So You Want To Be A Waiter

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Monthly Archives: February 2010

Interesting cultural notation

From our friends at Waitersfriend (Australian waiter-centric site long on information and short on fluff and frilly stuff):

7.  American Ladies are not comfortable with Madam as it suggests they are female pimps.  Ma’am is suitable.

In case you were wondering what #7 indicates, this is a list of ways that Australian waiters can increase their tips (do’s and don’ts).

Here’s a good example about how cultural differences matter. I never would have thought in a million years that madam would make a difference with an American woman. Of course, we don’t call anyone “madam” these days, but not because of the implication but because it’s a rather archaic term that sounds like something you’d hear in a Sherlock Holmes mystery or a Victorian potboiler. Maybe it makes the woman feel “dowdy”.

I kid at the expense of my Australian brothers, of course, but also want to acknowlege that waiters everywhere should pay attention to what works for them, especially when dealing with foreign cultures. People are different around the globe and we can’t always rely on our “mental rolodex” to supply us with the correct answer when confronting someone from a different culture. (And US travelers shouldn’t be so judgmental when it comes to terms that might be common in other cultures – I’m guessing that Madam isn’t a hidebound term for a lady in parts of the world where they still speak a variation of the Queen’s English – it’s probably quite posh and proper).

Finally, this:

6.  Always check for wedding rings before referring to a man’s company as Mrs……… they may not be married and it is usually a sensitive subject as to why the bloody hell not!

Yes, even older people who might look and act like they’ve been married for years might actually not be married. And they might even be wearing wedding rings – perhaps they’re both widow/ers and have kept their rings as a connection to the departed. Unless you know for sure that the spouse has taken the name of their husband, stay away from caller her Mrs. Whatever. I know women who have kept their last names or have hyphenated theirs with their husbands. You just never know.

And a corollary to this is something that I learned when doing Country Club dining for a short period – always be careful about referring to previous visits by regulars. Sometimes regulars don’t want their dining partners to know that they were in the restaurant last week. This could be for either business or personal reasons. This is where knowing your regulars is important. You have to know how much information you can give. I would say that a “Nice to see you again, Mr. Daltry” poses little risk as opposed to, “Why Mr. Daltry, your charming companion has gone from blonde to redhead – it looks smashing”! Or “Mr. Daltry, how did your lunch with Mr. Page go last week”. You might find out that his business partner, Mr. Townsend, might be surprised to find out that he’s talking to a heated rival.

Here’s the entire post, many of the things listed not being specific to just Australia and sage advice indeed…

http://www.waitersfriend.com.au/blog/2010/02/ten-tips-for-better-tips/

Memorizing orders on the way out according to The Washington Post

The old-school way of memorizing diners’ orders is fried

 By Steve HendrixWashington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Richard Weber can still do the hardest part of his job with both hands behind his back, literally. But maybe not for long.

Weber, a waiter at Washington’s iconic Palm restaurant, is a 20-year professional who prides himself on fast service, deferential courtesy and, most important, impeccable and unassisted memory. During a lunch rush last week, he smoothly kept track of the food and beverage demands of almost 20 diners, an ever-shifting matrix of steaks and salads, cocktails and Cokes, running credit cards for some, describing specials to others.

All with nary an order pad in sight.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/11/AR2010011103936.html

Richard Weber says taking orders by memory, even complicated ones, helps keep his mind sharp. (Bill O’leary/the Washington Post)

Personally, I don’t buy into something that a member of the National Restaurant Association says:

“It’s fun to see and something the guests will talk about,” Donohue said. “There’s always that chuckle moment, wondering if they will get it right. But it’s part of the experience that’s unfortunately being lost as orders have gotten more complicated.”

Personally, I don’t think too many people have that “chuckle moment”. I think it’s more like what the article points out – that for most guests, it’s probably more of a feeling of dread – “Is my server going to get it right”?

