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Saturday, February 24, 2018

For National Banana Bread Day


For National Banana Bread Day.

I recently had an inquiry of “have you ever been to  Hawaii?” My response was just one island, Maui. My very gracious brother-in-law (Glen Richards) has hosted us a couple of times in his condo at Kihei so we have seen much of this island, my biggest regret however, I had to go home.
Maui is a very fascinating island, with beaches, fishing, diving, whale watching and so very much more a week spent here is just way too short. You most likely will fly into Kahului the main city, the commercial and industrial center of the island. Under a banyan tree a city block in size is Lahaina's Front Street, which has been ranked one of the "Top Ten Greatest Streets". Lahaina is an old whaling town that has become the tourist center of Maui. Great shops, wonderful restaurants, like Cheeseburger in Paradise where you’ll find a really great hamburger. Sitting right on the ocean so the views are just incredible.

There is morning sunrise parties from the top of Haleakala, the volcano on Maui, although there has no volcanic activity in hundreds of years, scientists still monitor Haleakala for potential eruption activity. So much to do, so little time.

One of things, the must do things, people will tell you to do, is, set a day aside and take the road to Hana.  The “highway” from Kahului to Hana is just 51.1 miles, so why on earth would anyone need an entire day to drive what should be less than hour down a “highway”? The actual drive will take 2 hours and 6 minutes, so “they” say, but who are “they”? Most likely those who have never driven the road to Hana. So why do want to take the journey? The journey takes you through Maui’s rain forest, past waterfalls, across 50 or more one lane bridges, and along tall ocean side cliffs. You’ll experience breathtaking views and dazzling sites along every one of the road’s 600 turns. The stop and go allowing others to pass you, waiting for others to clear the one lane bridge, waiting for those who stop in the middle of the road for photography instead of pulling over (most of the way you simply cannot pull over).  The drive is very stressful and the driver must pay very close attention to driving and not the spectacular scenes around you. The Hana Highway has earned itself an interesting nickname over the years. It is sometimes referred to as the “divorce highway”. Why? Because it has the probability to cause great anxiety for couples who decide to brave driving it themselves. It is a “white knuckle” drive for the driver, while the rider will be given to uttering death threats as they pass by 1200 foot drops. But your driving through a rain forest, the Earth's oldest living ecosystems.
Plumeria, Bird of Paradise, ‘Awapuhi Ginger, Heliconia, Hibiscus, and Protea are some of the flowers you will see along your way. 

Another interesting sight are the vendors of banana bread you find along the road to Hana. Usually made with the local apple bananas that are plentifully in Maui’s because of the tropical weather and generous rainfall, you’ll find some made with fruit, such as mango and pineapple, chocolate chips, coconut or macadamia nuts. Who makes the best, stop at as many as you can find and you decide. Then of course when you get home and that longing for the island returns go ahead and bake a Chef K loaf, or try my Banana Nut Cranberry Cinnamon Rolls, just close your eyes, bite into a slice or  a roll and wish upon a shooting starfish.

Banana, Well Sort of, Bread, or Cake, or, Well Something

Here are some useful tips to make a really great banana bread and or banana cake, Use overly ripe, black bananas (I freeze mine, frozen are great) for moist bread and plenty of banana flavor. Don’t have black bananas, blacken your own, bake unpeeled bananas on a baking sheet in a 250°F oven until soft and black, 15-20 minutes.

Choose oil  for the bread, but butter for cake. Oil emulsifies and coats the flour, preventing it from absorbing too much water, which results in dry banana bread.
If using nuts, walnuts are the nut of choice for banana bread, as their slightly bitter taste complements the sweetness of the bread.

Liquefy the bananas, (very important for cake) here the flavor will burst through, add the moistness, and of course is part of the liquid needed to form the batter. Besides just mashed bananas often result in small slimy pieces within the loaf or cake.

Bananas should be very ripe. Don't use fermented bananas or those with split peels, which could contain harmful bacteria.

Test banana bread with a toothpick for doneness in three places: left, center and right side.
Wrap banana bread in plastic wrap while slightly warm to keep it from drying out overnight. This is how those peddling the bread on the road to Hana keep their’s nice and moist.

Most recipes call for 3 bananas, I find four works much better both for flavor and moistness.
Layering nuts, raisins or even chocolate chips (when using) instead mixing them into the batter ensures even distribution throughout the loaf or cake.

If like a more caramel flavor to your banana bread substitute the white sugar for dark brown sugar.

2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 ripe bananas
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
1 cup raisins or Walnuts (optional)
Crumb Filling and topping
1 cup cold butter, cubed
2 cups light brown sugar
2 cups flour

1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp milk


Preheat oven to 350°
Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray, set aside
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. set aside.
In a large bowl, mash bananas until they become liquid.
Mix in butter until combined and then stir in sugar, eggs and vanilla until mixed well.
Stir in milk and flour until combined.

