Thursday, February 26, 2009

ServSafe / Trends Overview

Richard was away teaching wine to another management class, so we had Steve head the class, who is the head of the department. We did the introductions, every student giving their shpiels, and Steve introduced himself, with a very lengthy resume that included running a pizza shop named 'Rosey Tomato' in Greenwich, CT. We recapped the fish market visit -- it's a bit of an anachronism. Back in the day, more than 90% of all fish came through the market, but now with so many alternate means of getting into restaurants, it's now closer to 20%.

We barrelled through some ServSafe noise, summed up thusly: FIFO, first in first out -- use the old stuff first. When it comes to proteins, the stuff that is cooked to the lowest temp is on top, highest temp on bottom. In a fridge, fish goes on top, then whole meat, then ground meat, then poultry on the bottom. Fish juice on chicken will get cooked beyond it's danger zone, but chicken juice on fish may still be sickly at a fish-cooking temp.

We watched a cringe-worthy video about the effects of salmonella poisoning on the human body, from replicating in the gut, to vomiting and pooping, and all the tricks the body does to attack it and excrete it. Pretty poopy stuff. Oddly enough, it kinda skipped over why chicken is so dangerous -- salmonella lives in it's intestinal tract and poop, and we don't eat those things. So why is chicken so ridden with salmonella. Oh yeah. BECAUSE MODERN POULTRY FARMS ARE F@CKING FILTHY AND YOU SHOULD NOT EAT CHICKEN AS A RULE. Eat pork, fine readers, if you really care about your health, preferably organic and humanly raised.

The class ended with Steve presenting a PowerPoint slide show on trends in the restaurant business. It was really interesting, but undercut by the really poor design and unnecessary animated clip art and clashing colors. Some early basic points: You can never know too much about your clients. You must be better than your competition in some way to grab market share, a.k.a. penetration. And heed the dayparts, for people come in for lunch for different reasons than dinner.

Current major market dynamics: cheap is chic, driving is frowned upon, kids bully families, wives bully husbands, more senior citizens than ever, people are hurried, people are more sophisticated and aware of green issues. There was a lot of information presented in regards to trends (Eatertainment! Asian fusion! Neighborhoodiness!), but in the end, it made me think -- should a person go into this business to follow the trend and maximize the ability to rake in cash, or should you first find out what you want to dedicate your passion to then hope it lines up over the trends?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tour of New Fulton Fish Market & Baldor

We trundled into a big bus at 4:30am this morning and shot up to the New Fulton Fish Market at Hunts Point in the Bronx -- it used to be on South Street by the water on the old southern tip of Manhattan for over 100 years, but according to the security guard/tour guide/all-around mook, fish hasn't been brought to market by boat for at least 40 years -- everything is by tractor trailer or airplane.

We arrived around 5am, and it was starting to wind down -- load in is around 8pm the previous day, and the main selling to the purveyors and restaurants happen between midnight and 6am. It was a huge cavernous hangar, with a grounds reminiscent of an airport -- how did this ever fit into downtown Manhattan? The room is climate controlled between 40 and 45 degrees, and the smell of fish is omnipresent. The air is very moist, the floor is wet, and trays of fish over ice are everywhere. The moist air guarantees you WILL smell like fish after you leave. After a minute, though, you barely notice.

Unlike the old market, this one is not subject to weather. Fish froze in the winter and spoiled fast in the heat of summer. Even though the fish are out on the selling floor, they are kept at a perfect temp to keep it fresh. According to the manager of Blue Ribbon, one of the most reputable fish companies in the market, after each stall does its own sanitation, a machine very similar to a Zamboni comes out and fully cleans the market floor. I would've loved to stay and see that!

Here are some random shots of what I saw....

Most of the workers carried these intimidating looking hooks in which they used on everything from dragging boxes to picking up huge fish by the gills.


These shrimp were genetically modified for their shells to look like printed cardboard boxes. This is one huge shrimp, huh....

Wanna know where gefilte fish comes from? Carp is not a very sexy fish...

After the fish market, we went next door to Baldor, a huge purveyor of produce and specialty foods. Unlike the fully unionized, once mobbed-up fish market, this place is privately owned by one person, has no union, is spotless, has a gym for it's employees, is 100% HAACP certified (that's the highest level of government-certified cleanliness), and they bent over backwards to give us a thrill with a good tour.

This place is huge. It's not a warehouse, but a series of linked warehouses. Here is a room just for a wide variety of potatoes...

In other areas, you could find more exotic hings, like edible flours...

Before they took us for muffins, coffee and free swag, we went into the room where veg is cut and processed -- it seems in hotels, where the union requires a potato peeling person to earn $25 an hour, Baldor has found a big business in cutting and prepping veg for unionized institutions. Being HAACP certified, no one can go in with exposed hair....

Monday, February 23, 2009

ServSafe / Opening Soon

We disgorged our restaurant experiences for Odds & Ends, and K brought in a hilarious menu from a Manhattan Italian restaurant called 'Fragolino Trattoria', which is run by some Indian folk. Just about every word in the menu was misspelled, such as 'pomomodoro', and the business card scotch taped to the front of the binder didn't help. Another student mentioned that when he went to buy his usual Tropicana OJ, he barely recognized it. As it turns out, Tropicana's parent, Pepsi, pretty much admitted to messing up and plans to revert to the old packaging. I think it looks kinda nice, with the cutesy plastic orange on top, but what do I know, I can't stand the stuff.

We watched a poorly-produced ServSafe video then reviewed a chapter about purchasing and receiving. To boil down 2 hours of blather, here it is straight to yo membrane: inspecting and rejecting inventory as it arrives means big savings and big safety. And meat inspection is mandatory and means the meat is edible, while meat grading speaks only to the quality, and is voluntary. And between you and me and the wall, meat inspection in the USA is Prime-Grade BOOOOOOOOLSH@T, underfunded, understaffed, and gutted by 8 years of Republican 'oversight'. But we're here for culinary management, not culinary politics....

The class ended with a video of "Opening Soon" about a restaurant called the Fork in Seattle. It was kind of annoying, about a fat dude who worked most of his life under his family at a casual, popular eatery, but then his mom died and his girlfriend dumped him, and he went off depressed for 2 years before wiping the Cheetos dust off his t-shirt and starting a new, fine-dining place. He starts with a lot of ideas for (bad) experiments, and sets a date for opening before he can possibly be ready. Drama ensues, and they open up without even having menus printed or glassware. If you believe the editing, they opened and all went great happily ever after.

If you read between the lines, they probably didn't open for at least 2 weeks after the official opening, and a few comments made indicated the budget went from 150K to 185K, until an off-hand comment towards the end revealed the final budget of 300K+. Fat dude started off with all these neauvelle local-organic crazy ideas, but when they did a food-porn montage at the end of the program, ALL of the dishes were standard French-American dishes....which is what sells to his clientele. And to top it all off, according to Richard, he had a student who was familiar with the restaurant, and reported that it closed within a year of its opening...

The video struck home, because in recent weeks I've been spending time at a pizzeria in Brooklyn that's struggling to get open...tomorrow we have a pre-inspection by a DOH expediter to get our certificate of occupancy and license to cook and sell food to the public. I've been writing about it a little on my other blog, and I'm not surprised to tell you that opening a restaurant is more complicated than any 30 minute (minus 10 in commercials) show can really cover.