From a shoebox sized wine and cheese bar to a big corporate steakhouse. I've worked in restaurants of many shapes and sizes. Different strokes for different folks—but I've discovered I love the small spots. Little for me means more freedom, more room for creativity, and more power. It doesn't always work this way, I'm sure. But I feel more comfortable and fulfilled in places that resemble little families. Here's why:
A Smaller Scale Makes for Better Food
I've mixed brownie batter and remoulade in trash can-sized buckets. Nothing looks less delicious than heaps of mayo and mustard and pickle juice, even if at the end it tastes fine.
My boyfriend (the chef at my restaurant) hated his experience at a busy, busy bistro. One big reason: it felt like a factory. When you're furiously churning out thousands of plate after plate after plate of ahi tuna salad and steak frites, you feel more like you're part of an assembly line than a kitchen.
Making a few gallons of stock instead of a few tons allows us to put more love into it, and to focus more on the details. That goes for everything, even in the front of the house. We all know our regulars—the effusive foodies, the attention whores, the generous tippers, the lady who demands copious amounts of bread upon arrival. We aim to give great, genuine service to all these people.
Each plate at my restaurant gets time, attention, and care. Sorry, anxious diners who want to be out in a flash. It's not really doable. There are more than a dozen components on your duck dish, and someone will first salt, then freeze, then sear that duck breast for optimal juiciness. And the chef will be watching—or searing himself—to ensure that it's spot on.
Everyone Really Counts
We told the staff this at my big corporate restaurant. They should inject their own personality into the company scripts and guidelines.
But when you have a staff of about a dozen, everyone needs to bring more than personality to the table. After a rocky night, I want the ideas of all the waiters about how we can make the next night sail smoother.
Likewise, the kitchen can be found constantly brainstorming ways to make silkier beet ice cream and gel from watermelons. Some of our coolest dishes—cauliflower flan!—were ideas from cooks. In my corporate restaurant, if a cook wanted to use two, not three, tablespoons of parmesan in a salad—blasphemy!
Everyone who works with us plays a big part in creating the restaurant, not just in executing something. Our cooks (there's two, plus a few interns) and dishwasher (singular!) and hostess (singular!) make us who we are.
Everyone Can (and Must!) Do Everything
In a big restaurant, the dishwasher takes out the trash. The runners run the food. The bartenders polish the glassware. The cooks cook.
We too have roles and responsibilities. But the chef can be found on his hands and knees, cleaning; the manager (that's me) taking out the trash and serving food; the hostess transferring gougère hot from the oven into a pan before service.
We're one team, and if someone were to say "that's not my job," well—they won't be working with us anymore. Our servers are watering plants and our cooks are growing roses to sprinkle on canape. We are all doing whatever it takes to make the restaurant good, and great, and a little better every day.
The Possibilities are Endless
Our restaurant is an evolving creative enterprise. Living, breathing, and changing. Micky had a lightbulb go off: he wants to write the menu less like a list of ingredients, and more like a story. We're working on this.
We're having all the FOH employees work for a day in the kitchen, so they can get up close and personal with the food they are serving.
It's exhilarating—we will keep having new ideas and translating them into new realities. This is what makes the restaurant business fun and worthwhile. This is why I'm here, doing this every day and every night.
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