Category: Uncategorized

Most Restaurant Meals are Disappointing

So…I just had an epiphany and as a result am writing this blog post that some people might not like. It might simply be because I am traveling on business right now and had a rough trip, then again, I have been feeling this for a while and just refrained from expressing it. The reality is that most restaurant meals are disappointing (I am refraining from saying they suck because some might think that that is too abrasive a term) and these meals pale in comparison to what any reasonably attentive person could prepare at home. Furthermore, the value of these restaurant meals is simply not there.

Now, when I say value, many would think that I am referring to price vs. product, but in fact, it is not always about price. Value has much to do with how you feel about your purchase. Value includes quality, perceptions, service, presentation, nutrition, freshness, ingredient source and yes, price. Personally, a great meal is never diminished in my mind because of price. I would rather save up for a high priced meal that is exceptionally prepared, appropriately portioned, beautifully presented, flavorful and exciting than simply buy something to fill me up that is inexpensive.

I get truly excited about visiting great restaurants and when I do it is after considerable research. In most cases, these well researched restaurants care for their food, appreciate the source of ingredients, have a solid understanding of good cooking technique, and treat their customers like family. That is the description of value.

Why do people get into the restaurant business if they fail to understand the basic principles of a great food establishment. Don’t misunderstand me..I am not talking strictly about fine dining. Any restaurant, focused on any demographic, with any price structure can follow these principles. Unfortunately, so many do not.

As I sit in yet another restaurant for a weary traveler I look around at fake environments, menus that are ill-conceived, food that is not cared for, a lack of real fresh ingredients, portions that are ridiculously large, dining rooms and kitchens that are not as clean as they should be, inattentive servers who obviously would rather be doing something else, managers who don’t have a clue, and customers who for some reason accept it all as being OK.

What is most frustrating is that it doesn’t have to be this way! A little bit of training, a large splash of caring, a pinch of interest in the quality of ingredients, a sprinkle of focus, a large portion of pride and the whole scene could change.

Going out to eat should always be viewed as something special, even if our lifestyles dictate that we spend a larger part of our food dollar in restaurants. Dining out has become mundane and this is criminal (from someone who has dedicated his life to the restaurant business).

We have thousands of culinary and restaurant management graduates coming out of schools every year and yet the larger portion of restaurant operations seem to get less and less exciting, more and more mediocre, and very light in “value” delivery.

There are over 900,000 free-standing restaurants in the U.S. and far too many don’t really deserve a steady flow of patrons. This is sad, but true. THIS CAN BE FIXED.

Cooking and service are HONORABLE PROFESSIONS. There are few things in life more gratifying that breaking bread with others and preparing for those who do.

When the REAL VALUE is not there then price is the most important factor in people’s minds.

I just want a meal that is an expression of caring, that reflects a commitment on the part of the chef, cook, server and manager. Is that too much to ask?

For those who are ready to make the leap towards value and invest the time to be great – contact me for help. This is what I do and I can coach you through the process.

Contact me through my website at: http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

Taking the Time to Appreciate What We Do

To some it may be a job, a means to an end. Yes, there are those who work in kitchens simply to pay the bills. This is not true of the people who I strove to work with and hired for the kitchens that I was privileged to work in.

When you stop to think about it, there is something truly magical about working in a professional kitchen. I have often said that most serious cooks are frustrated artists – individuals who have this innate artistic ability that is simply looking for a vehicle of expression. Some are writers, painters, sculptors, bloggers, musicians or even poets. Few are outgoing enough to have an interest in the live performing arts, so their goal is to find a place where they can be expressive behind closed doors. Ah…the kitchen, what a perfect place.

Once they find their way into that cross between the cleanliness of a surgical room and intensity and heat of Dante’s Inferno, they are hooked. Just think of the advantages for the artist: an environment where every day you get to paint on your canvas (the plate), use a plethora of exciting raw materials, appeal to every human sense simultaneously, earn a paycheck, work with other driven artists, learn from a teacher (the chef), and receive instant feedback for your work (although many cooks could care less as long as they feel that the work is an expression of who they are).

