Friday, December 21, 2012

401 K

The majority of my staff has some issues. It is well known that people that cook or serve for that matter lead a different life then those that work in offices. The job is hard, hot, fast paced, has weird hours, is loud, and technical. In this environment it is easy to see those that cant hack it. In no way am I saying that you have to be smart though- but it helps, we have a server who is a crack up and has an approach with his customers that I have never seen before and no one else could get away with who has a PHD in mental health (honestly I think he bought it online somewhere). It just takes a certain type of person. I couldn't wait tables. Not a chance. It would take me only a few seconds to absolutely lose it with a customer, and that would be the end of me. The questions, the complaints (I had a woman so mad a few weeks ago because her soup was served too HOT) the assumption of some customers that you are far inferior as a human then themselves, etc would all push me over the edge. For the most part I try to stay out of the dining room. My cooking staff has issues as well though, most of them work two jobs all summer long, some work three. I have one guy who is a fantastic cook that I bet works 90 hours a week through the summer, and if he is late to work I walk out to the parking lot to wake him up as he fell asleep in his car during the ten minute break he gives himself between punching out on job 1 and punching in for job 2. As the summer creeps on, and even as a single grueling day creeps on the fuses can get short.

For the most part they all consume energy drinks, and I absolutely hate it when they walk across the street to the nearest convenience store and load up. Guys disappear for 10 minutes, and I hate it when people are in uniform outside of the restaurant. They are a reflection still of our restaurant, and therefore what they are doing is still my prerogative, but technically they are still on their own time. Whether they are taking a break, having a cigarette (we have far fewer smokers then we used to), talking loudly on their cell phone, or whatever it can reflect poorly on the restaurant. I totally respect their time..... but. Telling a guy who is doing you a favor by pulling a double that he can take ten minutes and then telling him what he can and cant do during that ten minutes is not the best for our employee relations. Since they were closely linked, and I was in awe at the amount of energy drinks a total staff of about 50 people could consume on a daily basis, Will and I acquired a small fridge, got a money bag, and bought $150 dollars worth (personal money) of stuff we have seem them drink. While it started as a bit of a joke and I was convinced our HR people would kill us, it was actually well received. When it was brought under question it was sold to our top brass as a cheaper, more convenient, colder, option for our staff, who never had to leave the building to get it. They ate it up, and our staff bit. We named it 401K enterprises and while we wont retire anytime soon it has been very successful, and fun for our entire staff. Waiting to watch the service staff stress until the perfect moment and then laying on a nice "ice cold red bull", or "man you are dragging, you might need a pick me up" will work almost every time. A server who was treated especially well by a customer may come back to the kitchen and drop $30 bucks on a "round for the cooks". We expanded slightly to even match the needs of our staff, tracking down a few purveyors to get the highly desired Starbucks "double shots" and Monster absolute zero. There is also red bull, sugar free red bull, original monster, rock star, and even orange soda. If we had more room I would love to add a few more items, but space is tight, and the restaurant hasn't exactly billed us for the electricity to keep this stuff cold, or mentioned that Will or I will drop just about any task at any time to make a sale. We wait as the 4pm shift change starts to happen, and hit the leaving people headed to another job, and then capitalize on the people coming in the door as well. It is fun and while the price never changes for anyone, we still love to come up with ways to make it sound like a deal. "two drinks for 5 and a fanta is free for the next hour" is actually 2 bucks a piece for the drinks and a dollar for the fanta, which is the price we charge but I have tricked more then one person on it. "five for ten" is another great one, as is "buy two for six...get one free". The staff enjoys the banter, and the production is up for sure. We are able to talk franchising as well.....just sayin. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

CCA- take 3

The CCA is the Clatsop Community Action food bank. It is our counties Oregon food bank subsidiary, and it feeds the Astoria, Seaside, and Cannon Beach food banks. It also does "meal on wheels" and loaves and fishes. Last year they provided 959,000 meals in Clastop County. Of the people that need there help 41% are children, and 20% are elderly and on a limited income. In recent years they have built a new location and are capable of processing fish, and meats and even have some land and are slowly but surely working towards being able to grow products that they can distribute. I have been to the warehouse a few times and seen first hand the amazing things they can do. Their process is streamlined and there is only a few people that are actual on staff there. Almost all of the work is done on volunteer basis, and for those reasons they are able to really put money into food and get it on the plates of those in need. I am disgusted at some of the bigger non profit groups and the amounts of hands in the pot when it comes to putting donated money to good use. The CCA has no such problem. Couple that with the knowledge that so many in my community are in need of help especially this time of year, when these guys ask me to jump I usually reply "how high".

Honestly I had some reserve about doing this event again. In the past we have invited some other chefs from around the community to each take a course of food, they would show up and we would all plate it together. We have had a lot of success though and it has become the largest fundraiser of the year for the CCA. The dinner is held at our hotel so regardless I am knee deep before we even leave the gate. This year one other chef and I decided against involving other chefs. We have had a tough time with a clean flow throughout the courses, and on a personal level I haven't been very excited about some of the courses in the past. So we wrote a four course menu together and then put together shopping lists and asked purveyors in the area to pony up for the ingredients. They all ended up coming through in a big way. The things that we couldn't get donated were sold at cost and of all the ingredients needed to do a dinner on this scale I think that total for the invoices that needed to be paid for food were about $1200. We easily were gifted over $4000 in food for the event.

Balancing what we want to cook vs what we can get donated vs what we can serve in the time frame allotted vs what the customers will find to have value is a really tough task, perhaps harder then the execution of the event. The dinner was an invite only event and we ended with 155 people at $150 a person. My very first employer, my insurance agent, senators, the governors wife, local doctors, local business owners, and family friends were all present, and it made me grateful to live in this small tight knit community and have the opportunity to support these businesses with my own dollars when they in return are supporting good causes with their dollars.

Due to the way we constructed the event the effort required on my part was daunting. I worked on almost nothing but the organization of this meal for at least 2 weeks, and the two big prep days leading up to it were absolute warfare. I leaned on Will for a lot of it, at one time he and I out prepping 15 volunteers and the other chef that were all at work at his restaurant. To add even a bit more value the guests were able to take home a recipe book of all the items we cooked which meant when it came time to execute the food I had to read recipes and actual do some math and cook from them, and I hate doing that. I like to cook by feel and taste and common sense, and recipes really throw a wrench in my style.

When it came down to it the event went almost flawlessly. I was happy with the menu, it was very well received, and while we had a small hiccup in the execution (still kicking myself a bit) all in all it was a great showing. The crowd was sold out and at the end of the evening $59,920 (after expenses)was raised to help support the CCA. I am almost speechless about that and so grateful I could be involved. Grateful that my company still sent me home with a paycheck knowing full well that I hadn't done much of anything for the restaurant in the days leading up to the event, and that we could do this for the people in need in our community, people that sometimes are friends, employees, and family.

While of course my intent was to take pictures of everything as it left the kitchen, that was slapped down in no time. The kitchen was an absolute whirlwind of action and one of the most stressful nights of my life. Their was however a photographer in the kitchen everytime I turned around so I am sure there are some pictures that will circulate in the coming days. Should I get my hands on them I will post them. The menu, at least, follows as much for my sake as yours. Thanks for reading.... and Happy Holidays.

Smoked salmon with pickled veggies and fried capers
Willamette cheese company cheeses, grissini bread sticks, sourdough bread
Shucked local oysters- preserved lemon mignonette
Beef Tartar- egg garni
Butternut squash beignets- brown butter and maple crema

1st- Andalucian risotto cake, confit of squid, marinated pork loin, tomato jam, cilantro garnish
2nd- Napolean of halibut stuffed with a dungeness crab and scallop mousse over julienne vegetables, pesto, rouge cream
3rd- winter salad of radicchio and escarole, goat cheese crotin, toasted walnuts, roasted black grapes, Saba
4th-spiced apple cake, pecan praline, whipped cream, raspberries, mint.
5th- assorted chocolates, Sleepy Monk coffee