Ramp Man

Chefs are unintentionally funny sometimes. About a week ago, Chef Ben walks up to me, looks around to see that we are alone, and says, "Hey! I think I just got a line on some ramps. A buddy of mine told me where to find them growing wild".  I kind of laughed to myself thinking; A. Can't we just buy them?  B. Is this what chefs talk about over beers?  Turns out that we can buy them for around $15/lb.  Silly me!  A few days later he came to me and excitedly whispered, "I found them. There are so many"!  He began laughing before he even finished the sentence.  He laughed like a criminal who just got away with a crime.  I nodded and laughed along with him while racking my brain to figure out what on earth he was talking about.  Then I remembered...he was using his "this is on the down low" voice, and I quickly connected the dots.  For a just a second, I thought I was buying a bag of weed.  It was all very cloak and dagger.

Anyway, chef hit the jackpot (600lbs x $15 = $9000 in ramps!) thanks to his friend who moved away and decided to pass this little chef nugget on.  Since the harvest, we have seen our chef go ramp wild...in a very good way.  

Today he made a ramp puree, put it into the pasta dough for ravioli, stuffed the rav with goat cheese, mascarpone, and porcini powder, laid it over some butter and topped it with goat cheese and...you guessed it...pickled ramps.  The pickled ramps made it pop in the best way.

Hope you enjoy!

What are ramps, anyway?

Let's Taco 'Bout Cinco de Mayo

OUR NEIGHBOR TO THE SOUTH

is in the news a lot lately, so it's a good time to shore up your knowledge of Mexican history - and what better day to start than Cinco de Mayo? And here's the most important fact to know: contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo isn't Mexican Independence Day. Mexican Independence Day, which is a national public holiday, is celebrated on September 16 (be sure and drop that casually tonight over tequila shots and margaritas and you'll sound super smart). In contrast, Cinco de Mayo is the anniversary of the Mexican army's victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862.

I know what you're thinking: why is one win so important? Like much of history, it's because the win - much like, say, our Battle of Germantown - gave the revolutionaries hope.

As in the United States, Mexico struggled to find its footing as a new country. After gaining independence from Spain in 1822, Mexico juggled a few different kinds of governance. Eventually, the country separated into two parties: Liberals and Conservatives. Conservatives tended to side with more traditional, European policies, including a number of privileges granted to the Catholic Church. Among those privileges were a number of exemptions from tax. In contrast, the Liberals weren't keen on the granting the Catholic Church any special privileges and sought instead to limit them.

In the mid-19th century, the Liberals rose to power. Part of their agenda included passing a number of "Liberal Reform Laws." The first of those laws, the Juárez Law (named after former Mexican President Benito Juárez), was meant to restrict the authority and scope of the Church courts. A second law, the Lerdo Law (named after former Treasury Secretary Miguel Lerdo de Tejada) allowed the government to confiscate Church land and - you guessed it - tax it. A third law, the Iglesias Law (named after controversial interim President José María Iglesias - sorry, Mom, not Julio), put further restrictions on the clergy.

As you can imagine, as more and more laws were passed which restricted the rights of the Church, the Conservatives became agitated. Eventually, the two factions - the Liberals and the Conservatives - went to war. The civil war happened at roughly the same time as the one in the United States which would have significance here at home (trust me, keep reading).

Wars, of course, are expensive. And while most of Europe was happy to stay out of conflicts in the Americas, they weren't keen on losing resources, including money. So when, in 1861, then President Mexican Benito Juárez defaulted on a series of debts owed to European countries, the Europeans sent the equivalent of armed thugs to Veracruz to collect. Eventually, Britain and Spain negotiated a deal and returned home but France, spurred on by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (also called Napoleon III), stayed, determined to make a statement and perhaps snag some additional land. That was the beginning of the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867).

 

 

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10 Reasons Why People Who Don't Like Pizza Shouldn't Be Trusted

10 Reasons Why People Who Don't Like Pizza Shouldn't Be Trusted

10 Reasons Why People Who Don't Like Pizza Shouldn't Be Trusted:

 

1. They obviously don't understand life. 

If you can't recognize that bread + cheese + sauce = life, you shouldn't be trusted. 

 

2. They probably don't like sharing.

Pizza is the ultimate shareable food. 

 

3. They don't know how to party.

 If there's no pizza, is it really a party?

 

4. They are neglecting the circle of life.

This also means they probably don't like the Lion King. 

