Family Meal

Family Meal….family meal is a tough, contentious topic if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant.

My feelings on family meal are wide and varied.  They start at the bottom with “go fuck yourself” and progress to the top and “come eat.” as a consumer I love family meal but as a producer, it can swing drastically based on how much other work I have to do.

I suppose how I feel about it depends on where I am working at the moment, the people being fed and their attitudes.  I don’t mind feeding the appreciative ones.  The ones who work really hard and understand how hard the kitchen works and appreciate their free meal every day.

The thing that triggered this post is an event – it happened last Sunday at work and I can’t wrap my head around it, can’t stop thinking about it.  I’m feeling a few things – anger, frustration… disrespected.

A little background before I dive in: we are open breakfast, lunch and dinner every day except Christmas and Independance day.  We aren’t mass production by any means but we definitely do some volume.  Dine LA (restaurant week) just ended Sunday night, Monday we had a huge buyout for a movie premier, we are/were exhausted, overstretched and behind on prep.  Family meal always falls to the saute cook… I’m not really sure why but for whatever reason, it does.  Which means that it falls to me 5 days a week.

Sunday was a hard day. We got wrecked on Saturday night, almost 300 covers. I was starting from scratch for mis en place… Which really is two afternoons worth of work and I had about 3 hours to get it done between my arrival and the first reservation, never mind the happy hour snacks that would roll in through the afternoon.

Most days I stay ahead enough on my prep that I don’t mind making family meal. I am usually able to find a half hour in my day to put up halfway decent nosh for the crew around about 5 o’clock.

This day was obviously not one of those days, from the very beginning.  Every cook was in the same position, scrambling to get ready before it got busy. We all came in early, we were running when we hit the ground. So, no help to be had from each other, we were all on our own gunning for preparedness. It took until about 5:30 for us all to get close enough that we could take a few minutes to put together a staff meal. We were doing it as a team when a big ticket of bar snacks came in. So, I put down staff meal and picked up the tacos. As we were plating, the sous chef goes “That’s weird, there is no table number or guest count. This better not be for staff. ”

Rewind the day about 10 minutes and step into the front of the house.

The servers don’t understand how the kitchen can be busy when there are no guests sitting at tables. They all started complaining to the floor manager that they are hungry and that staf meal in’t up yet. And his response is to try and shut them up by RINGING IN BAR SNACKS FOR THE STAFF.

“What? You guys are too busy to put up family meal? Let me create some MORE work for you and use up the meez you already did. That seems like a good idea.”

So there we are. The kitchen dimension intersects the front of the house dimension, and I am standing there, fuming, family meal in one hand and a big platter of bar snacks in the other.

Are you kidding me? Is this real?

Now, I get why restaurants provide family meal. The days are long, we don’t make a ton of money, it builds the team to share a meal. But, the expectation that your free meal be more important than the mis en place with which I will feed our paying guests? That’s just some bull. I get paid to feed them, not to feed you.

I don’t know. Like I said at the beginning, family meal is always (and probably always will be) a touchy subject.

I guess my point is that the front of the house needs to have more respect for the weight that the kitchen bears on a daily basis.  You come in, you roll your silver and put out your candles, talk to your guests, ring some food in.  It can be hectic at times, yes.  I respect that to be a true professional server is an art form.  However, that respect has to go both ways.  Without me doing my job to the best of my ability, you quite literally don’t have a job.  And that meal – Family Meal – is a gift, from me to you, because we can not survive without one another.  If I want my passion to be conveyed to a guest, I need you too.  We need each other.  So Family Meal is my gift to you, to say thank you for your help.

But for the sake of our team, the respect has to go both ways.  Recognize when we are flying.  I know you can tell.  I haven’t stopped to say hi today? Service hasn’t started and the cooks are already soaked with sweat? It’s Saturday? or, Saturday was banging and today is Sunday? Just take a second to stop and think.

And maybe say thank you once in awhile.  That means more than anything else.

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“I’ve been glutened”

Taking a quick break from the Maslow series to get my (writer’s block) thoughts straight so I grabbed this gem for you from the archives of Kitchen Wisdom

While I am now considerably less pissed off, there is a lot of truth to what was written.  Everyone needs to take a look at themselves and take responsibility for their own selves (that applies to more than just eating at restaurants but that’s a whole different bag of worms).  Stop trying to blame everyone around you.

