So You Want To Be A Waiter

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

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Warning the guest without dissing the chef, the kitchen, or the food

The other day, we had a soup de jour that had a very profound and prominent herb. To be fair, this herb was actually part of the name of the soup. To be additionally fair, it’s not one of my favorite herbs in and of itself, although I certainly appreciate the appropriate use of it. And finally, everyone knows what it tastes like, so it’s not like it’s an exotic ingredient or anything.

However, I thought it was way over the top, especially since it was the only obvious seasoning component other than salt and pepper.

So how does one communicate this without trashing the restaurant’s product? Here’s how I did it.

I gave the name of the soup and said, “The (X-herb) is very prominent in the soup. If you like (X-herb), you’re going to love it.  However, if you’re ambivalent about (X-herb) or dislike it, you should try our other soup. And, just so you know, I’m a little sensitive to this herb, so take what I say with a grain of salt”.

You notice that I haven’t run down our own product or questioned the ability of our chef or our kitchen. As a matter of fact, it might have been a really great soup for most people. But I did my due diligence by tasting it, I formed an opinion, and I was able to communicate that opinion my guests in an appropriate fashion and also cover my ass if they didn’t like it.

Things I considered (and discarded) were:

“Man, this soup sucks! It’s like chewing on a pine tree”.

“Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t feed this swill to Saddam Hussein”.

:sound of random gagging noises:

“It would make a good disinfectant”.

“It’s the smell of clean”.

“I hate the waste of a perfectly good chicken”.

shark-soup

Cookbook of the day – The Art of Creole Cooking (1962)

Creole Cooking

The Art of Creole Cooking

by William I. Kaufman and sister Mary Ursula Cooper, O.P.

  • Publisher Kessinger Publishing, LLC (September 12, 2007)
  • ISBN 10: 0548387699
  • ISBN 13: 978-0548387696
  • The cover subtitle of this book is accurate: A delicious composite of familiar and not-so-familiar Creole recipes documented with pertinent historical comments.

    I have the original edition of this, complete with the original dustcover pictured above. Long out of print, it has been republished by the above publisher in 2007, so it is once again available to the discerning foodie. Currently, there’s at least one copy of the book with original dustcover available for $40, but there are several available without dustcover at eBay for far less. If you are happy with a paperback reprint, the book will set you back around $20.

    Before we get into the book itself, let’s make clear that Creole cooking isn’t the same as Cajun cooking, even though it shares many characteristics, including reliance on the integral brown roux, used as a foundation ingredient in many dishes in both cuisines. However, Creole cooking integrates Spanish and American Indian flourishes in addition to French and Black influences.

    Basically, Cajuns were more isolated, as you might expect from a group of Acadian ex-pats from Canada. They stuck together and stayed more of a closed culture, and their cuisine generally reflects that. Creoles tended to employ more diverse influences. You might make a broad sweeping generalization (always dangerous, of course) that Cajuns were more rural and Creoles more urban. People who are in the know will tell you that most cuisine that you find in New Orleans proper is actually mostly Creole, rather than Cajun. Creole is a more “refined” cuisine, while Cajun is more “comfort food” (refined not intended to mean that it’s “better”). This makes Creole a better cuisine for restaurant service with its refined sauces and plate presentation possibilities. Cajun is more what you would find at family gatherings, as it’s very “pot-centric” and family-style. Creole also has a Caribbean influence because many Creoles have a Haitian heritage. 

    Tom Fitzmorris, famed New Orleans food critic, has a very sensible primer on the difference between the two, and it’s worth a read:

    http://www.tabasco.com/taste_tent/menu_planning/cajun_vs_creole_cooking.cfm

    Now that we’ve dispensed with this, what about the book? The most famous Creole dish is Shrimp Creole. But Creole cuisine is far more than that, which you will discover when you browse this book. There are many French-based recipes such as Crepes Suzette and Delicieux Poulet au Vin (Delightful Chicken with Wine), made with sherry rather than the red wine that you would expect from a French chicken dish with vin in the title. There is Oyster Stuffing, Braised Pigeons or Doves, Turtle Soup, Porcupines (a tasty little baked confection made from ground pecans, dates, shredded coconut, brown sugar and eggs) and Crackling Corn Bread (which reflects the Black culinary influence).

