Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Worst Kind of A$$hole...

So, you know how, as a writer, you sometimes conceptualize an idea as being better or more interesting in your head, than it is on paper...?
(I mean, maybe you don't; after all, I'm the one with the blog that you're hopefully reading...) Well, that happened with what was to be my next post, "There Are No Darlings Here..." Suffice it to say, I went to my new favourite wine bar and as accosted by this agro, gay, server guy. It's not really important that he was gay or agro; the funny part was my buddy the bartender who informed him, "there are no darlings here," upon being called that.
So, anyway, this little rant comes to you courtesy of the Late-Night Menu at the restaurant I'm currently working at. I've never really seen the need for a late-night menu at most restaurants, because the man-hours usually outweigh the covers. But, whatever. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?
This past Friday, I ended up having to work the late-night shift. It's not important that I wasn't scheduled to work that night; or that a good buddy of mine who lives in Japan was going to be in town for the night and wanted to catch up...or the fact that I found out I was going to have to work the late-night about 10 minutes before I was about to pull up stakes; or the fact that after we got absolutely crushed for dinner service, we were dead from about 11:30, on; or that I was told by "Management," that if we remained dead, we would have last call for food at 1:15. What I feel is important: is the couple that walked in the door at 12:05, sat down, ordered a couple rounds of drinks and made every indication that they were there to drink, and not to eat.
The joke, it would seem, was on me. Because around 12:45, they began to look at the menu, which they followed up by closing the menu, and then followed up by asking the waitress if they could substitute certain things on the menu. Well, as my bartender buddy LPD said when I told him this story, "it's one o'clock in the fucking morning, just order something and be done with it!"
After they had perused the menu for the third time and still hadn't ordered anything, I asked our waitress, perhaps a little too loudly, "are these fucking people going to order some food, or what?!?!" Was there a better way of asking the question? Should I have been cognizant of the fact that if I could make out their hushed conversation, then odds were good they could hear my angry comment? Should I have been happy to have a job? Yes, on all accounts. But honestly, if you walk into a restaurant that you're lucky enough has a late night menu, then order some fucking food. Don't sit down at a table and drink for an hour, and then decide you're hungry, because if you do that, you're the worst kind of asshole. Look, I get it. It’s a restaurant, it’s open late, it’s my job. I understand all of those things. But there’s nothing more maddening than standing on the hot line, in a virtually empty restaurant, after you’ve already been there for 12 hours, watching two people actively not interested in ordering food, only to change their minds five minutes before last call.
I guess what I’m saying here, is don’t be a douche. If you walk into a dead bar at 3 in the morning, odds are pretty good the bartender probably isn’t going to stay open until 4 while you drink fucking ginger ale. So if you walk into a dead restaurant, what makes you think you’ve got unlimited time to order some food off the menu? Bars and restaurants are in the business of making money. There’s no money to be made by people not walking in the door. And there’s very little money to be made by two people walking in the door, not ordering food, and then no one else walking in after them.
Basically, I was pissed, and I think I had a right to be pissed. But I’ll concede the fact that I could’ve been a little less vocal in my pissedoffness.
But seriously, when you walk into a restaurant, especially late at night; don’t be an asshole…

Next Up:

My descent into bacon fat, and the dangers of popcorn obsession…

* Note: That's not the ticket from what they ordered, it's from an old restaurant when four high kids came in and ordered dessert and apps and a snack all at the same time...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

