Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Keeping My Day Job

My parents have a restaurant – it has been an ‘establishment’ in the neighborhood it’s in for over thirty years. It started as a restaurant and lounge, and through various renovations and changes in smoking laws, has finally transformed to a full bar. There are pool tables, dart boards, gambling terminals, and big screen TVs. Imagine your local neighborhood pub, now replace their crappy food with the best pizza you’ve ever had, and that’s what our restaurant is like.

My sisters and I basically grew up in that restaurant where we would answer phones, wash dishes, do any kind of food prep, bus tables and when we got older, actually be responsible to ‘manage’ the restaurant when we either opened or closed on weekends, giving our parents some much needed time off.

What we have never done though, is actually wait tables. I don’t know for sure but I imagine my parents’ motivation from keeping us from being actual servers was threefold. The first reason was that school and university were always the number one priority, and if we worked at the restaurant, we’d need to work late nights and wouldn’t be able to manage both. The second, reason was that none of us could hold a tray to save our lives, and would in reality be horrible servers. And finally, the most important reason we were never waitresses: if we started waiting tables, we would likely never stop because we’d be millionaires, and would never get a ‘real’ job!

This is something I always believed to be true, and now I know for sure.

Oh my God! Never feel sorry for the waitress who’s fifty and still working at the diner – she’s loaded! I understand there is a tradeoff – crappy hours, hard job physically, no benefits, etc. BUT! The tips – oh, the glorious tips! I discovered the money train that is the service industry when our bar tender quit because they were making the jump from bar tender to project manager at an oil firm. Which I've learned is code for, 'I have a drug problem and need to leave the city'. Because we were short staffed, I stepped into the role of bartender. I had done it numerous times before assisting the main bartender, but I’d never actually worked a shift on my own. Now I love it – I work on the slow nights – Mondays and Wednesdays, and my parents were right, if I had been doing this from the time I was in university, I’d never get a real job - the money even on the slow nights I work, is amazing - and I'm just the bartender. We have a waitress who actually went to school to become a teacher, but she has since left her day job and waitresses pretty much full time – I understand her motivation. Before there was judgment, now I’m in awe.

I worked again last night and that’s when it happened. The underbelly of bartending reared its ugly head. Somebody ‘walked out’ on me. Nooooooo! A regular came in and had a ‘date’ (and I use the term loosely) with him. He was ordering drinks, appetizers, food, he was having a great time at the bar. Then his bill comes and his credit card DECLINED, debit card DECLINED. I was so annoyed. He assured me he would be back to pay for his outstanding bill ($50.00), and I know that he’s good for it – he’s there every day practically, but the devastation of having to cover that bill to my own restaurant, was a weird feeling I’ll admit. So yes, although the money is good, you have to actually ensure that people can afford to pay their bill at the end of the night, otherwise you as their server are on the hook for it. Which brings me to my next question: why would anyone want to be a waitress?


PS - I made the creme brulee. Pictures and blog post to follow this week!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Crème Brulee Fail

I was prepped and ready to go - I was going to tackle my to do list! I had my recipe photocopied and taped to my kitchen cabinet, all my ingredients ready to go, time blocked off in the morning to tackle the dish, and the resolve of champion fighter with something to prove. All that was left was for me to get the kitchen torch and the ramekin dishes. I felt if I was going to make crème brulee, I was going to do it properly and with the right tools so the kitchen torch was non negotiable for me. With regards to the ramekins, my subsequent downfall, I legitimately didn’t have anything that could act as a substitute in my pantry for them, so they were absolutely required, otherwise I would have to bake the crème brulee in cereal bowls, which would really take away from the whole presentation piece.

So off I quickly went to Williams-Sonoma to pick up the final pieces of my crème brulee puzzle, the kitchen torch and ramekins. I appreciate and understand fully that Williams-Sonoma is overpriced. I accept that walking into the store, and I know that I’m overpaying, but because I like the idea of that store, I don’t mind.

My experience with Williams-Sonoma is this: walk in, get distracted by the cute displays, pretty looking samples and overly helpful salespeople. I buy something I didn’t even know I needed (newsflash, I didn’t need it) and walk out not actually realizing what I've done, like I'm in some sort of fugue state. However when I was at the till paying for four ramekins and a kitchen torch, and the grandma working the register said the total was $181.65, I quickly snapped out of the fugue state and had a rare moment of lucidity in that store. I had to quickly decide - my own Sophie's Choice if you will - ramekins or kitchen torch? How does a mother choose between her children? Although it was difficult, I went with the kitchen torch, rightfully assuming that it would be harder to find that at another store, and parted ways with the ramekins. I scoured the rest of the mall to find a suitable substitution for the ramekins, and nothing. Devastation set in as I realized I would have to put the crème brulee on hold as now I was out of time – I would have to be at work shortly, and my hunt for ramekins would lead me to another mall twenty minutes out of my way to the poor mans Williams Sonoma - Crate & Barrel - to see if they had something that would work. Thankfully, they did, and for far less than $22 each. I will attempt again this weekend, I promise.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


So in preparation for my to do list, which I've decided to take very seriously, and you know, actually finish, not only have I devoted some major time to mental preparation - psyching myself up to deal with yeast and other sorts of preferements for the croissants and danishes, I have also devoted some serious time at Williams Sonoma. I need a kitchen torch for creme brulee, an indoor grill/panini maker for the pizza (I'm not about to fire up the entire BBQ for one piece of dough - let's get real here people), and anything else I stumble upon and can justify to myself. Like I said, I'm taking the list very seriously. All of this because this weekend, I am going to tackle creme brulee. I have a recipe from a French cook book, so you know it's going to be legit - not some bastardized version of creme brulee - plus the ingredients are listed by weight so you know they mean business. Note to self, I need a digital kitchen scale. 

I will post again with details of how it all went down, and hopefully some pictures too. I have a big fancy camera that I should get some use out of, even if I can't figure out how to turn the flash off. Wish me luck!