It certainly appears that the world is a mess. Our differences seem to far outweigh what we have in common. The number of significant conflicts throughout the world has never been greater. According to the Council on Foreign Relations – there are 26 wars or conflicts currently taking place throughout the world. Seventeen of those…
When chefs and service staff are not on the same page the guest experience is confused and disjointed. When I have referenced the importance of team in the kitchen I am concerned that some might think that if that “culinary island” is in sync then the guest experience will be great. Team refers to a cohesive effort on the part of all staff members to create that exceptional dining event.
What motivates your staff on a daily basis (keeping in mind that you, as a manager or chef, cannot motivate another employee. This is something that they must do for themselves)? What can you do to help insure the right customer event?
Your official job is to create the environment for positive self-motivation. This, of course, begins with selecting the individuals with the “right stuff”, orienting them to the operation and its philosophy, training with gusto, investing in providing the right tools, creating forums for open communication between all team members, empowering people to make decisions, recognizing people for their role and thanking them for going the extra mile, setting the example for others to follow, providing honest critique and when necessary demonstrating how to correct areas that need attention. The most important piece is creating ample opportunities for open communication.
Chefs are typically motivated by the creative process. Their motivation is the tactile process of work that brings an idea to fruition on the plate. The hard facade that often accompanies the image of a chef is really just a protective crust that hides the fragile artist underneath who takes real pride in bringing out flavors, presenting their art on a canvas (plate) and seeing clean plates return from the dining room. That mis-step that brings excellent food to ordinary, incredible ingredients to ruin, fresh food to something that is dry and inappropriate or a smiling guest to the unhappy recipient of a plate of food that is below their expectations is devastating to a serious cook or chef. Self-loathing happens on a daily basis among cooks and chefs who are serious about their craft. As “up” as they may be when things go right, the lows are pretty severe when they don’t. They eat, drink and sleep “food”, their closest professional companion. They relish incredible ingredients and bow to those who are able to make magic food out of what they are given to work with.
Servers are certainly pleased when guests are happy with their experience, however, the compensation system that restaurants have adopted for waiters drives them to work for the reward of a great tip. In the end, it is the gratuity that demonstrates to the server that they have performed at an acceptable or greater than acceptable level. It is rare to find a server today who is just as pumped about food as the chef. You rarely see a service staff member blurry-eyed from reading cookbooks until 2 a.m. or spending their day off hanging out at other restaurants to help refine their craft. We (restaurants) have not created the community of food lovers who know as much about the ingredients, cooking and flavor profiles as the chef. This is not the fault of the server, it is the fault of leadership not paying attention to how critical it is for chefs and servers to share a similar passion. Without this passion and commitment, the guest experience is disjointed.
On those rare occasions when I have experienced a restaurant in complete sync, it is incredible to sit back and watch what transpires. Cooks and service staff carry on conversations about food, other restaurants, as well as wine and food/wine pairings they have experienced. The staff meal is a collaborative event with front and back of the house laughing, sharing stories, quizzing each other on tonight’s preparations and truly enjoying each other’s company.
The end result is always a better customer experience because service staff and cooks are truly interested in how the food is perceived, how the flavors marry with that wine that the sommelier suggested, and how many times the guest pulls out their smart phone, not to talk, but to take pictures of the food.
When chefs and servers share the same inspiration, the guest can feel it. These rare restaurants are always first on everyone’s list when it comes time to make a reservation.
A few years back I read of an interview with a prominent chef who was asked: “what is the difference between a chef and the millions of cooks throughout America.” The response, to me, was a perfect definition: “Most reasonably intelligent people can follow a recipe with mixed results, a chef can be given a basket of ingredients and is able to create something wonderful.” Although this is an over-simplification, there is a real element of truth to this statement. A chef is certainly a manager and a leader, a cost accountant and a marketer, a social scientist and an organizational guru; but above all, a chef is a passionate and accomplished cook.