Crumb Filling/Topping

Prepare crumb filling/topping by combining all the ingredients together cutting them together with a fork or pastry cutter until a coarse crumb forms.
Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with raisins or nuts if using. Top with 1/3 of the crumb mixture. Cover the filling with the remaining batter and top with remaining crumb mixture.
Bake for 50-55 minutes until the center is set and a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes.

Mix the powdered sugar and milk together and drizzle on top.
Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Banana Cranberry Nut Cinnamon Rolls
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
2 packets of yeast
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
½ cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup banana puree
2 large eggs
6.5 cups flour

½ cup butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup pecans
2 banana’s, thinly sliced
½ cup sun-dried cranberries

Caramel frosting:
½ cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the 1⁄2 cup of milk and the 2 tablespoons of sugar until the sugar has disintegrated. Transfer to a small bowl. When the milk cools to 110°, sprinkle in the yeast. Set aside for about 20 minutes, for the yeast to get foamy.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the 1 cup sugar, salt and 1⁄2 cup milk, butter and salt. Cook, stirring until everything is melted and well combined, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook.

With the mixer on low speed, add in the banana and mix until well incorporated. Add the eggs and mix well. Then add in the yeast mixture.

With the mixer running on low speed, add the flour, 1 cup at a time. After you have added all the flour, increase the speed to medium and keep mixing until you have a smooth dough, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Grease a large mixing bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and put the bowl somewhere warm. Let the dough rise for at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 1⁄4 inch thick. Rub the butter over the surface of the dough.

Sprinkle with the 2 cups of brown sugar, the cinnamon and the pecan pieces. Spread the bananas evenly over the dough, sprinkle with the cranberries.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees . Carefully Roll the dough into a huge round log. Slice into desired size. Put them on a sheet pan and let them rise while the oven heats up about 15-20 minutes.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, cream and salt. Cook over medium heat until melted. Stir together and cook until simmering for about 3 minutes.
Pull the pan off the heat and whisk in the powdered sugar.

Pour the sauce over a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan, sprinkle with the pecans. P{lace the rolls evenly over the nuts, allow to continue to rise an additional 10 minutes.

Bake the rolls at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until barely golden on top and baked through.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Chicken Stuffed With Garlic Mushrooms and Beet Tops

Catch The Beet Chicken

Here is a wonderful dish, boneless chicken breast stuffed with garlic mushrooms and beet tops, served with julienne'd beets and creamy mushroom sauce.

For Chicken,
2 medium beets with tops
1 ½ cups sliced mushrooms
6 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, fine diced
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
Salt & Pepper to taste
½ cup flour
1 tablespoon multi-purpose seasoning
4 chicken breasts
1 egg
¼ cup milk
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Remove the tops from the beets. Place the beets in boiling salted water, simmer for 7 minutes, remove from the heat and run under cold water. While the beet’s boil and cool, remove the stems and veins from the beet tops, coarsely chop them and rinse under cold water.

Heat the butter in a skillet, add the beet tops, mushrooms and garlic, sauté for two minutes, add the wine and simmer until the liquid has evaporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper, allow to cool.

Place the chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap. Pound chicken breasts thin.
Place equal amounts of the mushroom beet mixture on each breast within 1/2 inches of edge.
Fold edges of chicken over filling and secure with toothpicks.

Mix flour and seasoning together. Mix the egg with the milk, Dip the chicken breasts into the flour and coat chicken, dip into the egg mixture then again in the flour mixture.

Heat the oil in a skillet and cook chicken until browned on all sides, or, brown quickly in a deep fryer.
Bake the chicken for 22-25 minutes, until thoroughly cooked and reaches 170°F on an inserted thermometer. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before slicing.

While the chicken bakes, slice the blanched beets in julienne batons, toss with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper and the thyme leaves.

Place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven with the chicken for 15 minutes.

Mushroom Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons oil
5 cups approximately mushrooms, halved/sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup 250ml cream
1 cup milk mixed with 3 teaspoons corn flour/corn starch
1-2 tablespoon lemon juice to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Heat the butter and olive oil together.
Add the mushrooms to the pan with the thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Allow the mushrooms to fry until golden brown, then add the garlic and fry until fragrant.
Pour in the cream and milk and allow to simmer gently for 5-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened and cooked through.
Season with lemon, salt and pepper and add the parsley.

Place the beets, slice the rested chicken and place on the beets. Smother with the sauce and serve the chicken with vegetables along with rice or potatoes.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Labor saving Tips To Help The Up and Coming Huge Minimum Wage Hike

As Ontario, BC and many states make a mandatory switch to higher than forecast, wages, most to the 15.00 minimum, we must look closely at ways to maintain both service and staff without driving the cost on to the consumer where possible.  So lets look at some of the steps we should be doing and perhaps a few that may be new. Refreshing policies are always a good idea and should be a standard part of our operations.  Many restaurants have few controlled areas, mortgage, lease, utilities may not be in your control, but food cost and labor and the ones an operator absolutely must be hands on with.