Personally, to me, it’s more of a parlor trick. I’ve always said that the order should be written down, if only to give the guest a sense of security that they’re going to get the meal that they ordered. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And they say waiting tables is just a “temporary job”

New York’s veteran waiters aren’t going anywhere

Posted on 28 December 2009. Tags: , , , , ,   

Tommy Rowles has been working at the Carlyle's Bemelman's Bar for 51 years. (Photo: Joel Meares)
Tommy Rowles has been working at the Carlyle’s Bemelman’s Bar for 51 years. (Photo: Joel Meares)

  

By JOEL MEARES  

Tommy Rowles has been shaking martinis at the Carlyle Hotel’s swish Bemelmans’ Bar for 51 years. He was 17 and fresh from Dublin when he first got the job.  

“I came in to go to the bathroom and there was this Irish bartender here,” says Rowles, standing at the bar on a quiet November morning. “He said, ‘Are you looking for a job?’ Then he asked, ‘Do you own a pair of black socks?’”  

Rowles told the man to mind his own business – he wanted to work in an Irish pub, not a ritzy hotel – but he was soon swayed. Just weeks later, he was serving his first drink in the bar named for “Madeline” creator Ludwig Bemelmans.

Read the rest of the article here:  

http://nyfoodchain.com/2009/12/28/new-yorks-veteran-waiters-arent-going-anywhere/ 

Just a style note here – in this article, the term waiter mostly refers to male servers, with one exception, referring to her as a “waitress” (the “New York waiter” is often perceived as a legendarily cantankerous, garrulous and crusty old dude, especially the oldtimers at Carnegie Deli). In my blog, waiter refers to both sexes. I feel that women have the right to be perceived as cantankerous, garrulous and crusty as well. 

Mindset adjustment – pt. 2

As, let’s see, where were we?

Oh yeah, I jhad just gotten rid of annoying gym rat Doctor bitch.

Anyway, it was a very quiet night. I only had another two tables for the first seating. One was a regular who only tips 15% but usually spends over a couple of hundred bucks for his wife and himself and he’s also a very pleasant character who’s getting ready to do a major project here in town and he and his wife are very easy to wait on. So, I knew that I’d end up with about $40 with not many more rezzies on the books. Even though I was next to closers, this wasn’t going to be a barn burner of a night. 

As it turned out, my third table was three businesspeople who were fun to wait on, liked to joke around, bought a $100 bottle of wine and spend about $400.  So, at least I got another $80. Now my night was at least salvageable instead of a total flop. I’m going to walk with a bill regardless of what happens. I was looking at a possible $50 or $60 dollar night.

Now we get to the mini-epiphany.

It’s about 8:15. All reservations are in and everyone is closed but closers and myself. Each closer has 2 tables open (out of 4). Each of them has one of their existing tables winding down. Normally, this would signal pretty much going to closers. Normally, this would mean that as I wrapped up the businesspeople, I’d be finishing my closing sidework and I’d be ready to walk out the door about 15 minutes after they left.

Every waiter knows that feeling of sweet release. You’ve had a slow night, you’re winding up your 1st table and the stars are aligning to allow you to walk out the door early (whether or not you’ve had a good night or not, although it’s sweeter when you are cutting your losses).

The absolute worst thing that can happen is that you get seated as your last table is finishing their desserts, especially if you’ve basically waited on one table at a time the whole night. Heck, it’s almost 8:30 and this means that you will there until close of business (in busier churn and burn restaurants, change the time until 9;30 or 10pm). It especially hurts when you perceive that it’s not really necessary and you suspect that the manger just wants to keep you hanging on as insurance.

Well, this is exactly what happened to me. They sat a walk-in deuce in my section. And to make matters worse, they said that they were having 2 joiners who “would probably only be having cocktails”. This is sometimes code for, “We want to hang out and talk for a long time because we haven’t seen each other for a while”.

Anyway, I noticed that I didn’t get that vindictive impulse to throttle my manager with a piano wire after luring him into the walk-in. I didn’t think, “Damn! Screwed AGAIN!” I didn’t get that nauseated feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was going to be stuck there for another two to three hours for a $20 tip. There was a strange calm and acceptance that seemed alien to me. What is this unnatural waiter’s response to such a chain of events? Have I indeed been neutered?

I didn’t really have a lot of time to focus on this unsettling sense of well-being as I waited on this table. They were pretty savvy and hip younger folks – the two first guests ordered full meals and the “cocktail only” people ordered over $30 worth of appetizers (a dozen oysters at $24 and another $10 appetizer).  Most of the “visiting” was done during the meal proper. They didn’t get dessert, but ordered another round of drinks, so I figured that I was going to be around for a while anyway, which strangely enough didn’t bother me. But when they gpt their drinks, they asked for the check. Told you they were savvy. And they only stuck around long enough to finish their round of drinks. Time out? 9:50. Not bad at all. And the bill was $275, which meant a $55 tip for yours truly.

