Tag: cooks



There is no question that people eat with their eyes. Chefs are, for the most part, tuned into this reality and oftentimes invest countless hours developing and defining their signature presentations for various dishes. To some it may be creating height on the plate such as Alfred Portale – the master of architectural plate design; others might focus on a deconstructed approach that involves some scientific wizardry and a bit of Avant Garde artistry like Grant Achatz while others let the food speak for itself, as is the case with Alice Waters and her disciples. In all cases, it is the “art” associated with cooking that has given these talented chefs their professional identity.

I spent many years, as a chef, focused on how to create beauty and interest on the plate. I honed these techniques through competition and presented the results on restaurant menus and at special events. Sometimes, I will admit, I spent too much time trying to manipulate and force food to fit my interpretation of “beautiful”. What took me years to re-discover was that food, when selected and cared for correctly is beautiful just as it is and the role of the chef is simply to allow this to happen. Treat food with respect and don’t over-think it. Art is, after all, in the eyes of the beholder. To this end, chefs need to simply do what they do well – select seasonal ingredients at the height of their quality, handle those same ingredients with respect and stay committed to foundational cooking techniques. Placed on a pure white plate, these ingredients can then be interpreted as art in many different ways by the person addressing the dish. Monet didn’t try to change the vibrant flowers at Giverney, he simply painted those colors that his failing eyes cherished and allowed others to enjoy it as Impressionism. We need to truly pay homage to the beauty of what nature has given us.

Where chefs run into challenges is when we do not respect what Mother Nature does. A vine-ripened tomato in July is one of the most beautiful foods imaginable. Warm and bursting with intense flavor, this tomato is like nothing else in a chef’s pantry. A tomato in February that comes from a hydroponic system of plant nutrition is nothing like that July work of art and thus needs to be manipulated to attempt to build a presentable and flavorful dish. A June strawberry is an experience, one that comes from New Mexico in February, is picked before maturity, white inside and lacking in the natural sugars that give a strawberry the characteristics of a June berry can never hold up to the scrutiny of a discerning public. The tomato in July simply needs to be sliced, placed gently on a plate, drizzled with a quality olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a bit of cracked pepper. The tomato is a thing of beauty. The strawberry only needs a hand to hold it and a sprig of mint. Some slightly sweetened cream would be enough to put it over the top. This is art.

We sometimes over-think the whole concept of what a cook should do. We are, when in true harmony with our jobs, caretakers of Nature’s crops, livestock and fish that are art waiting for a canvas. The chef who can add that signature presentation while still respecting the beauty of a perfect ruby beet, fresh picked ear of corn, briny Divers Scallop, perfectly cooked rack of Spring Lamb or room temperature Goat’s Cheese with a chunk of fresh honeycomb is one who is in tune with Nature’s art.

The plate is the canvas and to be a chef artist is to appreciate the ingredients that are at your disposal. How fortunate we are to have such an incredible palette of colors, textures, shapes, sizes, aromas and natural flavors.

Be an appreciative caretaker of the farmer’s bounty, the rancher’s livestock and the fisherman’s catch. This is what it means to be a chef; let Nature be the artist.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching

Follow Culinary Cues Blog at: http://www.culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com



I may be a showing a bit of bias, but I do believe that there are many lessons that anyone can learn from observing the daily activities and mindset of a typical restaurant line cook. These seasoned disciples of the range, maniac adrenaline junkies, talented players in the kitchen orchestra and salty dogs sailing pans across the flat top range are models to be followed through life. Here are some examples of the line cook curriculum for an organized life:

In life, as in the kitchen – those who anticipate, run through potential scenarios, methodically build the skills and aptitudes necessary for success are the ones who do, in fact, succeed.

In a foodservice operation we refer to this as “mise en place”. It is a focus on all of the minute details that go into the make up of a plate of food and establishing the precise location for those details (ingredients) so that they can be imbedded in memory. This can also apply to playing a musical instrument, flying an airplane, driving a car or functioning effectively in an office cubicle.

Once a line cook has determined the precise set-up of his or her station and has designed a process by which he or she cooks and assembles plates – any disruption to the “plan” will result in chaos. If another cook steps into a line cooks domain he or she must respect the established mise en place. This is why many line cooks do not appreciate it when the chef steps in thinking that he or she is helping out. As in the previous statement about mise en place, this need for organizational respect applies to all other trades or professional work environments.

Maintaining a clean kitchen is only difficult when line cooks do not stay on top of cleaning constantly – even when they are busy. This trait, maybe above all others, is applicable in any person’s everyday life.

Line cooks realize that they are never paid to stand around. There is always something to clean in a kitchen. Once again, it is easy to see how this lesson can be applied elsewhere.

What goes around comes around. If you ignore the needs of others, fail to jump in when someone else is having a difficult time, choose to constantly focus on yourself, then you (line cooks in this case) will eventually face a time when your needs will be ignored by others. If you are disrespectful, insubordinate or condescending – then you should be prepared for payback. This is not exclusive to kitchen life.

On the line it becomes essential to keep the communication focused and relevant. “Yes, chef” says it all. To divert attention to trivial chatter is to disrupt the concentration and problem solving abilities of those who are under the gun.. Line cooks cannot afford distractions.

Once that first ticket arrives in the kitchen, all attention must be on the process that a line cook has prepared him or herself for. Nothing else is important during the time of service. Apply this, as you desire to anything and everything. Focus is critical in life.

Macho and smart do not always coexist. Smart people lift with their knees, not their backs. An interesting statistic points to a reality that the majority of all workmen’s compensation claims are for back injuries.

Everyone needs those 15 minutes to make sure that they are properly dressed, groomed and mentally focused to start work. Restaurants do not pay people for this adjustment time, nor should any other employer.