What I have enjoyed the most, is working with such a unique cadre of characters over the years. Every employee has a story, every kitchen employee has some type of issue, every kitchen employee will put their coworkers up against anyone they know and support them no matter what, every kitchen employee understands that as talented as they might be personally, it is the team that allows the whole thing to work.

Of course I know there are exceptions, but we usually weed them out.

I love the diversity of the kitchen. I have been honored to work with every ethnic background, every religious belief, small, tall, young, old, novice, seasoned professional, humble cook and egotistical pain in the butt, white, yellow and black, straight and gay, republican and democrat,male and female and it all works. Sure we banter back and forth about those issues that are in the American mindset, but we all come to agreement on food and how important the team is.

The days are long, the heat can be unbearable at times, the pressure of timing the food can create a frenzy, the disappointment of a returned steak can ruin a night, the temporary friction between front and back of the house can certainly be trying, and in the end the pay never seems to meet our expectations, but I would not trade it for anything.

I love the people of restaurants, I am most at home in a kitchen, I relish working with local farmers and producers, I get excited when that shipment of extraordinary fish comes through the door. The smell of onions, garlic, veal stock, roasts in the oven and fresh baked bread will truly make my day. The 12 cups of half-consumed coffee strewn about the kitchen is comical, but necessary.

As a chef, it is inspiring when that new menu comes together after soliciting the ideas from enthusiastic cooks. Sitting down for 10 minutes before service to a staff meal is a place and a time like no other – even if it takes place standing at the pass on the line. When those first tickets start coming in, the feeling is always exciting, a bit tense, and a call to arms but once the rhythm begins, it is like an orchestra hitting that perfect balance of notes in a score.

In the end, we exist to express ourselves, learn and work together as a team, produce some amazing art that people in the dining room will eat, smell and enjoy. We can make their day if the formula is right and cause them to want to return as soon as possible. What could any artist want more.

I, for one, appreciate what I do in the kitchen. I look forward to every day of learning, thinking about food, teaching, training and occasionally cooking for others. I am humbled by what we do.

I think it was Charlie Trotter who said: “A career in food is not something you choose, it chooses you.” For all who want “in”, this is what chargers our batteries and keeps life in the kitchen exciting.

Post your kitchen thoughts and memories on this blog if you so choose. Check out my company, a labor of love at:
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

IF YOUR GOAL IS RESTAURANT SUCCESS…..

IF YOUR GOAL IS RESTAURANT SUCCESS.....
WIN A FREE IPOD SHUFFLE!

I am so convinced that any serious restaurateur, manager or chef MUST attend a Deep Dive Seminar on the opportunities, challenges and pitfalls of restaurant operation in this difficult economy that I am providing additional incentives: At each location (providing we meet our minimum number of attendees) I will be giving away a Apple iPod Shuffle and books that should appear on any professional chef or restaurant managers shelf.

SIGN UP TODAY for one of the following locations:

April 15: Woburn, MA – Dole and Bailey plant
April 17: Albany, NY – Taste Restaurant
May 24: Lake Placid, NY – Howard Johnsons Restaurant and Conference Center

TO REGISTER: visit our website: http://www.harvestamericaventures.com and click on the “Seminar and Event” page. Fill out the simple form and “submit”.

ONLY $99/person for a full day including lunch

You Can’t Afford to Miss This!

You Can't Afford to Miss This!

Harvest America Ventures presents Deep Dive Seminars for Restaurateurs, Managers and Chefs. This all day event will focus on the opportunities, challenges and pitfalls associated with operating a restaurant in the current economic climate.

Paul Sorgule, president of Harvest America Ventures and a veteran chef, manager and educator will present this seminar in two different segments: In the morning the focus will be: “The Top Line Drives the Bottom Line” while the afternoon session will continue with a look at “Controlling Costs”.

Sessions are currently available at the following locations:

April 15: Woburn, MA – Dole and Bailey Provisioners
April 17: Albany, New York – Taste Restaurant
May 24: Lake Placid, New York – Howard Johnson’s Restaurant and Conference Center

This Highlight Program is offered for $99/person including lunch.

Sessions start with Registration at 8:30 a.m. followed by the seminar beginning at 9:00 and ending at approximately 2:30.

Space is limited so make your reservations TODAY!

