The horse is dead and the shark ate him!

It’s been a looooong time since my last entry. I will readily admit to the fact that the reason I began to post on this blog was personal and cathartic. I had a ton of anger and rage that I just had a need to channel and this was the safest way to do so and not get my big ass locked up. Up until this morning, the rage and anger had subsided. I’ve been blessed to have wonderful people in my life as well as a woman with whom I’ve become very close. In fact, for the first time in my life, I can actually say that I am in love. The reason being, I am, for the first time in my life, in a committed relationship clean and sober. That is to say, I am able to see things and people for what and who they are rather then what I, in my high and drunken stupors, imagined them to be. OK, enough of the warm fuzziness of recovery. It’s time to for me to forge ahead into the meat of the matter and the reason I felt a need to write this entry.

Let’s begin with the title. I like to give a bit of an explanation about the title especially if it presents itself as cryptic or misleading. This one qualifies. The shark reference is a nod to jumping the shark as in the Happy Days episode when the Fonz, while water skiing, jumped over the shark in the cage below the surface. It’s my understanding that this is the episode, for which this phrase was coined, and became part of the pulp culture, so to speak. The horse reference is a nod to an earlier entry in which I stated that I would ride the “deal site” horse until it died and then eat it. Well I’m happy to proclaim the fuckin’ horse is dead and the shark ate him. I can’t eat him, I’m watching my figure and cannot afford the calories.

Let us allow this entry to serve as a public statement and promise to my entire staff that…..

I WILL NEVER RUN A DEAL ON ANY SITE EVER AGAIN!

I’ve been running deals of various amounts and in different forms for nearly 3 years. In the beginning, I saw it not only as a means to raise working capital in a very challenging economic environment but as a wonderful form of mass marketing. A form of marketing that not only required $0.00 outlay of cash on my part but also paid me in advance for future dining by new guests in my establishment. It worked! My email list of guests jumped from 1500 or so to over 3000 in the past couple of years. Each new guest willfully requesting to become a part of the list. I use this list to directly market to my customers by way of Constant Contact and it is absolutely invaluable in every way imaginable.

In recent months however, I’ve had a great many conversations with my front of the house team led by my very professional, accomplished and highly respected General Manager and Wine Director Marcello. In each and every one of these conversations it has been brought to my attention that the attitude and overall personality of the guest I am attracting with these deals is in a free fall sort of decline. A decline that is having a very negative effect on the entire staff in terms of moral and happiness while at work. This, of course, cannot be allowed to continue, I told myself. I need all of these folks to be in high spirits. I also need them to feel an overall sense of appreciation not only from me but from our guests. If this is not happening it is ultimately my responsibility as the owner of this restaurant to step in and correct the problem to the best of my ability and with as much tact and sensitivity as possible. I’ve tried, I really have, but to no avail. I am left with only this to say.

******DISCLAIMER******

Please be advised, this DOES NOT apply to all deal site users. 99% of these deals have been redeemed with great satisfaction and in many instances with a return visit. No disrespect is intended to those of you who have purchased these deals and used them happily, following the rules set forth. We appreciate you and look forward to serving you always!

   In fact, this only applies to a small minority of deal site users. For the most part, these sites have served to expand my customer base and reward a good number of my current guests as well. In addition to providing me with much needed capital. Capital used to make improvements in the restaurant and build an addition that serves as dining space as well as a private dining room for a variety of events.

OK, now that I’ve been able to explain how much I value those that use these deal sites for their intended purpose, (that purpose being a win/win for all three, the guest, the establishment running the deal and the deal site itself.) I will now say what needs to be said to the small minority of folks that have ruined it for the whole bunch. Ready?

YOU ARE NO LONGER WELCOME! Did ya get that? I mean it, STAY AWAY! Please call or email the deal site and tell them you want a refund. I cannot believe the entitlement and general attitude of “me, me, me” that you people exhibit in public. Forget about my restaurant and my staff for a moment. This is not about us. This is about you fools. I am told over and over again by my staff, how abusive some diners can be when they simply do not have the means or even worse, have the means but not the willingness to act in a civil fashion in a public place. Are you people not embarrassed by your behavior?!!? It puzzles me as to who would, if anyone, want to sit at a table with you idiots. You are, as a group, abusive, mean, nasty, despicable human beings that should not be allowed to walk amongst other more evolved people, much less omit the vile stench of your attitude toward those that serve you in a public place, such as my staff of professionals of whom I am very proud.

I am recently most proud that none have them have taken it upon themselves to punch you in the fucking face for treating them as you have. I have actually had some of you tell my manager, point blank, that he is here to work for you and he should do as he is told, BY YOU! Are you fucking kidding me?! This gentleman and his team do not work for you - you entitled neophyte jag-off! They don’t even work for me. They work as independent contractors for the same restaurant for which I work. The fact that I own the restaurant does not make me any less of an employee of the establishment. It simply makes me responsible for everything that goes on within.

We, as a team, have experienced lies of epic proportion, in order for you, the entitled, dishonest, sneaky folks that you are to get your way regardless of the needs of other diners not to mention the overall health of the restaurant. I place very clear and specific restrictions on each of the deals that I run. These restrictions are as follows; 1.) the diner must call the restaurant directly and speak to a staff member to make a reservation. Online reservations are not permitted for tasting menu deals. 2.) one deal or certificate may be redeemed per table per evening. 3.) the deals are not redeemable with any other offers. 4.) a limited amount of these deals (tasting menus only) will be honored on Friday and Saturday evenings. (6pm or earlier or 8 pm or later)   That’s it! There is no hidden agenda. There are no cloak and dagger games being played. I mean no disrespect when presenting these restrictions. They are simply necessary to have in order to insure a fair and just means of redeeming these deals and still allowing the operation to survive and dare I say it????? PROFIT!

Yes, that’s correct, I need to profit as well as offer these deals. The problem is this. Those of you of whom I am speaking, have exhibited breathtaking disrespect for my team and also happen to be the same assholes that could care less if my restaurant lives to see another day after you have redeemed your deal. The details are not of concern to you. You want what you want, when you want it and you have no interest in hearing an explanation of why your demands may be somewhat unreasonable. The disclosed restrictions, the needs of other deal site users that actually use the deal as intended (respectfully) and the basic human rights of my staff BE DAMNED!

Last night was the final straw. I awoke at 6 am as I do each day to find a text, an email and a missed call all from the same person. This woman took it upon herself to get the message to me at all costs that her dining rights have been irreconcilably denied and therefore her experience ruined. Not to mention the experience of her esteemed, food savvy guest. This couple had a deal site tasting menu certificate. Not a big shock we took 14 of them last night. This is wonderful in my eyes as we are reaching guests that for the most part, are learning of us for the first time after over seven years at this location. (We have been able to see repeat visits from over 20% of our deal site first time guests. This is a number not often seen. quite a blessing not to mention a testament to my staff and their professionalism.)  

Back to our “happy couple.” The woman informed me, by way of all three communications, that my manager is, and this is a quote, “a complete asshole that does not belong in his position nor does he deserve to work with the public in any way shape or form”  This statement, as it turns out, was the least offensive of all the ridiculous things stated as fact in her opinion about my restaurant. Now Marcello, while not always warm and fuzzy, especially when abused by a diner in the way in which he was abused last night, is ALWAYS professional and accommodating in every way.

He represents my restaurant and our product with such pride and integrity that one might mistake him for the owner. Please allow me to state for the record that I do not subscribe to the “customer is always right” philosophy. This is an antiquated, flawed business philosophy that allows a guest to dictate what an establishment should provide rather then enjoying what the establishment is best suited to provide. Not to mention what that operation is known for providing. Pure nonsense! A practice seen only in those establishments that lack either the strength of their convictions or a lack of confidence in their own product…..or, even worse, BOTH! Needless to say, we are not one of those establishments.

We try very hard to provide a wonderful experience for all of our guests. We do so with a strict attention to the important point that when we veer from what we are known to provide best, we inevitably welcome trouble. The most common instance of this is when we let the guest drive the experience. This woman was trying to do just that. They arrived 45 minutes late for an online reservation with a tasting menu deal certificate for which the kitchen was not prepared. We routinely prepare for at least 2 or 3 tables that pop up as a result of an honest mistake either on our part or as the result of a miscommunication with the guest. We take full responsibility and do our best to accommodate. Sometimes we are simply full and do not have the capacity to make last minute changes to facilitate the needs of a single guest. In such a case we offer alternatives, extensions of expiration, application of face value to be used that evening but in a different capacity, etc…. at times, such as last night, this is simply not good enough for the guest and things unravel.

I did not bother Marcello with this situation today as it is his well deserved day off and I want him to relax. I took it upon myself to speak with all of the staff that worked last night and each of their descriptions of what happened was identical with the exception of, you guessed it, our deal site folks.

It seems the lady was much more upset in the beginning then the gentleman and was very vocal. After addressing the table and explaining that since they did not do what was asked on the deal and call to alert us to their tasting menu, we could not produce an additional menu of this type. I do not give a shit if anyone understands why I made this restriction a part of the deal.

It just is. I will not and cannot disclose my business model to everyone that buys a deal. Now the man, and I use that term in jest, becomes aggravated despite Marcello’s best attempts to make reasonable amends for the situation. This fool begins to shout in the middle of MY DINING ROOM at the gentleman that runs the entire operation, demanding that what he and his dining companion want, must be provided. In doing so, they disturbed other guests, belittled my manager, his staff and my restaurant. Still, in the end, they were given everything we could give them to try and make them happy. As these pricks dined on my cuisine, served by a professional team in a comfortable environment, (all at a 50% discount mind you), they were texting and talking on their phones all night long. Very loudly might I add, making a point to be loud enough to let my staff know that they were going on opentable and Facebook to slander the restaurant in grand fashion as they dined.

To this couple I offer you this. FUCK YOU!!! As well as everyone else that thinks as you think and acts as you act. This is an grown up restaurant for those that know how to act in public. It is for those that want to and are able to act civil towards one another and towards those that work very hard to serve them. We greatly appreciate all of our guests that enjoy dining in our restaurant, especially nowadays, when there are so many great options. I made a mistake riding this horse as far as I did. I have my reasons. I also have a couple of regrets – not the least of which is the stress I put on my staff in order to accommodate the small minority of deal site folks that simply don’t deserve to be accommodated.

