FUTURE PERFECT – A RESTAURANTS NEXT CHAPTER

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Painted in Waterlogue

OK, so here we are: restaurants are beginning to re-open (maybe prematurely, maybe not) and we are all scared to death. We are fearful of a virus that is still out there, still scoping us out, still waiting to strike again, and we are not prepared for that. We are fearful that 25% or 50% capacity in our restaurants will not allow us to survive – so, what’s the point? We are fearful that customers will not return and customers are fearful of what is waiting for them as they venture out with loads of trepidation. And we are fearful that everything will be different and we don’t yet know how to define “different”.

Yep, I get it – we are all in the same boat – fear of the unknown. The natural inclination is to play it safe, to try and bring everything back to where it was pre-pandemic. This is our comfort zone, this is what we know, this is the space that everyone can jump back into and not lose a beat. Let’s bring back the same menu, let’s try and make service like it was, let’s keep the same pricing model, let’s set-up our kitchens as we did just a few months ago with the same staff and the same skill set. Wouldn’t it make sense to not rock the boat any more – to get into our rhythm and put on a familiar face – this is, after all what out customers expect and want – right?

It’s interesting how last month everyone was proclaiming that everything will be different when restaurants open again, that what we knew will not suffice in the near future. So what did we do to prepare for wholesale change over the past three months? Did we invest in ideation sessions, did we look to other industries that were forced to change in recent years, did we seek advice from knowledgeable experts in our and others industries, did we take a hard look at fixing some of the issues that have plagued us for decades? I am not positive, but I have yet to see any real future thinking and strategic planning in this regard outside of how to social distance, how to incorporate more take-out options, and discovering what new sanitation procedures will be in place at least until a vaccine is developed. Where are the exciting future thinkers in the restaurant business – you know, the disruptors, the ones that force us to scratch our heads, the ones who piss us off, and make us wag our fingers saying: “You can’t do that.”

Painted in Waterlogue

Why can’t we just return to “normal”? Well, for one thing – normal really wasn’t that great for restaurants – was it? Rents were getting out of whack, ingredient costs kept inching up, finding employees was increasingly difficult, many skilled workers were underpaid and under appreciated, profits were too low if present at all, failure rates were very high, and banks – well they just don’t want to invest in a very fragile restaurant business. So – why do we want to return to that – especially with the addition of new protocols brought on by the pandemic?

John F. Kennedy wrote:
“For time and the world do not stand still.  Change is the law of life.  And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

Think about that for a minute: “Change is the law of life.” In other words, whether we like it or not change is inevitable and it will occur with us, or without us. To fail to change at a time when the door has been opened for the possibility is a lost opportunity that may never come your way again.

Since the early days of restaurants we have acknowledged and embraced a way of doing business that, for all intents and purposes, has not really changed at all. If we allow ourselves to slip right back into the same model then we must accept the fact that all of the problems that I listed will not only remain, but will intensify. Where are the future thinkers who want to seize the opportunity to re-imagine, to re-invent, and to disrupt what we have accepted as “the right way” for generations?

Where are the Steve Jobs, Elon Musks, Bill Gates, Dan Barbers, Helen Turleys, and Peter Senge prophets who would turn the restaurant business upside down and find a new way of doing business – a way that is innovative while maintaining all of the feel good parts of our business – the hospitality, the gathering, the beautiful food, and celebratory environments that bring people to restaurants for nourishment, entertainment, and cheer? Let’s just pretend that this was just a bump in the road, a moment in time that we can quickly forget and move back into the groves of the highway that we left for a short period of time. Does this make sense to you?

Lincoln gave us clear words of advice:

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

As I walk down the street and see lights begin to shine in those restaurant dining rooms that were vacant for three months, as I watch the dust being removed from table tops and masked employees begin their sanitation routines, as I see cautious vendor drivers and hesitant cooks don their masks and take those first steps into restaurant kitchens, I am just perplexed. What are they stepping back into? Hell – what compelling reasons will bring guests back into those restaurants to dine? Is it convenience, the need to just get out and live again, or an opportunity to re-ignite a love of food and service? Will those guests venture out into the unknown just to find what they had experienced before? Will the benefits outweigh the risk? Really folks – have we thought this through?

Painted in Waterlogue

As Lincoln alluded to: we have a responsibility to tomorrow – this is basic and important. Avoidance will never allow us to move forward as an industry and come out the other end – stronger, better, and happier. This is a time for future thinking, this is only scary if we fail to see the excitement of positive change.

 Buckminster Fuller was a visionary, future thinker, designer, educator and inventor (developed the geodesic dome as an example) who outlined the exact situation we are in right now:

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.”

If we (the restaurant industry) fail to embrace the opportunities that the future can bring, then we are likely to be left behind. If not you, then someone will; if not now, then when; if you ask why, try asking why not.

Ask yourself some foundational questions as a starting point:

  • How can we better serve the needs of our customers?
  • How can we build a more conducive work environment for our employees?
  • How can we build a new level of excitement for dining out?
  • How can we build new, compelling experiences that will bring customers back time and again?
  • How can we make restaurants more profitable while allowing them to be cost accessible to a broader population?
  • How can we build a restaurant industry that is friendlier to the environment?
  • How can we enhance our relationships with the source of ingredients and improve the integrity of our food supply?

These and other questions can and likely should be prods to stimulate our train of thought, to excite us about the possibilities, and to engage a spectrum of stakeholders to play a role in making the next generation of restaurant experiences a reality NOW. It can start with you – NOW IS THE TIME!

We know that there are dreamers and there are doers and it is rare to find individuals who possess both abilities. This is why we put teams of people together. Visionaries/futurists are essential individuals who make us “think different” (as Steve Jobs asked us to do) and attack the problems of today to help find the right solutions. Let’s not fall back into our comfort zone – we can’t afford to do that. Build your team, ask the questions, encourage dialogue, and put aside pre-conceived ideas about how it “should be” – think more in terms of how it “could be”.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

Embrace the opportunity to make it better

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

 

 

 

 

 

COOKS – GETTING BACK INTO THE ZONE

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Take a deep breath as you walk through those back doors, back into the kitchen that was so familiar, back to a place that you have missed for the past three months. Somehow you are nervous – why is that? You’re not as nervous about the virus as you are being able to hit the ground running. This is a job that has always required you to be on your game, to be able to zig and zag, solve those little problems that crop up every day, finding your pace, organize your station, and respond with syncopation and confidence when those orders start to roll off the printer. How will you be able to perform – that is the question that is churning in your stomach, that brings beads of sweat to your forehead, and that clouds your vision as you make that first step into the kitchen.

Things are certainly different as you pull on your N-95 mask, nod to your teammates while trying to keep a safe distance, scrub your hands for the first of 25 times today, sanitize your work area and your tool kit, grab your station prep list and start to work. The chef has some background music playing from his iPhone as a way to lighten the tension, and although the conversation is less engaged as it once was, people begin to throw around some of the typical banter. “Hey, I hope your knife skills didn’t get any more pathetic than they use to be”, “ I hope the chef stocked up on extra band aids now that you are back in the kitchen”, and a few other slights that are a bit more graphic. Somehow, the banter makes you feel relaxed, relieves that knot in your stomach, and brings hope to quell those fears that you have about your ability to adapt.

