A selection of the excellent Culinary and Chef related Blogs located at Harvest America Ventures reprinted with permission of Chef Paul Sourgle.  

I strongly suggest that you visit his site and spend some time enjoying his incredible work.




Chef Paul SorguleThe ongoing success of a restaurant depends on two factors: great food and great service. It really is that simple. Of course, the chef, manager, and owner play an important role in selecting the right location and concept, building the menu, designing an inviting atmosphere, hiring and training the staff and orchestrating service, but as the restaurant continues to exist it will always be about an excellent meal and comforting, efficient service. How important is the line cook in this formula?
In previous articles I have built a case for the value of the line cook and the team he or she works with. Most restaurants and chefs in particular would agree that the line cook makes it happen, time and again. Yet, how are restaurants recognizing this? How are line cooks rewarded for their role and for that matter, what rewards would make them happy?
Let’s look at wages first. There is no question that many cooks choose the profession out of love for the craft, the ability to create, and the pace of the environment that cooks work in. However, people need to be able to support themselves in the process. Recent data focused on “a living wage” in New York City demonstrate that survival for an independent single is $12.75/hour (40 hour week). If that individual has one child, that rate jumps to $24.69 per hour. Keep in mind that these minimum figures do not include housing that would be considered acceptable in Manhattan, requiring individuals to live a distance from work, adding a commute and associated costs, nor does it include the cost of college debt if the individual had attended school at some point. The average line cook wages in NYC are $27,330-33,000 per year – right at the baseline for a livable wage for a single person and far below what would be needed to support one child.



Women ChefsWhile I was a part of culinary education at two prominent U.S. colleges, I was proud of how many women were entering and graduating from culinary schools. By the late 1990’s, nearly a third of all enrolled students were women and that number appeared to be growing. This population stalled over the next decade or so, except in baking and pastry programs where the percentage of women was much greater.
Still, in comparison to the early days of pre-1990 culinary education, these numbers were encouraging.
From a chef’s perspective, gender was no longer a real concern. As the restaurant industry grew, what mattered most was work ethic and skill. As a result, I would always tell students and parents that the glass ceiling in the restaurant business was non-existent. If you were passionate about food, competent, had some business savvy and were willing to make the commitment – success could be yours.
Here it is, 2014 and although there have been thousands of female graduates from culinary programs; there is a surprisingly small number who hold positions of executive chef. Now, there are certainly examples to the contrary; a cadre of women chefs who are making their mark, yet no where near the 33% that graduate from culinary schools across the country.
So where is the gap? Does it matter what gender a chef happens to be? Do we even need to have a conversation on the topic? I can only speak from my own experience and do not profess to have any substantial quantitative or qualitative data to support my observations; nevertheless, her is my take.



ServersThere are many examples of love/hate relationships or classic feuds that are difficult to rationalize: the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s, Alexander Hamilton and Raymond Burr; Neil Young and Lynard Skynard, the Beatles and Yoko Ono, Democrats and Republicans, and, of course, Restaurant Servers and Cooks. What is the reason for these sometimes oil and vinegar relationships? Why did either side lose sight of the big picture? Are these feuds simply based on tradition or misunderstanding, not fact?
We have come to accept that Republicans and Democrats simply cannot get along or agree and Lynard Skynard and Neil Young intensely dislike each other as portrayed in song: “well, I hope Neil Young will remember a Southern Man don’t need him around, anyhow.” In actuality, Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on what is right for our country and, oh by the way, Skynard’s lyrics were meant to support Neil Young’s charge against racist behavior. The point is, more often than not, feuds or traditional abrasive relationships are ill founded.
In the case of restaurant servers and cooks, consider these facts:
• Service staff members are the first line of offense and defense with restaurant guests. Their primary role is twofold: customer satisfaction and building check averages for the house and for the basis of their tips.
• Unlike cooks, their wages are not predetermined. In most cases, if they do their job well, the guest will tip as is expected, but the guest is not required to do so. Servers are paid, in most cases, sub-minimum wage (allowed by law) because it is assumed that they will make sufficient tips to make up the difference.
• Servers are required to hide their emotions while performing their job. When a guest is contrary, the server needs to tough it out, smile and say, yes.
• Servers are able to perform their job only when everyone else performs theirs.



SalmonIn recent years America has wrestled with the challenges of providing opportunities for every citizen to have affordable health care. This is an issue that divides the country as we are challenged by “who pays for it?” What few seem to try and address as the real issue is not just providing care for those who are sick, but investing in a plan of prevention. From a cost perspective, this is what will lead to affordability. What is interesting to me is trying to identify what role, if any, restaurants and chefs should play in this effort of prevention.

Let’s look at some undeniable data. In the neighborhood of 60% (and rising) of the America population is overweight or obese. The obesity segment alone is more than 30%. This equates to 78 million Americans whose body fat index is dangerously high. Obesity is a major cause of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer (according to the Center for Disease Control and the American Medical Association). Nearly 200 billion health care dollars are spent each year in treatment of these diseases among the obese. This information is not new; we probably have all heard this, countless times, and in various forms. The irony is that the message is not getting through to a significant portion of the population.

Simply stated, being overweight or obese is a result of consuming more calories than we are able to burn. Thus, we are creating this problem one fork full at a time. Is this obesity the cause of a major health problem in the U.S. or is this still an effect of something deeper?