And that’s when I had the mini-epiphany.

It started with the idea that my financial struggles dictated my reaction to the new table. In more flush times, I would have found a way to convince the manager to let me give the table away, and they probably would have let me. But that thought never even crossed my mind. I often put aside the fact that any table in this restaurant can pop at any time and I “cut my losses”. I’ve probably given away thousand of dollars “cutting my losses”. 

So I’m going to try to “think poor” more often, even if I’m flush. I’m going to try to pretend that I need to stay as long as possible, especially if  I’ve had a weak night. What’s another 2 or 3 hours if it turns a bad night into at least an acceptable one? I’m sure there will be times when it only means another $20. But I’ll bet that the odds are in favor of it paying off more often than not.

One positive side effect of this that might even be more important than the financial aspect is the reduction of stress and negative feelings that can occur. There’s a certain peace in accepting that last table after everything is done. Sometimes you might ascribe evil intent to the manager and you might very well be right. they might be using you to make their job easier. But they might also be trying to make up for the lack of business that you’ve had in the earlier part of the night. Once you make this part of your strategy instead of theirs, this consideration goes out the window.

This new outlook works particularly well for those of us who toil in higher-end restaurants, especially those where any guest could drop serious money at any time. It’s less useful if you’re working at Applebee’s or TGIFridays. But it still could be useful to squeeze out as much money as possible and actually reduce those natural feelings of exploitation that many churn ‘ n burn waiters feel at times.

I’m under no delusions that I am going to stay til the bitter end every night. A lot of it is going to depend on the station that I’m in. If I’m in a station that normally is one of the first closed, I’m not going labor under the impression that I’m going to be stretched out until the end. There will be times when I’m still going to “cut my losses”. There are times when I’m going to feel like a sacrificial pawn in management’s chess match with the night. 

But I’m going to turn the old say “think rich, be rich” axiom on its head. I’m going to “think poor, get rich”. 

Mindset adjustment pt 1

I had a weird mini-epiphany last night.

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve really been squeezed for money lately due to a confluence of events that have built up over the past year. Even this last 2 week period where the money has been great hasn’t allowed me to dig out of my hole. Also, I work in a restaurant that has a high PPA (per person average). In my restaurant, any table could be a homerun, even a deuce.

Anyway, you know how light you feel when your shift is going well, or you’re making a lot of money, or the shift is just flying by and you’re finished before you know it? Or how heavy, dull and surly you can feel when the opposite is true – you’re not making any money, the shift seems to be an uphill battle, you don’t get sat for the first hour or two, or you’re always in the weeds and just can’t cut yourself out of them, or you’ve just finished your last table after not making any money and they give you a new deuce that’s going to keep you there for another hour.

Well, it’s amazing how much motivation financial desperation will give you.

Last night was slow on the books. I was next to the closers, which means that I would be there until close to the end, but not as a closer. In order to give others tables, this almost assured that I’d only have a couple of tables to get started and I’d never really get rolling (in fact, they cut down from 10 servers to 8 servers before the shift even started and then they let another person go before dinner and another within the first hour).

So, anyway, I got two tables, one of which was a very annoying blonde doctor (found this out when she paid with her credit card) wheeling her suitcase directly from the airport. She didn’t want to sit where we tried to seat her, a most sensible smaller table. She immediately found our power section, and was offered a four top, but she choose an even bigger table that we usually use for 6 people. Well, no biggie really since we probably wouldn’t need it, but already she was on my bad side. Then she proceeded to be a real snobby bitch. No preamble – as soon as I gave her the menu, she wanted to know the specials (I guess water was a low priority). She wanted to know about a certain dish; how was it prepared, would she like it (I doubt anything would be good enough for you, I though, which turned out to be quite prescient on my part),  do we do it well? I never thought I’d have to go into so much detail over fucking veal picatta. Anyway, she ordered that and some spinach.

“Would you like that steamed, sautéed or creamed”?

