So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Tag Archives: food porn

You know you’re a foodie when…

…you’re watching Tony Bourdain in Vienna and you say, “He’s drinking out of a Spiegelau wine glass! It’s an “Authentis” Burgundy glass! Why is he drinking white wine out of it? And hey, I’ve even got one of those glasses”!

That’s when you say to yourself, “Have I’ve gone too far? Am I a lost boy”?

That’s on top of me going to a new Vietnamese restaurant this afternoon and being disappointed with the  Bánh mì sandwich and the vermicelli dish that you find in most Viet restaurants (you know the one – it’s got cut up pieces of spring roll, cilantro, grated carrots, “BBQ pork”, ground peanuts and a side bowl of sweetened fish sauce. First of all, the Bánh mì barely had any crunchy bits like cucumber and carrots, and had some very stalky cilantro stuck in the middle. The pork was the requisite reddish color but had hardly any flavor. Plus, it wasn’t even cut in the middle. Sad. Then, the vermicelli dish had some sad bits of cilantro and a sprinkling of carrots and almost indiscernable cucumber, the fish sauce tasted more vinegary than sweet, and the spring rolls were basically Chinese spring rolls (I don’t know what makes them different, but the Vietnamese spring rolls you usually find in the dish are far more succulent and tasty). But the final insult was the fact that the vermicelli was overcooked and comprised most of the bowl instead of having a good ratio of noodles to “good bits”. Oh wait, I forgot – I had to send back the lemonade because it was a commercial mix  instead of that really good “homemade lemonade” that you find in a good US Vietnamese restaurant. Hell, it even said “homemade lemonade” on the menu. I told my waiter that it tasted like Countrytime and she told me that it was actually Minutemaid.

I turned into one of those passive-aggressive diners that we waiters all hate, only I dropped the “aggressive”. I couldn’t bring myself to tell the very nice, accommodating waiter that it wasn’t her fault but her restaurant’s cuisine sucked eggs. I was hard enough for me to send the flipping lemonade back ($2.75 – are you kidding me??!!??)

I feel badly because I won’t be going back, especially since there are three good Vietnamese restaurants within 3 blocks of there. I feel especially bad because I didn’t have the heart to tell my waiter. I’m a baaaaddd diner.  But even worse, I feel weird that I had such emotions over a $10 lunch. I guess that makes me a foodie of sorts – a foodie on a budget.

God, somebody please help me…

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Dish of the day – crudo

Crudo is the Italian combination of the two culinary concepts sashimi and ceviche. Obviously, it involves raw seafood and it made with some acidic component, olive oil and sea salt. Ceviche differs in that it’s actually a cooked dish, the cooking coming from marinating seafood in an acidic liquid, usually citrus based. It’s usually cut into smaller pieces or is assembled from various raw seafood such as small shrimps, calamari or small, bite-sized pieces or fresh fish. Crudo, on the other hand, isn’t actually marinated in anything other than olive oil. The acidic component is added at the last minute, whether on the plate or drizzled over the fish or actually applied by the diner fresh from the fruit. Any additional ingredients other than what I outlined are usually limited to some sort of aromatic herb such as basil, parsley or fennel. Also, it’s usually presented more like sashimi, with slightly larger pieces. Ceviche, on the other hand, features smaller cuts of seafood, either diced or cubed in order to facilitate the “cooking process”. It also usually features onion or shallots and can also have additional ingredients. Different regions have different variations, including ingredients like corn, chiles, etc. Sashimi is basically just raw fish, sliced to show off the grain of the fish and is served with minimal accompaniment, i.e. a little sliced daikon, cucumber or ginger and usually is served with a dipping soy-based sauce that might or might not include wasabi

Crudo is simpler than ceviche and slightly more involved than sashimi.

As more and more chefs discover crudo as a “new”, “fresh” culinary product, the tendency has been to add additional components, or use crudo as an ingredient in a larger dish. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, but the key to a successful crudo is two-fold, find the freshest saltwater seafood (because, let’s face it, raw seafood is potentially dangerous), and the KISS concept, Keep It Simple Stupid. The star is the seafood, not the things that you might pile onto it. Well, that and the combination of the olive oil, sea salt and acidic component. It’s almost like a very simple, deconstructed citrus viniagrette, or gastrique. Some chefs also use various vinegars in addition to the citrus juice.

If you keep in mind the simple concept that ceviche is actually a cooked dish and sashimi doesn’t have a “sauce”, but a dipping sauce, it’s easy to keep them separate.