You body does not warn you of hydration needs until it is often too late – especially in a kitchen where cooks may be working with ambient temperatures well over 100 degrees, staying hydrated is essential. Line cooks (most of them) also realize that the best source of hydration is water.

No one in a kitchen is above doing what dishwashers do day in and day out. You have a minute – jump in and help the dishwasher. Apply this to any position, in any business: help those who help you – we are all equal in life.

No excuses. Better planning = fewer problems, happier employees and better results.

The kiss of death on a kitchen line. Run out of mise en place and it is all down hill from there.

In life, always follow the steps that you know are important to success. Do not compromise or take short cuts when you know that the results will not be acceptable. On the line a hot pan will allow that fish to slide smoothly during sauté or the meat to properly caramelize and add wonderful color and flavor to the dish.

Respect your tools! A sharp knife will slice cleanly and effortlessly through a product. If it is dull you will need to apply more pressure, the product may slip from a solid position on the cutting board and find one of your fingers as a target. Additionally, that dull knife will bruise the food unnecessarily.

Many of the kitchen injuries on the line are burns. Hot oil will push water away and spit in all directions. Whether it is in a sauté pan or friolater – cooks need to pay attention to and respect this rule. In cold cooking we also realize that many liquids and oil will not stay in suspension without the addition of an emulsifying agent to bind the liquid and the oil.

Fish that smells fishy is not fresh, meat that smells off – usually is, vegetables that have the offensive odor of rot cannot be brought back to life. There are far more olfactory senses that taste buds – respect what your nose is telling you.

Your feet are the most important part of your body if you are a line cook. Sneakers may seem comfortable but they do not provide enough support or protection in a kitchen. Pick the right shoes for the job.

Wet towels (in a sanitizing solution) are for cleaning, not for holding hot pans. Enough said.

My friend Chef Michel LeBorgne held this close to his heart as the mantra for all cooks. Know where the flavor is, adjust it and taste again before it winds up on a guests plate.

Before it leaves the kitchen it must be right. Plan and take the time to do it right the first time. There is no room for beta testing with your restaurant guests or for that matter with any product that consumers choose to purchase. The customer is no longer as forgiving as they may have been in the past – they are not interested in downloading “fixes” simply to allow the manufacturer the privilege of getting it out to market quicker.

The next time you are looking for worldly advice, check in with your favorite restaurant and watch how line cooks treat their jobs, their responsibilities and their peers.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching

FOLLOW MY BLOG AT: http://www.culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com



I believe it was Julia Child who pointed out that every significant change in society has always been accompanied by a change in how we grow, select, distribute, prepare, serve and consume food. Whether food drove societal change or if societal evolution drove changes in the system surrounding food can be debated forever. The more that I thought about this theory, the more it seemed to hold true – so I thought that I would point out just a few of the significant historical changes in how we act as a people and the way that food impacted everyone at that time.

FIRE: Obviously, there are few things that had a greater overall impact on civilization than the discovery of fire. Richard Wrangham, a noted anthropologist from Harvard University theorized the following:

“Wrangham suggested that by cooking meat, it acted as a form of “pre-digestion”, allowing less food energy intake to be spent on digesting the tougher proteins such as collagen and the tougher carbohydrates. The digestive tract shrank, allowing more energy to be given to the growing brain of H. erectus. Suzana Herculano-Houzel calculated that if they ate only raw, unprocessed food, humans would need to eat for 9.3 hours per day in order to fuel their brains, which use about twice as much resting energy by percentage as other primates. Other scientists disagree with Wrangham’s assumption.”

Although, the impact of cooking food on brain developed is still debated, it is interesting to note that the greatest growth in human intellect and ability to build contemporary societal environments has steadily evolved beginning with mankind’s move from a raw diet to one that included the application of heat.

THE SPICE TRADE: Moving spices from Africa and the Middle East to the developed societies of Europe became so significant that it was the impetus for building ships and encouraging many to explore the rest of the world in search of spices for cooking and medicine. Constantinople became the center of spice trade and a mecca for political and economic tension since the early days of exploration.

MARCO POLO: Was not just a noteworthy explorer, he was an emissary for meshing the cultures of Asia and Europe. Through his travels he introduced the spice of peppers to Chinese cooks (likely instrumental in building some of the regional cuisines of this enormous country) and in turn brought the wonders of noodles back to Italy – pasta is, after all, the most noteworthy staple in regional Italian cooking. With this trade also came the subsequent cross-pollination of cultures and opening society’s eyes to the beauty of “difference”.


Cyrus McCormick, although not a cook by trade, was an inventor who had one of the most significant impacts on what cooks do, the cost and availability of raw materials and the accessibility of farm goods to the American population. America moved from subsistence farming allowing individuals to transition into manufacturing and other service jobs, increasing their disposable income and ability to take part in a free-enterprise system that created numerous entrepreneurial opportunities.

ESCOFFIER, FERDINAND POINT, CAREME, etc.: Affluence driven by opportunities for business and wealth creation drove the need for grand hotels to service a traveling population. These hotels realized the need for exceptional food to support this mobile society. Some of the greatest chefs of all time were instrumental in raising the bar for hotel dining and setting the standards for all cooks and chefs in the future. Freestanding restaurants had yet to follow suit and in most cases were still, at this point, considered inferior to eating at home.

PROHIBITION IN THE STATES: One of the most controversial laws in U.S. history banned the making, distribution, sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages. This lasted for 13 years until it’s repeal in 1933. Contrary to the law, Americans did not stop producing, distributing, selling or consuming alcohol – they simply did this illegally in speakeasy’s. These “illegal bars” dotted the American landscape in nearly every town from coast to coast. As much as the government attempted to shut them down, bust up illegal breweries and distilleries, arrest and imprison violators, the alcoholic beverage industry continued to flourish underground for the duration of prohibition. Once the law was repealed, these “gin mills (as they were called)” became the restaurants that would eventually rise to a level of culinary prominence in the decades that followed.

