Saturday, October 30, 2010

House of Frank part three

When I left you on House of Frank part two I was describing the cast of characters that made up this soap opera of a restaurant so let me continue.

When I left you on part two I was describing the cast of characters who made up this soap opera of a restaurant so let's continue.

There was this old Hispanic dude named Freddy who had worked there for years.  He had thick rimmed glasses, balding, graying hair on the top of his head and had the physical appearance that he had a hard life. His walk was a bit "off" which, if I remember correctly was from a car accident years earlier but I can't remember for sure. He kind of moved at his own, comfortable pace.  He also drove like that and if you got stuck behind him on the five mile, single lane road that led to the highway you had better be prepared to drive at a leisurely pace.  The bastard wouldn't even let you pass if you tried to.

What I remember most about him was that he was missing half of one of his fingers and we used to tease him. Instead of motioning to do a high five, saying "Gimmie five!" We used to hold one finger down, only holding four up and say "Dame quattro!" Which means "Gimmie four" in Spanish.  He didn't like that at all but it was friggin' hilarious.  Yes, kitchen staff are harsh people.  

Hispanic men are, generally speaking, more macho than the American men.  For example, homosexuality is not as accepted in the Hispanic culture.  Having said that, one thing I never understood about Hispanics in the kitchen is why they are always grabbing ass. I mean that literally. I have worked in some kitchens were it was to the point that anytime someone waked behind you, you would turn and face them to protect your ass from being grabbed. These were not homosexual Hispanics I am referring to but it kind of contradicts the culture. 

William, the pastry chef at this restaurant would grab or gently tap your genitals as he walked by.  He did teach me a neat trick though.  If you go up behind a guy with a medium sized ladle, put that thing between his legs to where the cup of the ladle covers the genital area and pull backwards with force, that person has to move wherever you take them.

Another thing I remember about Freddy is what he did to this kid named Brian.  Brian was one of four gringos working in that kitchen including me. At the time he was just 18, but a very immature 18.
He was more like the kid who goes and runs to mommy if the other kids teased him so we used to give him shit all the time. He also didn't use his head.  I remember one time he came late to work because he ran out of gas in his car.  The chef didn't even give him a hard time because he knew Brian was a moron. One of the guys in the kitchen said, "hey Brian, you know the letter 'E' on your gas gauge?  Well 'E' doesn't mean enough, it means empty you dumb fuck!" The entire kitchen erupted in laughter.

To get to my point, Brian saw all the Hispanic dudes grabbin ass so he decided to start doing the same thing.  What he didn't learn is you can't just walk up to anyone and pull that shit.  This is where he just didn't have any common sense. If you want to joke with people, you have to know who jokes around  and who doesn't. He started doing that shit to Freddy and he made it clear to Brian that he didn't like it. Brian, being hard headed and stupid didn't listen after Freddy had told him not to touch his ass a number of times.

One day Brian grabbed Freddy's ass as he walked by and tried to blame someone else but Freddy knew and he told Brian to watch out as he had enough. That night after work we were all down in the locker room changing. Freddy waited until Brian got his pants down around his ankles then came up behind him and wrapped one of his legs around Brian's then put him in a half Nelson. He then started violently dry-humping Brian asking him, "you want to grab culo (ass in Spanish) pendejo? (like asshole in Spanish), now I am raping your culo! You like it maricon? (gay in Spanish), You like it maricon? I am gonna make you my bitch!"
We were all in tears laughing and I was at the point to where my stomach was hurting from laughter. Poor, weak maricon Brian was struggling to get away but he couldn't as Freddy overpowered him and just kept humping away for at least a good minute. Imagine watching two dogs mate and the female is trying to get away but can't because the male is stronger than her and stuck in was like that.

What was also funny (and a bit scary) was the look on Freddy's face.  I think he was actually enjoying it. For any of you who have seen a porno movie (not that I ever have) you have probably noticed some of the faces the male actors make while they are engaged in the act; that was Freddy as he was on that barely legal, 18 year-old gringo. It also reminded me of the faces some of these guitar players make while soloing. It is like a cross between constipation, orgasm and a paper cut between the webbing of your fingers.   

