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.

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!!!

In the Words of the Immortal Fog Horn Leg Horn: “I says what I means and I means what I says!”

This is just my fourth entry in “blog world” and already I’ve spurred on great controversy. It seems my colorful use of language has encouraged many readers to, in a myriad of gutteral almost primal responses, voice their opinion about said entries. I have to admit, I am not the least bit surprised. It’s quite common and often times correct to assume that the use of slang, profanity, sexual innuendo and the like would suggest the users inability to express themselves.

I think I can go as far as to say that most would tend to agree with this point.. Well……not me. In fact, I very strongly believe there is great strength in all types of language. All of the negative stigmas about the use of profanity aside, I see it as punctuation, a way to drive a point home with vivid and specific intent – think: George Carlin, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor – (not that I am comparing myself to these fantastic comedians)  The way I use these words is, in no way, gratuitous, actually, truth be told they are sprinkled about to illicit a response. “Is this guy really serious?” “He’s just trying to be controversial” “He must be out for a book deal or something” I hate to break it to you folks but the restaurant business is not all kittens and rainbows. If it is kittens and rainbows that you seek when reading this blog then I have some bad news for you, it’s not going to happen. I write about what happens to me in my day-to-day dealings with my guests, my staff, and my suppliers, There are a ton of blogs out there that litter the page with the regurgitation of what the author would have you believe is their “Passion” for cuisine. I am here to tell you that this is all a variation on the same theme. I will admit to you I actually started out to be just that–another Chef proudly proclaiming what a wonderful cook I am and asking you to drink that kool-aid. But why? Why would I want this blog to be like countless others? This is a place you can go to hear the real stories about the restaurant business and all the good, bad and ugly happenings within.

Trust me, I could expound endlessly on how many happy customers I am LUCKY enough to be able to feed on a daily basis. I will ask you this, do you care? I wouldn’t if I were you, the reader. After all, that’s my job for the love of God! If I had to run around telling everyone how good I was would you not begin to believe that I, myself, was not so sure. It is exhaustively boring to read someone babble on about their God-given talent and how fortunate you all are to be allowed to experience it. Give me a break please! Talk about an over exaggerated sense of self-worth.

This blog is here to showcase my shortcomings as well as my passions not simply for cooking but for the restaurant business as a whole. If you want kittens and rainbows go to a pet store at the end of a thunderstorm and pray for sun. (Before I get a bunch of emails from animal rights activists please let me state that I get all of my pets from the Anti-Cruelty society) Getting back to the original point of the use of profanity… In the world in which we live, can anyone honestly say they are shocked by my use of language?  I think it may be closer to the truth to say that in the age of the internet with all of its forums, chat rooms and feedback sites, that we all have a “Soap Box” upon which we can voice our opinions unfiltered in any way. Except, that is, when the court of popular opinion chimes in. Well not me! I refuse to bend to such a court’s opinion. In fact, I will run as hard as I can in the opposite direction.  A customer behaves poorly, either abusing my staff or spoiling the experience of eating in a civilized restaurant for their fellow patrons and I will react harshly. I always have and I always will.

Please understand, I LOVE AND RESPECT MY CUSTOMERS! You are the lifeblood of my restaurant. I cannot begin to express how unbelievably flattered I am to this very day that 120 people will actually take the time and make the effort to come and enjoy my cooking on a Saturday evening. It is truly a blessing. With the amount of restaurants there are to choose from today and after nearly 15 years of owning and operating my own establishments, to be selected as your dining destination for the evening is a privilege. That being said, can you now understand and relate to the fact that the actions I take against those that are out to lessen your experience in some way are on your behalf? That’s right. It’s not about me anymore. I am the oldest 41 year-old man you will ever see, I have little to prove to anyone but you, my customers. So please, cut a brother some slack if I drop the F-bomb here and there or rail the occasional savage dim-witted, would be trouble maker that happens to be out for the sole purpose of stirring up the bottom. If these folks happen into my establishment with those types of intentions then they get what they get. I am actually proud of the fact that I will not allow them to disrupt your dinner! (Or mine for that matter).

Now, for the sake of disclosure, if foul language is offensive to you STOP READING…… HERE!

For those of you that get a chuckle out of my colorful use of profanity rest assured. Another one of those fuckin’ entries is just around the bend!!!!   See, I knew you were going to read on anyway just to see what I would say. Now you get the point, sometimes it’s fun just to see what the author has to say. Unfair you say? We were tricked! Well write your own blog and you will be free to substitute “silly pants” for “fuckhead” anytime you like.  See, now that was gratuitous……. Tee-Hee!

