by Ron DeSantis
Volume 2 Issue 10
200 Totoket Rd
Branford, CT 06405
Come On, Already!
“Left Coast Cookery”. That was on the menu of a restaurant I visited in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego. What that meant to me after reading the menu and trying the excellent food is – creative and playful use of ingredients.
It was obvious that this team of chefs were having fun. The food was creative, expertly prepared, and the setting was vibrant. More on them later.
Great concept – have a good time with food in a comfortable restaurant atmosphere!
Master Chef Insights
Chef competencies are not the same as culinary competencies. The latter is focused on technical ability. Chef competencies include culinary competencies but go further. There are 3 core competency groups in which a chef needs proficiency. These are:
- Technical Skills
- Leadership Skills
- Decision Making Skills
I was reminded of Chef Competencies during a visit to a restaurant on the west coast run and owned by a CIA alum. I remember this chef owner as a motivated student at CIA, and he hasn’t lost that drive. Beside the great food at the restaurant I was really impressed by the “mood” in the restaurant. I choose the word mood, but I could have used “feeling” or “atmosphere”. The mood in the restaurant was energetic and professional. The culinary team was focused on preparing delicious food, but it was more than that. The sense of camaraderie was visible. The mood included music, laughter, tasting food, fair and open critique, willingness to help others on the team. This environment doesn’t happen organically. It happens when the leadership embraces a growth model.
The restaurant and its management team practice exceptional leadership, technical, and decision-making skills that result in a place that is desirable to work in. So, lets dig in.
Technical Skills. For the chef owner, these were honed over several years after graduation. Having sound culinary fundamentals allows the chef to prepare delicious food, and guide/coach/train others to do the same. All beginning cooks must focus on the repetition of all cooking methods. Along the way cooks must learn from their successes and failures in the kitchen. This is how technical competencies are developed. Here is what the technical competencies look like:
o Culinary Fundamentals
- Food safety and sanitation
- Knife skills
- Product identification
- Consistency in product preparation
- Ability to produce necessary products within established timeframe
- Equipment knowledge – including care of equipment
- Weighing and measuring ingredients
- Flavor Development
- Hot food preparation
- Cold food preparation
- Baking & Pastry
Leadership Skills. This is a well-studied subject. Much has been written about leadership. Two exemplary authors on the subject are General Stanley McChrystal and General Tom Kolditz. What I’ve learned from their books is that leadership is evolving. Leaders coach and get out of the way. Let the teams do their jobs! What I use to sum up leadership are the following characteristics of this competency:
- Training the team
- Inspiring the team
- Role modeling
- Setting expectations
- Independent decision making
- Flexible leadership, being open-minded
- Respect team
To round out Chef Competencies I include Decision Making Skills. Too often chefs reach sous chef and executive chef levels and stall. I believe this happens because the chef industry is too focused on technical and leadership skills.
Here’s the way it plays out all too often: a good dishwasher does some prep. That dishwasher suddenly works in the pantry one night when someone calls out sick. Now the dishwasher is a pantry cook. Now this person is motivated and is trained to be a line cook, then saucier, then banquet chef, and suddenly sous chef. Along the way, technical skills grew. Some leadership skills grew, but these skills were only bits and pieces of observed behavior. And decision-making skills (including planning & organization) were missing. At this point the person stalls. There is nothing good about a person feeling they’re at a dead end in the career.
Decision-making Skills provides that third stool leg of Chef Competencies. They look like this:
o Decision Making
- Understand the big picture
- Assessing the project/problem
- Organizing tasks
- Planning the work
Let’s return to where this article started – a west coast CIA alum owns and operates a restaurant. This young guy created a great mood in this operation. I had 3 days there to observe and I was reminded the value of competencies. Here is, in a nutshell, what Greg did – create a restaurant he would like to work at.
Chef Core Competencies
Culinary & more…
Kitchen Tech – Search Capabilities
Jamix just made my kitchen management life a little easier. Instead of having to enter an ingredient in a specific format – Tomato, beefsteak; or Tomato, cherry, red – I can, with Jamix, simply write the name of the ingredient in the same way I would search for the ingredient: Beefsteak tomato, or Red cherry tomato, or Yellow grape tomato.
When it comes time to search for the ingredient, I simply enter the name of the ingredient as I call it. No more “Beef, grass fed, ground, 80/20”, simply “Grass fed beef 80/20”, and all beef, including the one I’m looking for will be on the screen.
The same applies to recipes. No more “Soup broth chicken noodle”, simply Chicken Noodle Soup. The system will find all soups including the one I’m looking for. Technology has to be easy to use so that, in the kitchen, we can focus on great tasting food. No one wants to spend time looking for ingredients or recipes on a computer.