I remember telling Freddy "hey man you still got some moves for an old fella!" He promptly told me to "go F_ _ K myself."
I can honestly say that is one of the funniest memories I have from working in kitchens but there are plenty more so stay tuned.

White Pizza recipe

For all of you who are like me and like a traditional pizza such as pepperoni, try this recipe.  It is nothing like a traditional pizza but kicks major butt!  It is called white pizza because there is no tomato sauce.  Basil pesto acts as the sauce

For those of you in the States I know the recipe is in metric but for smaller quantities it is more difficult to convert.
You can easily find a metric converter on the internet and I would suggest to anyone who does a fair amount of cooking to buy a digital scale that can read in either metric or the American system of measurement.  Once you get used to metric you will never want to go back to the American way of measurement.

White pizza

Yield 4 ea individual pizzas

For the pizza
Ingredients Amount
Pizza dough 4 ea, 150gr each
Sun dried tomatoes, chopped 160gr
Fresh tomatoes, deseeded, chopped 160gr
Goat’s cheese 160gr
Ricotta cheese 160gr
Buffalo mozzarella cheese, chopped 160gr
Basil pesto To coat bottom of crust
Flour For rolling pizza
Cornmeal For dusting
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Basil pesto
Ingredients Amount
Basil leaves, not black 125gr
Pine nuts, toasted 18gr
Grated parmesan 32gr
Fresh garlic, small chopped 25gr
Olive oil 63ml
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste

-Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend for about 10 seconds until thoroughly blended.

Pizza dough
Ingredients Amount
Flour 500 gr
Instant yeast 7.5 gr
Salt 10 gr
Olive oil 175 ml
Eggs 1 ea.
Water- warm 275 ml

Place all ingredients in a mixer using the dough hook attachment.
Mix on medium speed for about 10 minutes.
Remove and place in an oiled bowl for about 15 minutes.
Take out and then portion into 150gr sizes. You will have some leftover.
After portioning let it rise until double the volume.
The dough can be refrigerated until ready for use.
When ready to make pizza, roll as instructed below.

To make the pizza:
-Preheat oven to 260C/500F
-If you have a pizza stone, place it on the bottom rack of the oven. Allow it to get hot in the oven for at least 30 minutes prior to baking the pizzas.
-Dust a clean, flat surface with flour for rolling the dough
-Roll out the pizza dough until it is approximately 1cm thick.
NOTE: when rolling the dough, do not pull it and always roll outwards from the center
-Sprinkle some cornmeal on a pizza peel and place the rolled out dough on top.
-With a spoon, rub the pesto on the dough evenly leaving approximately a one inch border.
-Evenly sprinkle the tomatoes and 3 cheeses on top
-Bake until crust is golden brown
-Once baked cut into 6 slices and place on serving platter
-If you like, you can garnish the pizza with freshly grated parmesan
-Drizzle just a bit of extra virgin olive oil on the pizza

I always recommend people know their ovens well.  Know where the hot spots are.  With pizza dough, I suggest you make 1 1/2 times the recipe so you have a little to practice with . Working with different doughs is not the same as simply roasting a piece of chicken.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recipe-BBQ rub

Here is a recipe I used for my barbecued ribs.  You can use this for meat, fish, chicken, pork, vegetables, anything.

I lived overseas for a while so if you are wondering why some of my recipes are in metric, that is why.  I really don't understand why America doesn't convert to metric because it makes so much more sense.
If it helps as a reference point, 1 ounce is about 30 grams.



Spice rub



60 gr. Salt
60 gr. Ground black pepper
60 gr. Paprika, sweet
10 gr. Garlic powder
15 gr. Cayenne pepper
5 gr. Chili powder
Lg. pinch Dried thyme

Basic Preparation:

Mix all ingredients together.
Set aside until ready for use.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

House of Frank part two

Being a chef, the ability to speak French comes in handy so I remember thinking that working in this place I would finally get to learn French.  Of course that idea went out the window after I started because I saw most of the cooks were Hispanic and spoke lousy English so instead I learned Spanish.  I did manage to learn some bad French words and phrases.

