Chef John Malik

a writer trapped in a cook's body

July 18, 2019
by ChefJohn
0 comments

The Skeptics Have Landed

50 years ago, three American astronauts traveled to the moon, two of them landed on it, then all three returned safely to Earth. In the following years six other missions went to the moon, one failed to arrive (Apollo 13) while the other five had successful flights. 12 Americans have set foot on our moon and no country since has managed to pull this off.

Left to right: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin Aldrin

Apollo wasn’t a ten-year journey that began with President John F. Kennedy’s promise of landing on the moon. It began with American researcher Robert Goddard. He was the pioneer of staged rockets and thereby set in motion the potential for space flight. Goddard’s research paper “A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes” was published in 1919 yet his work was dismissed by our government and the military. The German rocket scientist and developer of Germany’s V2 rocket, Werner von Braun, was a student of Goddard’s research and admitted as much to his American captors.

Robert Goddard with a two-stage rocket of his own design. March of 1926

After World War Two he was granted asylum in the US in exchange for his knowledge of rocketry, and of course von Braun accepted. His early work with the US Army became the Redstone rocket and from there he was soon assigned to work with NACA, the precursor of NASA. And when Russia launched Sputnik in 1957, the US government was frightened into a spending (and learning) spree that would twelve years later put Americans on the moon courtesy Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin, and Michael Collins went to the moon in July of 1969. The Apollo missions are the crowning achievement of American exceptionalism and our desire to explore. And for some unearthly reason, entirely too many earthlings believe we fabricated the entire thing.

Werner von Braun at his office in Houston

And these people have no knowledge or understanding of 1960s rocketry, metallurgy, navigation, or communication. They have no idea who Robert Goddard or Werner von Braun was (without Google), how much research was done by the Air Force’s X15 program, what a Redstone rocket was, who Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, or Wally Schirra was or how many Americans were directly involved in the effort. I’ll give you a hand. In 1969 a tick over 400,000 people worked directly or indirectly as contractors for NASA. So were they duped by NASA or were they all in on it? Seriously, four people can’t keep a secret much less four hundred thousand.

The TV broadcast of Armstrong’s walk was captured by a satellite dish in Australia (Parkes Observatory) before being beamed to receivers across the planet. A dish pointed at the moon. Were they in on it? Their story was captured on a quirky feature length film starring Sam Neill back in 2000. Why aren’t they picketing Sam’s home?

Our astronauts returned with rocks and soil samples that have been analyzed by universities across the country. Heck our last mission even included a geologist, Harrison Schmitt. All those rocks were studied in excruciating detail and are on display in museums across the country.

Moon Rock in Toronto Museum

Each Apollo mission left a laser reflector on the surface and anyone with a strong enough laser can point it at one of those and record their exact distance to the moon at that point in time. Have you seen the episode of Big Bang Theory where the guys did just that?

The Big Bang’s Moon Laser

The Apollo vehicles, scarred and pitted by space travel, can be seen at several museums beginning with Air & Space in Washington, DC It’s all right there. So why would someone “believe” in World War Two, The Cuban Missile Crisis, Gandhi, or the Armenian Genocide and not in our moon landings?

Laser reflector left on the moon’s surface

What is it about the moon landings that brings out the vitriol? Is it all because the flag looks like it’s fluttering? Hey that was an easy one for four hundred thousand rocket scientists. It was framed with rods just like your window shades are. And yet that’s all the evidence they need to scream “FAKE!”

And scream they do. They hide behind fictitious or anonymous social media profiles and SCREAM at anyone that looks on Apollo with awe. They loudly proclaim through comical verbiage (woke AF!) that someone like me is somehow asleep at life’s wheel. That knowledge is the provenance of Wikipedia, and Elon Musk is the father of space flight. That I’ve been hoodwinked by four hundred thousand people. That when my 13 year-old self shook Michael Collins’ hand at an airshow in New Orleans I looked up with awe at nothing more than a huckster selling Fulcanelli’s Elixer.

Apparently their parents never told them “yelling something loud enough doesn’t make you right.”

The real reason these people think the landings were fabricated is because they and/or their generation weren’t involved. “We weren’t there, therefore it didn’t happen and those people weren’t smart enough to pull it off so they had to fake it.”