A)    Schedule

The schedule is the daily map to success. Every employee has one, they “must” maintain it as posted. An establishment that has just 20 employees who sign in or out 15 minutes different than the posted schedule will cost the establishment an additional 5 hours per day, or 75.00 per day, if left uncontrolled this would equate to a labor charge of 27,375 per year, the equivalent to a full time line cooks wage.  Management must be sure employees are signing in and out as per schedule, and regrettably cutting staff when sales volumes are down.

Most point of sale (POS) systems now allows you to monitor this information, they keep your records, so you may follow hourly, weekly, monthly and yearly trends and records. Did you overstaff that last holiday, check the POS and adjust for the next.  A good manager will know exactly what the labor for the day will be against sales at every hour throughout the day. Balance your needs with the staffs needs through considerate scheduling: Create flexible schedules that allow for personal or family commitments that may be seen as a part of wage payment. Try to avoid split shifts or irregular scheduling that may prevent employees from having a healthy work and personal life. Long or double shifts, short shifting, or called in shifts can have a negative effect on morale and therefore a negative effect on service.

Have a good mix of full and part time employees. A well trained part time employee may also be a happy employee, they work the hours they want and should a full time position become available, they are the first to acquire the position, a little additional training will be required.
Management must understand what labor cost is made up of before they can understand how to control it. Every customer makes up the labor component, whether adult or child each one adds to the labor,  at times that 6 year old make take more time than the adult with him or her. Labor cost is usually expressed as a percentage of the total net sales.  The basic formula for calculating labor cost is:


Covers per Labor Hour (total covers/total labor hours) Covers per Labor Hour are calculated by dividing total covers by total labor hours. (Regular time and overtime) All labor is calculated and all sales are included. So restaurant  with 10 servers working 6 hours each would give 60 hours, while the BOH has a combined full and part time labor of 40 hours, while sales of the day were 6500 created by 700 covers of various amounts so the equations would be:
FOH 11.66 covers per hour
BOH 17.6 covers per hour

This is within the benchmark of productivity depending on the operations a good operator may consider various benchmarks as achievable targets.

QSR 8.5-10 cover per labor hour
Fine Dining .9-1.4 covers per labor hour
Family Dining 3.8-5.8 covers per labor hour

You may want the reverse knowledge as well when calculating your labor benchmark, or, Labor Cost per Cover (total labor $/total covers) So this formula would take the total labor dollars spent so using the minimum wage of 15 dollars we would have 60 x 15 = 900 then divide by covers dollar amount or 6500 resulting in a labor parentage of .138 labor hours per guest cover.

Good base operational  restaurant should be capable of providing quality service to its guests while operating at a total payroll cost of approximately 30%.  This figure includes:
1.            All hourly payroll
2.            Management salaries
3.            Employer contributions

The percentage you achieve is dependent on your sales volume. The hourly portion of your total payroll should be approximately 18% of the weekly net sales. This does not include management or employer contributions.

Front of house hourly average should be 6-9% with kitchen labor averaging 10-12%. The ideal is 7% in front and 11% for back with 8% management.

Costing your Schedule
Forecast sales:
•             For each day of the upcoming week/weeks – check reservations
•             Consider the previous week, same week last month and same week last year
•             Look at special events and holidays
•             Consider day parts (11-5/ 5-9/after 9)
Establish labor budget:
•             If forecasted sales for the week are $50,000.00 and labor is 18%, then $9000 is available for wages.
Divide the labor budget ($9000) by volume distribution
$  5857
$   1054
$  6007
$   1081
$  6607
$   1189
$  7207
$   1297
$  9757
$   1756
$  8888
$   1599
$  5707
$   1027

$ 9003.00

Establish average wages by department.
Wage Structuring
Establishing wages is an integral part of labor cost control.  Wage structure is influenced by many factors and may consequently vary from restaurant to restaurant.  When determining pay levels, the following factors should be considered:

1.            Local Labor Market.  The degree of job competition and the availability of job opportunities in the relevant marketplace.
2.            Competition amongst employers/restaurants in the local market.  Your ability to pay is constrained by your ability to compete.
3.            Laws and Regulations.  Minimum wage rates, overtime, statutory holidays.
4.            Individual restaurant factors.  The restaurant sales volume and your business strategies.
B)      Train, Train and Then Cross Train

Think about the cost of employee turnover, the cost to hire and train a new employee can easily reach over 1,500.00 each. So a manager must consider carefully before making a staff change, it may be required, but ROI is found in the employee that your investment is already within.
Have a step by step training method, your employees handbook is your plan to excellent service, there should be no variance from it. Each section (from greeting the guest to presentation of the guest check and the collection of the funds should be covered) is signed off by both the manager and the employee once he/she has mastered the area, then that signed page becomes part of the employment record. 