GET IT RIGHT, RON.
Meathead, if you don’t know, is the author of a book titled – “MEATHEAD”. Come on, you had to know that! Meathead is an expert on the science of great barbecue and grilling (that’s on the cover of the book!). He also has a great heart and warm humor. AND he knows meat. One of my favorite features of his book is “Myth Busters”. Here’s an example – “You can tell the doneness of meat by poking it and comparing the bounciness of the meat to the flesh between your thumb and forefinger.” Now you have to get the book to know the busted myth.
Here’s the Meathead story. Last month I wrote about beer-can chicken. That’s all that Meathead could take. I got an email with this link: amazingribs.com/ beer can chicken
And the message: “Thought you might find this interesting.” BUSTED by the authority. Please read the science in the link. So why did I write about beer can chicken? It’s a fun way to put good chicken on a grill, get a crispy skin, tasty meat, and drink 2/3 of each can of beer.
Left Coast Cookery
Juniper and Ivy Restaurant
Let me get this out of the way – I don’t know anyone working there (at least not when I walked in), the food was great, the service very good, the atmosphere was vibrant, it was worth every penny.
What I want to share are the descriptions of the menu items.
Uni linguine/ smoked pork belly/62° egg/gouda
Kimchi crème fraiche/cilantro/bonito flakes
Black garlic ponzu/green onion relish/cashew crunch
Chanterelle succotash/corn/nectarine mustard
Chipotle sour cream/spiced pepitas/ cotija/lime
Spicy marinara/goat gouda/lemon gremolata/oregano
Cheddar & Jalapeno sausage/honey mustard
Fun descriptions, and these are only a few examples. I didn’t go into the meats such as DRY-AGED NEW YORK STRIP with Crispy Alaskan potatoes/bone marrow ranch/confit mushrooms/steak sauce. Nor did I list any cocktails.
If your mouth isn’t watering by now, nothing can help you. Where I’m going with this is this – it’s refreshing to read a menu written by the culinary team at the end of the evening’s service for the next day…and have fun writing, cooking and serving the food.
Ingredient of the Month
Eggplant’s versatility reveals itself when looking at the thousands of recipes devoted to this fruit of the nightshade family.
Growing up, eggplant parmigiana was ALWAYS a favorite. I still have a weakness for this preparation. I recently had an updated version of slices of roasted eggplant, stacked with a light layer of marinara and mozzarella between the roasted slices, topped with crispy crumbs, and surrounded by a ring of pomodoro then a ring of pesto sauce. This was very enjoyable.
Baba ganoush is an amazing preparation. Leave the eggplants whole, poke the skin with a fork, and roast over high heat on the grill until charred and very soft (yes, it is important to poke the eggplant, I was lazy once and found an exploded eggplant under the grill cover). Scoop out the smoky flavored eggplant, blend with tahini, olive oil, garlic, cayenne, and parlsey….so very good.
Or, split the eggplant lengthwise, then score the inside flesh. Drizzle with EVOO, season with salt and za’atar. Put cut-side down on the grill and allow to char. Flip over and cook until completely soft. Top with hand-dipped ricotta cheese or grilled fish, add a little charred tomato sugo and you’re good for dinner.
When making a non-red pasta sauce here is an easy tip to create a great simple sauce. Save a little pasta cooking water. Just think, the pasta water is already seasoned, it’s already hot, it’s slightly thickened, it’s ready to go.
Just before draining pasta, scoop some pasta water from the pot. This will be “bouillon” to make a sauce or finish the pasta (keep the pasta juicy). Here’s an example. While the pasta is in the colander, add some butter and EVOO to the pot that boiled the pasta. Then add thinly sliced garlic. Fry the garlic for a minute or two. Add peeled, deveined white Gulf shrimp. Saute for 3 minutes, season with red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, and salt. Splash some reserved pasta water into the pan. Let the shrimp steam for 30 seconds.
Add pasta to pot with shrimp, toss lightly and add just enough pasta water to make a light sauce that will coat the pasta. Sprinkle with rough chopped parsley. Simple enough.
CulinaryNXT is a food service advisory practice drawing on Ron DeSantis’ 30 years of experience in all facets of the food industry. Ron is one of only 70 Certified Master Chefs worldwide and has advised organizations of all sizes and types. His strengths include culinary innovation, menu and recipe development, culinary assessment, bottom-line results, and communication skills that allow him to implement solutions effectively. CulinaryNXT’s base is in New Haven, but its reach is truly global. CulinaryNXT’s relationships extend to numerous countries around the world in a client and alliance network that has been built over many years. These relationships provide both global support and local knowledge.