Tuesday, October 25, 2011


On Tuesday we awoke early and scored some Dunkin Doughnuts, one of which was conveniently located about 50 steps form the hotel lobby. Then set out on foot for the James Beard house which is in the Chelsea neighborhood. Four chefs, knives, chef jackets, and no idea where we were going. In hindsight we probably should've taken a cab but again the allure of the things you see on the street and wanting to get the full NY experience led us in the other direction. We found the James Beard house fairly easily, and if you were looking for a big banner we would still be searching for it. A very small, barely marked entryway was all that was there. We rang the bell and were promptly greeted by the staff at the house. Most of our goods were yet to arrive, but our wine made the trip and was checked in, as well as some of the other small things we needed, that weren't sent overnight but rather two day air. The house was amazing. A true brownstone that has been transformed into what is a very capable kitchen space on the ground floor, and then the second floor is the dining room. The third floor contains some offices and a small part of the James Beard Foundation library (the rest is at NYU) where we were actually able to sit and chat, and read while we waited on our lamb braise to finish later that afternoon. We were greeted by a daytime kitchen manager and his assistant, and to say they were eager to help would be a drastic understatement. Both of them were amazing. At one point I whisked together a vinaigrette, and dumped it into a smaller pan to store overnight, by the time I turned around the bowl and whisk were gone and already being washed. They had answers to every question, and even advice on equipment, and the nearest grocery stores. We needed to make ice cream and so we asked them for the machine, they went and got it, and then broke it down and washed it, then tested to make sure it was working correctly and then said "machine is ready chef....would you like me to help you get it started?" we started the machine and I was assured he would keep and eye on it, and sure enough after about 30 minutes the machine was done, he removed the ice cream, broke down the machine, cleaned it again and said "the machine is ready for the second batch now if you are....chef." The professionalism and true hospitality was something I have never experienced on that level. Most of the time chefs are forced to do this dinner from scratch the day of, and I knew we were lucky to get access the day before but it wasn't until later that I realized how lucky we were. The day was great, we sent two of our team shopping for basic things that we opted out of sending- cream, lemons, butter, eggs, etc. I worked on getting our lamb shanks seared, then built a braising liquid, and then got them into the oven for their four hour ride. The kitchen while very small was extremely capable of anything you could ever ask of it. It was very organized, and very clean. We started receiving most of our goods around 10 am or so, and everything looked to be in really good shape except some fall raspberries and the greens for our salad, neither one traveled well, due assumable to the fact that it looked like the box had been thrown out of the plane rather then being unloaded. We found a produce shop that sold to restaurants and they had the things we needed to replace them, and while it wasn't from the Oregon coast as the items we lost were, it still got the course to the table without any drastic changes. After a pretty full day of relaxed prep work we finished the big ticket items on the prep list and thanked the staff profusely and hopped in a cab for the ride back to the hotel.

As a group all 17 of us employees, family members, friends, etc had been invited out to dinner by our owner at Otto, a Mario Batali restaurant. Melissa and I went for a quick walk to take advantage of a few minutes to add to the stockpile of goods we planed to pack home for the boys and ourselves. We changed and I put on a pair of slacks for the first time in probably 5 years. The dinner was an amazing arsenal of flavors and never ending plates. Our owner, who if you haven't noticed takes pretty good care of us, had talked to the restaurant before hand so we never saw a menu, but rather just had a steady stream of food placed in front of us. First it was house cured meats and cheese, then olives, more meats, pickled veggies, lentils, etc. Promptly followed by what must have been 20 pizzas and pastas, followed by a gelato tasting, all of it served family style passed from person to person. It was hard for me to hang through the whole thing. We thoroughly enjoyed our night and into the wee hours of the morning. After our trip back to the hotel, I remember being in the hotel lobby and asking Will what time we needed to start in the morning and he said we needed to meet in the lobby at 7:30. No big deal until I looked at my phone and it was near 3AM.

