Tuesday, April 9, 2013

time passes a kidney stone of chef shit...

so there has been a little bit of time between posts...holy shit

lost track of the blog and was only reminded of it while I was digging through old emails...I was so excited about doing this at first....to continue this project and document in words what its like to chef it up in AK...... I am sure most bloggers are when they first start out. I wonder how much internet space is wasted from just idle blogs, old email accounts and dead myspace pages? can we recycle that shit?

Well, lets do some quick catching up before I continue this blog.

2009- the substitute teaching was a blast and I dug making and explaining new foods to  some excited kids....however if I ever see someone in my kitchen cutting a Tbl of garlic and taking 20 minutes to do it, I would freak the fuck out.....It gave me a new appreciation for the instructors, teachers and mentors who mold our young culinary youth and try to turn them into chefs.....or even a line cook who can show up on time.....I really dont know how they do it...they must drink a whole hell of a lot more than I do

The kid I hired as a sous chef ended up being a total waste. I called him the rebound sous chef. That season was plagued with immature cooks, mouthy waitstaff and a busy season too boot...A momentary lapse of reality...

2010 - saw a really great season with an awesome new sous chef who was my saute cook in 2009. a sassy young gal from Philly who took no shit from line cooks or waitstaff and could cook some outstanding food. I wish I was just as serious about cooking when I was her age. did some traveling, at some tacos

2011- brought a new partnership with Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and I was chosen to represent Alaska in the Great American Seafood Cook Off in New Orleans. what a trip, an honor and  a great experience. I took 5th out of 14...a good finish I think for never doing a competition ever before.
The lesson I learned from that was to cook from your heart, dont vary or veer to make others happy...and cook what you know....I would have killed it had I listened to my future self.

I was able too attend the Starchefs chefs congress in New York. A 3 day event where you doing nothing but listening to chefs, sitting next to chefs and talking with chefs about......well ....chef stuff....I was watching Kim Severson and Grant Achetz have a conversation as im sitting next to Wiley Dufresne and the Top Chef Dessert kids....insane....what an unreal experience and I hope to get back for another round in 2013...I learned so much.

2012- I became the executive chef of our other property on fox island, taking on the responsiblty of overseeing two properties, designing a new lodge kitchen for a build in 2013.
Exciting and exhausting at the same time...truly a project with too many chiefs....fighting for my corner of the pie and trying to make the kitchen right...more on that as we get going!

I returned to New York in March for a chef off for ATIA against some legendary AK chefs.... We did a black basket of AK ingredients. my dish was an AK amber fish taco with smoked berry jam slaw. I made the blue corn tortillas at home and turned out awesome, however they failed in the actual run at the show....we had some celebrity judges, a couple dudes from Top Chef (that unibrow guy) and a food writer...I didnt get to hear the actual criticisms and from what I heard from the folks sitting around they were pretty harsh on everyone...everybody got an award and we helped spread the gospel of Alaskan awesomeness around NY.
Had a weird time partying with douche bag suits with no ties by rooftop bars and then felt more at home taking a cab to the village for real cocktails served by real people next to real drinkers...ended up jumping the train to Boston with the folks from ASMI for the Boston seafood show....so much fish in such a big building....not too mention that Boston just fucking rules...I walked, ate, drank and toured my way around a great American city.....

I was then a judge for the Great Alaskan Seafood Cookoff in May to determine who was to represent AK in New Orleans for 2012. I was able to be a part of a great judges panel and ate some awesome seafood from an array of great AK chefs. The following night I hosted dinner for the judges and some VIPs at the Roadhouse featuring underutilized Alaskan fish. A real challenge for a rough crowd, but I think we pulled it off well and there is a cool video floating around https://vimeo.com/42795598
Justin the videographer is a badass..

I then again started the season off at the Roadhouse with a new sous chef as my bad ass Philly girl decided to wait tables at our other property in Talkeetna. Why do kids make such dumb decisions? anyway....I had a kid from Florida who was as smart as a tennis racket and obviously got by on his Jersey shore looks. by the first week, I knew we were in for another season of douche baggery and lame staff... front and back was just pathetic and I questioned not only our hirung practices, but the general state of the labor force in restaurants....how can so many people be so shitty at what they do?
If it were my place I would have closed for  week in mid July, purged the dead baggage and hired and trained all new staff for the remainder of the season. It was that bad....we limped through and recovered through the winter

2013 is presenting itself with some new business opportunities in other parts of the state, our new lodge is finishing up and the season is about to kick in at the Roadhouse. Ive shot a video for ASMI, done some recipes for the the cook it from frozen website and made the list of AK chefs for best chefs america....exciting..
 I will be at the roadhouse for 10 years now...by far the longest stint Ive ever had at any job,....that really says something about the folks I work with...cant wait to see the season take off..

