The True Role of the Chef

Mary Petersen is one of those rare individuals who falls under the heading of a silent superstar. She continues to have a tremendous impact on the quality of culinary education throughout the United States and the integrity of our profession without seeking the recognition that is due to her.

I have known Mary, admired her dedication and professionalism, and have called her a friend for a few decades. Her work with American Culinary Federation Accreditation set the stage for insuring that culinary schools meet a universal standard for excellence and her current organization: The Center for Advancement of Foodservice Education (CAFE) is the gold standard for in-service training of culinary faculty from coast to coast.

I am very pleased that she has agreed to offer this guest commentary for culinary cues.

For those unfamiliar with CAFE, check out their website at: http://www.cafemeetingplace.com.

Mary wrote:

“I was trying to think of a phrase which captured the role of a chef and therefore, the role of a chef instructor. Words like techniques and inspiration and even wellbeing crossed my mind. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

I believe that the role of a chef (like the role of a business manager or bus driver or team captain or blog creator) is to “figure things out.”

As a coordinator of special events (for chefs) around the U.S., I am no stranger to moving various pieces around according to a check list of “things to do to ensure that the event goes well.” Programming, marketing, hotel blocks, meal functions, assessments, etc., are part of my vocabulary in order to make attendees as well as the hosts of these events feel that they have been involved with something worthy of their time and effort and dollars.

What I do three to six times a year, chefs do on a daily basis, multiple times. How can they teach those skills? How do they help eager students learn from their mistakes so that they become worthy of a paycheck?

Schools are offering both cooking and service opportunities through catering and even running restaurants. They encourage internships and then after a couple of years, chef instructors pop a toque on their students’ heads and wish them well.

Their first chefs expect them to work twice as hard as experienced co-workers; they expect an incredible volume of output; and they expect these beginners to keep quiet and learn.

But chefs also take time to show them shortcuts; they complement them on their efforts; and they feel hugely proud when they become a viable part of a team.

I heard a well-known and respected chef say that when a student asked to be an intern in his kitchen, he (the chef) told them that they should pay him for the time they spent with him. The audience gasped when they heard this. The chef then said that if he hired the intern, then he would refund all the money he had been given.

Fair? Depends on how hard the intern wanted to work and how much he was willing to listen and learn productivity. By the way, this was not in New York City!

The chef in the classroom or in the first job wants the student/worker to succeed. They have high standards of effort required and more than anything, they want to produce someone who can figure it out.”

It is Time for Reform – Your Health is the Top Priority

The Elephant in the Closet:

So here is the reality: I praise the president for making an attempt at healthcare reform and unlike some I do not necessarily oppose what has been labeled as Obamacare. I think the greatest nation in the world should be able to make quality healthcare affordable for everyone. The real issue is that nothing has been done to address the sinful pricing structure of hospitals (some of which is driven by extraordinary cost associated with liability, bureaucratic processes, and fund distribution), the immoral pricing imposed by drug companies, and the lack of support for preventative medicine (nutrition, exercise, healthy choices).

Two cases in point: I recently had to spend a few hours in a Philadelphia Emergency room where they drew blood, had a doctor see me for less than two minutes and scheduled a CATScan that took about 5 minutes. I received a bill for $13,800 of which $75 is out of pocket for me and the balance was billed to my insurance company. The bill was not even itemized! This is immoral and should be considered illegal billing.

Another case is a friend of mine who has to take a medication every day for the rest of his life. Each pill cost $150. Fortunately for him, the majority is covered by insurance, however in both cases it is this sinful billing that continues to cause an absurd increase in healthcare costs, fraudulent misuse of funds, and healthcare costs that without government support would be out of reach for most Americans.

We should stop blaming the president and put pressure on our representatives to investigate the drug companies and immoral pricing expenses from many health care providers. Additionally, isn’t it time for another national wellness and physical fitness campaign similar to what John F. Kennedy did in his administration? We can reduce the cost of healthcare by simply addressing the need to take better care of ourselves in the first place.

As chefs and restaurateurs we have a role to play in this. I would support a national campaign for healthier menus, smaller portions, reduced use of sodium, fresh always before processed, and calorie, fat and sodium counts that are required on all menus. As a nation we are killing our people one fork full at a time and restaurants should be the voice of reason rather than the nail in the coffin.

