Urban Chef | August 2015

Be The Recipe For Change
Since opening my first restaurant, I’’ve always found it odd how much the hospitality business is expected to give to charity. Everyone knows—everyone—that restaurants typically don’t make money and the ones that do aren’t making all that much. However, that seems to stop abso- lutely no one from approaching restaurant owners for donations of gift certificates, money, food and catering. I get it — we make the good times happen. A $50 gift card to an accountant in Waterdown isn’t all that desirable. Dinner for two or some sales rep … err … services? It’s a part of the business and I suggest that new restaurateurs embrace it. And every so often a charity opportunity comes up that you will remember for the rest of your life.

My partner, Erin, makes things happen. I usually have no idea what is happening beyond next week, then she tells me. I was informed I had a charity function for 50 people the following Monday (admittedly she probably told me about it a month earlier but I may not be the best listener). In my head I’m thinking, “Charity dinner for 50?! We’’re trying to open our third place this year and Erin has us giving away dinner for 50 people?!’

Then I got the details. It was one of my favourite nights of 2015. Be The Recipe for Change is a program at the YWCA that encourages local businesses and people to make dinner for a great group of women in their transitional living program — people who otherwise would have gone without. To me the idea of not having dinner is incomprehensible. I think about the debaucherous things I have been a part of and often provide and instantly feel guilty even considering not sharing my time, skill and money to make dinner for others.

You donate $300 to the YWCA and give them the list of ingredients you will require to make your dinner. Obviously, my goal was to use as little of the $300 as possible to allow them to offer further services to their clients. I wanted to make something that was cheap, delicious and loved by all. Gluten-free too, in case there were any hipsters. Shepherd’s pie and a great salad. Done.

Erin organized a bunch of volunteers to come and help cook and serve the ladies that evening and it turned into a really fun event for us, as well. Low stress, great food, great feelings. Interacting with the guests was amazing; there is nothing more complimentary to a chef than someone coming up and sheepishly asking if they can eat thirds. Thirds! I felt like turning Italian and kissing her on both cheeks!

After meeting a lot of the guests, you realize most of these women just need a break or two to go their way and they will be in a much better place. Not eating is not going to help them.

I can’t encourage you enough to get involved and help put food on a table for some deserving women. Visit ywcahamilton.org/get-involved/be-the-recipe-for-change for more information.


Or Things Not To Do In Your Kitchen
— Being dainty about salt. Just add salt. More Salt. Stop holding back. You’re such a baby. Now more salt. Now. Salt. Ok, now butter!
— Using bad knives. Notice I didn’t say cheap; you can certainly get a reasonable knife that holds its edge from Walmart. You made not be proud of it, but it’ll do the trick. You are much more likely to injure yourself using a dull knife then a good, sharp blade. Buy real metal, not corrugated aluminum 12 cent garage sale specials. Buy a (cheap, yay!) knife sharpener and use it regularly.
— Putting food into a cold frying pan. Stop it. Instead of getting a nice sear, you get soggy grossness. Nobody wants soggy grossness.
— Not resting meat after it cooks. Whether it’s a whole chicken or a ribeye steak, let that baby rest. It’s tired and needs to think about its day. Five minutes is usually enough unless it’s a large roast.
— Overcooking vegetables. Here’s how you cook most vegetables: 1) Put in pot. 2) Season with salt. Add a knob of butter. 3) Pour a cup or two of water. Not much now — just enough to create some steam. Do not cover vegetables. 4) Put lid on pot, put heat to high. Wait until pot comes to a rolling steam. Count another minute. Vegetables are crispy but ready. Enjoy.

I often get asked what’s the worst injury I’ve ever seen in the kitchen. There are many to choose from, but judging the injury solely based on facial expressions of agony, I will choose The Caramel Incident.

I was doing my apprenticeship at the Royal York hotel back in the mid-90s and I was working next to another cook who was making some caramel. Caramel is simply a water-sugar mixture heated to a very certain (and bloody hot) temperature.

I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but this unfortunate soul managed to knock over the pot of caramel and coat one hand and arm. Yes, the scene was as bad as you imagine. Super sorry if you’re reading this at lunch; my bad. And then this situation got worse. While I started to run the cold water and screaming at him to put his arm under it, he began to freak out and tried to brush the screaming hot caramel off his arm… with his other hand!

I never saw this cook again.

Now stop asking me questions you don’t actually want the answer to.

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