Wednesday, February 24, 2010


In the heat of the moment, when the domino effect is taking over and everything seems to be going wrong, in the midst of horror and mayhem, like rats on a sinking ship, they jump. VAPORIZED! First the eyes glaze over, their mind leaves them and then, they ARE TAKEN, instantly, into the world beyond where socks disappear to and wire coat hangers migrate from, the GREAT UNKNOWN. Teammates turn for help only to find an empty space and maybe a small wisp of dust where their mate once stood. Never to be seen nor heard from again. (At least until payday) They have perfectly good reasons for disappearing. “This company is lame”, “my boss is mean”,” I am the only one that knows what I am doing”,” they do not pay me enough for this”,” I had an emergency”,” the sun was in my eyes”, and my personal favorite, “I had to teach them a lesson, let’s see them run this place without me.”

Well, this is what really happens after someone walks out on his or her job: we stop everything immediately and search frantically for that person. After all hope is lost the search is called off and we have a moment of silence to honor them. Then there is a good deal of time spent on in-depth discussion as to how we all might do better so that no one will be “taken” again. We inform the guests that we will not be able to complete service for the evening and maybe not ever again. At a small memorial the following day we all grab each other’s leg and start pulling real hard.


All sarcasm aside, the void does fill with lightning speed, and recovery takes but a moment. In most cases, life moves on with little or no discrepancy since the walker was not performing anyway, they were not able to. Most times with a long-term team member, a walkout has been building for some time. Little or no communication occurs previous. That is a HUGE mistake. I worked very closely with one of my commis chefs on a daily basis for years. I noticed he had been sort of distant and quiet one week. Then one night in the midst of a very intense dinner service, he blew, five full minutes of ranting, raving and rioting right up in my face.(I even got a little spit on me) Throwing his apron on the floor, giving it a real good stomp, he flew out the back door screaming the proper obscenities, my own obscenities following closely behind him. I nearly fell on my rear. I picked my jaw up off the floor; we finished the service cleaned up and went home. Completely dismayed, I had no idea why this happened. Since we had worked together for so long, I called him. After some sincere conversation, we worked out all the issues to mutual satisfaction and he was back on the job the next day. I was unaware he was having a problem; he never said anything! This is a fine example of why it is important to have honest and open communication between all members of an operation. This requires that a manager be approachable. From my own personal experience, I believe that 90 % of walkouts are avoidable if only the person would communicate their troubles and a manager is open-minded; most problems can usually be worked out.

On the other hand, some people who walk out on a job are expressing extreme selfishness. They have taken a job for prestige or money and found that it requires experience, skill and HARD WORK. In the heat of the moment, they find that they have bitten off more than they could chew. Now they have become embarrassed. Sometimes this can become an asset; a lesson learned. Once called out, their limitations are evident, laid bare for the entire world to see. If they have enough humility to admit they have made a mistake, I usually give a second chance. A fresh new relationship (with a different position) can develop and we can move on in a productive fashion. Very creative people are sensitive. Very high-pressure situations create special circumstances.

There are very real consequences when a team member walks out on his/her job. Sadly most companies have a no re-hire policy, once you quit that way, you are gone forever and are “marked”. The HR department will need to act responsibly to those asking for good references for you. They will have to say that you walked out and they are unable to give a good recommendation regardless of the hard work you may have contributed previously. “He/she was a great employee right up to the day they left with no notice”, doesn’t sound too good, huh? That is a bad rap to carry around on a job search. Damage control after a walk out is practically nil. The best hope one has after walking out on a job is to try to make amends to the employer, maybe it can be kept off the record. Get through the shift as best you can and COMMUNICATE the problems AFTERWARD. If you do end up VANISHING, send some of my socks back if you can. Nothing can be worse than having the reputation of having COLD FEET.

Monday, January 18, 2010



Have you ever wondered what happens to all that food that goes out of date, that becomes sub standard in the produce isle, the day old bread and bakery items, over produced food at the “all you can eat buffets”, airline and railway food after the trips? When we clean out the refrigerator at home how much do we throw away? Waste figured into the bottom line is an accepted fact. Chef says, “If it’s not going out the front door, it’s going out the back, IN THE TRASH CAN.” Check the dumpsters and landfills. An estimated 30%, $48.2 billion, of food In the US is wasted. That makes me want to take a closer look, and make closer cuts. Some part of that percentage belongs to each one of us. It is a sin and we can do something about it. With hard work, better planning, rubber spatulas, a sharper knife and some thought for the less fortunate, waste can become profit.