Create and have visible daily and weekly checklists, there the employee finds and knows the expectation of the day and week and requires reduced supervision to ensure the duties have been completed. Checklists remove guess work, show direction, give procedures, and make everyone accountable thus reducing the time required to perform the tasks. All too often a shift ends without side work being complete, the employee must remain and complete the work driving up the labor cost while the checklist could have prevented this.

Train  and cross train your staff, a server should know exactly what the busser must do and the busser should know exactly what the food runner is required to do. Never assume each knows the others position, train them and they will know. A trained employee must develop an understanding of how the restaurant functions as a whole, BOH and FOH although separate in function are both interdependent to the success of the entire operation, so why shouldn’t employees of both know what each must endure somewhat. I once created a daily position I called “the dining chef” this person was required to go and ask each table how their meal was and do it in a manner that required more than just an “okay” response, okay isn’t an answer, and if that was the response then we believe the guest did not have a happy experience. Servers would spend a couple days working in the kitchen to formulate an understanding of what the BOH staff dealt with daily. Crossed train employees can quickly move into a secondary position whenever required.

Train employees to know what is happening in the restaurant on a daily base’s, do they know the features of the day, have tasted the soup of the day, do they know how many reservation are coming in, have hostess’ confirmed those reservations.  Have they checked the “86” notification board?
Training requires the use of regular “required” staff meetings, those who miss these meetings drive costs up, so make them requires attendance. Keep them positive, but deal with the shortcomings that have come to light. Hold pre-shift meetings, as each shift change’s, and the staff hits the floor the pre-shift meeting is a great way to relay news regarding the restaurant (ending local gossip), menu changes, 86 items or shortages and other important items, eliminating errors and providing for an effective efficient service. Training will help prevent slow service and will teach staff the proper method to handle guests when there is a backlog in service.

Hold regular employee reviews, every employee wants to know exactly how they are doing and a honest employer will let them know.  Here the is a great one on one opportunity to discuss the strengths the employee brings to the team and how they can improve on areas that they may be weaker in.  You have the opportunity to reinforce the vision of the company and how the employee can assist in accomplishing that vision.

The following guidelines will assist in running an effective meeting.
Preparation –
•             Define objectives
•             Draft an agenda – remember to include positives with criticism
•             Select a time and location that will be without disruption or distraction
•             Communicate the meeting time and location in advance
Presentation –
•             State the objectives of your meeting
•             Establish eye contact with attendees
•             Maintain order and direction
•             Solicit questions
•             Summarize key points

C)      Know the Procedures then Perfect Them

A good operation knows and follows “The 5 P’s” Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Both FOH and BOH have procedures that are required to ensure a smooth service BOH refers to this as mise-en-place (everything in its place) it means is to have all your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start cooking. Having to stop and prepare a key ingredient in service slows or stops that service, so the mise-en-place is absolutely required. So it holds true in every area of service, are servers side station properly stocked, how about the bar, every area has to ready so have procedures to be sure that they are prepared, again checklists may assist here as well.
Your checklists should cover all areas of the unit:
Exterior, Reception Area, Bar Area, Dining Area, Back of House (Kitchen), Public Washrooms,
Customer Service, Staff Washrooms, Authorized Suppliers, Administration

A professional never considers just “winging it” they know that is a sure fire way to get into the “weeds” real quickly, and there may be no getting out. The 5 P’s are the way the kill the weeds and have a great service.

Planning and Organization
These are essential components to a smooth-running operation.  Planning saves time and money by identifying the goals you want to pursue in advance.  Organizing is the way to implement goals into the operation.

1.            Prepare a list of the items you need to accomplish, including how to do them.  Be specific with the goals and the anticipated results (ie. money, hours, customers).
2.            Prioritize your goals and concentrate on the top three goals on your list.  Do not try to accomplish all the goals at the same time.
3.            Determine the resources you will need to accomplish your goal (ie. time, money, equipment, materials and/ or people).
4.            Delegate and establish accountabilities for the goals that you have planned.
5.            Set deadlines or due dates.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Free Chef K Cookbook

Have you got your free cookbook yet, no? Download it now here;
you are very welcome, leave me a few lines in the comments, thanks.