A Tribute to My Father on Memorial Day

A Tribute to My Father on Memorial Day

I posted this once before as a series on Facebook, but it seems appropriate to offer it again in its entirety on Memorial Day.
A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER

So, this is something that I promised myself after clearing out both my father and mother’s estates over the past ten years – when my mom passed away this past August I found a letter that my father had written to his parents in 1945 from his various positions as a US Army private immersed in WWII. It was so telling that I felt it was worth sharing with others. Even if you don’t agree, I felt it was important for me to pass it on. It is lengthy, so I will offer it in a couple of segments. If you like it, then share it. If not, that’s OK too. So here it is…..

From Earl Sorgule – September 7, 1945.

“Dear Mom,

Not more than two hours ago we heard an announcement saying that censorship has been discontinued, so now that I have the opportunity and the urge to write, I shall give you a complete analysis of events from the time I left the states, over one year ago, until now.

Now it was way back in July of 1944 that we were alerted for shipment from Camp Reynolds. We had been completely outfitted with new clothes and equipment. We boarded the train at Reynolds and headed in a northerly direction toward New York State. That afternoon we passed through Erie, PA and that night before I realized it, we pulled into Buffalo.

The troop train stopped at a signal tower along Harlem Road someplace. I can remember seeing that cream-colored schoolhouse and little red fire station we passed so often when we visited the Larsen’s. It seemed to me that we passed over that railroad bridge on Stephenson Street where the Larsen’s live. We stayed here about 2 hours not being allowed to leave the train. It was mighty heart breaking being so near, yet so far.

Then we pulled out of there and took that old familiar route through upper New York State: Rochester, Albany, the Hudson River and New York and from there to Camp Shanks. We remained at Camp Shanks for about 4 days; long enough to be processed and issued new rifles and bayonets. It was the 22nd of July that we departed for the docks to board our transport for overseas. To our surprise we found the gigantic Queen Mary sitting there so proud – waiting for us.

We naturally thought that we were in luck having such a swell ship to take us overseas, but to our regret, we were stuck down in D-deck, just about water level. The Queen was plenty crowded-18,000 troops “like sardines, we were”. We pulled out of New York harbor and the last vanishing thing we saw was the Statue of Liberty.

Now after 4 1/2 days at sea, we pulled into Greenock, Scotland. We boarded a train there and headed straight for England. The Scottish countryside was very beautiful with all its rolling hills and thatch roof homes.

We weren’t on the train more than half a day when we pulled into Chester, England. Our reception committee consisted of a couple of stuffed shirt officers, who got us green horns on the ball, but quick. Out in the street we came upon a line of GI trucks. We climbed aboard and like a flash we were tearing through English streets. After an hours rough ride we came upon our home in England. It was a ground forces “Replacement Depot” – Repo-Depo, we call it. Here we stayed for 6 weeks taking more training. It was rough while we were there, but we all came out of it OK.

At the end of our sixth week of training we volunteered to ship out to an outfit. Three of us from our barracks were on the shipment; Shives, Sherrel and myself.

Well, at last we were to join an outfit. There were thirty of us in the group that left. We rode the train all that night and through the next day. By mistake, we got off in a small town called Brekan, in Wales. It was a nice, quiet little town where American troops hadn’t been seen very often.

We got off here and had over a half day to wait for our next train. So we roamed the streets of the town buying apples, pears and pastry. We had nice chats with the Welshmen. Then we finally hopped on a train and headed for 1308.

Almost continually we were troubled with rain. We had one spell of it for 53 days without any let up. When I tell you the mud was 3 feet deep in places, I am not kidding. We weren’t equipped for this weather; we had no boots, leaky raincoats and poor chow.

The Company had one bad accident while at Cherburg. That was when our big tarmac distributor, 10,000 gallon tank blew up and burned for 3 hours. We lost some time and equipment in that mishap.

My impression is that Cherbourg is a German loving wet hole where nothing but the poorest Frenchmen would live. They had a collaborationist camp with over 2,000 Frenchmen within it.

One night in December we were alerted and by the next day we had our camp completely dismantled and we were ready to pull out for someplace up front.

The weather at this time turned colder and instead of rain, things began to freeze and we had snow. We were on our way out of Normandy by that night, and it got colder by the hour. When we drew near to Paris we were just about froze. The temperature dropped to 7 above zero and believe me we felt every degree of it. All wrapped up in our blankets, too cold to talk, too tired to and hungry to even move. Everything was silent.”