I arrived to work on my first day and learned that every single staff member had to go and greet the owner (the old man as we all called him) prior to commencing our shift. It was a family run business and he was the absolute ruler.  His wife helped with the bookkeeping, there was another woman who worked in the accounting office we called "the wicked witch" because she was so frigid to everyone.  He also had three sons. One son ran the dining room. He was clean shaven, well groomed and kept to himself so I never knew much about him.  Come to think of it I don't think that dude ever said "hello" to anyone.  He was more like a piece of furniture.

One son was the chef, and talk about someone who hated his job?  Holy crap!  This dude used to mope around the kitchen and was the antithesis to what a leader should be. It's not that he was a bad guy or anything, he was just kind of "there." Being a chef, whenever I meet someone, I like to classify them as a fruit or vegetable based on their personality. I would call this guy a potato. A potato can be really good depending what you do to it but on its own is just a "blah" boring vegetable...that was him.  What's funny is this chef was highly regarded in the public's eye due to the enormous success of the restaurant but he was a shoemaker. A shoemaker is kitchen slang for someone who is a hack. He couldn't cook his way out of a paper bag.  He could only cook the dishes we did at the restaurant. I don't think anyone really respected the guy.  I know if the old man wasn't there to throw down the gauntlet when people screwed up there would have been a mutiny.

There was one cook named Bobby who I was closer with and we used to work next to each other. Most of the cooks in that kitchen were shoemakers but he and I could really cook well. We used to poke fun at some of those losers everyday. That was our fun. One thing we would say to each other is, "if you are only as good as your chef, we are both screwed." 

We all used to speculate that the owner made his sons work in that restaurant because it was obvious none of them liked their jobs. We used to joke that the three sons were waiting for the old man to die so they could get out of that restaurant.  Unfortunately the owner passed away recently.  R.I.P.  He was a good man.  I will get into him more later.

The other son, an alleged ex heroin junkie, we used to call either  "dirt ball" or "ham bone." This guy was scrawny, had greasy, unkempt, salt and pepper hair with a mustache big enough to make a caterpillar look like a toothpick. He had this smell that reminded me of overcooked stew, hence the nickname "ham bone." He had that stereotypical rough smoker's voice and laugh that kind of reminded me of a male version of Phyllis Diller.  His uniform was always stained and wrinkled and I don't mean the kind of "stained and wrinkled" like you just spilled tomato sauce on yourself.  I mean the kind of "stained and wrinkled" in the homeless sense. I always wondered if he slept in the shed in the back of the restaurant.  Garden tools do make nice sleeping company.

One of the guys who ran the kitchen was a Korean man we called Mr. Oh who was in his late 40's at the time and had been with the old man for years.  He was the one who made sure all the food was prepared correctly.  I have to say one thing, while that kitchen was a wreck in many ways, the food was consistent as hell and that is about the most important thing for any restaurant. For those of you who don't know your fast food history, consistency is the one thing that propelled McDonald's ahead of the competition when the whole 'fast food' thing started.

Some people have trouble learning a new language and Mr. Oh was no exception. There were certain vowels and sounds he could not pronounce and we certainly him of this.  In a kitchen when you are carrying a pot of something hot you always say "behind you, hot," to let people know you are coming.   This was one phrase he couldn't pronounce properly. When he would say it, it sounded more like "hiya hop." The guy couldn't pronounce the letter "T." Whenever anyone was carrying anything hot we would all say "hiya hop," and he would get pissed off.