Is Cooking a Magic Show? I Think Not….

I am new to this blogging thing, but I think it’s an excellent way for me to reach out to a global community of chefs, restauranteurs, culinary students and lovers of food, like myself. While I am not new to is cooking. I started as a child in my grandfather’s little kitchen on Chicago’s North side and I had the priviledge of of graduating many years ago from the Culinary Institute of  America in upstate New York (CIA). You can read the short version of my story in the About section of this blog.

I figure if I am going to take the time to work on this blog in the little spare time I have, I want it to be a conversation, one that continues to teach me and perhaps those who read it as well. So don’t be shy in giving me your thoughts. I want to hear your feedback. I do not care if you live a block from Restaurant Michael here in Winnetka, IL, or if you live half way around the world. In fact, I welcome everyone who loves anything and everything having to do with cooking to join in the conversation…which brings me to the first topic for this blog.

I recently had a chat with an old friend who is closely tied to the restaurant business  It went something like this:

ML:  After many years of cooking for others and owning my own restaurants for even longer, I am getting sick and tired of seeing young chefs cycle through restaurant “trends” which represent a certain area of expertise.

HG: That seems to be a big trend now, one minute they are experts in Spanish food, the next it’s French.

ML: AND THAT is when I get crazy!  These guys have the audacity to fuck with my wheelhouse? I have spent my whole life specializing in classic French cuisine and they think because they can get a lot of investor money and open a place they suddenl become experts in French cuisine. Give me a break! These chefs need to tread lightly!

HG:Yeah, there was this article quoting a chef saying he had to fly to New York to get a certain kind of fish because no one served it locally. I got so incensed I wrote a letter to the editor because there were at least 10 places that served it in Chicago and the suburbs. It was ridiculous. He needed to be called out on that and there were many other comments just like mine.

ML: I know what you are talking about and I think that is part of the problem especially then chefs mislead the public about what is or is not available. It makes readers think he’ll be the only serving a certain dish or featuring a certain product – that is bullshit especially when someone like ME has been doing it all these years.  When Jean Banchet closed Le Francais, I was the only one left doing classic French cuisine. There are other fabulous French restaurants, but I am talking strictly classic French. AND we do it with all the bells and whistles–3 courses for a $49.50!  Unheard of!

HG: I think that with the advent of The Food Network shows, people think that cooking is akin to a magic show.

ML: That is exactly what I talking about. It’s should NOT be a magic show!  I liken it to a surgeon who studies one thing his whole life and does it to the best of his ability. I’m taking issue with chefs who think food is simply theater and cook whatever they deem the “trend du jour.” It took me 5-6 years after I graduated culinary school to even appreciate all the many nuances and stylings of French cuisine. I am still learning today for God’s sake! Every day spent in my kitchen I learn something new and hopefully those I hire to work in my kitchen are as well.

HG: Well I have personally spoken to many people who have worked for you Michael and although they say you are a tough boss in there, several have told me that they are better chefs for it today. You know, all we are really talking about is food!

ML: RIGHT! Restaurants are getting away from the fact that this is about cooking and simply that.  Food is not a damn science experiment. The fact that people want to be entertained while you dine is wrong. I simply want to feed people. I am happy when I feed people, can you tell by my size?  I love food and I want to share those tastes with those that walk through my doors . I am so passionate about this!

HG: Without a doubt you are! The funny thing is that in these trendy restaurants the food takes a backstage to the scene you know? I personally am so tired of every new place being about pigs, bacon and pork products! Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to eat cheeks, asses, tails, goat butt, who knows what this shit is anymore? It sounds disgusting!  If you look at all the best chefs in recent history, their food was simple and it still stands up today; people like Alice Waters, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin – even Emerill – it’s not all scientific and complicated. It’s classic and darn it, it tastes amazing!

ML: I think the trend will morph back my way. We are busier then we have ever been since we opened and now I am expanding the restaurant by a third because of it, so something I am doing must be right! At the end of the day I believe that people who pay you good money to feed them, want food that tastes good and maybe they like the fact that I come into the dining room night after night to see how everyone is enjoying the food. I am thinking that that will always be an important part of fine dining.

HG: I think others would agree with you on that one! I know it is important to me. I love when a chef comes out of the kitchen to chat with his/her guests. It makes it very personal. As you always have said, you touch every plate that leaves the kitchen and I think when you come out and put a hand on someone’s shoulder and ask how they enjoying their meal – that goes a long way. Do you feel that from your guests?

ML: I sure do and I would love to hear from others on how that affects where they dine. Is it important? I sure hope so because I am going to continue being me and I am doing what comes natural!