Today I read another article written by a chef/operator both bemoaning the state of the industry and forecasting either its doom or its transmutation. I am a serious newspaper addict and I have only great respect for the medium and for those serious journalists who work in it. As in all things, there is the good, the bad and the incompetent. I have issue with only seeing print articles and interviews that focus on the upper end of the industry. The segment that fuels the Food Network, screams for attention and offers dinners – not just sustenance but a singularly contrived culinary experience. That segment is populated with high prices and even higher egos. That part of the industry is now collapsing under its own hubris. A hubris that disrespects its cliental, staff and usually, its investors.
The horror stories exposed by unpaid and abused interns at four-star restaurants are on the front pages of newspapers. Those same operators write long manifestos about the end of fine dining (usually coinciding with the closing of their restaurants) as they complain about shrinking margins and skyrocketing payroll expenses.
These articles are on the front pages of regional newspapers and on cable news stations with seeming regularity. As a chef and restauranteur, I say adios. The industry is changing for sure but all things change. Full-service dining is not dead and the operators who can see the new direction will prosper. Most operators that I know have been on this curve for a while now. The image of a screaming, abusive and selfish Chef/Operator may be entertaining on TV but it is a caricature. I, along with many of the operators in southern NH would have been out of business if we acted in such a manner. Are there bad operators? Of course, as there are in any other industry and they shall also pay the price.
The operators in the full-service tier of the industry (as opposed to experiential fine dining) are and have been for a while, adapting to the changes. The major adaption and all see it for the good, is in the treatment and compensation of the staff both front and back of house. Health care, financial incentives and quality-of-life benefits are common now. Some stores are going to non-tipped houses and others are paying a flat rate to all staff members.
Others are adding service fees to the bill and distributing those dollars to the entire staff. Inevitably prices will rise and it is time, but chefs are called that for a reason. Creative purchasing and menu planning will allow for margins to return. The days of tweezer-assembled dishes, raw ingredients that cost more than can ever be recovered in pricing, a facility that is more a movie set than dining room, and a menu design that requires a small army to produce are over.
Two hundred-dollar prix-fixe five-course tasting menus are now dinosaurs. I have talked with guests that have ventured into this rarified territory and when asked what they were served most can’t remember. They remember that the plates looked amazing but some of the food was unidentifiable.
Restaurants that offer quality ingredients creatively prepared and produced efficiently will survive.
Creative designers now realize that Venetian Morano chandeliers and theatrical lighting are not required for a comfortable and welcoming dining space. A staff that is engaged and empowered will ensure a memorable experience for the guest. The market is there and it is aware of the challenges the industry is facing and it will be attracted to operations that have adapted. People enjoy restaurants. Smart, aware and creative operators will happily welcome them. The restaurant industry is not for everyone. It is hard and demanding but it is also where a creative individual can actually live off their art
This will be the best smashed potatoes you have ever had. SKORDALIA is both a Greek and Turkish dish. History will tell you these two cultures have been at odds for centuries, but the intermingling of both however is seen in their food. As Yogi Berra once said, “it’s the same but different.” Cyprus, where this recipe originates, is cut in half with Greek culture in one half and Turkish in the other and both claiming their version is authentic. A bit like Gulliver’s Travels where the little people fought over which side of the egg to crack.
- 2 pounds red bliss potatoes cut in quarters leaving the skin on (my choice of spud)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh oregano
- 1/4 cup chopped almonds ( toasted or not )
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 egg whipped with a fork
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/3 cup EVOO
- 1 1/2 table spoons garlic confit ( look back to previous column for recipe or email me )
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- In a bowl of cold water add the cut potatoes washing any dirt off the skin. Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the potatoes.
Chop or grind the almonds and set aside. Pick the oregano off the stem, chop and set aside. Juice the lemon and set aside. Pull the pre-made garlic confit out of the fridge. When the potatoes are soft but not mushy drain, place in a large bowl and immediately add the egg, olive oil, S&P and mix lightly. Add the lemon juice, garlic, cayenne and oregano and smash with a fork leaving some texture ( smashed not mashed ) and let cool.
To serve : Using an ice cream scoop, or your hands, form a patty of the potato mixture. Add the oil to the hot skillet then add the patty. When you see a crown form, flip the patty and cook for another 3-4 minutes then remove from the heat and cool. * Chef’s tip: Don’t play with your food. Let the patty cook and don’t touch it or move it around until you see the crown form. You paid for the gas or electricity so let it do the job,
Serve with a fried egg and small salad as a starter or under a filet of fish, grilled chicken, or anything else.
Let me know how you did and I am also here to answer any other kitchen or food-related issues. Email me at email@example.com. Talk to you soon.