Since he couldn't pronounce the letter "T" he had trouble pronouncing "shut up" as well.  This was another source of humor for us.  He would pronounce it more like "shaw upp."  This guy actually created a new language within the English language. Hilarious. Of course the downside to this was we all had to adapt our English so he would understand us and I think it took me about a year after leaving that place to get my proper grammar back.
The other way to really get this guy fired up was to tell him his daughter was hot.  She really was.  One day I asked him if I could marry his daughter and he didn't speak to me for a week. He would start spouting off Korean and I would be like "yeah , yeah, kimchee god damnit!" That was always my response when I didn't understand something he said..."kimchee."

To be continued

Monday, October 18, 2010

The house of Frank- part one

The title for this post is the English translation of the French restaurant (except for where it says part one) I worked at in the mid 90's.  This restaurant was voted the number one restaurant in the Washington DC area for many years by the voters of an upscale Washington DC magazine.

I tried for months to get a job at this place.  I first applied and heard nothing back.  After a few weeks I called back to ask the chef if there were any openings and he said "no." After that I called every couple of weeks for about a month or two until the chef finally told me to come in for an interview.

I was very excited the day of the interview.  This place had huge recognition in the Washington D.C. area and it would be a big coup for my resume. I hated the place I was working at at the time so I was also anxious to get the hell out of there.

I had never been to the restaurant before but I had seen pictures of it so I drove down the windy, hilly roads lined with trees and lush foliage in search of my new place of employment.  The road straightened out and I saw the restaurant on the left.  I pulled in the gravel driveway and marveled at its presence much like a child sports fan is in awe the first time he walks into a stadium.

To say the restaurant and its grounds were scenic would be like saying Sophia Loren is attractive. The restaurant boasted traditional Alsatian architecture featuring white walls in timber framing and cob and roofing in flat tile. The window frames located on each side of the front were painted in dark red with wooden shutters. A French flag hung to one side of the entrance and an American flag hung from the other.  The green shrubbery that lined the front of the restaurant contrasted nicely with the white walls while two large, wooden (almost Medieval) doors with a rounded top served as the entrance.

I opened the doors, which wasn't easy as they were heavy, and entered a dining room decorated in the style of a French country inn. More white walls, timber beams, chandeliers and one wall was painted a deep red with a hanging mirror. There were antiques the owner brought from France that he decorated the room with which added to the authenticity.  The tables were lined with white table cloths, fine silverware, stemware and candles. The room reeked of comfort, hospitality and gastronomy. I felt at home.  One thing I don't like about fine dining restaurants is the air of pretentiousness many of them have and this was one of the exceptions. Another thing that is sad is how much money some of these restaurateurs spend on their place but there is no atmosphere or character.  Again, that was not the case here.

I was waiting by the hostess stand and was approached by a short, fairly slim man who I assumed was the owner ando looked to be in his eighties. He was slightly hunched over with glasses, white hair and goat tee.  He was wearing the traditional hounds tooth chef pants with an unbuttoned chef jacket. He said hello and I shook his hand firmly while introducing myself.
We sat at a table and he reviewed my application. It wasn't the typical interview I was used to where you are drilled with hypothetical scenarios, quizzed on basic cooking techniques, my strengths and weaknesses and the lot.  
"This is very hard work you know?" He explained firmly.
"Yes sir, just give me a chance, I am sure I can handle it."
I got the feeling he was trying to scare me a bit or maybe he was just trying to size me up to see what I was made of. It wasn't a very long interview and he then asked me when I could start. I told him I would have to give two weeks notice at my current job but then I could start just after that.

So I got the job and I was totally stoked that my persistent pestering of the chef finally got me the job. I was also a bit apprehensive because a friend of mine knew someone who worked there and said that it was a very hard place to work and the owner was a tyrant. I wasn't deterred because the best places to work are the ones that are hard and that is hat I looked for in potential places of employment. For the two weeks leading up to my first day I was mentally preparing myself and getting psyched as I wanted to make sure I delivered once I got there.

To be continued

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More screwed up kitchen designs

So I was telling you some stories about how screwed up kitchens are in many hotels because many kitchen designers that hotels employ have never worked in a kitchen.  Just one of those things in life that doesn't make sense.  Kind of like why some of my hair fell out-doesn't make sense:)

I will take you back to the hotel I worked at in India for some more funny moments.