Gentlemen of the staff of Restaurant Michael, I am very sorry that you had to endure this silliness. I would like to thank you for doing so and for being the professional, dedicated people that you are. I am very fortunate to have the privilege to work beside you. Please do not be discouraged. 99% of our guests appreciate and love the service you provide. It is that 99% that inspires me to continue providing the product we provide. Be proud of yourselves and rest assured, I certainly am proud of you! I will not allow anyone to abuse us as professionals not to mention as human beings.

Wanna hear the kicker? The guests from last night were industry people. A cook that works for a very close chef friend of mine and his bitch girlfriend. – twenty-somethings with no balls, no respect and no class. I weep for the future of our nation…… Make no mistake, had I been here last night you would all have cause to weep for them.

Mentor my ass!

Well it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to bring all of you into my twisted restaurant world. Sorry for my absence but to tell you the truth, It’s been extremely busy (high-class problem) but more to the point, I had nothing shitty to write about and these things are a lot funnier and enjoyable if you can read them and feel better about your own life. Kinda like, “Wow! am I glad I don’t have to live in that asshole’s world”!)  It makes you thankful for what ya got! You’re welcome….

This takes me to today’s topic. I’ve written in the past about a specific employee (a cook to be exact). This particular cook was in my restaurant as an intern from an area culinary school. He was, as are most culinary students, myself included at that point in my journey, useless in every regard. Needless to say this was an unpaid internship as my payroll was not about to absorb a salary that brought nothing to the table. It is now and always has been my position that an intern or other interested party that wishes to learn at the expense of my restaurant and staff should be fucking paying me. Perhaps this sounds a bit harsh but let me tell you, it’s not the least bit overstated. The rest of the team, myself included need to closely monitor what the untrained newbie is producing in order to insure their mistakes don’t make it to your table. It actually equates to double duty when the rest of the staff goes about their daily routine and out of nowhere I decide to throw a roadblock into the mix that adds insult to injury in an already pressure packed job. The Chef de Cuisine, Miguel, specifically has to double his efforts to focus attention better spent elsewhere on babysitting the new addition to the team. Not to mention, all of the mistakes made by way of trial and error, cost the restaurant both time and money. What was once a slam dunk with a solid, experienced cook is now a crap shoot at best. All of the mistakes made need to be disposed of (food cost) and re-done (labor cost). This may sound like peanuts but you would be incorrect. These pennies, nickles and dimes add up quickly and before you know it, I have to step in and smooth things over with the rest of the kitchen so they don’t collectively rise up as one and kill this guy.

All of this effort, in theory, results in the intern sticking around after their 3 month unpaid stint in a newly created, PAID position. At which point, the newly anointed “cook in training” becomes an accepted part of the team. This is where things always get sticky. The former intern/train wreak now feels they have paid their dues and deserve the respect of the rest of the team. Now the waters are muddied. The Chef and kitchen look at this situation from a totally different perspective. What they see is a chance to recoup some of the cumulative losses both in product and effort that our neofite addition has levied against the restaurant. I happen to be in complete agreement with the rest of the crew. RESPECT!??! Are you kidding me? This goofball decided at 26 to embark upon a culinary journey to stardom when most will begin this trek around the ripe old age of 18. I began when I was 13 and still didn’t believe I deserved any respect until I opened my first restaurant after 16 years of toiling in obscurity in the kitchens of those that were good enough to allow me to fuck THEIR product up. Now along comes this guy. Despite my better judgement, I decided to allow him to suck up my payroll while continuing to learn at my expense. I paid him well, very well in fact. I must admit, I felt a little guilty about having him work for free for three months so, as a gift, I gave him a strong starting salary. This provided he agree to stay for one full year and cross train his replacement upon his departure on a mutually agreed on date. All was well and so on we went. Fast forward six months and our hero has begun to turn the corner into usefulness. This is the time when I as the owner can begin to see some return on the investment of having this guy in my kitchen literally derailing us left and right for the past 9 months. So, in short, best case scenario is that I come out even at the end of his stay having contributed to the early growth of a budding future leader of my industry. Not the case as it turns out….

I promise you, I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, pretend to assume that my way is the only way for a restaurant to thrive. That being said, in MY restaurant and in MY kitchen MY way is the only fucking way! That’s it, end of story. I do not negotiate on this point and I do not apologize for this stance. Why should I? I take the credit because I take the shit. If someone, ANYONE volunteers to share in that exposure then please, by all means, write me a check and you can become a partner. At that point we can share the good and the bad. Until then, my house my rules. This is a very antiquated style of management, this much I will acknowledge, however, it is the only style I know and I am not the least bit interested in changing direction mid-stream. It has, for the most part, served me well to this point. (a few bumps and fuck-ups aside of course) It feels as if the chef is about to rant doesn’t it…….

Get ready there is about to be a curve ball thrown.

I am going to go ahead and call myself out. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that halfway through his internship I checked my big, sad, drug and alcohol soaked ass into rehab. Had to do it, no choice. The alternative? I would be writing this entry from the great beyond……It was that bad. Looking back, I can fully understand that there would be resentment on behalf of this guy. After all, he signed on to work for and directly with me right? Nope. That was not the agreement. At least not in my newly clean and sober narcissistic mind. When taking on an intern in a mentor type of capacity, I was fully aware that it came with responsibilities. On the cooks part that is. The mentor is not me alone. It’s the entire operation and all that dwell and work within its walls. The idea being, as an intern you will be allowed to walk freely throughout the restaurant wreaking havoc in your wake while absorbing the professional way in which EVERY member of the team behaves and carries on their duties.

I say this with my actual experience being the same. It’s often said that you don’t really know what you’ve learned from someone until you have moved on and been allowed to put it into practice. Doing so without the benefit of the safety net provided by that individual. This was evident to me immediately after I moved on from each of the Chefs and restaurants that I was fortunate enough to have taken me in early on. That is to say, I learned as much or more about the chef I DID NOT wish to become. Please don’t get me wrong, I have wonderful memories and still to this day, fantastic relationships with many of my past mentors. It’s part of the glory of that relationship to blossom into a respected fellow chef in the eyes of those that guided you along the path. Not only with golden nuggets of culinary wisdom but with sideways, fucked up, unthinkable behaviors that, for lack of a better choice of words, separate the boys from the men.

This is a down and dirty industry. Where do you think the phrase “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” came from? I tried, but clearly failed to convey this message to my novice ward. Looking back, it’s not something you can drive into a person’s head with repetitive phrases and harsh warnings. A person either gets it or they don’t. I was lucky, I got it. Boy did I get it. It took me 20 fucking years, 5 restaurants, a trip to rehab, countless girlfriends, fiances, an ex-wife and other such emotionally void and fruitless relationships  but I finally got it.

“IT” as it were, is not supposed to be about the mentor. It’s supposed to be about the student. If done correctly, both parties benefit equally over time but that balance takes a while to seek its level.     Ahhh!!!! It’s not all about me! Fuck! Who would have thought that and ex-practicing drug addicted, morbidly obese alcoholic man would think it was all about him???!!?  It is to laugh. As you see, I wrote this entry as a means to make you and my fine ex-student in training understand that I get it now. It was gonna be an epic fucking rant! But instead it is a humbling apology that took 2 months to muster the courage and clear thinking to verbalize. I did it all fucking wrong. I was supposed to be the one that guided his progress, corrected his mistakes and not only corrected them but provide a way to not have them occur again in the same fashion. I was supposed to be the one that took the blow back from the rest of the staff when errors were made by the student explaining that without these errors being made, corrected and tolerated there is no hope for the student to progress. In as much as there is no way for the industry to progress if these relationships are abandoned and the same self-centered attitude that I possessed was allowed to rule the day. I’ve said this in earlier entries, this blog has several purposes. Not the least of which is that it is cathartic for me to write. I am able to see, in writing, how silly and childish my behavior is at times. This is a tough pill to swallow. (No drug reference intended) Sorry…..  For the life of me I cannot understand what took me so long to realize that the common denominator in all of the stupid shit I’ve experienced over the years is ME!

So to wrap this up with a cute little bow, I’ll use this last of this entry to finally do the right thing. This doesn’t happen often so pay attention.

For the sake of anonymity we will call our boy Biff.

Biff , I’m sorry for not having been a better mentor to you. You have a bright future and even though I didn’t give you all of the tools you hoped to take away with you from the experience, I know you have quite a bit more leaving than you did coming in. You have a great deal of talent and I hope you apply it well. Try to take some of what you saw me go through and use it to your advantage. In the spirit of the mentor/student relationship, take that as a final piece of advice before storing away the experience in your memory to be called upon in the future. I would be proud to give you a strong reference. Despite your quitting by text with no notice. (Ya Dickhead) Okay,that one’s kind of hard to deal with. However, I did stupid shit like that as well when I was coming up so I guess I’ll have to allow it.  Kinda like breaking up with a post-it note….No, the Sex and the City reference does not mean I’m gay. My publicist gave me that one so I’m running with it. So in case my brother is reading this Shut your face.

All in all, I guess it’s fair to say that this situation taught me as much about myself as it taught Biff about the restaurant biz. In the end the message was the same for both of us. Enter into a relationship such as this with caution. Be aware that there are responsibilities that are inherent on behalf of both participants and most importantly……..                   You never quit a job by text you fucking ding-a-ling!     But again, I’m not bitter.

xoxoxoxo,

Chef

Ya know what else is organic?

Certified organic. The term has taken on a life of its own. Let’s begin with the Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word Organic…..the yield of a food stuff produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin, without the employment of  chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics or pesticides. That’s it, nothing more. It certainly implies a great deal based on what we think we know, however, nowhere in that definition do I read the words “more healthful” “better tasting” “nicer to look at” OR, and this is a biggie, “planet protecting”. That’s all the word means is CHEMICAL FREE. That’s it. Does this mean it is better for us across the board? My contention is No. Ya know what else is organic? Horse shit! I don’t see a line around the block waiting for a plate full of it to cure what ails us so please, indulge me as I push on. I do not confuse organic with locally grown or sustainable so don’t fall into that trap. These are all different concepts that can stand alone or together but are mutually exclusive to each other. So, that being said, I do not wish to recieve a disertation from anyone in respose to this entry regarding either of those other two concepts I just mentioned. I agree and support both of them whenever it is fiscally responsible and possible to do so. So relax.

I have a couple of basic problems with the entire organic movement.