“The convoy stopped just about 12 o’clock that evening in a suburb of Paris. We had time to get out and stretch and get our circulation back. We were so cold we would do anything to get warm.

One of the men in our platoon managed to buy a bottle of wine from a Frenchman, which sure helped to keep us warm for a while.

About the time we reached Reims, the cold became unbearable. When we stopped we quickly went about ripping a wooden fence down and with the aid of 5 gallons of gasoline and a match we got ourselves warm again. While in Reims, we refueled all of our trucks and drew ammunition.

As the convoy crept up the long cold road ahead we noticed the Frenchmen, old men and women, middle aged and children waving us farewell. There was something very warming in this that one felt way down deep inside of them.

Now, we were supposed to reach our destination that night after two full days and nights of riding in the back of a GI truck. Night drew near and still no sign of a stop. It was well into the morning when we found out we were lost. The roads were icy and rough; the snow lay deep in the fields and woods. We could see ourselves getting out and [itching pup tents in those woods, but luckily we never did stop. Off in the distance we could see and hear the artillery. The convoy crossed one river and then another. The second found to be the Meuse, so we knew we were pulling into the Battle of the Bulge. It seemed we were completely lost either in Belgium, France or Luxemburg. We suddenly stopped and our C.O. was seen walking up to a building. He went in and two other officers followed. We knew now that something was up. The company remained in the trucks. In the cold, clear air we kept hearing the roar of guns and the rolling of tanks.

Like a flash out of the sky came a whine and a roar and the heavy rat-tat of a Gerry machine gun. Before we even knew what had happened we had all jumped clear of the trucks and took cover. Our eyes saw the silhouette of a Gerry plane fading into the pitch-black sky. He circled and came back again. We were safe this time, but plenty scared. When things got under control again the captain said we had places to bunk for the night.

We had nothing but straw and the hard floor to sleep on but it was worth a million. After sleeping like logs that night we arose the next morning feeling fresh in the crisp winter air. What an appetite we had built up. C-rations sure tasted good.

It was two days before Christmas and we never realized it. The morale of the outfit was good, but everyone was sincere in what they were doing.

Now, Willie Lanz and I were chosen as Company runners. This was a day and night job that brought us plenty of exc

Our regiment was stretched out along the Meuse and we had quite a job patrolling and guarding the all important bridges. Every night from one-three, Gerry planes would harass us with bombing and strafing.

Christmas came upon us like a flash and we weren’t prepared for it. Christmas Eve Willie and I slept in a barn in a town outside of an American cemetery from the last war. Christmas Day we ate C-rations and liked it. After delivering a message to our Company we were hailed by a Frenchman who called us into his home. They offered us wine and roasted chicken. We were very thankful for the way they treated us. That man and woman were an example of the kind of people living in this region.”

“We had friends all along our routes – one could tell that these people were appreciative and understanding. The German loving people of Normandy had no such feelings.

Willie and I had several scrapes during our adventures in the Ardens. One night a Gerry plane almost had our number. We were putting along the road in the Jeep on that crisp moonlit night. The hills and surroundings had a weird glow and everything was quiet and still. You could hear for miles around. Down from the sky in back of us came this Gerry, spitting away with his machine guns. Luckily he missed the first time. We had pulled into a grove of trees, but we were leery of this spot and we decided to move to another place of safety. We pulled the Jeep around behind a barn and waited there in the darkness to see what would happen. Sure enough, back he came blazing away with all four guns, peppering that same grove of trees we had just left. We had butterflies in our stomachs after that incident. We raced back to our headquarters but fast, giving that old Jeep everything she had.

Another time, Willie and I had to take a message to Stenay, France and just as we pulled into the town it seemed to light up like the light of day. The Gerry’s were dropping firebombs and you could see and hear the explosions in the outskirts of this innocent French town. The Nazis must have known that part of the 17th Airborne Division was there and that the 28th Division was withdrawing through that sector to regroup. They wanted to smash the bridges, I suppose, but no soap.

They did manage to get a few hits on a P.O.W. stockade however and drop guns and explosives for the prisoners to use. Immediately, the P.O.W.s started swarming through the gaps in the barbed wire. They were mowed down by machine gun fire just as fast.

