Coming This Spring

Coming This Spring

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

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

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

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

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

The Top Line Drives the Bottom Line

The Top Line Drives the Bottom Line

This is a first post in a series demonstrating what Harvest America Ventures does to help restaurants reach their goals.

The restaurant business is quite simple on paper, the challenge is transitioning some simple rules into effective processes and great results. The first rule of thumb is that “sales rule”! All the cost controls in the world cannot compensate for a lack of business and customers who are not given the opportunity to spend more than they had anticipated.

How to reach and eventually exceed your sales goals is a complex mix of contemporary marketing, understanding and tracking customer expectations, producing consistently exceptional products, providing breakthrough service, and setting the stage for return guests. Simple isn’t it?

Let’s look first at the production of a consistently great product. There are a handful of restaurateurs and chefs today who have ruined it for everyone else. They are creating that WOW factor with their product every time a guest arrives. They are obsessed with a constant state of improvement. They are, without a doubt, their own worst critics and act not too dissimilar to obsessive artists.

I remember reading that in his later years Picasso was not allowed to walk, unaccompanied, through a museum that carried his work. His obsession with constantly critiquing his own work would lead him to try and correct his paintings on display. I know chefs and restaurateurs with a similar outlook. The customer is head over heals in love with the food and the experience, but the chef and owner are already trying to figure out how to fix it.

Steve Jobs was an obsessive character that drove his staff crazy with getting everything beyond right. He wanted perfection and realized that he would likely never get there. Even so, the best always strive for that goal.

There is little question that the pursuit of excellence in restaurant product development, production and service will always be a door for those few operations to be successful.

Good restaurants are able to develop menu items and produce them at a level of consistency that makes people comfortable. Great restaurants are constantly looking at pushing customer expectations higher each time they choose to spend money.

How good is your product? Do you obsess over it? Are you familiar with what the spoilers are doing to make your life more difficult and challenging every day? Do you follow David Chang, Daniel Boulud, Gavin Kaysen, Rick Bayless, Marcus Samuelsson, Danny Meyer, Drew Nieporent, and Grant Achatz to see what they are doing next? If not, you had better start.

Is your staff fully versed on what your food is, how it’s prepared, how it tastes and which wines form the perfect complement? Do they know how to up sell and build that check average?

Filling restaurant seats is critical, but developing a product that is fresh and always new and designed to draw people back in time and again is the key.

The top line drives the bottom line.

Stay tuned for more quick tips. Harvest America Ventures is a consulting and training company focused on the restaurant business. We are here to help you reach your goals.

COMING SOON: Deep Dive Seminars in an area near you!

http://www.harvestamericaventures.com

Building Your Food Memory

Building Your Food Memory

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

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

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

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

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

The Difference Between a Restaurant Meal and an Event

The Difference Between a Restaurant Meal and an Event

On Saturday, January 26 I was reminded of why I still remain so excited about being a part of the restaurant business. Together with many friends I presented a tribute menu event at the Left Bank Cafe in Saranac Lake, New York. This quaint cafe, reminiscent of a typical Parisian Bistro was host to a dinner entitled: “Monet’s Table – a tribute to this great impressionists love of color and life.

I love to create dinner “events” and find that the difference between such an undertaking and simply presenting a great quality restaurant meal rests in the design of a complete package. The following list defines the difference:

[] An Interesting and Relevant Theme: The Monet dinner theme provided us with an opportunity to tie the concept of the Left Bank French Cafe with the underlying theme of art, color, and creativity. The result was a warm and inviting restaurant designed to engage the guest.

[] Community Support: the concept of the neighborhood restaurant where people from the community actively participate in bringing the meal together was alive and well. Forty-four guests stretched the capacity of the Cafe so other restaurants allowed us to borrow china, glassware, flatware and even chairs to insure that the event took place. Thanks to all who helped and then participated as guests.

[] A Sense of Purpose: There were two underlying objectives supporting this event: first to bring the community together and secondly to promote the Left Bank Cafe as the type of place where neighbors can collect, enjoy a glass of wine and a light snack and for just a moment feel like they are watching time go by at a corner in Paris.

[] Working with Friends: Whenever I promote an event of this type I always bring in a friend or two to help and to share in the real joy of cooking and the fruits of the labor involved. I want to thank Chef Tim McQuinn from the North Hero House in Vermont, Anne Alsina from the Left Bank Cafe and her staff, and Kristin Parker from the Whiteface Club in Lake Placid for the fantastic photo memories.

