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Everything posted by jamiemaw

  1. (Turning the Tables, page 169) ← Tips and Techniques I was half-pulling your leg Steven. But sweeping generalizations such as this quote from your book (and your further assertion that France has better service than the US or Canada as above) are—if you’ll excuse me—of little service to the reader or to you. Not incidentally, this discussion has little to do with Canada and much more to do with generalizations, ahem, in general. Interestingly, I see you cite "Europe" in your book, but "France" when you introduce the quote above. Perhaps that's a more accurate statement based on your own experiences. First, let’s deal with the most egregious statement: “British service tends toward the abominable, to be sure, but I think the primary explanation for that is a limited gastronomic tradition in that country.” On behalf of our British friends, let’s set the record straight. Britain has as lengthy and honourable a record of gastronomic service tradition—at court, in private homes and most certainly in restaurants—as most European countries, and a significantly longer service tradition than America and Canada. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house was well established in 1688 when it became the de facto brokerage and restaurant for marine insurance underwriters. Rules has been in continuous operation since 1798. And, FYI, London’s first recorded curry house opened in 1733, quite near my office. It, alas, has vanished. So the Brits had already been eating chicken tika for three decades when Boulanger opened his restorative soup shop (1766) in Paris. It’s has been my experience that at its higher end, British service can be exceptional, and often without the haughty attitudes sometimes encountered in continental Europe at the hands of endentured servers. I can think of many pleasant evenings in London and the shires improved by the kindness of strangers. In the CFD sector and beneath it though, British service can tend toward the awkward and laconic, but not for lack of culinary tradition. Rather, the reasons are linked both to a vestigial culture of class consciousness (low status), low basic wages and benefits versus a high cost of living, and a lack of incentive. Seemingly contrary to your argument though, British service is often included in the cheque. I think this becomes especially apparent in CFD rooms. Nothing in your quotation mentions relative economics, which surely must enter into the discussion. Michelin-starred restaurants have professional, career servers because they must, and because they can afford them, if barely. But they come at a very high price and, like the European establishments where they work, are a dying breed. The central tenet of your hypothesis relates to service culture in four very large geographic areas—the United Kingdom, Europe, America and Canada—and one very small one, Singapore. You say “most top restaurants in America, where there is tipping, come in a distant second when compared to their Michelin-starred rivals.” You then state “in most of Canada, where there is tipping, the service is almost as bad as in the United Kingdom.” Where there is little tipping. First, my experience suggests that the cliché of the haughty, attitudinally-challenged French waiter is not all smoke. The same can be true in other European countries, where laconic and unfriendly service—from Tallin to Trieste, and Oslo to Oberpfaffenhofen—can ruin a well-prepared meal. In some cases I’d gladly parachute in an enthusiastic American server (say, from a Danny Meyer restaurant) to replace the imperious snob who deigned to trundle my dinner 20 feet. Or for the lecture we received in one (formerly) three-starred room that began with “Americans have no culinary foundation or traditions, therefore you are not qualified to judge our cuisine.” After explaining, in our polished patois, that a.) We were not Americans and b.) Madame’s duck was still brutally vulcanized, we left to eat under more cheerful circumstances. Although tipping is part of our dining culture in Canada (albeit slightly less so than in the US), it’s important to the discussion to draw economic distinctions. First, restaurant wages are as much as 3 ½ times that of some American states. But restaurant prices can be significantly less, about 20% less than in Seattle and as much as 30% less than in New York for a comparable experience. So, it follows that there are often fewer floor staff here doing more work than in comparable restaurants. (Sometimes that's an advantage; there are fewer people attending the table and all that can invite.) Lastly, Canadian servers are universally attractive and few visitors complain if they dawdle a bit as long as they don't disappear completely. But paradoxically, in the Western Canadian CFD sector, although there is not a lengthy tradition of career professionals (many servers are university students), service is relatively better than in like-American, -British and -European restaurants. That‘s largely due to the extraordinary investment in training (as much as $75,000 per store in pre-opening training expenses) underwritten by chains such as Earls, Cactus Club, The Keg et al. Although only a slim minority become career servers (some become managers), I’d