Now, we were attached to the Third and Fourth Armies while there. We did our job and when the Bulge was knocked out, we were on our way again. Now we headed west.

This time the Company went by rail. Dad knows what that means; we were packed into boxcars with no heat or light. The old 40-8’s, what a mess. Well, while the Company was speeding west in the bitter cold our equipment was in a convoy heading in the same direction. Willie and I rode in the open Jeep all the way. I nipped both feet pretty bad then. It was way below zero at that time.

Now we pulled into La-Harve and it was too cold to live, it seemed. Our job there was to operate a staging area for incoming troops. When the Company arrived they bore some important booty. It seems they stole overshoes, gloves, sleeping bags, socks, etc. That’s the only way we could get anything in France. There were over 1,300 sleeping bags stolen from that quartermaster depot in Reuon, France.

The camp we operated outside of Le-Harve was named Lucky-Strike. We sent the 65th Division through there together with many other small units. We remained there until around February. This time I rode in a 40 & 8 together with the Company. This trip took us 4 days and nights. We arrived in Marseilles and found it much warmer. We camped there for 2 days and finally moved out to a town called St. Chemois; we remained there for one month doing roadwork. Now we had to move again.

This time it was the French Riviera. The city was “Nice” and it was great. We were 6 miles from the front but safe as all get out. Here we worked on hotels and apartment houses to be used for the GI rest center. This is where I bought all my film and had them done up.

We stayed 7 weeks in Nice and then departed for Marseilles again. Here we got a job working construction on a staging area. Shortly after, the war came to an end. It meant nothing to us because we kept on working.

Then came the point system and they added up our scores. Mine was 33, so we kept on working. Later we received one more star, which gave me a 38. When we had completed our job we were the first ones to be placed in the camp. It wasn’t until later that we found out we were headed for the Pacific.”

It wasn’t until later that we found out we were headed for the Pacific. Now, one more Battle Star came through for us giving us a total of 3 and making my score-43.

At the end of six weeks doing nothing we were alerted so that meant but one thing, we were headed for a boat. Indeed we were, for shortly afterward we found ourselves climbing the gangplank of the General Mann. This was the 14th of July that we boarded the ship. Just a little less than a year from the time I left the States for Europe. The General Mann had some 6,000 troops aboard and she sure was crowded. The first week we ate better than we had since we left the States. Then it started to drop off and it got so warm we couldn’t sleep at night. Nothing to do but sit on deck and talk and dream.

All this time the officers were being taken care of, getting three meals a day, sleeping in air-conditioned compartments, loafing around in their lounge where ice cream and sodas could be bought.

Fifteen days on the Atlantic and all we saw was the Rock of Gibraltar and water and more water. Finally, we pulled into the Caribbean Sea and prepared to take the cut through the Panama Canal. We were allowed to go ashore at Christopa and here we were given free hot dogs, coffee, cokes and candy. Here is where I wrote that one letter!

Oh yes, we also received some mail. I received quite a batch of letters, two packages, and the two envelopes with T-shirts and briefs.

Shortly after we had pulled out of Panama we were put on K.P. There we remained for 3 weeks. We swung past the Marshal Islands and continued on our way. We pulled into the Carolina’s several days later and anchored. Then came the news of the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese surrender.

Now after 54 days at sea we sat anchored off of Mog-Mog Island waiting for God knows what.

To give you a little dope on what’s going on and how we were being treated, I’ll start like this: We’re being treated like cattle! The chow is miserable, the heat is unbearable. I have never sweat so much in my life. There isn’t an enlisted man aboard who hasn’t lost 10 pounds. The officers and crew get three meals of the cream of the chow, and we get two that even a starving dog would balk at. The cereal is wormy and moldy, the potatoes are rotten and nothing is ever attempted to be fixed right.

The war is over, they have no need for us, yet we sit here waiting while the officers get fat and the big shots argue about what they’re going to wear to Emperor Hirohito’s tea party. Day after day we get news about the poor boys in the States who shouldn’t go overseas and why continue the draft. There are enough troops there now to take care of the occupation. That’s all we hear: what McArthur wears to dinner, how he feels and how some general bought chickens from a Japanese farmer and one of them laid an egg.

