Allergic to Bullshit

Back again foodies, I know it’s been a while. My bad. Food allergies have gotten out of control. Big time. Something that used to come up maybe a few times a month, now happens on a day to day basis. Chefs are being forced to deal with aversions to certain foods, people who are on the fad diet of the moment where you can’t have gluten, dairy, (insert other delicious foods), and to top it off, severe or life threatening allergies. The icing on the cake? You gotta deal with those assholes who lie about allergies. Allergy Fakers What’s a chef to do? Besides make me want to pull out whatever hair I have left, it causes an already stressful job to reach a boiling point. Allergies are way different than preferences or partialities. Celiac disease? I get it. Allergic to salt? Get outta my restaurant. If you haven’t read my previous post about allergies, give it a read. Allergic to Allergies So you know what really grinds my gears? People who show up to the resturant with a list of ingredients they cannot supposedly have and expect me to create a miracle. Stay at home por favor. And they always seem to show up when it’s busy too. 7:00 on a Saturday night? Perfect. For example, a guest arrives and notifies their server they cannot have garlic, nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, ect), gluten, dairy, and soy. The manager and I will then grab a menu and go through each dish to see what they can and cannot have. So they can’t have garlic, what about onions? Or scallions? Or is it rather you just don’t like the taste of onions? Big difference there fella. We have to go communicate with the guest again. Meanwhile, I might have a window full of food that needs to be run to the dining room. But instead, I must give this one guest my full attention, because if I don’t, there could be grave repercussions. Not trying to kill a guest ya know, just the line cooks and servers. In all honesty, it’s stressful. I have to give the same consideration to those with serious allergies to those who simply don’t like something. So everytime I might give an allergy ticket an eye roll or make jokes about it (order in gluten free fish, add extra gluten), I still have to take it as it’s honest and life threatening. If it’s a serious enough issue though, call ahead. The more information I have ahead of time, the more time can be spent to provide a dish that will suit your restrictions. Downside of that? They keep coming back expecting the same dish. Showing up with a list of allergies unannounced is tantamount to tying a chef’s arms behind his back. Walking in to an Asian restauarant and saying you can’t have ginger/garlic/soy is kinda like arriving at Olive Garden and saying you can’t have tomatoes and garlic. You get the point. Just don’t lie about it. No one likes an angry chef. Cheers foodies!

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Cocktails and Dreams

Back again foodies. So recently I began thinking what makes a bar great? Or rather what makes you choose one bar over another? Innovative cocktails? The ambiance? The smell of stale beer? There are hundreds of bars in area and they all sling the same booze, the same light beer, the same delicious Fireball; yet I seem to always frequent the same watering holes. What is it they say, of all the gin joints in the world? So what is it then? The witty banter of a barkeep, the Cheers factor of being Norm…”where everybody knows your name” or is something as simple as location and accessibility? For one, everyone loves being a regular, it’s as simple as that. What’s not to like though? Having a bartender remember your face, your drink of choice, etc makes you feel important, like you are better than the rest of the patrons. There is a definite comfort aspect when deciding where to imbibe. I’d much rather go to some dive bar or a tiny whole in the wall where I can just relax and unwind. As they said in Bull Durham, “I just want to be.” I think being in an intimate space, it forces you to chat up those around you. Having limited bar space you overhear what everyone is saying around you, for better and for worse. You end up seeing the same faces day in and day out. You get to know the people around you. Strangers becomes acquiantances. Eventually you put a name to the bleary eyes of the guy or girl next to you.  I’m not just a barfly, rather as Charlie Mars once wrote, “I am just a fly on this bar of dreams.” You take pride in the bar, you treat it as it’s your bar. When you see strange or unfamiliar people in your seat, you wonder what they are doing in “my bar.” With the intimate setting, comes fewer bartenders as well, so you get to know the person across the bar stool from you. It’s not a stranger handing you a beer, it’s not just a person you are paying to keep you company, they’re your friend. As you take pride in your bar, a bartender takes pride in their regulars. People show up to see you. It’s like a chef who has a cult following. Everyone loves to be the center of attention, it’s flattering. The proximity element is also in play as well. Since I have moved downtown, I get to some spots that I normally wouldn’t have frequented. Not saying they were bad spots, but the ease of being to walk has definitely added them into the rotation now. Why take a 10 minute Uber ride when I can walk five minutes to a multitude of bars and restaurants? I’m sure Glenwood South has popular and trendy spots, but who wants to deal with douche city? Other than C. Grace I’m staying far away from that neck of the woods. I’m too old to fight dudes for a seat at a loud ass bar. I ain’t trying to be five-deep with a bunch of bros tryin’ to get a Heineken. You’re just a namless face they are trying to make a buck on. Give me a friendly face and a comfy chair.  Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” Cheers foodies!