G-E-T S-O-M-E, or Comeuppance is a Bitch

So, I've got a buddy who's a pretty good cook in his own right. We both finished culinary school around the same time and have taken similar paths, thus far, in our careers. That is to say, both of us have tried to work for well respected chefs, in solid kitchens; while shying away from the dying world of "Haute Cuisine," with the likes of Per Se, Daniel, Le Cirque, &c. This isn't so much "his story," as it is, a story about him...
A few months ago, he reaches out to me and asks if we can get a drink after service. I didn't think much of it at the time, just figured he'd had a shitty service, and wanted a sympathetic ear to bounce his frustration off of. By the time I got to the bar, he was already there, a thousand yard look in his eyes and a glass of Eagle Rare in front of him. After we exchanged pleasantries, he wasted little time in getting to the point.
"So, you guys need a fuckin' line cook, or what?"
As it happens, he had; that very same night; been fired from the restaurant he had recently given notice too.
To hear him tell it, they got a new chef at the restaurant and the guy was, for lack of a better word, a prick. He apparently came in, badmouthed the way things used to be done and told the staff on his second first official night there, “if you guys don’t want to be here, let’s find that out now.” Now, that’s all well and good, but I’d say it’s kinda tough for someone to tell whether or not their boss is going to turn into an alcoholic psycho after working with them for about eight hours…but I’m jumping ahead.
Apparently, their new chef had no idea what he was actually getting himself into, had a big chip on his shoulder and didn’t know how to expedite tickets. This means that servers would regularly stop by the pass to alert him that teams were ready for their second courses; but that the information was never passed on to the people who actually needed to be cooking the food. So my buddy tells me that the entire kitchen staff sized this guy up and started talking about putting in their two week’s notice; but that no one actually pulled the trigger. Then one night, my buddy got kicked off the line. I don’t know why, he didn’t say why; but called it, “a whole bunch of bullshit.” He said he put in his notice the very next day and three days later, there he was, sitting next to me getting drunk on bourbon.
So I asked him to back up and say that there must have been some signs leading up to the point that brought us to those bar stools. He said no, but “get this. When that asshole canned my ass, he followed me outside and got in my face!”
This in-and-of-itself isn’t all that surprising. Kitchens are high stress environments, and sometimes people say things in a “heat of battle,” I get that. I can even understand a chef yelling at a former employee; even though at that point just let it go...
This guy didn’t let it go. My buddy told me this prick got in his face and apparently called him: “a whiny little bitch,” a “punk,” a “little fucker who should rethink the profession,” “to be careful” and apparently even went so far as to stick a finger in his chest and ask, “do you want a fucking piece of me?” I was especially pissed by all of this, although I can only imagine how my buddy felt. The thing that I didn’t say that night, but have told mutual friends when we’ve discussed the story is that it was especially uncool of this guy to threaten my buddy’s future employment by telling him to rethink the profession and to watch out. Those things, to me: sound like the kind of things you say to someone before you start badmouthing them all over town…
Long story short, I talked to my buddy about a week ago, to see how his job search was going and he said it was going slowly, but that he had been given a bit of good news. “Remember that asshole who fired me? They fired him about a week and a half ago!”
While I’m never happy to hear about someone losing their job, I told my buddy it couldn’t have happened to a better person than that guy….

Special thanks to my buddy (Name Redacted) for letting me tell this story.

Next up: There Are No Darlings Here...

And maybe an Banana Pudding recipe.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Crush Some Soup!

If you live in the Northeast, you've probably noticed an alarming new trend: it's fucking cold as a witches’ tit outside!
Unfortunately, most of us don't have the luxury of sitting on the couch, wrapped in a down comforter cocoon while we watch Top Chef reruns; emerging only to go to the bathroom or answer the door for the take-out we'd forgotten we'd ordered. When I was working a soul-crushing desk job, nothing used to give me greater pleasure, during the cold Winter months, than coming home and turning on the stove. I could've been boiling water for pasta, or making soup from scratch; as long as the stove was on I felt...right.
Today, we're not going to focus so much on boiling water for pasta, but making soup. The kind of soup your grandma used to make, from scratch, that takes half a day, and most importantly, warms your kitchen to the core.
This past weekend I helped cook a pot luck dinner (one of many) for the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society Gala. Until 24 hours before we ate, I still had no idea about what we were going to eat...but I KNEW it had to involve butternut squash soup. So, without further verbiage, here's an awesome recipe for soup.

Butternut Squash Soup, with Cinnamon Toasts, Fried Sage & Chili Oil

2 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large Spanish onion, small diced
1 carrot, small diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 TBSP ground Cinnamon
Salt & Pepper, to taste
3 TBSP Olive Oil
½ Cup, White Wine
4 Cups of water

Cinnamon Toast
1 Cup of Brioche bread, cut into 1-inch-by-1-inch cubes
4 TBSP Butter
1 Sprig of Thyme, picked
3 TBSP Cinnamon
1 TBSP Sugar

Fried Sage
12 Sage leaves
¼ Cup Canola Oil
Salt, to taste

Serves 6, with enough soup for leftovers

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, sprinkle the squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste.
Roast until soft, but not until the squash takes on too much colour (approximately 45 minutes).
While the squash is roasting, add the remaining oil to a large pot and begin to sweat the carrots, over medium heat. When the carrots begin to soften, add the celery and then the onion and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Raise heat to high and deglaze with white wine, and reduce to a sec.
Add the roasted squash, remaining cinnamon, and cover with water. Bring the whole pot to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer until the squash is soft, and the water has reduced by 1 quart.
Working in batches, puree the soup until smooth in a blender or food processor. (NOTE: The soup will be hot, so make sure to be careful and if necessary cover the top of the blender with a kitchen towel to avoid burns).
When fully pureed, return to pot and check seasoning and consistency; adding more water or reducing further depending on how thick or thin you like your soup.

