Category Archives: FOOD

That’s how I get to be the talk of the town

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Not for nothing do people say I’m arrogant, that I don’t answer to emails and I don’t like sharing. Now seriously, would you have liked to spend two- three, maybe six hours of your life to answer an email with short, on- topic questions, like the ones below, especially if the email, coming from a stranger, ends the way it ends (the email excerpt is copied/ pasted here, I will not edit anything for fear I will burst into laughing again; I have made one change only to protect the sender’s identity, who is but one of the tens of people who email me every month on the same subject, using the same tone):

  1. Which, in your opinion, would be the riskier solution FOR THE BEGINNING: a fast-food restaurant in the food court at the mall, or in a smaller space, with ten tables, in a more central location (I’m thinking rent and exposure)
  2. What would be the minimum budget for both options? If now I had 30,000- 40,000 EUR, how much more would I need? I’m having in mind some EU funds also, but I am well aware that it takes a while until you actually receive the money. Still, I can recover some of my investment…
  3. Do you think I absolutely need a chef who knows the@#* cuisine or a good chef who can learn @#*recipes under my girlfriend’s “close watch”? :))
  4. How many dishes do I need in the menu, at least, for starters? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to instantly get the maximum ROI, with a small investment ( any Romanian’s dream), but I’d rather be cautious and reduce risks.
  5. What do you think would be the best way to promote such a restaurant at the beginning?
  6. How much would a good chef, for a normal, no fuss restaurant, cost?
  7. How risky is to go for a more @#*restaurant in Romania?
  8. What would be the best selling price for a dish, for a plate?

I know consulting services are expensive, but firstly I need advice from an uber-knowledgeable person like you. I believe my questions are rather friendly advice and not at all consulting services…:)

Honest food

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Patsiris is closed on Monday, starting with 1922. The current owner rented the place six years ago and works together with his family  in the small tavern near the entry to Kokkini Hani. They all have blond hair like German people, they speak English with a pleasant accent and they cook very well. I’ve eaten there three times, while I’ve tried the food at other taverns. I’ve eaten well everywhere,  including at the hotel (a thing of wonder considering the high rate of failed experiences with hotel food), but nothing compares to Patsiris. Sea-tasting fish, perfectly fried calamari, fried pork sautéed with onion, bell pepper, wine and olive oil, meaty anchovies, sharp cheese and a brilliant tzatziki. One can tell it’s not the best of times, that there are few tourists and that “The  economy is booming”- not, but one can also tell that people make the most of what they have. And there’s your answer to the question “Why is it so difficult, if not almost impossible, to find a Patsiris in the Romanian tourism?”. If you haven’t guessed it already, there it is: we have too much of everything, and that dilutes both our common sense and our imagination. My theory is validated by my experience on the Romanian seaside over the past two years and also by my experience during  each drive I take from Bucharest to Cluj, either through Prahova Valley, or through the Olt Valley. And no, I don’t have any expectations. I’ll stop myself short of stating the obvious and  I’ll report back when I have better news. Good news is when the bad food and the poor service are the exception, not the rule.

Mobility which immobilizes

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The taxi driver keeps texting while driving. The waiter can’t see you because he’s on Facebook and you are better off friend requesting him and writing your order in a private message than relying on the fact that he may notice you from 15 feet away. The chef has his eye and mind set on sports bets, he really isn’t too interested in your food. Perhaps it would be better that people involved in the service industry (and I’m not talking about information services) will not have access to their own phones during working hours. Or at least not have internet access. Or I don’t know what, but this phenomenon that keeps expanding is surely not in the client’s favor. Of course it’s normal to have access to the technology of the times you live in, but it’s as normal to do your job while at work. Or perhaps I can’t understand the world I’m living in and I have unjust expectations.

Chef-gatherer

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It’s a trend probably coming from the north, from Redzepi’s Noma, respectively turning the chef into a chef-gatherer. I understand why that happens in Nordic countries, where nothing grows for six months a year. Meaning, I understand where the impulse stems from. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate for us chefs to get out from between our pots and pans to start gathering mushrooms, berries, apples, pears, tomatoes which we’d then overcharge for, just because we spent some time hand-picking them. True, in a country such as Romania, where cheating people is still a national sport and the honest vegetable farmer is still hard to find, it can often be wiser to make the effort of choosing yourself the things you want for your restaurant, but even so, I think our efforts as kitchen or restaurant chefs should focus on educating suppliers (we can do that easily) rather than digging and weeding. If we carefully observe the TV stars that started this trend, we will see they are gardeners, gatherers, butchers, even though in some cases the farms belong to them. What we put in food is our responsibility, but at least until it enters the kitchen, we can share that responsibility with other links of the chain. Problem is, we may start enjoying gathering more than cooking, and there’s already too little of us in the kitchen.

World’s best restaurant

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Surely, there is no such best restaurant in the world. Nature will not acknowledge it. However, there are the conventions people create and sometimes abide by. The convention that says that once a year, some people who know food and restaurants vote one of them to carry the glory and burden for the next 365 days, decided that 2016 would belong to Massimo Bottura and his restaurant, Osteria Francescana. Read the details on  finedininglovers.com, that’s where I found out.

About plating

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Plating is not so much about the rules as it is about practicality and the ability to intertwine it with artististry. If you don’t have both, a plate won’t work, meaning it won’t at the same time appeal visually and allow you to devour as ergonomically as possible. Usually, less is more.