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

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?

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!

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!