We hit the lobby perfectly on time and got a cab back to the house, the prep load from the day before had taken almost all of the pressure off of us as we banged out the day of prep list. Canapes were prepped, polenta was made, risotto cakes were stamped out and seared, braising liquids were reduced, vegetables were prepped, cut, and counted. Garnishes of all sorts were prepped, inspected, labeled, tagged, and organized. I had been told by a few chefs that I know that the service staff will push you pretty hard if you aren't moving fast enough. While I have done quite a few multi-course dinners with this many customers I have never had a server tell me that my pace wasn't quick enough, as usually it goes the other way. I was a bit intimated by it, and really tried to focus on making sure we had everything we needed for each course including equipment and seasonings together. The day flew by and with our lack of sleep we ran on mostly adrenaline for what would prove to be about 16 hours in the kitchen. The same staff members were there to help during the day, as well as a few interns from Culinary schools in the city. All of which proved to be huge assets. I trekked down to the produce market and picked up the things we needed, as well as a few basics to make breakfast for the lot of us. As dinner approached our interns left and were replaced with a new one, who did an amazing job for us. The intern gig is a tough one in that you never no what you will get. You could get a well educated 50 yr old woman, or a over privileged punk 18 yr old. Issues almost always arise, but we were extremely lucky in that we were given a super capable hand who proved to be a huge asset in the assembly of our plates, and execution of dishes. We have exchanged emails a few times now, and I hope and I can talk her into coming out west for an internship/employment next summer with the company. The service staff showed up near 4:30 and our daytime kitchen staff was replaced by a night time staff. Probably 8 servers, 2 maitre d's, 3 dishwashers, and a nigh time kitchen manager. All of which were extremely professional. The service staff rolled in bantering between themselves, and goofing off, and then changed clothes and instantly were transformed into the most professional staff I have ever seen. Every piece of stemware was polished, every utensil shined, linens were pressed and set, tables organized, seating and flow charts made, it was truly amazing to watch it take place. The kitchen manager lined us out on the time frame he wanted to stick to, and lined out our plates to be heated or cooled depending on the course. At about 6:30 family and friends started to show up, and in order to get to the dining room are walked through the kitchen. This is where things could get ugly. If you were in trouble, or in the weeds, at this point it would be obvious to everyone in the building. People want to come by and chat, take pictures, shake hands, talk about the menu, etc. We were more then able to do that thanks to some serious work in the prior few days, but if things went wrong at that point it would be pretty, and I wonder how many chefs get themselves into something nasty at that point. Passed apps began at 7 and then people were encouraged to take their seats at 7:45. First course was out perfectly on time. The maitre d split was so that one was in the kitchen to expedite food from me to the servers, and the other was to expedite food from the servers to the dining room. They were so organized and professional it blew my mind. We had a few dietary restrictions which we were prepared for and they knew exactly who they were and when I needed to plate the plates so that the flow was never interrupted. In all appetizers and then five plated courses were executed as well as we possibly could've to almost 80 ppl. We were never pushed by the staff, a sign of us being on the ball, even at one point as I watched our candy cap mushroom ice cream melting I was hustling them. We felt like we were on fire, the emotions and adrenaline were mind boggling. We went to the dinning room meet and great and were presented with a bag of goodies from the foundation as a thank you for our hard work. Everyone was happy, and in the limited amount of time I was able to chat with some pretty amazing people from the foundation, NY, writers, and foodies. The kitchen staff began to break down and clean all of the equipment and we sent our wonderful intern home with a huge armload of things as we weren't going to pack them home. Photos were taken, hands were shook, many thank yous were said and we left the house, famished, at near 11.

As a person in the hospitality business I notice more and more when people are treated with the manner of service that is over the top and truly a representation of hospitality. By so many people at the foundation we saw this, and it was a lesson of a well trained staff that really enjoys what they do. While I can't be sure what kind of money the staff makes, one of the dishwashers told me "I don't need to work another job, they pay me very adequately" That coupled with the fact that they ate very well that night, and on an almost nightly basis they get to see some of the best chefs in the world cooking food from all over world, I cant imagine a better gig, and they know it. They are seriously down to business, and make no jokes that what they are doing is of the uppermost importance. At one point the kitchen manager said something that was vaguely inappropriate about one of the dishwashers work ethic in Spanish, and both Will and I understood, and made a quip remark in Spanish in return. The manager turned bright red, even after we tried starting up a conversation in said language (my hope being I could bring back some sort of crude slang word to my kitchen staff) and he shot us down and then continued to address the dishwasher in French. Part of this hospitality that is so satisfying to me is being part of the giving end. Our company takes this extremely seriously, and that is true in Cannon Beach as well as New York. As if the effort of getting all of us, and our stuff across the country wasn't enough, our top brass decided to really up the ante. The chefs were measured and Egyptian cotton jackets were embroidered with a fantastic logo celebrating Oregon harvest, named, and labeled with the company logo. A jacket I most likely will never wear again, that was so beautiful, and felt so nice I almost cried. Each of the guests were presented with a take home bag containing a book about NY travel written by the travel writer for the Oregonian, that has done some great work on us in the past, as well as a bag of the locally roasted coffee that we served as the pairing for dessert, and a small jar with a really cool label of Will's backyard honey, which was one of the accompaniments to the cheese course. The menus were printed on our end with a gorgeous painting of the James Beard house, but were printed in a small enough format that the guest could easily tuck them in a purse or pocket and have them to remember the night. I know that many chef's make this pilgrimage to do the exact same thing, but none of them do it with this sort of over the top effort. It makes me so proud to work for a company that takes this stuff seriously.

We jetted back to the hotel and I showered and put on a pair of shorts and sandals, and after the few days we had had I have never been so amped. We met at a small dive down a few blocks from the hotel, and toasted our success, and had a burger. The work part of the trip was done with success, and a huge load of pressure and months of anticipation was gone. We stayed there talking, and reminiscing for hours before we headed back to the hotel. It was near 4am. I didn't even feel tired.

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