Thursday, June 26, 2003
By Raymond Napolitano
GETTING OUT OF THE RUT...Life's a funny thing. No matter what you're doing, it seems like in no time at all you get yourself into a groove, doing the same thing over and over. Before long, it's a rut. If you don't have someone shake up your thinking a little bit on a regular basis, or if you don't do it yourself, years can go by before nature takes care of it and totally rocks your world.
I was hanging out at Fifi's with the Paris 6 the other night and was saying hello to their talented chef German Perez. He is a thoughtful, insightful, creative man with a burning desire to constantly improve his understanding of and execution of the art of cooking. He is thinking of going on a trip to Greece so he can learn about their food, which is probably the basis for all great European cuisine.
He is a regular reader of this column (fortunately for Fifi's, his judgment in food material far outreaches his judgment in reading material) and mentioned that I don't give enough time to the back of the house. For the uninitiated, the restaurant scene is divided into the front of the house--all those functions that deal directly with customer contact--plus the back of the house--mostly the kitchen and dishroom.
Being the caring, sensitive guy I am, I thought about it for a moment and said, "German, you're full of sh...allots!" Actually, I immediately agreed with him--I hate it when somebody criticizes me and is right--and am now setting out on a concerted effort to pay more attention to the folks behind the scenes. After all, they're the ones who really carry the weight of a restaurant on their backs.
HERE'S TO THE SUPPORTING CAST...It has been rather interesting of late to see the amount of attention being paid to high-profile chefs from fancy restaurants around the world. It is about time they were given their due since there are few jobs more demanding than that of head chef at a busy, upscale restaurant; more so than ever, since the level of sophistication among diners has been steadily rising. It is becoming harder and harder for chefs to regularly prepare food that customers don't feel they can make at home, or purchase somewhere else.
I would also like to give some props to the supporting cast, the prep cooks and line cooks, the dishwashers and buspeople. These are the really tough jobs in a restaurant. I challenge anybody reading this to follow around any one of those folks on a busy night and see how you're making out at the end. There is a special type of pain that you feel in your feet, legs and soul after humping a busy week on your job at a slammin' restaurant.
It's just a tough-ass business, no matter what you do. The busier it is, the faster you burn out--simple as that. Virtually all the people who start out working in restaurants do so because they are kind-hearted and quick to serve their fellow human. While working in the biz, they become truly adept at understanding all the good things about community, from service to teamwork to friendliness to compassion to politeness to toughness to responsibility. Along the way, especially if they don't have the opportunity to regenerate--and the only way you can regenerate is to take time off--they begin to get a little callous. If not careful, the business will turn the nicest people into the biggest a-holes in the world...just go check out an old-time nightclub owner.
During my long stint in the madness I had a few jobs in some of the highest volume, high-profile places in the country. After a few years of going deep every night I would inevitably end up in a messy parting of the ways with my employer, then I'd go and veg out for a few months to keep from becoming a serial killer.
BUT LET'S NOT FORGET...So this column is dedicated to all those hard-working, stupid sons of bitches who keep on bustin' their asses day after day in this wacky, wonderful, terrifying business of feeding, serving and ministering to the minions. There was a bunch of stuff I wanted to talk about, like what a good job Andre, Gudrun and Chef Israel are doing up at Dishes Bistro and Grill in Marina; and I wanted to mention how happy I am that Richard Kanakaris, the inimitable guiding light of Pavona Wines, now has a tasting room out on River Road; and that The Fishwife and Turtle Bay gang chose Laurencia Walker, from Seaside High, to be the recipient of their New Millenium Scholarship.
Instead, I think I'll just sit here and think about those back of the house guys (using the term generically here, don't get mad) and how hard they work. There's only one thing I can say...are you all crazy? Peace out.