argue that they all become better doctors, lawyers and sales managers because they understand the benefit of their needs satisfaction training and because they learn the value of remaining (financially) motivated. In short, short-term workers often respond well to short-term gratification. That may also explain why so many European, British and American restaurant executives visit Western Canada, the incubus of both superior CFD concepts and small plates dining on this continent, both of which are service-intensive. The reason: To inspect firsthand exactly why the food and service experience is relatively better and at lower price-points. Importantly, those same executives make a demographic distinction between Fine Dining and CFD, which is the way most of the western world dines out, most of the time, and which makes for a more valid and comparable test for incentive-based service than fine dining. The Europeans who visit us (and vice versa) are very conscious of the quickly changing landscape of service in their countries and resultantly are the most anxious to motivate their staff. They often explain that they feel hidebound by a service culture that encourages mediocrity and laziness. Lastly, I think the reason there are relatively fewer career service professionals in North America has more to do with social status and the known hazards that late hours and alcohol foment. I think it’s safe to say that servers suffer the same career malignment and lack of status that chefs did a generation ago. Further, the POS terminal has virtually negated tax-free income—one of the few perks, other than banging Tami in the walk-in—of the job. In summary, I think that your argument could potentially be made stronger if it split the demographics (price points would be a good starting point) and was geographically more specific. Grabbing for relative standards from huge countries (and even continents) is a zero sum game: Toronto is different than Montreal; the Upper East Side is not the same as the Meat Packing District. Or Omaha for that matter. The same might hold true for smaller markets. Example: Because I've have eaten in only about a dozen Singaporean restaurants (at various price-points), and have experienced service that ranged from indifferent to brilliant, I certainly don’t feel qualified yet to have—let alone publicly render—an opinion on service standards there. I only have an impression. Cheerio, Jamie
  2. I'm curious, was " The making of Dixon Cider" about the apple orchard north of Santa Fe? ← I think jamiemaw is toying with us. "Eating Out Abroad" and "The Making of Dixon's Cider" in particular sound suspiciously ribald. see post#64. ← I can only be candid in my silence.
  3. Thomas Haas' Sparkle Cookies and Sea Change Seafoods of Saltspring Island were both recognized by Saveur as entries in their annual '100 List'. Amusingly, before disclosing the ingredients of the sparkle cookies (Valrhona chocolate, European butter, and very strong blackberry honey), the headline reads: "What We Really Like About Canada". Sea Change was cited for its wild smoked salmon jerky that's "marinated and then smoked and dried - a process similar to one that has been used for centuries by West Coast American Indians". Oh well.
  4. Nice book...but I would prefer one book/one chef from start to finish. Just a personal thing when it comes to cook books. Ralph ← You may be waiting a while then Ralph: The economics of regional cookbooks in Canada are very slim indeed for the author, even for a best seller. Typically, they serve a purpose of brand extension or, in a more altruistic sense, are a labour of love. A regional best seller such as Vancouver Cooks has returned about $45,000 in two printings, but only because virtually all organizational, editorial, recipe-testing and marketing/promotional time and materials was either volunteered, donated or discounted. We called in a lot of markers and several of us spent hundreds of hours each on the project over a year and a half. Further, the photography and food styling (normally, an expensive part of the process) was mainly paid for via contra (gift certificates) from the participating chefs' restaurants. But wait, there's more. In addition to a spirited marketing campaign (media and chefs' signings organized by culinary PR firms attached to the restaurants), the book was sold in each of the 54 particpating restaurants, with Barbara-jo supplying small lot distribution services from her warehouse. Vikram Vij single-handedly sold more than 250 books. This effort was a logistical challenge, but it increased sales dramatically, taking the book quickly into a second printing. Thank the power of the collaborative. Chefs are busy and get tired. Extra-curricular work is tough. It can be done, but it takes at least 18 months of diligent and often frustrating work in return for not much except satisfaction. That's why I admire Messrs. Bishop, Raye, Couton, Feenie et al for their contributions. Admire but don't envy. Jamie
  5. Get out . ← I'm afraid to.
  6. There are copies of Vancouver Cooks still available at Barbara-Jo's. Thus far sales have raised more than $45,000 for the Chefs' Table Society scholarship and bursary program. Add in the $6,000 from the Trotter dinner, and it was a successful fundraising year. The website goes live in March.
