Progress is important and as we all know, sometimes progress cannot be stopped – it has an energy and mind of its own. In my lifetime the amount of change described as “progress” has been and continues to be staggering. I believe that it was Julia Child who stated (and I am paraphrasing): “Every significant…
I remember reading a post from a well-know chef who proclaimed that cooking is not a life or death trade, it is, after all, only food. I am sure that his point was to remove some of the “holier than thou” references associated with celebrity chefs and restaurants, but still, the statement made me wonder.…
This is the time of the year when culinary schools pass out diplomas and send their graduates out into the world of professional cooking. These young culinarians are eager, full of energy and loaded with ambitious ideas about who they are, what they are capable of today and where will be in a short period of time. Many are ready and some are not, but with that degree in hand they step outside in pursuit of their dreams. As graduates begin the process of starting their career I always feel compelled to leave them with a checklist that will, I am sure, serve them well in the years to come. These are not my thoughts alone; they represent the collective feelings of chefs, managers, fellow cooks and restaurateurs with whom I have had the pleasure to work. So..I would encourage each graduate to read and re-read these thoughts or lessons, fold them and keep them in your wallet for reference multiple times during your career with food.
1. TREASURE TRADITIONS: The profession of cooking has a long and arduous history. Many, many chefs came before you and tirelessly worked to build a place for cooking in the halls of serious professionals. How they looked, acted, approached others, relished food and the processes that they developed over decades will always and should always have a place in your consciousness and in your actions as a serious cook. Don’t forget what came before.
2. BE PATIENT: Your career is a journey, not a destination. It will likely take you 5 years or so to get to that first sous chef position and maybe another 5-10 before reaching Executive Chef. This is an investment you must be willing to make.
3. STAY PROFESSIONAL: Yes, there are numerous examples of unprofessional kitchen environments to choose from. There are those who yell and scream, belittle and undermine, treat others with contempt, fail to thank but rather choose to always find fault; those who are careless with product and do not respect their commitment to the source, the place or the guest. Do not fall into the trap. You have been taught to take the high ground. Stay there and be the example for others.
4. RESPECT OTHERS: One of the most beautiful things about working in kitchens is that they are some of the most diverse working environments to be found anywhere. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to learn about other cultures and beliefs. Remember that at least in the kitchen everyone is equal. Respect others for who they are and they will respect you.
5. YES CHEF: As much as you think you know, there is so much more to learn. The person who holds the title of chef has invested many years to reach the position that he or she currently holds. It is his or her kitchen! The best way to learn and set a path for professional growth is to respect the chain of command and know that if the chef expects something done a certain way, your response should always be YES CHEF (unless it violates rule #3 and in that case still say Yes Chef but start looking for a new environment).
6. THE FOUNDATIONS WILL NEVER DO YOU WRONG: All those hours that you spent in your foundational classes in school were the most important parts of your education. How to hold a knife, vegetable cut dimensions, the basic cooking methods, how to caramelize, the proper way to build a stock, etc. are relevant no matter what style of cooking or type of food that you will work with.
7. KEEP YOUR KNIVES SHARP: Each day before you start your shift make sure that your tools are in order. Use a stone and keep that chef’s steel close to your work area. A sharp knife makes the work much easier, reduces the opportunity for injury (as long as you respect the knife) and is kinder to the product you are working with. A serious chef will check your knives and know how serious you are as a cook.
8. SANITATION AND FOOD SAFETY IS YOUR OBLIGATION: Nothing is more important than proper food handling and your commitment to the safety and well being of your guest. Don’t ever forget those rules of operation that were taught in Food Sanitation.
9. RESPECT THE SOURCE: Food is not something that simply appears off the tailgate of your local or regional food vendor’s truck. A farmer, producer or manufacturer somewhere dedicated their passion to preparing those raw materials for your hands. It is the dedication of the farmer that makes a carrot delicious. Your job is to protect, nurse and define those natural flavors.
10. BE DEPENDABLE: You will quickly learn that the most important trait of a kitchen employee is being dependable. Will they show up on time, with the right attitude, prepared to work and consistent in their approach to their responsibilities? Be the example. The chef can work with any other shortcomings, but a lack of dependability has no place in a kitchen.
11. LEARNING NEVER STOPS: The diploma in your hand is not an end game. Walking across that stage was just the beginning of your formal education. Every day in the kitchen provides a new opportunity to learn something that was not part of your repertoire before or improve on something that you are familiar with. Grab on to every opportunity to learn and know that SOMETIMES THAT MIGHT MEAN “OFF THE CLOCK”!
12. LOOK CHALLENGES SQUARELY IN THE EYE: “I can’t”, just doesn’t fly. When a person says, “I can’t” what they really mean is: “I won’t”. If you don’t know how then ask or research the answer. You will never further your career unless you understand that the only answer is YES, I WILL.
13. STAY HEALTHY: You will be of little use to a chef if you are not in good health. Eat a balanced diet, exercise, maintain a healthy weight, see a doctor yearly, drink in moderation, get enough sleep and maintain those important relationships with friends and significant others. It is the WHOLE person who will become that successful chef in the future.
14. TAKE CARE OF YOUR FEET: You may think that this is a redundant statement after #13, but your feet are SO IMPORTANT to your well being as a cook. Buy the right shoes, change them during long shifts, wear white socks when working, soak them after those twelve -hour days and never take them for granted.
15. RESPECT THE EQUIPMENT IN THE KITCHEN: You will quickly learn that equipment will not hurt a person; it is the person who does not respect the equipment who will hurt him or herself. Meat slicers (if I see another person cleaning a slicer while it is still plugged in I will go ballistic) are only dangerous in the wrong hands, pressure and convective steamers will only burn those people who don’t use common sense, wet towels and hot pans do not work well together, liquids and hot oil in a pan are not friends, 10 gallon stock pots full of liquid that is not properly lifted and carried will be unforgiving to your back, and that great tool: the mandoline will do the same things to your fingers that it does to a zucchini (use protective gloves or a guard when slicing). Then there is the cost of all that equipment that must be shown respect. The blade from the Robot Coupe does not belong in the pot sink (you use it – you clean it), the dicing blade for that same machine falls under the same rules. Each piece of that equipment will cost the operation hundreds of dollars to replace because of your carelessness.
16. WE ARE ALL DISHWASHERS IN GOD’S EYES: An idle moment in the kitchen is a chance to jump in and help someone else. That dishwasher has an awful job, but one that is absolutely crucial to the restaurant. Help him or her out! Ten minutes jumping in on the dish machine or washing some of your own pots will show that person that you care and be reflective of point #4.
17. BECOME A SERVICE PIONEER: We work so that others may play. The guest is the guest and your task is to allow them to have an exceptional experience in the restaurant. Don’t fight their requests, learn to adapt and WOW them with your desire to go the extra mile.
18. READ, TRAVEL AND INVEST IN BUILDING THE RIGHT FRIENDS: Great chefs are worldly individuals who understand other cultures either through hands-on experiences or at least by reading as much as they can about them. Broaden your horizons, associate with other cooks who are equally interested in this endeavor and make the investment in this important part of your life.
19. BUILD YOUR NETWORK OF INFLUENCE AND STAY CONNECTED: Join professional organizations like the American Culinary Federation, Retail Bakers Association, National Restaurant Association, Chefs Collaborative, Slow Food, USA, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, etc. and make a list of those individuals and groups that would be beneficial to your career. Seek them out, introduce yourself and stay connected. Most importantly – find a mentor who is willing to take you under his or her wing and offer you honest and sincere advice along the way. All of these connections may be integral to your future.
20. INVEST IN BUILDING YOUR BRAND: How do you want people to view you? When individuals call your references how would you like those people to portray you? What words would accurately describe the type of person and cook you are? Spend the time and invest the effort in clearly defining and maintaining this image. It is your brand that will be important in the future. Remember it is hard work to build a positive brand, but only takes a single mistake to ruin it. Be aware of this, even with the little things like: the message on your voicemail, the posts of you on Facebook, what you say on Twitter, how you dress and groom yourself, the language that you use and so many other things that will set the tone for your brand. Do what you want, but be aware of how you may be perceived.
21. GIVE BACK: You are fortunate to have a degree or the experience to hold down a significant job. Others have helped you along the way. You are able to work at a job that gives you immense satisfaction. Your career, if you set the stage properly, will have very few limitations. Knowing this should occasionally give you pause. Take that minute to do something for others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, teach a class, help a farmer, donate to a worthy cause, work on a fund raising dinner, take the time to thank your teachers and give back to the college or school of hard knocks that brought you to this place. Food people are very generous – be one of them.
You have chosen a fantastic career. Foodservice will provide you with a great deal of satisfaction, some trials and tribulations, opportunities to grow and experience other parts of the country or world, meet interesting and passionate people, serve others and bring sunshine to their day and create beautiful food with your own hands. It is a truly special career track and you should feel fortunate to be part of it. Best of luck –make your success – it is in your hands.
I would recommend two essential books for your early library. Rush out (I am serious) today to purchase them. This is your first “post graduate” investment in your future.
Letters to a Young Chef by: Chef Daniel Boulud
Tasting Success by: Chef Charles Carroll
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Follow our blog at: http://www.culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com
Once you brush away all of the superficial things that we accumulate in life and begin to prioritize those that are important it is remarkable to see that everyone shares the same list. It all boils down to family, faith, health, companionship, meaningful work, how we treat others and how they treat us and those things that allow us to continue to survive: food, water, basic shelter and clothing. Unfortunately, people tend to get caught up in those things that feed our desires outside of the foundations of a good life. This article will focus on one common denominator that addresses nearly every one of those foundations and can even stretch to encompass a few desires outside of the basics in life. That common denominator is food.
There is little doubt that we all face demons every day. People can easily get caught up in our differences whether they be political, territorial, religious beliefs, relationship disagreements, or even work related friction and as we see by watching the news, these differences can become the center of our attention. If there is anything that we can agree on – it is a good plate of food. So, how important is food beyond the basic need for sustenance? Let’s take a look at the role that food can and does play in life.
A baby is born and the first thing that he or she does is cry. What does the baby cry for? Is it attention, affection, discomfort or fright? Those who have watched the miracle of birth will quickly note that it is hunger that draws the first sound from a new born. There is an association that a baby quickly develops: “I cry and I get fed.” Food becomes a comforting crutch in life that we carry with us forever. We may not cry for food as we get older, but we realize that food is a friend when it is sometimes hard to find one. When we are happy –we eat. When we are sad – we eat. When we are lonely – we eat. When we are stressed – we eat. Food is comforting, it is fulfilling, it is a reward when we need it and a memory of people and things that we have encountered through our lives. Food is important.
We now know, although not everyone practices it, that “we are what we eat.” Selecting the right foods and preparing them well is the most significant contributor to a healthy body. Many of the health issues that plague mankind are preventable if we would only follow some simple rules of selection and preparation. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity are, to a large extent, preventable if we understand how important food is.
The once cherished “family table” was a time to sit down as a symbol of reverence for tradition and a time to share in each other’s day. The family table was a time to celebrate the small things and to comfort each other when our day takes a negative turn. The meal was a time to pass down the values of the family and to teach each other how to live, respect and cherish each other. The common denominator was a plate of food that was prepared with love, care and a sense of obligation to those things that keep a family strong. We have strayed from this over the years with the advent of a microwave oven society and the ease with which fast food and convenience items take over the traditions of old.
We do (thanks from everyone in the restaurant business) lean on restaurants now for much of that attention to tradition. Restaurants are a place where we can celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, promotions, first dates, breakups, business deals and even the lives of those who pass away. In all cases, it is good food that serves as that common denominator. We break bread to remember and even to forget. Food is a powerful catalyst that ties two ends together no matter how far apart they seem initially.
When it comes to appreciating great food there is no language barrier. The experience surrounding dining can and does go way beyond that typical biological family. State dinners sponsored by governments are used to create a common ground for discussion, compromise, support and understanding. No matter how deep the differences are between two people or even entire countries, we can always appreciate a great meal. This simple foundational need and pleasure can become the basis by which differences are put aside, maybe long enough for there to surface a spark of understanding and agreement. Food is important.
There are so many examples of the power of food as a communication tool – examples that each of us knows and holds close to our hearts. Here are a few:
One of the most difficult jobs on earth is farming. I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit farmers in the wine regions of France, California, Oregon and Washington State. During harvest, workers are pressed with the need to pick the grapes when they reach the correct sugar content and do so during a very short window of time. It is backbreaking work requiring those involved to bend at the waist, snipping bunches of grapes from the vine from row to row for many hours at a time. With the sun beating on their backs, hands that are rough and cut from the vine knife used and grapes weighing down on their frame it becomes work that would surely be considered intolerable by many. At the end of the day in most vineyards, something magical happens. The crew will sit down together to a meal prepared by the vineyard, break bread, clink glasses filled with the vineyards wine, laugh and truly enjoy telling stories about how many aches and pains they have. The next morning the process starts all over again. Food is a powerful and magical substance.
Restaurant work is, simply put, hard. Ten or twelve hours on your feet, the pressure of the clock, lifting, chopping and dicing, heat that is intense enough to cook a person, burns, cuts and aching muscles – this is the life of a cook. Service staff must attend to every detail in the dining room: polishing glasses and flatware, making sure that their station is impeccably clean, memorizing the art of the kitchen and the complement of wine and focusing on a state of mind that exudes service excellence and in some cases tolerance of unruly guests. At 4:30 in most restaurants all of this stops for 20 minutes or so while both sides of the swinging door get together for staff meal. When done correctly, this stress reliever goes way beyond nourishment. It is a time to talk, to share, to set aside tension, take a breath, laugh and set your mind at ease for the onslaught of business just around the corner. For the moment, everyone is equal around the plate. Food is incredibly important.
Each professional cook that I know has experienced that epiphany in life – that moment when a certain food, or food event has allowed them to pause and say: “wow, this is something that I want to dedicate my career and a good portion of my life to.” It is that first oyster with warm salty ocean brine that says “it doesn’t get any fresher than this;” it may be that hand picked heirloom tomato that is still warm from the July sun and eaten as one would an apple or sliced and simply drizzled with good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt that turns an average person into an explorer of food experiences; or it might be the first time that they enjoy a meal prepared by a serious chef who knows how to delicately handle those foods and take them to a new level of significance. In all cases, the power of food can move a person from a desire to find a career to defining a “calling in life.” Food is important.
Food allows us to maintain traditions and celebrate them with others, it allows us to pass down a gift of a treasured family recipe that becomes part of the family’s heritage, it is the one thing that we can freely give to others with a smile and a sense of understanding and appreciation.
I remember many years ago visiting with a woman restaurateur in Saranac Lake, New York who owned a business called the Blue Gentian. It was a neighborhood restaurant of great renown. People would line up around the block to wait for a table and enjoy her “blue plate specials,” as they were called. Nothing elaborate: roast chicken, meat loaf, and even a few casserole dishes. I asked her one-day what her secret ingredient was. She pointed to an empty jar in her kitchen and said that that was it. When I looked puzzled she said that the ingredient was love of people, love of life, and appreciation of others. This was what tasted so good at her tables. Food is important.
Over the past few Sunday’s I have watched the new Anthony Bourdain series on CNN called: Parts Unknown. No matter what you think about Tony, the series is brilliant because it shows the human bonds that are formed around food. It is a personal show that opens your eyes to other cultures and traditions and the honest purity of the human spirit once you focus on the foundations of life. He demonstrates both directly and indirectly that food is important.
Chefs, and cooks (both domestic and professional) have extremely important jobs. If we could just peel away the superficial stuff that gets in the way of life and just learn to “break bread” and appreciate our differences, we might be able to enjoy the human condition a bit more.
Photo by: Kristin Parker – Kristin Parker Photography
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching
Follow this blog at: http://www.culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com
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.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting, Training and Coaching
Follow Culinary Cues Blog at: http://www.culinarycuesblog.wordpress.com
We sometimes wait our entire lives for that moment; the epiphany, the light bulb event that signals what our purpose is. As I continue to find new ways to love my involvement in the food business I am always amazed at how many chefs have experienced those life-changing moments. When they occur, a person’s passion and commitment grows exponentially. I suppose it is parallel to that age-old question: “why am I here”?
For a chef “why am I here” might be “to create, to nourish, to teach or to simply make people smile”. To a few, this question may even address all of those and more. When it does, a chef becomes so much more than his or her title. A chef becomes a portal for others to flock to and an example of what we should all aspire to become. Such is the case with Chef Curtiss Hemm of Pink Ribbon Cooking, LLC.
Pink Ribbon Cooking is a life-long journey for Chef Hemm who now spends his days developing recipes and delivering a message to thousands who are recovering from breast cancer or supporting someone who is. His belief that food should “Do no Harm” has become a message that he seeks to deliver to all who will listen. In essence, he goes beyond this statement and demonstrates how food can help to heal on all levels: physical, mental and emotional.
Chef Hemm has agreed to this interview that addresses his career path, what keeps him up at night and pushes him every day, and how this path might serve as an inspiration for other cooks and chefs seeking out that “purpose”.
1. What or who influenced you to pursue a career in the kitchen?
“There was no one person that led me down this path. I have always been a creative person and loved to build things without the influence of rigidity, rules or known outcomes. Ultimately I was interested in architecture but took a job cooking. I fell in love with the freedom, instant gratification and the fire that feeds a kitchen’s energy.
Having been raised in the northern tier of NY I had been a consumer of many forms of culinary media. Jacques Pepin has always influenced my cooking, probably more so than anyone else. Pepin’s regard for technique and his casual style were elements that resonated with me. The original Cook’s Illustrated also inspired me. I can remember making a lobster cake from the magazine using a mousseline as a binder instead of the normal 80’s bread crumbs and mayonnaise. I have a voracious appetite for technical literature about food and cooking. My appetite for anything related to food and cooking has led to a very large collection of cookbooks, memoirs and magazine, easily exceeding 3,000 books.
Another huge influence on my career and my life is my father. While he was not a large vocal advocate for my chosen career he always supported me as a person and he knew I was happy cooking. He allowed me to pursue my passion and allowed me to be me. I will always appreciate that and offer the same to my son.”
2. Who mentored you in your pursuit of this career?
“I did not pick up a culinary mentor until I enrolled in culinary school. At Paul Smith’s I was blessed to meet one of my longest standing mentors, Paul Sorgule. To this day Paul has inspired me to be prideful of my cuisine, to do it right the first time and to demonstrate the skills that make this a profession worthy of others.
I began working on culinary competitions at culinary school as a way to advance my skills and by exposure to ingredients and technique. These session instilled a love and passion for Garde Manger. Ultimately I ended up writing a culinary textbook, Garde Manger The Cold Kitchen with the world’s largest publishing house, Prentice Hall.”
3. What style of cooking best portrays your passion?
“I am really driven by technique and how a cook engages their medium. I openly admit to not being the most contemporary of chefs, leaving molecular gastronomy to the younger and the more ambitious chefs.
As I age I appreciate the simplicity of cooking and life. My cuisine and recipes reflect this. Life has become very busy and I seek to use my time in the kitchen to root myself to what makes me happy, to provide nourishment and love for my family and friends and to educate those living with illness on how to enjoy the table in a way that does not harm them.”
4. Do you have a food philosophy that drives your menu decisions? If so, can you describe this philosophy?
“Certainly I am a fan of cold foods; their subtle flavors, textures and nuances require you to engage your senses and explore the character of the ingredients.
More than anything I feel every ingredient has a voice and something to say, even the little ingredients like a bay leaf. It is my job as a chef to listen, interpret and present those voices in a way that showcases their truest character and qualities.
Our food should “DO NO HARM.”
Currently I am very focused on the nutritional side of cooking. More in how we remove processed foods from everyday life and engage fresh, natural and whole foods. There is a deficiency of culinary skill among the public. People think food is from a box or out of the freezer. This is killing us and we need to address it as a matter of life and death.”
5. Can you name a particular food experience in your life that was your epiphany? An experience that stands out as the moment when you said, yes, this is what I need to do.
“My time in France shaped a lot of my current thinking about food. Not that the food was better, but more how they engaged food as a society, it was a cultural importance to have good food.
I grew up not really having a culinary heritage. It was an experience to see how the French dined, cooked and shared the table. Spending time in France rooted technique into my culinary psyche. “
6. What is your pet peeve about working in restaurants?
“People think being chef is easy. IT IS ANYTHING BUT EASY. I have such mad respect for those in our industry that are able to balance family, work and career. I really was never able to do that. I chose education as a way to stay connected to food and cooking while staying married and raising my son.
Being a chef or being in our industry is a sacrifice. Chefs give up holidays, vacations and time with family and friends.
The public needs to respect these sacrifices and appreciate skill of the chefs that cook their meals and the function of restaurants within our society, communities and economy.
My other pet peeve is that I think there are too many restaurants that serve no purpose. These are owned by large corporations and do little to push our industry forward. They occupy space and dumb down food. The quick service causal genre has many of these establishments and I fail to see their value outside the economics of the business model.”
7. Who are your most valuable players in the restaurant where you currently work?
“Me. I do not currently have employees. When I left higher education and program administration I sought to be a very simple chef and business person. There are many aspects of my life that are challenging; my wife’s battle with breast cancer and my son’s issues related to Aspergers Syndrome. I require an amazing amount of flexibility. Being a business of one allows me to meet these primary responsibilities.
It is my goal to hire a culinary assistant in Q4 2014. I feel that being a manager is a huge commitment and I do not wish to become one again until I can do it on my terms and offer someone what I feel the position is worthy of, without compromise.”
8. If you had an opportunity to provide some guiding light to young cooks looking to make their mark in kitchens, what would you tell them?
a) Walk before you run. Know your stuff. Don’t become culinary fluff. You are better than that and you should want more for yourself. I have seen too many students come in and want to go straight to the most contemporary cooking styles and skip the basics. All cooking is rooted in technique, every aspect of it.
b) Be patient. Don’t rush to the top. It is not worth it. Enjoy cooking on the line. Build your skill-set, build your network and your culinary repertoire. All things come to those that deserve it.
c) DO NOT FOCUS ON THE MONEY. Money comes to those that earn it. Spend your 20’s building your skills and your 30’s building your career and name. This will allow you to build your fortune in your 40’s and 50’s.
d) You are nothing without the rest of your team. Lose the ego. Everyone in the restaurant industry is needed and should be respected for what they offer.
e) Find a mentor but don’t forget who you are. Find someone that inspires YOU, not just your food. I was fortunate to find this early in life, and in a few different people. It is a must.
f) Stay healthy. I wish I had embraced this earlier in life. Food is fuel, it can move your body, mind and soul, but it is still fuel. Fuel up properly, exercise and take care of yourself.”
9. When you hire people to work in your kitchen what traits are you looking for?
“Attention to detail, honesty, integrity, clarity of self and a good dose of confidence that falls short of arrogance or outright ego. I hire those that know life is balanced. Sometimes work requires a bit more and sometimes life does. We all live this and those that can manage it are the ones that succeed with me the best.”
10. If you were not cooking, what would you choose to do for a career?
“If I had a career mulligan I would be a doctor (orthopedic surgeon or cardiologist) or be a land and real estate developer.
I like the science and study of medicine and find that I know myself better now than in my youth and I would have really enjoyed that path.
Land development and real estate would allow me to engage the architect in me. I enjoy restoring my farm and managing my property and could easily see myself building beautiful houses and selling them to people that become their stewards. This would please me greatly.”
11. What would you like people to know about your current restaurant and the food that you produce?
“As a chef I feel obligated to serve food that is natural, whole and raised with humane treatment and harvesting practices. I have arrived to this position very late in life so I am more vocal about it than I rightfully should be but it would have to be the paradigm that food can both hurt and heal.
Our food should “Do no Harm.” Just as in medicine.”
Curtiss Hemm is an accomplished father, chef, manager, teacher, author and advocate for Breast Cancer Prevention and Recovery. I have been honored to know and work with Chef Hemm since he was a culinary student at Paul Smith’s College. Since then we have collaborated on projects, taught together at both Paul Smith’s and New England Culinary Institute and continue to look for any and every opportunity to collaborate. He is an exceptional human being, one who has found his purpose.
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Yes, in case you have not guessed, I am originally from Buffalo. After you get all of the stinging quips out of your system let me tell you what Buffalo is really like. It is true that the press has not always been kind to the Queen City and it almost feels like Buffalo has enjoyed being the punching bag for the media. In reality, Buffalo is a very special city with tremendous history, unfaltering pride, and yes – even a healthy food scene.
OK, so the Bills never won a Superbowl and the Sabres have only gotten so far, but don’t ever try and tell a Buffalonian that these teams are not worthy. We have the right, as people from the city, to critique our teams, but other’s do not. We will defend them till the end of time (there, I got that out of my system).
Let’s talk about the culture of Buffalo. Many are familiar with New York as a true melting pot city with every imaginable ethnicity and race, pockets of ethnic communities within a city, and all of the food influences to match. Buffalo is simply a smaller version of that.
The area known as the First Ward is a thriving Irish community with bars and neighborhood eateries that reflect the heritage of the real “green community”. Allentown, although a mix of ethnicity, is a true bohemian artist community with a national reputation and an ever-changing landscape of bistros and bars. Just down the street on Main is the world famous Anchor Bar, where the chicken wing was born (they still serve the best). The area known as the Fruit Belt is the cities German community with its share of great sausages, pickles and beer. The Lower West Side is home to a deep-rooted Italian neighborhood and a growing Puerto Rican community as well. There is no problem finding some great Italian-American fare or influences from the islands. The Eastside is home to Buffalo’s Polish community. During my youth, the Broadway Market was one of the greatest culinary experiences with sausage makers, pierogi’s, fresh hams and lots of sauerkraut. Finally, the downtown area is encompassed by a vibrant black community with Buffalo soul food at its finest. The general make-up of the city is 52% white, 36% black, 7.5% Hispanic and 1.5% Asian.
The food scene is changing in Buffalo – for the better. It has been many years since I walked through the communities of the Queen City, but I still have vivid memories of uniquely Buffalo foods back when I was young. JaFaFa Hot’s was the best char-grilled, natural casing hot dog with their special sauce to be found anywhere. This was a treat when I finished up with a baseball game down at Grider and Bailey. A Roast Beef on Weck (a unique roll with caraway and coarse ground salt – not to be found anywhere but Buffalo) at Tin Pan Alley (some say it was horse meat) with loads of Weber Horseradish and a touch of au jus was truly to die for. Every Friday was fish fry in a community with heavy Catholic influences. Trautwein’s was the place to go for “takeout” fish fry – I can still smell the fish market. You can’t forget the baked Spaghetti at Chef’s on Seneca, even though it was not in the Italian neighborhood, it certainly was Italian. If you want to talk pizza, it has to be the Bocce Club, hands down, and of course there will always be the Anchor Bar for wings. Finally, let’s not forget the peanut stick donuts from Freddy’s Donuts (long since closed) on Main near Fillmore. You could watch Freddy’s donuts passing through the conveyor fryers pretty much 24 hours a day.
I worked at some great places where I developed my chops at an early age. The Statler Hilton apprenticeship program gave me the chance to work many stations from banquets to saucier, from the butcher shop to garde manger, and from breakfast to the hot line for the Beef Baron Restaurant. I spent a year at Shore’s Orchard Downs in Orchard Park (home to the Bills) and learned from a Greek immigrant who made a name for himself with his food. A short stint at the Cloister where I began to understand what it was like to serve hundreds of people prime rib and lobster, and even that diner where I received my first culinary exposure as an assistant short order cook at the age of 15.
The Buffalo food scene is maturing as young chefs are beginning to understand just what a special place the city is, how nice the people are, and how deep seated the culture. If you are a NYC dining scene fan you probably know about Gotham Bar and Grill, consistently one of the best-rated restaurants in the city for the past 25 years. The Chef/Operator is Alfred Portale who started his career in Buffalo. Before you write the city off allow me to make a few suggestions:
• Go to a Bill’s Game and make sure you tailgate with the locals (the best and craziest fans around)
• Buy a ticket to a Sabres Game and press your nose up to the glass (beer in one hand, local hot dog in the other)
• Take a stroll down Elmwood Avenue and pick a restaurant, any restaurant – they are all good
• You haven’t have roast beef until you have had a Beef on Weck: I like Charlie the Butcher for this delicious sandwich
• If you are a fan of wings- you must go to the Anchor Bar – it is the Holy Land for wing enthusiasts
• Pick up the local dining out magazine and read about some of the up and coming new Buffalo star chefs – they are all looking to make their mark
When it comes to my hometown I will always remain a fan and will always stay BUFFALO PROUD!
p.s. Maybe this is the year for the Bills.:)
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.
Ever since I came across this photo I have not been able to get it out of my mind. The photographer caught what every artist and craftsman gets up in the morning to do: move people. Music, like cooking is an art form that can, if properly applied, move people. The beauty is that everyone moves to the beat of a different drummer. One person’s memorable experience with art is another person’s sour note.
I consider myself to be a person with fairly eclectic tastes in music, art, theater, and food. My musical preferences range from Bach to David Byrne, from Zappa to Bela Fleck and from Chick Corea to Waylon Jennings. In art I may not understand modern art, but I do find Jackson Pollock interesting. I love the impressionists but can find pleasure in trying to figure out Salvatore Dali. Food is, of course, my medium and even though comfort foods are inspiring to me, I always seek out restaurants and chefs that are pushing the envelope from Keller to Adria. What I like, however, may not be your cup of tea.
This picture is so telling because this sole musician has struck a chord with the young enthusiast and in that moment both the artist and art consumer are in sync. We all strive to create this same bond with those who consume our art.
The wine maker is in business to be profitable, yet that Robert Parker review and restaurant customer response to his/her craft is far more important than just dollars and cents. I have had the pleasure to work with many chef/artists who care deeply that the end-user is happy with what they have created. I will never forget the cook who stretches their neck on the busiest night to see if any food is coming back on the plates dropped at the dish window. I feel for the cook who loses sleep over the 1 dissatisfied diner even though a hundred more were perfectly happy. I give homage to a chef who grins and gets a bit choked up when that one customer peeks in the kitchen to say “thank you” that was an extraordinary meal.
What the young girl in this photo feels is what each and every serious cook strives for, day in and day out: to create a “moving” dining experience. When it happens, the world is a better place for all involved.
To those who cook for the paycheck, I say: you don’t know what you are missing. To those who cook for the opportunity to create that unique experience that can be registered as a memorable moment, I tip my hat to you.
I remember listening to Tower of Power perform at the Bottom Line in NYC when there were only 100+ people in attendance. The band played like it was a sold out crowd at Shea Stadium. Everyone was on their feet moving to an extraordinary musical event and the band was in their glory. They certainly didn’t pay the bills that night, but they were just as moved as the audience. The same has happened to me with a top shelf list of great musicians as well as in restaurants in the hands of Charlie Trotter, Rick Bayless, Joel Robuchon, Marc Meneau, Marcus Samuelsson, Gavin Kaysen, Daniel Boulud and dozens of others. As significant as these events were, I was even more moved to watch my children perform in their school plays or play a solo at their annual high school concert. This is what floats the artists boat, an audience that appreciates their art.
I smiled when I saw this picture because I knew how the musician and the young girl felt.
Move people, it is what makes life worth living.