I remember the first time my boss gave me a tour through the kitchens as the hotel was still not fully completed.  We walked through the room service kitchen and this thing was, I kid you not, the same size as  your average kitchen you would find in a house and this kitchen was to service 700 rooms.  OK, there were more burners and other equipment to cook on but when I asked my boss where the rest of the kitchen was he said "this is it."  I wasn't fully surprised because I had been in the business long enough to know that most kitchens are just screwed from the start.

This is a classic example of what happens when you have some designer who has never worked in a kitchen design one-there were no tandoors in the plan.  They had woks instead.  Hello!  This is India, there is a tendency to use tandoors for their cuisine.  That is like opening a steakhouse and not putting a grill in the  kitchen.

What we ended up having to do was create a room service menu with a number of dishes from each of the four restaurants in the hotel because that tiny room service kitchen couldn't handle everything.  Sometimes guests would order things from each kitchen so the poor room service server would have to run around to each restaurant getting a dish here, a dish there to put the order together. By the time the server even got to run the food to the room, the food could realistically be sitting for ten minutes. What a pain in the ass!  I have heard that these kitchen designers often copy and paste designs from kitchen to kitchen and I wouldn't be surprised.

One of the funniest things was in one of the other kitchens.  All of the kitchens had floor grates which makes scrubbing the floors easier.  Simply douse the floor with soapy water and use a squeegee to push the water into the floor grate and all you need is a dry mop to follow and you are done.  Well, that is all fine and good except for one problem; the floor slanted up towards the grate!  When I first saw this I was in disbelief. It was stupid to the point of funny.  The dishwashers had to work even harder to clean the floor because as they would push the water up to the grate some would fall back.  That is like teasing; you put something there to make someone's life easier but add a twist to make it work against them.  Someone in the corporate office had a great sense of humor.

I had one dude tell me that in a hotel he worked the back corridors had floors in some sections with too steep of an incline so whenever you push a room service trolley with a full place setting, glasses and other utensils would fall off.

Til next time


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kitchen designers part two

If you didn't read the previous posting I will give you  a bit of background.  The topic was hotel kitchen designers and how many of them don't even have kitchen experience which makes for some interesting (or stupid) kitchen designs.  In my previous post I was talking about the hotel I opened in Bombay, India so let's continue shall we?

What was also funny about this kitchen was the design of the restaurant itself.  We had four restaurants in the hotel and one of them I was in charge of was downstairs with an open top.  The design was like a hole was cut into the ceiling and you look up and you could see two of the other restaurants up above you.  There was a glass railing along the edge above so the people sitting along it could look down into this restaurant.  The idea was nice in principle, but on those rare occasions someone dining above dropped their plate, glass or whatever down into the lower restaurant, (once on a guest) it ceased to seem to be a good idea.

The design of the upper restaurants was open with no walls which didn't exactly help in creating character for each restaurant.  You could sit in one restaurant and look over at the other ones.  These restaurants were situated near the front desk and corridors leading to guest elevators and the shopping mall as well.

The lower restaurant's theme was based off of an American grill so you can probably guess there were a lot of grilled items on the menu. (DUH) That is all fine and good except for one small problem; whenever the restaurant got busy and the grill was loaded up, the exhaust couldn't cope with all the smoke coming off the grill. This isn't the first time I have worked in a restaurant that had an exhaust system that couldn't cope with the kitchen output come to think of it.  What is it with poor exhausts anyways? What would end up happening when the restaurant got busy is all the smoke would rise (as it normally does) and blanket the other two restaurants in the immediate vicinity and the entire lobby and reception desk.  

If you have ever seen a fire and how the smoke blankets the top half of a room than you can visualize what the upper restaurants and lobby looked like. It was hilarious in a pathetic way. The fire alarms would go off at times and we would get complaint after complaint, consequently buying some meals for the really pissed off guests.  I don't know what was worse, the fact that the lobby resembled Los Angeles more than a hotel lobby or that all those vegetarians were engulfed in smoke that smelled of grilled meat.   

