You provide the food and I will provide the perspective." – Anton Ego, 2007


July 2015

High Volume Production part II: Day 11

As I mentioned in a previous installment high volume production, HVP, is broken down into two sections. You can find the first part of this analysis here. The second portion of HVP was lunch class. Our kitchen fed over 100 students during our lunch service. Plates ranged from salads to sandwiches and we even prepared specials. At this point in the program we only had a week and a half remaining until we all departed for externship.

The chef instructor, Chef Dellarose, greeted my class with relaxed gentle tone. He gave us his expectations, which were simple. He wanted us to cook the right way. Each day we were expected to complete our responsibilities on time and to the best of our ability. Each class day commenced with a short lecture with a pre-game talk about the dish our station was preparing. Chef would frequently ask us questions to ensure we were both paying attention and prepared.

Our menu was preplanned and each dish was composed of a protein or entrée item, two vegetables, a starch and a sauce. This is the class where we used the techniques we had been taught in fundies and practiced during the program on a much larger scale. Rather than making 1 gallon of soup we were expected to produce 5.

Chef was very relaxed. He treated us more like responsible employees rather than students. Chef would patrol the class looking for students making mistakes. Anytime he found or saw something wrong he’d correct the issue and move on. There never was much yelling when something went wrong. Chef would calmly ask that the issue be corrected and then explain a solution if the student didn’t know how.

This was the first class where demo plates became significant. Each day chef blocked time so that students could craft one plate before service. Chef would then have us critique our own dish asking us about seasoning and doneness. He forced us to think as independent people so that we could use these tools on the future.

I honestly don’t remember that much about Chef Dellarose. His class always was fairly quiet and unfortunately he never smashed any muffins. Chef was always focused on us and a constantly gave feedback on everything.

He was relaxed, quiet and calm.

Art of Dishwashing: Day 10

“Who’s that?”

“Oh him, he’s nobody.”

“Not nobody, he’s part of the kitchen.”

“He’s a plonguer or something, he washes dishes and takes out the garbage…”

-Excerpt from Ratatouille

Everyone is in the kitchen for a reason. It’s important to realize that everyone and every position shares the same value. While everyone may not fully agree with this statement I firmly believe it to be true. Executive and sous chefs are given huge loads of responsibility ranging from food cost to inventory and sometimes even HR. Moving down the hierarchy, chef d’partie and the various line cooks act as workhorses in the kitchen. But, the lowest rung though, dishwashers, cleaning staff and tournants should never be forgotten. I was told by our GM, “Just make sure they’re happy. Keep them fed and give them a beer at the end of the night.”

Dishwashing and cleaning is a skill and an art. Certainly anyone with basic common sense, although it is shocking how many people are lacking in this department, can wash dishes or mop floors. The trick is being able to do these “simple” tasks well. Dishes can easily get backed up if the staff member is working to slow or if they’re unorganized.

The goal is to have the dish machine always full and running from the start of the nigh to the end. In order to do this, it is crucial to prioritize certain items based on size. Some items will singlehandedly fill the machine such as large pots or sheet trays. These items can be run while other racks lf smaller items are scrubbed and loaded, it’s essentially two birds.

The cleaning staff at Ella’s currently consists of five, could be four now, dishwashers who split shifts. Some of them understand prep as well which makes them even more valuable. And by the way we are looking for dishwashers and prep cooks so if you’re in or near Rhode Island and looking for a summer job please contact me through my personal email: or give me a call. But when we get weeded on dishes it throws the whole kitchen of balance. Line cooks have to jump on to help, so that the clean dishes can get dried. If we have a surplus of clean dishes it makes it impossible to load dirty racks. When the soiled items get pile up it compounds the problem by eliminating space and limiting the tools at our disposal. Everyone in the kitchen has to cease what they are doing and help pick up slack. Every member of the team allots time in their day to complete tasks. When this time is stolen it throws of the daily timeline and forces people to work at a quicker pace, although more speed is never bad.

This isn’t a daily occurrence but when it happens it breaks the vibe of the entire kitchen. It adds unnecessary stress and also slows everyone down. The kitchen operates like the cliché, a well-oiled machine, and without certain parts working at the same speed everything seizes up and comes to a halt. It’s vitally important to treat each member of the kitchen with respect but also value their contributions as the same. I personally don’t care whether you’re the head chef or someone who cleans up after her, I personally value both as the same. It’s a team game and if someone is absent we all lose.

High Volume Production Part I: Day 9

The high volume production, HVP, class was split into two segments. It featured two chef instructors, one for the breakfast portion and one for lunch or dinner depending on scheduling. Now the class is broken into three parts and students get a mix of all three categories. HVP is the final class before externship. It helps students gear up for larger scale food production such as large restaurants, hotels or catering.