Apollo 17 on the launch pad

This all boils down to world-class penis envy, Saturn 5 pun intended. Another generation engineered a vehicle to take men to the moon and return safely, all without using modern appliances, modern techniques, an Apple product, Google navigation, or crowd-funding.

Well here’s a heads up, none of those modern conveniences were used to create steam boats, the pyramids of Egypt, diesel trains, powered flight, trans-Atlantic telecommunications, gun powder, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, submarines…shall I keep going?

The reason is faith in previous generations. Those people/that generation weren’t nearly as smart as I am/my generation is, therefore it’s a lie. They weren’t capable and we are.

From Robert Goddard to Werner Von Braun to Neil Armstrong, America’s walk on the moon was accomplished over the course of fifty plus years of trial and error, death and disaster. If you believe it was fabricated I know the musings of a dumb cook won’t change your mind.

February 11, 2019
by ChefJohn
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The Final Serving of Conch Salad

I love almost everything about South Carolina. Except for Frogmore Stew. There. I’ve said it. Overcooked shrimp, sausage from who knows where, undercooked red potatoes, and way too much Old Bay.

Frogmore Stew

That pretty much describes 90% of the Frogmore Stew I’ve ever had. And yet I’ve eaten a lot of Frogmore Stew and loved every bite.

Why?

Because you don’t make this for four people, you make it for 40. And all of that overcooked shrimp I’ve had has been in the company of great friends. Maybe it was at a wedding reception, perhaps at a graduation party, or maybe a big 4th of July celebration. It’s contextual. Food is the central part of a celebration, even if we humans are just celebrating friendship.

Lining up for conch salad

Which brings me to the Bahamas and their conch salad. This is a simple dish of diced onions and tomato, fresh lime, a little chopped parsley, and sometimes diced peppers. Often times those peppers are those spicy little fireplugs, Scotch Bonnets. And of course the last ingredient is that giant saltwater snail, Conch. It’s pulled from its shell then diced and sliced into bite sized bits and pieces. Now before your salivary glands hit overdrive, there’s something I need to point out. Without the lime and saltwater, there’s very little flavor in conch salad. There’s little agriculture in the Bahamas so those limes, tomatoes, and onions are usually the same ones you’d find in a Wal Mart in Little Rock. Perhaps the limes were grown in one of the Bahamas outer islands, perhaps not. Most likely everything but the conch has been imported.

This is why we go to the Bahamas

However, when you put conch salad into context, things change dramatically. This is one of those dishes that’s greater than the sum of its ingredients. You see, proper Bahamian conch salad must be enjoyed at the edge of the Caribbean. And on most days that’s an achingly beautiful sight. The sea, an impossible shade of blue, can stretch to the edge of the horizon in such a way that both blue canvases melt into one another. The Caribbean of the Bahamas is shallow and when combined with an endless supply of sunshine creates such a memorable experience everyone from simple cooks to ultra wealthy celebrities covet.

Fresh conch salad

Spend a few days there chasing conch salad and you’ll be convinced it’s one of the most wonderful seaside charms on the planet. Because it is.

Sadly though, the conch won’t last much longer. It’s a familiar tale of overfishing that anyone from south Florida, or south Louisiana can understand.

The author holding a queen conch

In the early days of Paul Prudhomme’s meteoric rise to chef stardom, he so popularized the austere dish of Blackened Redfish to the point that Louisiana redfish almost disappeared. Saved by a coalition of concerned outdoorsmen that rang the warning bell, Redfish is now once again back on menus. The challenge of saving the conch is that it’s basically a large snail and it moves at a literal snail’s pace. And that makes it an easy catch. Yes there are limits to the sizes that should be harvested but in the Bahamas there’s very little enforcement. And conch salad isn’t a staple of tourism. Bahamians across the islands eat it, indeed it’s part of their cultural identity and no less important at a celebration than our Frogmore stew. Yes, the sum of tomatoes, limes, onions, pepper, and fresh conch is much greater than its parts. And that’s why the conch will disappear from the Bahamas; everyone wants it, and no one seems to be able to do anything about it.

 In south Louisiana we were successfully able to ask the question “What if the redfish disappear?” And a majority of the residents didn’t like the answer so they went along with the moratoriums and limits. The question was a call to arms and many of us answered the call.