I will do my best to get this up and going again...purely for my own regurgitational needs and help keep me sane...

next up....
making some videos, cooking it from frozen and how to get Gen Y cooking....

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Partner in Crime

what a crazy beginning of the year.
I managed to get all my hiring and menus done by the end of February and suprising enough had time to substitute teach at the local culinary school.

My good friend Matt Zimny who has been the Exec. Sous Chef with me for 5 long years has now moved up as the Exec Chef at our other hotel, the Talkeetna Alaska Lodge. Congrats to him!Now it has left me to find a replacement. Its tough. Its like if Crockett lost Tubbs or Starsky left to go work across town leaving Hutch to drive that cool car solo.You are used to them, but better yet, they are used to your cranky persnickity ass. Finding a new partner sucks and I am not one to go out just bring anyone in. Let alone interview over the phone for an important gig like this.You gotta prove yourself in the trenches. I gotta know that when the shit hits the fan, you are gonna back me up.
I advertized for the position on craigslists all over the US. Incredibly I received over 80 applications and resumes. Completley overwhelming to say the least.Most where way over qualified which perked my chef senses.
What the fuck are all these huge overqualified Chefs applying for a seasonal sous chef position? There were only a few possible anwers and being in the food industry for 15 years, I know how to weed out the psychos.
1-drug addicts and alcoholics run rampant in the industry, if they have a lot of "experience" from place to place, they most likely baled.
2-they simply lie on the resume. Most restaurants are helpless and need to get a decent line cook ASAP. They will not check refrences so they make some shit up.
3- the economy in the lower 48 is so tough, places are closing or laying Chefs off. I believe this to be true and Alaska has always seen an influx of workers for the summer when the economy tanks, but I say 15% of them were 1 and 2.

We have seen an increase in applications on all sides of the restaurant, but have also predicted a 30% decrease in revenue do to people not traveling as much because of the douche bags who have been running things.To say the least, it should be an interesting year. I am however,confident in the numbers and still making a profit for the summer and am looking froward to actually enjoying a myself during the season.

So my choice for a new sous chef came from a kid who only worked half the season last year, but showed promise. Not sure if he will wind up the new Chewbacca or end up dead after the first episode, only the season will decide. I guess you gotta take a chance , someone did for me and look where I ended up....

Next up....

My week substitute teaching at the local culinary school.....

Monday, December 29, 2008


The menu is a tough piece of paper for me. It puts you out there. It says "this is me and my palate, this is what I know and what I think you would like to eat" and it scares me.
It can be ever evolving (or stagnant in the case of most local eateries) and hopefully as close to perfection before the guest ever takes a bite.

The menu for the restaurant only runs from May to September and for the most part the core of the menu hasn't changed much since 5 years ago, but it has been tweaked and twisted as the seasons have gone by. Reflecting new items that are available here in Alaska with influences from traveling and what Matt and I have felt is just good solid food.
Items have come and gone. Some good and some not so good. Those awkward and goofy dishes that when you look back at the old menus you whisper under your breath "Good god, what was I thinking?". Its the same feeling you get looking at your old yearbooks.
Wondering whether a new item will be as popular as you think it will can be exciting and just as disappointing.

With the short work season, once a menu has been printed its pretty much set in stone until next year with of course the few exceptions : Costs for one and quality for two.
Lets say the caribou tenderloin quality is just horrible and the purveyor is unwilling to do anything about it but shrug their shoulders and say "whatever" (yeah that's you Indian Valley Meats).It must be pulled from the menu because it has not met the standards in quality you have set (which did happened last July, mid season).
This was really a crusher too me because we had a unique product and you were eating caribou tenderloin and it could come with king crab and look there are giant brown bears in the river outside as you ate this ultimate Alaskan meal and you peed your pants. It was the perfect AK dish.
Side note: last summer a downtown "bistro" started running the exact same menu item. A "bistro" that is notorious for bottom feeding off other restaurants in town. Which was another reason I dropped the item from the menu. They say copying is a form of flattery, well I say bollucks. Not in a small 3,500 person town. That's straight up stealing kids and if you are going to steal from me than do the dish better. Don't be a hack.
I wrote a letter last summer to the owner and never sent it. However I will post it here for all to read.