The breakfast chef was a combination of two instructors. One of them was shadowing so that he could learn the class procedures and take over the breakfast portion of the class later down the road. Chef Ward, was the main instructor. He was a thin, energetic chef who, regardless of the 2.00am meeting time and his silver hair, came into class with a smile and 100% energy. It was like he mainlined espresso shots before class. He was always running around giving instructions to other students all while getting the class set-up for service. He gave students his all, answering any questions that they had and showing the proper techniques for things as simple as making pancake batter. Each day he would call for demos so he could show us something new. And each day was always full of surprises.

Chef did have a drive for doing things consistently, which he should. Looking back to an early morning of class, my partner for the day had just finished baking muffins.   As she was un-moulding them and lining them up on a cooling rack, chef waltzed by and glanced down. He stopped and out of my peripherals I noticed him putting two muffins on the table. They were two completely different sizes. He called our attention and as we looked up it began. In a serious tone he quietly asked “Hey, which one of these would you rather eat?” he paused waiting intently for a response. “That one” my partner said quietly in her thick New York accent as she sheepishly gestured to the larger muffin. “Then why aren’t they all like that?” At this point he was in a full rage as he slammed he hands down, crushing the two hot muffins on the table as they exploded like rocks blown away in a quarry.

To this day I still think this was one of the funniest things I saw at CIA. Due to the nature of the class consistency is key. Large amounts of food have to go out to the customer in a consistent manner. I appreciated Chef Ward’s teaching style. It was a very hands on approach and it seemed like he had a genuine concern for students and their education. He was always energetic and it translated as a passion for what he does. It was refreshing to have him just after Chef Johnson, whose approach was the polar opposite. I thoroughly enjoyed Chef Ward and everything he had to teach.

His 3 word description. Energetic. Enthusiastic. Consistent.

Late Night Tacos: Day 8

Last night I had the pleasure of dining with our GM. He cooked me a simple meal and it was amazing. We reminisced about the Perfect Caper back in the 90’s as well as talked about Su Casa, a small authentic Mexican restaurant that didn’t quite work out.

As soon as I sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen a delightful combination of Siracha, fresh seared fish and chopped onion permeated the air. Our GM hustled around the kitchen multitasking by making drinks, cooking fish, cutting garnishes and even grilling tortillas outside. Nothing overly impressive other than the fact that he was still going strong at 12.00 at night after a full day of work. “I have this really bad habit of eating late”, he told me. “I just like being able to sit back and enjoy my meal”. A perfectly reasonable request. As he cooked he chatted with me about some of the history behind The Perfect Caper, the place where I got my first break.

The Perfect Caper started as a small 30 seat restaurant with only a convection oven, four stovetop burners and two low boy cabinets with a single two foot pass. This small restaurant pumped out over 120 covers on good nights which is absolutely astounding. This humble establishment was located on Sullivan street in my hometown of Punta Gorda. It was a small purple house that had been converted into a restaurant. Now this small house operates as a tiny local bar that hosts live performers outside on some nights.

After about 15 minutes I was handed a lush plate of chopped lettuce, grilled corn tortillas , shredded breakfast radish, black rice and about a heaping pound of fresh caught halibut. It was paired with a light grapefruit cocktail that added a nice balance of acid to the whole dish. Each bite of taco had a vivid crunch from the vegetables, the black rice provided subtle earthy tones matched with the sharp flavors of light and flaky halibut marinated in siracha.

We then transitioned into a short discussion about Su Casa. “People just didn’t understand what we were trying to do.” He continued “They wanted sweet tomato sauces and yellow tortillas, not the real stuff”, if only they had tasted our tacos.

It was a great meal that we stretched for over an hour. At the end I felt refreshed and full but not stuffed. Great flavors matched with fresh ingredients provided an explosion of delight on my pallet. If you haven’t ever had authentic Mexican food, not taco bell or Moe’s, then you truly haven’t experienced Mexican food.