To make the Cinnamon Toast, melt the butter in a large sauté pan, over medium heat, until it begins to brown. Working quickly, add the bread and picked thyme to the pan, tossing frequently to evenly coat the bread with the brown butter and thyme.
When browned, remove from heat and toss with the cinnamon and sugar, until well coated. Then transfer to a sheet lined with paper towels and dry.

To fry the sage, simply heat the oil in a pan until approximately 325 degrees. Add the sage to the oil and fry until crispy (approximately 5-to-7 seconds per side). Then remove to a sheet lined with paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt.

As far as the chili oil goes, you can buy a bottle from an Asian market somewhere; or you can infuse your own at home. I like to infuse my own, but that takes time; and you probably want soup.

To serve, ladle 12 ounces of soup into a large bowl and garnish with a small mound of toasts in the center of the soup. Then place two sage leaves on top of toasts and lightly drizzle with chili oil.

* The last two times I've made this soup, I've been doing other stuff has haven't taken a picture, so instead you get a funny picture from dinner service a few months back...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Hate the Food Network

By the way, this post is a lot longer than most of my normal one's, so you might want to settle in with a Biali and a cup of Joe while you read...

In case you couldn't figure out from the title what this piece is about, I hate the Food Network! I hate the network like I hate self-obsessed, overly opinionated vegans who spend every waking moment they’re not eating quinoa and white bean salads and drinking wheatgrass, telling me what's wrong with my eating habits! It should be noted that I re-wrote the first three paragraphs coming home a little buzzed on the train.
I've realized; after many conversations with friends, who both work in the restaurant industry and don’t; that my hatred of the Food Network doesn't stem from a place of stems from a point of fundamental confusion and anger with what they see fit to put in front of their cameras.
Let's start with Sandra Lee; a woman who Anthony Bourdain has devoted pages upon pages worth of ink to. So without belaboring this too much, let’s just talk about my anger that the Food Network would have the audacity to call this hack a “chef,” even though I doubt she's ever even seen the inside of a culinary school; much less knows how to break down a fucking chicken! This lithe, blonde, smiling succubus poses in front of the cameras, as she supposedly “teaches” mid-American housewives how to cook. And what is she "teaching" them? Not how to make cassoulet or pan-roast Brussels sprouts or make a butternut squash bisque; but how to open a can of Brand X sauce, add a tin of Brand Y diced meat and pour the whole unholy amalgam over limp pasta, top it with some yellow cheese and toss the whole monstrosity in the oven. Oh, and lest I forget: how to mix the dusty bottles of booze, laying dormant in a housewife's cupboard into something she can drunken herself with to the point that dinner with her family is palatable. And yeah, I might be speaking in absolutes, here, but I don't think I'm that far off base.

Basically, I don't understand what purpose her show serves. If her aim is to give people a quick alternative to a "home-cooked" meal, then there are plenty of things she could cook that don't have their genesis in a can, package, or spice mix. And if her aim is to cook primarily what's available to a mid-American housewife; then for the love god, use a fucking potato, or fresh corn or any of the myriad bounty that our heartland currently produces. Look, I get it. It's easier to open a can of tuna & mix it with a box of Ronzoni than it is to actually cook something from scratch. And I know that not everyone in America, certainly far more than those that have access to Sandra's little Half Hour of Hell, can afford to go to the green market or plant a garden or be choosy when they’re in the soup isle at the Price Chopper. But that doesn't mean they should be forced to cut corners and eat crap. I guess I should keep my fingers crossed now, that Sandra doesn’t have her Governor-Elect boyfriend send a death squad to my front door…

