Much Aloha Peggy-Sue!

Much Aloha Peggy-Sue!

Saturday 6 AM: Clockwork. Chirping birds before the sun, a natural alarm. Snooze button. Back spasms, a natural alarm. No sleep for 2 weeks. Feel like how a Nutcracker looks. Make favorite Ka’u Coffee. Swirling grounds, frothy bloom. Press. It’s the little things. Asprin x4. It’s the little things. Suck it up behind a cup of syrupy hazelnut & caramel notes. Ready & out the door. It’s Farmer’s Market day in Waimea.

7 AM: Downs Grounds booth. Barter a BLT for 2nd cup. Both acceptable addictions. Got to love market days. A tradition as old as civilization. Chef job requirement. Correction: a marked Chef job requirement.

7:30 AM: Kekela Farms for produce. Compositions. Spanish radish and young “baby” carrots, pair with steak dish. This is where images of plates and menu options dance in my head. Sweet dreams.

8:05 AM: Out of the dream into reality. Arrive at the Kitchen. Busy but handling it, staff en pointe. Sweet work, onto menu changes.

8:15 AM: “Chef, Mike is on the phone. He has some nice Ahi, are you interested?” Hell yes, I’ll take that call. “Chef, I have grade A Ahi (tuna). $13.95 per pound, you interested?” Play. It. Cool. “Sure, I can take 20# (lbs.). Thanks Mike.” Perfect timing! I am working on a new dish. Ahi is a perfect protein to experiment with, see if it works.

8:20 AM: “Chef, BB is here about the flooring install.” Handshakes and shoulder tap. “I do not mean to bother you but do you make the decisions for the restaurant?” Red Flags. “Actually, no, I do not. My wife does and she will be in at 10 am.” Haha, sorry Honey. Damn sales people, rats, all the same. Be more like BB.

8:30 AM: BB and I agree on final floor design. Handshakes and another face. Another one! “Chef, I am working on that beer quote and am almost finished.” All the same. “You said that 3 weeks ago and still nothing. You originally told me you were going to have it installed by last Wednesday. Still nothing. I already reached out to another company and am going with them.” “Oh, that is bull shit!” Another one bites the dust. AMF! (Adios Mother F*cker). Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

8:45 AM: “Chef, we are out of coffee.” Blank stare, processing possibilities. “How are we out of coffee? I bring in 200# at a time. At no point from #140, #100, #80, #20, to #5 POUNDS, did you think, ‘Hey, I might want to tell Chef.’?” Unbelievable. Secret stash.

8:50 AM: “Chef, table 24 cannot believe our coffee is expensive and wants to split one.” There is a reason for everything. It’s top quality & supports a local farm. “No splitting coffee, tell them it’s free refills.” “They also want to split pancakes and ice tea, if the ice tea is free refills.” SMH (slap my head). “No.”

9:00 AM:  Computer system for the entire restaurant crashes. Some days, technology doesn’t want to work for you. “OK guys, you need to hand write your tickets. Please write nice so the kitchen is able to read it.” One of my staff writes like a serial killer. Always double check the writing.

9:05 AM:  First ticket. Written like shit. “Can you please write nicely? I just asked you.” “Oh, sorry Chef, I forgot.” “It’s been 5 minutes. Get your head together or it’s going to be a long day.”

9:06-10:50 AM:  Customer service. Follow the prompts, always 2 hours. Always. Plates dance in and out. Frustration mounting. Why? Serial Killer handwriting. Breakfast items turn to Lunch items. Swear to listen to my local Tech guy next time. Reboot. Computer fixed.

11 AM: Prep cook arrives. “Jackson, let’s clean and roast these veggies. We also need potato ribbons, kabayaki pearls, and some truffle dust for tonight. Did you check the sweet potato in the dehydrator? Let’s see if we can make a salt with them too.”

11:50 AM: Roll out knives. Organize. Execute Butcher List: Whole chickens: debone, marinate, roast bones, make stock. Ribeye: clean and cut steaks. Whole fish: gut, scale, remove gills, and debone. Ahi: cut steaks, cut poke, salt water bath blocks for miso fish. Pork belly: remove skin and cure. Bacon: wrap pounds for market, slice for sandwiches, braise for pulled bacon dishes.