“How is it sautéed”?

“We saute it in garlic and olive oil”.

“Do you do use butter”? (at this point, I want to strangle her already).

“No ma’am, we saute it in garlic and olive oil”.

“I’ll take it steamed”. I thought to myself, yuck. I don’t like steamed spinach because it’s very bland, but, so be it. Of course, at least you know what it’s going to taste like – it’s not like you can screw up steamed spinach or anything.

It’s really funny, when she came in, she refused to let us put her bag in the coat room. Her bag is sitting in the aisle and she’s perched at the very end of this pretty long booth. I was thinking that maybe she had chosen the table so that she could spread out and so some work, but no – the bag never opened and, I swear to god, she couldn’t have sat any closer to the aisle. She looked ridiculous sitting at this table. She made the attempt to look “busy” by calling a couple of people. I never actually saw her mouth move, so she was probably checking to see if she had gotten any messages in the past 30 seconds.

So, anyway, I brought her her salad.

“How is your salad”? Without looking up, she said, “OK”. You know, in that half-dismissive, “It’s just OK tone”. Normally, I would have inquired further, but she had already annoyed me. I think I’ll just take her words at face value. 

 When she was finished, I brought her entrée.

“Wow, that’s just swimming in sauce, isn’t it”? To her credit, it did seem to be particularly resplendent in sauce on this particular occasion.

I told her I’d take it to the back and have it “adjusted”. So I took it to the back and stood over a trash can and poured most of the sauce off.

When I did my first quality check after she had a chance to tuck into the meal, she pointed and the spinach and said, “I don’t like it. Give me green beans instead”.

“Steamed or sautéed”? She chose sautéed this time. Smart lady.

When I brought them after ordering them on the fly, I left her for a couple of minutes. I did my check back and she said, in a quite annoying tone, “Are your green beans always this al dente. I mean, I don’t like my beans overcooked or anything, but these are very al dente“.

“Yes ma’am, we serve our beans quite al dente“.

“Well, I mean, I like my beans al dente – I don’t like them overcooked”. Yes, you told me that already.

“Would you like me to have them cook them further”? Yeah, I guess I just have to ask, because apparently I’m in a feedback loop from hell.

After she broke the loop and said yes, I took them back to the back and microwaved them for 60 seconds. That did the trick. When I checked back with her, she said that they were “fine”. Not fine as in, “Boy, your ass is FINE”. Fine as in, “You can’t give me a reservation until 8:30? OK, FINE.

At the end of her meal, she wanted to know how far a certain hotel was (the hoity-toity hotel, mind you). When she said the name of the hotel, she pronounced it as a European would (it’s shares a name with a famous museum in another part of the world, but it’s actually pronounced as an American word). As much as I would have liked to have her pronounce it that way at the reservation desk, I wanted to have my own fun so I told her that it was actually pronounced the way it is. She seemed surprised and said, “Oh, I forgot where I was”.

Oh, snap! Nice riposte Mrs. Yep, we run around barefoot most of the time and when I cook in the trailer park that I live in, sometimes I have to borrow a hot plate from my cousin, who’s married to my sister and lives in the double wide next door.

Actually, it’s named for a very famous American landmark from the early 1800s that’s almost as old as said museum. I told her that it wasn’t pronounced as it was in the city of the great museum (showing her that I actually know the museum in question). Anyway, she asked me how far it was and I said 8 blocks.

“How far do would you say it was”?

“It’s about 8 blocks that way”, I replied, pointing in the general direction.

“Is it far”?

Oh dear, another loop. Yes, I get where you’re going with this. You want to know whether it’s within walking distance. Well, 8 blocks is 8 blocks. It’s probably a good 15-20 minutes hump, and there is a hill or two involved.

Of course, it’s about a 2 minute cab ride.

I briefly though about telling her that it was about a 7 minute stroll, but I really didn’t want to go to the trouble of drawing a map so I said, “Ma’am, it’s only a two minute cab ride. If you’re asking me if it’s walkable, I wouldn’t particularly want to do it dragging a suitcase coming right off a plane”.

That seemed to settle the matter.

I got the valet to get her a cab and I put her on her way.

Thanks for the $8.50 on $63. but that was predictable, especially when I saw the Dr. in front of her name.

