The Butchers’ Wife

What had he done? Ohhh the memory, what did he do! Her name was Deidre, Mrs. Deidre Carriba and she was the butcher’s wife. He could still feel her breath, as she stroked the back of his neck with her fingers. Her hands brushed aside his weak attempt at resistance, and her lips parted in a wry smile, scornful of his cowardice. “You know what you came for” she said and came closer. “Yes, “he said quietly with the perturbed look of a young man answering his own question with another question. “Well, come inside, the air is on.” She took his hand and Theo entered the tiny living room, mindful to leave his shoes by the door, just as his momma had taught him.

Even without shoes, in a married man’s house he felt his bravado return. Theo knew that her husband was at Flannigan’s and would probably spend the night in his car, too drunk to drive home. Mr. Carriba, the neighborhood butcher, was known for three things – his pastrami, his selection of house-made Italian sausages and his ability to drink. Yes he would be all right, Javier was quite friendly with Deidre, so what was he worried about.

When Theo thought about Deidre, he thought about the time he stole chocolate cookies from this bakery he used to work at after school. He remembered how he had stuffed them into his pockets, still fresh and gooey from the cooling rack. He remembered how warm and comforting they had felt against his thigh as he sneaked out back to eat them.  His little secret, tucked away forever, in his tummy.

Hadn’t he been dreaming about this moment for weeks? It was almost a ritual, Monday through Saturday, Deidre would close the butcher shop and walk the block to Larry’s diner and her husband would head to the bar.  It was a running joke for Javier and Carlos the dishwasher. “So Theo, when you going to get your cajones fixed?” Carlos would ask. “You know Mrs. Carriba has been looking at your butt every time she comes in here. Just say the word, I’ll slide you right in bro.” “Like peanut butter jelly time” Javier would chime in. Theo would laugh and shrug his shoulders, but secretly he fantasized about her long black hair and cappuccino complexion.

“Why don’t you lie down and let me take your clothes off sugar,” she purred at him. He didn’t answer, but lay down in a trance, eyes half closed, sweating, not from the heat, but from nervous anticipation. He tried hard to ignore the smell of sweat, sin and used bed sheets. This was an old apartment complex, though small and clean the walls were so thin you could smell the neighbors “arroz con pollo.” Why did he take the bet with Javier? He knew why. He wanted to be a man, just like them.

That’s why he didn’t look into her eyes when she leaned over and kissed his lips. For a brief moment he lay there mesmerized, unsure if he had remembered to kiss her back, afraid to resist as she pulled his trousers down and tossed them on the floor.

Is this what it’s supposed to be like? Theo knew he was supposed to sleep with Deidre. He had imagined their love making oblivious to the cars passing outside. Their cries would crescendo, howling like an angry wind through the trees, voicing its disapproval, rattling garbage pans, muting their screams, soundproofing their ecstasy. He had bared his soul to her. So why did he feel like an empty jar.  Was he just another plaything, or were her moans the intimate whisper of a lover to another lover?

They lay there, spent, wrapped in surreal peace. Theo listened to her breathing softly by his side. He watched her chest swell and at its peak pulsate and quiver as if still remembering what they had shared. Theo stood up and as he did, he saw the candles illume her face. Soft lights brushed gently against her cheek, flickering across her lips, sliding down her forehead, halted by the faint quiver of her nostrils.

It’s funny how the hidden features of a lover are revealed when lust’s light is extinguished. Maybe he had been afraid to look more closely, shy because of his own inexperience. Now, he saw the calluses on her feet, the kind that only bitter experience and a hard life can bring. Sighing to himself, Theo got dressed quietly and left her snoring softly in the bed, he did not look back. Dawn was turning to day and the morning sun exposed his face, a boy no longer, a changeling, his innocence fading as he walked slowly down the street for home.

 

 

Memorable Kitchen Dialogue

Working in a kitchen, is reminiscent of watching your favorite soap opera. We gossip, we talk, we savor the juicy details, we chew on the nasty bits, there’s always drama. We’re working hard behind the line, but our eyes see everything. 

  

 Excuse Me, Say That Again!

Cook 2 – “Why don’t you speak to the chef about working pm shifts? You know that the dinner menu is more challenging than anything you’re doing for breakfast.”

Cook 3– “Right now is not a good time. My girlfriend and I work the same hours, if I worked the night shift, I wouldn’t see her.”

Cook 2 – “Tell me again, how much did you pay to go to culinary school?”

Cook 3– “$ 60K for my associate’s degree.”