Not many restaurants serve crudo, but who knows? You might encounter it some day and I hope that you get the chance to try it at some point. It’s a fresh, clean dish that is almost a palate cleanser.

Traditional crudo

Hamachi crudo with avocado

New blog added – Culinary Grammar

This is a nice blog for foodies. There’s enough food porn to keep the “gourmand” in each foodie happy and there is a personal touch that marks the best private culinary blogs.

The author is/was in Nashville, so there’s that. There’s lots of local color that she exposes to the rest of the world. She is a graduating student who is moving to Dallas to teach, so this might explain why the last post was back in April. Perhaps she graduated back in the spring and she’s getting established in her new career. I suspect that she will pick back up when things get stabilized because she obviously has an affinity for talking about food. I know all about having to take a break, although my recent break was less to do with recharging and more to do with taking care of business. I normally don’t recommend dormant blogs, but I just get the feeling that it’s a temporary condition.

Perhaps I’ll do a post in the near future recommending truly dormant blogs because there are a few that remain relevant, funny and interesting even though the author might have left the food industry.

So, let’s drink a nice sweet tea over our plate of collards and welcome Steph to the fold!

Here’s a pic from the blog (I reduced the size – it’s bigger there). It’s a nice table of food from my friend and great chef Margo McCormack’s lovely restaurant, Marché:

Photo from the blog “Culinary Grammar”. Photo presumably from the author of the blog.

http://culinarygrammar.wordpress.com/about-2/

Famed chef Thomas Keller eats some of the best chicken wings anywhere in Nashville

From The Tennessean:

Chef Thomas Keller braves the heat at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

By Jennifer Justus • THE TENNESSEAN • March 31, 2010

The meticulous French-style chef, one of the most respected in the nation, has intense dark eyes that could sear a sloppy line cook faster than a filet in a hot pan.

But sitting across from him at the lunch table, I watched as a single tear rolled down his cheek.

He dabbed it with a paper napkin.

And then he reached for another bite of hot chicken.

I didn’t mean to make him cry. Really. But I admit that when I heard the famous chef — he of the James Beard accolades, the Michelin stars and the collection of posh restaurants from Napa to New York — was headed to Nashville for a book-signing, I knew Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack was where I wanted to take him.

No question, fried chicken is hot right now. Just last week, movie star Gwyneth Paltrow gushed about eating fried chicken in Nashville on her GOOP.com blog, and glossy national food magazines have devoted photo-laden spreads to the humble bird.

But in Nashville, chicken has always been hot. Spicy hot, that is — the kind of heat that comes with a Scoville rating. So I was keen to hear what Chef Keller thought about our version. I also hoped to hear more about his Buttermilk Fried Chicken, a recipe that has its own cult following, and the emotional significance of chicken, which he talks about in his latest book, Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan, Nov. 2009, $50). Chicken, after all, is the last meal he ever prepared for his father, and the first recipe in the book.

Read the rest of the article here:

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20100331/FEATURES02/3310340/Chef-Thomas-Keller-braves-the-heat-at-Prince-s-Hot-Chicken-Shack

This article about the famed chef-owner of The French Laundry and Per Se is really a good read and has a nice ending, so I recommend that everyone read it.

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.

Cookbook of the day – The Habanero Cookbook

The Habanero Cookbook

by Dave Dewitt & Nancy Gerlach

Publisher: Ten Speed Press; illustrated edition (March 1, 1995)

ISBN 10: 0898156386

ISBN 13: 978-0898156386

This book, written by famed “hot food” writers, Dave Dewitt and Nancy Gerlach, is actually outdated, even though it was written in 1995. It declares the habanero as “the hottest pepper in the world”. Those who follow this blog know that there is actually a hotter pepper, the India-based Naga Jokolia, a pepper which is twice as hot as the habanero. Also called “ghost pepper”, this little bomb of a pepper is allegedly used to make pepper spray by the Indian police.

However, this doesn’t reduce the utility of this well-written book.

The first part of the book is a comprehensive source of the history of Capsicum chinese and taxonomical information about variations within the species. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this discussion is the origins of Red Savina, considered the hottest of all of the members of the habanero family. The authors list at least 25 names for the habanero given by different locales, locales mostly found in the Caribbean but also as far-flung as Fiji.

The habanero distinguishes itself from many other chiles through the very distinct citrus and fruit notes that it displays. This gives it a depth of flavor that isn’t obscured by its intense heat.

The discussion turns at times to cultivation, crossbreeding and hot sauces as well.

And the recipes!