This one goes out to all my homies with gluten intolerances, gluten allergies and other various dietary problems which require you to not eat wheat products. Also to my homies with general food allergies, though the gluten is the thing that set me off today…

I’m currently in a ranting mood, so here it is (although rest assured, I don’t hate you as much as I’m sure it’s going to sound like I do)

If you have a dietary restriction, you have to assume some responsibility for what you put in your body. Don’t immediately blame the person cooking your food. Some don’t know any better, and some cooks you are (hate to break it to you) asking too much of.

First things first: stop trying to eat at TGIFriday’s or whatever chain restaurant is in the center of your town. The people that work there most likely are not chefs, and odds are they don’t give a flying fuck what your dietary restriction is. New flash: most of those places don’t have executive chefs; they have kitchen managers and supervisors. There is probably one person serv safe certified in the building and it’s probably the FOH manager. Also, a lot of the people working in those kitchens are opening packages and putting things in the micro or the oven, and don’t really know what is inside there. Eat in reputable, established restaurants that list an Executive chef on their menu. Odds are, these places DO have trained cooks in their kitchens who know how to prepare the food properly, how to prevent contamination, and what exactly is in every one of their dishes. This reduces risk before you even walk in the door.

Second, your server is your best friend. Be very nice to them. As if you are inconveniencing them. They are the liaison between you and the kitchen, and this process can be very easy if you work together.

Third, ask what is gluten free on the menu. If there is something accompanied by bread that you think is interesting, be sure to ask if the rest of the dish is gluten free. There is flour in many places on a menu that you probably didn’t even think of.

Fourth, if that item with the bread is gluten free (besides the obvious bread), go for it. If not, STOP RIGHT THERE.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT try to order something on the menu that has gluten in its normal preparation. Get off of your high horse and stop asking chefs to change their food to suit your dietary needs. All this does is piss people off. As chefs, we work hard, every day, to bring you a edible, nay, delicious representation of who we are, of our souls. For you to walk into my restaurant and think that you can just change shit around at your own whim… shit, GET OUT. I’d rather you not spend your 50 bucks here. GO HOME AND COOK IT YOURSELF if you want to create it yourself. I am more than willing to leave the bread off, and I generally go to pretty great lengths to include at least one vegetarian and gluten free option on my menu. But no, I will not change that whole dish (that I spent a week creating, testing, tasting, laboring over) around just so that you can eat it. It is an insult to my work.

Understand?

I do sympathize with people with allergies and intolerances. I have a pretty severe lactose intolerance, and this keeps me from eating many things that I loved as a kid (even as an adult, before I realized what I was doing to myself). So I get it. Sometimes, I want to eat icecream. But I don’t ask the chef to make me that icecream flavor with lactose-free milk just so I can eat it in his or her dining room.

So sorry

So sorry for the delay in getting the remainder of the Maslow series out… Not only have I been super busy the last few days, but every time I do find a few minutes to sit down and write, I end up deleting everything at the end because it is just pure shite.  Writer’s block be damned, I’m going to try and finish it this afternoon.  Wish me luck.

Maslow and Food (part 4): Cognitive and Aesthetic needs.

 – the fourth installment of the Maslow and Food series –

As you move upward on the pyramid the concepts become increasingly abstract.  There are, for many of the remaining steps, no concrete or tangible things to indicate that you have completed the level.  Often, when I begin to think about the step I am in a very clear and defined place, but by the end I am left with only a feeling or sensation that I am then unable to articulate.  It has made this series of posts extremely difficult to complete.  Here is my best effort:

5. Cognitive needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.

The knowledge portion of this layer seems relatively straightforward.  At its most basic, it is purely the accumulation and retention of knowledge.  Somewhat like the previous layer, only on a more personal level.  Often I am not seeking new knowledge for status or respect or a promotion, I am simply seeking to satisfy my own need to learn something new.  To me, this gives my work (meaning) (whether at home or at my job) because I am expanding my horizons and progressing, whether or not there is a tangible outcome.  Sometimes it is as simple as the warm feeling in your chest when you’ve done something for the first time, a little tiny ball of pride that says “we did it and it was good.”  I can’t seem to appropriately articulate  why it is so satisfying, but it is.  Anyone who loves to learn will understand.

6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.