Day 7: Center Guy

Each day always brings new surprises. Our cover count yesterday was over 140 and dinner service was quite the rush. My job is working between sauté and grill station to help plate dishes and expedite tickets. The “center” job entails a lot and it’s similar to working as a tournant. I lead the team in the production of plates and help where I can. The process of getting a plate of food to the table has a few steps. The first is the ordering. When tickets are ordered in, any item that sits in the first course, typically the top of ticket, is immediately picked-up. The next step is placing the order on pick-up. This is typically dictated by the server. Picking up or firing is the term used for actually cooking and plating the dish. Most first course items are simple items that take usually no more than 3 minutes to cook. Items that take longer such as grilled steaks or sautéed chicken will be started early so that when the next course is picked-up, it can simply be finished or reheated. This allows for all of the plates to come out at the same time at the right temperature.
My job is to communicate with the other members of our line and gather information on the current status of items for the next course. Once all of the proteins or main item are ready or nearly ready and the server has called for pick-up, I begin plating starch, cooking vegetables and then finish the plates by adding sauce, proteins and garnishes respectively. I also am responsible to call for sides and salads that I don’t produce on my station. It is an intense position due to having to work between and with two separate stations. There are times when both sides require attention. The goal is to focus on individual tickets and complete each one in sections. For example plating all of them items that come off sauté station then follow up by plating everything for grill.
I will be honest, right now I’m still slow. I’m learning the protocols and making improvements each day but it is a hard, intense role. Nonetheless, I couldn’t ask for anything better. I compare it to a complex strategy game. The opponent is the clock and the win condition is making it to the final stage, selling the ticket. Selling the ticket is the final stage of the production process. Once the plates are ready they are placed in the window under a heating element and the server is paged to run the plates to the table.
Awareness and multitasking are the two main skills I need to practice to get more efficient. Reacting to calls rather than listening and processing is what is currently slowing me down. I have assessed my weakness and now I just need to correct it. I still look forward to each day of service because it’s just more time to get better.

Day 6

On the days where I have nothing major to report I have chosen to go back and write about some of my experiences at CIA. The focus will be on chef analyses but will also include small vignettes about exploits with friends.

The start of the program at CIA begins with a class called culinary fundamentals, we call it fundies. This class teaches the basics that are used throughout the programme. The chef instructor varies depending on start date and time block and I was given the esteemed honor to have Chef Joseph DiPerri. Day one commenced with a tour of the kitchen. Chef moved around the kitchen showing us where equipment was located as well as the general procedure for his kitchen. One of our daily tasks as a class was to produce 50-80 gallons of chicken and beef stock. Most fundies class are only required to practice making stock for the first quarter of the class, 7 instructional days. But our Chef was a genius. Each bag of stock that we produced was given a value that could be redeemed by selling the stock back to the storeroom. By constantly maintaining this flow of production Chef always had stock in inventory but also never ran over budget for his kitchen.

Chef was always stern with us. He wanted things done one way, the right way. From day 1 the quote “pros not schmos” was something that rang throughout our kitchen. Chef was adamant about properly cooking food and using the correct techniques. Every demonstration he showed us was interactive. Chef asked us questions about the science of the food as well as the history. Topics like Millard Reaction would transition into later topics about protein coagulation all while chef seared meat in a hot sauté pan or crafted a beautiful Consommé. When our class had rough days he would scream across the tables “You guys make me want to go jump off the Mid-Hudson bridge!”. He never was rude or disrespectful, but he would often make light of common student mistakes, of course he had seen it time and time again.

Chef would often address the class with “Say the word”, after points of enlightenment, common mistakes or realizations such as burning a pot of rice or breaking a buerre blanc. These of course were things we had been taught to avoid and they had been explained and re-explained multiple times. Every time we heard this echo through the class room our response was always, as you might imagine, “Oh…”. He would frequently jest about these mistakes by asking our group leader, as if he knew, why the vegetables hadn’t been washed or there was plastic wrap in the compost bin. “Group leader, why the man who…” he’d shout in a terrible French accent, followed by the grievous offence.

Chef has over 20 years’ experience in the industry as well as over 20 years of tenure at the CIA. He continues to teach fundies because I believe it is something he loves. He is a genuine chef that wants to give you all of his knowledge. He wants things done the right way and he has no tolerance for laziness or apathy. He always explained why, which was frequently helpful when trying to understand and learn the techniques used in the kitchen. He was very critical, not afraid to lay into a student if they made a blatant error like under seasoning or over cooking. He allowed no short cuts and wanted everyone to perform at their best. He kept us focused and attentive by constantly asking us questions and reiterating information. “Don’t bobble head me!”, he would remark after giving us a valuable piece of information making sure we weren’t just nodding our head to appease him.

Chef DiPerri is my mentor at CIA and he has provided me with insight that I couldn’t hope to gather from anywhere else. His class and teachings were truly unique and I consider everything he taught me each and every day. He was a great guide for the start of my CIA career and no amount of words could possibly do him justice.

“Group leader, why the man who put ketchup in his Consommé? Six page paper on how to make Consommé!”

-Chef DiPerri’s imitation of one of his former instructors.