Sadly, I’ve run out of time to finish my story this morning. So I’ve turned this into a two-parter. This isn’t just a rant post though – there’s a little philosophyin’ at the end of this. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Culinary term of the day – gastrique

No, gastrique isn’t a digestive aid. Well, not in the traditional sense, at least.

Gastrique is a sauce variation, created by the reduction of vinegar and sugar and usually includes a fruit component. The sugar is usually caramelized. Sometimes a gastrique is simply vinegar and caramelized sugar and it’s added to a fruit component that exists in a dish (for instance, you might have duck with cherries and a gastrique is added in order to combine with the cherries and bridge the gap between the fruit and the meat) and sometimes fruit juice or straight fruit is added directly to the gastrique to creat a “fruit sauce”. Occasionally, you might find the addition of wine or port to the basic gastrique.

The most common fruits used are lemon, oranges and tomatoes, although virtually any fruit can be used.

Gastriques aren’t usually “sweet”, per se. When you caramelize the sugar, it reduces the sweetness.

A gastrique is useful for adding acidity to a dish and is a nice change from heavy cream or roux-based sauces.

Cutting corners

As waiters, we sometimes have to cut corners.

But last night, I was reminded that you have to be careful about cutting corners.

A table ordered  two bottles of the same wine (a fairly recent Cabernet Sauvignon from a prominent California winery). Sin ce we had at least 7 or 8 people drinking, I poured the first bottle and decanted the remainder and opened the second bottle. I was going to pour the second bottle to the remaining guests, but I had about a fifth of the first bottle in the decanter. Instead of getting a second decanter, I started to pour the second bottle into the decanter, when the guy who ordered the wine stopped me and said, “Are you mixing bottles in the same decanter? You never do that”.

Technically he was right. Most people don’t mind unless it’s a wine that can be pretty variable such as a French Burgundy. In fact, I had the same mindset when I stopped pouring the first bottle and decanted the second because I was indending to keep from mixing the last of the first bottle in the next round of glasses. I sort of defaulted to the normal “I don’t care if you mix bottles” mindset.

While he wasn’t pleased, fortunately, he didn’t hold it against me and I apologized once more as I presented the check. He still tipped 20% on the wine (which was rung up on a separate check).

So, before you cut a corner, sometimes it’s good to ask the guest first.

Just sayin’…

Restaurant earnings: Beyond the numbers – from Nation’s Restaurant News

Restaurant earnings: Beyond the numbers

By Mike  Dempsey

(Feb. 18, 2010) Financial results were mixed this week as a cross-section of restaurant companies reported fourth-quarter earnings. Stalled consumer spending and continued traffic declines plagued top lines, while bright spots included positive earnings growth from cost-cutting moves and favorable comparison to year-ago figures.

Beyond the numbers, companies laid out strategies aimed at combating the sluggish economy and igniting sales and traffic.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=379646

The article goes on to list four companies’ results, Darden, the parent of Red Lobster, P. F. Chang’s, which reported a doubling of profit in the 4th quarter of 2009, Denny’s and Jack in the Box. The article explains that there are bright spots in casual dining, while higher end chains still continue to struggle.

Ruth’s Hospitality Group is such a restaurant operator still struggling with profits, although they “cut their losses” in the 4th quarter. According to NRN, they are still struggling with same store sales, falling 11.2%. You can read the whole article here:

http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=379656

This is a long way from 2005, when articles like this from NRN were legion:

Big high-end steakhouse chains are primed for 10% growth

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_9_39/ai_n13251038/

Most steakhouses have struggled to fill seats and stem bloodletting from eroding covers. Some, like Palm Steakhouse, are expanding to foreign and other markets. Palm has recently opened a London restaurant and is planning several more in Europe and are eying the Pacific Rim. They are also opening Palm Bar and Grill, a micro version of the venerable restaurant, in JFK’s Terminal 4 (slated for opening last month) and, by all accounts, plan more in the future.  Morton’s is reaching even higher, announcing in-flight offerings from their famous brands. They’ve also offered a Filet & Lobster Tail Dinner via Lobster Gram, a full dinner for 2 delivered to your door for $149.00. You still had to cook it, but they tossed in a couple of “signature engraved steak knives” and Morton’s Signature Grilling Salt and clarified butter.  This program, started in November 2008, has since been discontinued. Guess it wasn’t the hit that they hoped for. 