[] Setting the Stage: I always enjoy the process of setting the stage to support the theme of a food event. Colorful Monet paintings brought life to the menus, painter’s palettes on the table, guest paint brushes that allowed them to try their hand at painting sauces on their plates, Monet prints scattered throughout the Cafe and the complementary colors of food on each plate contributed to the warm feel of the event.

[] Gathering of Friends and Breaking Bread: Of course, the most important element of an event is the opportunity to gather friends, enjoy the food, catch up on each others activities, clink glasses when the wine is poured, talk about the food and reflect on their own memories of trips to France and the importance of the Left Bank to the Saranac Lake Community.

Doctor’s, restaurateurs, educators, chefs, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and artists all gathered together for this fun and inviting meal. Even the owners of the Cafe (Kenneth and Noelle Weissberg) flew over from Paris to share in the meal. A great time was had by all, but no-one enjoyed it more than me.

Thanks to all. I can’t wait till the next one.

The Odds are Against Them, Yet People Continue to Open Restaurants

There are more than 965,000 free-standing restaurants in the United States. That does not include Business and Industry foodservice, Schools, Hospitals, or home-meal replacement from your local grocery store deli-counter.

Most data points to a 66% failure rate for free-standing restaurants in their first year of operation and 90% failure rate for those who manage to make it to year five.

What is most ironic is that despite these figures the number of restaurants continue to grow each and every year. When one restaurant closes, another is ready and willing to take its place.

Let’s take a moment to unscientifically evaluate why this is so:
WHY DO PEOPLE OPEN RESTAURANTS?

1. Chefs open their own restaurants (usually with another persons’ money) because it is their dream to show the world what they can do. The restaurant, to them, is a canvas waiting for the artist to paint.
2. Restaurant managers open restaurants because they believe that they have the formula for success that no one else has discovered.
3. So called – smart business people who have made their mark in other industries, open their own restaurant because: “how hard can it be”? this must be a quick and easy way to get rich – look at what they charge!
4. Family members open another restaurant because dad had his own and he was successful! It must be in their genetic make-up.
5. Some people open restaurants because they like to eat out and they really “know” food.
6. Some open restaurants because it would be great to have a place where their friends could come and have a terrific meal. (be careful of “friends” who expect something for free)
7. Some open restaurants so that they can have their own personal bar.

…and the list goes on. What many don’t realize is how hard, demanding, unpredictable and fragile this business is. To that end, here is a primer for all would be restaurateurs:

RESTAURANT REALITY:
1. Location is still everything. Make sure you are visible, close to lots of foot and vehicular traffic and flush with parking spaces.
2. You will be in the service business which means that YES – the customer is right.
3. The top line drives the bottom line. SALES, SALES, SALES.
4. Quality, interesting and flavorful food is an expectation. It is the price of admission.
5. Be aware of what is trending: local, sustainable, nutritious, healthy and fresh.
6. Value is more important that price.
7. At best, restaurants can expect to make 5% profit. That is only possible if you minimize waste, theft and spoilage and continually attract enough guests.
8. Rent will kill you! A good rule of thumb is that your annual rent should not exceed 6% of gross sales and total occupancy costs should not exceed 10%.
9. Food spoils!
10. People steal! (customers and employees)
11. Free drinks will put you out of business.
12. Family members should pay for their food and drinks like everyone else.
13. Taxes must be paid on time.
14. Dining rooms generate sales and kitchens incur cost. Make your dining rooms larger than your kitchen.
15. Chefs are frustrated artists, but unlike many famous artists you want to sell product while you are still alive. Menus should reflect what people will buy.
16. Cash flow is king. Make sure it is coming in faster than it is going out.
17. Cash may be out of style but remember it costs you money for the privilege of accepting credit cards. You must accept credit, but smile when they pay you in cash.
18. Pick your vendors wisely – they are the basis for great tasting food and can even be viewed as a bank that gives you 30 plus days to pay back the loan of supplies.
19. Guests come initially for the food but return because of your service. Select employees well, train them constantly, treat them well, support them, measure their performance and reward them when you can.

…once again, the list goes on. Do you still want to own a restaurant? If so, let Harvest America Ventures help you to minimize many of those factors that lead to failure. Contact us today!
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
http://www.harvestamericaventures.com
psorgule@hotmail.com

Restaurant New Year’s Resolution – Business Success!

Restaurant New Year's Resolution - Business Success!

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year,

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

A Teachers Greatest Joy

A Teachers Greatest Joy

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!

A Special Dinner at the Left Bank Cafe

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

Priorities

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