PROBLEM NUMBER ONE:

It has become, through strategic and very targeted marketing, a complete bastardization of what it set out to be. Much like “All Natural” has. But that’s another blog all together….. The movement began quite innocently.  A group of hairy legged, tree hugging, Birkenstock-wearing hippies decided to stick it to “the Man” and grow their own food without the use of dangerous chemicals and additives. Great concept, tough implementation, but admirable none the less. Then, the corporate America assholes got involved and found the ability to charge four times the cost of non-organic product with the use of fear mongering. A very popular tactic used by many powerful people to control others and influence their thinking with made-up bullshit. When the organic craze began to gain steam I was fully on board. My nieces and nephews were being born and I didn’t have any intention of feeding them chemical laden food in MY RESTAURANT damn it! At that point Restaurant Michael was in the developmental stage nearly 8 eight years ago and I was killing time. I was working for an all organic food company, hell-bent on changing the world of processed food one artificial ingredient at a time. I was their R&D Chef and had a great deal of power regarding the flavor profile of each item we were to put into production. It was a great distraction from what had developed into what had amounted to a fart in a space suit at Le Francais with our piece of shit, dishonest partner. I forget his name….some Leprechaun looking fuck if I remember correctly.

 Anyway, I digress. I was also charged with the responsibility of researching new and exciting ingredients with which to work in order to set our product apart from other, more established producers of similar concepts. I needed to find a way to make them better, tastier, and more visually appealing. In order to do so, I had two choices. One was to conceptualize an all new, never before seen food product. Plant or breed it, harvest the fruits of that process, bring it to market and get an organic certifying body to mark it with their stamp of approval. Fat chance of that happening. We already have a supreme being that creates these things (whatever that being may be in your belief) and they happen to, in my opinion, be doing a pretty strong job of it. My second option was quite a bit less ambitious albeit infinitely more achievable, or so I thought. Find products, animal, vegetable or otherwise that have accomplished the lofty goal of becoming organically certified. Sounds much easier to me. Well, I was fucking wrong! As it turns out, I had a better chance of taking the reins from the big guy upstairs and developing a new fruit, vegetable or animal on my own then creating a full recipe list of ingredients that were 100% organic.

But wait! As it turns out you don’t have to have an entire list of ingredients that meet 100% organic certification status. You are allowed, as a producer of certified organic product, a certain percentage of non-organic items in your ingredient list. In order to have the right to legally label your product USDA ORGANIC you must have a list of ingredients that is 95% organically certified. That means ingredients that are 100% organically certified on your sub-list for the label must make up 95% of that labels content. What the Hell? That last statement is  right? You see, there are two completely separate certifications the USDA has regarding the term organic. One is Certified Organic” and the other is “100% Certified Organic”

In my opinion, this is fucked! By definition, the process and resulting effects are mis-leading and fundamentally dishonest. In addition to this slight of hand bullshit there is yet a third classification thrown into the mix. If a product contains at least 70% organic ingredients it has, by law, the right to use the words “made with organic ingredients”  in its title and/or description. Provided they do not allow the word organic to stand alone on the label nor are they allowed to use the USDA ORGANIC seal. This all sounds just lovely. It seems the government is finally looking out for us. Come on? Really? Is that what you think? Consider this. Why, if all food items marketed as organic are capable of holding one of three (3) certifications, are they allowed to be displayed together in one area of the store? Why are there not three separate areas depending on the certification the specific item holds? Do we not have the right to know if the producers of products we are purchasing for upwards of double the cost, are being true to their word in regards to their sales pitch? Of course we do! But who governs this marketing loophole? Nobody, that’s who. Walk around the grocery store, any grocery store, and tell me if you see a separate section for each of these three types of organic certification. It is simply implied that everything in that section is “Organic”. The organic food producer is not allowed to use overtly non-organic items such as chemicals, pesticides and the like. However, they are allowed to use items from organically certified farms.

This leads me to PROBLEM NUMBER TWO:

An organically certified farm has to, in order to achieve that status, jump through several USDA implemented “hoops”. The primary hoop of interest is that the land from which certified organic product will be derived must be purged for a number of years. (At least three years is the average but it varies) In addition to this purging or purification time, the organic farmer must adhere to the all of the definitions set forth by the governing body. Many of which are found in the definition I laid out in the first paragraph but are not limited to that definition. And of course there are fees. Shocking! A fee is applied to all that wish to make profit in this country so why would the organic farmers be exempt from this uniquely American tradition?

Okay, the farm has done everything it needs to do in order to achieve its coveted certification. It begins, after years of zero yield due to the required purge time, to harvest product. A couple of years pass and over the course of those years a funny thing happened on a pretty regular basis. The fucking wind blew! Well what do you think that accomplished? If you said cross-pollination you would be correct! You win the prize. What is the prize you ask? Non-organic, organic food of course. Let me explain. It is NOT a law that an organic farm must be located in proximity to other organic farms in order to achieve its certification. That means an organically certified farm can and often times is, located near non-organic farms. In fact, it can be surrounded on all sides by non-organic farms! The Hell you say! No really, the fucking wind blows pollen from farm to farm and just like that you now have cross pollinated, non-organic product that is, for all intents and purposes, undetectable by the human eye–a pair of those eyes, by the way, every consumer happens to have. This is so much of an issue that a major seed producing company has stepped in with a fleet of attorneys in order to force their genetically modified seed down the throat of every farm they can find that doesn’t already use it. I won’t mention the name of this company for fear that I may find my big ass next to Jimmy Hoffa in a genetically modified corn field in Indiana. That said, Fuck em’ come and get me, I could use a break!

And finally PROBLEM NUMBER THREE;

This is where the rubber meets the road in my opinion regarding the separation and definition of ORGANIC vs. LOCALLY GROWN vs. SUSTAINABLY FARMED. Locally grown and sustainably farmed are concepts that are by no stretch of the imagination new. They are simply hot button buzz words that illicit a response. The response these buzz words gleen is one filled with well intended and all together misguided energy that forces, in a wave, the public perception to well up and overtake common sense. “Farm to Plate” also pisses me off. This concept is not new. It’s what you are supposed to do. Plant it, harvest it, eat it. How is this a new concept? Anyone with a backyard garden does this annually. 

Supporting our local farmers and the responsible, sustainably farmed products they produce is a noble and admirable concept–one that I support and get behind fully. That being said, in the heart of a Chicago winter, would someone please tell me where I may find a locally grown, sustainably farmed head of lettuce or for that matter, any delicate produce defined by seasonality and growing region. We don’t stop eating salads in January do we? Believe me, if you look hard enough you WILL find these things but the resulting cost and ultimate flavor of these out of season, nonindigenous products will be lackluster at best. Not to mention nutritionally speaking, void of the merits for which they are marketed. So, what this boils down to is simple. We are only able to support local and sustainably farmed produce and animal products when the season of a particular area in which we live allows us to do so.

I have always contended that any Chef that has Asparagus on their menu in October is a fool. Well, I am now one of those fools. I have asparagus still coming into the restaurant that is thin, tender and flavorful. Where is it coming from? Not Elgin and not Rockford……Nope. California. Yep, that’s right, California. The origin of the asparagus on my menu to date has shifted from Michigan and other growing areas in close proximity to Chicago to a source of, you guessed it, a sustainably grown farm in Napa Valley. Am I wrong to take advantage of the fact that these asparagus are every bit as good if not better than the ones I was able to get from local farms in the area during the local growing season? And by the way, did I mention the price is 1/3 less for the California stuff I’m getting now vs. the local stuff I got in June?  My profit and loss statement doesn’t think so. Did I also mention that these asparagus are, like many items on my menu, ORGANIC and grown chemically free? Just without the benefit of a stamp of approval from the government. It comes off as lazy and unimaginative to allow a product that is not in peak season to appear on a menu in a respected restaurant such as mine right? On the contrary.

 I will, I promise, catch up to every season as it comes into full swing. There will soon be locally grown root vegetables, venison and other locally farmed game on my menu. The asparagus will be gone soon enough in lieu of local product that I can put on the menu affordably and with a reasonable amount of confidence in the supply chain for these items. To force the season and what it brings to harvest just for the sake of having it first is, in reality the less then responsible choice. These asparagus of which I spoke arrive in Chicago in such massive amounts that the carbon footprint they leave in order to do so is minimal based on the sheer volume the shipment provides. The supply will dry up, the price will rise due to high demand and less availability and BINGO! The season shifts into a new phase. Compare that to the prick Chef with the over exaggerated sense of self-worth and entitlement that flys his or her fish in from Hawaii three times a week. Tell me who has the larger carbon footprint now? A ten thousand pound shipment of asparagus brought by rail or a six pound order of Yellow Tail Snapper that flies in three times a week on a first class seat from Hawaii. The same argument can be made for the Chef that demands the season change at their command thereby yielding product that, while chronologically correct, may just not be ready to make its debut for the season in this particular year. While the asparagus may be a few weeks out of what is considered to be the season, it still makes sense for the menu if the price and quality continue to merit their presence. It’s a self-correcting system if you pay attention and allow the market to speak to you in more than one way.

The point I’m trying to make is that we can be talked into believing almost anything if we embrace the concept without first learning of its validity. The local grower and sustainable farmer are now faced with two choices. A) Jacking the price so high for early demand and minimal supply and in the process, providing less than stellar product for crazy cost.  Or,  B.) Waiting to come to market with a product that has been allowed the time to fully mature both in flavor and nutritional value. I choose option B every time and never look back. It doesn’t have to be local, sustainably farmed or least of all, organic to be appropriate and responsible to serve. It just has to make sense. To blindly follow a concept, any concept, without fully understanding the impact of doing so, is the problem we all face. Believe me, I’m guilty of the same behavior. If it’s written and published in the news media or stated by a respected person of power or position it must be true. So, if that’s the case, did Bill Clinton actually inhale or not? That was clearly bullshit right?   Hey!!! Bullshit….. bullshit’s organic! Want to split an order with me?

Marlboro Reds and a Handfull of Vicodin?

Intrigued? Good. Now that I Have your attention we can begin. Consider, if you would, an industry that is driven no longer by the lure of fame and notoriety’ clearly a major effort considering the culture in which we –live everyday. Chefdom has begun to reflect the trappings of a Roman orgy of sorts–not so much in the hedonistic sense (the hedonistic side has always been very well represented) but more in the sense of “there’s a party going on and everyone’s invited”.

