I have honestly taken too much time deciding what my first ever blog should be and what will catch your attention and keep you reading. So I’m going to do what I’ve learned to do best. Keep it real. Before I go and share a message I am titling a “Progressive Modern Chef,” I will simply share my present day with you.
Let me fill you in on a little about me. Long story short, I have 8 years formal culinary education between high school and college and have worked in the industry since I was 13. From Boston Market in high school to 4 star hotels, I was a sucker for a position next to the “celebrity” chef in that award winning spot. I have also been the valet guy that you left my tip still lit in the ashtray of your Lexus for and the attentive waiter that served you that $120 plate and just spilled a round of Heinekens down that guy’s back. I plan to tell about that Beantown journey in future blogs but for now back to South Beach.
Currently I am a sous chef working in a newly named hotspot hotel on South Beach. Although this is a “4 star” hotel, the venue that I operate in is a make-shift kitchen under nothing more than a retractable tent. There is no gas, minimal electricity mainly from extension cords and some mats covering the deck under my feet. I have one microwave, one panini press and a 20”x14” griddle. My two cooks and I produce in excess of 20K a week in food from the now revamped scratch menu we mostly prepare 17 floors below. Without going into detail, if you’re in the business you may see the challenges we face.
I began working in my current position two weeks after moving here in 2009. After just 9 months with this growing F + B Company, I was hand-picked by the previous corporate chef to open what was at the time, the largest venue in the company. A month into this life sucking task, I was the last one standing next to him. The Chef de Cuisine he had hired who had brought our entire opening crew with him, walked out along with the one other sous chef a day apart. What do I do? I try to convince the big dog to give me the top spot of course. His plan instead, “Move to New York, not sure where yet but I need you there!” I refused the cold weather high-cost life I was brought up in without a significant pay raise.
Now, I am asked to come back to the hotel and bring some new blood to the hip party scene on the rooftop. The menu is thoughtless and sad. Two poorly executed sushi rolls, four senseless sandwiches with two on the same bread, a couple of salads and a short rib slider at outrageous prices. I first bring a positive energy to my cooks and the FOH and more-so the same consistency I brought to the recent venture. I create a workable space knowing I will be spending some time here. I replace the rusty home fridge we are using with a double door I find in the basement.
Being given free rein on this poolside bar menu I let my surroundings talk to me. First, take off the sushi that sits in the sun as you’re in the pool and I bring a Miami flare to comfort food. Mostly tourists…Miami Beach…Duh. House smoked pork slider, lime shrimp with habanero glaze, tuna tartar with mango, chili and scallion, Jamaican jerk chicken salad to name a few. Homemade honey roasted almond-peanut butter and strawberry jam on cranberry walnut bread is just me sliding in a sweet option for the ecstasy popping kids at heart. This Miami flare seems to trickle down and soon all of the menus are fit for this location.
Without a smoker I convert a broken hot box with a Bunsen burner and a cast iron skillet. I smoke the pork butt for 8 hours before slow cooking it at 180 in an alto sham overnight. Top it with a citrus bbq sauce and brine my own pickles too. I am making that peanut butter little by little in a robot coupe and vita-mix as well as a pecan cherry brittle sprinkle over an arugula goat cheese salad. Dressings are made from fruit and wine reductions and I’ve convinced the a.m. baker to make focaccia for my prosciutto and vegetarian paninis.
My direct boss second guessed me and all of these labor inducing upgrades as many around also may have. Being able to measure your own work capacity with those next to you and the equipment, time and space to execute efficiently is a skill that should come naturally with hands-on (not paperwork-on) experience. The ability to train the staff around you is acquired, in my opinion, through humility and patience.
“Why would I bother and go so far out of my way with all of this scratch cooking if my direct boss doesn’t care either way or even give it any recognition?”
I am still a passionate chef at the core whether I’m suited in a well equipped kitchen or sweating in a t-shirt under a tent. I know no other way but to put my face behind the food I serve. I have been put in many challenging situations in life and have grown from all of them. It boils down to where my ego is and how I am living when I walk outside of that hotel that determines my state of being.
My intentions of, “The Progressive Modern Chef,” is to shed light on the lifestyle of chefs and restaurant workers and share a solution. My ideas on bringing the health of the guest into the thought of upscale service is a topic I feel strongly about and plan to express. Think nutrient dense sanity and spread the word.