Haven’s Kitchen: Why I Believe in Mandatory Service

I have always said that everyone needs to work in a restaurant at one point in their life. Working in the industry is hard. Actually, hard is an understatement. When days are good, they are the best days you’ve ever had. When they are bad, you’re in a walk-in somewhere bawling your eyes out while trying to pull yourself together so guests can’t tell you’ve been crying.

I remember when I wanted to get my first job. I marched my way to the principal’s office at my high school to get a worker’s permit signed when I was 15. I wanted to work at the mall so I could spend all my money on clothes. However, my dad refused to let me go into retail because “restaurant’s have more money.” Both him and my mom worked in the industry until their mid-twenties and actually met while my dad was her supervisor at a bar- I guess it runs in my blood. I feel like I owe so much to my dad because I have learned more about myself through working as a busser, food runner and server than I think I could have ever learned folding shirts at Tyson’s Corner.* I am a sensitive person and every day of my 10-year career has made me stronger and molded me into the person I am today.

I am no longer working in a traditional restaurant setting but I am still in the service industry as an event server. I am still at Haven’s Kitchen once or twice a week and I am so happy to be there. I believe in the mission and it’s an enjoyable place to be and a lot of that has to do with my co-workers and the people we serve. The owner, Alison Cayne, wrote an article that was published on the Huffington Post’s website yesterday that everyone needs to check out. She was able to articulate my exact thoughts on why everyone needs to work in a restaurant at one time in their life. Here’s a quick overview of the 10 things you learn as a server but you can check out the full article here!

1. MISSION

2. EMPATHY

3. CLEANLINESS

4. LATERAL THINKING

5. TEAMWORK

6. PREPARATION

7. SOCIAL SKILLS

8. MEMORY

9. BASIC TABLE MANNERS

10. GRATITUDE

*Disclaimer: I have several friends that work in retail (Bloomingdale’s, Lucky, Burberry, etc.) and I by no means want to disregard how hard it is. I don’t actually know first hand but, from their stories, I know customers can be just as difficult.

Restaurant Review and Some “Scary” Reading

I haven’t posted any of the New York Times Restaurant Reviews yet- I’m not sure why! When I was working at Esca, we had to read the restaurant review in print every Wednesday because we were quizzed on it during our pre-shift meeting. At first this was really annoying and daunting because you never knew what aspect of the review the chef was going to question you on. However, I quickly learned that reading the review kept me in the loop in the restaurant world and it educated me on all the best restaurants in New York.

This week, Pete Wells, the New York Times food critic, reviewed Carbone in Greenwich Village. Nowadays, I will read the review if industry friends post about it on facebook (usually because they work there) because I am not “forced” to read it every week. A chef I worked with at Eataly is now working at Carbone so when his post about the review popped up I wanted to read it. It also caught my eye because Nick and I ate at their sister restaurant, Torrisi, two weeks ago (where I know the GM through a co-worker at Gwynnett St.).

You should definitely check out the review here!

If you are interested in some other light reading, check out this link from Buzzfeed. Just another reason to make your own food and stay away the processed “food” in grocery stores!

Dear American Consumers

Haven’s Kitchen posted this article yesterday and I had to share it. I think I have shared a good amount about my views of the American food system and how broken it truly is. This guest writer does a great job outlining the root of the biggest food issues today.

The “western diet” is primarily processed food that is high in fat, salt and sugar- all of which are addictive and have altered our palates to crave more. If the current “health” fad is low carb, industrialized food companies change their marketing. If its low or no fat, it’s changed again. Has anyone ever noticed how several different types of gummy candy are marketed as a low fat food? It’s all a ploy by big food companies to trick you into thinking its healthy. It’s not. It’s all sugar.

The other way these big companies deceive consumers is with pricing. While working at Slow Food USA I stumbled upon an great article from the California Public Interest Research Group entitled “Apples or Twinkies: Could Farm Subsidy Cuts Actually Make Americans Healthier?” The argument the research group made is that government subsidies favor an industrialized food system- where corn is subsidized to make corn starch and corn syrup instead of a simple (not to mention edible) ear of corn. This has caused processed food costs to decline and the price of fruits and vegetables to increase.

This quote more or less sums it up:

According to CPIRG, since 1995 only $262 million in taxpayer support subsidized apples, which was the only significant federal subsidy for a fresh fruit or vegetable. Breaking it down, the report states that if instead of sending funds to farm subsidies, Americans were given a direct cut to spend on their own groceries, it would amount to $7.36 for each American to spend on junk food per year versus just $0.11 for apples.

As consumers, we have the power to change the food system by shifting what we demand to see at our local markets. Although a Twinkie may cost less now, how much will it cost you down the line in terms of your health and the costs associated with treatments for heart disease and diabetes? I know that that is an extreme but by demanding more from our food system we can alter the health system in this country down the line.

The point I am trying to make is that eating local, seasonal and sustainable food can affect you in more ways than you might think. It has the power to support your local economy, alter prices in favor of wholesome food and positively affect your health. It seems like a no brainer, right? Try it out for a week. Whenever you find yourself grabbing a bag of chips, a frozen meal or a yogurt, check out the food label for the the fat, salt and sugar contents. Trust me, it will shock you (the sugar in yogurt is absurd!) If you exchange those meals or snacks for real fruits and veggies for just a week, your palate will change. That frozen meal will taste so salty you have to stop eating it (at least that’s what happened to me). It may seem daunting (and expensive) but we have to demand change in our food system. If we demand this change, the prices will eventually be in our favor and an apple will be cheaper than a Twinkie.

After all, doesn’t an apple (maybe with a little almond butter) sound better than a Twinkie anyways?

Food for Thought: Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan

I just wanted to share a few links quickly. While working at Slow Food, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some amazing minds in the food movement. I even got to talk to Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan on the phone a few times!! My reaction after hanging up the phone after talking to them on different occasions was similar to my reaction to seeing Hanson in concert circa 1998. I’m a food nerd but I’m ok with that.

1. Here is a link to a recent Mark Bittman article from the New York Times Opinionator called “Slow Food Quickens the Pace“. This more or less summarizes my outlook on life and the food movement.

2. Another Mark Bittman article from about a year ago about meat consumption and the industrialization of food. 

3. Everyone should read this book. Michael Pollan is a genius. This book is short and simple and can be read in a subway ride from Brooklyn to Washington Heights.

If we could all get in line with these views, the food system as we know it would improve immensely! Enjoy!