Monday, November 02, 2015

A Farewell To A Great Chef

At times, certain people knowingly or not will leave an unforgettable mark upon your life. Perhaps in their conduct, their writings or simply in a word spoken at the right time.  They are great because of their accomplishments in overcoming diverse trials; some are great because of the honor that they created upon their name, while others are so because of the change they have made in the lives of many for the better.
Such a man was Chef Paul Prudhomme, from a sharecropper family of thirteen children chef Paul gleaned his love for the great fresh food upon the strings of his mothers apron.  Later he traveled the highways and byways of American refining his craft in style and in knowledge returning to Louisiana to head some of the great Creole kitchens of the world. Never limiting himself, he considered the earth his table, he believed that only what was of quality was worthy of his culinary styling. The complexity of cuisine was found in itself and therefore required just a little coaxing to make that ingredient shine. He perhaps was the father of the farm to table movement now most popular in the restaurants of today.

As a Cajun cook, Paul knew that value of combining cultures, it matter little whether the cuisine was native American, French, Latin, West Indian, Asian, Eastern European or any other culture, food of that culture meant flavor combinations that could lead to the “wow” factor upon the palate. His “fresh is best” convictions lead him to such exceptional awards as: “Restaurateur of the Year”, “Culinarian of the Year”, Diplomates Award, Louisiana Public Broadcasting Legend Award, “Fine Dining Legend Award” along with many, many others. He was an actual legend in his own time.

As a culinary author Chef Paul created cookbooks that reflected his strong belief that good food is found within the hands of whom ever is cooking it. They simply had to follow the basics and give the rightful homage to the ingredient. Internationally recognized for being responsible for instructing the world in Cajun/Creole cuisines his writing were never limited to that approach in cuisine but rather that blending of cultures that made his culinary writings well worth reading.

As most great chefs are, Chef Paul was a teacher, proved by his writings, his television programs and his hands on approach to his food served in his French Quarter restaurant K-Pauls. This is where I first met the great chef, not behind the stoves, cutting boards or bain maries within the kitchen, but rather on the street in front of restaurant handing out samples of his breathtaking food. That day it was his Chicken Jambalaya served over fusilli pasta that tickled the taste buds, coaxing patrons to return that evening and dine in his award winning restaurant, if you didn’t return you still left New Orleans knowing you had sampled greatness in food.

Later on Chef Paul’s writings would inspire many of the dishes I would serve in my own restaurants, thus passing on to others the inspiration Chef Paul became to me. Many of my students and apprentice chefs have had the benefit of his knowledge which was passed on from me to them. As an educator passing on wisdom played a great value in his cooking style,thus many of my cookbooks and writing have taken on Chef Paul’s philosophy.

Chef Paul was a visionary, a pioneer, a culinary legend, his life and memory will be honored with every mouthful of delicious Louisiana cuisine. Blackened Redfish, Turducken, Cajun gumbos, jambalayas and dirty rice would be Chef Paul’s choice of how we remember him best. At 75 we will miss this great and talented man. R..I.P. Chef Paul

My version of a Chef Paul’s recipe, I hope you remember his greatness when prepare this dish.


1½ lbs        670 g          Diced boneless chicken
2 tbsp        30 ml           Safflower oil
2 tbsp        30 ml           Butter
½ lb           225 g          Andouille sausage (or any hot raw sausage)
½ cup        125 ml         Diced onions
2                2                 Minced garlic cloves
3 tbsp        45 ml           Chopped parsley
½ cup        375 ml         Diced green bell pepper
2                2                 Diced celery stalks
2 cups        500 ml         Peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes
1 tsp          3 ml             Each of white pepper, black pepper, oregano leaves, basil, thyme leaves,                                                      garlic powder, onion powder, chilli powder.
2 tsp           10 ml          Worcestershire sauce
3 drops       3 drops       Tabasco sauce
1 lb.            454 g          Fettuccini noodles


In a Dutch oven or large kettle, sauté the chicken in the oil and butter, add the sausage and vegetables and continue to sauté until vegetables are tender.

Stir in the remaining ingredients (except pasta).  Reduce heat.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 40-45 minutes.

Cook the fettuccini to al dente in 8 cups (2 l) boiling salted water.  Drain.  Toss the pasta first with a small amount of the sauce then place on a serving platter. Pour chicken on the noodles and serve. SERVES 6

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Passion Re-Kindled Cooks Re-Energized

Over the forty plus years of culinary guidance I have trained literally hundreds of cooks, chef de parties, sous chefs and chef de cuisines. Having hired most them, I always ask this one question during the interview: “Why do you want to become a cook and then chef?” The answer is often the same, “I have a passion for cooking.” 