I’m letting you know this Army organization stinks from the words “I Do”. If we don’t leave here soon I’m telling you something bad will happen, the men have been uneasy for weeks. It’s rotten the way things are run aboard this ship. If we ever do get off we shall never be the same hard working individuals we were before. We’re fed up with the Army and all this nonsense.

We hope and pray that we can return to the States again soon. We shall never leave again as long as we may live, that’s one country where you can fence me in.

Excuse me if you think I got a little harsh there but it’s the truth and I don’t see how anybody can hold it back.

Well mom, that was a long one. Maybe I’ll read it over when I get home.

Your loving son,

Earl”

This is the tenth or so time that I have read this letter and it always chokes me up. The irony is that my dad NEVER talked about the war, and unfortunately, I never asked him about it while he was alive. I re-read this to stay in touch with him and to try and understand more of what made him the great man that he was.

If there is a lesson(s) it would be this: Make sure that you take the time to sit down with your parents and ask them about their life experiences, do it often. Secondly, think about those young boys and girls overseas who are representing our country on foreign soil. The job is never easy.

Plan Your French “Wine Memories” Vacation

In the fall of 2013, Harvest America Ventures, in partnership with The Weissberg Family of Paris and Chef Sarah Steffan of the Lake Placid Lodge, will present a vacation opportunity of a lifetime.

Unlike most wine tours that focus primarily on tasting, this educational wine immersion program is designed for wine lovers, restaurant professionals, cooks and chefs, those who appreciate the connection between wine and culture, and adventure tourists who are drawn to the beauty of Burgundy, France.

Participants will tour regional vineyards and wineries, walk the vineyards and touch the vines, chat with wine makers and renown chefs, taste various wines from the rich regions of Loire and Burgundy, visit Middle Age and Renaissance castles, enjoy the aromas and flavors of traditional French food, become a part of French village life, enjoy the musical talents of a renown French pianist, and bike through the most picturesque and peaceful French countryside.

Your home base for the wine experience will be a 16th century stone building: “The Maison des Adirondacks” in Entrains sur Nohain, France. This beautiful property is in close proximity to Beaune, Vezelay, Sancerre, Pouilly sur Loire, Chablis and Auxerre.

All of your meals, in-country transportation, wine tastings, classes, immersion activities, and lodging are included in the price of the week long, life-experience.

Watch for additional details as they unfold by checking our website at: http://www.harvestamericaventures.com. The anticipated dates at this point are September 23-29, 2013. Mark your calendars! The program is limited to four couples (8 persons) this year.

Paul Sorgule
Harvest America Ventures, LLC

SAY IT’S NOT SO……….

SAY IT'S NOT SO..........

I guess we all have our heros – people who in our professional or personal lives have helped us to set a course and continue to inspire us on a daily basis. To some it may be a musician, a painter, an athlete, a teacher, an inventor, or a parent, friend, or sibling. To thousands of chefs, including myself, it has been, and always will be the great chef Escoffier.

Escoffier, afterall, defined the organization of a kitchen (called the brigade) that is still used nearly 100 years after his prime, he introduced service a’la russe (service by course), brought dignity and professionalism to the kitchen and wrote Le Guide Culinaire, the chef’s cookbook.

I remember one of my first trips to France when I was fortunate enough to visit the Escoffier museum (his former home) in Ville neuf Lobert, near Nice. When I came across the great chef’s desk I placed my hand on top and felt the electricity of his influence. The following year I was honored to represent the United States at a conference that focused on the future of culinary education in Escoffier’s home town with his great-grandson, Michel Escoffier. I will never forget the experience.

In my office I have proudly hung a portrait of Escoffier to remind me every day of the importance that he placed on cooking and those who choose to make a career in the kitchen.

So, naturally, while visiting London last week I had to get my picture taken in front of the Savoy Hotel where Escoffier and his front-of-the-house partner: Cesar Ritz once held court and re-defined cuisine for the British.

Upon returning to the States I undertook a bit more research on the Savoy and Escoffier’s tenure there only to find an article pertaining to a BBC documentary that was prepared on the chef’s life. The writer had apparently completed some research that, taken at face value, is quite disturbing. He claims to have proof that Escoffier and Ritz were fired from the Savoy for misappropriation of funds that they used their positions to wine and dine and convince investors to set them up in the Carlton Hotel for significant personal gain. According to the writer, their is proof including signed confessions by both parties. He claims that the British Royalty ignored the incident and subsequent punishment for reasons of probable collusion or fear of public outcry.