The recipes are well-chosen and diverse, offering a glimpse into Caribbean cooking, but it doesn’t end there. The habanero is incorporated into more generic dishes as well.

If you’re a chilehead, this book is right in your wheelhouse. It’s not an expensive volume and will expand your repertoire of “fiery foods”.

Habaneros from the Agricultural Research Service, a branch of the United States Agricultural Department

New link added – Steamy Kitchen

Are you a foodie? Do you like food porn photography? Need some upscale recipes to kickstart your rather tired kitchen repertoire?

Have I got the blog for you – “Steamy Kitchen”.

Jaden Hair is a Tampa-based food writer and personality who captures the joy of the kitchen through words and pictures. Her colorful site is rife with her own photography, and professional quality food porn it is. Her use of focal planes really highlights and focuses the attention on the main elements of the dish. She’s a Canon 40D gal for the moment (I’m a 20D dude myself, but my camera has been dead for almost a year now, and I just don’t have the bucks to send it back to Canon for repair). Here’s an example of how good she makes even the simplest dish look:

Photo of Baked Parmesan Garlic Chicken Wings © Jaden Hair 

Note the nice bokeh (the blurred, out-of focus background) – the shape and color of the basil makes a nice counterpoint to the foreground shape. This recipe is duly credited to  PizzAmore, Mount Dora, Florida so it’s clear that not only does she concoct her own recipes, she shares bits of her world with the rest of the world. Note the very subtle use of Photoshop. The photo is sharpened just so; the natural tonal balance preserved.

She’s spunky and fun to read and the site is really easy on the eyes. I recommend this blog to all latent and overt foodies in my audience.

Here’s one of the many reasons that I’m becoming besotted with this site:

Random Stuff

Confucius say:

1. One who has harmony in seasonings need no recipe. Know basic combinations of seasonings in types of cuisines Chinese: soy, sugar, wine, sesame oil Japanese: mirin, soy, sake

2. She who marinates meats – even a quick 10 minutes – will be rewarded with flavorful dish

3. Hot Wokky = No Stikky

4. Cooking not only taste. Use all 5 senses.

5. It is honorable to share your food with friends. Cook more than enough and bring to hungry neighbor.

Ok, ok, Confucious really didn’t say that. I made that shit up.

Oh yeah:

Legal Blah-Blah

Recipes, videos, photographs and text on SteamyKitchen.com by Steamy Kitchen, Inc. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Attribution: You must attribute the work in the manner specified by me (author/licensor), but not in any way suggests that I endorse you or your use of my work.

Non-Commercial: You’re prohibited from using my work (photographs, text, and recipes) for commercial purposes.

No Derivative Works: You may not alter, transform my work.

  • For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of my work. The best way to do this is with a link back to this web page.
  • Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from me (the copyright holder).

Violate this and forever be cursed by the food gods – your souffles will never rise and eggs will always be rotten”.

End of Legal Blah-Blah

First of all, non-commercial. So far at least. So no problems there.

I would never presume that Jaden Hair endorses this blog. Until now, I’m sure that it’s unknown to her. I imagine that after she examines it, it will stay that way.

I admit to having altered her banner to make it fit. I’m hoping that this affront will only cause the miso in my fridge to turn (as if the long-expired expiration date hasn’t helped that along).

Already often cursed by the food gods, I only acknowledge all of this legal blah-blah out of courtesy and fear of court action.

PS, having mentioned gluten-free issues here in the past (no I don’t suffer from it myself), I note that the author is gluten-free aware and labels recipes that are, or can easily be made gluten-free with the initials GF. 

PPS, she’s also written a cookbook. Perhaps I will get a copy and review it in a future “Cookbook of the Day” post.

Let’s raise a glass of fresh lemongrass ginger ale as we welcome her to ye ole blogroll! 

 Photo by John Revisky, Sarasota Magazine 

Cookbook of the day – The Taste of Thailand

The Taste of Thailand

by Vatcharin Bhumichitr

  • Publisher  Macmillan General Reference (September 1993)
  • ISBN 10: 0020091303
  • ISBN 13: 978-0020091301
  • This, the last cookbook review of the decade, has a literal title that can be taken multiple ways. The first is used in the sense that you would expect a cookbook to use it – taste in a literal sense. But it’s also a taste of Thai culture, with long narratives of Thai life, and finally, it’s a taste of different regional variations of Thai cooking.

    Half cookbook, half history and half cultural commentary (wait – that’s three halves!), this is a most useful book in fleshing out a cuisine, which can’t be separated from the society from which it emerges.

