Friday, June 27, 2008

What do you cook for the guy who has seen the staff bathrooms?

Rich Matosky and his wonderful wife Tammy will be visiting for a couple of days, that begs the question in the title. Which, incidentally, is the culinary equivalent of 'what to buy the person who has everything'.... Those of you who read the blog will no doubt remember Rich for his great description of working for a weekend in the Sheppard Mansion kitchen. If you aren't a blog regular, mine through the posts and find it. It's really great. In addition to working with us, Rich and his wife are great friends and 'foodies'. They eat everywhere and not just at diners and hot dog shacks. I'm talking Vetri, Tru, Del Posto, the list goes on and on. So, I got an e-mail a couple of days ago from Rich saying 'don't do anything special for us, just whatever the tasting menu is will be fine'. Right, Ricardo. We're in the business of EXCEEDING expectations, making special nights for people, making memories for goodness sake. Here's the problem....this guy's seen it from our end. He knows what goes on in the kitchen. He has had the distinct pleasure of donning the black cap. He has been in the shits with us. And yes, he has taken a leak in the staff bathroom. So, in his mind, he'd be sitting there at dinner thinking 'I've seen this's not that hard, handful of this, spin, duck down, get the lobster, spin back, beurre monte, warm through, check seasoning, hand it off at the pass. Done' Well, I think that sucks and won't allow it to happen. Here's a little video teaser of what he might expect tomorrow night. Perhaps we can get him to post another essay describing the Sheppard experience from the diner's perspective in a later post.......

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Importance of Service

Service. I've had two particular experiences that made me really start to think about service. First, the positive. I had the great opportunity to spend Father's Day with my dad golfing at an insanely expensive golf course. No Blackberry, no restaurant, no farms, no food....just me, my dad and five hours for me to launch a large collection of golf balls out of bounds. We were paired with two guys from Maryland, who instead of riding in a cart had elected to have a caddy for the day. Yes, you read that correctly. It today's age of fat ass, cigar smoking, beer drinking, no manners, over testosteroned(I can hit it farther that you, Bill) jack assed, poseur golfers, these guys had elected to have a caddy walk along with them(of course he carried both of their bags the whole way). What an awesome piece of civility and a touch of the old school. Here's where the service comes in....their caddy provided US with local info, read greens, etc. He didn't have to; we weren't paying him. However, it did make for a great experience. Granted, most of his info was going to my dad. The best piece of advice he gave me all day was 'geez, you better hit another ball'. He turned what would have been a great experience into one that I really thought was over the top cool...even though I sucked ass that day. Now the negative. I have a wireless phone. My negative service experience involves my unnamed wireless company(AT&T wireless...come on, you knew I was going to name them....). Last week, I didn't have service for three hours. OK, whatever. Yesterday, I didn't have service for over an hour, so I decided to go to the store where I bought my overly expensive phone and ask what they could do for me. Here's the answer I got....'we only sell phones here, we can't help you'. Now, I'm fairly educated...I can look around and see that they do in fact sell phones. However, the person who 'only sells phones' happened to be the half wit who also SOLD ME A TWO YEAR CONTRACT FOR THAT DAMN PHONE!!!!!! I was told to call customer service. Here's the thing. If I was a salesperson, it would have gone like this.....' I'm sorry to hear about your outtage. I've inquired about the problem and AT&T will offer you a $20 credit to your bill because of the's the number you need to call and they'll hook you up. Unfortunately, we don't do billing at our store or I'd take care of it for you right now. I'm really sorry for the trouble and I hope you'll come back if you have any other issues. I'd be happy to take care of them for you. Thank you and have a great day!' That's service, AT&T. The folks at the NORTH HANOVER MALL IN HANOVER, PA SHOULD TAKE NOTES!!!!!!!!

Back to the point. Service. I write almost exclusively about food on this blog. The thing is, there is so much more to a restaurant experience. The ambiance, the grounds, the centerpiece, but the biggest part of all of this is your service. The picture above is of one of our dining rooms. Looks cool, right? Well, to me, it's just a room. It has a table where food can be placed and consumed. What's it missing, you ask? It's missing personality. Much has been written recently about my use of local ingredients and building a truly regional cuisine. Well, it's not all about the food.(what the hell? Did I just say that?) Our front of the house manager, Karen Van Guilder works very hard crafting a style of service that not only matches the food, but also matches the area we live in. It is relaxed and professional....the perfect blend of formal technique and engaging storytellers. Yes, storytellers. Our waiters are the ones who breathe life into the dining rooms. When you sit down, you're in our waiter's hands for the next two to three hours. Some folks might think that's a bit overbearing; it's not. Here's the beauty of Karen's style of service. If the waiter estimates that you just want to be left alone. Bingo, left alone. Still formally correct service, but you get what you are looking for in the experience. Wanna know everything about every ingredient?( a tip here: if you are inquiring about every ingredient on the menu, the waiter will alert me thinking that you might be a food writer and you'll get VIP'd) You got it. Again, it's all a matter of service and providing the experience the guest want. I'm not going out on a limb here by saying that we've got the best service team from Harrisburg to Baltimore. We do. By far. The next time you're at a great restaurant, take notice to how the waiters and front of the house staff breathe life into the experience and how they add personality to the experience and the room. Without them, it's just four walls, some tables, some chairs and food. Boring. Really boring.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pennsylvania's Inaugural Governor's Award for the Culinary Arts

