One of my favourite chefs in the city, dropped by during a stressful moment this morning. There were conflicting reports of whether or not our temporary liquor licence was approved by the AGCO, so I sent my partner to rush to the office and find out for himself. Vanessa, towing a bag full of beef flank satays marinated overnight in her ‘secret’ hoisin sauce, gave me a hug. I imagined her giving many such hugs to former Maple Leaf goaltender, Ed Belfour, when she was his private chef during his stay in Toronto. The “Eagle” had his share of disappointments here, too. The hug, of course, was a reminder that it was just a liquor licence, not anything of real consequence. It also reminded me that these self-perceived stressful moments are made out to be bigger than they are by virtue of:
1. lack of sleep; 2. lack of sleep; 3. and did I mention lack of sleep?
(Anyways, my partner returned with the licence.)
In the kitchen (where I am most happy when others are cooking), Vanessa pulled off one of the highlights of my week. Her “Hoisin Beef Satays” is a skewer of tender beef flank, marinated in her delicious home-made hoisin sauce. Like Vanessa herself, it is understated, subtle, with bursts of inspiration. Store-bought hoisin is dangerously high in sodium and MSG, and tastes heavy. Hers, natural and light, allowed the flank to be more than the “should-I-keep-it-or-dump-it?” cut of a cow, the easily-dismissed tag-along who is always overlooked beside the Brad “The Tenderloin” Pitt and Tom “The NY Strip” Cruise.I loved her interpretation of the classic Chinese skewered beef and knew that the other Yakitori Top Chefs would be having their own “stressful” moments when they saw her signature beside theirs.
Yahweh sent to me. One of our country’s leading natural and organic chefs, she makes me laugh out loud with her infinitely-entertaining Jewish family jokes and makes me feel instantly healthy whenever I think of one of her vegetarian recipes. Her book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Being Vegetarian In Canada, made me blush when I read it the first time because I knew she was directing the title at me. So, it was with great honour that I accepted a signed dedication of her latest book, Everyday Flexitarian, to the restaurant (we will be carrying her books in the retail “department” of Seoul Food Co. and she was willing to give them to me at her cost- this woman’s generosity is bottomless). She has advanced the cause of healthy eating in the country more than any other chef I know. So, when she announced her submission to the Yakitori Top Chef menu to me, I knew that there would be a lot of love and giving there too. The “Curried Almond Nut Butter Tofu Tempeh Kebob” (and that’s the abbreviated name of the dish) is exactly what it says it is, but the curry is not overwhelming and there is much more to it than the thirteen syllables might suggest. I know that there is a word for “drop-dead delicious” in tofu-loving Korean. I will teach you how to say it after you try her dish.
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I want to do interesting things with the media technology in the restaurant ie. utilize to the max the state-of-the-art television sets in the space. At my last restaurant, I used to send ”thank you” emails to guests who just left my restaurant after dinner so that they could open it on their way to their car on their phones, and post Facebook pictures the same night that a party was held there. Now, I would like to do everything in real time on our own screens. ”Gratitude Tweets” on the front screen as people are leaving; live feeds of people in our restaurant on Facebook; spontaneous Instagram contests etc. I don’t know if we will execute it perfectly, but I do know that smart televisions will not tolerate us not interacting with it fully.
Everyone who was working in the restaurant today was connected. It wasn’t just about a flat screen projecting images at us like a television set and, we, like automatons, mindlessly absorbing them. It was about engaging with information, people, and ideas that could take the restaurant, like any other business in this day-and-age, into the present moment. From sourcing the cheapest available for our yakitori grill, to looking for design ideas for our kimchi line (which will be sold at Seoul Food Co.), to finding out what other restaurants are putting on their bathroom walls- at no other time has it been easier to do this than now. Restaurateurs, unlike most other businesses, have been slower to use internet technologies. If you wanted to get ideas for floor tiles, for instance, you drove across town to find them, usually at another restaurant. It was about touch and feel. Today, we don’t have to spend that time on the road. Technology allows us to “touch” and “feel” it and expand our imagination about it potential use. It is an investment of time and resources, but employees of our restaurant must be able to know what is going on out there- and interact with it in as real time as possible- to give us the competitive advantage.The day ended with a delightful FOH staff meeting and tasting. It was an opportunity for us talk about the food we were putting on our menu and to get to know each other personally, to glean from one another what was important to each of us: school, friends, family, rent. The next day, the women servers planned to meet at H&M to choose their restaurant uniforms together. Happy to not be a part of that discussion, but I trust that they will come up with something that works for both them and the restaurant. I thought about how their creativity and collaboration would contribute to the overall success of the restaurant and felt proud to have them on my team.