The problem is, with all the allure and flash of the dining experience from the customer’s perspective, the painful plight behind the scenes is often overlooked– a double-edged sword to say the least. The overall feeling of being part of something perceived as taboo piques the interest of nearly all that venture near the inexplicable gravitational pull of an industry known for wild and unfiltered behavior. It’s understandable to those on the inside. High stress levels, nearly unachievable expectations, a fishbowl professional environment of constant opinions and criticism on ones every move and decision regarding their work. An insufficient pool of talent from which to draw a proper support staff and the availability of every known late night vice imaginable……I can get a pack of Marlboro reds, spicy chicken wings, a hooker, a vile of crack, 6 Vicodin, a circus midget on a unicycle and a pound of foie gras from one guy with just one quick text, if that is, I have the right guy and a good amount of cash. And, for the right price, the circus midget can actually be the hooker and she’ll cook the foie gras! (I will pass the phone number on later.) I mean come on, how does this not set up like a recipe for disaster right?

The time has come for the meat of this story to be revealed. Please, keep in mind that about 90% of what you are about to read was manufactured anger and very much thought out before it happened. That is to say, I planned the whole thing so it would sidetrack and nearly derail. Here is the philosophy, in years to come, these cooks that are training and becoming bolder and stronger in my kitchen are going to, in turn, mentor their own team of recently graduated culinary genius. While in the process of doing so, they will need to have a few choice stories to pass along as rites of passage that they had to go through in order to justify their own less than stellar management skills. I am simply providing a few of those stories. Trust me, I tell my own stories from back in the day of my working for crazy French guys with wine on their breath and rage in their hearts as well. They’re war stories. Ya gotta have them for street cred. As for Sergio, well….. He’s just Sergio. Believe me when I say this, he gives it every bit as good as he gets it. Just not as loud, he’s more of a sneak.  So, that being said, no one was injured (at least physically) in the making of this rant and Restaurant Michael goes merrily, merrily along….. Read on, it’s all for show! I promise. (kind of)  ;-)

In any other professional industry I would be considered a fucking maniac. I would be called a self indulged, ego driven, narissistic, self- promoting asshole with a foul mouth, short temper and total disregard for any and all around me. Ah, but in the restaurant industry I am “Passionate”, So passionate in fact, that on many occasions (in years past of course) that “passion” has bubbled over and spilled into the dining room in the form of loud, rude, profane and often times disturbing tirades and rants that actually served to silence a room full of people who actually feared for the well-being of the poor soul on the receiving end. Undeniably a curious set of circumstances to fathom. A guest pays a substantial amount of money to come to my restaurant and enjoy an evening out. The evening is then interrupted by the afore-mentioned “situation” and then immediately after the tirade subsides I peer into the room, venture boldly out to each table and am met with not only a sense of approval but an almost morbid feeling that the guests with whom I’m speaking are comforted. Comforted by the fact that I care so much about their experience in my restaurant that I would, in fact, dissect any person, cook, waiter or otherwise to the point of bringing both their Mother and their religion into question!

What a sick bastard I am! I describe the situation to follow not as an attempt to make an amends but rather to illustrate the horrors my staff has to weather and endure in order to navigate the choppy waters of MICHAEL. God bless them all every one!

Now, I can only speak for myself and not for my fellow Chefs. However, I have been around long enough to know one thing for certain. It’s my and many of my peer’s fear that drives us to such childish and shitty behavior. Fear of not delivering on expectations and fear of not being seen in the light in which we desire–Not always looking good but damn sure trying not to look bad. We hosted a wine maker dinner at the restaurant last night and the dark side once again emerged, “The Beast” reared his arrogant, savage head in grand and fevered fashion. I’m both ashamed and proud that the old boy still has some fight left in him to be truthful. I kind of missed ‘The Beast”. For those of you that are unclear about whom I’m speaking, “The Beast” as he has come to be known, is the affectionate moniker I’ve bestowed upon my alter ego. Ego being the key word in that particular sentence by the way. My sick and twisted friend comes out to play when “Michael” has had enough and he needs the staff to fucking focus and walk the line. Clearly that could never be accomplished by simply speaking in a calm and concise manner that conveys the message without all of the fireworks provided by a visit from my furry friend. Last night’s performance was rather poignant since it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt the need or for that matter, the balls, to let this fool loose. When the fat bastard is allowed to roam freely, he does so for the most part, in the dirty end of the field, therefore it’s best that he play alone so I simply step aside. When I say dirty end of the field I mean that there’s a darkness that rolls in with a sense of impending doom that comes over the space I occupy and like a tractor beam, it sucks those unsuspecting naive folks around me in for the kill. “The Beast” was hungry last night and he fed with vigor.

I often times like to throw curve balls to the kitchen staff in order to better judge how comfortable they have become with their station and day-to-day responsibilities. Familiarity breeds contempt in any kitchen and I simply won’t have it. You must stay sharp in the kitchen at all times. If not, like a shark that stops swimming, you die. Inspiration for the kitchen has been a challenge for me over the past eight months or so simply because I’ve been distracted by the administrative side of the business as well as our recent expansion. That’s not to say I’ve allowed a slide in quality or integrity, in fact the key staff in the house have all stepped up to make up for my shift of focus but last night…….well, the focus shifted back with a whiplash type of frenzy that If I were a betting man, I would bet the farm that no one on staff expected. One of the cooks, who will know who he is when he reads this, (sorry brother) made the mistake of showing up 40 minutes late for the shift and then had the audacity to cite the fact that he was in the weeds with the amount of mise en place (preparations) that were heaped upon his station in order to ready himself for the special evening. The time of arrival and amount of one-sided prep on his station was a CURVE BALL! “The Beast” awakens when 30 minutes past the start of the shift have elapsed and he licks his chops with anticipation as our hero has yet to arrive to begin to prepare.

My day, much like any other small business owners day, consists of a ton of running around and organizing of the behind the scenes type of activity that allows service to appear relaxed and effortless. When the service does actually appear as such I realize that all of the hopping back and forth from one foot to the other, on rather arthritic ankles by the way, is very much worth the effort. But alas, my tardy young and soon to be headless cook arrives and immediately begins to falter. My focus now must shift from picking up floral for the week, placing orders for the weekend, containing and directing ding-a-ling contractors (that one is like eating soup with a fork by the way) and all the other bullshit I have to accomplish before the end of the day and beginning of service and I start to twitch.

This twitch serves as a ringing of the dinner bell for “The Beast” annnnnnd……….we’re off!

“Where are the silver pans I asked you to have ready for the Coquilles St. Jacques dish for this evening?” “Coming Chef.” “Coming Chef?!!?

We’re ten minutes away from service, what the fuck do you mean coming Chef?!!?”

“I’m a little behind from all the prep for the wine dinner and regular menu combined Che,f”

“Well I wonder how that could have happened. Do have any clocks in your home? Did you feel that I was a bit off the mark when I asked you to be here at 1pm and not 1:40?”

“No Chef, I mean, Yes Chef, I mean Yes to the clocks and no to the time thing….I mean…..what was the question again Chef?”

“Holy shit, you sir, are a disaster! Move and I will do it myself!” That very last statement of “I’ll do it myself” is a big red flag. The cook should, by now, realize that “The Beast” has indeed arrived and walks amongst us, but sadly, he does not realize this and the craziness ensues. Not only is the cook involved at this point but the entire staff is now in the path of destruction and they are all pissed off at the cook because of it. Poor guy just never knew what hit him. “You are fucked over here, why the hell didn’t you tell me you were this deep in the shit an hour ago?!!?” “Sorry Chef, I was trying to pull myself out of it and…….” “Sorry is right! This is a train wreck! Where the fuck is Sergio?!!?” Sergio is a waiter, he is also a frequent, and I must admit, favorite target of “Beasty” and there is no safe place for him to hide if he’s in the restaurant. You see, Sergio has been with me for 15 years, since he was 14 years old. He is as much of a little brother to me as he is an employee. This sounds warm and fuzzy but don’t kid yourself, remember the familiarity breeds contempt line from earlier? Well, I have a tendency to “Contempt” up and down poor Serg’s goofy ass like it’s a sport in an attempt to defer some of the wrath that I’m dispensing at the time. He’s proven to be a tough little bastard over the years and it seems to roll of his chubby rounded back–at least until he begins to present me with the bills for the therapist or he embarks upon a ritual beating of his family while screaming my name. What can I do? Since his parents did not seem to do enough to properly fuck him up, I feel it my duty to finish the job as his older brother by proxy.

Admirable I know, but also fun at times…(yes, I’m a bit twisted, we covered that already.) As all of this hilarity is unfolding my actual brother happens to pop by after a dinner meeting to pick his wife up some dessert in a feeble attempt, I assume, to soften the blow of coming home at 9pm. As I looked up and saw him I felt fuel being sprayed on the fire as I continued my rant. “Go get fucking Sergio Tommy! “Okay, okay, shut the fuck up” is his response. Tom is no longer even mildly effected, impressed nor motivated by “The Beast” as he has become numb to the sensation. “I’ll go find him, order me a couple of desserts for Cindy.” “SHUT UP AND GO GET HIM!!!” He ventures out to the dining room and soon returns to the kitchen with a shit eating grin on his face and tells me Sergio is pouring the wine for the course that my friend the cook, is currently in the process of fucking up. This does not bode well for Sergio as the longer I wait to see and unload on him the worse the beating will be. Even though he did nothing wrong, the verbal assault will be severe. Serg knows this after 15 years and wisely avoids the kitchen for the rest of the evening. I later come to find, after calling Tommy for my usual, post jagoff behavior apology, that he told Serg to get in the kitchen and Serg’s reply was “No fucking’ way Tom! Did you see his eyes? He’s got the crazy eyes! If I go in there now he will eat me!! I’m thinking of going home before he finds me. I feel bad for the cook but fuck em! I served my time in that role and that guys on his own.” Then he proceeded to bounce his chubby, charming ass back into the dining room to continue looking busy just in case I ventured out to find him myself. Good strategy. He still can’t walk and chew gum at the same time but he damn sure knows when to duck and cover, I’ll give him that. He also happens to have become a great waiter so I will have no choice but to allow him to live.

Now Dan, our Maitre d’ and savior of the dining room staff, walks into the kitchen and in a rather matter of fact way states that the wines are not yet poured for the course that is coming to the pick-up window and we need to slow it down. It the words of “the chief”  from JAWS……”We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  I spin around with the fresh blood of the recently slaughtered cook dripping from the corners of my mouth only to see Dan smiling unsuspectingly after the statement he just made. Realizing that something bad is happening his smile turns to dread as he also comes to realizes he just became Sergio. I could hear him think, “Why do I talk to this asshole during service?” followed quickly by, “Run you fool!” Too late son, the tide has turned and you are now locked on as the new target. “What did you say?! Say that again, say what you just said again! I want to be sure I heard you right! “Shit” was all he offered as a response.

