Monday, February 20, 2012

Portrait of a Line Cook, James

I have a friend who vanished.  I don't know if he still lives in Illinois or even cooks any more.  But he may've been one of the most brilliant chefs I've ever had the opportunity to cook with.  His name is James Katos.  If anyone knows where he currently hangs his toque, I want to know.

James and I worked together through a few kitchens.  His training was extremely classic and technique driven, having been mentored by Bernard Cretier of Le Vichyssois, among other great restaurants.  (Check out the website My style is more playful & spontaneous, so the two of us approached ingredients differently and then discussed the best way to present them.  After a while, we didn't need to talk much. 

Now I think of myself as a quick cook, but I *react* more than think really far ahead.  James can think 6 steps ahead to my 4, if you can understand what I'm trying to say here.  In other words, I learned a lot about time management, technique and focus... just watching Katos working an hour on the line.  He is/was that good.  Every time I think of menu development, I have to remember working with him.

So James, if you ever read this, I'm sorry if I ever offended you (as to your not returning calls or keeping in touch).  I understand we both cooked through some tough times and I've never lost respect for you and your style of cooking.  I still remember that night we all got drunk and I kissed a frozen bass out of your freezer (was it me, or was it in a black garbage bag too?).

Anyways, keep kicking ass and give Bernard a call every once in a while.  He and his wife miss you too. 

Blood in the Water

I went out to eat tonight, with my wife and a good friend.  The restaurant was part of a chain and in the 'burbs. 

I smelled blood in the water.  This place wasn't going to be open for long.  You could just feel it.  Tangible hints of a restaurant bleeding money, more than it was bringing in. 

Hints such as a ticket board that never held more than six tickets at any one time during our visit, but not long enough to hold an entire room's orders if the place were packed.  New orders were being placed on the right or left depending on who decided to expo at any given time.

Too many FOH employees on board on a slow night.

Cooks not stabbing tickets on their end, and at least one too many cooks on the line.

The menu wasn't balanced, the pricing wrong.  With beef prices going up and their location, losses would be taken soon if not currently.

No one asked us if we wanted desserts, or offered to upsell on water, or anything else for that matter.

They did have Jolly Ranchers instead of mints in a bowl as we left. 

I do like Jolly Ranchers.