CulinaryCuesBlog 

A selection of the excellent Culinary and Chef related Blogs located at Harvest America Ventures reprinted with permission of Chef Paul Sourgle.  

I strongly suggest that you visit his site and spend some time enjoying his incredible work.

George

WHY COOKS APPRENTICESHIP MAY BE THE ANSWER

by Chef Paul Sourgle; MS, AAC CULINARYCUESBLOG

 What goes around does come around. For the past forty years the restaurant industry has relinquished its responsibility for serious training to culinary schools across the country. From the days of Careme, Pointe, and Escoffier till the early 1960’s the restaurant industry took full responsibility for training and developing the next wave of professional cooks and chefs. Apprenticeship – both formal and informal – was the means to an end. Young people with the desire and aptitude were put through the ringer as they learned – step by step – the craft of cooking.

Those operations that were large and diverse enough (primarily hotels) would engage these young aspiring individuals in an extended program that saw them work their way through every department in the kitchen: vegetable prep, butchery, pastry, garde manger, banquets, line work, and saucier until they were competent enough to function effectively in every area. This was the curriculum that would eventually yield a new wave of sous chefs and chefs. The road was long and sometimes painful, the demands were great, the accolades were few, the professional rigor was an expectation, and pride and discipline was drilled in. When a person was done – he or she had the confidence and the ability to wear the tallest hat in the kitchen. This is how it was done. If you had the stamina, the patience and the commitment the kitchen would mold you into a highly competent, life-dedicated chef who was able to run an operation effectively.

Sometime in the mid-20th century – restaurants and hotels determined that this process was cumbersome and costly and gladly passed on their responsibility to a growing number of schools with the time and single-focus of teaching and training. Surely, this was the best move for all involved. A handful of schools in the late 1960’s grew to somewhere around 1,000 by the change of centuries. With an industry growing at an exponential rate and American dependence on restaurants for their sustenance, this education industry flourished – churning out thousands of eager graduates every year.

Fast forward to 2017 and the restaurant industry is faced with one of the most significant challenges since Prohibition: growth is slowing not because of a drop in demand, but because the industry cannot seem to find enough qualified people to fill positions within their restaurants. The math doesn’t add up - what happened?

 

SO – YOU WANT TO OWN A RESTAURANT

by Chef Paul Sourgle; MS, AAC CULINARYCUESBLOG

Chef Paul SorguleThe life of a restaurateur: “Work all day in preparation to work all night.”

-Gabrielle Hamilton – Prune Restaurant

Every chefs dream is to own a restaurant – this is, after all, everything that a chef works for. Being in control, controlling the decisions, becoming one with the operation, being in charge of your own destiny, becoming the face, heart, and soul of the operation and knowing that any profits are yours to hold is the dream of any chef with an entrepreneurial spirit. I get this – in fact, I have had the same dream for decades, but fortunately I never took the leap. What is most confusing is when a person without the background of living the restaurant work experience for decades chooses to become an owner; “It ain’t easy” – as one in the business will likely tell you.

There are numerous motivations for making a decision to find the funds, the backers, and the loans to buy or lease a piece of real estate and convert it into a factory for food, a destination for diners, and a home to the owners whims and fancies – a signature if you will. The least likely reason to own a restaurant is the desire to make lots of money. Profit margins in restaurants are quite low in comparison to other businesses so owners must take the leap for other altruistic reasons. Here are some of the reasons to own a restaurant and a taste of the challenges that accompany a decision to jump in:

REASONS TO OWN A RESTAURANT:

You love to cook (not just as a hobby) and have done so professionally for at least a decade.
You have been working in restaurants all of your life, have paid your dues and now want to provide a home for others working their way up the restaurant operation career ladder.
There is a need in your community for a meeting place where people can leave their troubles behind, break bread, clink glasses, toast to friendship, laugh out loud, and feel the rewards that a great restaurant can bring.
An acquaintance that is familiar with your cooking at other restaurants and raves about your unique culinary touch wants to invest in you as a silent partner. You put in the sweat equity for a sizable share of the business; he or she covers the cost of building out the space and subsidizing initial year losses, and has no desire to tell you how to operate.
You have a partner (not a good friend – almost always a bad decision) who has very strong business skills. You are a crazy good cook with lots of restaurant experience but don’t know Jack about running a business. The two of you form a perfect business marriage. He or she leaves the cooking to you and you leave the business to him or her. Funds for opening and covering the first couple years are not a problem, the location is perfect, and there is plenty of anxious front and back of the house workers in your area to fill every position in the operation.

LOSING OUR GRAND HOTELS – THE END TO AN ERA

by Chef Paul Sourgle; MS, AAC CULINARYCUESBLOG

The Waldorf Astoria HotelThere was a bittersweet moment last week when I learned that the Waldorf Astoria would be closing as it transitioned into condo units in New York City. The Waldorf was always that grand old lady that everyone held as a pinnacle to the glamor of the hotel industry. This was the place where kings and queens, business icons and ambassadors, world renown speakers and rock stars held court as they spent time in New York City – the center of the universe. For people in the hospitality industry, it was the Waldorf that defined the best of the best – the grandeur of magnificent ballrooms, the grand lobby that defined class, the restaurants that brought grace to the hotel experience, and the behind-the-scenes enormity of magnificent kitchens, boiler rooms, florists, maintenance departments, and housekeeping laundries. The Waldorf was as important as a hotel could possibly be and as such was the place that defined a persons’ importance either as a guest or a member of the immense staff.

The Waldorf is more than just another casualty of a changing industry and a business environment that is morphing with the times – the Waldorf is the center of the center of the universe. When people think hotels and New York, it is the Waldorf that almost always comes to mind. To lose this grand statement of hospitality would be equivalent to major league baseball losing the Yankees or the Red Sox (always dangerous to list these two teams in the same sentence), similar to losing Kodak as the definition of photography, or Ford and Chevrolet as manufacturers of American automobiles. In other words – this is big.

   

 

“MAKE MY DAY” – WHAT PUSHES A CHEF OVER THE EDGE

by Chef Paul Sourgle; MS, AAC CULINARYCUESBLOG  published Feb 27, 2017 

PHOTO:  From the line of Cochon in New Orleans - A terrific restaurant.It was one of those famous lines in a movie that survives for decades, that is used, and reused by many to make a point – sometimes unrelated to its original intent – a statement for the ages. Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry challenged a criminal to question his moxie and lack of control by encouraging him to push “Harry” over the edge and allow justification of radical action – “Make my Day”.

Now, Harry was the classic good guy/bad guy – one who we can support and reject all in the same breath; a hero and villain all wrapped into one. To some in the restaurant business, especially from days gone by, Harry and the chef are pretty close brothers from different mothers. Some might make the comparison stating that from experience a chef might be the savior of the kitchen and a restaurants reputation in one moment and an out-of-control “Make my Day” kind of lunatic the next.

Today’s restaurants can ill afford this type of “fly off the handle” type of chef, yet we all know that some still do exist. I can tell you that even those who do not visibly demonstrate those traits of the temperamental chef are likely still holding those Clint Eastwood style ranting’s inside. So, if this is the nature of the beast, why is it so? Is there a course in culinary school or a segment of the apprenticeship model that teaches how to be Dr. Jekyll AND Mr. Hyde?

I certainly do not condone the ranting and “on fire” temper of chefs who think that Hell’s Kitchen is the way it ought to be, but I do acknowledge that the environment can easily trigger the craziness of the rough and tough, screaming, pot throwing, and cursing person in the tall hat. So, for the purpose of understanding, but not condoning this behavior I thought it might be interesting to look at the triggers that can set the chef off on a tirade.

THINGS THAT BRING OUT A CHEF’S INTERNAL WEREWOLF:

[]         UNDEPENDABLE VENDORS:

Chefs take pride in their ability to produce consistently great food, in a timely fashion, that exceeds the expectations of the guest. This is, after all, the core of their job description. This is difficult to accomplish if vendors fail to produce the right food, at the expected quality level, at the time requested. When vendors fall down in this regard the chef’s system falls apart. Now, chefs are not likely to fall on the sword like Gerard Depardieu in Vatel, but they will likely lose their temper.

[]         SALESPEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW THEIR PRODUCTS:

Although I do hate to generalize – far too many salespeople today do not understand the chef, the kitchen, or the product that they are trying to sell. “Where is it from- what farm – what part of the country? How was the animal raised? What is the flavor profile of that pork? What is the typical yield from a case of…? What is the shelf life of that cryovac meat? When was the fish caught and how was it handled?” These are not unusual questions, nor are they unrealistic expectations of a person whose job it is to sell a product. When a salesperson is unable to answer these questions accurately – the chef will lose his or her patience, every time.