  7. Thanks for this wonderful report, Lorna. Top drawer. I was wondering what wine Chris and his colleagues would pair with the black cod and pickled cucumber dish.
  8. Is Joanne Kates a restaurant reviewer or a national embarrassment? A professional victim ("I won't have what she's having") or merely comic relief on a Saturday morning? It's very bad form for the newspaper that attempts to be Canada's national voice to enjoin her monotone each week while she inexpertly reviews within a radius of 10 kilometres. In this week's howler, Ms. Kates is amazed when her water is repoured throughout a meal at a Danny Meyer restaurant in New York. And should we care that Julia Roberts had cast her imprimateur on the Houston's steakhouse in Santa Monica? How hapless can one person be in a restaurant? Amusingly, she mentions Steven Shaw's book, which provides some tips for navigating a dining experience. Is service really as bad in Toronto as she maintains? And instead of her tired "I came, I ate, I left" methodology, wouldn't it be interesting to gain a little local context occasionally? In this case, why not compare other steakhouse dining experiences in Toronto, which is vestigially rich in them. For instance, I'd be interested to know if David Aisenstat is going to hand Houston's their arse on a wooden plate. According to Kates, Steven Shaw says "the best restaurant service is in Europe. The United States ranks second and . . . in most of Canada service is almost as bad as in the United Kingdom." Not only is this sweeping assertion untrue, it's based on a breathtakingly small sample (without benefit of references), and subtracts credibility from some of Steven's other, better-researched hypotheses such as how to make a dinner reservation.
  9. Absolutely not. You have a free reign to design menu items and wine pairings of your choosing. Think Go Fish crossed with Diner and Aurora: quality - representative of where we live - big flavours, and reasonable prices. But after some of the angst recorded in the other thread, you may want to 'improve' on CFD classics.
  10. Great start, Stephen. Would you like to begin assembling the wine list?
  11. Over on another thread, Zuke lofted a great idea: Compiling a list of classic West Coast items that, in aggregate, would make for a casual menu that reflects where we live and how we like to dine. We can also pull in lots of ethnic influences, but with local ingredients. Details of ingredients, prep, saucing and companion veg welcome, and please price it. Mention the season, and bear in mind that the 'burn'/assembly time and technique cannnot be overly complicated. Just a couple of guidelines: smaller or appetizer items should be ± $10; mains ± $20. Tempura smelts need not apply. Bon chance, Jamie
  12. David moved on months ago. Their PR guy - the inimitable Duncan Holmes - also went. The proprietor blamed the downturn in traffic on the weather. Seems it rains here. I wonder if they'll cure the design flaw that drove up pashmina sales last year: the verandah, even on hot days, gets cold the minute the westerly kicks up, and the doors often have to be closed. Perhaps the City will relent and allow them to use the vacant north patio area - it's in the sun. Andrew, I think the dirndl works much better for you. And put your hair in a bundt for goodness sake.
