Thursday, March 5, 2009


We did a short 'In the News' before rolling into an extended lesson from the ServSafe text -- we're taking the national test on Monday. It seems because the French are so concerned about alcoholism and drunk driving, not only has their consumption dropped from the #1 spot in the world (that now goes to the booze-loving Brits), but their rate of heart disease has skyrocketed. I thought the French were supposed to hate Americans, so why are they acting like us?

According to a blurb in Restaurant News, our culinary school's main competitor is cutting tuition on select programs by thousands of dollars. Richard noted that in tough economic times, c-schools usually do extraordinarily well, but because of the credit crisis, people are having an extraordinary time getting the loans and money required to attend.

Starbucks is in crisis mode -- the niche of "good quality but expensive" was a great place to be in the go-go 90s, but today they have eliminated decaff and now have started selling packets of instant coffee to take home. Sanka, anyone?

To close out was a trio of McDonalds stories. Anyone with an internet connection already knows all about the Crazy Nugget Lady, who called 911 three times when the McDonalds she was at ran out of the McNuggets she ordered. When the cops arrived, they McArrested her dim-bulb butt.

Then theres this shmuck who ordered employees to eat 2 day old McDonalds burgers after scolding them for not appreciating how lucky they were to have a job.

Finally, a poor shlub working at the Golden Arches sees a dude delivering a smack down on a lady, escorts dude outside, and gets shot 3 times for his trouble. After months in the hospital and 300 large in bills, McDonalds rejects his workman's comp claim. Classy!

The first story was handled well, with the company apologizing for the crazy lady, giving her a full refund and free meal. The second was neutral, with them releasing a statement about how McD's should always be eaten immediately. The third, however, was a huge opportunity to celebrate a low-rung worker, get much more than $300,000 in free advertising and turn a tragedy into a feel-good branding opportunity. Instead, they just look like an evil corporate empire. Which they are. F@ckers.

The rest of the class was dedicated to rote lecturing about cleanliness and safe habits in a commercial kitchen. Monday will be dedicated to this, so I'll resume blogging on Wednesday. Until them, mi amigos, stay classy!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Marketing Overview / ServSafe

Steve ran the class again while Richard covered wine in the other section of management. First part of the class was dedicated to talking about culinary news. The peanut plants that were run out of business recently because of salmonella issues were, believe it or not, organic. Being "organic" is not a measure of cleanliness, it seems. It points to a problem in the system -- it is the companies wishing to be certified organic who pay for the inspection and certification. It is in the interest of payer and payee to certify every one under the sun regardless of quality or cleanliness. The USDA organic green and white logo is a bit of a fraud.

ServSafe was a laugh riot as usual -- Monday we're taking the test and then this will be done. To recap quickly, food flow safety -- keep the cold cold and the hot hot. Thaw in the fridge, not the counter top. On a buffet, a sneeze guard must be 14" or more above the food and 7" or more extending in front of the food. Fascinating stuff.

The second half of the class was dedicated to a PowerPoint presentation all about marketing. Bottom line is passion -- someone somewhere when creating the concept must have a passion for the product. From there, marketing can focus on finding new customers, getting current customers to come back, and getting current customers to spend more. The first part is where the big expenses come in.

The "Four Walls" theory of marketing is this: If you can successfully pull off four products within the four walls of your restaurant, it's guaranteed to succeed. The four products are food, service, ambiance and sizzle, aka hook & pizzaz. Which sounds a lot like pizza to me.

Marketing is all about studying the moments of truth: initial contact, whether by the web or phone. The greeting at the door, the view from the floor. There is definitely not a shortage of things that a well-paid restaurant consultant couldn't pull apart in detail.

Monday, March 2, 2009

International Food Show

Today was no class work, but a trip to the Jacob Javitz Center on the west side of Manhattan for the Food Show. It was the biggest snow storm of the year, so most of the class didn't make it, nor did most other attendees. Some booths remained unstaffed, notably our friends from last week's field trip, the Hunts Point Fish Market. Baldor, however, had a huge booth cranking out hot samples to taste.

I focused on all things pizza, and found some notably gross products spread out through the convention. One group was selling an "encruster" machine. Basically anything that can be frozen can be surround in dough to be baked. Simply, a machine that pumps out hot-pockets. Another were all about super thin pre-baked pizza crusts which tasted basically like tortilla wraps, made a little crisp. Someone came up with this and bet money on it? Damn. There was a baking supply outlet with some nice pizza peels and decorative pizza pans, and a company that sold all sorts of gas-burning pizza ovens.

There was a pizza pavilion which was quite underwhelming, sponsored by a pizza trade magazine. A flour distributor, a company that gives away free pizza boxes with ads all over them, a purveyor of pizza-centric food supplies, a company pushing a remarkably cheesy (no pun intended) franchise out of friggin' Buffalo, NY. I mean, really? Maybe I'm a snob, but NYC seems to be overwhelmed with slice joints, many of which are great, many more which are whatevs. The angle that should be being pushed is pizza sophistication, not more cheap sloppy garbage pie-style stuff.

There was an exciting list of talks and events listed for the day, but the bad weather pushed everything back and I never got to see the USA Pizza Team do dough acrobatics on latex pizza skins and watch Dom DeMarco of DiFara's get awarded a life-time achievement award. Oh well.

And if your playing a drinking game while reading this, here ya go: pizza. Pizza pizza pizza.