Monday, November 1, 2010

House of Frank part four

The one thing about this restaurant that I have never seen before is how low the turnover was.  In most restaurants people leave after a year or two and there is the rare employee who is long term, but many of these employees had been there anywhere from three to ten years.  The owner paid really well to keep it that way and overall, the staff there was not highly skilled.  They knew they couldn't go anywhere else and make the kind of money they were making there so many of them were trapped in a way. To give you an example of how generous the owner was, one day he found out I had started a second job and when he was walking along the line saying goodnight to all the cooks he casually told me "next pay day you will have more money."  It was that simple.  I remember hearing stories about how much of a tyrant and an asshole the owner was before I started but after I got to know him I found the opposite to be true. He was demanding and wanted things a certain way but he was also fair.  You certainly can't expect to have such a highly regarded restaurant by being lax for Heaven's sake.

If you are wondering how a restaurant can be so highly regarded, (for those of you who haven't read my earlier postings, this restaurant was the number one restaurant in the Washington D.C. area by the readers of an upscale Washington publication for, at the time, almost two decades) with a low to average skilled staff, it is because of how the kitchen was run. I don't know if it was accidental or by design but in most kitchens you are responsible for a station and you prepare almost everything for that station. 
At this place about 90% of your prep was done during the day so all you had to do was bring the prepped food to your station from the walk in refrigerator.  When I worked the meat station all I had to  prep was the three hollandaise based sauces and saute a shit load (for those of you who don't know, a shit load is slightly more than a but load) of mushrooms.  That was it.  Then we would move into dinner service and cook the orders. You really only had a few tasks to do.  On the meat station I had to cook six different dishes.  During dinner I would get an order for a steak, cook it, pass it down to the expediter and they would finish the plate with sauce, garnish and some form of accompaniment.

Each cook only had a few tasks to perform which was quite smart because it helped with the consistency of the food and that is one thing I can say this place had that many don't; consistency.  One of the single most important things a restaurant can have is consistency.  Consistency is why McDonald's was more successful than its competitors when these fast food joints started popping up in the 1950's, because if you bought a burger in Washington it tasted the same in New York. 

The downside to how the place was run was I really didn't learn much. I learned how to speak Spanish and that was about it.  After I left this establishment I went on a job interview for the position of sous chef in a leading Washington D.C. restaurant. The chef said I had too much hotel experience and the best thing on my resume was The House of Frank. Because of that he would consider me for chef de partie, a step lower than sous chef.  The funny thing is if he only knew the truth.  

To give you a bit of background, hotel chefs are not thought of as highly for their culinary skills because they are more of managers than cooks.  It is what the job requires.  In my case, I worked in many upscale hotel restaurants so while I may have been working in a hotel, the restaurants I worked in were run more like a freestanding establishment. The thing is, if you didn't know the places I had worked at you would never know.

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