3pm: Dinner cooks arrive. Review night service. Reservations, VIPs, and sequence. “Crunch time is at 6 pm. We need to push out those first orders as soon as they arrive so we can stay ahead.” “Yes. Chef, are we running the gnocchi with shrimp dumpling app again?” “Yes, let’s bring in some mentiko for next week and see if the guests are ready for something new.” Chefs always want to put fun things on the menu but it’s the guest who dictates it. As a community builds trust in a Chef, we can slowly start to integrate different, fun (to cook and eat) ingredients. Reminder set.

4 PM: Front of House staff arrives. “Alright, I have the table assignments. Set it up as I have it. Let’s meet back up at 4:45 pm for pre service (meeting).” Post the roles.

4:10 PM: Servers huddled looking at the assignments. Pick-a-littles, talk-a-littles. Head over before the assignments are picked to bits. “What’s wrong?” “Well, I was thinking that I will take table 25, he can take table 11, and we share the Lanai.” “No, that means you will crisscross stations all night. Assignments are finished. Stick to the choreography. This is how things get confused in the middle of a rush. We need to be on the same page all the time, do not over think it and do not change it.” Play the part and it will be a beautiful thing to watch.

4:45 PM: The final piece. Dress rehearsal. Pre-service meeting. “We have ricotta and basil gnocchi with shrimp dumplings. Let’s run the braised beef shank with roasted Kekela farms veggies and savory garlic grahm.” Service notes. Tech notes. Sommelier notes: “I need you to push the Barolo, only 2 bottles left and complements tonight’s beef shank.” Ready or not, show must go on.

6 PM: Curtains up. “Aloha, we are here for the Peggy-Sue retirement party.” Mistake? “We have her down for tomorrow night. Let’s wait for Peggy-Sue to arrive and we can talk.” Scenarios, options. “Hi Chef, I sent you an e-mail last night letting you know we needed to change the reservation, to tonight.” Full dining room, game plan, can handle. Damn computers. “I am so sorry Peggy, I did not see the e-mail. Give me 15 minutes and I will have you set up. It is still 15 people, yes?” Obvious anger. Need to make this retirement party a special experience. Direct the staff for set-up and sidebar the kitchen. “Fire some goat cheese rounds and send them to Peggy’s table, start them on something nice.” Full dining room means slammed kitchen. Need to get her food out fast. “Howard, make them a round of signature cocktails, we need to buy the server some time to get to the table. Goat cheese amuse in 3 minutes.” Something celebratory… Sugar Plums… Yuzu!

Luckily for me, my staff stepped it up 10 notches and made it happen. A standing O (ovation) for that night. I made table side yuzu (an aromatic citrus, like a grapefruit) and honey ice cream. And Peggy-Sue? She was happy. I am thankful she trusted us to do our job and give her a memorable experience. Sometimes you have a customer who insists on a table or insists on our mistakes. Shit happens, but this is what we do in our business, we still make magic and dreams come true. Just let us make it happen.


Dinner Waits for No Fish, or Man.

Dinner Waits for No Fish, or Man.

11am: RING, RING! “Thank you for calling Mai Grille at Waikoloa Beach. How can I help you?” “I was told you specialize in modern farm to table. If you do, I would like to make a reservation for 3 people at 7:30 pm under Smith. The party might be slightly larger.” “Yes we do Sir and we can accommodate. See you at 7:30 pm.” Why does everyone want to eat at 7:30 pm? It is the busiest time at night for every restaurant in the US. Lunch service is slow. That is fine, I finally can catch up on paper work.