Dan was only doing what I need him to do but more importantly, he is doing what he should be doing in the room and that is to control service and it’s pace. Reasonable enough right? Well, actually, reasonable only applies to a reasonable and sane situation and person, neither of which could be used to describe what’s going on here with me and my alter ego. In classic Dan form, he ignores my ridiculous behavior and pulls all of the cowering staff to safety as the gale force winds of Chef Idiot blow the ship near wreckage. Finally, and thank God, we near the end of service. I walk into the room to a stunningly happy crowd of wowed participants in the wild ride and take questions as I go from table to table. After about 20 minutes, I returned to the kitchen as if the carnage of the past two hours never happened. There is a confused silence as someone sends the dishwasher out to return the lug nuts that the recently deceased cook removed while on a smoke break, back to my tires. I wish everyone a good evening and thank them for a great effort and depart as the entire staff thinks in tandem……”perhaps lithium or Prozac would be a better choice then Vicodin next time, whada ya think Cheffy?”

Here’s a Tip….

Okay, I know this is going to be read and interpreted as a type of bashing or complaining about my business. I assure you it is absolutely not what you think. Please open your mind and accept this little dissertation in the vein in which it is intended. That is to say, my intentions are simply to broaden the scope of understanding regarding the way in which we in the restaurant industry perceive you as our guest. Please take notice of the fact that I did indeed refer to the restaurant business and NOT the hospitality industry. Why? Because the latter is a bullshit industry term that was manufactured to lure the general public into our carefully constructed and overly manipulated dens of “wallet rape”. (your stellar author’s restaurant excluded of course) I will also challenge you to, for a moment, be quite unreasonable. Unreasonable in the sense that you put aside your instant and primal defensive response to perceived criticism. Allow what you are about to read to wash over you as a sort of campy, humorous yet completely factual depiction of everyday life in the dining room of a restaurant on the North Shore of Chicago.

Quite a scene this restaurant is. A scene in which the perception is as different as night and day depending on who it is that is sizing you up. First off myself, the proud Chef/Proprietor of the establishment who welcomes you and your dining dollars. I am always on alert and see everything before you do. This sounds like a line of shit but I promise you, it is not. I see everything. This is not boasting on my part, in fact, if someone reading this knows of a way for me to be relieved of this affliction, please, for the love of God, Share it with me!

I see things I shouldn’t see, I see things nobody wants to see. I see things you would not notice even if I didn’t catch them before you arrived. I assure you, this is both a blessing and a curse. My head at times, is on a swivel and poised to spin-off of my fucking neck at any moment. I am the master of your experience at Restaurant Michael, a responsibility I do not take lightly. Next is the Maitre d’, my first and most polished line of defense against the terrors and possible disaster that lurks around every corner of the restaurant in regards to dealing with a guest. Dan, my Maitre’d is one of the last of the old guard. He has a lovely way of making you feel both welcomed and intrusive  and both in the same breath. This is a very important and sought after quality in a Maitre d’. It may sound odd to read that thought out of context but truth be told, if the guest is made to feel in complete control of the restaurant and their experience in said restaurant, it would be akin to handing the keys for the asylum to the fucking patients.

We all need to be led, to a certain extent, through the experience in a restaurant so that the perception meets the expectations, myself included. Any restaurant owner that tells you that they are not scalping ideas and concepts when they dine out is full of shit! Dismiss this asshole out of hand and move on before they rob your house and steal your daughter’s heart. Make no mistake, we are ALL poaching ideas and concepts from each other at all times. It’s a constant, unspoken exchange of thoughts and ideas that makes the industry turn and somehow not spin-off its axis.

Dan is, in fact, a master at what I just described, and also quite gifted in the art of playing to his audience. He sizes you up upon hearing the first word you utter on the phone when taking your reservation and he has carefully laid out and precise descriptions of you, your family, your upbringing and your likes/dislikes in writing for the staff to read and digest days before you arrive.  This is no free fall my friends. We know what you want before you do and rest assured we will plant that seed the moment you walk in the door. We must do this in order to establish dominance. If we don’t, nine out of ten guests will roam freely around the dining room in an attempt to choose which table they would prefer. After careful selection of that prime and envied table, they will then demand to be relocated no less than three times to an even “better” table before deciding their original choice of tables best suited them and they simply must have the current occupants of THEIR table removed. Of course the table must be reset and spun 20 degrees to the left so as to avoid unfavorable lighting…….Listen closely……..SIT…YOUR…HAPPY…ASS… DOWN!

We have chosen the seating arrangements for you for one reason and one reason only. Ready? TO MAKE MONEY!!!  We need to maximize the space we have and allow the restaurant to seat the maximum number of guests comfortably and with as little interference as possible with the smooth running of the evening’s service. This is not a negotiation, we are not in the middle of a fucking open air market in Morocco. Each table in the restaurant is adorned with the same linen, china, flatware and stemware. What does this guest I just described hope to accomplish? There is no table next to the bathroom that we are saving for the difficult people who were here last week and must be punished. That is television sitcom crap and it simply does not exist anymore. So, sit where we ask and trust that we want you to enjoy yourself. How else do you think we could expect to get you to spend a little coin?

Now the waiters. The captains of the room and the liaison between you the guest and the kitchen/Chef/Me. These gentlemen are the ambassadors of the menu. It is their business to know its contents and origin and most importantly, its limitations. At this point you are likely scratching your head and asking, limitations? Why whatever do you mean? Come on folks, you don’t walk into a sushi bar and ask for a cheeseburger. Why in the hell would you think it even remotely appropriate to come into a restaurant known for French cooking and ask for a vegan menu. Did you bump your head upon arrival? Did you bang your head on a low hanging beam of which I am unaware which caused some sort of temporary departure from reality as you enter the restaurant?  What the hell makes someone think this is a valid and feasible request? Please understand, I am capable and very much willing to take on the challenge of creating a vegan tasting menu for any guest that asks. and, I will make it sing with flavor and harmony… But I need a couple of hours man! I am not Merlin the fucking magician! I am unable to, by some miracle of modern cooking, turn beef tenderloin into a locally grown, sustainably farmed, antibiotic free, hydroponic, organic fungus that vaguely resembles a meat-like product with a moments notice.

Here’s an example to better illustrate the dilemma you create with such a ridiculous and diabolical request. You take the better part of the spring season to ready the soil in your yard to receive the most gorgeous and exotic plants that can sustain life in your growing region. You spend countless hours and dollars to ensure they are well fed, maintained and tended to in every way. You then send out an invitation to “Modern Garden Magazine” to do a photo shoot of this rare and exotic foliage that only you have had the good fortune to obtain and allow to flourish. You wait with anticipation for months until the day of the photo shoot is upon you. The editor and the photographer arrive, you lead them proudly to your great accomplishment expecting tears of joy and praise over your prized ability to present such perfect specimens and…….with hardly a breath being wasted or a shread of respect for your home and labor…..the editor exclaims “ya know what? I think we will change the format of the story and just shoot silk and plastic this month….. got any?”   What the fuck!??! How could this be? Well boys and girls, multiply this little fictional scenario by 10 or 12 times a night, six days a week, every week of the year and you have the very reason why a waiter not only expects but damn well deserves not only your tip but more importantly, your attention and your respect.

This all leads me to the crux of the waiter dilemma. Tipping. Perhaps the biggest taboo in the dynamic between restaurant and guest. If you don’t respect brutal truth and don’t appreciate unfiltered honesty then I implore you, read no more. If these are qualities you revere and crave in a blog entry then come along with me……

Waiters work for $4.95 per hour. I know the common thought is as follows, “This server had better dazzle me with their brilliance or their tip will surely suffer.” Tell me I’m wrong. Go ahead, tell me, that’s what I thought. Every customer that walks in the door has the same chip on their shoulder. That’s not to say they are not wonderful giving and caring people. Most are exactly that. Some not so much but that’s not the point. This is not about personalities nor is it about unreasonable expectations. This is about doing the right thing. Waiters are saddled with the responsibility of nearly 100% of your experience yet in a cruel and ironic twist they actually have control over about 10% of said experience. It is one of the cosmic goofs of all time. A waiter puts themselves out there as the face of the restaurant experience and while doing so, they put themselves in a position where they are literally poised for failure at every turn.

Menus are presented slowly, the Maitre d’ likely over seated them and they are just as likely overwhelmed. Drink is weak, the bartender poured it. Service is slow, guess what, the kitchen cooks and sends the food not the waiter. Check takes forever to arrive, well, there are three waiters stacked up at one terminal trying to accomplish the same goal, getting you your check quickly. There are so many scenarios in which the waiter has zero control I would hesitate to go into much more detail as it will only serve to appear as repetitive. Suffice it to say, it’s simply not always the waiter’s fault. Yet they are the lone wolf, left to be devoured by angry guests that simply cannot wait to get the bill and tally up the total number of fuck-ups that will have the ultimate result of diminishing their tip to a fraction of what it actually should be.

Now on the flip side, sometimes it is totally the waiter’s fault. Especially if arrogance or bravado comes into play. If a waiter struts through the dining room and up to your table as if they were doing you a favor than yes, begin to tally the tip reduction as a matter of sport. If this is the opening attitude then batten down the hatches, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. These balloon-headed freaks usually have the audacity to fall back on the recently written bullshit reviews the new “wunderkind” Chef dickhead just received in the newly launched, publication, “life in the fast lane magazine”. In reality, these silly reviews carry little weight nowadays with anyone other than “Chef dickhead” and his or her faithful flock of zombie-like yes men. The dining public are a much smarter and well-informed machine today VS 10 or 15 years ago. They are also armed with instant messaging devices that will photograph the dish and upload it to a foodie chatroom before the first bite is consummed….YIKES! So all that being said, how smart does the arrogant ass-kisser waiter with the cocky smirk and Supercuts hair cut appear now? These are the ding-a-lings that deserve your disdain not the vast majority of hard-working folks that strive to make your experience memorable in the best way possible. As for the other goofballs I just described, go get em!!!