There’s a multitude of biological reasons that make conch slow to reproduce and susceptible to collapse. And if one is going to save Bahamian conch, everyone in the Bahamas must be in on the plan. Everyone must be a part of the solution. The Bahamas National Trust has spent years making videos, flyers, press campaigns and more and yet, conch salad is served every day, everywhere. They’ve even asked the question, “what will we do when the conch disappears?”

Sadly the answer appears to be a shrug of the shoulders.

December 24, 2018
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Merry Christmas Dad

Robert could’ve passed for an NFL linebacker. He stood six foot five and every inch of his frame was chiseled muscle and dark tattooed skin. On another day, his embrace, if not for the tears that ran down his cheek, might’ve felt life threatening.

“Brother Malik, if only I had someone like you in my life when I was growing up, maybe I wouldn’t have pulled that trigger. I’ll be eighty when I get out of this place. Eighty. What good will I be to anyone?”

Robert is a convicted murderer serving two life sentences and his first chance at parole will be sometime around 2060.  After spending four days in his company and admiring him as his fellow inmates turned to him for fatherly advice and counsel, he broke down and told me his story. And it was the same story I’ve heard from the other convicted murderers I’ve met. Broken home, wrong side of the tracks, a life on the street, high school dropout, mom with two or three part time jobs and no father figure, murderer at 17, tried as an adult. Send him away. End of story.

Over the course of those four days I learned Robert spent his time reading everything he could get his hands on; history, textbooks, novels, the bible, operations manuals, law books. And he didn’t just read, he absorbed. He was a study in calm confidence and as we took turns debating the meaning of gospel passages, Robert was always the one the other prisoners asked, “what do you think?”

It was during one of those discussions I imagined all of us in street clothes, enjoying coffee at a Starbuck’s, and no one knows my friends are killers.

The reality of the gymnasium at Perry Correctional is much darker. This place is spartan; not much more than layers of gray paint surrounded by layers of gleaming concertina wire. It reminds me of the German POW camps from those old black & white WW2 movies my brother and I used to watch. Even the food is lifeless. A typical meal might be baked chicken with cornbread and instant mashed potatoes.

Today is different. Our Kairos team has brought BBQ brisket, green beans, carrots, yeast rolls, Cole slaw, and plates of homemade chocolate chip cookies. We’ve also brought hope in the form of a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ. And by all accounts, Robert has already accepted Christ, he’s only new to Kairos.

What did he do? I don’t know and don’t ask because that’s not why we’re here.  We’re here to listen, that’s all. We plant the seed and pray for growth. That seed just happens to get planted inside the walls of a state penitentiary.

My dad was a judge for 25 years and he sent a lot of men, and some women, away for a long time, sometimes forever. Men like Robert. And when I listened to their crimes, I thought “yeah send that miserable bastard away forever. Let him die in prison.” And when I’ve met men like Robert, men that pray for forgiveness daily, I’ve questioned everything I know about our criminal justice system.

Robert wiped his eyes and asked me to pray for him. For the strength to endure his daily trials, the confines of his tiny cell, the drudgery and violence of prison life and the strength to make the best of it.

“If only I had someone like you in my life, someone to teach me the difference between right and wrong, how to treat a lady, how to see the good through so much bad, maybe I wouldn’t have pulled that trigger.”

What could I say?

“God bless you, my brother.”

“Merry Christmas brother Malik”

If Robert survives to see his parole board what will they base their judgement on? Good behavior?  I suppose. They won’t base it on the tears of pain and regret he cried every night for sixty plus years. The years spent agonizing over his childhood decisions, the multiple pages of dairies full of regret and affliction, the dreams of having that one thing in his past that he desperately longed for. Not a better attorney, not more gun laws, not more school programs. A strong father.

Life is seldom black and white. It’s shades of gray, ambiguous, nonsensical, and occasionally irrational. Sometimes what we believe is so far from the truth, reality jolts us like a lightning bolt splitting a tree.

What does Christmas mean to you? Is it all presents and pine, hot chocolate and old songs? Or is it friends, family and wine? Perhaps it’s stories of a day many hundreds of years ago and the birth of a child destined to change the world. Maybe those stories seem so far away and ridiculous, as if something out of a children’s book.

And you’re correct, those stories can feel that way.

To Robert, Christmas means hope, and faith, and those stories are strong enough to melt the heart of a murderer.