“Escoffier and Ritz were sacked by the Savoy on February 28, 1898. the reasons were that the pair had been dining – and especially wining – potential investors in the new Carlton Hotel that they opened that year at the Savoy’s expense. ……Escoffier, moreover, cofessed to taking “commission”, gifts or kickbacks from the Savoy’s suppliers amounting to a (sizeable amount of money in today’s terms).”
by: Paul Levy
June 2012
The Telegraph

Escoffier is my professional hero and as such I choose to deny the validity of this story. His work and standards have been my searchlight as well as a beacon for thousands of chefs over the decades, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and turn a blind eye, at least until more is revealed. 🙂

In France the Fundamentals are Strong

Bread, Cheese and Wine – all products of fermentation, products that require an artisan to prepare properly, products of passion and commitment and products that represent the foundations of a great cuisine.

Having just returned from a far too short week in France, I relish the experience of realizing that no mater where you travel in this country, the people are fully committed to these foundations. They understand them, appreciate them, live by them and communicate every day using bread, wine and cheese as the common denominator representing not just a country’s cuisine, but the core of its culture as well.

Paris, of course, has more than it’s share of great boulangeries, wine shops and cheese vendors, but it is the countryside that serves as the bounty for a country defined by great food foundations. Even the smallest town in Burgundy will have at least one if not two or three excellent bakeries. Look to the left, look to the right and you will find wine vines producing sometimes exceptional, but always great local wines. Finding world class cheese is not difficult, in fact it is so essential to life in France that it is as much a staple in shops and homes as eggs and milk are in the United States.

The most impressive thing is that the French are serious about their food. As America enjoys a food integrity metamorphosis, we can look to the French countryside for inspiration. The French have been buying local, using grass-fed animals, avoiding the use of chemicals, enjoying the work of artisans and planning their menus based on the seasons for as long as time.

Bread in particular is simply extraordinary in France. From petite dejunier to late night dinner, cafe latte with baguette or croissant and confiture to croustades with your rillette- bread plays a central role in the meal.

Drinking wine is not reserved for those who have the resources and wine knowledge to purchase from the best wine shops; wine in France is all about knowing the vintner, visiting and touching the vines, breaking bread with the wine maker who is your neighbor, and clinking glasses while tasting in their private wine cellars. In the country, every home has a wine cave – the most treasured part of the family estate.

To truly understand the foundations of cuisine (bread, wine and cheese) you MUST visit the countryside of France. This is a right of passage for any serious culinarian and food lover.

Each time I visit France, it is time in the country that leaves me truly appreciative of the impact that food can have on culture. It is so wonderful to see Americans turning back to an understanding of this and an appreciation for the foundations.

I can hardly wait to return.

Beginning in the fall of 2013, Harvest America Ventures in conjunction with the Weissberg family of France will be offering educational wine vacations in the Burgundy Region. Stay tuned for more information soon, but visit our website in the meantime at: http://www.harvestamericaventures.com and click on “Food and Wine Vacations” for a sampling of content. If you are interested simply send me an email: psorgule@hotmail.com and I will place you on the information mailing list.

RESPECT FOR THE LOCAL FARMER GOES MAINSTREAM

The National Restaurant Association recently released their 2013 version of the Top Ten Trends in Restaurant Menus. Five of the Top Ten are directly related to buying local and regional or focused on sustainable practices, while four additional focus on better nutritional practices. This is the third year in a row that buying local directly or indirectly played a role in menu concepts.

The survey is driven by responses from 1,800 chefs nationwide and is built from a cross-section of the restaurant spectrum. There is no question that America is moving in a new direction, one that gives respect for the source of food and addresses the concern that chefs have for the integrity of the food supply.

The first thing that came to mind is an old saying that has been passed down from generation to generation: “What goes around, comes around”. For far too long we (most chefs included) have bought into the comfort that it was possible to buy any ingredient, any time of the year, delivered to any property as long as we were willing to pay the price. Of course, the “price” turned out to be more than just money.