Aesthetic needs are thoroughly subjective – there is no way that what I find beautiful will be exactly the same as what you do.  However, when I think about food from the soil and roots to the table all I can seem to think is that it is beautiful.

I learned at some point in my past that respect, almost reverence, for your food products is imperative to creating a great meal.  When you treat your food like “just another burger” it’s going to be just another burger.  But if you start out with the attitude that you have the best meats, the best buns, the best toppings, and you care for them as if they are extraordinarily valuable, the resulting product will likely be very valuable.  It will make you feel good, it will make whomever you are feeding feel good, it will look good, etc.

But I have digressed a bit.  What was the point? Right, beauty, balance and form.

Because of this reverence that I have developed for food, I have learned to garden.  Even as a child, I loved nothing more than a fresh tomato, fresh off of the vine and still a bit warm from the sun.  It was perfect.  It was plump and round and needed only a bit of salt to explode with flavor.  As an adult, there is nothing more beautiful and balanced than raising the fruit and vegetables from the ground up, nourishing them, caring for them, pruning them and ultimately harvesting them.  It feels right to care for and nourish the things which will nourish me, help me to care for my body.  It also creates a healthy balance in my life between work, stress, fun, and calm.  I genuinely enjoy gardening and the time spent with my hands dirty is soothing for my soul even on the most stressful of days.

I hope that I have managed to be clear and articulate about these two layers of the pyramid.  As I said at the beginning, the concepts are becoming more and more abstract.  Even if I had months to mull it over and write and rewrite I don’t know that I could ever articulate what exactly the feelings are like.  But, I have done my best for you and I hope you enjoy.

Join me this week for the last two rungs on the ladder and my conclusions.  As usual, I welcome your feedback.  Have a wonderful day 🙂

I got distracted…

Today, I was supposed to bring you the next installment of the Maslow and Food series… but I am sorry to say that I was distracted.

A few days ago, my executive chef told me to watch “Mind of a Chef” (a PBS series narrated by Anthony Bourdain, who is my hero, so obviously I was IN).  It’s available on Amazon Prime which means I can binge watch the first two seasons… dangerous but in a way satisfying.

I AM HOOKED. And, MY MIND IS BLOWN.

The first season features David Chang.  Episode 1 made me want ramen noodles more than I’ve wanted ANYTHING in a long time.

Episode 2 is devoted to the pig (otherwise known as the king of the meat animals).

I can’t wait to see what comes next!

I’m going to have a really hard time getting off of my couch to go to work.

Anyway, my apologies for not finishing the Maslow post, I promise to finish it for tomorrow 😉

Maslow and Food (part 3) – Love, Belongingness, and Esteem

– an installment of the series Maslow and Food, which began with an introduction, continued yesterday, and is now on to its third installment, below –

The way the Pyramid works, in theory, is that you can not progress toward a completely fulfilled life until you have completed each layer.  Since food, for me, has fulfilled the requirements of the first two rungs, I can now move on to the third and fourth, which go somewhat together (as did the first two).

3. Love and belongingness needs

This layer focuses on interpersonal relationships and the feelings that stem from them – friendship, intimacy, affection and love.  It covers pretty much all relationships in your daily life, from your team at work to family, friends, and romantic relationships.  For me, food is involved in establishing all of these relationships, leading me to a feeling of fulfillment in all of them.

Somewhat obviously, my job as a chef brings food into my relationships at work.  Less obvious, though, is why these relationships are so satisfying.  To me, the teamwork, the experience of going through hell together on a nightly basis, the beers after service and the laughs in between… these all bring a level of closeness to my work relationships that I don’t feel I could achieve in any other setting.

Beyond work, all of my other relationships are somehow impacted by food:  whether it is sitting down to the table with my parents like we did when we were kids, or the perfect sandwich from that place down the street from my best friend’s house, or the little place with the great fries and drinks hidden in the south end where my fiance and I have date nights because it is quiet and we can sit in a dark corner and get lost in our conversation without being bothered.

…I can still remember what I made for dinner the first Christmas that I was with friends instead of my family.  I can still remember what I made the first morning that my now-fiance stayed over at my place.  I can still remember what I made for dinner the Christmas that my parents flew halfway around the world just to be with me, what I had for dinner on that double date with my best friend and her new girlfriend, what we ate on the Fourth of July the first time I spent it on the beach with my best friend’s family.  I can still remember how huge my uncle seemed, standing over the stove with that wooden spoon (“never, ever, put a metal spoon in your gravy, you hear me? You’ll ruin it”) on Christmas Eve, and my mother’s perfect Risi Bisi every Easter.

