Sunday, March 13, 2011

On the Floor at 8 p.m.

Last night we had 59 people on the books. About 100 showed up. Park Kitchen is little- intimate. Tables are close. Close enough that you would be lucky to leave without getting knocked into by your server every so often. We call that a love tap- and it's free! On weekend nights, sometimes it's more like a full body check. Last night, it was a full body massage.
This is because last night we were totally packed. Every bar seat taken, the chef's counter full, no extra chairs, packed. We got close with everyone. They loved it. We loved it too- but it was a hell of a ride.

Have you ever been a server? If you have, you know what it's like. You start the night by drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee. By the time the first crowd has arrived, you are dancing between tables, smiling and fresh faced. At 8 pm, between the two big turns, you feel like you are getting away with something. Everything is going so smoothly! Maybe you have one more cup of coffee to keep you going. Could it really be this easy? But then that first turn decides to linger over dessert. The second turn is packed in at the bar, hungry, anxious. They look at you with sad, hungry eyes. Your blood pressure rises. You have now run from the front to the back of the restaurant for 3 hours and your bangs are starting to look a little messy. Maybe you're sweating. This is when things really get wild- but this is also the part that I can't describe. I know it involves making sure a lot of people are happy about leaving and happy about arriving, but otherwise it's a blur. I have heard that women forget the pain of child birth in order to keep the planet populated. I guess this is what nature does to keep servers in jobs- nature gives us stress, which causes us to temporarily black out. I remember once a table asked me if I was having an out-of-body experience during one of our most memorable rushes. I had to admit that I was. Last night when it was over we tried to remember the details of the evening but we were so breathless and exhausted, we couldn't look back.

Luckily I do remember the very end of the night- meatball subs for staff meal. They were like medicine.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Bent Brick

The silly talk about me starting a new project are indeed true. I figured that telling all of the Park Kitchen followers would be the civilized thing to do. The new space will be called The Bent Brick. I'm just getting started on it so don't ask me about the time line. It's a ways out. For those of you who give a shit, I'll narrate its progress through the Bent Brick Blog. I'll put up a post soon to start talking about it. I'm super stoked!!


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

David Padberg

Finding the right people to work with is the hardest part of what I do as a chef. Hiring and training occupy the biggest slice of my time pie chart. I particularly like the training piece because that’s where I start to see a return for my efforts. I’ve learned how to spot a great cook by how they look at their products. A great cook will treat my products as THEIR products. They respect them. They take responsibility for them. They know that their food will never be better than their raw materials.

I look at my staff in a similar way. They have become my products. I respect them and take responsibility for them in the same way that a great cook will take care of their products.

Arguably my best “product” is David Padberg. He’s been my Chef de Cuisine for the past 6 years. He has become one of the great forces that move Park Kitchen forward. There are many reasons for this. The biggest is his appetite for knowledge. Anybody who knows David will put to rest the idea that being a cook is an uneducated profession. He makes it his business to learn everything he can about our products. He knows how they are grown, who grows them, what’s the history behind them, if they came from another country, he will learn their language.

He’s not content to simply read about a subject in order to gain knowledge. He travels extensively and I’ve had the pleasure of traveling with him on many occasions. His travel itineraries are legendary. Twelve to sixteen hour days planned to the minute. He just got back from his third extended trip to Japan in the past 6 years to further his extensive knowledge of Sake. This time around, he traveled to Tokyo, Akita and Kyoto with esteemed sake gurus John Gaunter and Markus Pakiser. You can check out this trip on his blog Nourishing Ideas

Like all great chefs he is a perfectionist. Early on at Park Kitchen he would ride my cooks so hard that I had to temper his drive so that I wouldn’t lose cooks. He has mellowed slightly, but only enough to make the rest of my cooks feel comfortable.

These are obvious attributes that most people who know him and what he does here can readily pick up. What isn’t so obvious is what he has contributed to the evolution of the cuisine at Park Kitchen. From the beginning, David has contributed to the development of the menu. We have been constant sounding boards for each others ideas. This hasn’t always been peaceful and easy. Democracy and creativity aren’t always groovy bed partners. We have arguments just about every week about what should and shouldn’t be on the menu. But mostly we listen and have a great respect for each other after we rip each other apart over what should go on the menu next week. This has happened routinely for the past 312 weeks. It sounds a little bit like marriage. And it is…312 wonderful weeks… As a lifetime lover of women, a devoted husband and father of 2, I’d say my relationship with Padberg is about as close to gay as I want to get.

That’s probably too much information but what’s important is that David is the rare chef that needs to constantly better himself and in doing so he pushes me to do better things. In order for him to grow, I need to give him the space to move into. In the coming months, I’m going to give him that space at Park Kitchen. He’s hungry for it and deserves it. You will start to see more of his experience and his personality on the Park Kitchen menu. I know how it’s going to play out but I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to come in and feed.

I’m certainly not going to step out of the Kitchen. I will cook and be on the line as I always have, just not quite as much. David and my new young gun Kris Komori will be doing most of the heavy lifting in that arena. Now, I will have more time make sure that the quality of what Park Kitchen does as a whole continues to evolve and improve.

David’s wanted this change for a while. I’m excited to see what he does with it.