To REGISTER: visit our website: http://www.harvestamericaventures.com
CLICK ON: Seminars and Events and fill out the brief information section.

Preferred payment on location is check or cash, however, we can accept MasterCard and Visa on site.

WE HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE.

Coming This Spring

Coming This Spring

For restaurateurs, restaurant managers, chefs and professional cooks, and for those contemplating a restaurant start-up – this seminar will help to set you on the right path and provide you with some important operational tools.

Look for seminars this spring in Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Plattsburgh, Saratoga and Albany New York; as well as Burlington, Vermont and Boston, MA.

A full day with Chef Paul Sorgule of Harvest America Ventures. Includes a working lunch and interactive exercises that bring the information to life.

Look for details in the near future. In the meantime, visit our website and blog:

http://www.harvestamericaventures.com
http://www.culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com

Building Your Food Memory

Building Your Food Memory

What does a fresh, seasonal strawberry taste like? How about apple pie, a Georgia Peach in July, A Prime Steak just off the char-grill, or even a cup of hot chocolate with cinnamon whipped cream? We would likely answer: it tastes like a strawberry, apple pie, a peach, a steak or hot chocolate. We know what they taste like from experience. Somewhere in our subconscious mind we can envision the texture, smell and flavor or each one of those items only because we have enjoyed them before. Without previous experience it would be impossible to describe those items and even with that experience it is very difficult to describe those items to someone who is lacking a previous experience themselves with that food.

We can make comparisons in an attempt to describe items that someone else has not enjoyed, but they generally fall short on accuracy. Case in point, how many different proteins are simply described as tasting like chicken (alligator, frog legs, rattlesnake, etc.)?

Now comes the interesting part of food memory from a cook’s perspective: You really can’t cook unless you have experienced taste, aroma and texture. Recipes are great, but they lack the flexibility to adjust for seasonality, size, maturity of raw materials, the impact of terroir, brand, or process. Tapping into food memory allows a cook to truly understand how to prepare an outstanding dish and if necessary, adjust to reach the correct end result. Additionally, one must always remember that food memory takes into account the environment in which those tastes, aromas and textures were experienced. When the context of the experience changes, so will memory of the food. That prime New York Strip grilled outside on a patio overlooking the vineyards of Napa Valley will taste differently when you try to replicate the food experience in an employee cafeteria. Food memory becomes the benchmark by which all other experiences with the same food prepared in another location and at another time are measured.

Why is a baguette so different when produced in your local bakery than in that boutique boulangerie on a side street in Paris? Some will claim it is the flour or the water, but is it that simple? Maybe it is the centuries of history behind that Parisian baguette, maybe it is the way that the baker kneads the dough, or maybe it is simply because it is Paris after all. I know chefs and bakers who spend countless hours, days and months trying to recreate that perfect loaf of French bread, Robuchon whipped potato, or Italian pizza crust to no avail. A restaurant in New York once determined that the flour and water for their pizza crust had to be imported from Italy. It was the only way that they would be satisfied with the results that compared to their memory.

The importance of this rambling is that every serious cook or for that matter, lover of food, must dedicate the time and effort to building food memories. Create your benchmarks by tasting everything you can, in every ideal location possible, with the right companions. Without this data in your subconscious, great cooking will alway allude you.

Restaurant New Year’s Resolution – Business Success!

Restaurant New Year's Resolution - Business Success!

It is hard to believe that 2013 is here. If you are a chef or restaurateur, one of your New Year’s Resolutions will probably revolve around creating greater opportunities for business success.

Let Harvest America Ventures help you through a formal operational assessment, development of a staff training program, assistance with concept development and menu engineering, implementation of control measures, or even strategic planning for a bright future.

Harvest America Ventures is a hands-on consulting/training firm with extensive expertise in restaurant assessment and operation and decades of background in teaching and training.

Give us a call or refer us to a friend today. We are ready and willing to help!