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Soon the cadence of work lightens the mood and that muscle memory kicks in as you charge through vegetable prep and begin to trim tenders and strip loins, cut steaks, peel and devein shrimp, clean Divers scallops, flatten chicken breasts, and fillet various types of fish for your station.

You nick one of your fingers with a boning knife and it bleeds like a bastard. Trying not to let others see your sloppy mistake you wrap it in a side towel and make a stealth move towards the rest room. You wash and dry the cut (damn, it’s on the tip of my index finger where it is impossible to stop the bleeding) wrap it tightly with three band-aids and double up your gloves hoping that the blood won’t give away your misguided knife handling. Back to work – the only thing hurt is your ego.

“Hey Jake – you cuttin steaks or fingers the rest of the day?” Damn – busted. Of course, now you will be the butt of everyone’s jokes for the next couple hours. The chef walks past you and just smiles. Well, at least you broke the ice.

Everyone is trying hard to bring back some semblance of “normal”, but the air is heavy, as each cook knows that nothing is normal anymore. The chef had sent everyone a list of new protocols before they arrived, so routines of old were out the window.

You notice a delivery truck arrive with supplies – even this is part of the change that the virus has brought to the restaurant. The driver is no longer allowed to simply wheel in supplies and unload them in coolers, freezers, and dry goods storage. Items are received at the back entrance where boxes will be opened, cardboard immediately discarded to outside recycling bins, and each item is wiped with bleach cloths before transferred to storage. This is an all hands on deck process that eats away at time that would have normally been spent on prep. No one is happy about this added process, yet everyone feels that sense of responsibility for everyone’s safety and wellbeing.

Back to prep, that is after scrubbing hands again, re-sanitizing your work station, adjusting your mask that has begun to cause a rash on your face, and turning in your apron for one that is fresh and sanitary. Now that sense of urgency returns, the knowledge that there is more work to complete than there is time – you dive into the details for your station. Time to clarify butter, blanch and shock vegetables, reduce stocks for sauce work, mince herbs, refill bottles of wine and olive oil, prepare garnishes, season your pans, fire up the grill and salamander, and fold your side towels as you always had in the past. Thirty minutes more and that POS printer will begin to talk once again.

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Now things begin to seem right. Comfort and confidence overtake angst and doubt as every cook instinctively falls back into his and her pace. This is what they are trained to do, this is their calling, this is that point in time when their skills point the way and cooking becomes part of their reflex. Cooks mark steaks and chops at their chargrill and fall back into a comfort zone of knowing degrees of doneness. Sauté quickly remembers how to multi-task: hot pan, clarified butter, scored skin on the fish fillet hits that screaming hot pan, keep the pan in motion so it doesn’t stick, sear to a golden brown, baste the fish, hit it with a touch of salt and deglaze the pan with white wine – push the pan aside until pick up. Another hot pan – no two, two orders of tournedos on the fly. A quick sear of salted meat – both sides. Deglaze with a touch of Madeira and a splash of demi. A spin of fresh cracked pepper and then remove the meat. Finish reducing the pan sauce, add some chopped parsley and return the meat to coat. Plates up – toast medallions, fillets, sear two cut pieces of foie gras in a dry hot pan (it only takes a few seconds) sear both sides and top off the fillets – mask with sauce madeira and a few shavings of black truffle – four pieces of perfect asparagus and two baby carrots tossed in butter – slide the plates into the pass. “Give me an all day”: the expeditor calls out: one more tournedos – rare, three shrimp, two Dourade fillets, four chicken picatta, and one vegetable tart – all have apps coming up first – fire the first Dourade right now!

The pace continues to quicken and everything seems to slide into that slow motion groove of a cook in control. All he hears is the commands from the expeditor and the ticking cadences of the printer. Everything is under control as his mental state is total focus on the work. This cook is there, he is back, he feels the adrenaline coursing through his veins, and sees things clear again. This is what he missed over the past three months. All his uncertainty is put aside – he is back.

At some point the board is almost clear – he looks to Janis to his left on apps and Greg on the broiler. They both have smiles on their faces. They too overcame their fear and rose to the occasion. No one struck out or lost his or her poise – the night was winding down and the day was won. The expeditor gives them a thumbs-up and the chef simply nods. Good cooks don’t forget, it’s like riding a bike – it only took one push to adjust to the new normal and get their confidence back. A few high fives and then it’s back to cleaning and making notes for what tomorrow will bring.

This time of uncertainty has left everyone shaken. Cooks and chefs in particular rely on protocols and systems and uncertainty never sits well with them. The time will come when restaurants will be back and cooks find their groove once again. The swagger of line cooks will return and the gratification of plating that perfect dish will bring a smile to their faces. It will happen soon enough – be patient.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

We are in this together

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP WHEN IT SEEMS TO BE IN SHORT SUPPLY

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I am a concerned spectator at a time when everything seems to be in question and every one of us lives on the edge. We fear, we adjust, we cope, and then there comes a time when our coping mechanism comes into real question. This is when leadership is most needed.

Leadership is always important, but seems to be in critical need when we are in time of crisis. This is when people turn to either those with the title or those with a history of leadership. Leadership, real leadership comes from four actions:

* What we hear

* What we learn

* What we say

* What we do

The issue of proximity comes into play, because it is difficult, if not impossible to lead in situations or lead people when a person has not walked in those shoes, does not know the people in need of leadership, or has not felt their desperation. It is not possible to truly lead those with whom you can’t relate. This is true of any situation, individual, or group. In situations where this proximity is not possible then a person with the title of leadership must engage people who can relate and then hear, learn, speak, and act in a manner that respects the knowledge of others.

This is true of leaders of companies, organizations, geographic areas, communities, or populations. It is true of mayors, governors, Congressional members, presidents, law enforcement, and judges, just as it is of those in the clergy, and the classroom. Proximity and history are important when it comes to leadership with positive results.

  • WHAT WE HEAR and LISTEN TO:

– Who are “leaders” listening to? Are they listening to people with the background to know, with insight that is based on experience, or with the talent to find solutions? If not, what are leaders basing their decisions on? Doesn’t it make sense to listen (not just hear) to those individuals in a position to understand what is before them?

  • WHAT WE LEARN:

– Effective leaders convert listening to learning and invest the time to build a level of understanding that factors in proximity and relies on experience and facts. When this is done then decision-making will more likely result in effective outcomes.

  • WHAT WE SAY:

– Effective leaders coach their words and base them on what they have learned – backed up with facts and input from those “experts” that they have effectively listened to. WORDS ARE POWERFUL – WORDS MATTER.

  • WHAT WE DO:

–           Finally, effective leaders take actions that are calculated, inclusive of expert understanding, and based on collaboration and strategic thought. There is never a guarantee for success, but this process is far more likely to reach that end result while earning respect and support.

At this critical time in our lifecycle (on the macro scale) we crave effective leadership in all areas. We look for leadership to guide us through this health crisis, we look for leadership to keep our priorities in line, crave leadership to help us build a strategy to work through a deep economic crisis and build confidence in that strategy, seek leadership to help our businesses survive and thrive again, pray for leadership to bring our country through a time of hate, anger, and despair; and seek leadership to bring our communities and nation back to a time of integrity and strength.