Now being an industry person, I always tip way over 25%, it’s kind of inside professional courtesy type of deal. It is also unspoken and implied amongst our families and friends as a means of extending that very same courtesy. Clearly that courtesy is lost on my fucking Father. Shocking, yes, unexpected, no. He has known much of my dining room team for a long time as many of them have been with me for years. This does not excuse his behavior on a recent visit to the restaurant. Let me first say that my family in general does not make a habit of coming to the restaurant to eat for free. In fact, quite the contrary. Most often I have to beg them to come because they are smart and caring enough to realize that they don’t want to take up valuable space that could be sold to paying guests.

That concept goes out the window evidently, when the faux check arrives at my Fathers table. For some strange reason, he feels it’s acceptable to leave a standard $20 per couple regardless of consumption. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to feed my family and many close friends on the cuff. I mean they have always supported me and I absolutely love having my nieces and nephews in–they are my favorite people to cook for now. It warms my heart to see their faces light up when they taste something for the very first time. The look of awe when they realize they like something they never tasted before elicits a powerful and wonderful feeling as their Uncle Michael “The Chef” beams with pride. All that being said, Pop’s, you’re going to have to step up on future visits regarding the gratuity. If not the balance due will have to be taken out in the form of a swift kick in the ass on the way out the door for your seventh cigarette break in two courses…….. Ya fuckin’ SAVAGE!!!  LOL! That’s okay Dad, the boys all understand. They acknowledge the fact that long before they had to deal with my manic, borderline psychotic behavior, there was you and Mom on the front lines of the battle to build a restaurateur. Well you did your job well. I’m here, I’m successful and I’m bitching at you for leaving a shitty tip in the blog entry regarding the act of proper tipping!!!!   Kind of cool huh?

Watch Your Tongue Young Man…

So….It has come to my attention that a certain “fellow restauranteur and Chef” (I use the terms very loosely by the way) has begun to talk a little smack about the old man here in Winnetka. This “child” has recently opened in a space previously occupied by an old friend and mentor of mine in Highland Park. The gentleman that I refer to as a friend and mentor is a talented Chef that I was lucky enough to work for at Cafe Provencal in Evanston waaaaaaay back in the day. Shortly after my time in France and somewhere in between a slew of very talented and well-known Chefs I was able to land with him for a time. His cooking is every bit as good as any other Chef I worked under either here in the states or abroad. I don’t like to mention names directly as I’ve learned it is not always the best practice, however, the info I just laid out will be enough for any foodie to go on especially on the North Shore. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that I am also lucky enough to have his former Chef de Cuisine Miguel working with me in Winnetka. This guy is an absolute gem. I’ll blog about him in detail in the coming months to be certain.

Getting back to my friendly, loose-lipped neighbor, I hear through the grapevine that this sprout, this arrogant upstart, has mentioned in passing to those I know well in the industry that he has a certain lack of respect for my cooking. I’ve not been able, thus far to ascertain in what regard he lacks respect. I can only assume that the logical choices would be either style or execution. The grumblings I’ve heard thus far are a bit primative but strangely consistent which leaves me to believe that there may indeed be a bit of truth to the rumors I am hearing of this boys practice of spouting off and show of disrespect.

Son, let me say this, in the words of Samuel L. Jackson in the movie Pulp Fiction, ” Well allow me to retort” My first inclination at this point in my career would be to simply dismiss you with a half-hearted, and lack luster “go fuck yourself”. But alas, something else comes along with the feeling of security and satisfaction in my work that only comes with age and the “chops” one earns with time logged in their own kitchen.  That something is the ability to stand behind my cuisine and execution of same. Not so much a need to do so but rather a responsibility.

For you see, Ass Head, the ability to open a restaurant, sustain life for 5 weeks AND still retain the ability to talk shit about a Chef’s cooking that you don’t even know (let alone me knowing who the fuck you are), is a special talent.  A talent in fact, bestowed upon only the most rare of God’s culinary luminaries. They (and you) are known in the industry as “Chefus Jagoffikus”  or loosely translated “Stroke Chef”. This term has been translated in a number of different ways over time, but for the sake of decorum I will leave it at that.

I mean after all I don’t really know your silly ass and I am, for all intents and purposes, a gentleman. Now unlike “Chefus” here who feels it is appropriate to bash a fellow area businessman in a fragile economy while having been in operation himself for an amazingly stellar month and a week, I prefer to keep things civilized. By civilized I mean I will not speak poorly of his choice of a rib eye steak cooked on a fucking hot hunk of salt on your table. Perhaps the kitchen is too busy to finish the dish before it arrives at your table. Which sounds to me a lot like “fuck you, finish it yourself”. (Of course I am speculating here). Nor will I  speak with any disregard whatsoever about the lump of shit in a gratin dish topped with merengue that masquerades as some sort of bread pudding. Clearly a ground breaker in and of itself. Certainly you will hear not a peep from me about the oysters graced with….now listen closely…watermelon caviar. That’s right folks, watermelon caviar. Not only can this guy cook but he has discovered and retrieved, from a strange unknown world, a watermelon that lays fuckin eggs! Alert the media! The boy is working with one of a kind flukes of nature here. You will forgive me I’m sure if I refuse to be impressed until our young, testosterone ridden hero unveils his discovery of a line cook that gives birth to veal!

Shit! See, I fear I may have overstepped the boundaries of correctness once again. I’m sorry. (sob… pause for effect….)

You fucking asshole. What did you think was going to happen? You clearly are a special breed of idiot if you thought I wasn’t going to get wind of this trash talk. There was a time when those of us coming up, trying to make our own name in a business made difficult enough by sheer attrition, had some respect for those that came before them. Well I guess that unspoken rule has been thrown out the window. Once again, no memo was issued so how was I to know the that the gloves are off? Damn, I need to get back in the loop. I suppose this is as good a way as any. I will pose a challenge my friend. When you have had a 15-year track record of successful restaurants from Glen Ellyn to Winnetka and a couple of spots in between, all self-financed (and sold off for profit each time by the way) then and only then will I allow you to speak of me with anything other than reverence. Keep in mind, I don’t rattle kid. So keep your head in the kitchen and your mouth shut and some day I might even respect you. No, on second thought, probably not. However, you may just learn to respect yourself enough to be careful not to speak poorly of those you do not know. Especially if that person can administer a culinary spanking by way of his own cooking the likes of which you could not begin to fathom. Better still, I will extend an open invitation to have you learn proper cooking in a real kitchen. My kitchen. A kitchen in which my cooks will make you their bitch.

Until then, I guess I was wrong, I will simply write you off with a half-hearted “go fuck yourself”.   Just kidding! I am after all, a gentleman.

What? no memo!

Suffice it to say nobody called to let me know that the whole restaurant world was turning upside down when it began a few years ago. It’s a cycle, every 20 years or so an evolution must take place. It’s what makes the world go round. It also evidently is what lifted us as a species out of the slime and mud we once inhabited. So I get it okay, nobody needs to chime in with some bullshit about me getting old and set in my ways. I already know that I am getting old and set in my ways. Save your typing fingers for now.

 That being said, lets move forward and get to the meat of the matter. This current evolution has taken a wrong turn and figuratively jumped the shark, as it were, and it’s gone far enough for my taste. I’m not going to go into great detail about specific cuisines and styles, at lease not in this entry. What I am going to do is ring the “Wake your ass up bell” for all of those young hot-shot Chef wannabes out there that are hell bent on teaching ME and my fellow aging compadres how to cook and how to run a restaurant. The time has come my friends to get your collective culinary heads out of your asses and pay attention. It was said to me 22 years ago by Chefs I respected and tried to one-up and they had it said to them 20 years before that by the older guard and so the process goes….

The difference today is the instant access to information at all times on all subjects be it true or simply made up bullshit. This feeling of “the power of knowledge” in the absence of actual skill and ability to run a business, is, in a word, tragic. Please allow me to explain. I was having a conversation with a Chef friend who happens to be held in very high esteem in the Chicago culinary scene a few days ago. By the end of the conversation we were both ready to round-up all of our collective interns and entry-level cooks and beat them with bunches of leeks! (The leeks would be bound beautifully with lovely, long strands of blanched carrot of course, I mean we are not savages!) After giving the conversation a bit more thought and deciding we did not want to be sued by the local arm of Citizens Against Cruelty to Idiot Cooks, We redirected our energy. My energy landed here. My Chef friend, while not suffering from the same addictive demons as I, (at least that he will admit to) landed at the local watering hole. From which another, much more colorful and demented conversation was born. (This will also be fodder for a future entry).

What I need to shed light on is the fact that along with the information superhighway and advent of social media we also have reality TV Super-Chefdom to combat. While there are a handful of really talented Chefs on TV (Gordon Ramsey, Mario Batali……..well I guess that’s it. Sorry) few of them are willing to admit to the fact that it took as much luck as anything to land them where they are on the tube. Even hard work was less of a factor than actual luck. I work hard, you work hard, anyone that supports their family with a shit paying job and no benefits works hard. We don’t all have fucking TV programs to use as a proverbial soap box do we? No. So, that being said, the dream of getting famous simply by virtue of hard work is a lovely pasture rife with horse shit.  Agreed? Okay, moving on.

The students being pumped out of the greedy culinary school machine are the main source of my angst. It’s really not the student’s fault. It’s the schools and their inept ability to both raise and lower industry standards in tandem in order to increase their profits and graduation rate. First off, we need to hit the subject of current food trends.

When I say hit, it is not a euphemism, I want to beat the“lightly truffled  foam” out of them! I’m quite certain of the fact that each generation of Chefs has had a proponent wave this familiar flag of resistance. What’s different this time around is the combination of the constant stream of information, the greed driven culinary school assholes and our narcissistic Chef-like lust for fame. A more volatile recipe for a disaster in an industry is not often seen. What we are fast approaching is just that, a disaster. I am not being overly dramatic here I promise you. It won’t be the end of the world, just the end of all this bullshit that allows soon to be Chefs to believe that being famous and being talented is six of one, half a dozen of the other. Allow me to sound like my old Pappy for a minute here as I say, when I was coming up 25 years ago, I actually had to learn how to cook before I opened a fucking’ restaurant! I know this seems like a stretch for many of you young culinarians out there but it’s true. I spent 12 years actually learning under talented, driven, egomaniacal, fucked up, addicted, short-tempered, long in the tooth Chefs. (All of whom I am very much like myself in many ways, I’m proud to admit) I would not trade that time in my life for any amount of money or fame. I actually learned to ply my trade before embarking upon trying to become a    Chef-whore for the media. These folks coming out of culinary schools now are being so pumped up with “you’re a Chef, you’re a Chef  rah, rah, rah! Go get ‘em tiger. Show em what your made of.” bullshit, that they are destined to fail. And, if they don’t fail, by some miracle fluke of nature, they remain in my way and the way of my fellow TRAINED Chefs. By in the way I mean just that. They’re road blocks. They lure unsuspecting guests into the restaurants. Restaurants that they proceed to pollute with their untrained, method and technique-void silliness with flashy marketing and deep pocketed family investors. Upon doing so, these neophyte “Chefs” shit on the poor taste buds of the unsuspecting public and in the process, leave me with the responsibility of apologizing to these very same guests that they pissed off before coming to dine with us!