A COMMITMENT TO THE AUTOMOBILE: President Eisenhower, following World War II, enacted a program that would focus on building a network of highways across America. These connecting links that were built and managed by Federal and State Departments of Transportation created an opportunity and a need for every American family to own an automobile, to shed the need to stay in close proximity to their homes, to travel for business or leisure and to “see the USA in their Chevrolet”. Wherever roads intersected it was common to find a gas station and a diner. These early diners were in support of the American dream to own a business and would typically reflect an unwritten National Cuisine that was a combination of traditional comfort foods and what would later become the fast food industry. Each diner needed a cook who then built a following among patrons who saw restaurants as something beyond necessity – it became fun to “dine out”.

JULIA CHILD: What was most significant about Julia was not just her desire to bring French cooking to America; it was her ability to teach people, once again – how to cook at home while at the same time demonstrating her love of professional cooks and chefs. While paying homage to the great professional chefs who built the early foundations of American hospitality, she made cooking accessible and interesting to those who had a desire to improve what was found on the typical home table and did so using the most powerful medium at the time: television.

QUICK SERVICE RESTAURANTS: There is no question that there are numerous negatives associated with the quick service restaurant menu and the impact it continues to have on the American diet and health of our population, however, there is also little question that there have been positive cultural changes as a result that built a restaurant industry and opportunities for cooks at all levels. The advent of quick service from the early days when Ray Kroc savored the opportunity to sell his milk shake machines to the McDonald Brothers in California has allowed restaurants to move from the category of “luxury” to an integral part of our way of living. Nearly 50% of the current American family food dollar is spent in some type of restaurant. This has created immense opportunities for cooks and chefs, for restaurateurs, service staff, managers, advertisers, varied cuisine and service concepts, and a constant spark of energy in the U.S. economy.

TV DINNERS AND MICROWAVES – A step backward: TV dinners in the 1950’s brought the dinner table into the living room, broke down the concept of the family dining tradition and with it’s contemporary partner – the microwave oven, successfully broke down the “family table”. This societal change (not for the better in my opinion) took away the opportunity for families to converse and share, to listen and support, to build ideals and pass on traditions. An era of independence from the family model was and continues to be a result that we seem to be paying dearly for.

BIG BUSINESS RESTAURANTS: With a growing population use to dining in restaurants and a faltering family experience around food, there was an apparent need for chain concepts beyond quick service. Corporate food service changed the American societal landscape by making flavorful, not exceptional but affordable, thematic or ethnic foods in every metro area from coast to coast. Their buying power and driven standards took away the surprises associated with dining out, minimized the inconsistencies and allowed the American family an opportunity to afford to break bread together without microwave ovens that drove a wedge between generations. Each property may not need the expertise of a serious chef, but cook and service positions grew exponentially.

1976 AND CHEF LOUIS SZTHMARY: This jovial Chicago chef and restaurateur lobbied the U.S. Department of Labor to change the categorization chef from “domestic” to “professional”. This may not seem significant to some, but it set the stage for cooks and chefs to come into their own, hold their heads high and view being a cook or chef as a noble career. This designation built opportunities for serious cooks to aspire to positions that afforded salary and benefit packages previously unheard of before 1976.

THE FOOD NETWORK: Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, we can watch amateurs and professionals attempt to talk with us about food, demonstrate preparations, define what we should eat or could eat, reveal some of the ethnic cultural differences in the world that lead to uniquely interesting foods, and even watch unrealistic renditions of what it is like to work in a professional kitchen. What this has done for the industry is both positive and puzzling at the same time. The unrealistic “show” of working in a restaurant has attracted thousands of young people every year to culinary schools from New York to California. As a result, there are many hundreds of schools that have been created to service this need and a growing population of chefs to serve as faculty. Restaurants have become sources of entertainment and a coveted reservation at a restaurant with a chef personality is as treasured as a ticket to see a favorite rock band. Chefs are now paid more than ever before (although it still doesn’t match the commitment of hours and incredibly hard work), art food has a market, the average diner is now familiar with good olive oil, aged balsamic, grass fed beef, how to make pasta, the most sophisticated kitchen gadgets on the market and the French, Italian and Asian names for ingredients and cooking processes that were unknown just a decade or so ago. We no longer talk about going out to dinner – now it is seeking a dining experience.
So, here we are in 2014. Cooking has never experienced such a high. Chefs and cooks are respected positions and many are envious of those who choose to make cooking their career and passion. The work is incredibly hard, sometimes back breaking, the hours are excessive and the pay is better but not spectacular. We often times concentrate on these realities and ask: “why am I doing this”? Yes, there are challenges, but as this brief synopsis of food history points out, to be a cook is important. There have been societal mistakes and missteps along the way, but those in the field should never lose sight of how much society depends on us to set the course for cultural evolution.

Let this be an opportunity to be thankful for what we are able to do and how we are able to influence those around us through cooking. Where we have made mistakes – remember that we can also correct them. Cooking for others and breaking bread is one of the most enjoyable and important acts that humans can take part in. Be proud of the role that we all play in supporting and building a business that can make a positive difference each and every day. Cooks are important.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting, Training and Coaching

Visit Culinary Cues for additional food and restaurant related articles.




Nearly everyone in the restaurant business that I know cringes when anyone mentions one of the “reality food shows” on various networks. Inaccurate would not go far enough to describe the environment that is portrayed. Some may clarify and say, well this is really entertainment, but to a professional chef or cook, this “entertainment” does insurmountable harm to a great profession and paints a picture far from reality.

