Thursday, February 19, 2009


My regional chef boss called me two weeks ago and asked me if I was available to travel (all expenses paid) to The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY. I had to pick myself off the floor. Evidently I was asked of by name by his national counterpart back East. I had to give him an answer by the end of the day, I told him yes within the hour. Janet (my lovely wife agreed to hold down the fort and work double time so I could do this by the way) proclaims herself a “restaurant widow” so I would like to thank her publicly. I would like to also thank the nameless “national television network” for not choosing me for their contest so that I am available to do this.

I am the rookie of the seasoned group of twelve who do this every year. We are going to test recipes that have been submitted for a recipe book. I have never done anything like this, so I am quite stoked. I am told to “bring my A game, if you have one” by a friend who has done this for years. We are looked over and managed by Certified Master Chef Rudy. Master Chef is not a title you achieve with ease mind you; he is probably one of just 200 in the entire world, a mythic creature of professionalism, skill and subtle brutality. I am anxious to have him bust my chops and make me a better cook, either that or send me to the corner, curled up and in tears, shaking violently.
I am going to bring my camera and take mind numbing notes, documenting everything.
I will post some of it when I get back.

Until then, enjoy your food and play your music just a little bit louder

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peanuts in the News

I’ve got a cartoon on my office window that someone cut out of a newspaper and gave to me a while back. Charlie Brown is sitting on his Dr.’s examination table, scared and with a wiggly line for his mouth, the double lined eyebrows and the squiggle tuft of hair. He is supporting himself with his hands flat on the table, afraid, staring wide eyed into nowhere. His Dr. examines his chart and declares, “You’re Allergic To Peanuts.”

Part funny, part twisted, part scary, very accurate. But as you may know, now it’s worse. Peanuts are making the healthy, the young, the old and the feeble, dangerously ill, and have even killed nine as of today.

Bring in Stewart Parnell, the owner of Peanut Corp. of America, who is reported to repeatedly plead the fifth at every turn. His company basically processes peanuts and then sells them to other manufactures that in turn use them as an ingredient from crackers and ice cream to candy and coffee products. Simple right, no, under his leadership they screwed it up and now we have a serious problem. This guy is what we like to call a “shoe maker” in the kitchen, he has no right to be in the food business.

According to MSN and I quote directly-“The owner of the peanut company at the heart of the massive salmonella recall refused to answer the lawmaker's questions — or any others — Wednesday about the bacteria-tainted products he defiantly told employees to ship to some 50 manufacturers of cookies, crackers and ice cream.”

The congressman Greg Walden, Republican from Oregon, at one point challenged Stewart Parnell, held up a container of his company's products wrapped in crime-scene tape and dared Parnell to eat from the jar. This congressman should get should get a friggin’ medal like a four star general. Parnell, the weasel, of course pleaded the Fifth, because it is important for him to be treated fair. This guy is a joke. Who gave this guy his job in the first place?

He had one product, peanuts, with the responsibility to the public to make sure they were safe at all times, and it’s reported that he told employees to sweep them up off the floors because they “needed to turn them into money”.

I hope this sort of thing really pisses you off, because it should. Food safety is a life or death responsibility, not a “turn the crap on the floor into a profit” business. Our lives are at stake dear friends, so I am calling out the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee congressmen to go old school on Parnell and take a group of elementary school kids and turn him into a living canvas of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, to cut the crust off and brown bag him while they’re at it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

What's The Temperature?

I am a huge fan of professional waiters.

They are the waiters who understand what you might enjoy by just observing you get settled, who pulls something off the table because it doesn't measure up to their standards, and who makes sure your glass is full without asking. They remember your favorite drink when you don't come back in to eat for three months. They are the old school guys who used to come in after a late shift for a drink and to wind down, and want to see if you have any orders of Bone Marrow left. The ones you never heard complain when you asked how they were doing and the restaurant was packed. The ones who never sweat over your salad, or wiped their forehead with their sleeve. These are the ones you hope will work for you in your dining room.

I have always tried to feed them well when they have worked for me. We have a mutual respect and admiration for each other and enjoy working towards the common goal of taking good care of our customers. Because we want those customers back, we want them to think they can never live without us. We want them to become dependent on the professional treatment they receive. These waiters trust you and ask you what you want to recommend tonight as they tie their aprons and look at the special board.

I was working in the East Bay in Danville at a very nice place when a ticket came in from the new cocktail waitress. Filet Mignon. No problem. But that was it on the ticket, no temperature, Rare, Medium Rare, Well Done? Nothing...Give the new-be a break, she probably just forgot, no problem.

I got her attention as she walked up to the line, we were not busy, but it's important to figure out this stuff as soon as possible so I held her ticket up and asked her,

"What temperature?",

she stared back at me like my hair was on fire, so I checked, it wasn't. The cooks on either side sort of stopped, they wanted to know the temperature of the steak so they knew how to proceed, quickly.
I asked again, "What the temperature?" and I got nothing back.

I asked a third time as I physically pointed at her ticket in my hand for the ONE table she had.

"What's The Temperature?"

I immediately knew she wasn't one of those professional waiters I admired and loved to have work for me, I knew she wasn't going to last very long, I knew it was just a matter of time when she replied,


and I just shook my head.