On the micro level, let’s look at the restaurant industry, an industry that is truly in a crisis situation. We are all aware, at some level that this is an immensely important industry, and at the same time – a very fragile industry. Unless a leader has “proximity” then he or she cannot truly understand the level of fragility and despair. We hear of major restaurant companies that struggle, but pay far less attention to the small business, the independent restaurant that represents the largest segment of the industry and the most fragile. If these operators are unable to recover from the worst health and economic challenge in our lifetimes, then the future of the restaurant industry is truly in jeopardy. Unless our leaders have proximity or build proximity into their decisions, then it is very likely that those mom and pop operators will fall. It is that simple. That local café or diner that has been part of your quality of life for years is in jeopardy. That local pizzeria that makes the best pie around is in jeopardy. That chef owned fine dining restaurant is in jeopardy. That world-famous bar-b-que joint that has been around for generations is in jeopardy. And that coffee shop where you greet your favorite barista on the way to work or use their tables as a temporary office to support you on-line business is in jeopardy.

Unlike that corporate restaurant firm with dozens or hundreds of outlets offering consistent product and service, your independent operation does not have the advantage of a marketing department, human resource officer, significant lines of credit with a bank, or leverage with vendors to gain better pricing through volume. Those chains are far more likely to gather their collective minds to find a way out of the storm and survive a period of business downturn. That independent operator measures their ability to survive in terms of a few weeks without sufficient business revenue.

Here is the reality: PPP loans that turn into grants don’t work for most independents when the conditions associated with that loan to grant remain inflexible. Allowing those operators to open with a restriction of 25% or 50% capacity does not help a business that depends on filling their seats and turning tables once or twice on a weekend night. It doesn’t help those restaurants if their bar operation is unable to accommodate revelers who seek to mingle with friends and buy a few rounds. It doesn’t help those independents when customers remain fearful of being in an environment where people cluster. It doesn’t help those independents when there are no clear answers to the questions above.

When the President’s Council for economic recovery only includes CEO’s from major restaurant chains and a few very high-end operations and shuns representation from mom and pop restaurants and shops – then any solution found will avoid listening to, learning from, speaking to, and acting upon a base of knowledge that really reflects the restaurant industry in America.

Where are the knowledgeable leaders who share proximity with the operators most clearly impacted by decisions that are supposedly designed to help restaurants recover? Where are the knowledge leaders who understand that this is an industry of diverse individuals who are on the lower end of the pay spectrum, and who try to get by without baseline benefits? Where are the knowledgeable leaders that understand the cliff that these restaurants live on without the benefits of help that exist within those restaurant chains and high-end operations that may be more flush with cash?

The best ideas for these independent operators cannot come from an assumption that throwing a bit of money their way and simply encouraging them to find their own solutions is enough. Leaders need to understand that the majority of these independent operators are good at two things: making consistently good food, and providing real service for guests that they work hard at knowing and caring for. They are not marketing experts, social media aficionados, financial planners, systems analysts, physical plant designers, or strategic planners. They are good at what they do and need real help with everything else. Remember – they are not responsible for this crisis – they are living with the necessary decisions that others made to protect public health.

How about boosting the breadth of assistance that the SBA offers to include building recovery strategies for small restaurants? How about financially supporting the SBA to recruit hundreds or thousands of regional restaurant/business consultants to roll up their sleeves and work on site with independents on recovery plans? Why not invest government spending in aligning small restaurants with culinary and business schools to provide additional training leading to recovery action? Why not subsidize local banks to cover some of their concerns about lending money to community restaurants in need? Most small restaurants know that a meeting with their bank to seek a larger line of credit or low interest loan to make physical changes to their operation in an effort to maximize sales while supporting social distancing will lead to a “sorry we can’t do that” response. This is where these independents need help. These are the type of solutions that can come from leadership that relies on proximity, listening, learning, speaking the truth, and acting accordingly.

Restaurants need real help and they need it now! If these restaurants fail so too will our economy. As the second largest employer of people in the U.S. – the restaurant industry (mostly independent operators) needs real help, not just a handout.   These are proud people who have given everything they have to the businesses that they operate. These restaurants are their dream, their life, their purpose and we should all be conscious of how much they mean to the communities where they hang a sign that reflects this.

Where is the leadership?

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

*PHOTO:  The proud Mirror Lake Inn Culinary Team 2006

OUR DAILY BREATH: OPENING RESTAURANTS – WHERE’S THE PLAN, STAN?

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Let’s assume, for a moment, that we actually are all in this together. Let’s put on our restaurant hat and take responsibility for doing what is right for both the health and wellbeing of our families, staff, and customers, and help in bring our communities out of the deepest economic hole since the Great Depression. Both of these issues are significantly important and even though we should all agree that health and safety is foremost – if we manage to beat the virus into submission and destroy the economy in the process then we are left with a problem that can be devastating for decades to follow. OK – so that doesn’t help much unless we have a plan, a plan that everyone buys into, and a plan that shows hope on both fronts.

So the question is – where is the leadership in building such a plan? The CDC has provided recommendations for re-opening businesses (restaurants), and some states have qualified these recommendations by instituting phases for opening once certain statistical criteria is met, but much of what happens within those phases is up to individual restaurants to interpret and devise methods of delivery. Where is the real leadership from professional organizations and from the communities where those restaurants reside? Where is the collaboration among community restaurants to portray a consistent message and a self-assessment process?

Think about the following:

[]         RESTAURANTS CAN REOPEN WITH 25% CAPACITY: Great – we all know that it is impossible for any restaurant to survive with 25% capacity. Where are the organization experts with thoughts on how this parameter might be approached?

[]         RESTAURANTS THAT OPEN MUST PRACTICE PHYSICAL DISTANCING: Sounds reasonable – how can that truly be accomplished with the ebb and flow of customers, servers approaching tables, taking orders and delivering food?

[]         THE VIRUS CAN LIVE ON SURFACES FOR A PERIOD OF TIME SO ENHANCED SANITATION MUST BE PRACTICED: OK, we get it – what does that mean and how does it apply to plates, glassware, flatware, tablecloths, salt and pepper shakers, chairs, booths, walls, table tops, etc.? How can we really stay on top of this challenge? Who will provide consistent guidance in this regard?

[]         THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THE VIRUS CAN BE TRANSMITTED THROUGH FOOD: Well, that seems reassuring, but tell me how is it that the virus can live on non-food surfaces for many hours, but will avoid clinging to that salad, glass of beer, or tonight’s special?

[]         ALL STAFF AND CUSTOMERS SHOULD WEAR MASKS: Totally agree, and we can certainly require our staff to do so, but with the wild west attitude among a few customers that this is an infringement on their rights as American’s – what is our legal support to demand this and what is the best way to manage unreasonable guests?

[]         WE ARE ENCOURAGED TO SANITIZE OUR PERSONAL GROCERIES FROM THE STORE BEFORE THEY ARE BROUGHT INTO HOMES: Fine, if you are like me – it takes an hour to shop every two weeks and two hours to sanitize everything before I move items to storage in the house. Shouldn’t we be doing the same in restaurant kitchens? If so, what it the plan for vendors and restaurants to work together in this regard?

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[]         AT A CERTAIN POINT (before there is a vaccine) CUSTOMERS WILL BE ALLOWED TO RETURN TO RESTAURANT DINING ROOMS: Terrific! When that occurs we will be able to go back to business as usual – right? Oh, but what if customers don’t want to return to dining rooms? What if they (rightfully so) are still nervous about being in public groups while the virus is still flourishing? How do we rebuild trust – not just in returning to our restaurant, but even more importantly – to restaurants as a whole? Where is the leadership coaching on that?

