Thursday, June 30, 2011

Career Advice courtesy of Anthony Bourdain

 As told to Ramin Setoodeh

I was lucky enough to go to the Culinary Institute of America in my 20s, and my big mistake was that I was offered a chef’s job very quickly after I graduated, and I took it. I did that rather than going to France—or even staying in New York, but taking a low-level position at a great restaurant and putting my nose to the grindstone. Once I started down that path, years later I was still working in a procession of not-good restaurants. The lowest of the lows is cooking food for people you hate in a restaurant you hate, with no pride.

I was about getting the biggest paycheck then, so I could see music, smoke expensive weed, do cocaine, that kind of life. It was less important to me that I would get good at my craft. I deluded myself into thinking I was good. And by the time it occurred to me that I’d never worked for a three-star chef, I didn’t have the skills. It was late in the day.

After I graduated, I was working with friends in a restaurant in SoHo called WPA. We helped bankrupt the place in short order. We thought we were creative geniuses, and created a very chef-centric menu that was not what the dining public wanted. We were cooking out of our league. It was not a professional operation. We behaved like a cult of maniacs. I liked the life that went with being a chef. I was getting laid, I was getting high, I was having fun. I had no self-control. I denied myself nothing. I had no moral compass. At age 44, I had never had health insurance. I hadn’t paid my rent on time. I was 10 years behind on my taxes. I owed AmEx for 10 years. I was still living like a college kid—worse even. I essentially partied my way out of a big-league career.

A lot of young cooks who have read Kitchen Confidential ask me for career advice. I tell them if you’re serious about cooking and your craft, do the opposite of what I did. I learned a lot of important skills from my mistake that served me well in both publishing and television. I think the skills I learned as a junkie are skills of determining if this person is full of shit or not. I’m never going to be the kind of person who talks about himself in the third person or has the red M&Ms weeded out of my bowl. You know what you see in the mirror when you’re waiting for the lady on the subway to fall asleep so you can take her purse? I’m a pretty good judge of human nature.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chef is Now a Glamour Position, Thanks in Part to Reality TV

A career as a restaurant chef, once a blue-collar occupation, has now become a glamour profession.

Driven by reality TV, the Food Network, and food-related media buzz, interest in culinary education is at an all-time high.

Big-name schools like the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales University have responded by opening branch campuses across America.

Sensing a business opportunity, numerous for-profit ventures have also jumped onto the culinary education bandwagon. So many have opened in the last few years that fully half the schools currently accredited by the American Culinary Federation are being operated as moneymaking enterprises.

Now, with public higher education facing budget cuts and privately run schools subject to tighter financial aid regulations, the prospects for culinary education seem less rosy.

Compounding these funding concerns is a growing glut of culinary school graduates, many of whom imagined their degrees would be a shortcut to celebrity chef status.

Read the rest of the story here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

French Restaurant Hands Back Michelin Star to Bring in the Diners

The only Michelin-rated restaurant in the southern city of Nimes has handed back its star to become a humble brasserie, in the hope of enticing back people put off by the higher prices that come with the accolade. 

Le Lisita, opposite Nimes' famous Roman arena, clinched its first star from the fabled red restaurant guide in 2006. 

But Michelin stars come at a price for chefs, as the guide expects a standard of service requiring more staff, which pushes up the price of a meal even before ingredients are bought.

Chef Olivier Douet said he had initially cherished the coveted accolade but that the 2008 financial economic crisis forced him into a painful rethink. 
"I am not spitting in the soup – to have a Michelin star is a distinction, a very important recognition of merit," he said.  However, he added that the onerous demands of the gastronomic restaurant barely allowed him to break even. 

Such demands are said to have led top chef Bernard Loiseau to commit suicide in 2003 after it was rumoured he was to lose one of his three Michelin stars. 

"In a starred restaurant, there is one waiter for five to six people. With a brasserie, a waiter can look after twenty to thirty customers," he told Le Parisien newspaper. 

He will now offer a menu with starter and plat du jour for €23.60 (£20.79), which he hopes will allow him to triple the number of clients.