    Every chapter has specific information about the Creole slant on the following recipes and it’s full of practical information that will help you navigate the cuisine.

    I highly recommend this volume, whether you try to seek out an original copy or simply buy the current reprint.

    Creole boudin

    Creole Boudin (Creole Sausage)

    Cookbook of the day – The New Professional Chef

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    The New Professional Chef

    by The Culinary Institute of America

     

  • Publisher:Van Nostrand Reinhold; 6 Sub edition (November 7, 1995)  
  • ISBN-10: 0471286796
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471286790
  •  

    This is the basic textbook of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). It’s big and expensive. I don’t recommend buying it new, but you can sometimes find it at used bookstores for $20 – $30.

    Obviously, it has a lot of basic information about things that a chef needs to know about nutrition, safety concerns, kitchen tools, food prep and food ingredients. However, I think that some of the other books that I’ve recommended that focus on specific things like ingredients, cooking techniques for specific cuisines, etc. is money better spent.

    I’m recommending this book to those who have the occasional need to produce food for large gatherings. if you occasionally throw large dinner parties, patio barbecues for family and friends, or do the occasional catering gig, this book is invaluable because it had many many recipes for basic sauces, stocks and classic dishes that are designed for 10 or more people.

    Most restaurant chefs in quality restaurants keep this volume handy, and it’s a short-sighted professional caterer that doesn’t also use this volume often. It’s also useful for the non-pro as well, but only if you cook for large families and gatherings occasionally.

    Cookbook of the day – Steven Raichlen’s BBQ USA

    Raichlen

    BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America

    by Steven Raichlen

     

  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (April 22, 2003)
  • ISBN-10: 0761120157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761120155
  •  

    This hefty paperback (which clocks in at almost 800 pages) is Steven Raichlen attempts to survey the incredible regional variety of American barbecue, and it overwhelmingly succeeds.

    From the low country barbecue of South Carolina to the brisket of Texas, from Memphis pulled pork to Santa Maria central California tri-tip, from the brats of Wisconsin to Miami’s lecon asado, pork marinated in adobo and garlic and wrapped in banana leaves, you’ll get well-documented rubs, seasonings and cooking techniques from across the USA.

    Raichlen also provides plenty of history of barbecue from the various regions of the country. You even get specific recommendations for restaurants, diners, shacks and various eateries in each region.

    If you are a barbecue fan, this is a must-have.

    I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July and my condolences to the family, friends, fans and fellow sportspeople of Steve McNair, the ex-NFL quarterback who was found shot to death this afternoon in downtown Nashville in his rented condominium.

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    RIP – Steve McNair

    Cookbook of the day – Let The Flames Begin

    Flames1

    Let the Flames Begin: Tips, Techniques and Recipes for Real Live Fire Cooking

    by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby

     

  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.; Reissue edition (8 Aug 2003)  
  • ISBN-10: 0393050874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393050875
  •  

    Chris Schlesinger is the chef/owner of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge Mass. and three other restaurants and is also a food author with several other books under his belt and John Willoughby is executive editor of Gourmet magazine.  This book  is a followup to the previous grilling books, The Thrill of the Grill and License to Grill, and is a great overview of the art of grilling and smoking and a wide-ranging selection of well-chosen recipes.

     From making “hobo packs” to prosciutto-stuffed grilled chicken tenderloins with fresh figs and pesto butter, both traditionalists and internationalists can find flavorful dishes to prepare.

    You get a good primer on the various grilling and smoking techniques and it’s obvious that both authors are aficionados of grilling wherever they encounter it, whether it be in South Carolina or the streets of Kingston.

    In this prime grilling season, I hope that you will consider picking up the book.