[]         WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: Yep – I have heard that many times before – so why does it feel like we are on our own? Why are there mixed messages from state to state and community to community?   Why are we given guidelines yet no one seems intent are really enforcing them? Why is each restaurant struggling with how to manage the need for safety vs. the need to generate revenue? Why is there no universal strategy that helps restaurants collectively walk through the process of re-opening with confidence and uniformity? If we are all in this together, why are we so far apart?

Re-opening restaurants when there is no resolution to this invisible threat is risky business. It scares restaurant owners to death – as it should.   The last thing in the world that anyone wants is to create a pool of infection that threatens the very customers who have helped a restaurant through tough times before. The answer cannot be: “Every man for himself”. The answer must be collective agreement on the best way to move forward for the safety of all involved and the financial health of the business. We know that the only tools that we have right now are physical distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands and surfaces extremely well – but is that enough to build trust in a return to business?

We should applaud the states that have exacting criteria for reopening businesses in phases and methods in place to assure that the criteria is met, but it is not enough – at least not for restaurants. We (the restaurant industry) need local governments to bring restaurant owners together to build a model that everyone buys into, a model that is reasonable, safe, and verifiable. We need industry organizations like the National Restaurant Association and American Culinary Federation to go beyond printing a list of recommendations and rather become actively involved in communities by walking them through the process of collaboration, ideation, and implementation. Most importantly, we need community restaurant owners, operators, and chefs to come together to build active lines of communication, serious platforms for implementation assistance, and an active commitment to doing the right thing – every restaurant, every chef, every day. If we are in this together than we need to build a strategy for that to be realized.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

We SHOULD be in this together – the only way to address the challenges

Restaurant Consulting

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: CHANGE FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

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There is so much angst and uncertainty among the restaurant community right now. Should we reopen when the green light is given? What precautions need to be in place to protect our staff and customers? How will we survive if we are required to live with 25% or 50% of normal capacity? Will customers return, or will they shy away from any contact with groups of people? The common realization is that things will be different and we need to change.

Change is too often implemented based on need or fear of not moving in a different direction. Sometimes change happens just to push the envelope and stand out as being different. In reality – change out of necessity is rarely accompanied by the passion to do so, and being different does not mean that you are good at what you do – sometimes you are just different. Neither one of these reasons seems to make business sense, yet they do fit in with the theory that failure to change is a sure sign of failure.

Right now, the restaurant industry and those who work within it feel the pressure for change. We don’t have a choice – right? Profits are slim, employees may be reluctant to return, the fear of the virus is looming, the food distribution system is heavily bruised, and customers are cautious. We need to change.

According to Bill Buford in his newly released book “Dirt”: The late Chef Michel Richard of Citronelle Restaurant often quoted the French Pastry Chef Gaston Lenotre, who stated: “You can change anything as long as the result is better than the original.” This is a powerful and very important statement that should become a rallying cry in 2020. Change must occur because the crisis before us demands it, but change need not be only reactionary. The question that precedes moving in a new direction must be: “How can we change and make the situation, the experience, and/or the product better than what it was?”

I don’t have the answers because they will always be unique to each property or situation, but you can find the answers. As you contemplate re-opening your restaurant operation in the near future – pull your important stakeholders together (chef, owner, manager, sous chef, cooks, service staff, and loyal customers) and put these questions on the table:

  1. We will need to rearrange our dining room space to adhere to physical distancing – how do we build a dining experience around this to give comfort, warmth, trust, great technical service, and enjoyment? Is there a way to make the overall dining experience BETTER than it was?
  2. If we are required to reduce our capacity to 25 or 50% of what it was, how can we be financially successful and how can our service staff make a respectable living? How can we make the financial results for our restaurant and service staff BETTER than it was before?
  3. If we need to reduce the size and breadth of our menu, how can we keep the product choices exciting and enticing? How can we make our menus smaller, yet BETTER than they were before?
  4. If we need to downsize the number of cooks in our kitchen because of a reduction in restaurant capacity and menu breadth, how can we make the job of cooking attractive and lucrative? How can we make the employee experience BETTER than it was before?
  5. Without a vaccine for the virus and with constant words of caution about engaging in social environments, how can we create a compelling reason for customers to return? How can we make the feeling of trust in customer safety BETTER than it was before?
  6. If we decide to ramp up our business presence as a “to go” or delivery operation, how can we increase volume to make it financially lucrative? How can we make the “to go” experience BETTER than it has been and comparable to our dine-in experience before the pandemic?

The same applies to all facets of the food business – from culinary education to farming, from distribution to catering, and from contract food operations in business complexes to theme parks with thousands of potential visitors every day. Change is required, but change to make things BETTER is the only formula for success.

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Striving for excellence and making decisions based on being the best that you can be will always set your operation apart from the competition. This is an exciting prospect that can convert much of the pressure of change out of necessity to change as an invigorating opportunity to improve in all areas.

One of the ironies of change is that it is never confined to you and your operation. Any change that you make – positive or negative – has implications for all other connected businesses. Your need to create a BETTER, more limited menu for your restaurant will put your vendors in a position to consider positive change. Any decision to change restaurant capacity and make the experience different and BETTER will have an impact on landlords, neighborhood dynamics, advertisers, and those in the business to help create safer environments. And any change in the number of employees in your kitchen and the skill set that they must possess to fit in with your improved work environment will impact the economics of a community and the quality of life for those who choose to work in kitchens.

All this being considered – make sure that your change decisions are well founded in critical thought – thought based on improvement rather than just reaction. Change for the right reason is a roadmap to recovery.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

We are in this together

Change to make things better

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com

COMING SOON: Watch for our new collaborative podcast with The Center for Advancement of Foodservice Education (CAFÉ).

DIRT – A novel by: Bill Buford

https://www.amazon.com/Dirt-Adventures-Training-Looking-Cooking-ebook/dp/B081M7TWY5/ref=sr_1_1?crid=T47CPUS0K6LH&dchild=1&keywords=dirt&qid=1589982314&s=books&sprefix=Dirt%2Caps%2C171&sr=1-1

 

A LETTER TO CULINARY SCHOOL GRADUATES

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First and foremost – congratulations on earning your degree or certificate. This is an accomplishment that over the course of your lifetime will reward you tenfold. Know that the degree or certificate is more than an acknowledgement of the skills and knowledge that you have gained – it represents your level commitment and discipline that will serve you well.

This is a very challenging time for graduates of any program – an unprecedented time when the health and wellbeing of world citizens is the number one priority, but also a time when there is much uncertainty in the workforce. The restaurant industry is being hit extraordinarily hard, unlike any other time in recent history. As we continue to fight this pandemic that we still know so little about, and try to gradually open up the economy with a keen eye on public safety – it will be restaurants and other hospitality businesses that suffer the longest. We are an industry that provides so much more than an opportunity to satisfy physical hunger – we are an industry that provides a forum for people to gather, to embrace, to break bread and clink glasses, to tell stories and to laugh with reckless abandon – this is what hospitality is all about. This is also the environment where a virus can find a fertile home. So, we wait, plan, contemplate change, try to find the funds to carry the burden of closure, and hope that science will find a way for us to return sooner rather than later.