Cook 2 – Wow, isn’t that some shit, a $60,000 omelet cook.

 Is This Still True?

Cook 2 – “Times have changed, why are we so poorly paid? This company invests so much time and money in recruiting and training staff; you would think they would value that investment and pay us accordingly.”

Sous Chef– “As far as the company is concerned, they project that each employee will stay for two years, anything after that is a bonus. I’ve been here nearly seven years; I should have been gone a long time ago. You have to remember that the industry still believes that cooks are easy to train and replaceable.”

Cook 2 (laughing) – “Well I’ve been here 18 months. Does that mean I only have six months left?”

Chef I Don’t Understand

Cook 3 – “I say chef I don’t understand why I haven’t been promoted? My last review was very good, very good. But when I ask chef about promotion, he does his fingers like this and says, “almost there, almost there.” But I don’t know what “almost there” means.”

Good Job, Now Back to Work!

Cook 2 (Sighs) – “When I was off and the hotel was at 100% occupancy, they called – and I came. I was off the next day, they called and I still came into work. But instead of doing the right thing and giving me time to rest, they give another cook four days and split mine.”

 I have a 10:30 Photo shoot

Chef (to his cook 2) – “Guess what? The overnight cook called off. Would you be able to pull a double tonight? I would really appreciate it; I have a 10:30 photo shoot tomorrow.”

Training Day

Cook 3 – “I’m being trained by another cook 3 who’s learning the station just like me. But when I make a mistake he turns around and throws me under the bus!”

 Learn By Doing

Sous Chef – “I got promoted three times in three years. I started here as a cook 3. Do you know how I did it? I adopted the demeanor and cooking techniques of those better than me. While they were training me, if they walked a certain way, I walked like them, if they held their knife like so, I held my knife like that. If they kept a rag in their apron I kept a rag in my apron. If they drank coca-cola, I drank coca-cola.”

 Talk to Me!

Cook 1 – “Chef says I need to talk more, but I don’t like to complain. If there is work to be done, I just do it; I have no time for complaining.”

The Plain Truth

Cook 2 – “Those who work harder, work harder.”

 Generation Y

Cook 3 (In the Locker Room) – “The only time I look forward to coming to work, is when I’m at work. What time is it, (Sigh) seven hours to go?”

 Dining in a Recession

Diner – ( Joins the table where his girlfriend has been eating and says),  “I’ll have exaxtly what she’s having.”

Server – “Okay sir, I’ll go ahead and ring your order into the kitchen.”

Diner – “Sorry, I think you misunderstood me, I said ” I’ll have what she’s having, could you reheat the rest of her entree please.”

 Panic Attack

Sous Chef – “Fire the fish!  Fire the fish! How long on the Bass for table 42? Hold on, wait, don’t fire the Bass. (It’s the second course) How long on the Caesar? How long on the Caesar………………..?”

 If it looks like a fish and swims like a fish, then it must be a ………..

Server (Brings a plate back into the kitchen) – “Could you take the head and tail off the trout? The guest is complaining that it looks too much like fish.”

 

 

A Stab in the Heart – Wages & Salaries in the Culinary Industry

Before considering a culinary career, one should consider the following questions:

a)         Why go to culinary school and what can I expect to learn?

b)         What kind of job should I expect to get after culinary school?

c)         Should I get a job in the industry before I commit to culinary school and why?

d)         With a lot of hard work and passion, how many years should I expect to invest before becoming an executive chef?

e)         Should I consider an apprenticeship instead of culinary school?

f)         Should I consider a profession with higher wages and compensation and less personal sacrifice?

When we think about, read about, or see celebrity chefs on TV, we romanticize their careers and assume they make a lot of money. We have questions regarding their annual income, and assume that they are paid handsomely for their hard work and talent. Our assumptions – though correct – are skewed, as celebrity chefs make up only 1% of the culinary industry. And while they do receive high salaries, the other 99% of culinary professionals do not.

  • The average salary for a line cook is between $8.88 and $15.00 per hour.
  •  The median wage for a Sous Chef is $32,000
  • Pastry Chef is $31,000.
  •  An Executive Chef is $50,000

  •  Food servers  actually make more than the average cook; working in the banquet department they make up to $27.00 per hour. Servers that work at high-end fine dining restaurants can easily net upwards of $50k a year. Industry professionals argue that in the United States, cooking is a professional occupation, but being employed as a server is not.
  • Some factors that can affect wages in the culinary industry are: the economic and political climate; the location of the operation and the available labor pool.

