A series of anecdotes with or without any connection to the running of a restaurant.

Monday, February 27, 2006


His mosaics are better than mine!
Just a quick update of our Spanish break...
We went to Barcelona for a couple of nights and did the customary bus tours past the Sagrada Famiglia, the Nou Camp, the Port Vell but the only place we spent any time was Park Güell. Gaudì’s creativity is beyond imagination. The amazingly intricate work that went into creating probably the world’s most mosaics is truly breathtaking!
I loved Barcelona with its long and wide avenues, one of which the Diagonal stretched for 14 km!
We stayed at a rented apartment close to Las Ramblas and ate some great tapas.
Tapas? Shouldn’t I be worrying about Casa del Mar?
No way! Adam left me a voicemail:
“Dad, just to let you know that we did 191 customers on Saturday night. Piece of cake! You can stay in Spain!”
I am really proud of the team! This is me free once again!
Another week to go here...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Carpe Diem...

I have decided to take my holiday after all!

Karen's childhood friend and her husband are going with us. They went with us last year for a week and everything was great so we decided to make it two weeks this time and visit Barcelona. We had booked our cheap flights long before the idea of Casa was even conceived.

Even before we opened Casa del Mar, I was really in two minds about taking the holiday.
I knew that Kevin needed a right-hand man and up to ten days ago, I was that guy. After his initiation to Spanish food, I kept checking his Paellas, Cocidos, etc... and he gradually got to make them exactly the way I showed him. His speed improved with every passing day.
Initially I had explained that I'd be working with him for around three months.
Ten days ago, I offered one of our young part time chefs, Craig the position of full time second at Casa and he accepted. All Kevin and I needed was to introduce him to Spanish stuff. On Thursday, Kevin, Adam and I sat down at around 10pm to a selection of tapas prepared by Craig. He passed with flying colours!
It was only then that I finally made up about taking the holiday and letting them get on with it.
I came out of the kitchen yesterday, helped Adam on the floor by introducing a few minor improvements to the service and we ended up feeding close to 100 people.
I now feel ok about going away because I am 100% confident that Adam, Kevin and their young team will do very well.
Another reason that helped me decide was Eric's sad departure. Life is definitely not a rehearsal.
Yesterday, at his funeral in a small village church nearby, the whole population turned up as well as his friends and customers.

Carpe Diem!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Diamonds are forever but roses last only but a day...

Valentine's Day! Ahhhh....
It is truly the most popular day in a restaurant's year! This is a day when, if a restaurant isn't fully booked, it might as well be turned into a newsagent's or a laundrette.
The scramble for tables is such that telephones are like the X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing hotlines on finals night.

Yesterday, while trying to catch up with my paperwork, the phone rang at least 20 times an hour. And it will have been the same in our other restaurants. The fact that they are all closed on Mondays with no one to answer the frantic calls must have been really frustrating to all those desperate young lovers trying at the last minute to impress their sweethearts!

I say: "Forward planning!"
But then, in this day and age, who can be that certain to be with the same person long enough to be able to plan a celebration meal more than four weeks ahead?

I remember about fifteen years ago, I placed this advert in September!! "Valentine's Day is only 19 weeks away! Do not disappoint your sweetheart! Book now!"
Honestly, February 14th was booked up the day the ad appeared!

That proved two things! That my ads were definitely being read and that Romance was definitely alive and kicking up in the North East!

Anyway, I wish you all a Happy Valentine's Day! Red Roses to Everyone!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Staff Night Out...

Last night was our Annual staff night out. We didn't go very far this time. Seventy five of us had a great time at our Japanese neighbour. Everyone said that it was the best one ever and I agree. The chefs were so funny! They challenged many of us to catch eggs in hats, with hilarious results.

The meal ended at around 11.30pm. The young ones headed for the clubs while us oldies went home. There was a time when I joined in!

I took these photos with my mobile and messed around with the bottom two.
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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Today, I cried...

I was working in the kitchen at around 11.3o am. I got a phone call from the butcher.
I thought: "He can't deliver the meat before we start service! I can't believe it! Bloody deliveries! Never there when you need them!"
And then I remembered that his delivery girl had already been at 10am.
"What does he want now?"
And then I remembered that Eric, our butcher was in hospital with pneumonia.
I picked up the phone.
Eric's right hand man, Dave was on the line.
"I've rung to tell you that Eric died at 10.30 this morning! You're the first one I've told!"
I was floored!
I mumbled all sorts of incoherent stuff. Like: "I just spoke to him on Tuesday! And he sounded ok!"
I put the phone down. Adam had heard my reaction. I told him Eric had passed away. He was shocked.
By the time I walked from the bar to the kitchen, my eyes had welled up and I had to force myself to tell Kevin the bad news.
I left him standing and locked myself in the office.
Eric had been my butcher for the last twenty years. He knew our entire restaurant history and followed us along our tiny expansion. The latest addition, Casa del Mar gave him nightmares because he knew we required Spanish things. But he researched the whole thing and managed to get us exactly what we needed.
When you deal with someone who knows exactly what meat or poultry to send you to ensure that you satisfy your customers, it is hard not to build a bond with him. We talked often about other things than meat. Like the French house his wife had bought two years ago and renovated for their retirement. Eric had always worked hard with very little time for holidays but he had just begun enjoying the odd week near Le Mans. And we compared notes about my own escapades to the Costa Blanca.
"You should start driving there, you know and then you and Karen could stop at ours for a night or two!" He often said.