Yes, folks, that's me addressing the crowd at the Gettysburg Festival.(Don't you think the orange tie is awesome???) Yes, folks, that's the Governor of Pennsylvania, Edward Rendell. This past friday, I was lucky enough to be chosen as the first recipient of the Governor's Award for the Culinary Arts. I can't really express how excited I am not only about this award, but also the prospect of taking some time and really working to promote fine food and agriculture in Pennsylvania. We like to say that the restaurant is the place where over the top agriculture and fine food collide. It is and I hope as a result of this award we will be able to spread the word about our great products!!! Watch out, folks....PA foods are on their way!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Father's Day is that one day a year when you have so much to say, so much to be thankful for and the best your alpha-male make-up can muster is, thank you. Sometimes, I think Dad thinks that's enough.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Tomato Lady


I recently had the opportunity to spend part of an afternoon with Kathy Glahn of Gettysburg Heirlooms. Kathy was the first grower I met upon arriving back in Hanover who shared my crystal clear vision that food and, produce more specifically, should be amazingly flavorful and also very in tune with the movement of the season. Folks who have visited the Mansion from the beginning may remember Kathy more specifically as 'The Tomato Lady'. That's the first product of her's that I started using; amazing heirloom tomatoes. From those early days, my relationship with Kathy has become something that I think most chef's really would be jealous of. In mid-January, Kathy, Scott and I sit down with seed catalogs and we order our produce for the season. Yep, you read that correctly. The produce that is hitting our menu right now was actually thought out in the freakin' cold ass month of January. What makes this so special is that if I point it out, Kathy will grow it. Custom growing. In Central PA. Not just carrots, potatoes and onions either, but specific varieties of turnip (milan is on the menu right now), specific varieties of potato, loads of heirloom tomatoes, the list goes on and on. Kathy is one of those folks who shares my drive for amazing foodstuffs and works very hard to give the restaurant the very best and I have to say she delivers....every week. Here's the point in the story where all of you in blogger land are very lucky....Kathy operates stands at the Gettysburg Outlet Market on Friday's and the Gettysburg Farmer's Market on Saturday's. You can get the same produce I'm using at the restaurant and have the opportunity to meet an awfully inspiring person. Honestly, if you're buying produce at the grocery store right now, you should be ashamed of yourself. Seek out the small markets....shoot me an e-mail...I'll tell you the little farm stands I like to frequent(hhmmmm, should that just be another post?) Buy it local and support folks in your backyard. Give them feedback and become their friends. If you don't and you keep buying no name produce from the store, your food will suck. It just will. Cook with some soul and give your food an identity. KNOW FARMS, KNOW FOOD. P.S. Please don't write me and tell me how busy you are and that you just don't have time. That's a weak should be ashamed of yourself. Actually, please do write me and also include your mailing address so that I can send you an autographed Andy Little baseball bat that you can hit yourself over the head with. OK, enough with that. Do you get the point? Buy great stuff from folks you trust.

This is a cool shot of Kathy's lettuce blend that she harvests for us. We get the first cut and always sample the lettuces when they come in the back door. Here's an interesting point for all of you budding 'know farms know food' converts. The food we cook with ebbs and flows with nature. So, for example, the strawberries we got this week tasted markedly different from the strawberries we got two weeks ago. Were they still good? yes, but they were different. The difference was made because we had a pretty impressive spell of rain in the weeks before they were harvested. So, they were different. You need to keep in mind that when you are working with products that are produced outside of a factory farm vacuum there are going to be nuances to their flavor. Celebrate them. If I hear one more person in the grocery store fawning over strawberries in December, remarking how 'beautiful' they look I'm gonna go cheftal on their ass (FYI, cheftal is my new term. It's like going postal for chefs). Those strawberries 'look' great. Cut into one and savor the sweet aroma of.....nothing. Enjoy the luscious beauty of their pithy white interior. Put them back, grab a fruit cake and wait for May. Here's Kathy talking about her lettuces.

Next trip was over to the tomato I said, tomatoes were the first thing Kathy supplied to us and I have to say that they are the most amazing tomatoes and I feel very lucky to be able to work with them when the season hits. Here's a little secret for optimal tomato flavor. Don't refrigerate them. If they are simply picked and used you'll have the full advantage of the warmth of the sun with no muted flavors from refrigeration. Remember, mother nature is the true genius, we're just technicans. If you have no other choice but to refrigerate them, I recommend that you take them out of the fridge very early in your day and let them sit in a window sill and warm up.

Finally, the potatoes. Not just any potatoes, but multiple varieties of's not good enough to just be a potato. It has to be a German Butterball or a swedish peanut potato or a yellow finn or, you guessed it, la ratte. Yes, I know I have a problem. I'm seeking therapy.....