  13. Oh right, the food. I believe I made some less than salutory remarks about chicken wings upthread . . . . . . So maybe we should run (in lieu of the 'Rack of Lamb Index' of a decade ago) an index that compares like-food preps (chicken tenders, noodle bowls, wings, etc.) between the CFD chains. There are a few dishes that I'll go out of my way for. Chief among them is the clam chowder at Earls which is very good and with a piece of bread is a full lunch. I like it best in the rain, looking over the lake. I like the CC won ton soup very much as well. Another is Julian Bond's new hamburger, which is being rolled out across Cactus Club stores right now. I have also had very good steak dinners at the CC in Kelowna, another exciting hockey venue: they turn the play-by-play up quite loud for older guys like me and Arne. Did I mention that they also have the best pour of Dutch cleansers west of The Hague? Anyone who read the article (magazine, not internet version), would have noticed an interesting fact. Bond's new hamburger has a staggering 41% food cost (cost = $4.19; sells for $10.25 with fries), which might refute the notion that margins are egregious at CFDs; these ingredients are expensive, and seemingly fastidiously chosen. Although I admire your pluck, I'm curious why you return to restaurants that you're unlikely to enjoy. I thought that was my job. I agree with your first statement but, romantic notions aside, I don't believe loving food is the exclusive preserve of smaller independents. In fact I would call Noble, Bond, Mills, Rohmer and many of their chefs passionate about food, and their service crews equally enthusiastic about serving it to people. I do disagree with your second statement. Restaurateurs that don't turn at least a modest profit typically have difficulty feeding themselves. They perish, and their message, no matter how altruisitc, gets heaped alongside the road of good intentions. But Arne . . . like I said, it's all about the volume.
  14. But they do 'support local organic farmers', as I reported above, and in the cases I cited, quite significantly, often setting an example for independent restaurateurs to follow. Care to respond to my questions or observations? And I'm confused as to why this sector would be singled out to publish GM foodstuffs on their menus. Are you aware of GM foodstuffs being served in this sector? If so, I'd be curious to know what they are, and if you would recommend that publication should extend to all menus. I'm not sure what supports your cynicism 'about the [CFD or chain] bottom line'. Are you implying that selling cheap ingredients at higher than industry-norm margins makes them more profitable than independent restaurants? I haven't seen any evidence to support this in Western Canada: CFDs' margin is consistent with those of well-operated independent restaurants. The Keg, through its publically traded royalty income trust, is the easiest to evaluate; it's yields are in the 12 to 14% range. Bearing in mind the quantum (and risk) of investment (as I mentioned upthread) and the sinking fund required to refurbish at Year 5 of operations, payback on invested capital in this sector typically requires a full five years even at today's low interest rates. So, as I said upthread, CFDs are unusually sensitive to volume.* Compare that ROIE to a finanacially viable and well-managed independent such as Chambar. There, the Scheurmans were able to drive a significantly higher return, leverage some debt, and buy out their investor-partners after just a year in business. It seems they've been able to realize on their business plan. Good on them. Finally, I'm not sure that chains that promote relative quality are 'our greatest weakness'. In fact I think just the opposite is true. Even if the ubiquity of what they offer is not to your taste (as I've mentioned, it's not to mine, repetitively), I would venture that they have set the bar significantly higher for the entire industry and the 'middle classes' who dine there. Especially, as you say, compared to the UK, and, if the Keg's American growth figures are to be believed, also in the US. Jamie * In the case of the Keg, which is very well operated in my opinion, that is driven by increasing same store sales; in its case that figure increased by 3.4% in Canada and 9.2% in the US year-over-year. They accomplished that while being named, in an employee-driven survey, as one of the '50 Best Corporations to Work For in Canada' by The Globe and Mail ROB. The Keg Spirit Foundation has donated some $2 million to 170 charities in its first five years.
  15. The Prow was actually at the tip of the pier, unaffiliated with the Pan Pacific Hotel. It closed Dec. 23, 1998. And it costed a fortune to validate all that parking at Canada Place! ← The leaseholder, a Mr. Joe Segal, came out of it rather well. His lease was bought out by the Crown Corporation when it lengthened the cruise ship parking arrangement.