The next, and quite possibly biggest, offenders on my list; are a pair of southern assholes that manage to offend me on many levels. Patrick and Gina Neely, the co-hosts of their own show; Down Home with the Neely's, or as I call it, “The Step-n-Fetchit Cookin' Hour,” is probably one of the most offensive things I've ever seen on television. These two assholes dance and sing and smile and sass their way through a half hour of TV, while they teach Americans how to make: fried chicken, biscuits & gravy, pork spare ribs, barbequed everything!, mud pie; and wash it all down with watermelon-flavoured sweet tea! They offend me because, as people of colour who cook for a national television audience, I believe they have a responsibility not to perpetuate the stereotype of what “America” thinks black southerners eat and cook at home. But who the hell am I to say what their responsibility is? I’m just an opinionated dude who doesn’t have a TV show. But you know what I also am? I’m a black guy who cooks for a living and when I watch those two it affects me like fingernails across a chalkboard. I just think that maybe perpetuating stereotypes isn’t the best use of their talents. If; and again I know I'm generalizing, but; if most Americans have never come face-to-face with a real live chef who is a person of colour, then why does the Food Network trot these two out, as if to say: "these are black chefs and this is what black people cook. Fatty food that's deep friend and dripping with sweet sauce." The Network has Aaron McCargo Jr., a well spoken guy from New Jersey who actually has good, healthy recipes; and to my knowledge has never danced in front of the Food Network cameras. But I suppose a fairly well-spoken black chef, who may not know how to dance is more threatening to the Network and their viewers.
Next, are the "Private Chefs of Beverly Hills." A group of clueless, wealthy shoemakers who go into even more clueless, even more wealthy idiots homes to make canapes. But apparently, it's funny because the Botoxed broad having the doggie party says she doesn't want her dog eating beef; or at the last minute, the marginally famous person they found decides they don't want anything fried at their parties. No recipes are given, technique is non-existent, and to hear these people talk about food is like listening to me talk about the Flat might sound good on paper, but sooner or later you're going to realize I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about. On a recent episode, I watched as this cute blonde chick dumped packaged ground chicken and canned pumpkin puree into a sauté pan together, then poked at it a few times with a spatula. We then saw her take the whole brownish culinary abortion and use it as a filling for something she called Chicken-Pumpkin Pot stickers...or something equally as offensive and stupid.

Then, there's the bleach-blonded, goateed tubby bastard Guy Fieri; who I'd just as soon push out a moving car on the 101, as I would have him attempt to teach me how to cook something. He drives around the country sampling road-side fare, withstanding the urge to call everyone he encounters, "brah" and can also be seen judging tailgating competitions, participated in by overweight, mustached Middle Americans.
Recently, I watched this jackass demonstrate sushi; but talk about how Americans "don't like sushi," so it apparently, it's up to him to "jazz it up." You know what I say? You don't like sushi? Don't order sushi! But don't wrap cheese steak filling or whatever, with raw carrots, in rice; call it the Spikey-Haired-Asshole Roll and call it a day. That's about as ridiculous as it is offensive.
What qualifies him to be an authority on sushi, or anything, for that matter? I mean, aside from looking completely ridiculous, I'm not sure he has any discernable talents. It seems the Food Network is telling me they'd rather trot out some bleach-blonded fat ass to teach me how to make sushi, than offering that job to Ming Tsai or David Chang (though I'm sure he'd loudly turn them down), or hell, a Jackie Chan impersonator. And why? Is it a visibility issue? Are Asian chefs not well known enough for the Network to think Americans would be comfortable with them? If that's the case, then the solution is obvious: pack the cast of their laughably rigged Next Food Network Star with a bunch of Asians and grease one through! Either that, or drive a truck load of money up to the guy from Lost's house.
Then there's Michael Symon's new show, "Food Feuds." A rip-off of Food Wars, which airs on the Travel Channel. And lest we forget, Scripps (papa bear of the Food Network) closed on a $1.1 Billion dollar deal for the Travel Channel earlier this year; so exactly what function does this show serve?
Don't get me wrong, I like and respect Michael Symon; and can even forgive his appearances on The Iron Chef, but it’s just him passing judgment on various foods. At least on Food Wars the host sets up a panel of three locals that participate in a blind taste test. This adds a fun element when the die-hard fan of say, Shake Shack picks the burger from Burger Joint (this has not, to my knowledge, actually happened). Instead, Michael thinks about it off-screen, and presents the winner with a giant, and quite ridiculous looking, trophy. I’m not saying this has actually happened, but what’s to stop the owner of Mom’s Happy Cupcakery from taking bald Mikey out back and helping him out with a little hand release to sway the competition in their favour?

Basically, what pisses me off about the Food Network is their seemingly constant view of the American public as generally retarded, completely gullible and in need of constantly being pandered too. And yet, obviously, I still watch the Network. I still know about their new shows, their talentless former skaters and homemakers they call “chefs,” and sheer nonsense that is on their channel at any given moment. I just wish the Food Network would have more respect for their viewers intelligence, because they honestly don’t seem to care…like not even a little bit.