Way too many young people choose to attend culinary school as a result of over-exposure to shows that infer that cooks can wear what they want, chefs can say what they want, everything they prepare is judged by a panel of critics, that whatever piece of equipment they would like to see in a kitchen is available, cost is no object, and everything evolves around the spontaneity of developing a menu on the fly with obscure ingredients. This is not the kitchen of today, nor is it the kitchen that most professionals are used to or would accept. So let’s take a minute to define what it is really like.

The kitchens of Gordon Ramsey with red vs. blue teams, constant screaming (in full view of the guest), belittling of cooks by the chef and everyone looking out for themselves is so far from real that I am not sure where to begin. This is not to say that tempers never rise or that chefs never raise their voice, but the environment portrayed on TV would easily fall under the heading of: hostile work environment, a situation that can bring the department of labor or even lawsuits hovering at the back door of a restaurant. It just cannot happen like this any more. Most of the cooks that I know, if they were attacked in the way that Chef Ramsey is portrayed would either walk out the back door or pin him up against a cooler wall. Professional kitchens today stress the importance of team work, define success in terms of how everyone carries themselves on the job, how the chef attempts to manage calm in the kitchen that could easily melt due to the physical nature of the tasks involved and the pressure surrounding the timing and complexity of preparation.

As much as every chef and cook would love to have $100,000 Bonnet ranges in their operation, beautiful copper pots or Cuisinart cookware, that is rarely the case. Typically we work on ranges that have survived past their useful life and are kept alive through magical maintenance repair work and aluminum pans that are seasoned through heat and salt polishing and are bowed from constant exposure to open flames. The only copper is sitting in the chef’s office and brought out for decoration on dining room buffets. Cooks have been known to hide pots and pans in their lockers to ensure that they have something to work with on their shift (especially breakfast cooks who claim their egg pans are private property never to be touched by any other food except eggs).

Although cooks and chefs today may have a heavy dose of body tattoos, their uniforms are likely to be conservative white jackets, houndstooth pants, skull caps, side towels, white or blue aprons and supportive black shoes. Professional kitchens take pride in the tradition around the uniform and enforce the need for cooks to respect this.

It is very rare that a chef or cook is required to make a spontaneous menu out of silly ingredients that have no business in the same dish. Menus and recipes are developed painstakingly over a period of time with input from cooks, dining room staff and management. Recipes are tested, plate presentations are wrestled with and what appears on a menu is well thought out, researched and executed. Some restaurants are able to offer menus that change daily, but even in those cases – items are drawn from a chefs repertoire or expanded from dishes and techniques previously developed. Chefs take menu development very seriously, even daily features that might be drawn from available ingredient inventory or an occasional item that is driven by an unusual seasonal ingredient.

Iron Chef and Top Chef are sometimes fun to watch, but you may note that basic business acumen rarely comes into play. No one ever worries about the cost of ingredients, the limitless availability of equipment, or what a restaurant would need to charge for the items produced. I have seen dishes with excessive amounts of shaved truffle (probably $25-30 worth of cost on a plate which would equate to $75 or so in additional selling price), foie gras used as if it were the same price as chicken liver, items sautéed in expensive extra virgin olive oil and 25 year old balsamic vinegar drizzled on tomatoes at 10 times the price of a more standard balsamic product. Chefs are responsible for operating a restaurant as a financially successful business and to portray the position as being oblivious to this is terribly misleading.

If the networks want to portray accurate life in the kitchen, then they could find thousands of examples that are exciting, realistic and focused on painting a picture that could be easily digested by those in the industry, those who love to dine out and young people contemplating a career in a professional kitchen. Demonstrate the total commitment to cleanliness, sanitation and food safety. Show a typical day in a chef’s life from menu building, to working with purveyors, training cooks and ensuring that standards are followed, setting up the line for service, pre-meal with the service staff, keeping dishwashers happy, taking the time to build great plate presentations, keeping the rhythm of the line such that cooks don’t crash and burn half way though a busy night, and the challenges of adjusting to food allergies and unique food preferences. Show how a chef sweats the details of cost control: portioning, price shopping with various vendors, waste management, cross-utilization of ingredients, and inventory management. This is a daily challenge that consumes much of a chef’s day.

The restaurant business is very difficult and those who can adapt to the kitchen, understand their role, work well as a member of the team, remain focused on the foundations of cooking and be consistent in their approach to food preparation are a unique, proud breed who needs to be portrayed accurately: MY two cents.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting, Training and Coaching



The foundations of our country stem from the concept of democracy or as clearly stated by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address: “a government of the people, by the people and for the people…” a bold, and noble statement that most Americans take to heart, appreciate and support. We have the right and the obligation to vote for representatives who, at least in theory, have our best interests at heart and who stand tall to lobby on our behalf. In truth, we have seen this work at some level, but realize that a true democracy, where everyone has a say in decision-making is far from realistic. Yes, the compromise is to vote in representatives and if they disappoint us, vote for their replacement. We have also seen how representing multiple thoughts, ideas and beliefs can drag on for extensive periods of time without, in many cases, any resolution. This is the price that we pay for the freedom to speak our minds and have independent opinions. Democracy is not always perfect, yet it is still the best system around.

This freedom does not fit every situation, thus the focus of this article. I am a firm believer in participative environments where individuals have an opportunity to be expressive, but from experience still support the need for kitchens to run very similar to the military. This may seem like a contradiction – I don’t believe it is. There is a time for debate and a time for action. Kitchens are environments where a need for action is the one constant. I read once where there is a need for chefs to make decisions multiple times in any given minute. It is his or her experience leading to holding that title that allow for calculated decisions that keep the machine in full motion. Furthermore, just like in any company, it is the vision of the leader that keeps the ship on a constant course, provides stability, sets the environment for positive movement and provides a level of predictable trust in the minds of consumers. But what about the need for change?