Here you are – enthusiastic, informed, confident in your foundational skills, and ready to start a career in food that will last for four decades or more. Today’s jobs for cooks and bakers are in short supply, and they likely will be for a period of time. The restaurant industry will return at some point, historically it always has after crisis, and it will again. The format that we have become accustomed to may change, in fact it certainly will, but restaurants as gathering places are absolutely essential to a civilized world. The communities where you will live depend on restaurants to provide that respite, that environment for celebration and reward that helps us to be one. So, what can be done now with so much uncertainty before you? Here are some words to the wise:

WORDS OF ADVICE:

[]         STAY POSITIVE:

It will be challenging for some time – stay positive! Your attitude and confidence in the ability to rise above the roadblocks placed in your way will define your character.

[]         KEEP WORKING ON THOSE FOUNDATIONAL SKILLS:

A constant focus on improvement is a common trait that all successful people share. It is the foundations, and the mastery there of, that will instill confidence in those who hire you and the seed that defines your self-worth.

[]         KNOW YOUR END GOAL, BUILD A STRATEGY

Whatever your end goal might be: Executive Chef in a fine dining operation, Corporate Chef, Sous Chef, Restaurant Manager, Entrepreneur, Research Chef, or Consultant – where ever you hope to land in the future – put that goal in writing. Research that goal and establish the skill set those successful individuals in that position must possess, and build that into your strategy. “How can I master each of those skills to position myself as a natural candidate for this career goal?”

[]         WORK WHEREVER YOU CAN, JUST MAKE SURE THAT IT CONNECTS WITH FOOD – DO IT WITH EXCELLENCE IN MIND

During this crisis and transition to a solid economy once again, the job opportunities will be far more limited than just a few months ago. This will likely be the case for some time. Make sure that you seek out opportunities that involve food. Know what skill you hope to master as a result of working in that operation and make sure that it fits your career strategy. EVERY POSITION IN THE FOOD BUSINESS WILL HELP WITH YOUR CAREER – IF YOU BUILD IT INTO YOUR PLAN. Here are some examples:

  • QUICK SERVICE: The type of food and ambience of a quick service operation may not be your ultimate goal, but these operations have great systems and controls in place. Every Chef, Manager, or Owner must understand systems and controls. If you work in quick service for an interim period of time – do so with the intent of learning about their controls and systems.
  • FAMILY STYLE: These operations, oftentimes ethnic based, can provide you with an appreciation for the early and late majority of customers who patronize restaurants. This is nearly 70% of all restaurant diners. Dedicate your time to building an appreciation for the taste of the majority.
  • BAR-B-QUE JOINT: Maybe your goal is to work in a white tablecloth restaurant and the thought of investing your time in an operation with paper tabletops and bottles of hot sauce on the table does not sit well with your plan. But you can learn a very important lesson in these operations: It’s all about flavor and flavor takes time and discipline. There are no shortcuts to building flavor that is universally enjoyed.
  • FARM WORK: The back breaking work on a farm may seem to be a far cry from working in starched chef whites in a stainless steel kitchen, but what is most important in cooking is to understand, appreciate, nurture, and admire the work of those who invest in this back-breaking work. A period of time working on a farm will build a greater appreciation for the source of ingredients you work with and the commitment of those people who do the work.
  • SENIOR CARE: Working in senior care facilities can be emotionally draining and too often does not reflect the quality of food that a chef would put his or her signature on. Working in these facilities and approaching the task of cooking with passion and commitment to process is incredibly rewarding. You will learn empathy and how much the “care” that you put into the food you prepare means to others.
  • HEALTHCARE: Typically, working in a hospital is not at the top of many cooks’ career lists. Yet, where else can you develop a real understanding of how important proper nutrition can be to the health and wellbeing of others. This is where you can find definitive evidence of the importance of well-prepared food.
  • CORPORATE DINING: The corporate “cafeteria” has long been replaced with food operations that provide fresh, well-prepared food that is exciting and packed with flavor and nutrition. In corporate environments these operations are essential ingredients in creating positive work attitudes, important conversation, and a chance to break bread and do business at the same time. Learn how food experiences can set the stage for positive action.

All of these operations, when taken in the right context, can add to your skill set to become a chef, manager, or operator. Don’t pass them by because of ego or pride; they can all “fit”.

Painted in Waterlogue

[]         BE THE PROFESSIONAL THAT YOU WERE TRAINED TO BE:

Never lose your commitment to looking, acting, and being the professional that is representative of the best of the position of cook and chef. Make this a part of your character.

[]         KNOW THAT PATIENCE IS A REQUIRED VIRTUE:

Patience has always been a requirement of success, but in these challenging times of crisis, patience is essential. I know you hope and expect to reach your goals quickly. I know that you have financial needs that cannot be met with entry-level wages, and I know that you expect that degree to pay off on day one, but understand that your patience now is an investment in that future. Your success will not happen overnight.

[]         UNDERSTAND THE NEED FOR FLEXIBILITY:

Being able and willing to turn on a dime and change directions is the price of admission in a faltering economy. Be flexible and willing to change.

[]         DEPENDABLE RULES THE DAY:

Be on time, ready to work, and excited about what is in front of you. Be the employee who once given a task – sticks with it until it is done correctly. Trust is earned and dependability is the key to building that trust.

[]         STICK TO YOUR STRATEGY:

You have a strategy, now ask yourself every day: “Is what I am doing right now bringing me any closer to reaching my goals?”

[]         BUILD YOUR NETWORK OF INFLUENCE:

Along the way, no matter how long it takes; your commitment to doing things well and demonstrating dependability will lead to a network of individuals who can help you at various stages of your career. Work on that network and DON’T BURN ANY BRIDGES along the way.

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[]         BE A PROBLEM SOLVER, NOT A FINGER POINTER:

Don’t waste any time pointing a finger at others. Help them to improve, do your job to the best of your ability, ask for help when you need it, and use your data bank of experiences to help resolve issues rather than charge others for their lack of commitment.

Good luck, be the best that you can be. Remember that even during tough times – being a chef is a noble profession with loads of opportunity.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

We are all in this together

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: PROBLEMS WITH THE CENTRALIZED FOOD SYSTEM

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Painted in Waterlogue

Every day there are lessons to be learned. At this level of crisis there are bound to be ancillary challenges that arise – challenges that were not obvious until the domino theory took hold. The farm to table movement of the past two decades was, on the surface, a return to supporting local growers and producers, but the core of this initiative was far more significant. It became obvious to some that putting all of our eggs in one basket was not a wise decision for our country, a decision that could lead to a breakdown of the food production/distribution system if conditions turned sour. Climate change, depletion of soil nutrients, over-use of chemicals in agriculture, carbon footprint issues driven by the methods of distribution, quality issues driven by farming methods that were controlled by demand rather than seasonality, the threat of agri-terrorism, and/or the inevitable appearance of a public health issue (pandemic) were looming potential problems that could devastate a centralized production/distribution system. To some (not enough) people – the answer was a return to a de-centralized system where end users found their food supplies from local and regional producers – where seasonality and use of indigenous ingredients to an area drove menus in the home and in the restaurant. If we failed to move in this direction then a crisis could bring things to a halt – sooner or later the bottom would fall out. So, in 2020 this is exactly where we are.