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Surviving the Big Easy: Mardi Gras

Check one off the bucket list. I finally made it to The City That Care Forgot to celebrate Mardi Gras. It’s a whole different ball game folks. New Orleans on steroids, as well as copious hand grenades and big ass beers. If you haven’t been, do it. Maybe not make it your first trip to The Crescent City though. It is a lot to take in, even for someone who has visited and survived many times. See my other posts about my favorite city in the world. Surviving the Big Easy and Surviving The Big Easy, Part 2. Where to begin. Obviously we had to run to Willa Jean immediately once we checked into the hotel for a frosé and some to-go pastries. Who needs coffee to start the day? Then off to The Quarter to begin the debauchery. Molly’s for a frozen Irish coffee. Harry’s Corner. Pat O’s for the sweet nectar of a Hurricane. Napolean House for an amazing muffuletta and a Pimm’s cup.  Josephine Estelle. You get the point. These are a few of my favorite things. On top it all, it’s only Thursday. It’s a marathon, not a sprint right? Have I mentioned I love it here? After regrouping at the hotel, you know, a shower and a change of clothes, it was off to to bar in the lobby to hang with Sara’s family and friends. I’ve heard lots of stories, so it was good to finally put faces to the names. Plus I was going to be spending a lot of time with the men since the women had a luncheon, as well as riding in Krewe of Iris in the parade. The men? Well we were left to our own devices. How much trouble could we get in right? Especially in New Orleans. So Friday we walked around drinking 3 for 1 beers. Many o’shitty domestics. The Cat’s Meow was a purrrfect place to spend a few hours on a balcony, observing the scenery that Bourbon Street can provide. I may or may not have seen a few scantily clad women exposing their assets. Yes I saw boobs for beads. When in Rome. A few however I wish I would have looked away. Tough life huh? So every year there is a different theme that Sara’s group dresses up for Mardi Gras. This year? Outer space. A Google search and many Amazon boxes later, I have a shiny silver suit, flashing LED lights wrapped around my arms, shades and a robot hat to top it off. You should have seen how many people wanted to take a picture of me as we walked around Friday night. Plus we all wore our costumes to a nice sit down dinner. Sorry not sorry. Robots use Sazeracs and a Vieux Carre or two for fuel apparently. Operation black out robot has commensed. The Carousel Bar, followed by a trip to the Erin Rose for my favorite window seat, tends to lead to a rusty, as well as hung over robot. Nothing like a little rest, a shower, and a Miller Lite first thing in the morning to make things better. Or at least manageable. As Sara and all the women were throwing beads off their float Saturday, the men and I walked the parade route on St. Charles. You think tailgaiting is crazy in North Carolina? It has nothing on Mardis Gras. We walked around with a cooler full of ice cold beer, meanwhile I saw hundreds of tents, many a keg, grills, bags of Popeye’s, shopping carts full of booze, broken champagne bottles everywhere, inflatable furniture, and an ironing board as a portable bar. All before noon. Yikes. Meanwhile I am wearing a purple tutu. And beads everywhere. Literally everywhere. I had a nice bead sunburn to boot. A pit stop for a bloody mary or two, followed by dozens of charbroiled oysters from Drago’s, does a body good. So does going back to the hotel room to lay down. After getting my third wind, Sara and I saw KISS on an Endymion float, had an amazing dinner at Compère Lapin and took in a burlesque show to end the night. Oh Mardi Gras. Another reason for me to fall in love with New Orleans again. It’s not just beads and breasts, dudes and daquiris. It’s friends and families getting together to reminisce and share stories of past Mardi Gras lore, celebrate the unusual sights and sounds of this quirky city, and to make new fuzzy memories. Cheers foodies!