We should not feel that democracy be constantly present for positive change to occur. I have been an advocate for change for decades and have promoted a need to look at things differently in restaurants and in culinary education; however, I also realize two key realities:

1. As much as anyone might promote the need for change, very few people are actually comfortable with the concept
2. All successful change stems from an effective leader who creates an environment of trust, helps to educate an audience along the way, and is not afraid to make decisions even if they go against public opinion

Apple Computer (still my favorite company) lives by a mantra that many of us are quite familiar with:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
― Apple Inc.

The interesting thing is that the company, during its most incredible surge from near bankruptcy to becoming one of the largest, most profitable and still most admired brands in the world was run by a person who hired the best and brightest, yet ran the company like a crazed dictator. He had the vision and no intention of allowing anyone to waiver from that vision while at the same time giving them incredible autonomy to ideate and create. Is this a contradiction? Maybe so, but it really is how the concept of democracy has any chance of being successful in business.

In kitchens, it is always important to hire, nurture and encourage young cooks who have creative minds and fresh ideas. At the same time, if these same individuals are unable or unwilling to follow the lead of a chef who has the responsibility to make the right decision in any given moment and who must ensure that a consistent, quality product is present to the guest, time in and time out, then that young cook will not find an avenue for their ideas. There is a time and a place for expression and a time and a place for following the lead. This is something that far too many young cooks do not realize or are willing to accept. The result in a kitchen can be chaos. It is the “yes, chef” model that must prevail when the kitchen is in battle mode, when the dining room is full and guests are anticipating a dish that they have high expectations of.

The ideation opportunities for young cooks must still exist, but it needs to happen when the time is right. Chefs must create those opportunities for interaction and idea sharing or tomorrows kitchen stars will eventually become discouraged and look for better opportunities elsewhere. Failure to ever provide those times when ideation and change occur will inevitably result in missed opportunities for growth and competitiveness in a very intense marketplace.

At the same time, it is the chef who must separate a fresh short-term trend from something with staying power that might eventually shift the course of the ship; this is also something that experience can control.

“Fashion changes, but style endures.”
― Coco Chanel

It is the chef’s job to ensure that the “style” of the restaurant and of cooking in general is never lost in the fever of keeping up with “fashion”. A kitchen “of the people, by the people and for the people”, may not provide the answer for long-term success, but it will, to a degree, keep things interesting. The challenge is always maintaining a balance of democracy and reasonable dictatorship.
I would be willing to bet that the most influential chefs and restaurateurs of the day are masters at this balance. I would almost guarantee that Thomas Keller, Gary Danko, Danny Meyer, Daniel Boulud, Grant Achatz and numerous others know when to provide those opportunities for creativity and when to reel it in when situations dictate the need for a “yes chef” response.

A word to young cooks working their way through the kitchen brigade: “learn to respect the chefs experience, vision and need to control. In the early days of your career, one of your primary jobs is to do what is necessary to make the chef and the restaurant look good. If you do this, I would almost guarantee that the opportunities to express your ideas and opinions would find a home. I would also guarantee that when you find yourself in that eventual position of leadership – balance in democracy is what you will choose as well.”

Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



For those seeking to define their place in the world-whether it be professionally or personally, the one piece to the puzzle that allows this to truly happen is the mentor relationships that a person takes part in. The mentor is a person who has the attributes that most closely align with defined success, has the experience of years that allows him or her to speak and act with authority, the passion and drive that keeps him or her in the forefront, the honesty to tell it like it is and the compassion to keep a mentee’s best interest at heart.

Webster’s simply defines “mentor” as:

MENTOR: “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person”

Although this may be the literal definition it fails to focus on the scope of the relationship that exists between mentor and mentee and unfortunately assumes that the person receiving mentoring would be younger than the person providing the guidance. Mentor relationships can and do exist without age barriers and typically go way beyond – “giving help or advice”.

I have found that connecting with the right mentor is the single most important step in the progression of a person’s career and in many cases: life. On the other side, being a mentor for another person is by far one of the most important and rewarding pursuits in a person’s life.

True mentors share some common traits:

1. They have always worked hard at whatever they chose to pursue.
2. They never feel like they know it all. To them, every day is another opportunity to learn.
3. They are very humble about their success.
4. They are true to their beliefs and never waiver from those things that they consider their “stakes in the ground”.
5. They have high expectations of themselves and of others.
6. They are not afraid to take calculated risks.
7. They are honest beyond reproach.
8. They never criticize, but they are always willing to critique. Critique infers that once they point out something that is done incorrectly they take the time to demonstrate how to do it properly.
9. They are, as a result of #8, natural teachers.
10. They always see the good and the potential in others and focus on that.
11. They are willing to openly share what they know providing others take what is offered to heart.
12. They will always push others to reach their potential and rise up from mistakes and what others would consider failure.
13. They take more satisfaction in the success of others than they do in their own.
14. They are their own worst critics.
15. They realize that their ability to help others depends on their commitment to the aforementioned 14 points.

When cooks and chefs of any age are attempting to map out their future it behooves them to identify the type of person they would like to emulate. Seek out that mentor who exhibits those traits mentioned and has the ability to help individuals build a similar profile. Chances are, those same mentors have a reputation that precedes them and thus the ability to open doors for those individuals who are willing to dedicate themselves to being the type of person others would look up to.

Having found and followed a mentor, individuals are most always able to reach a level of success in work and in life. When success, however you define it, happens-it is time to change your role from mentee to mentor and offer the same opportunities to others. This is the cycle of success that is a path that many have chosen to follow.

The picture in this article is of Master Chef Anton Flory who was my mentor for more than 25 years. When he passed away a few years ago he left a legacy of helping other cooks and chefs reach their potential and in turn has built a cadre of mentors who are willing and able to pass on his traits that so many others admired.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



There is no question that dining is a sensual experience. A perfect meal will always address the full gamut of senses as it is prepared and presented: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Chefs who focus on just a few of these senses truly miss the opportunity to build something special, memorable and replicable.