The domino effect can be described as follows:

“Domino effect describes a situation in which one event triggers another similar event and then another, until there is a cascade of events that occur, all because of the first, precipitating event.”

-The Grammarist

We are living in a vivid example of the domino theory. The coronavirus is testing the stability of every system that man has created. The question is: “how will our systems fare? Will our systems stand the stress test or will they crumble?” As we focus on food production and distribution it is easy to see how quickly stress caused by the pandemic (the first domino) is threatening the way that we grow, produce, distribute, and use those food ingredients that we depend on.   As an example – centralized meat packing plants are devastated by the spread of the virus – some of those plants are closing down until the spread can be controlled.

There are four companies in the U.S. that control 85% of the meat market. Americans consume over 50 billion pounds of meat each year and these four companies control 42 billion of those pounds. These same phenomena can be applied to almost every aspect of food production and processing in the U.S. The underlying rule of thumb for those who are in the business of food is: “Go big or go home.” Profit comes from volume and control of market segments. This is efficient and well supported on paper as a solid way to manage business, but it creates incredible vulnerabilities.

So, some of the meat processing plants have succumb to the virus and partially closed their operations. Suddenly the meat supply is impacted and consumers feel the pinch in the supermarket. Restaurants are forced to close to slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. As a result, demand for meat is reduced putting additional stress on the packaging system and directly impacting ranchers who now find that the market for their cattle, pigs, and chickens is reduced. Out of necessity they are forced to euthanize some of their animals. Everyone suffers – sick employees, ranchers struggling to make ends meet, distributor sales tank, and end consumers are faced with empty meat shelves in grocery stores leading to hoarding and further panic over availability. Similar problems rise up in agriculture as dairy farmers are faced with a diminished market for their product with the restaurant business in shutdown. Milk is being dumped because of its short shelf life while millions of Americans find it difficult to feed their families as jobs have instantly disappeared. People are in lockdown at home so to help fill time and alleviate some of the problems with food availability begin to bake bread at home putting overnight strains on the market for flour. Without enough regional flour mills – the supply is suddenly tapped out and consumers can’t even find all-purpose flour on grocery shelves. There is plenty of grain, just not enough capacity for milling since centralized mills forced many of those regional operations to shut down decades ago. The dominos are falling and the system is crumbling and struggling to find ways to keep up.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

-Plato

One of mankind’s historic strengths has been adaptation and correction after a crisis occurs. We adapted and corrected after World War II, after the Great Depression, after numerous recessions, following the tragedy of 9/11, and in reaction to the market crash of 2008. We will adapt and correct after Covid-19. Unfortunately, history has shown that it is far less common to find proactive planning to eliminate the inevitability of crisis. It is likely that our food system will adapt at some level and it is also likely that those who drive this change will be in a better position to survive and thrive.

At some point a new version of the restaurant industry will rise up. Those who will be positioned for success will be restaurants that advocate for a redefined distribution model. Call it farm to table if you like, but it will be more than that. It will likely be a return to decentralization – an environment where chefs not only buy local, but where menus are driven by seasonality, not a reliance on buying and serving anything, any time of the year, regardless of origin. This will be an environment where problems in the system can be isolated by region or locale, and managed properly. This will be an environment where market conditions, even during a crisis, are viewed as regional, not global challenges. Everything needs to be reassessed to avoid the domino effect in the future. This is a systemic approach that is based on an understanding that any action will impact another, and some actions can impact everything.

Just an opinion: Food for thought.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

http://www.harvestamericacues.com

OUR DAILY BREATH:  COOKS ARE SALT OF THE EARTH

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There is a world of difference in how we view people whether from the outside looking in or the inside looking out. We walk on dangerous ground when we rely on first impressions or unverified perceptions (outside looking in) to assess others and stand a much better chance of understanding the type of person they are when we stand beside them, experience their daily interactions, inquire about their background and influences, feel their pain and share in their joy.

I have enjoyed the privilege of working with, standing beside, listening to the stories, and building an understanding of the people who work in kitchens. These people, once a baseline level of trust is realized, tend to bare their souls to each other. To build an effective kitchen team is to learn what is in each individuals heart, what has brought them to this point in time, how they feel about their own position in time, and their feeling of self-worth. Once you share this information with another person you are suddenly in a position to appreciate who they are and how you might connect in work and in life. It is a wonderful feeling to reach that point and have that experience, an experience that would be hard to replicate anywhere else but in a kitchen.

This is what I have found once you put aside the thick layers of crust, once you dig past the exterior and move away from any preconceived ideas about who a person is, then the real person rises to the surface. Let’s face it, many cooks have loads of layers of crust that seem impenetrable at times, layers that have taken decades to create and will take time to break through. I have found that the vast majority of cooks, chefs, bakers, and dishwashers are salt of the earth individuals. They may come from different socio-economic backgrounds: some have college degrees, while others never made it through high school; some come from strong family backgrounds while others have non-existent or even tragic relationships with their families; some are well read while others never pick up a book; some have an untarnished relationship with the law while many others have a rap sheet of offenses that will stay with them for life; and some have strong relationships with others while many are loners who find no-one to share their life with outside of work. I have invested time with kitchen workers from Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Poland, Greece, Portugal, France, Germany, the UK, Ireland, China, Japan, Ecuador, Africa, Russia, Jamaica, and Italy; from the poorest communities of the U.S. South, to affluent urban centers on both coasts – in their heart they are almost always the same – they are the salt of the earth.

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I frequently reflect on the lyrics from the Rolling Stones “Salt of the Earth”:

Let’s drink to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his backbreaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth

These cooks, chefs, bakers, and dishwashers that I have shared space with in kitchens are all foot soldiers for the craft – members of a community that work physically, mentally, and emotionally hard – every day. They put aside their differences, push away from the outside challenges in their lives, and embrace this common bond – “do the work, do it well, do it with passion, and always support the person working next to you.”

It is the work that helps to bridge all of those differences, it is the work that pulls them in and gives them purpose, it is the work that helps to define them as special.

LINE COOKS ARE THE ENGINE THAT DRIVE A RESTAURANT

As I continue to struggle with the impact that our current crisis has on nearly everything in our lives, I can’t help but wonder how detrimental this time is to these “salt of the earth” foot soldiers. If it is the work that gives them purpose, that unifies their spirit, and that allows them to look past the challenges in their lives – what happens as that work is taken away?

I felt a pain of disappointment the other day when I read articles that chastised some foodservice workers who seemed reluctant to go back to work because they were making more on enhanced unemployment than they would if they were to sweat over a blazing range. The inference was that they must be lazy and that the government was a soft parent for rewarding their laziness. I think that we are missing the point – these are my salt of the earth people, these are the same people who would rather work when they were in pain than disappoint their co-workers, these are the individuals who would consistently spend 10-12 hours a day on their feet in a very challenging, and sometimes dangerous work environment because it was the right thing to do. Maybe, just maybe, it is finally time for us to realize that these employees are worth more and that what they are paid is far too often insufficient for them to survive. Make no mistake – the vast majority would rather work, but for this brief period of time they are able to pay their bills. Let’s start to reflect on value and fair treatment as we transition back into business.

