Thursday, April 05, 2012

My Life With Food

Let's address the literal (ahem) Elephant in the Living Room, shall we?

How does one survive owning an eating establishment when one's addiction of choice would be (ahem, uncomfortable shuffling of feet) ... um ... eating.

(We will pause a moment while those who know me mutter under their breath, "Yeah, I was wondering about that..." and my brothers moan to themselves, "Oh, not again...")

Truly, this wasn't an issue at first because most of what we serve is relatively healthy. Oh, we have our share of cream soups and cold cuts; but we keep our portions reasonable and temper the meat with plenty of vegetables.

Plus, I'm running around this cafe 15 hours a day five to seven days a week. And the first month, eating was the farthest thing from my (and anyone else's) mind. Between the stress and the physical activity, we all slimmed down. Of course, the guys -- who were all making a point to at least swallow a sandwich once a day -- all dropped 20 to 25 pounds. Meanwhile, I -- the only female around here -- survived the entirety of February on coffee and gum; I think my earlobes may have gotten thinner.

I didn't miss food in February and I made the mistake of telling myself I'd found the secret to weight loss: surround yourself with so much food, you don't even want to smell it. Even the sweets we carry -- mostly baked goods -- weren't a problem since I bake them myself and am rarely tempted by my  own cooking.

Yup, I said. I got this licked. I thought of writing a book about the irony of overcoming the urge to eat by immersing yourself in the very thing to which you are addicted.

And...and...AND...I dropped a jeans size in March. No sweat. Just exhaustion and stress.

Oh. Yeah. I was tough to live with, what with all the smugness swirling about me.  Here I was, surrounded by cheese, for cryin' out loud, and I was losing weight. Oh. Yeah. I had this thing beat.

We all know where this is going, don't we?

One day I'm back at my little hot plate, waiting the requisite 45 minutes it takes to heat up a pot of soup, when the doors burst open and a bunch of burly Teamsters deposited a freezer in the middle of our little cafe.





I believe the Biblical phrase goes: Pride goeth before the cookies and cream.

...or something like that.


Back to the original premise of this post: How one survives owning an eating establishment when one's addiction of choice is eating.

You start by not allowing the One In Charge of the Ice Cream to order coffee ice cream. I apologize to any of my customer whose favorite is also coffee. Unfortunately, a shot of espresso poured over vanilla is just as good, if not better, than coffee ice cream and, if there is one thing we have in abundance around here, it's espresso.

In all fairness, I've been pretty good -- I only succumbed twice in the past three weeks. But I know it's just a matter of time. Food speaks to me. Loudly. (This must be why I sleep so well -- there is absolutely no food at home.)

Ice cream screams -- it's why we carry it. Come to think of it, I have my business to consider. How can I ask my customers to eat something I won't eat myself? I'd be a hypocrite, right?


Besides, I can quit eating ice cream any time I want.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Pseudo-Kitchen Nightmare

I have Gordon Ramsey and Robert Irvine screaming in my head on a regular basis.

Admittedly, I've become a restaurant show junkie. Not only is it educational in running a cafe, but it makes me feel better knowing there are people screwing up worse than I am. I have to say, though, as much as we all tease DG about his obsession with cleanliness, we will never, ever, have anything approaching the filthy kitchens exhibited on either of those shows; nor do we have the level of familial dysfunction (this truly surprises all of us...we thought we'd surely be ready to kill each other by now. But -- give it time...).

That being said, considering what passes as our "kitchen" would put us more in the realm of Robert Irvine's other Food Network show than his current "Restaurant Impossible."

If you recall, his original show had him attempting to prepare meals for large crowds under ridiculous circumstances. That's kind of how it is around here.

We call it Lunch Impossible.

We've got two burners (something like the "hot plate" our moms shipped us all off to college with), a panini grill and a soup warmer (affectionately known as our Soup Nazi) - all this in less room than most walk-in closets. Oh -- and did I mention a three-compartment sink and sandwich station is in there also? Yeah.


And it's all on display for the public. No separate kitchen here.

Keeps us honest.

And tidy.

And it amuses our customers. Our family dynamics are apparently entertaining. Kind of like watching a Woody Allen movie -- only with Italians.

The bad part of this kitchen set up is that we have to be very careful about vapors -- there is no venting in this building. So we are limited as to the type of food we serve -- frying, browning and sauteing have to be kept at a minimum so the filtered hood we installed can handle it.

Now that we are moved into our house, I can at least do some stuff there and bring it in. But that doesn't mean we will be serving french fries anytime soon. Or ever -- no matter how many times that one guy comes in, peruses our menu for about ten minutes and then orders french fries, in spite of having been told that we don't have french fries and being told the story of not being able to control vapors with our tiny little filtered hood. He looks back at us as though we are purposely not having french fries just to tick him off.

It's very tempting to fall back on prepared foods that can simply be reheated or microwaved, especially at 6 in the morning, when you worked until 9:30 the night before and you've got 15 hours of work ahead of you and the thought occurs to you that you that instead of spending the next few hours chopping, sauteing and seasoning while simultaneously grilling and cooking, you could just open a carton and heat up whatever soup is available and claim it as your own.

But that's not what we're about and we didn't open a cafe because we liked to heat stuff up. We got into it because we like food, we like to cook food and we like to share food. It took me a long time to reconcile the use of pre-prepared stock for the soups; but we just don't have the equipment to make our own in the volume we need. But I've come to accept this with the promise of a commercial stove in my future (this promise made by DG, though I'm not sure how he's going to make good on this promise...).

Still, anytime I am forced to use a prepared item instead of making my own, I feel a little guilty; like I'm deceiving my customers.

For instance, when we bought this business we were advised that one of the most popular foods on the menu had been a chicken salad available through a wholesale food supplier. And so that is the chicken salad we currently use. And, honestly, it's not horrible. Not to my taste -- pickle relish for pete's sake...pickle relish (why does every salad have to reek of pickle relish?). But people buy it and don't complain. I am told it's good.

But I have to admit I die a little inside every time I scoop some out. I know we're better than this and in my head I hear Gordon Ramsey screaming profanity about us serving "pre-made #$%&" and poking at it on a plate he ordered off our menu instead of ordering, say, one of my soups or DG's chili. I think I could take criticism of my cooking more than I would like being accused of being lazy.

Or, as I'm doing my daily opening of the chicken stock containers, I can see Robert Irvine staring incredulously as I pour it into the soup pot, finally losing his temper and yelling at me, "In an area where everyone raises chickens, you're using a canned stock? You call that cooking?"

Forget Gordan Ramsay Robert Irvine; I can see my grandmother and mother rolling their eyes in disgust.

I think my grandmother could have beaten the crap out of Gordon Ramsay.