Eric often commented:"I'd love to have a few more customers like you! I know exactly how much you need from one week to the next! You never complain. You don't give me grief!"
"It's because you give me exactly what I ask for, Eric!"

True enough, if I found something wrong with one of his products, he replaced it instantly.
We totally trusted each other. If he happened to forget to include an invoice in his monthly statement, I just added it to the total. If he found that he had overcharged me, he simply phoned and deducted the difference from the next bill.

Over the years, I have had many other butchers and meat companies offer me free samples to try and get me to buy from them. The answer has always been the same. "I am happy with Eric!"

This morning all this played out in my mind.
I cried!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Settling down to work...

A very nice day today. Sunny and warmish...11degrees!
Casa is settling into a good routine. So am I.
I get up at 7.30 am. Shower! Oh, tomorrow, I can use our new power-shower! Can't wait!
Breakfast. A massive mug of tea and something to eat.
By 8.30 I am at our Pizzeria. The espresso machine is switched on as soon as the alarm is switched off.
Computer on. I check last night's business. Espresso to get the neurones oiled up.
Staff begin arriving from 9.30am. Quick chat with manager.
By 10am everyone is in. "Good morning!" "Goodbye!" and I head for Casa.
Kevin loves HIS kitchen so he always gets there early. He even came in on Sunday while Karen and I were hanging more pictures and coat-hangers!
Keen or what?
Adam and his assistant, the cleaners, other members of staff are all in!
"Good morning!"
A few jokes after changing into my chef's things. I got us all some red t-shirts printed with Casa del Mar and a black bull underneath. So everyone in the kitchen matches, even the porters. Looks good.

A quick chat with Kevin and the shift starts with preparing food. At the moment I usually do those dishes that have to be ready ahead of service, such as Cordera con Salsa (Slow cooked minted lamb) , Paella, Cocido Madrileno, etc...
Kevin and his young chefs get on with preparing chickens, prawns, cleaning mussels, frying potatoes, Albondigas, sauces, etc...
We share most of the jobs throughout the day and during service, we tend to complement each other by doing specific tasks to ensure that all food is served hot and promptly.
We tend to tweak our performance as we go. "I think we should do this next time, what do you think?" I often sneakily prompt Kevin to suggest something so that he feels good about improving things.
I'm always joking, trying to sing and waffling while preparing food. This is my team-building style... They either like my Jacques Brel or they're sacked... Fair is fair!

But as soon as service starts, I insist on total silence broken only by words relating to service. This encourages concentration and prevents mistakes such as burnt dishes, forgotten items, etc...
Kevin seems to like the regime and I hope that when I am away in just over 10 days, he will be able to maintain it.
Going away worried me a little but with the addition of another of our young chefs from one of the other restaurants, I feel that by the end of next week, everyone will be able to put in a great performance. I will be missing two Saturday nights, the only shift that usually stretches most restaurants to the limit nowadays.
Adam said stoically that I will only be at the end of a phone line. He has just begun to realise that running restaurants is an 80-hour-a-week job. If you're organised...

...Notice that the camera hasn't been found yet and I am struggling with making the right purchase!

Friday, February 03, 2006

A great loss...

Since smashing the first tile on December 21st, I have shed quite a bit of weight. Not that I was greatly overweight on December 2oth! It is just that I was getting to the point where the only exercise I was getting prior to that date and since dropping out of my twice-weekly squash session due to a sprained shoulder, had been climbing in and out of bed, lifting a dozen cupfuls of espresso a day and blogging...
So, I have shed weight without trying! Ha, ha, ha!

After a hearty breakfast, I did a bit of admin and then went to Casa del Mar to get on with smashing tiles for the mosaics... Until ten, eleven or twelve at night! Nothing crossed my lips apart from the occasional cup of tea or the odd sushi from next door's Japanese restaurant! I even introduced a couple of the builders to sushi by giving them a taste, which meant that I ended up with tiny scraps of raw fish for sustenance.
Call it madness or daft dieting but I can assure you, I never intended to starve myself. After all, I really love my food and drink! It just happened!

Just over a week ago, I began working in the kitchen and have been tasting all sorts of tapas to ensure that I was passing on the right recipes to our Kevin. You would think that I would've regained my losses!
Since 21st December I have only been home three times in the afternoon and managed 3 very brief siestas! Karen has forgotten how to cook! I have been surviving on cottage cheese on toast, yogurt and honey or the odd glass of wine.
So, through the law of averages, if I open another restaurant within the next twelve months, it is only logical that I will reach my target weight and be fit to play squash once again!
Oh, by the way, the other thing I've lost is my camera! I swear I don't know where the hell it is otherwise I would've posted more photos of Casa in full swing!

Does dieting work for you?

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