nothing interesting.

day off.

I need some spring rolls. Spring rolls and a Tsing Tao. It's my day off, and strangely I was unable to sleep in today. My coffee was good, but coupled with fatigue, it's led to an unfortuante eye twitch. Nopa blew the doors off again this week--this time to the tune of almost 1400 covers in three days. (478+517+400. a side note--we stopped seating on the 517 night at 12:15...turning many away at the door. in a way i wish we had kept it coming.) Bodies were breaking down all over the kitchen, but somehow we were all able to keep pushing the tempo--finding new ways to keep the food moving out. The current crop of Nopa cooks continues to surprise me...the feeling of cooking with them i've only had twice before: cooking with Ginger at CCA, and cooking with Joey, Rossi, and Angelo at Va De Vi. The feeling you get is that we're working towards something bigger...a group that will graduate and find individual success...while carrying on the many lessons we're learning day to day now. If a crew not only tolerates, but misses each other when they're apart, something interesting is at play.

Last night, eating at CoCo500 with some of the crew, we spotted Michael Tusk (Quince) and Hiro Sone and Lisa Doumanni (Terra and Ame) sitting at the bar with us. (Us included, there were 12 stars sitting there.) Looking at those chefs, all who have achieved admirable levels of success in our industry, I couldnt help but think about how different my generations career paths have been. Is it important to go to Europe anymore? Is it more important to learn the terroir and style of where one decides to cook?

a bad meal.

It's hard to knock a restaurant that's just opened--there are toom many variables at play, too many personalities feeling each other out, and too little familiarity that those first few days (or weeks, or months) are mostly a mosh pit of bad service and poorly prepared food. Sometimes though, you see so many things slipping through the cracks that one has to wonder if it will ever come together. Last week the wife and I headed out to a newly opened "tavern" with a big time chefs name on it. We walked into a half sat room, and asked for a table--but were told there was a 45 minute wait. This can be frustrating, especially when there are open tables right in front of you...but I understand the need to pad things in the beginning. We sat at the bar, and the first thing I noticed is that this "tavern" doesnt have any beer on tap. Everything is very clean and white--nary a scrap of wood in the whole damn place. The servers were dressed fairly formal--slacks, white collared shirts and black vests. Add to that the unbussed empty tables, and the very, very bright lighting, and you had a strange sight.
The bartender asked us what we wanted to drink, and we asked for a cocktail list. He said he would get one, then wandered away to the other end of the bar. After ten minutes, he came back and asked if we were ready. "Um, can I see that cocktail list now?" He laughed this off and got the menu. I shouldve just had water, because the rocks manhattan he ended up making me was truly a mess. (and i didnt even ask for it on the rocks) We waited, and waited some more. The chef (not the big name, but the exec) came into the bar and cuddled up with a girl on the couch...something that seemed strange when one was trying to make a week old kitchen work. After the 45 minutes passed, I headed to the host desk--only to stopped short with "YOUR TABLE WILL BE READY SOON!" being shouted at me. I never even got the chance to ask about it in the first place....what if I just wanted to know where the bathroom was?

When the hostess came to get us, we asked to get our bar tab transferred to our dining room check...and were told that "we dont do that." We paid and were finally seated, and greeted twice...a sure sign of confusion on the floor. We saw the chef dip in and out of the dining room several more times....so many times in fact that my wife started to count. After placing our order for beers (no more cocktails, thank you.) we were informed by both servers that the kitchen was closing, and that we needed to order. We had been at the table for five minutes.

The menu had some good looking stuff on it...pissaladiere, clams and chorizo, etc. The mains were a little more confusing, as you could order fish or meat (22-48$), then add a sauce (3-4$...for fucking sauce) then add veg or starch. (4-7$) We decided to play it safe and stick with apps....ordering the pissaladiere and the piadini. I dont want to go into detail about how badly these dishes failed, so ill just show a picture instead, and let you figure it out.


