Tag Archives: Food

Giving thanks at work…

I get a turkey every year from Outpost Turkey Farm here in Holliston.  Once it’s ordered I still stand in line for hours to get it.  It’s a yearly rite of passage.

Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday for me.  It’s a perfect marriage of food and family although admittedly those are two volatile ingredients that when mixed can lead to interesting results. It’s ultimately supposed to be a time of reflection and in my family we always clink glasses to those not with us.  We also issue thanks for our perceived health and happiness and look forward to the year ahead. Now that I have children, Thanksgiving has taken on even more meaning because it’s a day of memories that I will hold on to, and hopefully they will too.

That memory could be that of a culinary tragedy–my cinnamon-thyme turkey brine from a few years back generated many a furrowed brow. Or it could be of a guest’s unfortunate (and accidental) decision to light a stovetop burner that had a crock of creamed spinach resting on it- a fun clean up. Or there is the memory of the tryptophan induced squabble that occured between an oddly even match up of 7 and 74 year olds around who knows what topic of importance. You laugh at the memories that are being created, writhe in pain from the gluttony, and try to keep one eye on the games as you plan your late night stalking of the leftovers.

As I did last year, I will once again work in the restaurant on Thanksgiving this year for a good portion of the day – something I thought I had sworn off many years ago. And while it may seem a chore, I actually don’t lament working this day anymore. Rising early with my cooks to prepare food for those eating out on this special day is actually nice and everyone is usually very chipper and upbeat.

But what it does make me realize is that I often spend more time with my restaurant family than I do with my own. And the people that I work with see a crazed side of me that honestly doesn’t exist outside of the building.  And as I reflect on Thanksgiving, I realize that I owe them many thanks for putting up with that alter ego – for allowing me my obsessions, forgiving my impatience at times, and ultimately respecting my vision.

I owe them my best on Thanksgiving.

During most of the year, I’m intense in the kitchen – focused on the product and maybe not quite as reflective.  So on Thanksgiving, I try to give the people I work with a chance to witness a relaxed version of me and a chance to see the thanks that I have that they are here for me, as I am here for them.

These people I work with are my second family.  And while I try to appreciate them every day of the year, on Thanksgiving I take just a bit more time to realize just how important they are to me.  And I try to make an extra effort to thank them for all they have done for me and my family.  Without them, I couldn’t succeed.  And I recognize that they too are sacrificing to be with me – every day of the year, but especially on Thanksgiving.

So on this day, it’s just a little bit easier to understand what makes me tick and what is really important to me.  And I also remind myself that food is a form of communication. Some of our most important memories come from sharing food and drink – whether in preparing it for others in the restaurant or sharing it with family at home.  Food is a community that I am fortunate to be a part of.  The restaurant business for all its all faults and dysfunction has given me some of the most memorable and meaningful times of my life. And I am lucky that not only do I have an amazing family at home, but I am also surrounded by fantastic, creative, talented and hard working people in my second home, the restaurant.


Sustainability for everyone?

Butchering demo at the Summit

I had a great experience at the Chefs Collaborative summit earlier in October. I was a big fan of the seminars and demonstrations in particular. It’s exciting to hear the stories of passion from people who have dedicated their lives to the noble cause of promoting sustainable cuisine.

Overall it was a fascinating couple of days—although at times it seemed there were more questions than answers, more preaching than offers of real change. After spending some time reflecting on it, I started to feel that something was missing – namely, chefs. There wasn’t a great showing in terms of numbers. As I considered that lack of presence, it dawned on me that maybe I should have been questioning my own presence at the Summit.

How sustainable am I? How local is my product? The more I asked myself those questions, the more it started to come together for me.

Sustainability, while great and undeniably needed, can seem unattainable to most professional chefs. The expense of product, ease of ordering, and seasonal availability is not great. The chefs in attendance represented what are largely occasion places for most:  higher ticket venues with entrees running up into the thirty-dollar-plus range. At Russell House Tavern in Cambridge, MA, where I am the executive chef, we keep the price point low so we can reach many people. It’s a high-volume spot, and believe me, to be fiscally responsible and sustainable while maintaining your given concept is difficult for anyone.

So in terms of not a lot of chefs being at the Summit, in some ways it was understandable. Given the pitfalls and challenges of maintaining your commitment to sustainability, one could see why a chef would stay away – from both the conference and from that commitment. But if a chef or manager were able to hear concrete examples from others who are making it work in their restaurants, that opinion might change.

So, how do we make sustainability accessible for all chefs, so we can best maintain our businesses in the long-term?

So far I’m not convinced that anyone has found the answer in total, but it starts by making small changes.  Every little bit helps and if chefs at least asked the question of how to make their restaurants more sustainable and environmentally friendly, and shared answers and ideas with each other, then true progress might be made.

I hope that more chefs will attend the National Summit in New Orleans next year so that we can better learn from one another about how to make changes in the way we source food. In the meantime, I will continue to make incremental changes along the way. I’m always rolling out new items and adding as many local products as I can. I recently added PT Farms from Vermont to my vendor list. I’ll be using their grass fed beef for my burgers at Russell House Tavern.  This is an added expense that I’m not passing on to my guests but small sacrifices like this are just the beginning of being as loyal to the sustainable movement as I can.

I’m proud of the state of my menu right now; it’s at its highest level of sustainability yet. I just wish more chefs from different concepts knew it could be done.

***Special Thanks to Chef’s Collaborative for posting this post on their website…

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