Future culinary students do not realize that it takes years of hard work, dedication, determination, and passion to earn a respectable income.  Many culinary students have been misled by the media and believe that like high profile celebrity chefs, they are going to make high earnings when they graduate.  Culinary education is big business in America, and like any other business, culinary schools need high enrollments to stay profitable.  Culinary schools make big promises about future careers in the industry, but they fail to inform students about the struggle and sacrifice they must make to get to the top.
Students who go to culinary school either go to better their culinary skills or simply go looking for personal enrichment. By the time a student has graduated from culinary school, their loans would be about twenty thousand dollars or more depending if he or she receives an Associate’s or Bachelors degree.
The Ultimate Guide to Culinary School.com mentioned that, although a culinary education is obviously a wonderful decision for any budding culinary professional, it’s also an expensive one. No matter where you are going to study, attending culinary school will cost at least two thousand, and can be as  high as thirty thousand a year. Many industry professionals question the wisdom of paying to learn  to cook, and suggest that it would be more prudent to gain that experience from working in the industry.
Becoming a Head Chef or Sous Chef requires extensive experience.  To become an Executive Chef or Sous Chef requires a minimum of at least eight to ten years work experience in various kitchens. When a student graduates from culinary school, chances are that their first job will be an entry-level position as a commis cook or cook III. Advancement to a higher-paying position with more responsibility takes time. Many students who go to culinary school are initially unaware of how hard it is to get that Head Chef position.
Surprisingly many students who attend culinary school leave the industry because of:

 

  • the long hours
  •  infrequent vacations
  •  strain on relationships
  •  professional cooking is extremely physical and demanding

Wages for line staff in the culinary industry range from $8 an hour for interns to $18 an hour for unionized line cooks. The culinary industry cuts across a wide cross-section of businesses that range from quick service restaurants, catering kitchens, hotel restaurants, fine dining restaurants, hospitals, and cruise ship operations. There is a large disparity in the wages of line cooks depending on the type of food service operation that employs that person.
There are several factors both internal and external that affect wages paid to staff in the culinary industry. In fact internal factors such as:

  •  the profitability of a company
  •  type of food service facility
  •  management policies
  •  Culinary wages are also affected by external factors, which affect the industry as a whole,  such as:
  •  the average wages and salaries of  industry sub sectors
  •  the current political and economic climate
  •  location of the operation
  • compensation packages
  • the availability of labor

All have a direct correlation with the wages paid to culinary line staff.

According to the 2009 StarChefs.com Salary Survey the national industry average for line cooks is $12.90. This median average varies greatly depending on the sector of the industry that cooks are employed in. Line cooks working in fine dining restaurants tend to garner better wages than their counterparts in quick service facilities. Statistics from the survey suggested that the qualifications required to work in upscale food service operations, such as years of experience and education are major contributing factors to this pay difference.

The culinary operations that compete in similar sub sectors of the industry such as Darden Restaurants Inc. and Outback Steakhouse, Inc. (both casual dining restaurant chains) will reflect comparative pay scales, $10.48 to $9.90 respectively, but will differ from wages offered in another sub sector of the industry. A Line Cook starting at a fast food restaurant such as McDonalds or Burger King in the state of Florida will earn from $7.25 to $ 8.88 an hour.

The current economic and political climate has a direct impact on the profitability of all food service operations. This in turn affects the wages the industry will be able to pay.  As the cost of running a food service operation continues to rise; in part because of production, food costs, shipping and transportation costs, companies will look for solutions to reduce expenses. One solution is to adjust the ratio of fixed costs to variable costs with regard to wages versus salaries. In fact, companies, may seek to reduce the number of salaried employees (fixed costs) and increase the number of contract workers (variable costs). Contract workers are becoming more prevalent, especially in large hotels that import labor on J1 visas under contract for periods of six months to a year. The cost of labor is a major overhead expense and food service operations are constantly seeking for ways to minimize this cost.

The worldwide recession has caused the job market in most hospitality industries to contract as consumers spend less on recreation and focus more on conserving income. The U.S. Department of Labor gives an example of the effect of the recession on the travel and tourism industry which “lost 200,000 jobs in 2008.

Another major factor affecting culinary wages is the location of the food service operation. The average wages of line cooks working in similar positions will vary greatly from state to state. For example, average wages for line cooks range widely from: $9.97 in Michigan, $10.75 in Florida, $10.87 in New York to a high of $11.48 in California. This variance results from the cost of living in each state, minimum wage standards for the state, state taxation policies, and population density.