Kananaskis Lodge, AB

Soon however the reality of the job settles in and the stresses become high, the performance weakens and the passion soon fades. Little did they understand the work place and the career they are choosing? Hours are long often 10 or more a day with a minimum of 60 per week. Wages are low, most cooks in Canada make 12.00 per hour or less (before taxes) yet the cost of living is high, average rent in Canada 1200.00 per month (before utilities) so the cook (and most others in the hospitality business) must work 100 hours just to pay rent. They must study for provincial gold seals and then onto inter-provincial red seals to achieve journeyman status, 2 years of school at the college level and then 1800 hours of on the job training, to make that 12.00. They must meet health department codes and be approved by local, county or state, provincial governments. They must meet liquor control board service codes and be licensed by the board, meet and exceed corporation’s standards with whom they are employed. And, more than anything keep the client happy and excited to consume the food they cook.

They face hot kitchens (I once worked in one that 129°F I was taken to hospital with heat induced pneumonia).  Stress from what is cooking, stress of cooking in timely fashion (consumers now think everything must come a QSR paces), stress from servers (who are stressed by clients) stress from chefs, stress from managers not mention personal stresses that we all must deal with daily. Stress from just breathing, the average cook will gain 3-5 pounds a year from simply breathing in the oils used to cook. 

Stress to maintain and create menus with food items that people actually know and want to eat. Stress of presenting that food in a fashion that is pleasing to the sight as consumers eat with their eyes first, (if it doesn’t look good it is not going to taste good.) Stress from having often to work twice as hard because many co-worker do not show for their shift, simply quit without notice.  The stresses are so great that according to The 21st Century Psychology:  A Reference Handbook , “included in the top ten suicidal occupations are businesspeople, cooks, writers, mine workers and police officers (oh oh, I have done the first four.) College professors and minister are the lowest risk,” (I have done those two too.) It may be true that those who are more creative and concerned with their offering may be those who are at the highest risks. Passion is sure to get a good re-thinking given the circumstances any cook or chef must work daily beneath.  So what is a cook to do, or anyone for that matter to keep the passion flowing so that the ultimate career goal is accomplished?

Shake up your routine

As difficult as this may seem to a cook, for they must follow routine to insure excellence in service, the mise-en-place must be exactly the same daily. Shaking up the routine may be exactly what the doctor would order. Routine and boredom often go hand and hand. Many cooks lose their passion because of the factory line step up in the kitchen. They do exactly the same thing day in and day out without any change or challenge. They are not required to use the skills they thought they had and were the reason they became cooks in the first place and so the desire fades and the boredom from routine takes place, the once excited cooks becomes the complacent employee, doing just enough to get by.  Adding a little variety to your day might be just what they need. Try creating something new for the daily staff meal, eat at ethnic restaurants for variety in culinary and cultural experience, write a daily journal with the pros and cons of the day (be sure both are therein).  Most importantly mentor a junior and allow yourself to be mentored by a senior.

Give yourself incentives

Don’t wait for the manager, chef or servers to validate you, follow the five P’s and you will know you have validation in self. (The five P’s: Proper, Presentation, Prevents, Poor, Performance.) Be your own cheer leader, when you do excellence, you know it, be extremely happy with yourself in doing so. . When you have a difficult catering job ahead of you, find a way to reward yourself after you complete that affair, believe the client when they say “a job well done.”  That is your validation, think on that to really brighten your day and keep that accolade to yourself but be sure to give it to your team. Celebrating those entire small successes can (every plate that returns to the kitchen scraped clean) help you recognize what’s going right.

Build new skill sets

The death nail for any cook is to think they know it all, learning a new cuisine is a great way to fire up your creativity and to get inspired again. It also makes you a more creative and therefore more valuable chef. Whether you read a new cookbook, browse cooking blogs, take service and culinary classes, or simply ask more questions of your mentor, find a way to keep growing and increasing your knowledge base. Then teach it to others.

Variety of Spice outside of work

Your job is what you do not who you are. Find the things that define you then do them with your whole heart. If you follow politics then support your local MP, MPP, MLA etc. Get involved with getting them elected.  Teach others what they need to know to have a life that is better than yours. Wisdom is the application of knowledge, seeing that knowledge grow within another has great rewards.  Try a new exercise routine, sign up for a cooking class (one where you have no skill in) or some other type of class, start a new hobby.  But more than anything else spend time with your family.

Surround yourself with encouraging people

Join culinary groups where you can voice your concerns, failures and challenges, chefs associations, world cooks association, other social clubs like Lions Clubs then get involved. Go to church, one that has your belief system and where you learn something every time you meet.  Meet your best friend for just you two time. Plan and keep a date. Volunteer with a nonprofit. Fill your life with positive influences. Read a lot; try reading a successful person biography twice a month.  Always try to be part of something bigger than you are.

Hug a veteran or those who presently serve, someone who gave so much for you, deserves so much  from us.  Find what a vet's need, then go and do it for them. Cook them a meal, cook them a bunch meals. You cannot repay what they have given.