In the end we just asked for the check...which had two drinks on it that we never ordered. Our server asked how come we didnt finish our food...so I told him what I thought was wrong. He replied that he would tell his chef--who was standing three tables away from us. The one bright spot of the evening was one manager who was scurrying around the dining room taking orders, bussing tables, and seating people. We told her that she looked like she was really working hard, and headed off to Globe.

and now, pictures.

nopa gave us beers.check please bay area invades nopa


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On the Ethical Treatment of Cooks

Sometimes this happens to you:

-You're on the fish station. The night has been a mess. Last night you stayed out with that cute hostess, drinking rum (which you don't even like) and smoking camel lights. (which you really, really don't like.) This morning you woke up and tried to drink a cup off coffee, but just threw up instead. When you stumble into work, you find out that a dishwasher and the grill guy called out sick--they were at the bar with you the night before. The chef has called in 'b-teamers' to cover. Meat came in late, so you get to butcher two rib-eyes and twenty dollar a pound snapper--both of which you get a poor yield on. Service starts, and you realize you didn't cut enough shallots. Around nine, you 86 snapper--but not before you burned seven portions. Your chef looks at your sweaty face, cracked lips, and stained jacket, and screams at you like he has never screamed before. The kitchen goes silent, and you take your beating.


-You're on the fish station. You've been killing it all night. Last night you stayed late and scrubbed any carbon off your fish pans, then went home and read McGee's chapter on fish. Waking up in the morning, you had your coffee, flipped through A Passion For Seafood, then headed to work. The 'a-team' is in full effect--a group so tight that obscure hand gestures and mono-syllabic grunts are enough to communicate through the entire night. The group finishes prep early, makes family meal, and begins service. The snapper special has been so popular, and so perfectly cooked and plated, that around nine you only have three portions left. Your chef walks down to your immaculate station, and screams at you like he has never screamed before. The kitchen goes silent, and you take your beating.

Every menu around nowadays has some line about how they use sustainable and humanely raised produce/meats and seafood. So why is the staff being treated so poorly? A cook I worked with once said "Cooking is the last frontier--a place where you can say almost anything." Almost all the chefs that I know came from yelling kitchens. Old school chefs, especially those who embrace the military aspect of brigade cooking see yelling as their duty--a way of keeping their pirate ship from turning to mutiny. They would tell stories about their days--crazed chefs in coffee filter hats throwing copper like it was a frisbee.
When my pastry school instructor at culinary school told me about his mentor, he said that he thought the man had killed someone before. I laughed. He didn't. Despite alleged homicidal tendencies, alot of chefs and cooks alike think that the former abuse helped them become the chefs they are now. For me, the yelling changed me in two ways:

  1. In trying to avoid these miserable nights on the line, I wrote lists, and planned, and obsessed about work. My technique improved, and so did my awareness. When I did get yelled at, I listened to every word...sometimes sheepisly asking advice on how to avoid this in the future. I began to understand the need for intensity in the kitchen.
  2. And I started yelling too.
The first few times you run a kitchen, you are never in control. You don't speak loudly enough, and get your tickets messed up, and send food to the wrong tables. It's scary. If you have menu items coming off your station, it's really scary. I dont remember how I started yelling, but I noticed that it was effective. And I could barely control it.

I started to feel like cooks younger than me, with less experience should have to go through what I did...that they had to pay dues. I thought it would make them better. Sometimes it was a good cop/bad cop routine to make a cook get their shit together: I would go in and yell, and Rossi would come in after me and help them put it all back together again.

It wasn't always fair though. Cooks that I respected wouldn't get yelled at--and there were times where some serious shit would go down with one of them, and they would get a pass. It was as if I thought that the stronger cooks deserved a different level of respect. The kitchen would fragment...and there were nights where the cracks would really start to show.

On one particularly hard night, I came to a realization. On my best nights running the kitchen, I never yelled. Everything ran smoothly, and mistakes were few. Cooking was supposed to be fun. My favorite moments had been talking to new cooks about what we were doing...why I thought we were at least. It was my craft. It was meant to be taught to less experienced cooks.

There are some chefs that believe if they let up on their staff, things will unravel--that everyone will begin to get comfortable and feel entitled to a certain type of behavior...and in some ways I agree with them. A cook that hasn't been dressed down in some form or another might have a dangerously enflated ego...or might not be responsive when they are disciplined. The cooks I respect say it's not their style...that trust and friendship are the only ways to build a successful brigade.

-i got a box from my mom today that contains pictures, letters, and mementos from when I was 11-22. It was like getting a time capsule, and kinda strange to look through.
-so, so chilly today.
-kentucky bourbon is better than irish whiskey. there, i said it.
-iphone 3g. now im one of them.
-zombies cant swim, but they can make zombie dolphins
-to all young cooks: try not to touch your fingers to the racks inside the oven. those things are hot.