  16. Zuke, I'm curious about several of your statements. What food trends are they five years too late on? Which big chains don't care about GM politics? And hasn't Earls had an organic greens program for almost a decade? I believe that they are also about to announce their major partnership with a collaborative of BC farmers (a partial victory over our short growing season), a move pioneered by George Piper, their purchasing guru, who is widely thought in the industry to be a huge supporter of local farmers, ranchers and fishers. In November, he and Michael Noble visited the Agassiz/Kent farmers, cheesemaker and coho grower to try to find a fit. In fact they travel a lot in pursuit of quality. You'll also note in the article their disdain for frozen halibut; all of the testers at the table thought the fresh product preferable; Michael Noble was given a mandate to make it work. Certainly he's always been a keener in this arena; I suspect he's not about to stop now. Perhaps this accounts for some of the price creep attributed upthread. Conversely, I don't believe that all independent restaurants shop for the very freshest, organic products available. Not by a long shot. I've seen a lot of sorry ingredients, many at those interesting and tasteworthy formica-tables places that we all like to find. I realize that the CFD sector doesn't appeal to everyone, and while I'll continue to champion the worthy little guy (and while not wanting to prostelytize on behalf of chains), I believe they do give back quite a lot; in some cases their charitable efforts are also generous and noteworthy. But then, as Jeffy Boy said above, there are some nights you just want a cold Albino. They serve that need rather well too, I think. Respectfully, Jamie NEXT WEEK: Boston Pizza
  17. This did occur to me but my experience tells me that these approaches are much easier in a hierarchical, top-down type of organization than in a collaborative multi-organization model. Not that I'm suggesting it isn't worth pursuing, just noting the challenge is probably greater. Training often has a lot of up front costs that can be justified when you train lots of people but can be tough to swallow for someone who only trains a few, or even one, at a time. Again, not to say that it couldn't be done. Interestingly, I didn't find that my servers at Saltlik were especially comfortable answering questions or "selling" their menu, although they were clearly trained. ← The training challenges are more time-consuming per employee. Writing it down helps. I think that Saltlik hired a little young; there's more work to do there.
  18. Of the many elements available to independents in order to become more efficient, one key is service training, including absolute familiarity with and confidence in selling the menu, wine list and those ineffable, unwritten parts of the experience. Where critical mass might most affect profit though (and where independents may lag chains), is in the efficiency and cost of sourcing, storing and distributing supplies, raw product and ingredients. Often independents lack storage and prep space and waste a lot of time monitoring and breaking small deliveries. And that means relatively higher prices at the door (gas, labour etc.) and more in-house labour costs. One of the most impressive things I saw at Earls years ago was how they consolidated their warehousing and deliveries, so that one truck, instead of two dozen, came to the restaurants each day. I don't see any reason why independent restaurants can't collaborate and bundle purchasing power in order to save costs, especially on staple items. Watching the explosion on Highway 97 in Kelowna has been interesting. Just about every fast food and CFD concept shows up. But interweaved are Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and local restaurants. So perhaps there is some credence, at least in a strong growth economy, of the "restaurant row" syndrome, where a cluster of restaurants, instead of competing for a finite amount of sales, will actually synergistically complement each other. Example: New Kelowna Cactus Club opens. Huge line-ups. Traffic at adjacent Joey's diminishes. For about 45 days. Now business has stabilized in both restaurants; Joey's back to pre-CC numbers. Vietnamese restaurant behind Joey's stable, even if my nail-banging, pick-up-driving sub-trade colleaugues won't eat there. The loser: the adjacent East Side Mario's lot looks a little lonely.
  19. I think you mean Bouffe and not Pouffe! Yeah, I found that one exhausting. As for Caligula, I regard it as one of the all-time worst movies ever made. I put it the same group as "Plan 9 From Outerspace" and more recently "From Justin to Kelly". But I will hunt down "Mea Gulpa", thanks. ← No, I meant pouffe. Or perhaps spoof: Numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10 and, before you go to too much trouble, the honourably mentioned "Mea Gulpa", are purely figs of my (inflamed) imagination. And by the way, what kind of philistine doesn't enjoy Caligula? Answer: A Philistine.