Get a reality check

Sometimes, just on occasion, take a reality check of your life and what it can be. Then make plans that are attainable and work toward them. Talking honestly with your co-workers, friends and mentors about their jobs can give you a much-needed reality check on your work. Others experiences may be the guiding light to shape your future, or they be the lesson needed to avoid a looming failure, whichever they may be, learn and glean from what others have already endured, why repeat a mistake someone else has, why not repeat a success someone else has created.  

An award winning recipe is not often a secret recipe but rather one that is done exactly right and served in perfection.  One which made over and over again until it is perfect.  Every year there many state fair award winning pies, isn’t an apple pie just an apple pie, not when it is done flawlessly. So make your mistakes but learn from each one and then improve. Be real, with others, co-workers, chefs, managers and most importantly yourself.

Be grateful, look around you, no matter what you see there is always someone worse off, on a recent trip I had a meal with a family of 6 in what could be consider a hole in a wall (literally) yet a happier more grateful group of people I have rarely met. Living on less than 5.00 per day for the six of them, they insisted on providing me with lunch. Lesson learned, thank you Lord for the real beautiful people may I ever be like they.

Practice kindness.

Kindness is defined as usefulness employed. It is doing something for someone without the expectation of a return. It is seen mostly in compassion, what is compassion? It is to experience what another undergoes and to have the power to change it. Everyone sees the beggar not everyone is compassionate upon him however, why not you?

Let me give you a personal story related to kindness and showing compassion, based on Proverbs 19:17 (NIV) Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
A few years ago I decided to learn about the working of a seed, not by science, but by an expert in seeds, a farmer. My very good friend Murray is a farmer outside of Calgary Alberta so I invited him and his wife for a stay with Dianna and I at Kananaskis Lodge so we could talk and I could learn of the power of the seed. He was delighted to go but we would have to stop in High River to obtain some parts to repair a tractor of his. No problem, when we arrived at the tractor outlet there was a food truck and we decided to have some hamburgers and fries.  As I purchased our food a couple of men came along begging the food truck owner for some food. He chased them away, but compassion within me spoke and I bought them their meals. A whole ten dollars, but how happy they were to get something to eat, we continued on our journey. Inside myself God spoke and said “see what I will do with that ten dollars.”

We arrived at the lodge and were given a two bedroom suite as that was all there was left. We went down to the dining room for dinner and here we were greeted by a maître d’ whom I had trained. He was very happy to see us and treated us to a flambé dessert of Cherries Jubilee after our steaks. After dinner we returned to suite to continue our education on seeds, shortly there came a knock on the door and a very large basket of fresh fruit and chocolates had arrived, again courtesy of the maître d’ . We had a great time learning and eating chocolate.

As we departed the next day I went to the check out to pay our bill, expecting a bill around 800.00 for the suite and dinner the evening before. Instead I was handed a bill for 60.00 just for the taxes due. The manager of the hotel and the maître d’ paid for the rest. Was I happy, you betcha. Then that small voice spoke up and said, see what I did with that ten dollars you spend for those two men. Compassion, show it, live it and let 
God shed His upon you.

Learn to forgive,

The best way to get your passion back is to practice forgiveness. First to self, then to others,  some hurt that is small within if left to fester can become huge, be quick to forgive and your be quick to receive the benefits of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is your freedom plan, harbouring hurt does nothing to the one that hurt you, it only causes harm within yourself, their gone and living their life, your lack of forgiveness stops you from living yours.  You will find mean spirited people everywhere, forget them, forgive their words and move forward. 

Words are powerful, be sure yours are always infused with forgiveness.  

Finally read a Proverb a day, they will encourage your spirit, lift your soul and bring you to wise decisions, just look at this from Chapter Two:

Proverbs 2 New International Version (NIV)

 My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, 2 turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding—3 indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, 4 and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, 5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 7 He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. 9 Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. 11 Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Otavalo, Ecuador Part 2

Every place has "that place" you know the one that has everything which makes it extraordinary, memorable.  Niagara Falls has a few, my favorite (perhaps) is  the restaurant below the Brock monument. Queenston Hieghts Restaurant, which  has spectacular views of the Niagara basin, Niagara on the Lake, scenes of the river as it flows into Lake Ontario.  The food is at par with most Niagara restaurants, but it is totally the surroundings.  A historic War of 1812 heritage site, it is located close to where Sir Issac Brock was mortally wounded during the battle of Queenston Heights, a decisive battle of victory over the Americans. I love history and here Canadian history was made.

So too, my trip to Otavalo, Ecuador brought me to such places of interest. Spectacular views,  incredible settings, food that was good, and rich in history. One such place is nestled beneath the Imbabura volcano is La Laguna de San Pablo, also known by the indígenas people as Imbakucha. It is largest of the 28 stunning lakes of Imbabura province. A quick taxi ride of just 4 km from Otavalo the lake is a quiet, peaceful place, to watch 12 species of waterfowl, go horseback riding, mountain biking, search for amphibians or fish for trucha (trout). 