Wages in the state of Alaska are much higher than wages in New York because of the relatively small labor pool living in Alaska. States or cities that have expensive standards of living such as San Francisco in California will also tend to pay higher wages for similar positions to compensate for higher living costs. Also state taxation policies vary by state and affects income as employees paychecks pay a percentage of income to the states’ coffers. Taxation in one state may be higher than another which will greatly affect the net income of residents of that state. Urbanization and labor migration which swells the population of a large metropolis like New York City can drive wages downwards as the supply of labor surpasses the number of available jobs.

Also the rising cost of compensation packages such as health care, bonuses, paid vacation time and other benefits is another factor affecting wages in the culinary industry. Wages, salaries and benefits are considered the biggest expense for many restaurant operators, accounting for about one-third of every dollar in sales, and increasing health care costs could put a pinch on salary increases in the future.” It is a common industry practice for businesses to circumvent this problem by paying the staff higher wages, but offer limited or no compensation to its employees. This is extremely common in “stand alone restaurants,” where profits can be slim and overheads high. Culinary operations that offer compensation packages tend to skew in the opposite direction, paying lower wages to its employees. Unions have played a key role in negotiating acceptable compensation packages for all categories of food service staff. Therefore unionized food service facilities such as those in large hotel chains tend to have better staff retention, compared to non-unionized operations.

            States that have a large immigrant labor pool, especially those that have a shadow work force of illegal immigrants such as in Texas, New York, California and Florida tend to pay less because of the constant supply of cheap labor. In addition culinary operations which depend on tourism for income and are highly seasonal, such as theme parks and hotels, that utilize the constant supply of cheap labor to reduce overhead expenses. This increases profitability for the company, but has the negative effect of driving wages downwards in those sectors. Immigrants to
the United States in search of work gravitate to food service and culinary jobs because of the low skill and qualification levels needed to enter the industry. The prevalence of immigrants in culinary operations, most of who work for menial pay, may stem from their desire to earn an income as they try to assimilate into their new communities.Culinary schools are big business; the reality for students seeking work after graduation is that, immigrants depress wages and that 65% of culinary graduates will not work in the industry, due to financial hardships.  Statistics indicate that less than 20% of culinary graduates will be promoted to a Sous Chef position and that only a hand full will become an Executive Chef.  Culinary professionals work long hours, (8-14 hours a day), most weekends, and most holidays.  They sacrifice a lot to become successful including ; having very little personal time with their families. The media glamorizes the culinary industry in television shows, books and magazines, but the industry is also plagued by low wages, abuse, discrimination and politics. Working in a kitchen is rigorous, repetitive, sweaty and fast paced physical labor and is not for every one.

Culinary schools should seek to deliver value to students by offering programs that can prepare students for growth beyond the kitchen and into other areas of the industry; such as front of the house, sales, merchandising, or retail. Culinary schools should shift the focus from mainly cooking classes; to a more balanced curriculum that can give the students necessary skills to become more marketable when they enter the industry.

No Windows In My Kitchen

There are no windows in my kitchen, instead passion lights the spark 

A compass on the journey

It burns in fluorescence, ambition so bright; we are scarred by its touch

A cook’s odyssey, in this space, devoid of night or day

Life oblivious to the newness of spring, summer love, fall leaves, the taste of raindrops

This is our secret hive, where time passes in eight hour shifts, cigarettes and thirty minute breaks

We are the worker bees without wings, deep in the belly, where the cut of a knife can sting

 There are no windows in my kitchen but I am not alone

A smile is my sunlight, reassuring and warm to touch

Stainless steel instead of earth, it’s everywhere we look but up

 Imagine stars in the sky

 Wonder what is being kept out, now that we are all swiped in

Water goblet reflections, distorted in this unnatural light

What don’t they want us to see?

 A bus, a car, Starbucks, a leaf still attached to its tree?

 No window to see in the mind’s eye, what could be

Imagination, inspiration, perspiration

Look at this plate; it is the window of me

Bursts of vivid color, subtle nuance in play, can you decipher the puzzle in a box?

Ghost in the kitchen, opaque, translucent, disillusionment

 Now look through this glass, magnified to the power of ten

At men, women, names in history, my kitchen, our craft, collective creation

No window in this kitchen, but it’s never too late

Cooks in the struggle, to shrug of that apron, that name tag on your chest

To walk in Eden and cook happy and free

                                                                                                            

Menu Writing & The Smoked Duck Theory

“Everything we do – each idea, moment of inspiration, ingredient, protein, technique, which finds its way onto your plate, revolves around the menu.”