1pm: RING, RING! “Thank you for calling Mai Grille at Waikoloa Beach. How can I help you?” “Hi Chef, it is Tom. I need to bring down the cost on our wedding. Can you give me an itemized quote for all the items you will be serving?” “I sent that in the last e-mail and this is the 6th quote I have given you.” “Yes I saw that but, how can 1 cook cost $250 for a salad station?” “Tom, you are paying for the cook to prep the food, drive to your house, set up his own station, make 100 farm to table salads, break it all down, and then return to the restaurant.” “Well, we need to talk. I will be down at Mai Grille at 5pm.” “I am very busy today, I don’t think I can meet with you.” “It will be fast.” “You said that last time. It was my day off and you were an hour late, please do not be late.” Tom is renting some bungalows for the week of the wedding that is costing him $37,000. He is questioning a $250 cook? Come on.

4:45pm: I tell my manager to let anyone asking for me know I will be in a staff meeting AND my whole fish, which we roast, still has not arrived. I figure I can do a 30 minute meeting. Hopefully the fish will arrive and by 5:30pm I will be ready to talk salads.

5:15pm: No Tom, but fish. Whole Snapper has arrived. Dinner service waits for no man, better start on the fish.

5:30pm: Still no Tom, but I am almost finished with the fish. Cell phone vibrates. New Text Message: “Chef, just left the house, be there soon.” Reply: “You are already 30 min late. I have to get ready for dinner service so I will not be able to meet.” Sent.

5:55pm: “Chef, Tom is here.” “Tell him sorry but I do not have time.” “He said he is going to wait for you.” “Let him know he will be waiting all night.” “Ok.” 5 minutes later. “Tom just left and he is pissed.” Some people! Orders rolling in, better call out the tickets.

Let me jump on my soapbox here. Why do some people think, because we are a restaurant, the prices are negotiable and our time is not important? Go into a grocery store, demand to see the manager, and then negotiate pricing. Try it, they will enjoy the unusual experience. Meanwhile, dealing with these characters is a reality of the restaurant industry.

I really believe all people should have to work in a restaurant, at least once in their life. This environment is one of few where you are required to explain yourself, good or bad, and answer to the customer directly. If you do not live up to each individual’s standards, they expect a full refund. They didn’t like my cooking style, the dish, or waited longer than expected. Customer satisfaction, it’s a moving target. They go online to give Chef Allen Hess or Mai Grille a bad review. Now, imagine if we could do this with the cable company, cell phone provider, HELCO (electric) or, hell, even your spouse….Love you Honey 🙂 .

7:30pm “Chef, Smith party is here. He is upset we do not have a table for him.” “Yes we do.” “I don’t know Chef but he is mad. Can you talk to him?” “Sure.” “Aloha Mr. Smith, what can I do for you?” “We are here with 10 people.” “OH, O.K. We were not ready for 10 people. Give me a minute and we will set you up.” “Well, I told the person on the phone the party might be larger. Apparently, he did not relay the message.” Well buddy you said the party might get slightly larger, 3 up to 10 people is not “slightly”. “I understand Sir, but 3 people to 10 people is quite a large jump.” “Just get me my table.” I throw a knowing look at my staffer. “SCOTTY, make the man a drink and let’s get them sat.” “YES CHEF!”

Sure enough, Mr. Smith, a cocktail in hand, settled right down. He later asked me to come out and talk story with him about the dinner. “We love your food, Chef, where have you trained?” “I worked with a Chef in Louisiana, named John Besh; a high end private resort in the Caribbean, I then moved back to San Francisco and worked at Pan Pacific; a country club in Los Angeles, and, of course, Hawaii with Roy Yamaguchi, Peter Merriman and Alan Wong.”

He was intrigued with the chef profession and the travel. We talked more, about wines and my approach to our wine list, foods of Israel and had an overall great talk. He ended up leaving happy and so was I. In our business, nothing makes Chefs happier than a happy guest.

We have lots going on throughout the day and many characters in our business. There is a reason for the common saying, “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” It is because this business, good and bad, is either in you or it is not.

9pm: Wash dishes, put in produce and meat orders. Text my fisherman to find out what is coming in tomorrow.

10:30pm: Home, early for once. Drink a bottle of Big Island Brewhaus, kiss the kids and wife goodnight and read some Hemingway.

[Note: Guest names have been changed, any similarity is a coincidence.]