Oui, Chef

Sorry for the hiatus foodies, I know all 4 of you who actually read my blog have missed my ramblings. I have been a busy, busy bee. Speaking of Busy Bee, all those people who were whining about RIP tater tots, give me a break. That place sucked anyway. Back on subject, so yeah I have been really busy. Moving right before Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Restaurant Week, Triangle Wine Experience, plus Valentine’s coming up, etc etc. Never a dull moment for The Well Red Chef. So I had a blog post planned about how everyone has a gulity pleasure chain restaurant, mine happens to be Firebirds, but I just start typing and go off in a totally different direction. I’ll save the chain post for another day. So after a few years of solely cooking, albeit at an amazing restaurant, I’m back to a management/sous chef/leadership position. The days of showing up and clocking in, prepping followed by cooking all night, breaking down my station, cleaning and clocking out, are long gone. As a chef, your job is to evolve and grow. Learn from your mistakes and absorb as much information from those around you, no matter if it’s your boss, the GM, or even the dishwasher. You never know everything. Hell, I learn new shit all the time. I’m not nearly the same chef I was when I got my first sous chef job. I was probably 27ish and had been a line cook at this place for a year or so when the job presented itself to me (ie one of the sous chefs was fired). I thought I was ready. But I let my cockiness and attitude get in the way. Live and learn right? People used to call when I would throw shit on the floor “having a Zantrum” or when I would be in a bad mood, say I was “going to the darkside.” Flash forward to now, it’s the Zen of Zan. I have a calming influence on the kitchen. A shock for some of you to hear I know. The difference? Who knows. Maturity? Change of scenery? Having added responsibilities? Maybe a little bit of all three. Plus your attitude really does set the tone for a kitchen. If you’re in a bad mood, the kitchen really does pick up on it. I try to keep things light. We should have fun and joke in the kitchen, but still realize we all have a job to do. Work hard, play hard. Yeah, occasionally I miss the days of no responsibilities, of just cooking and going home, but I think everyone does in their career or job at some point. But I didn’t go to culinary school to be a line cook forever. I wanted to be a leader in the kitchen. No overtime for me. There is a sense of satifaction seeing all your hard work come to fruition and have a smooth week of service, from the ordering, dealing with vendors and line cooks, making the prep lists, and getting through the weeds of a crazy Saturday night. It’s all worth it when you can finally sit down and relax at the bar around midnight with the staff, reminisce and yet try to forget about the week, and cheers eachother with celebratory tequilas. Then stop at a bar or two on the way home, try and have a relaxing Sunday Funday (I know, seems contradictory) then get up and do it all over again on Monday. Rinse and repeat. Mardi Gras in two weeks. Say a prayer for me. Cheers foodies!

Shaft Meal

I’ve been stewing on this post for a while, letting it marinate if you will. Staff meal. Or shaft meal as I like to call it. My krytonite. My grear grinder.  Why do I get so grumpy about staff meal you ask? Maybe I’m just naturally bitter. Or maybe because I get annoyed when servers order food after I spent my little free time making them staff meal. I’ll go with I’m just a Bitter Betty. Anyway, for those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a common meal shared by cooks, servers, dishwashers, etc before or after service everyday. Those of us in the restaurant industry don’t get a dinner break folks. No hour lunch to run to Bojangles and grab a chicken biscuit. Generally I’m in the building all day, I might leave to get a quick caffeine fix. Hell, you’re lucky to even to eat for 5 minutes. My first real meal of the day might at midnight. I chose this career right? Most of the time you’re hunched over grabbing a bite in between tickets or when you’re lucky enough to have a few spare moments of inactivity. Generally staff meal is made with leftovers that are hanging around the walk in, stuff you have extra of, and cheaper cuts of meat (i.e. scraps from butchering proteins). Now it might not sound appetizing, but you’d be surprised what you can create with just a little creativity or thinking outside the box. One pan baked pastas, meatloaf, stir fry, and of course tacos are all popular choices for staff meal. They’re easy and always a crowd pleaser. Kitchens have become so culturally diverse that I’ve had some of the best Mexican food at work, not at some popular Tex-Mex fusion joint. Tamales, mole, pozole, chilaquiles, you name it. When I worked at an Italian place I used to make pizzas for the kitchen, and then bribe backwaits with said pizzas to take out the trash. You gotta do what you gotta do. http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/staff-meals-10-la-chefs-restaurateurs-recall-the-best-and-worst-2379836 Now I’ve worked in places where there was no staff meal and servers could order food at a discounted rate during down times, other places where we made staff meal once service slowed down, maybe around 9 or 10 at night, and other places where we made meal before service even started, around 5. I’d much rather do it before service. By the time the rush dies down the last thing I want to do is cook more. I want a beverage. People talk about the importance of sharing a meal before service, keeping morale up, comraderie blah blah. I get it. It is significant because the shift is long and demanding. I do like staff meal despite my crabby demeanor. But servers can tell when you just throw cooler scraps in a pot and call it soup. Or take whatever meat you have, serve it with tortillas, and call it tacos. I’m guilty as charged for doing that sometimes; there only so many hours in a day and staff meal isn’t always my top priority. But front of the house does appreciate when you go the extra mile to make an awesome staff meal. If you feed them, they will run food. And the best thing about leftover staff dinner? It becomes staff lunch. Winning. Shit, I’ve always wanted front of the house to make the kitchen staff meal once.  Just Google and I found a restaurant in Californina where the FOH does every Sunday. http://www.starchefs.com/cook/savory/staff-meal/manresa-fried-chicken Staff meal might have once been a second thought of a busy day, just serve ’em frozen chickem nuggets or leftovers from bruch that were going to get thrown out. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-rise-of-the-gourmet-staff-meal-1455666198 But there is something necessary and vital about stopping for a few minutes each day to have a meal together as a kitchen or a staff. Just a few moments of down time can lighten the mood and recharge your batteries. The day is already long and hard enough that those few moments when you can stop are critical to maintaing your sanity. The actor Geoffrey Rush once said, “I always had a fantasy of being a chef, because I like kitchen life.” Cheers foodies!

Bull Durham

You would think Durham was in a different country. Yet it’s only 25 freakin’ miles away. Why haven’t I been going there more often? I’ve really been missing out. So a few weeks back, on a Sunday obviously, Sara and I ventured out to Durham for a day trip/birthday celebration. After a cheap $20 Uber ride, we started the day off at Pizzeria Toro. OMG. The antithesis of Pequod’s in Chicago. But so delicious. Wood fired crust, charred and crispy with just the right amount of sauce and toppings. Come on Raleigh, someone do this please. And the ricotta dumplings were superb, light and fluffy, definitely not dense as some gnocchi can be. Just call me a gnocchi snob since I have spent many an hour rolling them out. Next up, a short walk to Fullsteam Brewery for a paw paw tripel and a gose or two. On top of it I met a dog named Raleigh there, although not a Japanese chin, that was adorable and took a liking to me. Plus it’s owner was super cool and friendly. Craft beer drinkers, gotta love them. Speaking of craft beer, after a short walk we checked out Durty Bull Brewing Co. A small tap room with picnic tables outside, it produces a handful of beers, and serves a few local ones as well. Definitely try the blonde sour ale, great patio drinking beer. It was a glorious day outside, not a cloud in the sky, so the rooftop of The Durham Hotel seemed like a logical next destination.  The view of the city was worth the trip, plus the oysters were briney and cold, and the beverages were flowing like wine. And some great people watching to boot. Thanks again Paddycakes for the dranks and the laughs. The tour of Durham contined to Alley 26 for some pre-dinner cocktails. I opted for The Kill Devil Leasure Suit, with flavors of coconut and coffee. One and done. Some quality day drinkin’ in The Bull City I tell ya. But the jewel of the day without question was Mothers and Sons. I’ve been to Mateo, but have been dying to check out their Italian spot. And it did not disappoint. Probably one of the best meals I have had in my entire life. Thanks to Cheetie, they kept sending out more food. Plate after plate of deliciousness. It felt like the scene in National Lampoon’s European Vacation when Audrey cannot stop eating. Just look it up on YouTube. Anyway, we felt like we ate the menu. Carne crudo, bruschetta, artichoke salad, escarole Caesar, gnocchi, rabbit saltimbocca, and a whole mess of pasta. And dessert. A perfect meal. A perfect day. Downtown Raleigh really needs a decent Italian place, Gravy doesn’t cut it. Despite being a short drive from Raleigh, Durham definitely has a different vibe and feel to it. It’s cool and hip, quaint and funky, and you can walk to everything. I love my Raleigh, but Durham, I’ve got my eye on you. This time it won’t be so long for my return trip. So instead of going the same places on your next day off, make the short drive to Durham, explore downtown, and eat and drink all that it has to offer, you will not be disappointed. Cheers foodies!

Sweet Home Chicago

Thanks to Capital City Bikefest I was given an entire weekend off and avoided the shitshow of Fayetteville St. Amazing right, especially for someone in the foodservice industry. You know what that means? On the road again foodies. This time Chicago. As an added bonus, Craig, one of my best friends from Hampden-Sydney, lives in the Windy City, so Sara and I had a place to stay and avoided paying an arm and a leg for a hotel. Now we could spend all our money on food and cocktails. One of the best things about flying? The airport bars of course. And the people watching in said bars.  However, flying out of RDU at 6 in the morning kind of derails that plan. Arriving in Chicago super early in the morning only means more time to explore. And walk. And walk. Did I mention we walked a lot? First up was the Lincoln Park Zoo. A quaint zoo right in the middle of the city that also happens to be free. I like free. After the zoo we made it down to Millennium Park to see the Cloud Gate (The Bean) and Crown Fountain with the rest of the tourists. Sometimes you gotta be one. It was really awesome though, seeing weird reflections of yourself, with the immense high rises of Chicago as the background. I think I took a million pictures and boomerangs. Sorry Instagram. At least there was no selfie stick involved. The Crown Fountain was pretty cool also, giant glass block towers with changing faces and a reflecting pool beneath. At this time I was getting a little thirsty, so obviously we had to go to the Billy Goat Tavern. We actually stumbled into one of the newer locations which happened to be very local friendly rather than full of tourists like us. Nothing like a good dive bar with a High Life in hand and the Cubs on the big screen. Next it was time to eat, and Chicago is definitely not short on options. We were thinking about The Purple Pig, but we luckily came across Eataly as we were maneuvering our way through the city. I’m glad we did, because I think I died and went to Italian heaven. Imagine two stories of just Italian meats, cheeses, wines, olive oils, etc etc. You get the picture. Dozen oysters? Yes please. Charcuterie? Totally. Buy a bottle of wine rather than a glass and you get complimentary bruschetta? Obviously. Just a little mid afternoon snack, we have been walking 500 miles. After a little nap time, we finally met up with Craig and ventured out again. When in Chicago you must deep dish. When in Rome. And not that Pizzeria Uno shit. Pequod’s is where it’s at. The caramelized crispy crust was out of bounds, flavortown city. Seriously though, it was great. I could only eat 1 1/2 slices before I was put into a meat induced coma. Totally worth it. Just don’t be in a rush to eat though, takes like 45 minutes to get the pizza. Just order a pitcher of beer and some garlic bread to tide you over. After our coma, the next day we took an architectural boat tour of Chicago. Definitely a must do in my opinion when the weather cooperates and it’s not freezing yet. Amazing views of all the beautiful skyscrapers and architecture that define Chicago. Later, after a few rooftop beverages at J. Parker hotel, dinner was Italian at Coco Pazzo. Awesome spot. Thanks Google search. Octopus, veal chop, and a lot of pasta. And the friendliest old Italian man who picked out our wine. Then the barhopping commenced. Pop’s, a champagne bar, was one of the highlights. Who doesn’t like bubbly cocktails? We ended the night at Dublin’s, well because they stay open until 4 AM. Sit at the bar if you can, otherwise you will be hounded to order food if you sit at a table. I’m not here for food buddy, just to get my drink on, ya dig? On the agenda the following day was the Art Institute of Chicago. Had to get a little culture on the trip. Plan on spending a few hours there, it’s huge. Room after room of art and sculpture, everything from ancient to modern, Byzantine to Warhol. Dinner, yes everything revolves food, was at Au Cheval, for super hipster burgers. And not just any burger, the best burger in America supposedly. And you don’t just walk in to Au Cheval and sit down. No sir. Want to order to go food? No sir. You gotta wait like the rest of us buddy. So we put our name on the list and were quoted a two hour wait. On a Sunday night. Rather than stand outside, we walked over to Bar Siena for pre-dinner snacks and cocktails. Plus the Bears were playing/losing. Two hours later we get the text to come back in 10 minutes or someone else is going to get our table. Needless to say we made it back quickly. It’s a small, dark space with weird and funky music playing. Hipster heaven. So I ordered the double burger, which is actually three patties. Melty cheese, a toasty bun, and sliced pickles round out the burger. Simple, yet heaven. And probably some of the best mashed potatoes and gravy I have ever had to boot. So what can I say about Chicago? A beautiful and lively city, super friendly people everywhere we went, great service, amazing food and drinks, awesome museums and gorgeous architecture. And Uber everywhere. It was great to catch up with an old friend as well. I don’t think I have laughed so much in a long, long time. Just reminiscing about old stories from college, all the dumb stuff we did, was worth the trip alone. As all three of us were sitting at dinner at Coco Pazzo, someone commented that you know you’re true friends when you can pick right up like nothing has changed, even though it has been years. That really hit home to me, that forming close bonds with people can be the hard part, but once you have them, they last forever. Cheers foodies!