 

5. They can't do math.

You cannot solve equations without thoroughly understanding pi. 

 

6. They don't appreciate beauty.

Beauty is in the pie of the beholder. 

 

7. They are probably an Axe Murderer. 

The polls are still out on this one, but we're pretty sure this highly distrusted group of people make poor choices in restaurants too. 

 

8. gluten-free crust has been invented, along with dairy-free cheese, and meat-less meats, so there's no medical reason you shouldn't have it. 

What is your excuse?

 

9. They don't appreciate art.

MICHELANGELO WAS ITALIAN. 

 

10. They probably don't like you. 

If you don't like cheese, bread, sauce and toppings of your own choice, what do you like?

 

Pizza in CT

Minimum Wage: How Tip Pooling In Restaurants Could Be Beneficial

Minimum Wage: How Tip Pooling In Restaurants Could Be Beneficial

The minimum wage debate is a hot topic these days in the food world.  Nobody on either side of the debate seems ready to settle on any middle ground.  Some cities/states have raised the minimum wage to $15/hr already, and likely many more will follow.  A byproduct of the minimum wage push, has been a few restaurants trying to bridge the gap in pay between the front of house (FOH) employees and back of house (BOH).  The leading plan/trend to do so, is eliminating tipping. I am a little nervous writing about this publicly as I already know that some people won't agree with my opinion.  Ahhh what the heck...let's do this topic.

 My opinion on the minimum wage and the FOH/BOH pay gap is significantly varied.  So I will take them one at a time starting with minimum wage.  Keep in mind, this is an evolving world and I will continue to keep an open mind about these topics.  I don't know everything, despite my oft boisterous claims to the contrary, but I do have an educated perspective as an owner in the field.  
I don't believe that minimum wage jobs were meant to earn a living off of unless overtime opportunities are regular in a particular job. For example, my brothers worked landscaping way back when they were young as a summer job to earn money for use during the school year.  They worked hard, and often were over 40 hours by Wednesday.  It was hard work, and I usually laughed at their expense when they returned home for the day.  Their boss pushed them hard, they were young and willing, and three months of work over the summer was exactly what they needed to live the rest of the year without working (read: they really wanted to focus on school so they could someday get into the restaurant business!!).  Minimum wage positions are intended to be supplemental income for those who need a job that requires little training.  Further, my brother's boss built his business based on that temporary labor influx at a low wage.  It was a win/win situation.  If my cretinous brothers could make it work, so can many others as long as they understand that it is not work intended to fully support a family.  You do this work as added income to a household or to make ends meet while you acquire a skill that pays more.  
Unfortunately, the economy has changed since then, and more people than ever are dependent on minimum wage jobs to support families.  In that lies the basic problem: the business model is what it is.  Businesses will maintain a certain labor percentage regardless of the rules imposed upon them.  In full service restaurants that percentage is around 27%.  Quick service restaurants are turning to new technology that eliminates the need for certain employees through ordering kiosks.  Online ordering is gaining steam because we don't want to pay multiple phone personnel wondering which days we will get enough calls to make them worth while.  Third party delivery companies like Uber are gaining popularity.  Grocery stores implemented self-checkout years ago.  The reason for this is as obvious as you think it is.  Businesses are adjusting to the new rules in advance because they want to survive.  

So, how can we fairly burden businesses to keep up with demand for products and services while maintaining their balance sheets at these new wages?  My short, obtuse answer is, we can’t.  Businesses will simply adjust to make their payroll percentage by eliminating staff or by raising prices.  In my opinion, that is not good for the workforce.  I am no economist.  Actually, my ECON class was at 8am and I rarely attended because I like beer.  However, I think many small businesses like ours share this same mentality.  So even if the policy makers are correct, and we can tolerate all of the cost increases associated with a labor hike (there are many), I believe raising the wage too fast will cause labor stagnation while businesses adjust (not sure I am correct, time will tell, but that is one of the smartest sounding things I have ever said).  

Two things that get overlooked or are basically ignored in this debate:  1. Although we obviously don’t want our payroll too high, we don't want our payroll percentage too low either.  A low payroll percentage means that the volume is there, but the personnel to handle it is not.  In that case, we will give poor service.  The narrative of those who want to raise wages is that business owners are ruthless and treat employees unfairly.  We did not get into hospitality because we enjoy treating people badly.  We will not thrive if our staff is disgruntled.  We want our staff to be happy at work because they are making good money, and feeling good about the job they are doing. We don't want them overworked and fielding complaints so we can save a few dollars on labor.  That is how you slowly go out of business.  