    BTW, I have a first edition of this book. This has a different cover. You might find it with this cover:

    Flames

    Here are your authors:

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    prar01_willoughby212

    Portrait of John Willoughby by Romulo Yanes

    New link added – www.johnmariani.com

    www.johnmariani.com

    This is the site of Esquire food editor John Mariani and it has a link to his Virtual Gourmet newsletter. There you can vicariously experience the wrold of dining and food. It’s a foodie’s delight, although you might sometimes feel like you’re outside looking in.

    In the current issue of the newsletter, Mariani surveys the Atlanta dining scene.

    So, look for the link in my Foodie blogroll.

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    Cookbook of the day – The Harry’s Bar Cookbook

    Harry's

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Harry’s Bar Cookbook

    by Arrigo Cipriani

  • Publisher: Bantam (October 1, 1991)
  • ISBN-10: 0553070304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553070309
  • There aren’t many dishes where you can point to an inventor. Most dishes are either old classics with creators long-forgotten or they just have sprung up without attribution. Probably the most famous dish attributed to a single person is the Caesar salad, a salad invented by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana Mexico in the 20s and there’s even a little dispute about that. 

     What’s beyond dispute is the fact that carpaccio, the famous thinly sliced beef (or other meats for that matter), was invented in 1950 by the owner of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Giuseppe Cipriani. The Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo had been forbidden to eat cooked meat by her doctor and, voila! the carpaccio was born. Cipriani named it after one of his favorite painters, Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian Renaissance painter who used bright reds and whites in his paintings.

    This is the actual Harry’s Bar carpaccio, courtesy of famed food writer John Mariano at www.johnmariano.com :

    carpaccio

    Notice that it’s not all gussied up with superfluous greens, scattered with capers or any such excess. That’s the original.

    And you can read all about it in this wonderful cookbook,  The Harry’s Bar Cookbook, written by the son of Giuseppe, Arrigo Cipriani (Arrigo is Italian for Harry).  The history of the restaurant is lovingly told by Arrigo, who relates the story of how Harry’s Bar came to be. It was named for an American, Harry Pickering, who was the beneficiary of kindness from Giuseppe, who at the time was a barman at the Hotel Europa in Venice. I won’t spoil the story, except to say that it’s a tale worthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald. You’ll have to pick up the book to read about it.

    Harry’s Bar has always been a hangout for the wealthy and famous of the world, from Ernest Hemingway to the Onassises, globe trotters and royalty, decadent expatriots and famous movie stars like Richard Burton have found their way to the modest bar for the glories of great Italian ingredients simply and freshly prepared, and they are prepared to pay a premium price for it. The place oozes history, and you’re along for the ride with this cookbook.

    Harry's Bar

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Winner of the Julia child 1st Cookbook Award and The James Beard Award, you’ll find this book a treasure of family pride and tales of the upper crust. And let’s not forget that it’s Harry’s Bar, not Harry’s Restaurant, a point that Cipriani makes as he tells you how to make the perfect Bellini, the peach cocktail that he claims his father invented in the 30s. So Giuseppe is responsible to not one but two well-known culinary items. Amazing.

    Anyway, you’ll find all of the recipes to make you feel like you’re overlooking the canals of Venice and you’ll get the famous carpaccio sauce recipe as well.

    The Harry’s Bar Cookbook – as classic a cookbook as Harry’s Bar itself is. 

    szent-orsolya

    The Dream of St. Ursula – Vittorio Carpaccio (1495)

    Food item of the day – ghee

    I’m surprised that more American households don’t have ghee in their pantry.

    What’s ghee, you ask?  Ghee is clarified butter that has had the milk solids and excess moisture removed through cooking. The milk solids sink to the bottom, the water rises to the top and the middle layer is removed and allowed to cool. Once cooled, it has the texture and body of a soft butter spread. If prepared properly, it can be stored in an airtight container and doesn’t have to be refrigerated.  It has a sweet, nutty flavor that goes well in a lot of cooking, plus, it has a much higher burning point than many oils, so it’s useful when frying. It’s also considered a little healthier than many poly-unsaturated oils. It’s a “saturated oil”, a non-trans fat. It’s basically the essense of butter.

