Mar 012013

Craig Giesecke

Though much work remains to be done, we’re finally getting to that happiest of all points in restaurant operations – the arrival of the new toys.

Grand openings, or even soft openings, come with pressure. But before that, there is the day (or days) when new stuff you’ve ordered actually arrives. Kitchen equipment, gadgets, machines, tables, chairs, product samples, etc. New inventory either never show up or all arrives at once. When it finally does, there is a Christmas-type atmosphere made better because there is no that-day deadline. Even if it’s stuff you’ve used a million times before and will soon tire of cleaning, washing or using, for a brief few days it is new, untried, and fresh.

Briefly, one feels as if Edison had mystically acquired an iPad. The touch is gentle and loving, the possibilities race through the mind and each new acquisition is properly placed as one stands back to admire. I remember the arrival of a simple new sharpening steel at one shop. Every staffer had to hold it gingerly, then aloft as Arthur pulling the sword from the stone. We kitchen types can be an easy lot to please.

Of course, this being a previously existing operation, there is also a lot of veteran equipment still available for use or sale. We’ve long ago rummaged through this jetsam and salvaged what we can use. Fortunately, there was only a minimum of “what the hell is THIS?” and a lot more of “Wow. Glad we’ve already got one of these.” But, just the same, it’s sad to see some of this stuff shunted to the side to be eventually carted away. If discarded food service equipment had feelings, its sound track would be all Delta blues.

Another aspect of a pending new operation, once the kitchen finally gets fired up, is the tasting out of the expected menu. This can lead to some hard-nosed criticism. A chef doesn’t bring an item up for menu consideration unless he/she feels it’s exactly right. In some shops, the head chef simply lays it out there and says, “this is what we’re doing” and the discussion ends. But, fortunately, this new one is, “what do you think?” This leads to back and forth about possible changes and/or fine-tuning or, in a few cases, complete NFL playoff-type elimination. It is a potentially ego-busting process.

This is where experience and professionalism are paramount. It is easy to hire a staff full of “yes chefs” who will acquiesce to whatever is put before them. But the pro realizes he/she hasn’t cornered any inspirational or culinary market. Can it be better? Of course it can. Is there a way to simplify the process without sacrificing quality? Possibly. Ego and pride are not synonymous. Of course you’re proud of your work or you wouldn’t put it Out There. But be willing to risk some dents in your ego for the sake of being even prouder of what you do.

As far as I’m concerned, the true professional in any business is the first to own up to what he/she can’t do well. In my case, it’s breakfast. My eggs taste great, but my omelets and overeasies look like two miles of bad road when put on a plate. I am pretty much clueless about most Asian dishes and I won’t even deal with pastry or bread.  My baguettes look, smell and taste great, but can be used as doorstops. We each have our own skills.

I’m hoping this new venture (specifics soon!) will help fill in some of those gaps. If I get the time, that is. For now, you’ll find me entirely too busy playing with the new toys.

Craig Giesecke has been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, including nearly two decades at the AP and UPI covering news, sports, politics, food and travel. He has been the owner of J’anita’s for five years, serving well-reviewed upscale bar food and other dishes. Comments are encouraged and welcomed.

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