The Branded Chef and The Fifteen Minutes of Fame Game

Well well, here comes ‘Captain Karl – Our Famous Chef’. And what is he running around with so desperately that his very behind is burning? Oh! Pork Shanks with Sauerkraut! For which we are urged to act like a football team – huddle and signal! Rush through center! in order to get a plate.

And where does Captain Karl the Famous Chef work? Why at Maders Famous Restaurant. It is easy to know it is famous, for Famous is its middle name.

And thank goodness for Duncan Hines. The man, that is – the restaurant reviewer, who once was a real man, not the name of a brand of instant cake mix. If it were not for Duncan’s recommendation, it is possible that Maders might have to take the Famous out of their name.

I have to wonder what a ‘large Schnitzel Bank Chart’ is, and why I could get it for FREE and why I would want it, but this is just part of the major and minor mysteries (sic) involved with branding a chef. Like cattle, chefs are sometimes branded (though the cattle today are more usually ‘tagged’ through the ear, which seems much less painful!) but mysteries, sadly, do not always equal long-lasting magic.

With cattle, the intent is to show ownership. With chefs, it may be so – but it is also for the purpose of obtaining that so-desired fifteen minutes of fame, which can pay off in more than fifteen minutes worth of big bucks.

Ask Duncan. Duncan who? Duncan Hines. You know, the cake mix guy. It worked for him.

But I’m not so sure it worked for Karl.

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Speaking of sauerkraut (which I actually don’t do all that often) I serendipitously came across an interesting post today on making kraut out of whole cabbages which you might enjoy – just click.

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And now, with help from my friend Postcardy (see link to visit her site in the comments section below, and please do – I think you’ll like it!) I know what a ‘Schnitzel Bank’ is . . .

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The Professional Kitchen: It’s Really Not About Your Pretty Face

It’s always fascinating to see how many people hunger for the experience of ‘having their own restaurant’. Their imaginations are filled with pretty visions of merrily cooking up a storm in a little place to call their own, where the things they cook will be delivered to the tables of admiring diners who naturally, will ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over everything and anything placed before them cooked by their hands!

Not to say that this isn’t possible. But to get to the point where that vision can become a reality, there are many things which must be in place first in the professional kitchen . . . these things really aren’t ‘fun’ – they have nothing at all to do with the delights of hands-on cooking. And these things, if ignored or deprecated, can get the ‘I want to have a restaurant and cook’ dreamer into an enormous mess – and messes, in any business (and have no doubt, dear reader – feeding people for money is definitely a business, and one of the more challenging ones . . . for a number of reasons!) will equal loss of income, loss of reputation (if one has managed to build one) and even loss of the business itself – an occurrence commonplace enough, in this field of enterprise.

In the charming postcard above (which to me, exudes yet again that sense of weltschmerz which sometimes hovers over ephemera) the chef has apparently poisoned a number of people. Bad scene. Seriously bad scene.

The question is, how does the chef in the professional kitchen go about managing to not poison people? It apparently does happen more often than one might guess. Take a google at the statistics if you are curious.

So here we are, in the professional kitchen. What to do.

1. The kitchen must be designed (or retrofitted if an older kitchen) to fit all health code regulations. These regulations can be detailed, seemingly nonsensical, and very very expensive to meet. It is best to have a professional kitchen designer create a plan – the jargon and the fine print in the criteria are so easily overlooked (or misunderstood) by anyone who is not a professional, experienced, kitchen designer – that ultimately the specifications may be misconstrued. And having a construction crew come out to re-do and replace things because of even the slightest mis-reading of code is an act of being hit with a big financial brick right in the head.

2. Make sure each member of your staff understands their job, and that they are willing and able to perform them. Telling them verbally what to do, is not enough. Unless you believe, and know, and can be sure, that the human condition is perfect and that everyone always does things right, hears things right, and does things exactly as you want them to. The basic things required are good clearly-written job descriptions with all tasks within each job detailed and signed off on by both manager and employee; an inventory paperwork system which will be used on an ongoing basis to prevent theft, control costs, and clarify menu development; and a production schedule to define who does what, with what, when and how, in the kitchen which will show where every little bit of food travels in its path to the diner’s slavering mouth.