I am the type that can find humor in anything so to imagine all those vegetarians going home with their clothes reeking of grilled meat much like your clothes reek of cigarettes after going to a bar just cracks me up. Sorry all my vegetarian friends out there:) Having said that it makes me wonder when those people went home, smelling of grilled meat, if their significant vegetarian other half looked at them as if they cheated on them like your wife smelling the perfume of another woman on your shirt.

India's population is about 75% vegetarian with some adamantly opposed to meat as if it was a sin as opposed to a dietary choice.  I can remember a number of times while servicing a banquet how vegetarians would complain that the non-vegetarian food was too close to the vegetarian food. I mean this is food we are talking about, not the cross pollination of flowers.  Buffalo wings can't cross pollinate last time I checked. If so, tell me where to get some buffalo wing seeds and I will plant some buffalo wing plants. While I am at it I will plant some quesadilla seeds.  I can have a garden full of bar food. Nacho plants, potsticker plants, onion ring plants, hell, if I am lucky I can grow some Long Island ice tea plants as well. OK sorry, I pulled a "Star Trek" on you guys there and went into deep space, I am back on earth now.

I remember the first time we were busy and the grill smoked up the place, the manager on duty came running down the stairs in a panic thinking the place was on fire.  
"Curt, what the hell are you doing?" He asked frantically.
"Cooking, what do you think chefs do man?" I replied sarcastically.
"Shit man the entire lobby is engulfed in smoke, you have to stop the grill from smoking?"
"What the hell do you want me to do? Turn off the grill and just serve baked potatoes?!"
He became more excited and was starting to lose his head, then giving me shit. I didn't like the bastard anyways so him coming down and giving me shit for something I had no control over pissed me off even more.
"Look man, there is nothing I can do, serious."
He then ran upstairs to do god knows what and then a good idea popped in my head.  
We always kept a rolled up towel dipped in oil for cleaning the grill so I told my cook to dip it in more oil and cover that damn grill. He rubbed it back and forth over the grill repeatedly and a huge cloud of smoke rose up from the grill that resembled a small mushroom cloud. The other cooks were watching, laughing as we had our fun for the evening.  
I never liked people who can't keep their cool and I am the type to twist the screws tighter if I see you unraveling at the seams.

To be continued

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kitchen designers

Sorry for my absence but I have been experiencing a bit of writer's block.  I am on about half-block right now so I think I can come up with something for you.  I am working on a number of blogs that require some research but my blog needs some attention so here you go.

As I have done in past blogs I want to continue to give you an inside look at the crazy (but lovable) world of hotels and restaurants. Today I want to tell you about a challenge every chef will deal with most of the time during his or her tenure in professional kitchens; poorly designed kitchens.

Often, kitchen designers have never worked in a kitchen.  Yes, I know, it makes no fucking sense but it is true.  The way I would summarize my experience in a professional kitchen regarding this topic is like this.  "Expending vast amounts of energy to make something inefficient, efficient."  You can ask any chef and we will all tell you the same thing, "just give us a smart kitchen that works."

When I opened the Grand Hyatt in Bombay one of the restaurants I was in charge of had a beautiful open kitchen with a Molteni range.  For those of you not in the business, Molteni is like the Aston Martin of ranges.  It is elegant in its simplicity.  Anyways, one of the other features of this kitchen was refrigerated drawers.  I think there was about 30 of them and I had to get copies of all the kitchen keys made. There was no proper locksmith in Bombay, nor was there any key machine in the city so it's not like I could have just gone to the local Home Depot (there wasn't one) and had keys made.

I spoke to the purchasing manager and asked him to get me someone who can make keys for me.
A day later some homeless looking dude came up to me who I thought was going to ask me for money but he asked, "you need keys?"  I said, "yes, are you the key master?"  I was thinking of that line from the movie Ghostbusters.

