Random notes on random thoughts.
When I awoke and sat up in bed I could feel a slight twinge in my lower back and when I got up to go to the bathroom my knees protested and voiced their displeasure. The first stop is always the electric kettle, I need to boil water to brew coffee. Although it takes about 10 minutes it really does seem like three hours. Typically it takes me a few hours to fully wake up, I’m not necessarily grumpy, just not fully awake, and things seem groggy until that first cup of coffee. I usually check my email first thing although I know I shouldn’t, I do anyway. Sometimes I feel if there is bad news I’d rather know ahead of time and just deal with it. However, it can derail my morning if something work-related pops up that needs my attention. I’ll check my texts, my fish guy confirms my orders for the day when he gets in at 5 am.
Once I sit down and take my first sip of coffee, I feel instantly better. That first sip is the best sip, it goes down so smooth I usually close my eyes and stare out the window like a Maxwell House commercial. For the next hour, I will play video games. I always feel like I can be more productive or get more accomplished if I changed up my routine. But the fact of the matter is I need to engage in a mindless activity for an hour as I wake up, it takes my mind off work and other stressors. I should probably stretch, or read, or write, but I don’t. I play video games where I destroy things and it takes me away while I sip my coffee.
By the time I get to work my mind is moving, thinking about what needs to get done today, about new dishes, about things that need to be communicated to the staff, about prep for the day, about deliveries, all swirling in my brain as I walk in the kitchen door. The prep cook nods as I walk in, a case of chicken on his table, butchering them for the half chicken dish we serve. We remove all the bones except for the wing bone so it cooks faster, it’s tedious but saves a lot of time on the pickup. I let him know I made a fresh batch of the marinade the day before and continue to a table where I’ll drop off my backpack. The first thing I do is make a coffee and go over the prep list for the day. There are days where it’s mellow and the list is very manageable, and there are days when we are freaking out and praying we get most of it done. This is the restaurant business. I am reminded of a scene in The Godfather when Hyman Roth is talking to Michael Corleone about the hit his father put on Moe Green. “I didn’t complain. I knew that this is the business we have chosen.” I think about that whenever all the crazy things happen at work which they invariably do. I chose this wacky way to make a living, it’s best not to complain about it, best to deal with it figure out how to overcome all the obstacles.
I once heard another chef say that he’s really good at putting out fires and that to be successful you have to be able to put out a lot of fires on a daily basis. I 100% agree although there are times they seem like raging infernos to be put out and not smoldering campfires. The latest is the labor shortage and navigating through it. I have tried to change the menu to remove the more prep heavy dishes, made the menu a bit smaller, streamlined, and eliminated inventory, but it still seems like we are always playing catchup. Doing this while at the same time keeping our costs down is a challenge, to say the least. I’m a big believer in quality over quantity and trying to use the best possible ingredients I can afford and keeping the restaurant profitable often leaves me with a headache at the end of the day. Add on that the price of everything has gone up, a case of kosher salt at one point was up to $80 a case. Prepandemic it was around $24. Right now limes are $100 a case, a week ago avocadoes were up to $125 a case. It has started to even out a bit this week, but I have to stay on my toes keep a watchful eye on my costs.
Having a prolonged time away from the business has provided me with a much different way of looking at the world around me and my place in it. In the past, I was usually more concerned with how I could make the food better, regardless of cost or labor. I wanted to use the ingredients I wanted to use, write the menu with no input from others, make all the decisions myself. I see now how selfish much of that was. Having owned a restaurant and gone (going) through a pandemic has given me a desire to put the good of the team first. How can I help is a question I ask myself on a daily basis instead of thinking about what I want. I have zero desire to be famous or write a cookbook, I’d rather help build a solid business that employs and empowers people.
On a side note, it has been tough to find the time to write this newsletter and my days seem increasingly crammed with things to do. But I want to keep this up although I know getting one out every week is almost impossible. I’m still adjusting to working in a kitchen again and feel like I am getting better at figuring out my schedule, but I struggle at times and life happens. I might just write brief updates like this one, or change the format entirely, I’m still thinking about it. Thank you for reading, I appreciate it.