3. Sanitation policies and procedures, which also require paperwork. This is time and temperature stuff, and it is important, and it requires documentation and also being sure that the documentation is not being fudged by the employee in charge of it. It may be okay in the home kitchen to let accepted sanitation rules ‘go’ for yourself or for your own family or friends. It absolutely is not okay to allow any accepted sanitation rule go by the wayside if you are serving paying guests. Not unless you are willing to risk your business and your reputation for it.

There are more things that need doing, in order to even just maintain consistency – before one can begin to start to think of hitting a level of ‘excellence’. And each one seems to have an underpinning of paperwork, of documentation, of constant followup, of detailed use of the eyes and the brain in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with the so-loved task of actual cooking.

So, it’s not really about the pretty face of the chef, in the professional kitchen. Rather the opposite, as a matter of fact. It’s down and dirty brainwork.

Children in Chef’s Clothing 1915-2010

It sometimes feels as if this generation (at least here in the United States) invented the idea of food, in many ways. Or perhaps ‘re-invented’ might be the better word. There is a sense of unearthing the primal purity of all that is good and fine, of discarding the cheap and common-place, of a moral high ground which exists only in the idea of food-as-excellence, for all of us who are in the know.

I don’t believe it.

But I know many people who do.

Children learning to cook is one area it appears is being ‘re-discovered’. And we not only try to teach our children how to cook (some of us), some of us like to buy them little chef costumes as encouragement. The hats, the jackets, the pristine white! All combine to make a uniform which supposedly demands respect for knowing a trade.

It’s interesting for me, to look at this postcard from 1915 and to sense the underlying feeling of these children, who are obviously learning how to cook, who have also been dressed up in chef whites. There is a different sense held in the picture from 1915 than is held in photos of children costumed similarly, today. Today, the children are proud! Of their chef whites, of the fact that they are learning to cook ‘as a little chef’, of the fact that this is all so much fun!

In 1915, the attitude, described by the postcard, is: “I’m making good.” “I’m working,” is the attitude. It may not be fun, but I will do it and ‘make good’ of myself. The little faces are serious, not coy and delighted.

I’ve tried to translate the back of the card, but can not decipher it well enough to get a translation. Google Translate says it is Albanian. I don’t think so – first because it doesn’t look exactly like Albanian to me, and second because it wouldn’t translate – though I may have mis-spelled the words due to not being able to discern all the letters correctly. If anyone out there reads this and can translate, please do let us know what it says!

The Headless Chef

There are a lot of questions to be answered about this postcard.

1. Why does the chef have no head?

2. Why do the two men in the doorway have no heads? Did the chef cook all three heads and if so, using what method?

3. Is the chef male or female?

4. Why is the kitchen so clean if indeed the chef has been cooking?

5. It looks as if the chef is going to carve the turkey at the kitchen table rather than at the dining table. Why would a chef do this?

Aside from that, this scene looks to me as if it is a situation where the chef would either be a ‘private chef’ or a ‘caterer’, hired to do a special function. It appears as if it were a job which could be done solo, to any special requirements the client asked for beforehand – without the necessity of having a full licensed kitchen of one’s own or additional staff to manage.

I’m not sure whether the thing on the table next to the turkey is a fork, or a turkey foot, running for its life. Could be either, don’t you think?


Sundays at the Dinner Table: Meet Your Organic, Sustainable Chef!

Hi. I’m Karen. But you can call me Chef Karen, if you’d like. If it pleases you, who am I to say ‘no, just call me Karen’.

You can see me here in the kitchen. It is a big kitchen. Lots of things go on in that kitchen! The article, even though it is an old article, describes some of those things.

I have several problems with this article, though. First of all, my haircut. My haircut was all wrong. But you know, there is not much you can do when some angry  4’10” Russian guy starts cutting your hair on a day when he is not feeling well. He is the guy with the biggest scissors in that moment, just as the chef is the guy (or girl) with the biggest  knife, in the professional kitchen.

But let me not complain. I’m here to tell you who I am, so you will know the chef who prepares your meals here at Postcards From The Dinner Table.

First of all, I am organic.

Next, I am sustainable. Indefinitely, of course – but who really can define ‘sustainable’ with any real assurance?

This brief introduction must end now. People around me are hungry and I  must go cook! It’s possible I might be back next Sunday, to talk about food philosophy, or ethics, or morals – or I might even introduce you to my cat!!!!

A tout l’heure, then!

Chef Karen