At our current pricing, we would have to cut about 35% of our service staff per shift if the minimum wage hits $15/hr.  Think about the service you would receive vs what your service expectations are.  FOH employees all make way above minimum wage anyway in our (and most) restaurants.  Often you will read that service industry people make less than minimum wage.  It is a nice soundbite, but entirely untrue!  Servers for example, make $25/hr in a busy restaurant (I am ball-parking this stat and including tips). That's gooooood!  They are undeserving servers who we all know are second rate citizens at best...KIDDING!!!  I love them all almost equally  Bottom line, they make good money and work part time.  This leads to my second point, if there are under-performing restaurants out there where the staff does not make this wage, employees can leave that job if they can't make ends meet.  Burdening the business with higher wages is not going to help an under-performing restaurant.  It will sink them along with their employees!  I really don't see the logic in this move except for in the back of the house...
The pay gap between BOH and FOH is too large.  BOH employees generally work full time and make less than the FOH who work part time.  That bothers me.  Their job requires cooking skills, more cleaning, and manual labor, speed, and accuracy.  They are also responsible for sanitation and safe food handling.  They got skillz yo!  There are not a lot of restaurants that offer $15/hr to their BOH staff.  That would blow up the balance sheets and shutter many restaurants.  Essentially everyone in the BOH will be making minimum wage in the near future when the minimum wage increase is mandated.  The only ways I can think of to fix this pay gap are to raise prices or tip pooling.  Raising prices is something that we truly don't like to do.  You might say "yeah right", but seriously, why would I want to raise prices?  That just upsets customers who can't fathom why chicken parm costs $25.  We only raise prices to keep the business model in balance.  That's the god's honest truth.  

Tip pooling is the answer to the pay gap issue.  Some think it is eliminating tipping.  I don't.   Eliminating tipping means straight pay across the board for restaurant staff because gratuity is built into the price of food and drink.  The problems: servers can still go work elsewhere and make tips so they will.  Their money comes on a check weekly or bi-weekly and is taxed higher.  That just doesn't work well for college kids and is unreasonable.  Those restaurants will have staff retention problems.  Also, customers don't like seeing the higher prices even though their cost is actually the same.  

Tip pooling seems more appropriate to me, however, there are some truly insane laws that surround tip pooling like if you don't serve food, you can't get a tip (I paraphrase so don't quote me, but I speak the truth).  The laws vary state by state adding to the confusion.  I try to keep up on this during my five minutes of free time. One smart operator has found what I think may be a loophole...they have all of the BOH employees deliver one dish to a table per shift. I do enjoy when someone outsmarts the laws.  It is a perfect microcosm of what I described earlier...businesses will simply adjust regardless of the rules.  So stop making more rules!  Seriously, can't we just change the laws instead of having the dish washer deliver your food?  Or pulling a cook off the line when we are slammed?  There is a little part of me that wants to just eliminate all of these laws because they get in the way of good business.  I know why we cannot eliminate the laws, but please understand how frustrating this is for any honest business person.  We will jump through all the hoops because a couple of...don't curse Russell...jamokes treated their employees poorly.  Grrrrr

Final thought, if we eliminate the tip pooling legal nonsense, people will get paid more fairly across the board in restaurants.  It will create more connection between the cooks and the servers.  Cooks will care more if a server royally sucks.  Every dish they make will directly impact their income.  That is better for you the consumer as it pertains to service.  Never again will a guest say to me while complaining "well it wasn't the servers fault so I still tipped" (for the record that is not always true.  Sometimes a poorly made dish is entirely the servers fault so stop saying that to me.  I will figure out the blame.  That is what I do.  Then I usuuuually fix it).  

Like I said, not every restaurant has our mentality in terms of fairness in pay.  It sure would be nice if we didn't have to jump through all these hoops, which are presented seemingly daily of late, and could just focus on serving guests.  We would reward our staff for their efforts.