Walk-ins: Day 5

The ticket machine roars away, chef and our GM are barking commands down the line as pots crash against the stove. The line is blistering as the air conditioner tries to compete with the eternal fire that the grill, fryers and deck oven throw out. Garde manger station is getting crushed as the new solo chef tries to plate salads to that have to get sent out with racks of lamb, seared halibut send rare New York strips. Servers are swarming the front of the pass to run plates, drop dishes and pester chef with questions. The noise is inconceivable and while the storm rages each station must maintain a clear level head but still spit out plates as fast as humanely possible. Chef stands in the middle acting as expo while trying to supplement garde manger with any spare second she has. It’s amazing to watch. Each precise movement is just a setup for another so that service moves in a rapid flow rather than a disastrous mess. It is a prime example of disciplined work fused with an unsated passion for pinnacle quality product.

This dinner rush was partially attributed to the summer season in Rhode Island’s quaint beach town of Westerly but it also came from a history of providing the best for any patron who chose to offer us their time. Walk-ins generally supplement the dinner crowd reservations by adding on an upward 50-75% flux in cover count. This night though was different. Our walk-ins exceeded 200% of our reservations and our kitchen got “rekt”. This was my first night operating grill station solo. I have had training on the station from the establishment located in my hometown of Punta Gorda, Florida, but the complexity and intensity up North doesn’t compare. I was operating at 100% trying to maintain my focus while still meet the expectations of the kitchen. I was getting buried and I was smiling for every second of it.

It is so important to understand the value of each customer. It doesn’t matter if someone is a reserved seat or a casual diner who wants to just sit in for a few appetizers. The concept that someone trusts you enough to craft them a meal, a source of sustenance, is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a chef. A chef instructor once compared the art of cooking as well as being a chef to that of a god. Chefs have so much control, components on the plate, complexity of flavor, doneness of the food as well as the future health and wellbeing of its consumer. Patrons understand this and that is what they will choose to dine at one establishment over another. It is crucial to respect and value the choices they make because they can have such a drastic immediate effect on an establishment’s future.

My later goals are to pursue food writing, hopefully in a capacity that involves either education or criticism. Nonetheless, the aforementioned elements are why I love the kitchen. The stress, the noise and the job are all so refreshing. It’s similar to mediation, completely clearing your mind so that you can focus on only one thing. It is a skill that has to be practiced and the finest chef in the world still respect its complexity. It has always been a great source of entertainment to me.

The kitchen will always feel like a second home, I know many of my other friends who work in the same field can attest. We show up each day hoping to make a lasting impression but ne pushed to our limits. That is why I do it. That is why I love food.

Watch Hill Farm: Day 3

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Watch Hill Farm. They are a small local organic farm committed to providing fresh organic produce to the immediate surrounding areas. Ella’s, the establishment where I work, sources a large amount of produce from them. The best thing is the farm is only a 10 minute drive from the kitchen. Farms have always been fascinating. The idea that anyone can plunge seeds or plants into the ground and make them produce spectacular food is amazing.

Most people don’t get as excited about farms. Unfortunately, now this practice of small farms is dwindling away. Huge corporations, who see their consumers and their products as just sacks of cash, have diluted the true spirit of farming. We live in a world where huge machines plow and harvest acres in mere minutes and livestock is crowded into cages for their entire waking life. Now this is an entirely different topic that I may discuss further some other time. Farms get a bad rap but I don’t want to focus on the negatives.

Watch Hill Farms is a true sustainable farm. It is led by a master gardener and it is even consider a master garden. When I arrived to pick up our food order of two dozen eggs, laid that day, freshly plucked onion blossoms and Johnny Jump-ups, and fresh arugula that laced my mouth with a glorious perfume of pepper and rich earthy notes, I was blown away. As we pulled down the driveway of a modest farm house we saw bushes of all sorts of local vibrant flora in full bloom. As we neared the side gate of the house I noticed a small pool. These farmers were people, like myself, dedicated to food. They were not in it for the money but rather a passion for truly good food. I was given a short tour of the grounds where I saw lush rows of tomato plants, full blossomed squashes, beans climbing in a myriad of directions. Radish pods and fresh salad greens of all variations littered the boxes and, picked fresh, they tasted amazing. As we walked through, James, the restaurant GM, gave me little snippets of info. Bees danced through the entire farm and I later discovered that they maintained hives and even sold honey. After seeing the vegetables we walked back to find Eric, a farmer. As we sauntered through the gardens I saw the same flowers that we use in our establishment, the onion blossoms I talked about as well as many other edible flowers.

If you haven’t ever eaten fresh vegetables, and I mean just picked, rinsed and consumed, you haven’t experienced the real taste of a good vegetable. As we neared the small work shed, converted out of a cottage, James pointed out a small yellow flower which I knew to be a fennel blossom. These fennel plants stood taller than me and their thick stems could be seen erupting from the soil. I can only imagine what those bulbs must’ve looked like. He reached out a plucked a small flower and tasted it. “Try this”, he told me. I don’t like black licorice so I was somewhat reluctant but I still complied. As I bit down on the small bud, a distinct crunch followed by a blast of the most pure, clean and delicious licorice liqueur filed my mouth. It’s making my mouth salivate now. It was beautiful and I couldn’t help but smile. I can’t possibly hope to just explain the experience through words.

That is what food should be. Beautiful essences that pair and conflict so that the consumer gets an explosion on their pallet that is unforgettable, beautiful and surreal. Food doesn’t need to be processed in a factory or slapped on a burger bun and shoved into a paper bag. Simple raw ingredients interacting with well-cooked products, meat or plant life, can make amazing dishes. I believe that Watch Hill Farms has an understanding of this and I thank them for helping to save the world.

Johnny Jump-UPS
Johnny Jump-UPS
Squash blossoms
Onion blossoms on the left, fennel flowers on the right
Squash and tomatoes
Watch Hill Farm’s backyard
Watch Hill Farm’s backyard
Watch Hill Farm’s backyard

My Summer Job: Day 1 and 2

“You could pay me a nickel a day and I would still work in a kitchen.”


The industry truly is an amazing place. Of course this is with reference to the food industry. As a “chef”, and I refer to this in quotes because I still have so much to learn, it is so absolutely astounding what other people can create with just a few simple ingredients and their bare hands. My past two days have been filled with culinary exploits and it has made me happier than I could possibly imagine.

I cook because it’s what I love. If you haven’t spoken to me about food you don’t really realize this. It is my passion and I will forever be locked into this crazy industry until the day I die, or can’t continue in the kitchen. To the layperson it is extremely difficult to understand the complexity of a chef. This is in reference to both personality as well as preferences. We, chefs, are not better people than anyone else, although sometimes we think we are. We are you average everyday people who just love what we do. We think differently and often see the world as if it spins in a different direction. Each menial daily task gets broken down into a complex list of steps within our mind as to achieve maximum efficiency. We don’t see food as just substance and sustenance but rather a complex and beautiful representation of our feelings and passion.

I wanted to share with you my itinerary over the last two days. It started at 4am as I woke from a short night’s sleep to catch a plane from Fort Meyers, Florida to Providence, Rhode Island. Shortly after landing, within an hour, I was scrubbed into my chef whites and setting up the line for service with my new sous chef. He introduced me to the kitchen and I began prepping for the list of tasks assigned for that day. I went through service as expediter, expo for short, where I called tickets in, wiped plates and helped maintain the general flow of the kitchen. It was a short slow night where we only served 70 guests but it was still exhilarating. I was the last to leave with the general manger of the restaurant as I helped scrub dishes and put away food for the weekend. We left shortly after 11pm. We then dined at a local bar where I was treated to one of the finest craft beers and an excellent pretzel bun sandwiche. Freshly made pretzels with layered with various cheeses and vegetables. I ordered a caprese sandwich with a sour ale and it was fabulous. We enjoyed the company of two bartenders from our establishment who bought me a round of tequila as well as a shot of Fernet, I graciously declined the latter. The next morning I awoke and started my day with one of my favorite breakfasts of dried fruit and steel cut oats. It was followed by a mid-day snack of a few glasses of brut rose champagne and about 8 freshly shucked oysters on the half shell. I was then treated to some confections from local candy Shoppe, sea salt caramels doused in dark chocolate. Dinner came about an hour later. While I sat overlooking a gorgeous lush backyard teeming with birds and chipmunks I sipped a wonderful espresso. Waiting for dinner, I browsed a cookbook and enjoyed the company of Linus the cat. Then, in the comfort of a home I was served a fresh tomato salad of local arugula, haircut vets and heirlooms. This was by far one of the freshest most authentic summer salads I have ever eaten. This was followed with a gorgeous 14oz New York strip, grilled purple bunching onions and confit fingerling potatoes.

I am still digesting. This is the life I dream of. Surrounded by a passion that gets me giddy and high with things as simple as fresh organic arugula. Talking with brilliant chefs, in this case just one, about restaurant plans and new menu items. Awesome people who all are driven by, what should be, the focus of our lives: food.

“Bear in mind that you should conduct yourself in life as at a feast.”


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