The business side of operating a restaurant must always focus on ways to create customer traffic, but restaurants with longevity find that it is even more important to focus on ways to create return visits and guest loyalty. The typical business-marketing model refers to five different types of consumers: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and late adopters. The big splash for a restaurant usually comes in those first few months of operation and is focused on those innovators who like to try something new. The upside to appealing to innovators is that the initial rush that they provide can result in positive buzz for the restaurant, good press and potentially more stable customers to follow. The downside to innovators is that they grow quickly tired of your product and jump ship when the next “cool thing” arrives, typically somewhere else. Successful restaurants strive to attract the early majority and late majority of consumers that account for almost 70% of potential buyers. These guests want the whole package and are drawn to those operations that can provide consistency in all areas.

So, why am I mentioning all of this? Although I consider myself fairly open minded when it comes to food and adventurous enough to try new things, I, like many will return time and time again to those restaurants with a real understanding of the five senses and the necessary skills to address them each and every time I dine. I like to be able to predict and depend on excellence. The food press is always spouting about the new and sometimes radical approaches that some chefs are taking towards food flavor profiles and preparation methods. I always find these interesting and usually dig beneath the surface to find something in these new approaches that I might use. The real question to me is always: “is the experience of this food enjoyable enough to create a concept with longevity?” If the answer is “no”, or “maybe not”, then I wonder why that chef has chosen to drift so much from the center.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that creativity is the basis of many new products or services that we only know are necessary and a “must have” until someone dares to make it known. I applaud all who take the chance to move us forward, however, I always reflect back on the long-term impact that these moves will have on the business and the chef. The foundations will never do you wrong! Restaurants that consistently attract the early and late majority are those that understand and practice the foundations. I would also dare to say that those chefs who are experimenting with new products, flavors and processes have, at some point in their careers, embraced and practiced the basics.

Cooks and chefs who have a passion for their craft, who have a desire to pursue a long and fruitful career in the kitchen, who yearn to some day have their own place or at least own the freedom to do what they desire in a kitchen must understand the importance of the foundations.

There is no question that as we learn more about the science of cooking we can develop a better understanding of how to approach ingredients. This scientific approach is fascinating and intellectually stimulating, but in the end we are part of the service business and are charged with pleasing customer palates and developing consistently enjoyable experiences. The gratification that comes from preparing a meal that stimulates all of the senses and makes people want to return is the best reward that a chef can receive.

Young people today are often drawn to the kitchen because they have seen or read about these new breakthrough processes for creating visually inspirational dishes, using technology that a decade ago was not on anyone’s radar. What I have seen too often are students of cooking who want to jump right to the sizzle of creativity without first understanding the foundations of cooking and food handling that have made it possible for experimental chefs to do what they do. There is still very little that can replace a well-made stock or a perfectly braised lamb shank. The methods that many others before us have developed and passed on will always stand tall under the scrutiny of return guests. A tell tale sign of the importance of this can be coaxed out when you ask those same chefs where they go out to eat and what foods are at the top of their preferred list. I would bet that most would focus on those operations that know how to use the foundations to their advantage and draw out flavors that make them close their eyes and savor the essence of solid cooking.

The lesson here is simple: walk before you run. Learn the foundations, make this the blueprint of your style, spend the years that it takes to master what others for generations have perfected and then you have the ability to truly take those basics to new places, adapt the technology that is rising to the surface and put a fresh signature of the food that people love. In the end, it is all about satisfying guests, creating ambassadors and return clients. This is our charge from an artistic and from a business perspective.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



At the age of 63 I decided to finally take guitar lessons. I have owned a beautiful Fender Stratocaster for years as well as an Epiphone Les Paul without really deserving either. For quite some time I have dabbled in building a repertoire of chords and trying to figure out some leads (without much success). Better late than never, I now find myself taking weekly lessons, practicing a bit every day and building an understanding of scales and how guitar music is put together. What strikes me now is the parallels between learning to really play the guitar (or any musical instrument) and learning to be a professional cook.

Let’s begin with tools. Just as I have no business owning a Stratocaster (hopefully that will change now), young, inexperienced cooks have no real business owning $300 knives. The guitar only makes great music when the player understands how to put together a piece of music and master the beauty of the instrument. A cook can truly only make great food when he or she understands the raw materials, the simplicity and complexity of building flavors and the beauty of the tools that they use. It has always dumbfounded me when an 18 year old walks into a kitchen with a set of Henckel’s (I still don’t own any).

Music, just like great food has a foundation to it that must become second nature to the musician. Until that is not just learned, but understood and appreciated, the music tends to lack a melodic quality. Until the cook understands and appreciates the foundations of cooking, their food will oftentimes lack focus and a balance of flavor. These foundations must become part of conscious memory. The use of the guitar must become an extension of the musician with fingering and song structure that is second nature to the person playing. With the cook, the same is true. The way that they handle a knife, prepare a pan for a piece of fish, build foundational flavors in a stock or even know when to pull a steak from a chargrill must become an extension of his or her conscious memory. On the guitar this is referred to as finger memory and in the kitchen it is the same.

When it happens both with the guitar and on the kitchen range – there is magic. Watching an accomplished guitarist is mesmerizing; watching an accomplished cook on the line, slicing fish for sashimi, sautéing vegetables or even dicing an onion can be just as mesmerizing. In both cases, what they do is second nature, they KNOW what to do and the tools (instruments) that they use become vehicles of a masterful expression.