Menu Writing

Writing a menu is fun. It’s fairly easy to dream up a dish and write it down. In essence the menu is a written guide that tells the customer what to expect and how much it costs.  It can be as straightforward and easy to understand as standing, at the counter and ordering a happy meal from McDonalds, or as sophisticated and lengthy as an eight course tasting menu with wine pairings. There are four common types of menu, with several variations or combinations to serve the needs of the food service establishment.

The most common is the Static menu which offers an extensive array of food choices that never change. Fast food operations are the best examples of this menu style. From a business standpoint-  it is extremely cost effective, lends itself to speedy production, the food is the same from location to location and most important, diners expectations are easily met.

A la Carte menus ,price and serve each food item separately. The diner orders and pays for, only the items he or she chooses. Most restaurants have adopted this format even though they may combine one or more menu styles to suit the needs of the business.

Fine dining restaurants offer what is commonly called a tasting menu, which is a modern reinvention of the “Prix Fixe”menu. A set price is charged for a meal with multiple courses which can consist of small “tasting” portions of everything and anything the chef can dream of. Tasting menus are an exhilarating roller coaster ride of sensations, melded by technique and the best ingredients, to sate the palettes of adventurous gourmands. It is not uncommon to spend hundreds of dollars on a tasting menu at a michelin starred restaurant.

A cycle menu is exactly that, the menu changes for a set period of days then repeats itself. This is common in school cafeterias and hospitals; think back to Meatloaf Mondays in high school. It is not uncommon to see one or more menu types in a food service establishment. A fine dining restaurant may offer an a la Carte and an additional tasting menu to diners. A hotel may use a cyclical menu for certain food items along with their a la Carte menu e.g. lobster bisque on Mondays, tomato soup on Tuesdays, New England clam chowder on Wednesdays, until the menu repeats itself.

The Smoked Duck Theory

The true skill of a good chef is the ability to write a menu that translates into ideas that work. Sometimes a great idea on paper, may be beyond the skill level of the cooks, too expensive, unsustainable throughout the life of the menu, or just a horrible mistake. I had a chef, who had “Frogs’ legs with Blood Orange Habenero sauce” on the menu. Problem was, blood oranges were seasonal, sometimes we had them, sometimes not. A well thought out menu, is like a text book for culinarians. Each time the chef changes the menu, the learning curve of the cooks in the kitchen expands. A good menu introduces new ingredients to the kitchen, it challenges the cooks to adapt and most important , it breathes life into the repetitive routine of daily prep.

We have no duck or Foie Gras preparations on the menu. In fact, none of the methods traditionally associated with preparing this bird are present  – i.e. confit, pate, terrine, curing – sadly, the entire duck and its delicious parts are absent. Our New Years Eve menu sought to address  this ,with the inclusion of a smoked and sliced duck breast as the second course.  On the menu it reads ” Smoked Duck Breast, Potato & Herb Donut, Melted Kumquats.” The potato and herb donut is actually “pommes dauphine,” French in origin, with a long history and an interesting method of preparation. The duck breast uses two traditional methods of preservation – dry curing and cold smoking. Dry curing uses salt and other ingredients to draw the moisture out of meat or fish  over a period of time, which preserves it. This is the recipe used to cure the duck breast : equal parts brown sugar and kosher salt, 1 lb. each. 1 oz. each, cloves and coriander seeds, 1/2 oz. whole black peppercorns.  Toast and blend all three spices in a spice grinder and add to the salt cure.

These are Moulard duck breast which have a very thick layer of fat covering the breasts. Trimming some of the excess fat will speed the curing process. Each breast is trimmed for uniformity.

Render the duck fat & Save for Confit. Anything fried in Duck Fat is Delicious. Remove the tenders and cure and smoke them for the cooks – scooby snacks

 

 

 

Crumbled Hickory Briquette. Get your smoker ready  – layer of aluminum in the bottom. This is a small stove top smoker that is extremely easy to use. It’s very efficient and gets the job done in about 4 minutes or less.

 

 

Cover Duck Breasts completely with the seasoned cure. Cure for 4 hours in walk-in cooler

 

 

 

Wash thouroughly and place duck breasts in smoker.

 

 

 

Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!

 

 

Remove duck breasts from smoker, place on a wire rack and let cool in the refrigerator. For service sear duck breast skin side down until crisp and golden brown. Finish in the oven for eight minutes. Reove from oven let rest for another four minutes before slicing.