Increase the bottom line by utilizing what would otherwise be waste. The little bits left in containers by not using a rubber spatula, using vegetable pieces for stocks, meat carefully trimmed and plenty of other little stuff will save you money. Using local sustainable products to put money back into the community and take advantage of a fresher product will save you money. I made a few friends over the years, one was captain of an oyster boat in Mississippi; she got me oysters for a buck per dozen (not perfectly sized but very tasty.) Mr. Fontaineaux drove to Louisiana twice a week, he loaded his refrigerated pick-up truck with crawfish, crabs and shrimp, and charged me about half of what the big suppliers did (I had to pick a few heads but they had only been out of the water for less than 24 hours). I once put the word out to local gardeners that I would purchase ALL excess homegrown tomatoes. Before the end of the week I had over 300 pounds of at least 10 varieties, all bought below market price and harvested that morning. I could go on.

How easy it is to call up the sales rep and place the order for the same size, shape, usually almost perfect product. Price fluctuations are somewhat fair and justified and he does all the sourcing. More creative, simpler recipes that employ cooking methods that intensify and focus on natural flavors, and LOOK natural are more profitable and appealing than buying “convenience” ingredients that end up looking like clones. The fish you order comes in two pieces instead of one, so what. Artful presentation and skillful preparation is the key.

Some packaging is just PURE WASTE; I do not want to pay extra for a pretty box.

On the personal side:

I can reuse leftovers. Mom always said, “This isn’t a restaurant, you’ll eat what I make”, if we did not like it, a secret hand off was made to our trusty dog, Pokey, a kids best friend and lover of liver. If someone does not like what is for dinner one night, there are leftovers from another. I can be a restaurant. I used to make a joke saying that I could survive off the food my kids leave behind; it is no joke I really could!

I can plan my meals. Shopping without a plan can result in compulsive over buying, especially if you shop when you are hungry.

I would like to think of myself as a healthy eater, but honestly I know that I will want a glazed doughnut with that morning coffee, or a piece of chocolate cake for dessert, leaving the “good intention” purchases to go bad before I can eat them, I have to be HONEST with myself.

When entertaining it is a good idea to pack up leftovers for guests. When I take a doggie bag home from dinner out, I actually eat it. Maybe even pass it off to a homeless person, if you do not plan to eat it yourself.

Most cuisine is born of poverty, moms using what is available and affordable. That is where food begins. As a chef my job is to nourish as well as satisfy. I am hard pressed to feel good about receiving praise for my work if it contributes to the deprivation of others. I know I cannot change the world, but I can change mine, I can do something. Reducing waste reduces demand; reduced demand lowers prices; lower prices helps to slow poverty.

Mom was not kidding when she said there were starving kids in the world!

Friday, January 8, 2010


I have the utmost respect for good servers; they are the people on the front lines, subjected to cruelty that most average workers would consider criminal. They are in the direct line of fire of customers who are just having a bad day and are a bit cranky to the down right abusive and boarder-line criminal. So is born a disturbing sense of entitlement among wait staff.

THEY ASKED FOR THE JOB, NONE OF THAT SHOULD MATTER! If a server has learned their craft, nearly every negative situation can become a positive one. The notion that tables are little more than a tip (and it had better be a good one!) is preposterous. Great service or ghastly, for some reason it has become standard practice to expect a 20% tip or the GUEST is blackballed. Dollar bill signs for pupils, the “turn-n-burn” or the “are you sure you are qualified to eat here” attitudes are unacceptable. Our guests are paying for more than just a delicious meal; they are paying for great service. Our job is to put the two together to create a memorable experience AND A REGULARLY RETURNING GUEST.

So what is the problem? Are all servers just greedy little piggies? Are they pretentious? Some, maybe, but not all. Keep in mind that the server takes the heat for poorly prepared food, drink mistakes from the bar, lighting, the view outside, other guests and all kinds of complaints all the while trying to keep up with table service; their tip is in constant jeopardy. The ability to handle that type of atmosphere is not innate. The ART OF SERVICE is exactly that, an art, a finesse employed to create a sense of complete satisfaction. Paradoxically, when executed properly, the guest is not supposed to be aware of the effort. TRAINING HAS BECOME SHALLOW, TRADITIONS LOST. Reciting the menu items and memorizing their ingredients, how to up sell a starter or a bottle of wine, robotic kitchen/dining room procedures are the focus of training these days. The idea behind all this is to increase the bottom line, but will the increase last. The fine dining establishments are as close as we can get to “real” service, provided they have not been consumed by their own pretentiousness. A properly experienced Maitre d can train a wait staff, passing on the traditions of THE ART OF SERVICE and keep the craft alive.

Sustainable success is not in the up sell, it is in the REPEAT SALES. Stamina!

The trainers need training while corporations, cashing in on the industry, dispatching the true spirit of hospitality, care only about their fragile bottom line. So the next time you have a lousy server, look over his/her shoulder to the manager, and then over his shoulder to the corporate top dogs, because your server… is just the tip of the ice burg.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I thought the dinosaurs were extinct!

Wow!!! Someone has finally said it. It has been forever since I have heard the saying, “the fish stinks from head.” Thank you David S. Reading it reminded me of some other words of my mentors, you know, the people who gave me the knowledge I have today.

Maybe the hospitality industry has forgotten that HOSPITALITY REQUIRES SERVICE.