Independent restaurants have also struggled. One ingenious thing that has been done in Nashville is Nashville Originals, an organization of like-minded indie restaurants designed to promote dining locally as well as offering the benefits of increased scale. While it’s been around for several years, it’s still a nascent organization. Its on-line presence is still a bit primitive and the promise hasn’t been fulfilled quite yet. When they first started, there was talk about possibilities like shared purchasing in order to get better prices, but I’m not sure that this promise has ever come to fruition (it’s probably logistically difficult). About the only shared thing that’s really evident other than the occasional press release is a gift certificate that can be used at any of the member restaurants. I hope that they can get some traction, but it looks like the day-to-day challenges of running an independent restaurant are preventing some serious traction. It’s probably like trying to herd a clutch of cats. Here’s their website:

http://www.nashvilleoriginals.com/index.php

As you can see, there’s definitely improvement to be made there.

I’ve noticed that there are such organizations in various communities throughout America. Hopefully, they can offer some benefits that will help indie restaurants through this challenging economic landscape.

Image found at http://positivesharing.com/2006/03/make-your-business-happy-and-rich/

Cookbook of the day – The Cook’s Bible

The Cook’s Bible: The Best of American Home Cooking

by Christopher Kimball

Publisher – Little, Brown and Company 1996

ISBN 10: 0316493716

ISBN 13: 978-0316493710 

Christopher Kimball is the bowtied, avuncular founder of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and can be seen as the host of America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen on PBS.

The premise of his various media is a test, or trial and error approach to solving the world’s culinary mysteries such as how to achieve the perfect pie crust or “how do you create the perfect blueberry muffin?”

To this end, we find the book The Cook’s Bible.

This is a very useful look at not only creating “the perfect dish” but also a quick and dirty comparison of various cooking implements, the type of tests that you find in Cook’s Illustrated, a magazine refreshingly devoid of advertising. Kimball also answers the questions that have puzzled us through the years, such as “What’s the difference between baking powder and baking soda?” and an explanation as to how cornstarch and flour thicken sauces.

Many of the trial and error tests include outcomes of various trials, with the results listed sequentially. This is very useful indeed.

However…

I did find two fairly serious flaws in the book. The first is the command that you shouldn’t wash, rince or soak rice first. Well, that’s not the case with jasmine or basmati rice. Basmati rice in particular must be rinsed 4 or 5 times, until the water turns from cloudy to clear. This is done for several reasons – first, imported basmati often has the occasional tiny pebble or twig left in the bag. You want to get rid of those. Also, some basmatis are polished with talc or glucose and you want to get rid of that as well as well as additional starch. Some people say that basmati should be soaked; I’m not one of them. Kimball and his crew outline the various methods of cooking rice, but didn’t hit on the way that I’ve found that works best for basmati – simply put, you put about an inch of water above the rice (I was taught an index finger first knuckle by a very good Indian chef), add some ghee, oil or butter, toss in a bit of salt and bring to a boil. As soon as the water is boiling, reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover and walk away for about 12 minutes. Don’t uncover it until at least 12 minutes. At that point, you can check it for small “steam craters” on the surface of the rice (small pockmarks where steam has escaped. Normally, the rice is just about ready at this point (unless you’re cooking mass quantities, of course). To check to make sure it’s ready, you take a chopstick and carefully part the middle of the rice and see if there’s any liquid remaining in the bottom. If so, return to the heat and leave it covered for another 2 minutes and recheck. Normally, by the second check, it’s done. You want to be careful to disturb the rice as little as possible. The great thing about this method is that the “inch of water above the rice” method works consistently for any reasonable amount of rice and any reasonably shaped saucepan (I’ve never tried it for rice for 10 though).  No measuring required. No precise measured ratios between rice and water. Once you get the hang of what “an inch above the level of the rice” looks like, you’re home free. My rice always comes out perfectly and never over or undercooked or stuck to the bottom of the pan. This works with either basmati or jasmine rice.

