Sunday, March 21, 2010

Report from a respite

I rarely remember my dreams so when I do, I listen.

The first morning of my day off I awoke coming out of a dream where I was walking around the back yard of our store, except in my dream, it was my house. I sensed something else was out there. It was dark. It was cool, but muggy. I knew I wasn't alone.

I took a few steps into our parking lot where the light would be better. Our ongoing construction had made the back of the store dark and a bit spooky since I've been arriving in the dark and leaving in the dark. I heard a slight scuffle in the gravel not far from me. I turned.

Just feet from me was a skunk, tail raised, eying me unpleasantly.

I bolted before she could aim her tail's stench in my direction. I didn't understand why I didn't smell her the moment I stepped out back. Without looking back I knew she was following me. When I got to the back door I realized the work ladder was still set up from my earlier inspection of the roof so I quickly climbed the ladder to get away from the striped stalker.

As I reached the roof I looked back and saw that she was climbing the ladder after!? I turned and saw two of the tiniest baby skunks I had ever seen, gently picked them up and cuddled them. I quickly recognized my mistake as the momma reached the top rung, turned her rear toward me, lifted, and...I woke up.

The dream analysis is clear. My roof still has another leak and I shouldn't finish my drywall just yet.
I recently hired a new kitchen staff. We moved my last staff to serving where he is better suited, and I had brought in another person who didn't last the week saying, "I think you have unrealistic expectations." And finally I found this completely inexperienced Boston boy. Americans (or lovers of American urban films) will understand the stereotype of a stubborn Boston Italian. This guy knows little of a commercial kitchen (like me two years ago), but no matter how many times he messes up, I grumble (or yell), and he has to start over again, he keeps coming back. He's a bulldog and he's not letting go of his bone. That's what I saw in him and why I thought he was worth the investment. I mention this because at the end of his final shift of his first week he said very simply and without explanation, "You're an animal." And he walked out.

Larry calls me the chef who never sleeps. My workaholic mothers says I work too much. Our Silver City friends say I work too hard. And they're all right. Boston bulldog nailed it though, I enjoy finishing my day knowing it wasn't wasted. I bust my rump putting out good food in a beautiful presentation (or at least I like to think I do). And that is what makes replacing me for my new kitchen position so hard. I know what I want to do. I know how to get it done.

This small bit of rest did wonders to clear my mind. (Truth be told I am writing this on Sunday afternoon after just a half day of rest, but I feel like I've slept for weeks.) I'm already reworking, refining and adjusting my recipes in my head. I've already thought about how Vatel has influenced my life and how I want dishes that are bigger and better.

So I am, with little rest, already reflecting on the past few days, weeks and months. I'll try to do that with a bit of structure since my mind is rambling.

Our building
If you're a Facebook follower, then you know we've been remodeling our store to add a new space. This project was estimated to be completed in January. Weather has put us back, but we're done next week. The groceries will be moved to the new space in the back (where the baby skunks are foreboding more leakage issues) and the restaurant will take over the front. A few months back we saw in our financial statements that the café had become around 50% of our revenue - that was a mix of increased café sales and decreased grocery sales due to the economy. Tyler wisely asked why our space wasn't following the groceries will be downsized a bit.

This move is making me very nervous since it will be harder for customers to find the groceries, and I'm concerned that we're going to harm that part of our business - the part that got us started. But, I'm going to ride that ride. When we pull all of the shelves to move them in back I'm afraid of what we'll see. We moved the store from its previous location to the new building almost overnight. I expect to see unpainted walls, missing trim, cracks and who knows what else. Extra work.

The biggest concern is the day I sign off on the construction, the bill comes, and it won't be cheap. That is the biggest issue that makes me want to work for someone else instead of having my own place.

The menu
Not so much 'the menu' as the evolution of a restaurant. I want to create something important for our town. There are two other good restaurants in town and what we're doing is a good addition, not a replication. The initial feedback has been overwhelming. I've had lots of "Best meal I've had in Silver City," "Best meal I've had in years," "Best meal I've ever had." So I'm not complaining in the least. But I haven't been completely satisfied with any of the meals yet.