Sometimes when I’m cycling, I’ll ride past Perry and even if no one is in the yard, I wave. Perhaps he’s looking out the crack of a steel reinforced window or behind several layers of concertina. Or maybe he’s been moved to Lee or somewhere in Georgia. I don’t know. I still wave, and maybe wipe away a tear.

“Merry Christmas, brother Robert.”

October 24, 2018
by ChefJohn
0 comments

You’ve Already Won

So you didn’t win a billion dollars. Well here’s a news flash: Money is no guarantee of happiness. I know because I’ve won the lottery and it’s so much more than money.

Every time my wife kisses me, when she whispers in my ear and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, when she casually strokes the back of my hand or surprises me with an afternoon text message of love, I know I’ve won.

When I see a good friend on the street and they smile and hug me for no other reason than they’re happy to see me, when I dangle my feet in a mountain stream and that clear, chilly water effortlessly races across my feet, when I watch the sunshine sparkle on a South Carolina lake, it’s as if I’ve won the lottery.

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When my one of my kids brings home an A in math or performs a random act of kindness, when I take the time to appreciate the lines of an architect’s steel and glass creation, put there just to please the human eye, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

When I spot Orion, Betelgeuse, Saturn, or Venus in the sparkle of a crisp winter sky and can share this with one of my neighbors, or when I catch the perfect apex of a downhill, off-camber corner on my Trek then power up the succeeding hill, I really feel like a winner.

 

When I feel the crunch of January’s frost on November’s fallen leaves, I know I’ve won.

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When someone much older than me offers me a bit of advice or a story from their youth, or when someone much younger asks me for advice or a moment of my time, I feel like a winner.

When I hear the words of a favorite author or philosopher speak to me across thousands of years, when I help someone change a tire or show my son how to change a spark plug, when I throw a football with my son or help my daughter with a history essay, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

When my dog jumps into my lap and offers up that goofy mile wide smile of his or when I find a dozen fresh eggs in our barn, yeah I’m a lottery winner.

When I have gracious service at a humble counter-service café, when I take that first bite of a Pimento Cheese Burger, when I’m handed a chilled glass of a local craft beer, or when I bite into a warm Chocolate Croissant that my wife made with a mere handful of ingredients, I’ve definitely won the lottery.

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When I hear a glorious rendition of “Amazing Grace,” the solemn call of a White Throated Sparrow, the rumble of a late-’60s carbureted Ford V8, or the sassy call of a Mockingbird, I’m certain I’ve won the lottery.

When I look at photos of an amazing trip we’ve taken, one resplendent with palm trees, chilled local beer, handmade tortillas, and soft Caribbean waters, I realize I’ve won the lottery.

When I bite into a warm, handmade biscuit resplendent with fresh butter, cane syrup, or local honey or a perfectly roasted Brussels sprout and flavors of bacon fat, garlic, and maple vinegar pop on my tongue, it feels as if I’ve won the lottery. When my bride makes an egg and cheese sandwich on a few slices of sourdough that came right out of our oven, I know I’ve won the lottery.

 

See? You’ve already won. You just didn’t realize it. Find your winning numbers by appreciating the beauty found in your every day. It’s already there, it’s all around you. Find your fortune then go and spend it by sharing it with others.

#YouveAlreadyWon


September 12, 2018
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Preparing Your Restaurant for Florence.

Are you prepared for a week without power? Here’s my tips to help your restaurant survive Hurricane Florence.
 
Tonight. Cook and serve whatever you can. Offer to-go meals, half price specials, whatever it takes to move your food. When you’re preparing to close, freeze what you can, clean out all garbage, make certain you’ve got clean cans and bags plus bleach, gloves, and possibly masks for your return. 

 
 
Review your emergency response plan with your executive team. Don’t have one? Don’t write one now. However, you can divide up the big stuff between your management folks. Appoint someone to do your crisis management (post updates, contact insurance company, find a generator and fuel) while another should collect/manage all contact info for emplyees and another could be your first response team to get to the restaurant as the winds and rain die down.
 
Is your IT system and data backed up? Call those guys right now and make sure.
 
Have a clear plan for communicating with your staff and share it with everyone! A private/secret Facebook page may work well for this. Post regular updates and make sure your staff is comfortable with their own personal preparation at home. When it’s time to close, make sure everyone knows when this is going to happen and who will contact everyone to let them know the next steps.
Before locking up, shoot video of the entire property, take your time doing this. Food, liquor, everything. This will be very helpful in the event of a catastrophic loss.
 
Upon your return, and before any hourly staff enter the premises, make sure the building is safe. Your work comp may not cover an hourly staff member falling off the roof or pulling furniture out of the walk in cooler. Document all discarded food and beverage and any additional costs such as a generator or fuel. Check with your accountant and insurance agent as you may be able to enter damaged food as a loss based on potential sales and not raw food cost.
Do NOT save anything perishable in the event of a power outage. You will not know how long your power has been out and you cannot smell food-based pathogens.
 
And remember, people come first. Everything else can be replaced.


September 8, 2018
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Jonah and The Whale

It’s inaccurate. As in it never happened. In the first place, who could’ve survived such an experience? Can you imagine how inhospitable the belly of a whale actually is? A large whale such as a humpback, must have gallons and gallons of bile floating around its insides and even spending a few minutes inside its G/I system would be incredibly hot, disgusting and would quickly end in a painful death.

And yet here I am, inside a steaming hot whale of a cinder block building, with ribs of exposed beams and vessels of ancient electrical conduit, while a half dozen murderers pray as they wait for their time to be spat out upon the sandy beach of freedom.

Kairos is a non-denominational prison ministry and I’ve participated several times. And on a recent Saturday morning I sat and listened to men grapple with their reality and compare it to well known biblical parables. On this occasion, Jonah was one of those parables. Jonah was called by God to travel to a faraway city and preach to its citizens so they would repent of their sinful ways. Yet Jonah was a shy, apprehensive man and no one to witness to an entire city. So he ignored God’s command, climbed into a boat and sailed off to dodge his heavenly responsibility. Soon after he was tossed overboard in a storm, swallowed by a giant fish and three days later coughed up on the shores of Ninaveh, God’s chosen destination.

And most of these men can identify with Jonah. Sinners of a higher order, the majority of them committed their crimes as much younger men and after many years of imprisonment have come to see themselves as pariahs; repentent and reformed, yet not welcome in society. They’re covered with the bile and tattoos of hard time. They sing loudly, pray openly, and pine for the day when their penance has been served and are alllowed to clean themselves up and walk into the sunshine. That’s where Kairos comes in. Monthly visits and twice a year a four day walk that invites others to come to the risen Lord and find hope in this place of hopelessness.

Today we are reconnecting and singing. Simple, campfire hymns such as “They’ll Know We are Christians.”

“We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

As we heartily sing this verse, I realize these men are truly searching for their dignity in a place of mortal indecency. Their tattoos and scars harken to a time of voilent misdeeds yet their gray hair and soft tones speak of grace, hope, and sorrow for their sins.

“another twelve years…”

One gentleman, with soft eyes and tired feet, still paying for sins committed by a very young version of himself, confided to me that he didn’t want his life to be in vain.  I can’t imagine a more desperate situation than watching time go by from a tiny cell in a penetentiary and afraid that you would never have a positive effect on anyone.

“I don’t want my life to be in vain.”

Jonah, swallowed up by a whale, and coughed up onto a sandy beach three days later. Broken, humiliated, and ultimately coerced by God to tell his story of grace and forgiveness.

“My brother, your life is not in vain.”

And in that moment the entire story of Jonah holds true. The stench of the whale’s belly is all around us. Carolina heat and humidity, the late summer variety, as oppressive and weighty as only a Southern summer can be coupled with dozens of worn khaki jumpers and gleaming razor wire. Men waiting, praying for their day in the sun, free from their shackles and able to walk in peace. In our bleakest moments we can  turn to these allegories and find strength and encouragement, no matter where we lay ourselves down.

As a Kairos volunteer, we don’t ask about details. Our mission is to listen and show love. We sing, hold hands, offer encouragement and pray and often we’re uplifted by the faith of men that most on the outside believe have nothing good to share,  nothing worthwhile to offer.

And as we’re parting ways, my brother hugs me and thanks me.

“Thank you for coming and listening.”

 

 

 


August 14, 2018
by ChefJohn
1 Comment

Thank you, Madeleine

“Chef Malik, would you like to come to California and cook with me this summer?”

Her French voice crackled with sincerety and authenticity and I can remember thinking this could only be one particular woman on the other end of the line. Madeleine Kamman. Several months later I was flying to California’s Napa Valley to spend two amazing weeks with the her. Although she was a contemporary of Julia Child, Madeleine chose to have her greatest influence on the restaurant business and the American chef. In 1988 Beringer Vineyards asked her to create a finishing school for working chefs. She wrote the curriculum, created the course studies, wrote the press releases and opened the doors.

When I was accepted to The School for American Chefs, I was speechless. In those two weeks of July, 1990, I learned more about food than I had in my entire life. Why artichokes grow where they do, why certain regions are better for grapes, why wheat fueled conquering armies, why beer was the best method of purifying water in ancient times, why herbs are to be used at the very end of the cooking process, and so on and so forth. There was only four of us, Kurtis Baguley, pastry chef of San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental and Mark Malicki, chef of Iron Horse Vineyards, Maureen Pothier from Rhode Island, and dumb me from Charleston. We shared breakfast, lunch and dinner for 14 days and she took us all over the Napa Valley, San Francisco, and Sonoma Valley. Lunch at Domaine Chandon, Dinner at Souverain, baguettes from Acme, a wine tasting at Heitz with the Heitz’s, lunch at Chez Panisse, cheese, wine, and a bounty of fresh produce followed by more wine. My most memorable event of those two weeks was a visit to Chateau Montelena for a barrel tasting. I didn’t know much about wine but I did know they made some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the world. And the cabernet we had out of the barrel was so awful, I couldn’t swallow it. As I looked around for a spit bucket she pointed at me and remarked “Now you understand the artistry of this winemaker, yes?”

Then it hit me. Because only a true artist could taste that tannic, arsenic-like juice and know he would create something beautiful and timeless some 18 months later.

My two weeks at the School for American Chefs were the most amazing two weeks of my professional career and I only wish I had been more mature at the time. She opened my eyes to the many possibilities of food and wine, and the beauty of life’s often small pleasures. At the end of those two weeks, she pulled me aside and invited me to spend a year with her learning and cooking. “You need some finesse John, some polish, and here is where you will get it.” I was shocked and spoke about it with my bride. I turned her down. I was an east coast guy and so young and immature, and I turned her down.

Madeleine had a profound effect on the American restaurant scene. She helped encourage and guide the talents of some of our best known chefs at a time when American chefs were just starting to explore regional American cuisine. Chefs such as Jimmy Schmidt, Peter Hoffman, Paul Prudhomme, Joanne Weir, and more. And her fiesty attitude towards the dominant male chef mafia at the time was ground breaking. Her dedication in “When French Women Cook” is generations ahead of its time: “This book, in its own way a feminist manifesto, is dedicated to the millions of women who have spent millenia in kitchens creating unrecognized masterpieces…” And that book? It was published in 1976. Imagine if she were still alive today and cognizant, she would’ve marched down to Mario Batali’s place and dragged him out by his ear, and given him a scolding the likes only a French grandmother could.

 

madeleine kamman school for american chefs

My diploma has faded just a bit

She’d been suffering with Alzheimer’s for ten years and had been out of the public eye for a lot of that time. After losing my Mom to ALZ and spending my three years as F & B director in retirement communities and watching one too many families struggle with the effects of Alzheimer’s, I can understand that decision. Such a pity that she wasn’t able to enjoy her later years and the adulation she was due.

Thank you Madeleine. I did not deserve those two weeks and I’m so thankful you believed I did.


July 30, 2018
by ChefJohn
0 comments

A Side of Hospitality

The go to model in today’s restaurant business typically features counter service, no matter how grand their culinary aspirations.

The restaurant industry has never been static and in the last five to ten years it’s really had an overhaul. I’d guess it’s because so many young cooks watched employers close their doors during the years immediately following the crash and recesssion of late 2008. When I was a young culinary apprentice, I, and most of my friends, aspired to own white tablecloth brasseries and cafes with a professional waitstaff in crisp black and white, a leather-bound wine list, and an occasional special of Dover sole with capers and beurre noisette. However, that model comes fraught with challenges. There’s pricey real estate, a large staff, that huge wine list, and the overhead that comes from lots of bricks and mortar. However, in that labor model, one’s waitstaff can make a significant amount of money. Remember how it was done? A polished waiter or waitress could size up your party of four, ascertain if you were in the mood for a quick meal or a leisurely dinner with multiple courses, cocktails, and matching wines, make sure you understand carpaccio is raw, and recommend the perfect dessert all while also taking care of three other tables. A great server can make an average meal into a memorable one. Pardon me while I sigh over my misspent youth and what the restaurant business once was.

Restaurant Consultants in Greenville, SC

Now the business model of success for an independent restaurant leans towards the lean. One orders from a chalkboard, fetches their own drinks, pays immediately and right away we’re asked for a tip. At the risk of sounding like Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man (yeah I’m at least 50), I don’t tip until I’ve actually received hospitality.

I suddenly feel defensive and yet, why? Why do I even need to defend this position? Heck for years the only folks that used this manner of table service were the fast food outlets and the old school BBQ joints. Sadly in my experience I’ve been shown these suggested tip percentages before anyone has even bothered to smile at me, welcome me into their business, or tell me about the daily special.

Recently we dined at a very well known cafe in the Southeast. We read the chalkboard, ordered our food and beverages, were handed a number on a metal pole, sat ourselves, fetched our own tableware and when we were finished I headed to the men’s room and found this sign reminding me to bus my table according to their directions.

Jeez…

It’s decision time for restaurateurs because the restaurant business is once again going through a period of reconciliation and guess where it’s growing by leaps and bounds? Delivery! More and more diners are choosing to stay at home and have dinner brought to them and they’re utilizing meal delvery services such as Bite Squad, Grub Hub, or Uber Eats. These services take a big bite out of an operator’s bottom line, starting at 15% per order, and that can have a significant impact on profit margin, and these services are only projected to grow over the next few years. Why, though? Why are more people deciding to eat at home and not in YOUR restaurant?

Well…shall we start with hospitality, or the lack of it?

What happens when someone walks into your establishment? Does one of your team smile at them immediately? Are they made to feel welcome? Are they made to feel special? Are they asked specific questions such as “Is your steak cooked the way you prefer? How’s that beer, is it everything I promised?”

Or are they met with zero eye contact, a sullen “next?” and paper signs reminding them to drop their dirty glass in one bus tub and their tableware in another?

There’s an art form to hospitality and the less it gets practiced, the less diners want to be diners and instead will choose to be eaters. They’ll order online, have their food delivered, and eat in their own home because they don’t feel special or important in your dining room. Heck if we’re carrying our own food around, fetching our own drinks, and cleaning up after ourselves, what’s the point of driving to your restaurant?

And if your restaurant, cafe, brasserie, or food truck is looking for an edge in this ultra-competitive business or needs to get its mojo back, perhaps I can help. Give me a call and we’ll talk, I can’t help everyone but maybe I can help you.


June 18, 2018
by ChefJohn
0 comments

The Things You do For Love

“Too many broken hearts have fallen in the river

Too many lonely souls have drifted out to sea

You lay your bets and then you pay the price

The things we do for love, the things we do for love”

10 CC from their hit, The Things We do For Love, 1977

 

She wanted goats. Why?  I’m not sure. Because they’re cute, because they’ll devour our poison ivy, she wanted another challenge, maybe because our little farm didn’t have enough quadrapeds. Maybe she considered them a substitute for the Alpacas we’re not going to get though she really wants.

I see them as a gateway drug to the Alpacas. If we’re successful with the goats, she’ll try to convince me Alpacas are next on the list.

The end result is this past Friday we drove to Honea (honey-ah) Path to pick up two Tennessee Fainting Goats. Both males, brothers. Because goats are herding animals and they can’t live solo. They need goat companionship, at least that’s what she told me. They looked so innocent and goat-like at the real farm where they grew up.

After their 45 minute ride home in the back of our Ford F150, these cleft-foot whirling dervishes wanted nothing to do with our so-called bucolic pasture and goat-proof fence.

435 goat-hauling horsepower

Cats, chickens, our turkey, the goat chow, the neighbors, the goat water bowl, the apple tree and all that delicious looking poison ivy was no match for these two. In the space of three minutes it was all scattered to the four winds and in no time they were free. They spent the weekend ravaging through the vast kudzu playground of Piedmont, SC.

All weekend we received Bigfoot quality reports from our neighbors. Text messages, app notifications, whispered phone calls.

“We just saw them under our boat”

“I think they’re behind our tractor”

“We heard bleating behind our shed”

Off we dashed to the F 150, dropping our sanity in favor of a cup of goat food and a couple of ropes. And all we found were a few droppings and a muddy foot print or two.

“Look! Behind those leaves! Is that them?”

A distant bleat, a gray shadow blending to green then nothing.

Then on our Monday morning dog walk they taunted us right out in the open. They appeared on a neighbor’s driveway. I bolted once again for the F 150 while Amy made her best goat call.

“Baaaaaaa” she said, hoping to say in goatese: “You’ll be safe and happy with us. We have poison ivy.” And the goats rewarded her lousy imitation with curiosity.

“Your toes were eaten by sharks?” They responded. “We don’t believe you but take off your shoes and we’ll come take a look”

Their curiosity got the better of them and soon they were in the rear of the Ford. Perhaps exhausted by their weekend at Bernie’s of Piedmont, perhaps hungover from their fill of kudzu, they tolerated the ride back to Tin Roof Farm where they’re now tied up until they can come to terms with their new home.

And the Golden Grove neighborhood may breathe a sigh of relief. Their gardens are safe and the Maliks are no longer knocking on doors and asking, “Uh, have you seen two little goats?”

They might look cute, and looks can be deceiving

And that was our Father’s Day weekend in Piedmont, SC.

Yeah and about that fainting, we have yet so see it happen.

Now get to work on that poison ivy

 

 

 

 

 


June 16, 2018
by ChefJohn
0 comments

Racing Butterflies

The sweat is stinging my eyes, rolling across my lips, drenching the back of my neck, and clouding my glasses. My heart is thumping along at 175 beats per minute, a few beats over my recommended maximum, and I’m fighting for every pedal stroke while gulping air like nobody’s business. I’m gripping the bars and twisting, pushing myself to my limits and I’m maxed out. I cannot go any faster.

my occasional racing partner

And still this damn butterfly is outrunning me.

It’s a big one, one of those pretty swallowtails that fan out across the upstate this time of the year. It’s lazily fluttering around me and I’m determined to beat it to the top of the mountain, yet right now he definitely has the upper hand. That’s what a 6% incline can do to a cyclist.

It’s the constant tug of friction and gravity and climbing never gets easier, you just get faster. I’ve been on big climbs such as Caesar’s Head where it just goes on and on and my 185 pounds feels like 300 and my 19 pound Trek more like an anvil. And still I drag that anvil to the top of the mountain, grunting and sweating, racing the butterflies all the way.

Training ride with Dan Ripley, Chris Nordmeyer and Brian Kenna

It’s been a good cycling year and in a few weeks, when I line up for the start of my fifth consecutive Ride to Remember, I should have 2200 miles under my 2018 belt. And it won’t be enough.

Because it’s really about raising money and not about cycling. It’s not about the miles but the diagnosis, it’s not about my heart beat, it’s about the slowing heart beat of the 200,000 people in the United States with early-onset Alzheimer’s, the 5.7 million Americans with Alzheimer’s, and the approximately 85,000 that will die from Alzheimer’s this year.

What can I do about it?

The amount of money consumed by Alzheimer’s is staggering. Research and clinical trials burn through 500+ million dollars a year and yet Alzheimer’s remains the 6th largest killer of Americans with no end in sight. Americans will spend about 275 billion dollars this year caring for people with Alzheimer’s, and our group of cyclists will net about $700,000.

End of day two, 2016

$700,000. And to raise that we’ll cycle across the middle of South Carolina in the middle of damn July. When someone calculates charitable donations raised versus sweat expended, our group will surely be in the top ten.

Lining up for the start of day three, 100 miles, Orangeburg to Charleston, 2017

Surely there’s a better way to raise $700,000 for the SC Alzheimer’s Association, and when you figure it out, let me know.

Until then, I’ll be racing that butterfly to the top of the mountain.

And since we’re talking about money, please drop me a few dollars by clicking here. All of it goes to the fight.

Team Coast Busters at the finish of the 2017 Ride to Remember. Melissa Grinnell, Brian Hale, Brian Kenna, Julian Loue, me, Steven and Emily Banks

Thank you.