I start working on next years menu in October. Right when the season ends so that things are fresh in my mind, specials that sold out and the quality of the staff (what they were able to handle).Then I put it away until February.
I read some books, eat out as I travel, experiment at home and check out the food trends.
When I come back to the menu in February with all these new ideas, I write it out again.
I put it away until late March when the 3rd and final draft must be evaluated and new items tested before print in May. Luckily I work with an opinionated and hungry management team and the kitchen is set from Feb-May just for menu experiments. I will go into more of this in the coming months.

So how does mac and cheese pizza with pesto and pancetta sound? Or Aglio e Olio rigatoni with truffles and basil?
Some new ideas which most likely will end up dumped, as specials or pipe dreams for my own place one day.

Who gets 4 months every year to think about a menu? seriously............

Next up: The Hiring Process

Friday, December 26, 2008

in the beginning

OK here we go..............
This is my first attempt to write about food, cooking and the restaurant industry. I am
coming up on the 2009 tourist season and I thought it would be interesting if not at least entertaining, to share some of my challenges, ideas, thoughts and some if the wild things that can happen during a busy Alaskan tourist season.

I am going to start off posting a response I wrote on the restaurant report web site here:


which I think sums up on how I feel about the restaurant industry.....

"I am an Executive Chef at a hotel in Alaska. Although I work for an Alaskan corporation with multiple sites, I have complete control over my menu, staff and restaurant. So in that regard it is like running an independent restaurant with corporate backing. I have worked in every aspect and in every job in the restaurant from chain to independent. My point of view comes from 20 years of experience.

I find most of these folks who are defending their chain restaurants have one sided views of the industry and have not worked outside the "chained" area of the business. I bet most of you went to a college and learned about restaurant management from corporate sponsored programs (which I bet at the time you did not know that it was funded by them). Or you took that 6 week crash course in culinary school so you can learn those culinary "terms" and "sayings" to move on up the ladder. Or you just worked your way up the chain right out of high school going from Applebees to Red Lobster to TGIF.

Anyone who has worked for a small café or a Mom and Pop place or even big locally owned restaurant has experienced the soul that possesses the atmosphere, people and most important, the food. What you lack in your "dining" establishments is the most important thing of all, soul. It is the thing you mimic by decorating your walls with old signs and funky hip things, Foo Foo drinks and waiters with trucker hats and flare on there suspenders.

Sure you may make your own sauces from scratch, big deal, someone in a test kitchen in a lab wrote the recipe, its bullet proof, idiot proof and monkey proof. At that point its no different than a Big Mac in Jersey. There is no soul in it.

You may work hard at your jobs and may care a great deal about what you do. That’s great! No one denies that, but do you honestly think that you set the standards that others follow? What independent restaurant is jumping on the Fried Mac and Cheese Appetizer? We are the ones who set the standards that you follow. We put the soul and heart into our food and service. It is you who take it and bastardize it by putting three different "fun dippers" or adding your "south of the border" sauce to it. Telling us what is cool and in the now.

Do you honestly believe that the chain restaurants are a valuable, viable part of our industry? Come on. They are an eye sore on the roadways and they poison the palate with bland and over sauced food.

They may keep the employment rate up, but they do nothing to teach young cooks to become talented Chefs or educate Joe Public about food. I will hire someone first with no experience before someone with fast food or chain restaurant experience. You teach them absolutely nothing!

All of you who defend the products you serve in chain restaurants, and how you train your staff, should be ashamed and embarrassed for what you contribute to the restaurant industry. We need to be making the industry a better place by educating and training professionals. Not making it a place where an out of work actor can get a job until his big break or the social studies teacher can make some extra money because he thinks that its an easy job. I have never once thought that I could get a job teaching school to supplement my income or drive a train on the weekends to make extra cash.

I am so tired of this being the industry where anyone can come and get a job and suck at it and that's OK.

You do nothing good for this industry.

During the great rise of chain restaurants in the early 90's, a great Chef once told me that there is no more art left in culinary arts.

I have found that not to be true. With all great art that becomes commercialized, watered down and processed for the masses, there have always been the true artisans, at the end of the road, in the back alley, anywhere off the beaten path, keeping the heart and soul alive and truly making my world a better place."

Erik Slater
Executive Chef
Seward, Alaska