This behavior is offensive in every way not only to the dining public but to me. Some of these practicing, future bankruptcy cases actually have the audacity to charge up to 30% more than I charge for a meal that is not even in the same ballpark. Hell, it’s not even the same sport. When you spend $49 on a three course menu with me, you walk out knowing damn well where that money was spent. On top of it, I send out Grand Marnier Chocolate truffles before you leave and warm Gougeres when you arrive Gratis. When you go to see one of the new up and coming superstars you should feel honored that they had the inclination to even pick up the phone to take your reservation. If, that is, they feel you are important enough to be allowed to dine on their delicate genius derived menu items. Welllllll….. NO WAY! NOT ME! I’m not falling for this shit anymore! These young Chefs need to be told that practicing on MY CUSTOMERS is unacceptable. These very same people of whom I speak, even have the balls to give themselves the same title that I hold within a year or two of graduating from the greedy asshole culinary schools. Sorry folks, not gonna happen. I will not allow the proud title of Chef to be degraded any longer by this disrespectful behavior. Consider this a verbal spanking and stern warning, if you cross my path, I will invite you to cook in my kitchen with me for an afternoon and send you off with a look on your face that will tell all that see you that you have just been schooled!

  Nope, I don’t intend to fade away and be put out to pasture that easily and without a fight. There was and IS great value and importance in respecting the places from which we came and showing respect to those that forged the trail. I realize that this point is lost on the youth and energy of the new guard, much like it was lost on me when I was just starting out. I remember being ten feet tall and bullet proof for the first ten years of my culinary adventure as well. I am now  a mere 6’1 and riddled with simulated bullet holes fired upon my kitchen weary body by a constant barrage of opinions both informed and uninformed targeting my every dish and business decision.

Without the push and energy of the upcoming class of future Chefs there would be no progress, no evolution in the industry. All I’m asking for is that it be done with a bit more tact and respect for those of us that continue the fight with swollen joints, weak knees and checkered, restaurant tattered financial boo-boo’s reflecting on our credit. (See ladies, don’t I sound like a fine catch?) It’s actually critical to the fiscal health of the small restaurant operator such as myself.  I actually read an article written about a local “Hot New” restaurant a couple of years ago that quoted the Chef/owner as saying “it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t have to be concerned with money and the finances of the restaurant”. WHAT?! Allow me a moment to do a Chester Cheeto head shake so I can process that bullshit statement once again. That, my friends, is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a restaurateur talking. That is a kid, whose Dad found a space and decided to pay the rent for his fuck up son so he wouldn’t OD on his drug of choice. That’s a fact. It is nothing more than culinary masturbation. The problem with this scenario is that this Chef, who I cannot name, sadly, is throwing the balance off for the rest of us by way of what he is charging VS. what he delivers and the way in which he delivers it.

A single, perfectly cooked lamb rack chop, sprinkled with red Hawaiian sea salt and paired with spiced root beer is not a culinary adventure. It is actually critic bait and it’s bullshit. I promise you, I can tell anybody anything I want about the food I am serving and I can make a believable case for what I’m saying. Think about it. The Chef walks out of the kitchen in his or her pressed white Chef coat with wisps of steam and smoke behind them as they strut into the dining area, backlit and glowing as if all-knowing and all-seeing. They approach your table and utter a few well-chosen, cryptic words and glide on to the next table.  You’re left with a heady feeling like the cheerleader that just got a big smooch from the quarterback after he throws the game winning touchdown. It’s the Jedi mind trick! “I didn’t care for this dish Chef”  “yes you did!” “Oh, okay, maybe I did…….” I’m trying to warn you folks, don’t buy it. There are some really talented young cooks out there today, just now getting their chops. Poised to take the reins, which, after the proper training, they will be deserving of.

 These are the young cooks that are doing it right. They are training under Chefs that will not only impart hard lessons but will inspire them to carry on tradition while still advancing the art and the craft of the industry in a more modern form. We are fortunate enough to derive our livelihood from the act of making others happy. I have one of these guys in my kitchen right now. I won’t mention his name, he knows who I’m talking about and he’s likely reading this now. So I will say to him the following…..Don’t get cocky smart ass! There’s a lot to learn on this path you’ve chosen. If you walk to quickly, you will miss the nuance of what it has to offer. Those nuances are the reason we get into this bullshit, beating of a business to begin with. We get the pleasure of instant feedback from those that we are fortunate enough to have dine on our creations. We get to wear fucking pajamas while we do it and we get to yell and swear at each other all day and night and still be considered artists of some kind. Yikes! I mean after all, how much luck can can a person have?

Good talk???

I have a cook in my kitchen that has been with me for five years, six months and three weeks to the date. His name is Salvador. Now I always believed that in order to stay with me in my kitchen for that length of time you must be one of three things… a fucking sadist, completely and irretrievably bat shit crazy or blindly dedicated to my cuisine and willing to go to any length in order to honor it. My friend Salvador has added a new and somewhat disturbing fourth option. Salvador is, in my very informed opinion after having worked with him over the past five years, a machine.  It is my belief, from what I could glean from conversations about, but never with, Salvador is, that he has several children that I have never met; all of whom are shared with the same lovely lady whom I also have never met.

 I know that his Mother sadly passed a few years ago. In order to not risk being able to return in a timely fashion to support his family, he had to forgo the funeral and suffered silently despite all of our efforts to get him to go to Mexico for the funeral. A stronger man than I is Salvador. I wept like a child upon the passing of my Grandfather and took three days off to help with family matters. There is a great line that Al Pacino delivers in one of his many films. “Some people when you squeeze them, they focus, others fold.”  I can say I have never folded, not yet anyway. I often crinkle, wrinkle, pucker and bend but I never fold. Salvador on the other hand….well there was just no question. He remained, through the week of his Mom’s funeral, crisp and focused. He was clearly sad and upset but the guy never missed a fucking beat! Pretty amazing if you ask me. Salvador is also, aside from Sergio, who I promise will be a future entry for this blog, the employee of mine with the most longevity.

Salvador also, by the way, has said exactly SIX (6) words to me in the entire five plus years that he has been with me. I am not exaggerating for effect here. Six fucking words! Would you like to hear those six gems? I knew you would so here you go…..“Liston” Spanish for Ready!…”Sale” Spanish for Ready/I’m cool…”Que Pasa” Spanish for What’s up/how ya doing…”Gracias” Spanish for Thanks…and last but not least…”Amigo” Spanish for Buddy/Friend. That’s it! No Merry Christmas, no have a good night, no enjoy your day off, no go fuck yourself! (I get that one a bunch in case you were curious and in a variety of languages)  That’s it, six words!  Also throw into the mix that he does not move his face, his lips or his body when uttering these precious few syllables. He does not laugh, he does not snicker he does not flinch. That’s because he’s a fucking robot. There can be no other explanation.

Please allow me to share with you the sparkling conversations and verbal gymnastics Salvador and I we have shared over the years. “Hi Salvador, how are you today?”…”Sale”… “are we ready for service Salvador?”…”Liston”…”Salvador, what’s going on buddy?”…”Que Paso” or simply…”Amigo”…”Here’s your check buddy”…”Gracias”. This seems like a stretch after five years to have had only these simple, privative communications but it’s true. The most amazing part of the equation is that Salvador has NEVER, not one time been late, absent, early to depart and most important of all, unprepared for service. He is, as I said earlier, a machine. The guy never stops moving. If there were a patron saint of line cooks named in honor of Salvador he would be known as “Our Man of Perpetual Motion”.  I have also, in five plus years, never seen him take a break, not to eat, drink be merry or go to the bathroom. MACHINE! What else can it be?

Here’s an interesting scenario. I make a mistake on his check and short him four hours for the pay period. Salvador says nothing. He knows for a fact that in the coming weeks I, in a classic and consistent fashion will make a mistake in the other direction awarding him with 6 hours he never worked! The man is patient, sly and cunning. He’s a short, pudgy Latino Ninja. He could be a Navy SEAL apart from the fact that he would never communicate with his fellow SEAL’s and they would all parish as he walks out of harms way right behind them! This guys got me talking to myself. What have I done to deserve such an employee?

In reality, I work for Salvador. He comes in, does what he wants and needs to do, follows no clock except for the one on Mexican time in his caveza (Head)….(for those of you non-Spanish speaking readers, myself included). He collects his pay with scarcely a one word utterance. For all intents and purposes he makes his own schedule by virtue of the fact that I know when we cannot afford to be without him and appears and departs like a ghost. Fuck! I want that gig! He gets to cook, go home to his kids and wife, takes public transportation that drops him twenty feet from both his door and mine and he can go the entire day without saying a single word to anyone. How did I miss the posting on this position? I want to be Salvador so badly I can taste it! He has a mustache with 8 hairs on either side of his face, he stands all of about 5 ft. 5 inches tall, is not breaking any beauty records, (suffice it to say he’s not my type anyway) and he has the personality of a walking Latin dust mop. Yet still, I want this guys life. Salvador has it figured out man.

If I ever get the chance to do it all again, I am coming back as Salvador. I want a bigger, fuller mustache though and perhaps a slightly larger vocabulary, say 8 to 10 words. But all in all, I wouldn’t change a thing about Salvador, it works for us. So in closing I will simply say to Salvador…..”Good Talk Buddy”?     and his response would be……”Sale”

Such a dork! I will never figure this guy out. I guess that’s the magic of Salvador.

Image of Maracas Courtesy of http://www.dailyclipart.com

I Go, You Go, We all Go with Ego

The Great Gazoo

 

I had a  strange experience last week with a Chef that I greatly respect and in many ways have been compared to. I do not agree with the comparisons to be honest, I truly believe that he has forgotten much more than I will ever know about French Cuisine and cuisine in general for that matter. That being said, I was a little shocked and actually pissed off by the way this event came to pass. This was a tease, I will return to this topic after I expound on the what drives the title of this entry.