I showed him the keys I needed copies of and he then proceeded to sit down with a bunch of metal pieces he then cut into keys.  Since he didn't have a mechanical key cutter, he used an assortment of tools that looked like a bunch of chisels and was just chopping away at those little metal pieces until he had keys...or what resembled keys.  Actually, it looked more like a bunch of metal he chewed on.

What I didn't realize at the time was that every damn drawer needed a different key. I don't know what the idiot kitchen designer was smoking at the time while designing this but it must have been some good shit.  Hell, I don't do drugs but I wanted to try whatever he was on. To make matters worse, once I finally got the keys, I had to fool with each one to get each drawer open. Because they keys were not cut with a machine using them felt more like fitting a square peg in a round hole. My Indian assistant had some trick to get all the drawers open quickly but anytime I had to go and open up the kitchen it took me like 20 minutes to open all those fucking drawers.  Brilliant design assholes!

What was also funny about this kitchen was the design of the restaurant itself.  We had four restaurants in the hotel and one of them I was in charge of was downstairs with an open top.  The design was like a hole was cut into the ceiling and you look up and you could see two of the other restaurants up above you.  There was a glass railing along the edge above so the people sitting along it could look down into this restaurant.  The idea was nice in principle, but on those rare occasions someone dining above dropped their plate, glass or whatever down into the lower restaurant, once on a guest, it ceased to seem to be a good idea.

The design of the upper restaurants was open, no walls which didn't exactly help in creating character for each restaurant.  You could sit in one restaurant and look over at the other ones.  These restaurants were situated near the front desk and corridors leading to guest elevators and the shopping mall as well.
The lower restaurant was a grill so you can probably guess there were a lot of grilled items on the menu. That is all fine and good except for one small problem; whenever the restaurant got busy, the exhaust couldn't cope with all the smoke coming off the grill because it wasn't designed to handle that much smoke. (another brilliant design idiotic kitchen designers) What would consequently happen is the smoke would rise (as it normally does) and blanket all of the upper restaurants and lobby.

To be continued

Friday, October 8, 2010

Home made stock

I realized I haven't given you guys a kitchen tip in a while so here you go.

Have you ever tried to make any kind of stock at home?  Chicken, beef or other kind?

Here are a few quick tips.

1.  Make sure you rinse the bones well.  If they are bloody, your stock will be ugly.

2.  Make sure you use very cold water

3.  Fill the water up to the level of the bones.  If you fill it higher you will have a weaker stock.

4.  Put the stock on medium heat, not high.  You want the stock to come up to temperature slowly which will help make it more clear.  

5.  Skim, skim, skim.  Always skim your stock.

6.  I was taught that you won't extract any more flavor from bones after eight hours of cooking so keep that in mind.  Fish stock doesn't take as long though.

Now go make some chicken soup or something

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Don't complain

I am sure you have heard stories of what happens when you complain about your food.  I know many people who are afraid to send something back to the kitchen for fear of what the chef will do to it.
If you have ever seen any of these exposes showing what happens in some kitchens it is a wonder why anyone would want to eat out again.  I saw one that showed a waitress putting rat feces in someone's coffee.  One lady blew her nose in a handkerchief and then put her hands in the customer's salad without washing her hands.  There were other unspeakable acts of pure disgust.

Here is a story about something I witnessed while working in a restaurant that is both sad and funny at the same time.

It was the middle of a Saturday night,the dining room was pumping with about 150 people to the soundtrack of conversation, silverware clanking on plates and glass being chimed.  Someone ordered a medium rare steak.  I was on the saute station and Juan was working on the grill, the station that prepared the steaks.  The order was cooked and plated.  The manager returned to the kitchen stating that the guest had complained his steak was not cooked properly.  We looked at the ticket to make sure we read it correctly and it said medium rare.  We then looked at the cut portion of the meat revealing the inside and it in fact, was cooked medium rare.  We asked him how the guest wanted it cooked and the manager replied, "medium rare."  We both looked puzzled and replied, "it is fucking medium rare!"  The manager said the guest wanted it cooked more.
Let me tell you there is nothing more frustrating and infuriating for a chef than when a guest complains about something and they are wrong or if they just don't know what they want, especially if the guest is an asshole about it.  Shit man, if it was not cooked properly I could understand but don't tell me the damn steak is not medium rare when in fact, it is medium rare.