Happy New Year,

Paul Sorgule, AAC, MS
president
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com
culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com
psorgule@hotmail.com
518-524-5906

A Teachers Greatest Joy

A Teachers Greatest Joy

What is the significance of teaching? The longer I taught, the more I realized that teaching is a calling that has many rewards. By far, the most significant reward is the pride and satisfaction derived from seeing graduates succeed in life. This success takes many forms: some are successful with their careers, some are successful with their contributions to their community or their country, and many are truly successful with their family life. However it is measured, any impact that a teacher might have on this is rewarding beyond words.

As I look back at 2012 I felt compelled to acknowledge how proud I am of all of the students that I had the pleasure to teach and the staff that I had the pleasure to work with.

Here is just a sampling of some who come to mind and should be noted for their accomplishments. If your name does not appear, please do not feel slighted, it is just a sampling. I hope to write another book over the next year or so that shows the connections between teacher and student.

Chef Jamie Keating: Owner/Chef of Epic Restaurant in Georgia and past member of the U.S. Culinary Olympic Team.
Chef Curtiss Hemm: Teacher extraordinaire and founder of Pink Ribbon Cooking.
Chef Tim McQuinn: Executive Chef of the North Hero House in Vermont.
Chef Gretel Ann-Alexy: Owner/Operator of Cupps Bakery in Vermont and contestant on the Next Great Baker.
Chef David Russ: Career Military Man, past #1 Chef in the U.S. Army and member/coach of the U.S. Military Culinary Olympic Team.
Jack Edwards: Director of Marketing and Sales for Miner Family Vineyards in the Napa Valley.
Wendy Hackett (Kilponen): National Account Manager with Seattle’s Best Coffee.
Chef Robin Schempp: Owner/operator of the Right Stuff Product Development and Consulting.
Chef Steve Schimoler: Chef/Owner of Crop Restaurant.
Arthur Cote: National Sales Director Fortessa China.
Chef Ryan O’Malley: Chef Instructor at New England Culinary Institute.
Chef Phil Flath: Executive Chef at Ocean Edge Resort in Massachusetts.
Chef Paul Ozimek: Executive Chef at Taste Restaurant in Albany and past member of Charlie Trotter’s Team in Chicago.
Chef Jody Winfield: Executive Chef at Bone Island Grill in Georgia.
Chef Tim Hardiman: Chef/Owner of The Tailor and the Cook in Utica, New York.
Tracey Caponera: Director of Inter-Institutional Programs at SUNY Delhi.
Jonathan Copeland: Director of Seafood at Dole and Bailey Provisioners in Massachusetts.
Nicole Fiacco: Account Director at the St. Regis at Monarch Beach in California.
Nick Dolota: Event Planner at a Savvy Event in Sonoma.
Chef Jamie Prouten: Executive Chef at Tiburon Tavern in Sonoma.
Chef Eamon Lee: Corporate Chef at Maines Company.
Jack Moyer: Vice President 1886 Crescent Hotel in Arkansas. Board member of Historic Hotels of America.
Kristin Parker: Wedding and Events Coordinator at the Whiteface Club in Lake Placid.
Chef Jason Porter: Regional Chef for The Compass Group.
Rene Farley: Senior Manager at Apple, Inc. (my favorite company)
Brian Perry: Maitre d’ at Morton’s of Chicago.
George Flay: Executive Chef at Ardsley Country Club.
Julie Krzyzanowski Bumgarner: Director of Catering and Convention Services – Hyatt Rochester.
Chef Jennifer Beach: Director of Baking at Popovers on the Square in New Hampshire.
Chef Kathy Donaho: Chef Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas.
Dawn Swaney: Sous Chef at Mintwood Place in Washington, DC.

and hundreds of others who I have had the pleasure to work with in the classroom and in the kitchen.

Happy New Year!

A Special Dinner at the Left Bank Cafe

Monet’s Table – A Special Menu Fresh subtle blending of natures’ colors and culinary bounty inspired by the beauty that only Monet could capture.  The food preparations will follow the classical stylings of Auguste Escoffier and Joel Robuchon.   A gathering before dinner with hors d’ oeuvres and a Kir Royale   Appetizer:    Giverney Salad…

Priorities

I will stay away from the heated debate over gun control for the time being and focus on a topic of equal importance.  Following the tragedies of this past week forces everyone to take stock and think about what is really important.  Having just received the local paper I was amazed and somewhat disturbed to…

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