Thursday, April 23, 2009

Week Numero Uno

Well, week one is over at the new digs. I can elaborate since the previous chef is gone now. I am at a little place called Matt the Miller’s Tavern, in Dublin, Ohio. It is a new concept for one of the larger restaurateurs in the area, and is going towards the route of upscale tavern cuisine. He has some investors lined up to expand and grow the concept, but the menu and kitchen systems need to be streamlined first before we even think about expanding. We are in the process of looking at the current menu and taking it to a better place, developing recipes, and organizing the way the kitchen operates. Not that it was all bad, but there were certain things that struck me, and made me think of how we’re not running the kitchen as smart as we should be. Unvarying menus need to be engineered, and not just a list of things that sound good. For instance, when I did inventory of the product in house, I counted over 15 different cheeses that had to be stocked at all times. I am a cheese fanatic, but to run that many cheeses, in such a small kitchen was ludicrous. We need a little cross-utilization, people.

But the restaurant itself is a welcome change, although I’m not quite used to the hours yet. I only see my kids when they are on their way to school, or when they are going to bed, which is really killing me, but stepping into that kitchen last Thursday, I realized how instantly comfortable I was inside. It’s like seeing that old friend that you haven’t seen in years, but when you meet again, you pick up right where you left off…. Like when you’d been roller skating all night, (here’s where I’ve lost some of my younger readers), and you would go to the locker and put your sneakers back on…… They were all nice and cool, and felt so right. That’s how I felt being back in a restaurant kitchen.

I had been out of that environment for so long, I forgot how much I love it. I have always been a restaurant chef, and I think I always will be. Being behind the line is where I fell in love with this industry in the frst place. There is just something about getting totally wrecked on Friday and Saturday nights. The adrenaline pumping through your every pore……. the immediate satisfaction you receive from a night handled brilliantly……experiencing such unbroken focus, that even Bruce Lee would be reserved.

One of my line cooks called out on my first night, so I was forced to do a trial by fire shift on the broiler. We got crushed. I had dupes (or tickets, to some of the younger crowd) coming out onto the floor. I had a copy of the menu taped to the wall next to me for quick reference. I had food and oil all over my chef coat……I had sweat sticking my under shirt to my back……. I had food all over my shoes…… I was dirty, sweaty, smelled of olive oil, garlic and sea salt……… It was Fantastic.

Keep watching for updates to the menu and progress with the restaurant.

Notes and Observations
- Mexico City Spanish dialect is much different than that of the Central American Spanish dialect. And no matter how loud you shout an “all day” call, they will still not understand you.
- NO!….NO! Necesito tres mas pinche salmones, wey! Para vender!
- There are 1,254,945,645 things that are a better use of my time than a Sysco food show. I counted.
- Guy Fieri is not as big of a douchebag as I previously thought.
- My kids make an awesome, from scratch waffle batter. Chefs in the making, I’m telling you.
- The Liquid-Center Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding was outstanding, and will be on the new menu.
- Rolling out a sample of said dessert to my service staff is like watching the monsters from “I am Legend” annihilate a human body.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I’ve crossed back over to the dark side

Sorry for not posting for a while. I fell off the face of the earth for a while, but I managed to climb back up. Man, what a long strange trip it’s been over the last 3 months. Lots of things have happened since my last post. My wife received a job in December, working as a web designer for The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. This is her calling, and what were paying absurd amounts of college tuition payments for, so we decided this was a good move. We packed up the kids and the copious amounts of crap we have accumulated over the years and went for it.
I departed my job in Maryland at the Convention Center in January, and worked my ass off trying to secure employment out here in Columbus. Let me tell you, it’s rough out there. I started in January, getting names and addresses of every possible food service operation in the area……country clubs, convention centers, hotels, catering, you name it, I was trying to get in. I was keeping pretty positive in early January. Out of the first 30 letters and resumes I sent out, I received about 10-12 either phone calls or e-mails explaining that the certain location didn’t have anything…..but call this guy……or I heard the chef at so-and-so just walked out last weekend. That type of thing.
After tons and tons of follow-ups, emails, letters and cold calls, I still wasn’t getting anywhere. In fact there was a solid two month period that I didn’t so much as get an email, much less a call for an interview. I was starting to think I was black listed. Nobody was talking to me.
Meanwhile, back at the homestead, I was driving everybody crazy. If you know me on a personal level, you know how anxious I can get. I always have to be doing something. I start all sorts of wacky “MacGyver” projects around the house, using bits and pieces of whatever is available. And if by chance that I’m not cooking in a professional kitchen, you can’t keep me out of the one at home. I start experimenting, testing, researching, and attempting various formulas and recipes that should not be duplicated in the home kitchen, much to the chagrin of my family. For a little family get together at our house one night, we all decided to have breakfast for dinner. Simple right? Wrong. Everybody loves my scrambled eggs with Boursin cheese and smoked salmon, so rather than paying the $ 8.00 for a 4 oz piece of smoked salmon at the grocery store (come on, that’s 32.00 per pound…….outrageous!), I decide to buy the $ 4.00 per pound fresh side of salmon, then, cure and smoke it myself. We had about 12-15 family members coming over that night, but had food for 40. In my defense though, the salmon was delicious.
Anyway, I finally received a job offer from a new restaurant here in Dublin, Ohio. The name and location are being withheld at this point, because the current chef doesn’t know he’s leaving quite yet. I actually got the job from, believe it or not, You’ve done it again craigslist! Not only will you lead people to everything from a used guitar to a random sexual encounter, but you also have a kick-ass classified section. My sister in law e-mailed me a link to a job that was posted on there, and I was astounded at the amount of high quality management jobs that were posted. So, I replied to the post, along with numerous others, sent my resume in, and they actually called me. After three interviews and a solid tasting (for all of you that are not privy to the demanding nuances of the food service world, this is where you go into a kitchen and cook for the prospective employers….maybe more on this later), I got the job.
I’m back in the restaurant world, baby. Back to the hours….the intensity of service…the heat and sweat….the undistinguishable foot ailments…..the weekends……the stress. In the past 8 years or so, I’ve enjoyed some jobs with the most cushy schedule and hours that a chef could ever hope for. I’ve had a good run, but I’m also excited to be back in a restaurant kitchen. This environment is what made me fall in love with this profession in the first place. I have, and always will be a restaurant chef. There’s a certain camaraderie amongst the kitchen staff in a restaurant that can not be found anywhere else. It’s an atmosphere that I’ve been missing for too long. It will be a challenge, it will be an adjustment, it will be a struggle. I’m totally ready.

Observations and Randoms:
- If you do a stovetop smoke, inside your house, because your grill is still in Maryland, it takes approximately three days to get the smell totally out.
- Interviewing really sucks
- Moving really, really sucks
- Moving 500 miles sucks probably the worst of all- I’m not leaving my house ever again.
- Craigslist kicks ass. Monster and Career Builder does not.
- I hate selling myself. I sound like such a dick.
- Tampa in January is like spring everyday. If you ever go there, check out the Salvador Dali museum. Ask for Chuck.
- This is what got me the job. Check it out.