    I like it because it can be stored in the pantry and doesn’t have to go in the cooler. It’s always at room temperature (read spreadable) and I actually prefer the flavor to regular butter. It’s a staple of Indian cooking (the name ghee is derived from Sanskrit). Naan bread is best when made with ghee. Ghee is also a great substitute for oil when making rice. I like to use on bread and toast just as I would regular butter.

    Ghee isn’t difficult to make at home but you have to use typical canning techniques to avoid contamination. I prefer to buy it. It’s a little expensive but it goes a long way because it’s more concentrated a flavor than butter is. This is the brand that I find most often, but there are other brands that you might see in international markets:

    ghee

    Stay away from “vegetable ghee”, which sounds healthier because of the name, but isn’t because it’s a trans fat, which we know isn’t very healthy at all. It’s actually less healthy and is used because it’s cheap. You can be sure that it’s real butter ghee if it has “cow” somewhere on the label. the Ziyad is made from butter, so it’s good to go.

    Ghee – it’s something you should consider making a special place in your pantry for.

    Cookbook of the day – Splendid Soups

    splendid-soups-james-peterson-hardcover-cover-art

    Splendid Soups: Recipes and Master Techniques for Making the World’s Best Soups

    by James Peterson

    Publisher: Wiley (September 22, 2000)
    ISBN-10: 0471391360
    ISBN-13: 978-0471391364
     
    Once again, I don’t have the most current edition of this book. I have the 1994 edition, which clocks in at 100 less pages than this new edition. Mine has a different cover as well:

     

    JPeterson_04

    I’m assuming that Peterson has added some modern variants of classic soups, as he has presumably done with the updated edition of his Sauces book that I reviewed yesterday. This could be considered a companion edition to Sauces, but even this earlier edition has a wider scope than Sauces, with non-Western ingredients such as bonito flakes, Udon noodles, miso, and various soups from the Far East and other places included in this edition. You’ll find soups from India, Japan, Morocco, Thailand and other far-flung corners of the globe.

    This is another of Peterson’s “reference” works. As such, you won’t find a single photograph. It’s all recipes, tips and techniques. Some recipes are for intermediate or advanced cooks, but even the beginning cook can find a lot of practical advice on soup-making that will help them move past the basic into the more advanced levels of cooking.

    If you have Peterson’s Sauces, this should sit next to it on your bookshelf.

    Cookbook of the day – Sauces by James Peterson

    Sauces

    Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making

    By James Peterson

  • Publisher: Wiley; 2nd edition (January 27, 1998)
  • ISBN-10: 0471292753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471292753
  • Caveat – I have the original 1991 edition, which has a different cover and is about 100 pages shorter. It’s the edition that won the James Beard Award for Cookbook of the Year.

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    This is the book if you want all of the lowdown on classical sauces. If you ever wondered what the difference between a sauce and a glace is, this is the book for you. The first chapter is a history of sauces, the second, a compendium of equipment that you might need, the third a listing of ingredients. After that, he breaks down the various sauces and expands them to their variants as well. There are more sauces in classical cooking than you ever thought possible, many with French-derived names. And they are all listed in categories according to the basic recipe from which they spring. This book concentrates on classical sauces and there are essential tips scattered throughout, tips that will allow you to create sauces equal to those in the finest restaurants.

    I haven’t paged throught the more current addition pictured above, but I would hope that he’s extended his overview to Asian and other “non-western classical” offerings, as well as some of the new sauces based on more exotic ingredients.

    This is one of those “foundation books” that every serious cook should have in their cooking library. I’ll be reviewing his equally important book “Splendid Soups” in a future post. The books are a little dry, but they are intended to be reference works, not entertainment.

    peterson_james_low