SAVOR

This past weekend, we had the pleasure of serving food at SAVOR: A Celebration of Food, Wine, and Spirits presented by Foxwoods Resort and Casino.  Chef Robert Irvine of The Food Network is the headliner for this annual event, and is accompanied by a few other celebrity chefs as well as local restaurants to make the event a full on gastronomic experience. The event is for charity and benefits all military personnel through the Robert Irvine Foundation. For those who have not attended this event, it is held in a ginormous room in the convention center in Hartford.  People get a little boozy on wine, beer, and/or spirits, then they walk around tasting the food offerings from the local restaurants, and trying not to trip on the carpet.  It is a fun time for us interacting with guests and potential guests, but also for the guests who get to try some innovative foods, and talk to their favorite chefs and restaurateurs.  I imagine it is a prosperous weekend for the Uber drivers as well.

Behind the scenes, there are some noteworthy events as well that you all are not privy to. First, the locals like us show up in the giant kitchen which easily cost over a bajillion to build out.  It is like walking into Yankee Stadium when you used to play for the Yard Goats.  I always chuckle when I see all of the extra refrigeration units and ovens that go unused when we do this event or events in the Mohegan Sun kitchen.  It truly is eye-popping to see all the excess of equipment.  My brothers would vote me out of the partnership if I ever ordered kitchen equipment with such disregard.  Anyway, we claim our space at the stove, fryolator, and prep tables only to be removed when the celebrity chefs arrive.  We know it is coming and we work around them like their little brothers.  Beau MacMillan has kicked me out of my space two years in a row and we had a good laugh about that.  I forgive him because the Fried Chicken Bahn Mi he gave me last year still lingers in the forefront of my food brain.  All of these celebrity chefs roll in with an entourage and puff their chests a little, but I gotta say, I am not bashing them for it.  They are as gregarious in the kitchen as they are in front of the cameras and it creates a fun environment in the back of the house.  The pressure is on all of us to perform, we eyeball each others food (discreetly of course), and we silently pass judgement.  After a short while, everyone wants to try each others food in the kitchen and everybody realizes that there are a lot of really good cooks there.  

This year we offered Arancini Fonduta and Meatball Sliders.  These items are rustic and a true to what our restaurants offer.  They are also delicious, and the arancini were probably the most popular item at the event (read: good drunk food).   I would be lying if I said my inner foodie wasn't a little jealous of the hollowed out egg being served by Jeffrey Lizotte from On20 (it was wonderful), but we are not that kind of place.  As our chef, Jeff Gantkin, reminded me,  "Mary Ann Esposito just told us that these are the best arancini she has eaten since she was in Italy, and at least 20 people came back to the booth to tell us that this was their favorite thing to eat here."  I think Chef Jeff wants to pound my inner foodie into a cutlet.  Anyway, we are now discussing the logistics of adding the arancini to our menu.  They were that popular.

Finally, I want to take a minute to thank Chef Irvine for his hospitality and his biceps.  Both of which are impressive.  He pounded a bunch of arancini and I think he hit up Plan B for some burgers, so I know his gym game is on point.  He also goes out of his way to thank all the chefs in the kitchen who make this event a success.  Not all celebrity chefs we have worked with in the past go the extra mile.  Chef Irvine did and it doesn't go unnoticed.  I can't think of too many reasons for anyone to venture into Hartford from the 'burbs, but this event is worth the trip.

Russ

Pay it forward continues

Every week we choose three amazing families to join us for dinner. Here is one of their stories: 

Jim & Bettie

A friend wrote:

“After the death of their daughter, Robyn, Jim and Bettie Jeanne Rivard-Darby turned a tragedy into an opportunity to help others through the worst time in their lives. They bi-annually pay-It-forward in honor of Robyn on her birthday and anniversary of the day she died. In addition, they founded a new chapter of the Compassionate Friends, an organization dedicated to helping grieving parents, grandparents, and siblings. They found solace in this organization, but there was no local chapter. They spend their time organizing monthly meetings, coordinating the website and social media pages, reaching out to families who have suffered the greatest loss imaginable, and organizing fundraising events. Annually, they hold a walk-a-thon to raise money to help TCF continue to provide a place of comfort for those impacted by the death of a family member. They lost three elderly dogs and a beloved pet bird in the last year and have adopted a Dalmatian that they are training to become a therapy dog. In addition, Bettie Jeanne was a longtime caregiver for an elderly friend with dementia, recently taking her into their home for hospice and providing comfort and care until she passed away. Their grief and their work to support their chapter of TCF is deserving of a night out and would be a great gift. They do so much and give so much to help others, I would love to see someone give to them.” 

We were honored to have Jim & Betty join us for dinner, and to hear their story in person! Find out why we're doing this on our website.

Click here to nominate a family for our Glastonbury location: