Sunday, February 23, 2014

Expediting Styles, Tricks of the Trade

It's funny how no one ever talks about how we get the food out of our kitchens in time.  You'll often hear chefs discussing recipes, sourcing or the like, but expediting service is one of the most important things we do.  There are a bunch of styles and it seems that everybody has their own little tricks or techniques.

One of the easiest styles of service is primarily used in Italian and some small plate restaurants, where as the food is finished it's brought to the table.  So if the calamari takes less time to cook than the gnocchi, you'll get the fish first, if ya know what I mean.  The only disadvantage is that some diners think this is a shortcoming, especially if they *aren't* sharing plates.  Tickets can also get lost during a busy rush this way, and if the table in question gets their squid in two minutes and somebody burns your pasta sauce, the recovery of the table gets trickier for your waitstaff.  I've found that you do tend to generate more comps with this, however the food cost for small plates usually runs low, and if this style allows your to burn through your board quickly...  it may be worth the possible damage. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the coursed degustation menu.  In some rare instances, this is used without running an a la carte menu option.  This requires the chef to keep track of service with a constant, obsessive watch on the diners, usually through food runners, essays, servers and the occasional manager who happens to be within reach.  Time is also of the import to keep track of, I personally write the last two digits of the time each course leaves the kitchen and cross off that course with a marker.  It's a good idea to then move the ticket into a different grouping with other tables that are on the same course.

Some decisions have to be made as to who fires the tickets then.  Is it solely the waiter's responsibility?  Or does the Chef fire if the servers are overwhelmed with the rush?  I take control when I have not seen a waiter and someone reports the table is cleared, and the way I keep track is the 15 minute rule.  If fifteen minutes go by without a fire, I send someone to check the table or to check with the waiter.  In some instances of smaller portion size, the time gap can get shortened or if a particularly large course is being served, the gap can be extended.  After a while it becomes second nature, intuitive to question when something seems even slightly amiss. 

Any other restaurant runs a hybrid of these two extremes.  Space available in your kitchen oft dictates any other changes.  Cooks should be expected to verbally call out in response to ordering and firing from the expeditor, and times left for cooking should be exact.  The order which tickets are placed on the deck should always be consistent between all who run the station on a given property, so if someone has to take over in the heat of the evening rush, tickets are not pulled out of order.     

It must be noted here that expediting service also entails a high level of quality control and a hawk's eye on the cooks and servers.  Don't forget that the food and plate as far as hot food needs to stay that way.  Hot.  Keep in mind that cooks will lie, cheat, and cut corners without a shred of guilt towards the customer.  Servers will handle your plates like oxen, thumb your clean plates and hold shit at a 45 degree angle if let run rampant.  Most expeditors then finish the dish with any last minute garnish and wipe any smears on the plate as it exits the window.  I've found that knotted cheesecloth cut into little 2-3 inch "nubbies" works the best for this task.  If you do not want a smear on expensive plates, damping the cheesecloth in vodka or gin prevents the same type of streaking you would get, similar to avoiding streaking on windows by using window cleaner instead of water.  An expo station is every bit as important to set as a cook's station.  Mise en place is key.  Respect the set up and you run less a risk of put yourself and your kitchen in the weeds.

Every time you have a re-fire, either because of a kitchen, front of the house, or diner preference, your flow of food is jeopardized.  It's basic time management.  You want less steps for you and your team, as any extra steps sets back the remaining tickets during a rush.  Keeping track of re-fires and pushing out of your domain is of the utmost importance then.  Before a server leaves the kitchen, you need to know the table number, position and quickly write it down on a piece of paper and hang it on your docket so to prevent any mistakes.  If you can get a seat number or position as well, this works in your favor in getting the food to the guest in a timely manner.  All communication between the front and back of the house needs to be brief, clear and concise in order to waste the least amount of time.  Shortening dish names and giving cooks that have long names a shortened name can often save you a sore throat during extremely busy services.

In extremely busy restaurants, especially those that have theater rushes or other intense periods of business, multiple expeditors are run, usually with a focus on a particular station.  This can get really loud, with multiple bosses barking out orders.  Even more so with open kitchens with the diners and any music adding to the din.  Thus the sore throat comment earlier.  It ain't a library.  This often can lead to the misconception that chefs are always angry.  Some of us are.  Others just need to be heard so they can steer the ship.  Those of us who aren't sadists keep this to as dull a roar as possible. 

In case of most hotels, several menus may be pushed out of the same space.  Restaurant(s), bar, room service and even banquets can be drawn off the same line.  This adds to the need of having clear lines of communication between departments.  Walkies, headsets/earpieces, and land lines in connection with a point of sales system (or God forbid written system, does this even exist outside a small handful of independent restaurants any more?) are needed to ensure a smooth service.  This multiple outlet rush can destroy even the most stocked and efficient line if no one sees it coming.  Measures and concessions can always be made to streamline service if forewarning is given.  Perhaps this is why some restaurants don't succeed?  Not being able to handle a rush due to not preparing in advance can piss off a lot of diners in a short period of time.  And this brings me to my next topic.

Hosts & Hostesses are very important.  They set the pace.  When possible they stagger the tables as to not crush the waitstaff or overwhelm the kitchen.  Their communication with the front of house management is a must to a successful service.  It's always a good idea to keep in the loop with the reservationists to foresee any VIPs, strange dietary concerns, or the general flow of traffic for the evening.

Am I forgetting anything?   I hope this is useful to anyone that expos on a regular basis.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Flavors of Wisconsin Charity Dinner at The Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee (Late post!)

Flavors of Wisconsin Dinner 2013
This was a charity gala to generate money for liver transplants.  Local chefs were brought in to prepare a tasting menu for a table of donors, to be served in the span of an hour and a half.  Located at The Pfister Hotel, a sister property of the InterContinental Milwaukee, where I hang my toque.  I meant to post a summary of this ages ago, as the event happened this last spring, but I've been busy building my team here and work has been calling a lot louder than my need to blog.  Here is a quick pictorial through the dinner... we took a lot of nice shots that night. 
Amuse Bouche
Trio of Cold Spring Soups

Maroon Carrot & Red Curry, White Asparagus & Saffron, Spring Pea a la "Traffic Light"
1st Course
Tuna Nicoise Terrine, Violet Mustard, Crispy Potato

Terrine Layers: Seared Ahi Tuna, Blanched Haricot, Tapenade, Hard Boiled Quail Egg, Olive Gelee
Sauces: Violet Mustard, Poached Garlic Coulis
Potato Galette, Micro Arugula, Sumac, Sea Salt, Pepper

2nd Course
Popcorn Crusted Shrimp, Soy Caramel

3rd Course
Beef Kalbi Carpaccio & Mushrooms Under Glass

4th Course
Seared Foie Gras, Rhubarb, Hibiscus & Strawberry

5th Course
Duck Breast & Confit, Salsify & Black Truffle, Orange Essence

Bacon Crème Brulee, Maple-Whiskey Gelee, Candied Bacon

Grape “Truffles”


My Favorite Cookbooks, Part 12, La Technique by Jacques Pepin

This book is a favorite among the old school crowd.  One of the best step-by-step cookbooks, La Technique, contains a plethora of black & white photos with very direct, concise directions.  I love my copy and refer to it often when doing a preparation I haven't tackled in a while.  It really helps me set my mise en place.  It also contains some interesting gems with napkin folding, paper pastry bag folding, freezing bottles of liquor in ice, and a few of the more rare ways of butchery... like my personal favorite, boning out a trout through the belly and removing the spine so you can stuff the tail through the mouth.  I've done it with petite rouget before, and I'll tell you, it makes for quite the show.
The cover of the book also inspired my first culinary-themed tattoo.  I figured everybody's been getting pig tats lately.  I opted for the lobster to define that I am not a simple pig cook (just ask my wife, I ain't no cheap date).  After the number I've killed, hopefully the lobster gods will take pity on my soul once they've seen the respect I've given them thus far.

Some Kitchen Sketches






Saturday, August 31, 2013

Chef's Table, August 30th, 2013

Chef’s Table,
August 30th, 2013
Amuse Bouche
Popcorn Soup, Caramel Foam
Simple soup base.  Onion & garlic sweated, deglaze white wine.  Redux. Half water/half cream.  A few yukon gold potatoes.  Pureed fine and popcorn dust added to desired thickness.  Reseason.  Acidity fixed with lime juice.  Heat from tabasco. 
1st Course
Oysters & Truffle Glacage, Cabernet Salt
Fresh East Coast oysters, bed of red wine tinted Maldon salt & calendula flower petals.  Glacage is a mornay containing egg yolk & black truffle.  Broiled until sexy.
2nd Course
Lobster & Carrot Ravioli, Beet, Carrot Butter
Each ravioli contains Korean chili bean paste, carrot puree, a half a lobster, salt, pepper & butter.  Carrot butter is redux of carrot juice, white wine & aromatics (fennel seed, peppercorn, lemongrass, saffron, ginger, chili flake, bay leaf & coriander), splash of cream, light thicken with cornstarch & then mounted butter.  Acidity from sherry vinegar, heat from tabasco, a few drops of truffle oil.  Beets raw & marinated with sherry vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  Chives barely bound together with extra virgin.
3rd Course
Petite Filet of Beef, Sweet Potato, Watercress Hollandaise & Port Wine Jus
Seared 4 oz tied beef filet, rested in duck fat kept at 120*F.  Sweet potato gratin is paper thin shaved sweet potato, nutmeg, salt, white pepper, heavy cream and grana padano cheese.  300*F oven, waterbath, pressed down with a fish spatula every 15 minutes as it cooks.  Pressed overnight before cutting.  Watercress hollandaise is three egg yolks, 1 bunch of watercress in a blender to which hot melted butter is emulsified.  Salt, sherry vinegar & tabasco to taste.  Star anise & port wine demi contains red wine, port wine, coriander, orange zest, star anise, bay leaf and thyme reduced until sauce ready and then finished with demi, cream, and a touch of sherry vinegar.  Strained though a chinnoise.  Cauliflower caramelized in clarified butter.  Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.  Watercress lightly dressed.  Pate choux garnish.  Piped through a #3 round tip onto a silpat, 300*F oven, low fan until designs begin to lift and color.  
4th Course
Orange Sorbet
Purple Door ice cream (currently do not own an ice cream machine), blueberries tossed in orange simple syrup, candied orange zest.
5th Course
Artisan Cheeses, Fig & Honey
House made ricotta & black pepper, Californian camembert & Wisconsinite bleu cheese.  Honeycomb, fig syrup to finish (not shown on pic.)
Key Lime & White Chocolate Cheesecake
Charred citrus salad, white chocolate ganache, lime syrup & candied orange zest, raspberry gelee.  Gelee is one cup puree to four sheets of gelatin.  Mixed in a quart container with a meat fork after set for "gem-like" presentation.  Addition of choux garnish.  Crust is gingersnap.