Juan was cursing under his breath, recooking that steak for about a minute on each side.  We knew the guest was a moron because he obviously didn't know what he wanted and those guests can actually cause the most headaches.  If the guest doesn't know what they want then how the hell am I supposed to figure this out?  The reason I wear the big hat is because I am a chef, not a mind reader. Since we didn't know what he wanted we didn't want to cook the steak too much only to have the dude send it back saying it was overcooked.

We plated the steak and sent it out.
A few minutes later the manager returns with the same steak.  We both shook our heads and asked what the problem was now.  The manager said "the guest said it still isn't medium rare."
"I have never seen anything like this!" I shouted.
We put the steak back on the grill for a minute more and sent it out.
If you can't figure out the story by now, the manager came back with the same god damned steak and said the guest wanted it cooked more.

The only thing I could figure is that this guest was one of those people who actually likes his steak well done but felt embarrassed (as you should) to order it that way.  I can understand that because why on earth would you take one of the most premium, most expensive cuts of meat and order it well done?  Oh yeah, I forgot, someone who wants something with no taste that resembles shoe leather.
Juan was livid at this point and understandably so.  I was too and I didn't have to cook the thing.
The funniest thing was what he did next.  He threw the steak on the floor danced around it and stepped on it a few times with a kind of musically aggressive rhythm.  It reminded me a bit of "Stomp," the musical theater of choreographed percussion.
He then put the steak back on the grill, plated it and sent it out.
The manager came back and told us the guest said it was perfect.
Juan and I just smiled at each other and went back to work.  All that frustration was worth it to have that whole episode end like that.

I can honestly say I have never seen anyone cross the line like that because I have always worked in nice places with professionals but that was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

To vegan or not to vegan

It's like this......I had this guest that came in who was vegan so they wanted to speak with me about what they can eat.  I asked them if they eat cheese and they said "no." I told them I can remove the cheese but the bread we use for that sandwich has eggs in it and is that OK? They said "that is fine."  I told them we had other breads that didn't have eggs but they said the one with eggs was fine.

Now I am puzzled here-if you are allegedly a "vegan" then how the hell do you eat eggs?

I came across this when I lived in India.  We used to have Sunday brunch in my restaurant which had an open kitchen and people would come up directly to the chefs and order eggs prepared any fashion and we would cook it right there in front of them while they waited.  I remember one occasion when a guy had a plate full of desserts like cheesecake, brownies and other cakes.  I asked him if he would like any eggs and he said he was a vegan.  I said "yes but sir every dessert you have on your plate has eggs in it."  I wanted to inform him just in case he didn't know.  He said "it is OK because I can't see the eggs in the dessert."  To say I was puzzled by this would be an understatement.  Now this was when I was still new to India so I was learning the culture and eating habits so I asked one of my cooks if that was normal.  He said it wasn't uncommon to see that.  I told him that makes no sense.

I could care less about one's eating habits or choices; to each his own. Hell man, don't tell me your are vegan and you eat eggs only when you can't see them.  Isn't that a form of denial?  I do understand that living on a strict diet can be challenging depending where your are, and at times you may have to stray from that diet slightly (like having bread with eggs in it) because you have to eat, but I am not referring to those times.

I have even given thought to being vegetarian simply for the health benefits but I honestly don't think I have the discipline to give up a fat steak, foie gras or my favorite, duck confit.

Some vegetarians eat dairy products, some eat fish and there are also "Jain" vegetarians who also don't eat anything grown in the ground like potatoes and carrots and the strict vegans don't even use anything related to meat such as leather.