  20. You make many sound points, TS. First, I agree that the markets are still somewhat separate, especially in larger centres, but they are converging rapidly and the lines are becoming blurred. That's why, as you point out, CFD's have to reinvent themselves faster than Madonna. Some observations . . . While I was compiling this article (plucking wings off guiless chickens), both of my daughters took summer jobs at restaurants. Both were employed as hosts, one by a CFD, the other at a leading FD restaurant. One was trained within an inch of her life, the other was thrown straight into the deep-end during a busy brunch slam. I'm sure you know the rest of the story; it was interesting to hear them compare notes. Both seemed the better for their experiences, but via two completely different approaches. The downside? Getting hit on, especially by "really old guys", sometimes as archaic as 27. But something more interesting caught my eye: the depth of product knowledge and education of CFD staff about operating costs, specifically the cost of breakage or loss; those costs are harped on in training binders, computed in revenues necessary to make up for the loss. And food costs. In the staircase leading down to the staff changing room at one CFD, a whiteboard prominently displayed the weekly and monthly food and wastage costs for all staff to see. Floor staff in many restaurants (and food media, for that matter), are often oblivious to the sensitivity of food, wastage and shrinkage costs. At the peril of the owner. Third, I think you're right about the blend of design and familiarity. But I had to ask myself where the competitive pressures come from in CFD, especially when some FD chefs are taking their brands downstream and where there are thousands of interesting (more interesting for most members of this forum) alternatives. I came to the conclusion that it's that unremitting compression (from "below and above") - the reaction of the CFD sector to extraordinarily rigorous competition - that makes the sector here so vigorous, market-responsive, and ultimately, financially successful. But in order to get there, you have to turn up the volume. And there's the risk. New CFD rooms cost $3 million ($13,000+ per seat) plus to install; the opening expenses for staff training alone can run as high as $75,000. That compares, for instance, to the $180,000 of hard costs ($3,000 per seat) spent to build Habit. Not incidentally, I saw much less cynicism in many of the CFD's that I mentioned in the article, and much more honesty, than in some of the so-called burn-and-turn chains such as East Side Mario's, Jack Astor's, Montana's, Fionn Macools and their ilk. I'm no cheerleader for the CFD industry, but through this article, I thought it important for the reader to understand how it works. Like it (as many consumers clearly do) or not, CFD restaurants are a major and growing factor in how we eat. It's reminiscent of a long feature that we ran some years ago on food distribution in BC, with a specific look at Konings-Sysco during the turnover. The mail we received ("I had no idea . . ." kind of letters) was impressive. Most restaurant reporting is centred around the newest flavour and the romantic provenance of the independent chef's gastro-creds and his Everyman struggle to be heard. So I'll admit to a slight thrill in reporting on a sector that is (except for trade journals) studiously ignored. Food snobs be damned. Snobbery does enter into the discussion: CFDs feed a lot of people every day and night, but quietly. In rural and small town Western Canada (where I spend a good deal of time), a CFD may be one of few default alternatives available. Although we're spoilt for choice here in the Lower Mainland, we shouldn't forget that our country cousins might now eat a little better than their parents.
  21. 1. Ho Mangiato il Hairpiece di Stanley Tucci?; Italy, 2001. 2. Caligula (Producer's Cut); USA, 1979. 3. Wie Wasser für Chai; Holland/Germany, 2004. 4. Eating Raoul; USA, 1982. 5. Das Große Komischary; Germany, 1943. 6. Claire's Knee, Eric Rohmner; France, 1971. 7. La Grande Pouffe; France, 1973. 8. Eating Out Abroad; England, 1989. 9. Более Быстрый Pussycat, Убийство, Убийство!; USSR, 1953. 10: PBS/Nova: The Making of Dixon's Cider; USA, 2001. Honourable Mention: Mea Gulpa; National Film Board of Canada, 1989.
  22. Comment Card: Cleanliness would be a great place to start. In our home it's right next to atheism, er, Godliness; I think many ungodly independents should copy.
  23. Member-deleted (my, that sounds uncomfortable) for complete irrelevance.
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