On these rainy, chilly days in January the water sports are not likely what you may want to do, but should you visit in better weather you may enjoy a variety of swimming, boating, fishing or just relaxing and passing the day away. If you are so inclined, you can hike around the 15 km circumference of the lake.  From the lake flows the Peguche river and a waterfall  of 18m (54ft) which bears the same name as the river, set in a nice nature park.

On the shore of La Laguna de San Pablo is a small resort called Puerto Lago, set as a lighthouse on the coast. This resort has what some consider the finest restaurant of the Otavalo area. A pleasant park setting, special cabin style suites for those who choose to stay on the lake.  The restaurant is  The most exciting thing was a Aji sauce (my recipe featured in part 1). I had a stuffed trout, which were supposedly caught from the lake, although it seemed doubtful as it fish was not fresh and had a texture that stated it had been previously frozen.  The fish was stuffed with chopped seafood and breadcrumbs which lacked seasoning, but more disappointing was that the cook deep fried the chopped seafood making the tiny pieces into bits of rubber.  A cream caper sauce, which again lacked flavor coated the fish.  I found the small Otavalo restaurants, like Chievce 523 (at 1/3rd the cost) to be a far more flavorsome. La Laguna de San Pablo is truly a special place, but maybe pack a picnic to dine upon. Considered international gourmet, but I found I no better than 2 year culinary student fare.

Unquestionably my favorite meal  in the Otavalo area (Cotacahi) was not in a restaurant at all, but in the home of fabulously nice family who shared a pot of homemade chicken and pasta soup. Served with a side of beans, a corn on the cob and a slice of quesco fresco.  The soup was made with great care and served with a joy and pride. The humble setting could not compare with the gourmet setting of Puetro Lago because of the happiness of this family and the wonderful hospitality they showed to us. 

Cotacahi is a must go to town, again a few miles from Otavalo, but a world of difference. Otavalo's markets are like none other but the leather shops of Cotacahi  are incredible as well, Artisan shops line the main street and you can buy any type of leather item, from shoes, boots and jackets to coin purses, bags, and suitcases, so be sure to make it one of your stops while in the area.  

Stuffed Trout
6 ea Trout, boneless
6 oz Crab Meat, cooked
6 oz Cooked Shrimp, chopped
6 Tblsp Butter
3 Tblsp Onion, finely chopped
3 Tblsp Parsley, chopped
3 Tblsp Celery, chopped
1 1/2 cup Bread Crumbs, fine
1 Tbsp Chef K seafood seasonings
2 Eggs, beaten
Salt  & pepper to taste
If the trout are head on, remove the heads. Remove any fibres from the crab and flake. Prepare shrimp. Melt butter and saute onion, parsley and celery until softened. Remove from heat. Add crumbs, seasonings, crab meat, shrimp and eggs. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper Fill pocket inside of trout with stuffing. Brush surface of fish with butter. Bake in 375 degree oven until just done, about 15 minutes. Baste with butter once while baking.

Serve with Tarragon Cream Sauce.

1 1/2 cups white wine
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 sprigs fresh tarragon, plus
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
In large saucepan, over medium high heat, bring wine, onion, pepper, and whole tarragon sprigs to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until mixture is reduced by at least 1/2, about 25 minutes, depending on the size of your pan.
Remove and discard the tarragon sprigs.
Add cream, reduce heat, simmer gently until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in salt and chopped tarragon.

Ecuadorian Chicken Pasta Soup

2 pounds chicken drumsticks with skin
1 whole red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 whole red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra for garnish cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons achiote oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
8 cups homemade chicken broth
2 whole scallions, trimmed
3 potatoes peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup small soup pasta cooked
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Begin by soaking the rice in a nonreactive bowl with 1 cup of water. Set aside. In a Dutch oven pot or medium deep pot, heat the achiote oil.
Add in the refrito: chopped red onion, garlic cloves, red bell pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Saute for 2 minutes.
Add in salt, ground pepper, 1 tsp cumin, and 1 tsp oregano. Saute for another 2 minutes.
Place chicken drumsticks in the pot and stir to combine all flavorings. Saute for 5 minutes.
Then add in the chicken broth and whole scallions. Stir and bring to a boil, about 10 minutes.
Add in 1/2 tsp of cumin and 1/2 tsp of oregano. Stir and cook for 20 minutes.
Add in potatoes, cover pot, cook for 10 minutes.
Add in carrots, cover pot, and cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes.
Add in the pasta, peas, cover pot, and cook for another 5 minutes.
Season soup with salt and pepper and serve soup when chicken meat is falling off the bone, all vegetables are tender, and when it's thick.
Serve along with sliced avocados, a wedge of lime, and Aji hot sauce.