Like other aspiring chefs, Mr Douet had grand plans to expand his Michelin-starred eatery, located in a large property, to a luxury hotel project but "the bankers are scared to lend in a time of crisis to institutions like ours". 

The Lisita hopes to capitalise on a French fashion for lively, high quality and affordable brasseries and "gastro bistros", which are doing a roaring trade along with "restauration rapide" – the French take on fast food.
Many Michelin-starred restaurants, meanwhile, are struggling. 

Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Alive and Cooking

Over his long career as a celebrity chef, Todd Hall has been associated with numerous high-end restaurants. His newest, Temazcal Tequila Cantina, opened in Boston’s Seaport District this spring to overflow crowds. A two-time James Beard Foundation honoree, Hall moved here in 2009 to help launch Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grille chain, another homegrown hit.

More surprising than any success Hall has achieved, though, is the fact that he’s still alive and cooking. A series of personal tragedies and self-destructive choices threatened to end Hall’s career years ago. In 1992, the youngest of his four children drowned in the family’s backyard swimming pool. Three years later, a parking-lot shooting — the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad — nearly killed Hall.

Drug-free for a decade now, Hall, who mastered Mexican cuisine while working in upscale Southwest kitchens, has designed Temazcal to reflect his formidable culinary ambitions — and flair for the unusual. In this cantina, menu items include lobster guacamole, roast suckling pig, goat basted in grapefruit and molasses, and nearly 300 brands of tequila, some rare. The restaurant overlooks Boston Harbor, seating 126 diners inside and another 40 on its waterside patio. Hall runs a kitchen staff of 12 and boasts of having one of the first restaurants to develop its own full-menu iPad app, allowing diners to browse pictures and recipes of what they might consider ordering.

Boston developer Jon Cronin, who hired Hall as a consulting chef on Remy’s sports bars, says he was fully aware of Hall’s checkered past before bringing him in as a partner in the opening of Temazcal. Cronin even read an unpublished memoir Hall wrote, in all its sordid detail, before going into business with him.

Working with Hall carried significant risks, but Cronin admired how Hall had pulled his life and career back together. “Everything Todd’s gone through and where he’s gotten to now is such an achievement,’’ he said. “Look, I’ve worked with several local organizations that treat addiction. If he falls back in six months, so be it.’’

But Hall is also “the hardest worker I know,’’ Cronin added, and his take on Mexican cuisine is an attractive addition to Boston’s restaurant scene. “To me, Todd’s a winner,’’ he said. “His is a fantastic story.’’

In many ways it is also a disturbing one, if ultimately uplifting.

Read the rest of Chef Hall's story here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Four Leadership Tips from General Colin Powell

This year marks the third time Colin Powell, former secretary of state, national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has delivered the keynote address at this year’s NRA Show.

Powell took the stage Sunday afternoon to answer questions, share anecdotes of his life outside the government and share management tips with the restaurant industry.

Powell said he continues to use the same management principles he learned as a 21-year-old in the Army.

Leadership is all about followers, Powell said. You need to put your followers — or in the case of restaurants, your staff — in the best position to get things done. Give them a sense of mission in addition to goals, and make sure you communicate to them your belief.

Powell’s top tips for being a great leader:

  1. Take care of your troops. Give them resources, technology and training
  2. Be infectious. Why would anyone follow you otherwise? Good leaders not only motivate but also inspire. “People are searching for this kind of passion in every organization,” said Powell.
  3. Recognize performance. Promotions and financial benefits work, but the best recognition is more personal. Tell someone, “You’re doing a great job,” or “I couldn’t do my job without you.” Let people know you see them as essential to the team, no matter their job.
  4. It’s not all about the soft stuff. When people are not performing well, you have to let them know. Your good employees always know who isn’t carrying his fair share, and they want the leader to do something about it. If you don’t, you lose their respect. Also, don’t reorganize around a problem. Either retrain someone or fire him.
At the end of his speech, Powell took questions from the crowd, one of which was, “What makes you a loyal customer?” Powell said he always wants to be treated with respect and courtesy. When someone in retail or restaurants pays immediate attention to him and seems genuinely interested, that means a lot. That courtesy inspires him to become a loyal customer.