In the early 70’s Eric Clapton, after time with the Yardbirds and John Mayall, formed a band called Cream. This was, to those of us around at that time, an incredible fusion of blues, jazz, rock and inspiration from some other planet. There is no question that Clapton was talented and creative beyond his years, but the music, although exciting, was hardly melodic and beautiful. Some referred to him, as a Guitar God at the time and even the most accomplished guitarist would bow to his creativity.
Today, chefs like Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria, Grant Achatz and Wiley Dufresne are drawing tremendous attention from the press and from their peers for their incredible creativity and riskiness with cooking. Everyone is turning his or her head to watch just as everyone turned his or her head to watch Clapton in those early days. The question is always – what is the longevity of their work, who will remember what they have done and will their style continue to have traction for decades to come? Fast forward to the year 2000 and beyond: Clapton is now considered one of the gentlemen musicians of an era. His technical mastery has fallen back to the foundations of melodic music and as a result he has transitioned from “Crossroads” in the seventies to “Born in Time” and “My Father’s Eyes” in recent years. His music has taken on a flavor that is well developed, balanced and yet still very exciting. It has finish, just like a great wine.

Blumenthal, Adria, Achatz and Dufresne are all extremely talented chefs but how will their cooking evolve into something more mature, melodic and balanced. The sign of great music is the desire of many to listen to it time and time again and savor the beauty of what is being offered. The sign of great cooking is the same to the diner.

It has taken decades for me to be truly comfortable with cooking. The process involved building a better understanding of the foundations and learning to imbed this understanding into my subconscious and conscious mind so that when presented with ingredients I know where to begin and where to end. I hope that in the years to come I can say the same about how I play that Stratocaster.

We can all learn from Eric Clapton. Finger memory, flavor memory, the foundations of a craft and respect for the tools that we use will always lead to great music and great food.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant & Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching



In 1996, Richard Carlson wrote a very successful book on stress relief entitled: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. His approach was to de-emphasize those tasks and issues in our lives that drive us crazy and are, from his perspective, not that important in the big scheme of things. It was a great read and honorable attempt at making our lives less stressful and more enjoyable. Unfortunately, in business and in particular – in restaurants, it is the small stuff that adds up to business success or failure. It will always be the details that separate the business leaders from the lagging followers, the ones that thrive vs. the ones that hang on for dear life.

A chef’s day is filled with important details that must be focused on because it is the accumulation of well-executed details that will build the restaurant brand and create loyal followers. The chef must have a laser sharp mind that can zero in on the minutia and create the experience that guests expect. It will be the small details that differentiate one restaurant from another.

Let’s walk through a chef’s day to point out the incredible detail that leads to success and allows a true professional to look him or herself in the mirror and acknowledge a job well done. Sweating the details is part of a process tuned into striving for excellence. In the book: Lessons in Excellence, Charlie Trotter was quoted:

“I have always looked at it this way: If you strive like crazy for perfection – an all-out assault on total perfection – at the very least you will hit a high level of excellence, and then you might be able to sleep at night. To accomplish something truly significant, excellence has to become a life plan.”


It is 5 a.m. and the alarm clock cries out in a chef’s bedroom. As the fog of a restless nights sleep begins to dissipate and clarity comes into play, the chef starts the process of preparing for another day. After a few stretching exercises, a respectable breakfast, shower and two cups of coffee, this restaurant careerist is off and running.

At 6:45, the chef’s day has begun. The initial walk-through of the kitchen is a mental follow-up on how the evening crew finished their shift, a review of last night’s service, check-in with the prep crew already at work and run through of the BEO’s hanging in waiting for today’s execution. The chef checks the cleanliness of stoves, rotation and labeling of product in the coolers, spot checks glassware and china for water spots, peers under counters to ensure that the floors were attended to, verifies that coffee makers were cleaned properly, looks at the reservation book for the day and runs through the deliveries of product scheduled to arrive. While completing the tour the chef notes that stove top cleaning was not up to par and no one ran the hood filters through the dish machine as was scheduled last evening. He will need to come down pretty hard on the evening crew when they arrive. Failure to clean every day, as was the plan will build into a significant problem if left unchecked.

He or she spends time with the prep crew as it is noticed that far too much flesh is left on the bone structure of fresh fish after filleting. It will be these small “misses” that will make the difference between profit and loss. Stocks are already simmering and breads are coming out of the oven. He points out to the prep cook that his mirepoix was not adequately caramelized and will have an impact on the flavor and color of the stock. Since this is the basis for the restaurants soups and sauces, the stock quality is of consummate importance.

Orders begin to arrive by 8 a.m. and the chef makes sure that he or she is there to check the quality of ingredients, the weights and amounts, the sourcing of the raw materials ordered and the prices that should match what the vendor quoted. Carrots, green beans, and asparagus should be of the right size, color and texture (so the chef will snap and taste), oranges of the right count and when cut open bursting with sweet flavor, scallops must be sweet smelling and dry, eyes and gills on the fish should be clear and vibrant, meat eyes on the strip loins and the marbling of fat – indicative of the USDA Prime grade that was ordered, and any canned goods free of dents. This is a very critical part of the day because the quality of raw materials will determine the quality of the finished product.

The chef reviews all BEO (function sheets) with the prep staff and makes sure that recipes are adjusted to the amounts needed. Yes, the chef uses recipes to ensure that the quality and cost is consistent and well managed.

The dishwashing crew arrives and the chef spends some time checking the cleanliness of the machine, calibration for cleaning chemicals, machine wash and rinse temperatures and organization of the area. Clean plates are the hallmark of a well-run kitchen. The chef reviews the process of making sure that plates are double-checked before being placed into service, stacked and stored in the proper location and free of any cracks and chips.

Throughout the mise en place phase of preparing for service, the chef is inspecting knife cuts and cooking methods as well as tasting items to help cooks build their flavor profile while making sure that the restaurant’s standards are consistently adhered to.