Farmers and distributors, in order to meet the unlimited palate that Americans had for anything and everything, resorted to a centralized approach that required farms to focus on one or two products, use of chemical fertilizers, and renting genetically modified seeds that would ward of insects and maximize yield. Farms became mechanized with machinery the size of a small house, product grown with minimal touch from the farmer, distribution systems that required farmers to pick product before it was mature to insure that it shipped well, and a product in the hands of the chef that sacrificed taste and wholesomeness for availability and consistency.

Over the past few years we have been bombarded with the information that points out the price that we are paying for a system that has taken the farmer out of the farm and integrity away from the product.

We ship lettuce 3,000 miles to get to a restaurant loading dock, we put our oranges in jeopardy from freak weather conditions, we cram out cattle into pens that resemble the worst prison setting and pump them full of antibiotics to ward off too much disease, feed them genetically engineered corn and pump them full of growth hormones to increase yield for the insatiable appetite for more and more beef. The list goes on and on.

Chefs and American consumers are beginning to say, “enough is enough” and do what can only be done from the bottom up: change what has gotten out of control.

Due to Mother Nature’s cycle it would be close to impossible to buy only local, but it is so refreshing to see so many restaurants doing what they can. It is encouraging to see more and more chefs building relationships with farmers and supporting their effort to grown quality, organic and sustainable crops. It is fantastic to watch the American public begin to demand food that is fresh, ripe, seasonal, reflective of the local terroir, healthy and incredibly flavorful.

Supporting your local farmer who has as much love for the ingredient as chefs have for the prepared meal, is the right thing to do and as it appears now, the profitable thing to do for restaurants.

I had the privilege of working four years in Vermont and witnessing how a decentralized, farmer focused system works. Vermont has taught us all a valuable lesson on returning to a way of life that supports health, local economies and to respect the farmer/producer, artist in their efforts to pay tribute to Mother Nature and the natural balance that we had lost over the past few decades.

Let me know what your thoughts are.

RESPECT THE SOURCE!

Paul Sorgule
Harvest America Ventures

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

Posturing, Politics, Trust and How Not to Become a Putz

I found the following article by an anonymous source that really seems to hit the nail on the head. Regardless of what business you are in, this type of leadership “misdirection” seems to take place. This is a call to those with integrity to stand up and do what is right.

“In business, a lack of leadership and vision leads to dysfunction, poor morale and the general failure to meet goals and objectives.

How does this happen? In organizations, similar to athletic teams who on paper have the most potential and never deliver, if there is a lack of unified vision and shared, consistent goals – negativity and power stances most often take center stage. Usually the void is filled with personal gain for those who profess to be providing leadership when all they do is add a whole new layer of chaos and negative politics.

When leadership is lacking it takes a strong, ethical person to rise above such chaos and take control. All too often ambition is not the strongest trait of an ethical team player’s personality and therefore this rarely happens. What typically occurs when this void exists is that chaos leads to a lack of confidence among employees and eventually trickles down to the customer. Ultimately, this environment can undermine the success of the business and lead to the potential for business failure. It is the ancient myth of “Hubris” being played out time and time again.

As Sun Tzu points out in his centuries old treatise on the “Art of War”:

When your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take the challenge of your extremity. Thus no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

How does a company avoid such a scenario?

While I have simplified this concept, we have all experienced this, to some degree, and to delve into the intricacies of failure seems of little use. How to avoid such pitfalls is the real challenge.

It takes a diverse group of personalities to make a company successful, but one trait, above all is the most important….TRUST.

*Trust in knowing that everyone is committed to the same vision
*Trust in knowing that leadership has it’s employees best interest at heart
*Trust in knowing you have that same interest for those who report to you
*Trust in knowing success is a shared value and one that can only be achieved through failure without retribution
*Trust in knowing all your peers have high ethical standards and understand the meaning of “what is right” regardless of personal gain

A company cannot invest enough in developing an infrastructure based on trust. To skimp in this endeavor only leads to chaos. Again, as Sun Tzu expounds upon in his “Art of War”:

We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.

If you cannot trust someone, how can you work side by side with this person knowing that his/her motives are different than your own? It is no wonder that Asian cultures strive to get to know the person before they ever do business with them.

Define your own values and that of the company you work for – be transparent. Don’t engage in backroom politics, trust and be trusted, work toward a shared goal without thought of ambition and most of all….don’t be a putz about it. Long-term business gain comes from an environment of trust.”

Thanks to the author of this article for defining a key issue that leads to success or failure in business, on the athletic field, in government, or even in the home.

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