I continue to think about these fantastic people with whom I have spent my entire career and know that as we bring life back to our kitchens we will have a considerable amount of acclimation to deal with. Skills can atrophy when not in use and this period of months when our warrior kitchen staff has been idle, when those bonds that were built among their team members, and when those life stories were shared and accepted, there will be much that has atrophied. They won’t be as trusting when they return, they won’t share as much as they had when their life was entwined with others, and many of those technical skills that were once fine tuned will suffer from idle rust. It will be like a favorite sauté pan that has lost its season – it just won’t work well until is has been fired, rubbed with salt, used and abused until it is slick and polished – that point where it never fails the cook and nothing sticks. All of those “salt of the earth” employees will need some time to polish their skills, to let down their barriers, and to remove a few layers of that crust.

This time of idleness is dangerous for a cook, it is a time when there is too little to do and not enough release for those environmental factors that make them interesting yet vulnerable. Chefs and operators need to keep this in mind as they struggle with the when and how to bring their operations back on line. Communicate with those team members and give them something to chew on so that when the time arrives they will be able to fire up their engines, brush off the dust from their shoulders, and perform their magic once again.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Stay Connected to Your Team

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

OUR DAILY BREATH: WONDERS OF KITCHEN SKILL DEVELOPMENT

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Cooks have a certain swagger that oftentimes hides a sense of pride in skill development from that first day in the kitchen. Maybe it was that entry-level first job at the age of 16 – that part time work as a dishwasher or fast food worker, or a series of progressive positions once cooking seemed to hold that spark of interest that could evolve into a future career – but in all cases under that growing façade of confidence is a sense of pride in those little things that inspire and motivate. Think back to those skills that may seem simple and automatic now, but at the time they were a revelation.

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Cracking an egg is something that we rarely think about nowadays, but remember how gratifying it was the first time you mastered cracking and egg with one hand, separating the top and bottom of the shell to reveal the yolk and white, watching it hit a hot pan and realizing that the yolk would remain intact. From that moment on, this hand memory became part of your skill portfolio, a sign that you had mastered something simple, but important.

Think back to the practice that it took to finally reach that point when you were able to flip vegetables in a pan, watching the product lift briefly into the air and then gingerly lay back down as the pan was drawn back into position. No need for utensils to stir the product, a flip of the wrist is all that it took. Now something we do without thought was at that point a great accomplishment – check it off your skill list.

Learning how to build an edge, properly hold, efficiently guide a French knife and expertly cut vegetables to precise lengths and dimensions, would become a sign of your proficiency and confidence. Now we relish the role that that knife plays in our daily work and enjoy how fluid our knife skills have become. In the beginning it was so gratifying to reach that point where the knife became and extension of our hand.

Learning about caramelization (the Maillard Reaction) when the application of heat to the amino acids and natural sugar in an ingredient helped to bring out and enhance flavors, is life changing for a cook. Discovering that this is what defines that mouthwatering flavor of a grilled steak or chop, that mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery, or the combination of exterior crunch to the soft, mouthwatering internal moisture of a hash brown potato, opens up so many doors to a lifetime of great cooking.

After watching the process numerous times and now holding that fillet knife in our hand, the chef gives us a chance to approach that whole salmon with the intent of removing the fillets. The knife is razor sharp and the trepidation is real as you make that attempt at hugging the bones while removing the fillets and minimizing any signs of valuable salmon behind. Those initial attempts were probably pretty sloppy resulting in less than stellar results, and maybe too much product destined for a salmon mousse. After those initial dozen or so tries you built up confidence, but not speed. After years of wielding that fillet knife you can now zip through that fish without even an ounce of beautiful pink flesh left behind. Check off another skill that sets you apart from the novice.

chuck and mickey

You were struck early on by the intoxicating smells of the kitchen. It was that veal stock simmering in large stainless kettles that wrapped itself around you and gave a sense of comfort to the kitchen. You would take a deep breath when you first walked into the kitchen knowing that that smell led to liquid gold that would eventually become a series of important sauces and foundation for featured restaurant soups. The stock was something even more important than that – the stock represented the chef’s desire to do things right, to respect the foundations of cooking, and to find ways to respect and use all of the ingredients in the kitchen as the magic of cooking turned them into something truly special. This was one of the first deep-seated foundational cooking skills that you were involved with. You discovered that a true stock was more than water, meat trimmings and vegetable peels, it was an exact product that included the caramelization of bones, the right proportion of mirepoix vegetables, a proportionate relationship of water to bones, the right temperature, and time. Once you understood this it became second nature and a treasured relationship that would stick with you throughout your career. Pride in doing it correctly would become a hallmark of your career, a signature of your professionalism.

Do you remember when the science of cooking became part of your repertoire? It might have happened without you realizing it, but it likely occurred the first time you pulled off a perfectly prepared hollandaise, beurre blanc, or mayonnaise. Process, temperature, a steady hand, and using an emulsifier like egg yolks brought science to life for you as a young cook. Now you approach this each time as a fully understood, natural process. Simple ingredients with an understanding of exactness yield a skill to be silently proud of.

Thickening a sauce can be approached in a variety of ways: modified starch, liaison of egg yolks, puree of vegetables or fruit, reduction, or a roux. All of these methods have their place – but that first time you really understood the role and importance of a roux was magical. When you realized that the amount of time dedicated to the cooking of a roux would impact the finished sauces texture and flavor, was a special moment. Not all roux is made equal and now you were in control.

saucing

Reflect back on how you struggled to learn how to pop open an oyster from that pocket in the back of the shell, or approach a littleneck clam with a clam knife after purging it in water, cornmeal and salt. Remember the fear that rushed through you, as the knife slipped into the palm of your hand leaving a cut that would remind you of your lack of skill for the rest of the night. Remember how you cursed and complained as you tried to hide your own doubt of skill as you struggled from bi-value to bi-value – until, you finally got it. Do you remember that moment? Do you remember how that next oyster became a sample of success as you allowed the muscle and the briny liquid inside an oyster to slide down the back of your throat? This was a celebration and a reckoning of why you became a cook. Check another skill off your list.

When the chef told you to attack that case of whole chickens and break them into eight pieces – you groaned in anticipation of a skill that you had yet to master. You took way too long to finish the job, but by the end of that task you were able to find those ball and socket joints in the legs, and swiftly slice the breasts off each side of the carcass without leaving valuable meat behind. The remaining bones would be used in that chicken stock that was ready to simmer in a 30-gallon kettle in the prep kitchen. Now busting out a case of chickens was just another well-developed skill that helped to make you a confident cook.

There would be so many other simple tasks to add to your portfolio along the way: turning a seven-sided potato, watching a popover spring to life with steam as its leavening agent, learning how to control the flames in a pan while deglazing with wine or liquor, slow roasting garlic until its bite sweetened with heat, whisking room temperature egg whites into beautiful peaks of meringue, trimming a tenderloin and hand cutting into perfect filets, folding a perfect omelet while an onslaught of orders click off the POS printer, and walking through the steps of a book fold on croissant dough that would yield hundreds of flaky layers. Each small process built your confidence, and your brand as a cook.