I also had my first complaint. His reservation is in two weeks. He walked in and told me all of the things he hated about Batali's restaurant and every other restaurant he's ever eaten at. Geez. I can't win on that one can I? The other night I switched my attitude toward his comments and took it as a challenge. Bring it on Batali-basher! I'll make you a meal that you can't complain about!
I've also been thinking about one of those two restaurants in town that I respect, which I gave a positive, but cold review on eGullet. No need to rehash my criticisms. Now its my turn. Every diner has an opinion. The first few made me angry. "Why don't I walk into your cubicle and tell you how I don't like you're writing, your graphics, your layout, your..." Why is it with chefs, artists, writers, we feel the need to tell them what we don't like? But that's the business isn't it. I've learned that if I'm not ready to hear it, don't put myself in a position to listen. More importantly, remember my detractors when I am critiquing my peers.
I've been really happy to have found DeepPlate right when I did last month. Instead of thinking about plating in terms of the food, I now think about how the food and plate interact. You can have beautiful food, but on the wrong plate it just Think about the Mona Lisa magnet on your refrigerator. The food is being painted on a canvas. Pick the right canvas. That is my new goal. And speaking of that, my earlier pictures of my wouldn't even recognize my courses anymore. I'll have to get some new pics up now that I'm more in control of my kitchen.

My life
My life in this blog seems compulsively focused on cooking, however, I do enjoy things other than cooking. I really enjoy my writing for TheGastronomersBookshelf. I've never considered myself an especially good writer, but I enjoy doing it, and given enough creative time I think I do readable work. Reviewing cookbooks is fun because they challenge me - even the lowliest of books. I enjoy reading and cooking out of books that aren't in my comfort zone. This is the same reason I do all of my online cooking challenges.

Of course I love my time with my dogs.

Our walks have become another dreaded physical exertion at this point, but that's only temporary until I get my new schedule resolved. I really look forward to taking my Lexi girl out for another trek into the wilderness (and I'm sure she's tired of being in the house all day.)

And then there's Tyler. He recently finished his stint as interim pastor at our church and so he'll have a bit more time to catch up. With all that we've been doing the past few months our time together has really been dwindled down to a few hours on Sunday nights, but we're both committing to getting our quality time back to where they were.
A bit of a ramble, but there's been a lot on my mind, and I've had to backseat all of this to focus on chopping onions and such, so if you made it to the end of this post - thanks. I'm looking forward to creating and sharing something new with all of you real soon.


Sharlene T. said...

Oh, I never miss Vatel when it's on. Such a beautiful, sad, story and such wonderful works of culinary art! I loved the spun sugar fruit.

Well, I've yet to see Batali fix beef heart, so maybe you're one up on there, already. You might like to read my blog on 'opinions' here: It gives you a whole new perspective.

I don't know why folks do that, either. But, you have nothing to worry about. Your work is great.

Hang in there. Someday, you'll look back and laugh at the early days.

Manggy said...

Yikes. I didn't know your recruits ended that way. Maybe you are an animal. (Skunk? Kidding.) I wonder how a physician who works 36-hour shifts and with the level of skill that you know I possess (whatever that may be) would fare. Hmmmmm. (I'm not cheap, though, hehe.)

The grocery I think is pretty well-known, so people will always search for the goods. I wouldn't worry about that as long as there's good signage. I hope the bill is manageable.

I don't usually complain about restaurants. I acknowledge that I don't always know what's best. Usually all I need is a decent meal. Debeard your mussels. Devein your shrimp if you want to impress me. If you want to feed me moussaka from the freezer, fine, but make sure it's not cold in the middle, for heaven's sake (obviously I've had an adverse experience already). But I still came back.

You are a great addition to the TGB team, don't worry about that :) I think I speak for both Duncan and myself when I say we're very grateful you're with us.

Crossing fingers for all future endeavors!