The ability to “create something wonderful”, stems from a persons ability to draw from his/her flavor memory. A serious cook must be a person who has experienced a full array of flavors, taste combinations, foods at their peak of maturity, seasonings, and texture combinations. Without this “data bank” it would be nearly impossible to create magic with food. To go even further, chefs have life experiences that are filled with an understanding of history and various cultures. It would be difficult to cook wonderful Spanish foods without understanding the culture of Spain, it would be challenging to understand classical French food without studying Ferdinand Point, Larousse, Escoffier, Careme, Bocuse, Robuchon and Verge. To cook French you must feel like you are French, to cook Italian, Mexican, Scandinavian, or Thai, you must understand the culture of those countries and most importantly have cooked with those who were born into those cultures.
“A recipe has no soul…..” was a quote from Thomas Keller, truly one of America’s great chef’s of the past few decades. This should not be viewed as an endorsement for kitchens without structure; just the contrary. I am sure that Keller has his own version of the standardized recipe, however what he and most accomplished chefs know is that a recipe does not create a cook. The recipe is a reference, but the cook must draw from his/her flavor memory and understanding of culture to build the recipe into a great dish. There are just far too many variables that come into play (seasonality, maturity, size, terroir, brand, shipping, storage, etc.) to rely on a recipe as the consummate guide in cooking. Some of the best cookbooks that I have used such as: “Le Repertoire de la Cuisine”, only list the ingredients in a dish without procedure or amounts. The ingredient list is a reminder for the chef who knows, though experience, what a dish should look and taste like, and the method of cooking that is appropriate for the outcome of that dish.
Those who have a desire to become great cooks and chefs must live the following: taste everything, experience as many different cooks work as possible, travel and experience cultures, read about the history of food, learn from the best, taste again and record your experiences. Keep recipes as a guide but cook with your soul.
Kudos to Thomas Keller for getting it right.
I oftentimes find myself asking “who was the first brave person to eat………(fill in the blank)”. A long-time advocate for insuring that food looks good, I am somewhat perplexed at the exceptions to the rule. Food does have to get past the eyes before it gets to the mouth, yet adventurous individuals continue to push that envelope.
Let’s talk escargots for a moment: I happen to love the classic French version from the heart of Burgundy wine country and relish any opportunity to eat a dozen or so, but I would not have been one of the first to go that route. There is very little about the snail that is enticing (as the picture demonstrates) and alive they would hardly make a typical lover of food salivate. Yet, here we are still listing snails as one of the delicacies of the gourmet world.
If we love them in formal restaurants, the French countryside residents can eat them like we might enjoy a bushel of crayfish in New Orleans (the French consume about 10,000 tons of snails each year).
Apparently, according to Larousse Gastronomique, snails have been fodder for the table since the days of the Roman Empire. In France, one would find most of the snails that were bound for the table, clinging to the leaves of grape vines, thus very plentiful throughout this world wine capital.
Keep in mind that the habitat for snails is not very sterile and they are not discriminating eaters themselves, so I would not recommend that you pick those creeping through your garden and cook them without some methodical work. Snails have been know to eat plants that might be toxic to humans so they must be purged before cooking. Those that are raised for consumption are placed in isolation for quite a few days and fed a fiber diet that will clean their systems before being placed on the stove. If you are willing to move past the appearance, the best bet is to probably order a few cans of pre-purged and par cooked snails (French Helix preferred) from a reputable purveyor. I would avoid those from China.
With a small amount of work, you can be the gourmet hero of your community by preparing a delicious, fun and conversation provoking “Escargot tapas event”. You can add some authentic eye appeal by ordering beautiful escargot shells and snail clamps on line.
The recipe could not be easier:
SNAIL BUTTER (for 3 dozen):
Softened salted butter 1 pound
Minced garlic 8 cloves
Chopped parsley 1/2 cup
Pernod 1 oz.
Blend all ingredients.
Place a cooked snail in each shell and fill the rest of the cavity with snail butter. Place in a pan of raw rice to keep the snails upright and butter intact.
In a 375 degree oven, bake for 15 minutes.
Serve piping hot with generous amounts of your favorite wine. I prefer Pinot Noir, but if white wines float your boat, then a Sauvignon Blanc like Sancerre or Pouilly Fume would be terrific.
Close your eyes and savor.