I order it will I get it when you say I will… a chef’s menu relies upon dependability. We hate to 86 something, our guests don’t care if the vendor failed to deliver the product… it’s still the chef’s fault that it’s not available if they see it on the menu.
- Insurance – if your spinach is responsible for an E. coli outbreak do you have the resources to deal with the fallout
One good solution to these concerns for sourcing local ingredients from an array of farmers and vendors is to us a major vendor such as Charlie’s Produce (West Coast). Many larger vendors now have programs set-up which support local farmers and make it possible to source as much variety as possible from local farmers while being a “one stop shop” for chefs. This allows a chef to get much of his/her seasonal ingredients close to home, support local farms, and assuage some of the above mentioned concerns.
What are your thoughts about the topic of Farm to Table? Is it the most important aspect of a chef’s thoughts? Should it be the most important element of all menus? Are chefs responsible for promoting and supporting local ingredients, and teaching their staff and cliental about the “proper” way to choose food? Leave your comment!
How Do You Stay Happy When Work is Stressful?
Sunday, January 22, 2012
I saw a survey a while ago for people who work in high stress jobs. It was titled, "How do you stay happy when work is stressful?" I don't know that "staying happy" is the correct word, but certainly being able to manage stress is a necessary attribute of a successful Chef. Food is very important to a Chef. It is the nature of our business. Our training, career, and pride revolve around the food we produce. We want things to be perfect. We learn to hope for the best and to plan for the worst. Great planning and organization makes all tasks, all events, even small disasters, more manageable. But life doesn’t always allow perfection. That bastard Murphy walks in the door and despite all our best efforts and planning everything goes to hell.
One of my worst days ever was as follows: We had an off-site catered event, a plated dinner outside for 500 people. Each course was prepared by a different restaurant and crew, we had the entree course. We arrived, organized, tested equipment, and planned based upon the equipment provided. We had 6 ovens and 54 pans of product to cook for our one course. When we got to the 30 minute mark (time to jam!), we found that 2 ovens were down and 2 more were filled with the next chef's product. We had to cook 54 sheet pans/hotel pans in 2 ovens and serve in 30 minutes! We poured our souls out finding ways to accomplish what could not be done. We improvised, used grills, braisers, ovens, stove tops, etc and got the job done, albeit hyperventilating the whole time. When I got home I posted in facebook, "Today was one of those days when you just want to crawl under a rock and f__king die."
During these times of high stress/duress I hold on to my sanity in several ways:
- First, I try to look at the bigger picture… today will end, tomorrow will come and I will still be alive and have my family, even if this work day ends in the worst way.
- Second, break things down into bite sized pieces. Don’t look at the sinking Titanic, instead, look at the one or two life rafts and keep them afloat... build from there. Do what’s doable (remembering that a Chef will shed blood, sweat and tears to succeed where others quit). Keep moving ahead. Breath.
- Third, I take comfort in knowing that I have done all I could to avert, and then to conquer, whatever disaster has struck. If I have planned correctly, staffed and prepped correctly, and both me and my staff have handled “the situation” to the fullest extent of our ability, then there is nothing more that can be done… ride it out and try to plan for or alter this type of event in the future.
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