At 4 p.m. the dining room crew arrives for set-up and the chef does a walk-thru with the front of the house manager inspecting table levels, the crispness of table cloths, table top appointments, repairs needed on any chairs, clean windows, appropriate temperatures in the room, music levels, lighting, bathroom cleanliness, bar set-up and the quality of the physical menus.

When 5 p.m. arrives the chef does his final tasting of items on the line and takes part in dinner pre-meal to make sure that the service staff is familiar with evening features, suggested wines, and the manner with which they should approach upselling items to guests. By 5:30 when the doors open and service is about to begin, the chef feels comfortable that they are ready to service the guest and exceed their expectations. All this before a single dish is ever cooked and presented.

It will be this focus on everything that makes a restaurant successful. The cleanliness of the parking lot, attention to landscaping, polishing of the exterior sign and the brass hardware on the entrance door, arrangement of bottles on the back bar, crispness of server uniforms, first aromas when a guest enters and the sincerity of the host welcome will all play into a restaurant’s ability to turn a guest into an ambassador and leverage this for on-going business success.

This is an every day, every minute process that is at the heart of a chef’s job description. Sweat the small stuff-everything matters.

by: Richard Carlson


by: Charlie Trotter



Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting, Training and Coaching

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Kristin Parker Photography – Saranac Lake, NY



We all realize how important restaurants are to those who have a need to celebrate. Anniversaries, weddings, birthdays, and holidays or simply because it is Friday: our guests are looking for a reason to celebrate in restaurants of all types. Chefs and restaurateurs are always looking for a venue that will lead to success whether it is a freestanding operation off an active traffic artery, a destination restaurant with a spectacular view or a hotel with its captive clientele. After all, we still subscribe to Ellsworth Statler’s three most important attributes for a business: location, location, and location.

What we tend to sometimes over look are the numerous other reasons why people dine out: social networking, a need for conversation, a time to reflect, a perfect stress reliever, the joy in having someone else cook and clean up, or a simple respite from the pressures of life. All of these factors point to a significant sector of the foodservice market that is growing, but that finds it challenging to attract those mover and shaker chefs and highly competent restaurateurs. This market has been labeled (portraying it as limiting) as “B and I” (business and industry) or Contract Feeding. In both cases the labels infer that this is a utilitarian sector with the primary goal of delivering food in large quantity to an impatient market. This is, of course, not very inspiring for those working in that segment, nor those choosing to spend their money there.

The “institutional (God awful term)” segment includes: hospitals, school cafeterias, college food operations, workplace cafeterias, transportation centers, senior centers and retirement complexes. We should all take a step back and think about this market and the opportunities that are present with a different mindset pertaining to food and the impact that it can have on participants.

Beginning with hospitals: I have yet to meet a person who looks forward to spending time in a hospital. Typically you are admitted because there is a problem – something that needs to be identified and fixed. There will be poking and prodding, lots of angst, potentially negative outcomes, and pretty significant expenses as a result. What does a patient have to look forward to? Friends and relatives who visit share in many of the same feelings that the patient does with hours and sometimes days spent bed side or in waiting rooms. Additionally, staff members have an emotionally and physically stressful job caring for people with issues and associated angst. In all cases, there needs to be opportunities for stress release and reward at some level. Food is a common denominator and one that can make a real difference in the hospital experience, yet finding kitchens that attract serious culinarians or those with the mindset of restaurant service is challenging. This is not a segment that young culinary professionals typically put at the top of their career wish list. Yet, what a difference they could make in the lives of the deliverer of health services and the recipient of care. People have the same food preferences and needs while in this environment as they do back on their home turf.

School and college food outlets provide similar opportunities. Remember, Americans now spend more than 50% of their food dollar in some type of restaurant. Those students of various ages have an expectation and a need when it comes to the foods they are served. This is the time when young palettes can be molded and developed for the rest of their lives. Restaurateurs and chefs can play a significant role in this process and should look to school and college feeding as more than another a place to deliver food, but rather-a place where concepts and content can have an impact on a growing restaurant profile group and where new ideas can be nurtured on discriminating palettes.

Understanding the needs of employees who work in office complexes and plants is critical to the success of food operations in those venues. Exciting, contemporary, appropriate concepts and menus can greatly improve the morale of this audience (fairly captive by the way) and impact on the financial performance of those businesses where they work.

Transportation centers have been the punching bags of the media in recent years as flight delays, security lines, invasion of personal space, and lack of guest comfort seems to be the norm. Frustrated and sometimes angry travelers have typically low expectations of the food offered in these venues and the service mentality of those who work in those operations. The market is wide open for great food experiences and talented chefs and restaurateurs.

Finally, senior centers and retirement communities are being filled with aging Baby Boomers. This is the most highly educated, well-traveled, sophisticated consumer group that this country has ever known. They need intellectual stimulation, have well developed food palettes, know wine and great coffee and feel somewhat empty when those opportunities are not present. Yet, it would be very hard to find a senior venue that understands this and provides those restaurant experiences for this large and growing population. As people age, their ability to smell and taste changes. Talented chefs and restaurateurs can find ample opportunities to show their abilities to this audience and identify ways to support their careers while making a real difference in peoples lives.

An increasingly large segment of the American population spends time in these segments every day. Young chefs, cooks, managers and restaurateurs could and should look to these areas as career tracks and business opportunities. Partnerships with hospitals, colleges, office complexes, travel centers and senior living environments can lead to rewarding business opportunities.

There are many companies and venues that “get it” and are re-charging their efforts at adapting to changing markets and in some cases defining what this segment should look like moving forward. All of them provide terrific opportunities for talent chefs, cooks, managers and aspiring restaurateurs. Visit their websites for more information.

Restaurant Associates


Compass Group

Nutrition Management Services

LePain Quotidien Bakery Cafes

Delaware North

Paul French Bakeries

Leisure Care Retirement Facilities

%d bloggers like this: