Off to Seattle for the Seafood Choices conference. Don't know if I'll be checking email but if there are any Seattle-ites with tips, send them along.
on winning the Best Chef's Blog category in the 2005 Food Blog Awards. Although my competitive streak wanted me to win I know in actuality Shuna is the better writer. Eggbeater is also more celebratory. Where I spend a lot of time bitching about customers (not enough, too many, not the right kind), or suppliers, or small town life, Shuna celebrates things she loves, shares recipes and takes fine photographs. I'm delighted she won and pleased to have been nominated along with her and the rest of the distinguished slate.
The subtitle of this blog is Restaurant Rants and Raves. I should put a few more raves in here. Right now I'll rave about getting a good night's sleep. We're in the middle of our Crab & Wine Festival and have been selling the Cancer magister like mad. I've also had full days and nights. Yesterday I got up really early to watch my tea master prepare a kaiseki meal for a group of Santa Cruz tea enthusiasts. Then we had a brewer's dinner to prepare for, my dear Kudzu and another friend came to visit, we had a free-lance press person to attend to and a birthday party for the owners of our local Chinese restaurant. By the end of the night I was pretty loopy. It was pointed out that I'm fairly loopy anyway so adding sleep deprivation to the mix....
So sleeping hard until 10 am was just the thing I needed. It is truly a luxury to be able to sleep and conduct your life (for the most part) without an alarm clock. Now I'm off for a few hours of work before meeting Kudzu and company for lunch.
For a full list of the Food Blog Award Winners click here .
A few years ago California made it a legal requirement for at least one person on a restaurant's staff to have ServSafe certification. They did this under the guise of public health. What was really at issue though was fiscal liability. You see, they want to be sure there is someone on staff to sue. While I'm sure food safety has been somewhat improved by the statute it irritates me that they sold the program solely on the health benefits to the public. If the legislature had really been interested in protecting the citizens they would have required that all food handlers have certification. I believe Oregon does this.
I might even go a step further and require the same of delivery people. They need to know why not to put a case of raw chicken on top of a case of romaine lettuce. You can keep going with this to encompass supermarket workers, pizza delivery people etc. Yes, somewhere a line must be drawn. Perhaps it's drawn with the people who handle both raw and cooked ingredients, leaving the pizza deliverer out. I'm not sure, but I am sure that I'm increasingly irritated at being lied to by lawmakers.
Why am I fired up about this today? Because of this story about Japan's refusal of US beef. I hear from the USDA and the White House that they are concerned with food safety and with the prospect of terrorists damaging our food supply, both real concerns worthy of careful handling. Infecting the food supply would be far more damaging, far-reaching and psychologically terrifying than any single bomb or other mass killing.
So for an administration faced with these concerns why don't inspectors inspect every animal? Oh, that would cost too much. As it would cost too much for every food handler to have certification. It costs a lot less to call a press conference and excoriate other countries for refusing our beef than to fix the problem. As the article states prior to 2003 we were selling beef to 95 countries, that number is now 70.
I'm tired of other countries pointing out to us what should be obvious. If you're worried about BSE, inspect all your cows. Duh.
Speaking of other countries, it was recently pointed out to me that North America is now the only continent besides Australia which has never had a female president or prime minister. Even Muslim Pakistan (yes I know it's a country, not a continent) has had a female leader. We are rapidly becoming a third world country. Rigged elections, spying on citizens, religious ideology infringing on individual rights. Not exactly the golden land of opportunity my great-grandparents crossed the ocean for.
As it turned out the only scary thing about the Friday the 13th full moon was the appalling lack of customers. Saturday was when the full moon really hit. Nothing major, just rocky.
Yesterday I bid on a catering gig for a wedding. A local wedding planner invites me to a number of her "vendor days" where she subjects the poor couple to a parade of florists, caterers, bakers, photographers and anyone else who provides service for a bride and groom. Normally I don't try too hard to get the wedding. It's a pain in the ass to pack up all my gear, find extra waiters, drive out to the location and cook in a tent. I do shoot for the rehearsal dinners though. We've got a great semi-private space that holds about 35 comfortably, 40 if they're good friends and it's a perfect spot for a rehearsal dinner.
Only if the couple are willing to spend real money and seem like they're easy to deal with do I really pursue the wedding. It's a fact that people having a wedding get charged exorbitant sums by many service providers. Many prey on the fantasies people have about their dream wedding, adding more to the floral bill, or selling the couple on a horse and carriage to spirit them away post-ceremony. I'm all for fantasy. In the real world what this means is that by the time these fantasies have been budgeted there's little money left for food. And they expect the food to match the fantasy they are constructing. Even otherwise sane and reasonable people fall victim to this. Also when planning a wedding rarely are you dealing with two people only. There are the future in-laws who have their own fantasies about the wedding. My fantasy is two people who love food, have no meddling in-laws, are easy-going and have a realistic number of friends and family they'd like to invite, rather than the 150+ which seems to be the norm. Fortunately I'm not in the catering business full-time or I'd starve. Other people seem to get those clients.
The two yesterday weren't bad though. They met almost all the criteria. They're mature, they love food, I don't think they mind spending for it, while not easy going they weren't uptight, they're only inviting about 40 people. The mother of the bride had definite opinions and while I wouldn't want to be on her bad side was not exactly a meddler. In short, not a bad gig.
They came to the restaurant later to check out the food. The bride is Chilean and they wanted empanaditas as part of the appetizers. I had made a batch earlier for them to sample if they showed up. I usually do something ill-advised when cooking for a group I'm trying to win over. At press meals I've served poached eggs to the woman who re-wrote the chapter on eggs in the new Joy of Cooking and served biscuits, fresh ham and collards to a Southern writer.
The empanadas were well received though mom had a few tips for me. The father of the bride asked me if I knew Nick Peyton and Douglas Keane. When I told him not personally, only by reputation he let me know he was their landlord at Market. Hell, why don't they do the wedding then? Maybe they refused to do empanadas.
Now I need to send them a bunch of menu ideas and let them choose. In the meantime I've still got to finish our circus menu. The circus's theme is the Wild West and I'm trying to work that in. I need to price buffalo brisket, think about how to pass tofu off as an old West item (I'm thinking some kind of monastic reference) because we write some goofy descriptions of the food. Last year we had the Strongman's Steak, Trapeze Artist's Tofu and a sole in parchment which referenced Houdini's escape from the mailbag. (There was a straitjacket escape in the act last year). Most of my jokes and references escape the diners however, and the thought I put into the menu and descriptions becomes largely for myself. The sous is a good one for that too. We discussed putting a lamb chop next to a beef item with something dividing the plate down the middle to reference the sheep herder/cattle rancher wars of the American West but decided that was too obscure, even for us. Perhaps if we do a meal for the California Historical Society.
We're trying to work pink popcorn into the dessert also. Last night I was seeing sparklers on the desserts as they go out. I need to call the party works to see if they have any. Of course what we really need to do is sell the damned thing out. Right now, between both seatings we're a quarter of the way there. I'm confident we'll have a good turnout. However, people seem to be much more last minute these days and often our events are nail-biters up until a day or two before. We do however have a respectable number of reservations for our Brewer's Dinner which is heartening. Here's the menu for that:
Soup & Crackers, Fish & Chips
Spicy Crab Chowder, Housemade Crackers
Crab Tempura, Waffle Chips
Poleeko Gold Pale Ale
Vietnamese Rice Paper Crab Rolls, Citrus Salad
Boont Amber Ale
The Cornish pasty, updated
Grilled Ribeye Cap with Warm Dungeness Sauce
Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale
English Sticky Pudding with Brother David's Double Gelato
Brother David's Double Abbey Ale
Off now to make more sausages.
There's a pig in the walk in. I'll be leaving to butcher it and turn it into sausages, chops, hams, rillettes, confit and other delights directly after posting. I have detailed elsewhere the butchery technique and some basic recipes. In this post I'm going to try to detail how I feel about the process.
When I met the GM I was a self-described animal loather. Cats were tolerable, since they in general demanded little attention. Dogs were an abomination and the people who had dogs were worse than Republicans. The rest of the non-pet animal kingdom was there for the eating. When The Smiths came out with their album "Meat is Murder", my inclination was to make stickers that read, "Meat is Dinner".
The GM of course, had 2 cats. And treated them as people who love animals do. While I respected her right to do so, I didn't participate. In the course of discussion I came to realize that my dislike of domestic animals was really a dislike of the attitude which claims to know the animal mind. Basically a repetition of the old philosophical argument about whether I can "know" anything which is in the mind of another. I found it difficult enough to arrive at similar conclusions with fellow humans and thought them unspeakably arrogant when they claimed to "know" that an animal was happy, or depressed.
Over the years I began to love the cats and while I was able to admit they could communicate with me on certain levels was still unwilling to ascribe human emotion to them. Not that I was unwilling to ascribe emotion period, just reserving the judgment as to what that emotion is and believing my human filter isn't doing justice to the animal's experience. Then, after a personal tragedy, one of our waiters foisted a puppy on us. The GM looked as though she would crumble if we did not take this dog into our home and I, like most guys when faced with that look, said "We'll give it a try."
I fell in love with the dog and still am. We now have two dogs and the same two cats. I stop and pet dogs on the street. My former self would never have done something so idiotic. I still don't believe that I, as a human, can possibly "know" what one of our animal companions is feeling or even thinking. I still believe that communication between members of our own species is difficult beyond belief, with all our various languages, shades of meaning, body language and facial expressions and that to think anyone can claim inter-species communication beyond some very rudimentary negotiations borders on the absurd. I have more respect for the animals than that.
So where does that leave me with the pig? In a complex relationship. I can certainly understand the argument that it is barbaric to kill and eat another living being. It's also barbaric to have a restaurant, making a living by feeding people who have so much to eat that they are bored with what they have and/or don't know what to do with what they have, while others starve to death. It is a form of barbarism to live in a country which refuses to provide health care for its citizens and further barbarism to do nothing about that crime except a little passive complaining like I'm doing now. To a certain degree I'm choosing my level of barbarism. Assuming I embrace the argument.
I can also understand the argument that humans are animals themselves, part of the natural food chain, that certain animals are predators and eat other animals. I can see our physiology in part bears this out with incisors originally used for tearing flesh, as well molars used for grinding roots and leaves. To follow the first argument to its logical conclusion must lead to vegetarianism and to follow this argument must lead to unexamined, or at least justified, carnage.
The middle ground is always uncomfortable. An extreme position can always be justified whether by ancient texts, or by raw emotion. I don't come from a tradition of say, the Native Americans, who believe we are intimately connected with the land and have rituals and ways of honoring the animals they eat. This is not to say I don't hold these beliefs, at least intellectually, but to say I don't have meaningful ways to express those beliefs.
Except perhaps in butchering a pig I have helped feed. If I am going to buy another being and consume another being I can at least have the duty of confronting that being in its entirety. I am in a very luxurious position here and mean to take no moral high ground. I'm in a position to use an entire pig and live somewhere where a like minded individual is raising pigs, lamb, vegetables and grapes. However, most of us can use a chicken, or a rabbit, or a fish. You get my drift.
When I go to work today I know my attitude will be more respectful than it was 15 years ago. I hope I can give some of that attitude to my cooks, waiters and customers without preaching or being false. I really do respect others positions, be they vegans or people (and I really have an employee like this) who eat meat nearly exclusively.
With this pig I'm going to do some long curing. At least one ham that won't be ready until the fall and some fermented sausages. I'll also do some bacon chops, one of the tastier things I've had recently. I spent yesterday sharpening my knives and this morning sharpening my brain. Time to go.
Is not something which normally affects me, even when coupled with Friday. However, this Friday the 13th falls on the full moon. And as anyone who has dealt with the public can tell you, the moon does affect people. Not in the astrology sense, perhaps, but in some sort of wolfish, howling way. Emergency rooms fill up and waiters take cover.
Since it's winter and we're slower, perhaps there won't be too many maniacs in the dining room. I shall do my best to deal with those who straggle in.
I may need a little updating in the etiquette department. When I was a lad I learned that when people are dining together, particularly couples, and when I was a lad most (at least obvious) couples dining together were opposite sex couples, (we'll get to same sex couples in a moment so don't go all PC on me yet) that the woman should be seated in the seat with the best view, like, looking at the sunset, or out the window, and the gentleman should be seated where he might best direct his attention to his dining partner. Apparently these days, no one has heard of this, even people older than myself who might be expected to have had some sort of etiquette instruction in school.
75% of the time I pull a chair out for a woman, she heads to the other seat. Now, some of the time this might be some lingering feminism - "I don't need any man to pull out a chair for me", but I don't think so. It may be that I have a warped perspective on what constitutes the better view. But mostly it's just obliviousness.
So, do me this favor- when you go to a restaurant, let the hosts do their job. Let them lead you to a table, and don't negotiate with them about where to sit unless there is some obvious problem like sitting next to a person who has doused themselves in a gallon of cologne, or at a table next to one of your sworn enemies. They really have your best interests in mind. They want to take you to a place which will be comfortable for you and your companions, where you will be able to get great service and thoroughly enjoy your meal.
Obviously etiquette changes. When dealing with couples of any sort I typically pull out the chair for both of them, starting with the woman. When she rushes around to the other seat, I move around and push the chair in for the gentleman. When dealing with same sex couples I pull out the chair for the person closest to the table, although I wouldn't be surprised to see a little sexism creeping in and finding myself trying to identify the more femme of the duo. I'm seeing the gesture, whether made for a man or woman as just being inviting. A way of saying, I'm glad you are here, I'm at your service, what I can I do to ensure you have a good time. Perhaps this behavior just isn't appropriate any longer. I don't know.
While I understand the snob appeal of the "power table" or the snub of being seated in "Siberia" this just doesn't apply in most cases. Certainly not here, in the sticks. That's what it's called, not just by my mother-in-law. There is a local bumper sticker, promoting the high school football team that reads, XXXXXXXX Football, Welcome to the Sticks. There is no scene, no see and be seen. People certainly do greet each other and spend time visiting at other tables, but I can't imagine anyone feeling slighted that so and so got a "better" table.
This seems a little conflicted, because I'm bemoaning the lack of etiquette knowledge of my patrons while reveling in the absence of one of the grosser institutions of "proper behavior". This is what happens when you put a hippie raised, spent enough time south of the Mason-Dixon line to feel courtly, spent enough time in Manhattan to be provincial and snobby in charge of a restaurant in Northern California. The poor guy gets confused. How they hell should he behave these days?
I am delighted to be nominated for this year's Best Food Blog: Chef category. While I certainly hope you will vote for me I also hope you will discover new writers out there. After all, that's really the purpose isn't it?
The crew seemed steady on when I returned, and one of the large party while leaving said, "You guys really know how to do big parties". So things were back on track. For a moment though it was really like stepping into the bizarro universe.
The pineapple tart tatin is a bomb. No, not the bomb as some of our young waiters might say, a bomb, a flop, a dog. Perhaps if I called it a caramelized pineapple tart with coconut creme anglaise. Or just moved on. But I loved the little bit of powdered ginger in the crust and the caramel dripping down the sides of the tart and the contrast between the warm tartlet and the crisp, crunchy, tart-sweet raw pineapple with mint and pomegranate underneath. I think we'll try the name change first.
I took the 12 oz ribeye off the menu. Unfortunately not before I had to have a discussion with a "7th generation Texas cattleman" about what 12 oz looks like. I told him scales are the same everywhere, I cut the steaks myself and can vouch for their weight. He disagreed, claiming the steak to be more like 6-7 oz. He told me he preferred a thick cut and doesn't mind paying the $50-60 for a 16 oz cut. I told him most of my customers would mind, being somewhat more price sensitive. We agreed to disagree on the weight of the steak although I wanted to march him into to the kitchen and slap a few steaks on the scale. Of course his counter would have been that his steak wasn't that size at all, so I didn't.
I've been spending much more time on the floor lately. I go in, do prep, place orders, check in with the kitchen crew and then don clean attire. It's been a welcome break for the GM, illuminating for me and has given the kitchen a greater sense of autonomy. All good things but I think the waiters are missing their mother hen a little and I'm missing the clang of pots and pans. I'm also afraid of subtly changing the work habits of the waiters. The GM works very hard to provide a system and structure so they can be effective. I am less structured and am doing my best to maintain the systems she has set up but just as I know it only takes 3 times of someone else making one of my dishes to have it altered, I'm sure I have impacted the system in some way or another. Change doesn't equal bad of course, but you need to know what you're changing and why you're changing it. You also need to let the person who designed it know that you know you're changing it.
Now it's time to polish off the rest of the foie gras.
Though the full moon isn't until Friday the 13th this month, you wouldn't have known by the very bizarre actions of our staff this evening. The GM was done with her office work and I was finishing a meeting, and we decided to have dinner at our restaurant before spending the rest of the evening at home.
We had a party of 27 with a minimum choice menu that had been scheduled at least a month ago, I went over the seating and menu with the lead waiter and left a note for the sous to check out the prep for the party when I left Tuesday evening. The sous was unaware of the party today, and the waiter set up for the wrong amount of people. Not a big deal, all was corrected in time.
We're having dinner and watching the staff not greet people, be completely confused about seating people and in general making an appalling impression. The GM jumped up from her dinner, greeted and seated a table, asked the big party waiter if she was on this planet and if she was going to be able to deal with the party.
As we were getting ready to leave a young woman came with a list of complaints about her waiter, which we listened to and went over with said waiter who denied them all (I believe her, we think the young woman was upset because the waiter was cuter than she and was getting attention from the men at the table). We told her whether the complaints were true or not, what we were telling her was the perception of the young complaining woman and to change that perception by fawning over her and making her feel special.
Then the big party was confused about what they were supposed to be paying per person. The (dis)organizer of the party has been nice but scattered throughout the arrangements and didn't do any of the things she was supposed to do. So, the GM had to go over and deal with that.
As we beat a hasty retreat we wondered if we actually needed to stay. Perhaps. But sometimes you have to jump in, take the rudder and then step back hoping the crew rights the ship and gets back on course. Otherwise you are chained to the deck steering every moment, with nary a thought to plotting the course.
I am however, just about to go back, pop in and make sure everyone has their head out of their posterior.