Every single relationship in my life is punctuated by memories of food.  Food belongs with me and I with it – there is no question.

4. Esteem needs

Esteem needs are things like positive self-esteem, achievement of goals, mastery of skills, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.  Basically anything that gives you a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Food satisfies these needs in many ways.  There is a daily sense of achievement, whether through small goals throughout service or putting a meal on the table at home.  A positive sense of self esteem is generated through this constant achievement (and dare I say, the occasional compliment?).

When you finally master that sauce, or technique, the satisfaction is through the roof.  When you are finally able to quenelle that foam/sauce/icecream/whipped cream perfectly with only one spoon.  When your stock comes out beautifully rich and gelatinous.  When you get that perfect crisp skin on a piece of fish.  Every little technique and task has a learning curve, and when you finally get it right, the satisfaction is …. inexplicable.

An accumulation of these little skills brings you prestige among your peers, a status among them.  You become looked up to.  You are eligible, in a sense, for the satisfaction that comes with a colleague asking your advice.  Maybe this will parlay into some extra responsibility, or a promotion.

You become, in short, fulfilled.

That brings us to an end for today.  Tomorrow we move on to more abstract things, with cognitive and aesthetic needs.  Convenient, how the pyramid kind of breaks itself down into groups of two, isn’t it?

Maslow and Food – The Bottom of the Pyramid (part 2)

– continued from yesterday’s introduction

There are certain things that we all need to live a fulfilled life.  One psychologist, Abraham Maslow, developed a chart called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ which outlines the concepts that must be present in our lives for us to live a fully ‘actualized’ life… that is to say for us to be fulfilled in our lives and be happy.  The most recent version of the chart has eight factors that every human is affected by, some conscious and some subconscious, which motivate us to do pretty much everything in our lives

.maslow8

So how are these needs fulfilled by food?

(I am going to reference my own feelings from here on out but I welcome any comments and conversation about the concepts. I would love to hear what you have to say!)

Starting at the bottom of the pyramid and working my way to the top:

1. Biological and Physiological needs –

Maslow says these are the most basic essentials for life.  Things like air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

In the most literal of ways, no, food is not air or sex or shelter or sleep.  But, hear me out.

When I was a child, I would come home (shelter) after school to the smell of my mother cooking.  The (air) in the house was thick with the scent of (on tuesdays) onions and garlic sauteeing, the sound of meat sputtering, the acidic gurgling of my mother’s meat sauce on the stove.  I still can’t smell those things without being transported back to my mother’s kitchen and smiling.

As an adult, (food) and (drink) go together.  The best food paired with the best drink, or just a burger and a beer.  One can not be without the other, in my world.  The combination leads to the warm and fuzzies… (warmth) in the figurative sense.  My heart and mind are at peace, warm and full.

(Sex) is a bit of a stretch, but, that same level of satisfaction does come after a truly exquisite meal.  A well written menu can leave my mouth watering and my desire so intense that when the plate finally lands in front of me and I take that first bite, I get goosebumps.  A foodgasm, if you will.

Finally, sleep.  With an empty stomach or unsatisfied appetite, I am unable to sleep until I am satisfied.  A great meal can give me a night’s sleep incomparable to most anything.

2. Safety needs

The second stage of fulfillment, according to Maslow, includes protection from the elements, security, order, law, stability, and so on.

Food has always given me a sense of (protection) and (security)  Not in the sense of eating my feelings, but in the coming home kind of way.  Originally, it was based in that coming-home-to-mom’s feeling, as if everything would be ok.  As an adult it is about the sense of control I feel – it is the thing I do when everything else is going crazy.  It helps me regain (stability), put my life back in (order), see things more clearly.  Food always behaves a certain predictable way, in accordance with the many (law)s of physics which never change – maillard browning, the way proteins unfold to make an eggwhite hold air and become stiff, the way deep fat frying is actually a dry cooking technique, etc.  They are unbiased constants that can soothe me back into a feeling of calm, quiet, secure, everything-will-be-ok state of mind.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment, the third and fourth rungs on the ladder:  Love and Esteem and Food