Yes, we are all guilty of some ego. Most people have worked very hard to climb the ladder of success. I have to wonder though, which step on that ladder is it, what big management “title” causes some to forget the number one rule of this industry, SERVE THE CUSTOMER! We have all seen the butt kissers who believe that massaging the right management ego will get them a better job and the sad reality is it actually works in too many places. That is time, energy and money that could be spent on bettering service to the customer. BIG MANAGEMENT EGOS DO NOT TRANSLATE INTO BIG REVENUES FOR THE COMPANY.
Managers need to remember their responsibility to serve those who work FOR them. Their responsibility is to TRAIN and TEACH the art of SERVICE. To get REAL rewards from this industry, not just a big paycheck, a manager needs to exhibit some humility. In the old days, before micro management (another word for “it’s not MY fault”… just my opinion) the management had the ultimate responsibility to assure that the job was done well and that great service was executed at all cost. That meant wash dishes, peel shrimp, whatever it took. They worked hands on and SET THE EXAMPLE.

Too much is lost and over complicated by being “politically correct.” It has become a disservice to the up and comers, those people who really WANT to succeed. Instead of pouring countless hours and money into how we should spare feelings, inflate everyone’s ego and pat the a _ _ s of staff and management we should look from a different prospective: SERVE THE CUSTOMER! If you cannot or will not learn then MOVE OVER! EDUCATE OR AMPUTATE. Producing successful staff and management takes a lot of talent, good old-fashioned HARD WORK and pain, yes PAIN. Only then can we produce not only top quality products and services but top quality employees who go home EVERYDAY knowing that 1) they are good at what they do, 2) their contributions have made a REAL difference and 3) the customer knows it!

The hospitality gods have been good to me, I have been fortunate enough to have worked for some of the most impossible, slave driving, questionably abusive, insatiable, rude, know it all, tail kicking bosses that history has ever recorded. What a blessing! I am grateful now that they cared more about my career than my feelings. They instilled in me (more like CHISELED it into my …at that time… thick skull) that I am only as good as the people that work for me. Their success is my success and I had better pass it on. The icing on that cake is even sweeter. The people we teach take their training on to other jobs. They use that knowledge to better their own careers and the careers of others and the customer gets great service!

The bottom line is this: Happy customers WILL RETURN. A prideful staff is confident in their CUSTOMER SERVICE. Managers are OBLIGATED to train and teach, and everyone gets their egos massaged by the PRIDE OF A JOB WELL DONE instead of useless stuff like Skippy boy washing their cars on the weekend.

See you in the dish pit!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Old Man and thoughts on age discrimination.

When I was young and full of piss and vinegar, trying to sponge up all the experience and responsibility the Chef would allow me, I always remembered, (even though the consequences of any mistake I could make would be intimidating, painful and humiliating) the "Old Man" could and would ALWAYS be able to pull me out of the shits.

My mentors were the guys who had been through everything a million times and maintained their cool through the most horrifying and impossible situations and afterwards kicked my ass for my mistakes.

In my culinary adolescence, I felt I may have been a better cook than some of them, that I had better menu ideas and ways to implement them, sometimes I was right. I still had the attitude that I NEEDED the "Old Man."

As I worked through my culinary adulthood I could recognize that even though I was an outstanding cook and could operate kitchens with much success, I still NEEDED the "Old Man."

Now I have reached the decrepit age of maturity, 48, have opened, owned and operated several of my own restaurants, trained countless cooks and servers and dish washers, many who have gone on to better their careers in the industry with the knowledge I had instilled in them, I've passed through business plans and p&l statements and all sorts of other crap...and yes I still NEED the "Old Man." (Maybe now more than ever.)

There are plenty of ego driven, flashy, "show" chefs out there, finger pointers, without so much as a spot of marinara sauce on their starchy whites. I sometimes wonder who their “Old Man” is. Who pulls them out of the weeds by something so simple as telling them to get off their ass or pull their head out of it? Will they have the stamina to go the distance that will teach them what only time can, what the Old Man knows? No matter how hard it is to ask him and catch a bunch of crap for it, THE OLD MAN KNOWS...he always does!

The Old Man is the LEADER, not always the strongest or most creative or the best at everything, the Old Man is the shoulder that our worlds rest on, the security we can always count on, the one who got us this far.

Every operation is defined by its leader.

I wonder if our culture is now to take credit for a foundation that was built by those tough, crusty old SOB’s that got us where we are today. Will we forget to carry on in their tradition, will we get caught up in an ego war with those young whipper snapper "I've got the world by the tail, fresh out of school, get out of my way, I know what I'm doing” snot wipers? We owe it to the "hot shots," to teach them (even if we make them get a little dirty) so they will bring up the future generations, so that our craft remains a craft and doesn't end up becoming just some fancy title.

How could the Old Man be discriminated against? Who else do they have to ask?

And hey don't you ever forget: old age and treachery will always overcome youth and stamina!