We take these acquired skills for granted now as our careers have progressed and the demands of our job have changed, but it will always be these skills that allow us to proudly hold the title of cook and have the ability to apply magical processes to the ingredients we are privileged to work with. We have come a long way, but every once in a while it is important to reflect back on that bag of tricks that gave us the confidence and the power to do what we do.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Be all that you can be – be a chef

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

Photo #1:  Forty years ago

Photo #2:  Today we are going to learn how to crack and egg

Photo #3:  Chefs Carroll and Beriau

Photo #4:  Tableside sauce work at the CIA – Bocuse Restaurant

 

OUR DAILY BREATH: TRUST

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What is very clear, as restaurants in certain states sense a desire to lift stay at home restrictions and return to business is that guests will remain leery of any interaction with others in public places. A lack of trust will apply to everyone and every place as those once enthusiastic patrons give pause to any thought of dining out. Re-opening businesses when the virus is still clawing towards its peak is very risky, of that we are sure. All reputable predictions point to an upswing in cases and severe cases once the stay at home requirements are eased. Time is not the only answer for pulling the rug out from underneath Covid-19 – the only real answer is a vaccine which is not likely for more than a year from now – if at all. So, we open our businesses to the reality that aligns with these predictions. TRUST will be, and should be, our first order of business.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.”

-unknown author

Look at your restaurant reopening through the eyes of the employee and the guest. They will both have trust issues that will determine whether or not you are successful beyond this first phase of transition. There will be mandated restrictions on capacity, physical distancing, sanitation protocols, use of masks, etc., but it will be your commitment to the safety of all involved that is the key to rebuilding a level of trust that will carry your operation through this tenuous time and on to an eventual renewal of prosperity.   Please note: IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE THAT IMPACTS ON THE SAFETY AND WELLBEING OF GUESTS OR EMPLOYEES IT MAY BE IMPOSSIBLE TO RECOVER AS A BUSINESS.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

-Stephen R. Covey

It doesn’t make sense to reopen without a well thought out plan on how to keep all stakeholders safe, how to communicate your commitment to everyone, how to live that commitment, and how to rebuild a level of trust that alleviates fear and anxiety. We see this already in various businesses that have rampant cases of Covid-19, yet are expecting employees and guests to carry on with business as usual. Consider if you were an employee in a senior center, a hospital worker, or a line worker in a meat processing plant. How would you feel about walking through that employee door to a day of uncertainty? How about a patient or visitor to those facilities? What would your level of trust be?

As a restaurant operator, a business person with strong operational skills but very limited understanding of viral infection aside from the mandates from the government and what you decipher from an equally poorly informed media – how prepared will you be to communicate a high level of trust in your ability to keep everyone safe?

When your employees walk through that kitchen back door – how will they know and trust that you have their safety in mind – first and foremost? When your guest walk-through that front door – how will they know and trust that you have their safety in mind – first and foremost? Your plan must include not only the details surrounding safety and sanitation, but an effective communication strategy that will help to alleviate some of the concerns that people will have. Forget the connections that you had with all of those stakeholders in the past – this is new, uncharted territory. You will need to prove yourself all over again, and with stakes that can mean life or death. Scary isn’t it?

If you fail to plan, and as a result make a mistake that leads to serious illness – you may forever violate that trust that will be so important to a thriving business. Think about restaurant chains that had well publicized safety issues in the past and how dramatically those incidents impacted their business. Those incidents pale in comparison to the threat posed from Covid-19. Take the time now, don’t leap at the opportunity to reopen simply because it is allowed – PLAN, PLAN, PLAN.

“If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.”

-Zig Ziglar

So, how do you approach the process of planning for reopening when there is so much uncertainty associated with any decisions that you make? Here are some thoughts:

[]         EDUCATE YOURSELF:

You can’t be effective as a crisis manager if you are not well informed. Study information about viruses and how they spread, what can be done to control them, how to properly sanitize and how to keep the potential for transmission down. Before you insist that employees wash their hands frequently with hot soapy water and use sanitizer – make sure understand why 20 seconds is important and how the virus is impacted by proper procedures. Before you insist that all products coming into the restaurant be sanitized before moving items to cooler and storerooms – build an understanding of how the virus is transmitted on cardboard, metal, and plastic. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND WHY YOU ARE DOING IT!

[]         TEACH AND TRAIN YOUR STAFF

Make it a requirement for your employees to complete a virus-training program that builds on an understanding of the role that they play in keeping everyone safe and healthy. Include an understanding of signs of infection that should send up a red flag of concern and consider some sick day compensation model so that employees don’t feel compelled to work through early signs that may just be a common cold, but could be worse.

[]         INSTITUTE A REGIMENT OF SAFETY – MAKE IT PART OF YOUR DNA

Institute a “no exception” protocol when it comes to sanitizing surfaces, washing hands, wearing masks, keeping safe distances, and proper handling of food, utensils, pots and pans, dishes, and glassware. Enforce this consistently so that it becomes second nature to all who work in your operation. This applies to EVERYONE.

[]         PARTNER WITH LIKE MINDED VENDORS

Take a look at the vendors that you currently use. Talk with them and discover how seriously they are taking their role in prevention. Are their drivers wearing masks and gloves? Are they sanitizing their trucks? What is their protocol for entering your kitchen? How committed and knowledgeable are their employees who handle product, load trucks, and care for the safety of ingredients on their hand carts as they roll orders across your kitchen floor? Make this one of your most important criteria in deciding from whom to buy the ingredients that you use.

[]         GO BEYOND WHAT IS REQUIRED

State governments will likely mandate certain precautions during the first two or three phases of reopening businesses. This will include limiting capacities, distancing tables, and protective equipment for employees, and even masks for guests who enter your restaurant. First it is essential that you are the enforcer, but in building that level of trust it is even more important to go beyond what is required. Signage, dialogue with service staff, floor markings that point to proper distancing, sanitary packaging of utensils, on-going training sessions with staff, sanitary bags for guests to store their masks during dinner, etc. Everything helps to build trust and protect all involved.

[]         START COMMUNICATING NOW – BEFORE YOU OPEN

Use your website and social media outlets to communicate with your potential guests while you are going through the planning process. Start Today! Let everyone know about your training program, your focus and commitment to safety, how you will be working with certain vendors, and your breadth of knowledge about the virus. Trust begins long before employees or guests walk through the door. Be proactive during this planning phase.

[]         WALK THE TALK

What you say you will do must be what you actually do. Comfort and trust is validated when it is obvious that you walk the talk.

[]         MEASURE YOUR OWN PERFORMANCE

Debrief with your staff on a regular basis. Where are there kinks in the system? What isn’t working and how can it be fixed. What problems need to be solved and what potential problems need addressing before they get out of hand.

[]         DON’T PUT ALL OF YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET

Nobody knows how successful reopening might be. We project that cases of infection will increase as restrictions are loosened, but we don’t know to what extent. To be proactive – it is important that your restaurant look at continuing alternative measures that build new business along with the opportunity to open up our dining rooms. Take out, delivery, mini-markets, on-line cooking classes, etc. Keep the creativity engine working at full steam.

[]         MODIFY AND ADAPT – CREATE A NEW BUSINESS MODEL

Do not assume that what worked in the past will work again. Every restaurateur knows that restrictions on restaurant capacity will make it impossible to survive, yet – this may be the model that we will face for some time. Rather than succumb – think about new models that will help during these transitions.

[]         STAY FLEXIBLE

Most importantly – stay flexible. If cases of the virus increase exponentially as a result of loosening requirements then be prepared for a re-enactment of those requirements. This is nowhere near over – so let’s plan for future scenarios rather than face unplanned change that cripples our industry even more.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting

We are in this together

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