    It has a logical structure. Starting with the history of Thailand, it merges into basic ingredients, essential equipment, basic techniques and the home kitchen. Following that narrative, the book takes you to the country and you start with basic, easy to do recipes. the author then sends you to Bangkok and you start to get to more advanced food. Then, a section on seafood, Thailand obviously being a maritime country. Then you go up country to the North, where he explores the tribes, culture and food of one corner of the “Golden Triangle”. Following that is a segment on hors d’oeuvres, party foods, desserts and the all-important aspect of Thai cooking that you often don’t get a sense of in the US, vegetable carving. Finally, the narrative ends with a paean to eating out in Thailand and some selected “copies” of restaurant food that the author has reproduced.

    This is one satisfying sucker of a book. Laden with photographs that capture the breadth and width of the country, this is a cookbook that every chef should own, even if they’re not really big on Thai food. This might make you a believer.

    My copy of the book has the cover that’s pictured above. Mine is a paperback UK edition. There are at least 4 different covers that I have seen and the book is also available in hardback. And, beware, there’s a book called A Taste of Thailand. It’s not the same book. I haven’t seen the book and it might very well be a great book. But it’s not the book that’s reviewed here.

    The book is available at this moment from Amazon sellers in both paperback and hardback in new and used conditions. The price ranges from very cheap to very expensive as is usually the case – for out of print editions, there’s always a seller willing to sell you a book for $50 that you see listed for $4 from another seller. They also stock the current Pavillion reprint of the original book for around $14. It has a different cover and it’s questionable as to whether it has the great photographs of the original. I see no credit for the photographer, nor any photographs when I use the “Look Inside” feature that Amazon offers. If I had my druthers, I’d only buy the reprint as a last resort. 

    Here are the Amazon links:

    Original hardcover:

    http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Thailand-Vatcharin-Bhumichitr/dp/0689119941/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0

    Original softcover:

    http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Thailand-Vatcharin-Bhumichitr/dp/0020091303

    Current softcover reprint (out of stock at the moment, but available):

    http://www.amazon.com/Taste-Thailand-Definitive-Regional-Pavilion/dp/1862057060

    And, just for kicks and giggles, here are eBay’s current listings:

    http://books.shop.ebay.com/?_from=R40&_trksid=p3907.m38.l1313&_nkw=The+taste+of+thailand&_sacat=267

    You’ll have to filter out the other books – look only at listings for Vatcharin Bhumichitr.

    Happy hunting!

    Why all of the talk about cookbooks and food…

    …on a waiter’s website?

    Well, I love a good cookbook and I like food.

    But there’s a bigger issue. The more interested you are in cuisine and the better informed you are about food, the more poised and confident you’ll be as you stand tableside and field questions and transmit a love of the dining experience and good food to your guest.

    As a conductor must read music, so does a great waiter need to have a command of his or her menu. and that includes areas outside of the menu as well, for you never know when a chef’s special will have an unfamiliar ingredient or cooking technique. If you don’t know what a confit is (or don’t care when the chef explains it during pre-shift), you won’t be able to communicate it to the guest, or you’ll end up hemming and hawing and tap dancing.

    And that’s not good tableside bearing.

    Diners can smell blood in the water. They can also sense when a waiter knows his or her stuff.  Is a great waiter ever stumped? Yes, it can happen. You might be asked a question that you don’t know the answer to.

    The key is giving off the aura that you know everything about food. It’s how you talk about it, it’s how you communicate flavor profiles, it’s how you answer questions on your feet.

    Even waiters who serve in restaurants with fixed menus and no daily specials can benefit from food and alcohol knowledge.

    And that’s where study comes in. that’s where exposure to different cuisines come in (even chain restaurants have started using some exotic ingredients.

    Cookbooks can help you learn about different techniques, cuisines and ingredients.

    Reading this blog can help you. Going to culinary sites that this blog points out can help you.

    You are in charge of your career. Just coasting through shift after shift won’t help further the career.

    I’m just sayin’…

    And speaking of Serious Eats…

    …we’re adding it to our blogroll, under the category of foodie.

    Always interesting, always informative, and, in the best tradition of food porn, glossy and moist with tempting photographs, this is definitely a go-to site for anyone interested at all in food.

    Just like a 13 year old boy stays in the bathroom for excessive periods of time, you might find yourself stuck in the kitchen with a laptop and a roll of paper towels for a long long time.

    Here’s an example of what you will get:

    Photos by Erin Zimmer