My second quibble is with his description of barbecue. Well, not so much with his description of barbecue itself, but his “blow by blow account” of cooking a 3.75 lb Boston Butt. First of all, he was waaaay too dainty when it came to air and grill temperatures. Even the most conservative, hidebound, Luddite know-it-all BBQ’er knows that 225 degrees is just fine. Trying to keep the temperature around 200 as Kimball did just slows things down and doesn’t help anything. Also, he found that the temperature had dropped from 145° to 140° at one point, leading him to speculate that he had taken the internal temperature at the wrong place. What he didn’t know, but any halfway experienced BBQ’er knows, is that there’s a plateau point in slow cooking where the temperature either stays the same or even drops for an extended period of time. that’s one of the first things you learn when cooking Boston Butt – that it generally plateaus at around 140° for an hour or two, and oldtimers caution newbies not to panic and crank up the heat – it’s just part of the process. But the final nail in the coffin is that he served the Boston Butt sliced at 145° and proclaimed it “the best barbecue he had ever tasted”! Well, maybe that’s what passes for BBQ in Vermont (or even Boston, where his empire is based), but I can’t imagine a 145° piece of Boston Butt being even edible. You see, Boston Butt is highly marbled and dense. It must be cooked to at least 180°, and that’s if you’re going to slice it. All of the connective tissues and fat must be rendered first to keep it from being tough. And personally, I cook it to the point where it can be pulled, which is a minimum of 195° (I usually like to go to 200° – 205° to assure maximum elimination of solid fat and connective tissue). I guess it’s also hard to find larger cuts of Boston Butt where he’s from (ironic that he claims to mostly only find 4 lb’ers of Boston Butt in Boston of all places – here in the South, the most common size is between 6 and 9 lbs). No, he definitely missed the boat all around on his section about BBQ’ing. He specifically says, “For barbecue, the experts say that the heat should be kept at a steady 200° – not 250° or 275°. This is hogwash. Paul Kirk, one of the most successful BBQ’ers says between 230° and 250° and Ray Lampe goes with an even higher temperature for pork butt (the cooler name for Boston Butt) – 275°. I’ve participated in the most widely read smoking forum on the web and most people talk about 225° – 250°. And I’ve discovered that for larger butts of 6 lbs or more, you can go for the first 2 – 4 hours at 300° without any problem (of course, your bark will be black, but that’s the perfect bark where I come from). Christopher needs to do a little more research. Perhaps he has, since this book is about a decade old. Oldtimers will bust me for the 300° comment, but I’ve done the trial and error thing as well, making notes all along the way, and my 300° – 325° initial temperatures and rendered perfectly moist pulled pork time and time again. the thing is, the last half of the cooking must be done at the more conventional temperatures – I like 225° once I get to the halfway point (I figure about 1.25 – 1.75 hours per pound – every Butt is different due to shape and density – I’ve had it take as long as 2 hours per pound before).

In any case, there’s a lot of useful information in this book, but be careful about some of his proclamations. I guess it would be trial and error for that as well.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods made an extraordinary statement today, taking full blame for his behavior and apologizing to his family, friends, fans and people who considered him a role model. I find it extraordinary because it seemed more about personal redemption than career redemption. I am already seeing pushback to this view and I understand that some will see it as a craven attempt to control the story and a ham-fisted PR disaster. I disagree. I also think that the disclosure that he’s been in in-patient therapy explains his silence during the past three months. Rather than stonewalling, it’s been an attempt at personal responsibility and treatment.

What makes this germane to this blog, which is about waiting tables? Because Woods is notorious for being a bad tipper. I suspect that this is a combination of lack of social skills due to a total focus to golf from an early age, a lack of parental coaching about the basic social responsibilities (which might be exactly why he’s in the position that he’s in at the moment), and an arrogance that he himself implied during the statement.

I hope that part of his rehab is learning that fulfilling certain social contracts are important to maintaining a top-flight character, and tipping falls in that category. Sure, it doesn’t rise to the level of a commitment to spouse and children, but it’s a piece that he needs to find. He’s worked hard for his fortune so I don’t begrudge him that. But to exploit working food servers is pretty egregious, especially when you yourself are blessed with a huge fortune. The reports of his non-tipping are legion. I hope that the humility that’s being forced on him now will translate into better behavior at the dining table.

Tiger, time to take responsibility in all  areas of your life. Including taking care of those who take care of your dining needs.