The title begs the question, “Are you joking? a Chef that points the dirty end of the ego stick at anyone but himself!?!!?” Nope, this is not the case at all.  I will, for the sake of fairness and disclosure, disect my own big, ego- driven ass first before I turn, in rabid fashion on the rest of the world. Okay, me, well it’s rather obvious if you look closely at the facts of the matter. I own and operate a restaurant held in rather high regard. (Even if I do say so myself…and I do!) I ride up to this restaurant on my sparkling new, Black Harley Davidson. (Did I mention that I named the restaurant after myself?) Well, I kind of assumed it went without saying.  Anyway, I pull up to this fabulous establishment on my trusty steed, adorned with very loud exhaust pipes wearing no helmet as it may disturb my carefully arranged, wind blown, mid-back length, salt and pepper hair. I do, by the way realize that this lovely “Lord of the Ringsesque” hair style will look even nicer splashed with shades of red and bits of brain should I ever take a spill on this classic, beauty. No helmet can be worn, of course, because in my sick, fucked up, ego driven head, when wearing said helmet, I look like “The Great Gazoo” from the original Flintstones cartoons. Remember Gazoo? “Hello Dum-Dums” He was the little green alien that appeared to Fred with the big head and tiny body. Okay, perhaps the tiny body is a bit of a stretch but the helmet makes me look like an orange on a fucking tooth-pick so give a chubby brother a break!!!

Now that we’ve covered my work, my mode of transportation and my hair, let’s talk about my wardrobe shall we? I never, unless I can help it, go anyplace when I am not in a Chefs coat. Why you ask? Because, I AM CHEF DAMN IT!!!! The statement of who and what I am must proceed me and for that matter, my belly at all times. Now we can cover the press. Let me begin by saying, if you want to know how great I am simply ask me. I am not the least bit shy on the subject and for the record, if I don’t feel you are duely impressed with my proclamations I will make some shit up. Done it… Trust me… Ask the ex’s… But I digress.   The local media has blessed me over the years with a substantial amount of great press for which I am very thankful. However, if I find myself going more than a couple of months without inclusion in something media driven and unsolicited, I begin to shake uncontrollably, tear up and lash out at those I love and respect.   I mean come on, I’m the one that carries this family…friendship…love affair…business relationship…(I can go on and on I promise you) Until, that is, someone is driven to wave a piece of past written press coverage before my straping, handsome mug thereby assuring me of my self-worth once again, if only briefly, while I get on the phone to my publicist. At which point I proceed to blame her for not doing her job. How dare she charge me for time when nobody is paying attention to me!!! Don’t they know who I am for God’s sake? I’m Michael-The Fuckin’Chef-Lachowicz!!!

Get the picture yet? Well I did, about six months ago. See, with all of this fabulous shit I just listed above and with the promise of even more possible success with the addition of a private room for the restaurant. I, a 430 pound, drunken, drugged, pathetic excuse for an uncle, friend, son, brother lover, boss etc… EVEN CHEF, checked myself into a rehab center. Now don’t go getting all sappy and empathetic. I deserved exactly what I got. In fact, I got off easy. Trust me, if I was a bit further into this fabulous lifestyle I just described I would be fuckin’ dead. So here I am, not dead, in fact happy. Happier, to be honest, then I have ever been. Also, and I can’t believe it myself sometimes, thankful. Yep, that’s right, thankful. Thankful for what you ask? I’m thankful for my life and for my ability to recognize how my ego was driving me. Driving me, as a matter of fact, right off a cliff. We all do it right? True, most are not such assholes as to drive ourselves near death only to end up in a rehab center that makes you go to meetings where you have to be honest. And, are you ready for this? Hug other men! What the fuck!? Sorry, still not used to that ritual but while it’s not exactly growing on me, I can now do it without having to talk about the days sports events, breasts and cars and shit. See, even now, ego, ego, ego…all about how I look to others.

This all brings us back to the opening paragraph. I sent out an email on Thursday to proclaim the virtues of the weeks special. It was, as it turns out, an eye opener. I wrote in grand fashion about the special I was featuring and I felt it needed grand writing because of its very lineage. I made a terrible judgement call that was actually disguised as a gesture of respect. You see I mentioned the name of the Chef that made the dish famous in this country and the establishment in which it was showcased. Well fuck me! Never should have done that because the very next morning, I get a fax from Chef stating that he is upset that I took the liberty of using his name in my advertising for the restaurant as there are those that would assume that he is cooking in my kitchen. I will repeat that because it sounds like an oddly important fact to miss.  He said it would seem as if he were in MY kitchen cooking. Hmm…it smells like it’s about to “ego” in here.  Well, truth be told, I was ready to unload on this guy until I realized he was correct. I had no right to mention his name in the same breath as my restaurant. I should have asked his permission. I am more than reasonably certain he would have said yes and had he not, I would have done without and sold just as many on my own merits. But, you see, I needed to indulge my ego once again by making sure everyone knew of my association with him. In the long run, none of this amounts to a pile of salmon shit. (salmon was the focus of the special by the way) His ego drove him to fax me his distaste for my marketing ploy, my ego pushed me to include him in the first place and yet another Chef’s ego drove them to call me and righteously proclaim that he was the one to share the preparation of the dish with me to begin with.   Holy Chef shit Batman! Someone let me off of this crazy ego trip!!!! And if I get a fax from Batman or Fred Flintstone tomorrow morning I’m not writing anymore fucking blogs!!!!!

Just kidding, my ego won’t let me stop……..HA!

It’s good for you, I promise!

Alright, for those of you that have been following this fledgling journey thus far, this will be a bit of a departure. I am actually out of difficult customers for the time being about whom to bitch. But don’t fret, I’m certain they are just around the corner waiting for me to put down my guard. This entry is going to be a bit more informative. Call it soul searching  if you like. I’ll be dancing back and forth a bit between what I prepare for you to enjoy in the restaurant and what I feed (or rather fed) my own big ass to achieve the splendid form I sport about from day-to-day.

The idea came to me one day this week while enjoying my fourth day in a row of ritual beatings from my trainer Nate at Bally’s. You see my friend Nate, muscle-bound, mean little, 7% body fat having muppet that he is, loves to dole out a fabulous beating at least four times a week on my pudgy sad form. Truth be told, Nate is the only person, trainer or otherwise, that has been able to inspire me to stick to three solid months of hardcore workouts. I fuckin’ hate him. Actually, that’s not true either, he is, for all intents and purposes, a great guy that is saving my life. Enough about Nate and Bally’s. (at least until they sign on as an advertiser) This blog entry is about food, the food we all consume everyday. You see, I have countless guests each week that are concerned about the calorie content or preparation of a dish not to mention it’s sodium, carb and fat content. I am always happy to discuss these things with them.

Opening up a dialogue always seems to be the best way to put people at ease. I have always had the gift of being able to speak with authority on subjects about which I have a great deal of knowledge. The problem is I also have the gift of speaking with the same authority on subjects about which I know NOTHING. Now there is, on occasion, a subject brought to the table about which I know everything, I am simply the authority. To be clear, there is but one such subject and that is my restaurant and its cuisine. The hitch in the giddy-up is when I am asked about nutrition content on said cuisine. Don’t get me wrong, I do in fact, know all there is to know about every aspect of the food that comes from my kitchen. I purchase it, I receive it, I supervise the preparation and it comes through either mine or my Chef de Cuisine’s hands before reaching your table. About this there can be no debate. The question is….why am I so fucking fat!??!

If you know so much about cuisine and nutrition why have you not followed your own advice you might wonder. Well the short answer is, as my old man used to say to me, “Do as I say not as I do!”  This quote is in bold print for a reason. If you knew the old man you would not question the reason. You would simply do what I did. Say “okay Pops” and then under your breath say “You’re a dick with ears, what the hell do you know?”  ‘WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” “Nothing Dad….”  As it turns out he was correct about my eating habits. Still a dick with ears, but correct. The facts are that  my menu is not largely organic nor is it low-fat or low carb for that matter. It is however, tasty on every level. I am not claiming to be a health spa. I can however, promise this, everything on the menu is prepared from scratch and with great care to achieve balance not only in flavor but in nutrition.

I saw a segment on the WGN news this week that featured fair food. The new big seller in the south is deep-fried butter on a stick. Are you kidding me? Now it is clear from seeing and talking with me that my body has not exactly been my temple for the past ohh…..35 years, give or take a year. That said, come on, who the hell is eating deep-fried butter on a stick? Well there was a line of people in a variety of shapes and sizes waiting with drool on their soon to be dead, blue lips waiting for this chest grabber. My advice to them is bite the tip off of the golden brown batter that holds the melted butter center in place. Pour the hot liquid butter on the head of the asshole in line behind you and then, proceed to jam the sharp end of the stick directly into their heart. Remove and repeat this motion thirty to sixty times depending on how many layers of fat are to be penetrated. For me it would be closer to sixty.

I misspoke earlier. I now have two subjects about which I can speak with complete authority AND be correct. The second one is that I know for a fact that not one of those silly people waiting in line to launch a fat missile directly into their hearts asked “What’s the fat and calorie content of the fried butter on a stick?” Why? because if anyone had, the rest of the group around them would have risen up and beaten them for asking such a question and ruining their heart attack of an experience. In short ladies and gentlemen, I would never be so irresponsible as to serve or even offer a meal that would exceed your daily recommended intake of any of the key nutritional categories.

The truth is, we all have to be responsible for ourselves. I absolutely encourage any and all questions about the meal I am about to serve you. I love talking food in the dining room, it’s my passion. But please, keep in mind, one should never ask a question if the answer they receive will be a burden to them. So I guess what I’m trying to say is this, enjoy your meal in my restaurant. It’s wholesome and prepared with complete integrity on every level. The next day, give me a call and I will introduce you to Nate. Then we can both proceed to throw frozen sticks of butter at him. As he runs for safety, we can grab the butter, batter it, deep fry it and eat it as we clutch our chests, smile and flip him the bird…..Little bastard! Just kidding Nate, see you at Bally’s on Monday buddy.***

 ***In all seriousness, Nate is really my trainer and since I have been working with him I have dropped nearly 80 pounds and my body fat has gone down 8%. I will be happy to introduce anyone that would like to have a true professional work with them.  My goal is another 80 pounds by the first of the year. I think I have a chance if I stay away from the fried butter!                         Thanks Nate!!!