Gearing up for Easter

I am the Executive Chef at a pretty busy hotel/conference type property. We have a Ballroom, Banquet Rooms, 60,000 square feet of Meeting Space, 40 acres of potential catering venues, Restaurant and Bar Menu, Room Service etc. you know the deal.

In spite of our three Sous Chefs I still work the line. My day is probably like that of many chefs. Eight hours on the line and then off to the office for another 4 or 5 hours of paper work, reports, meetings and menus. I don’t mind, it keeps me in touch with the pulse of my kitchen. Knowing the challenges and tribulations first hand is invaluable. I am comfortable that I am not just a figure head, a pencil pusher and politician. When someone asks me about our food, I can answer with confidence that this was this or that was that.

Right now we are gearing up for Easter; in spite of the economy I have almost 600 reservations and growing. Tomorrow I will be smoking 80 pounds of seafood for the cold display as well as 80 pounds of smoked chicken. Today I netted an tied 5 cases of Turkey Breast, trimmed and marinated 2 cases of strip loin. The hams are clove studded and 100 pounds of shrimp for shrimp cocktail is ready to go. Tomorrow will be a busy day, work the line at lunch, do an Ice Bunny carving and make sure we have enough of everything in the house. Some days I work until my neck hurts and I can’t think anymore. At that point I know its time to go home. At 49 years old, I can’t imagine how many hours I’ve worked in my career, how many meals I served and how much time I have stolen away from my wife and kids. In spite of all this, I still love what I do and get a thrill out of the process.

I must sound like a broken record by now, but I only know what I know and feel how I feel. At 50 years old it’s been a great run for me. Living the “Chefs Life” has been everything and then some. Before it was cool and trendy to be a Chef, I cooked because I loved to cook. Kitchens were my sanctuary from life; it was the place that I felt the most comfortable. Despite the sometimes extreme conditions, long hours and relatively low pay, I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. 12-14 hour days would and do still fly by at the speed of light, a sure sign that I am doing what I should be doing. 30 years later I am still as much in love with the industry as the first day that I walked into a kitchen. I really don’t think it could have turned out any better than this. I have enjoyed the food, my friends, and travel and, of course, being able to make people happy through my cooking.

The Mother of all Days

by Chef Leonard W. Elias CEC


Its 4 am, as I sit here drinking my coffee, surfing the net, clipping recipes and gearing up for the “Mother of all Days” all I can say is that I am glad I have a place to go. Yes today will be crazy, at last count we were up to 670 reservations for Mothers Day Brunch. It is what we do and under the right circumstance can actually be fun and challenging. Last night I had two weddings and a full day of regular serviced meals, so prep for today actually started on Wednesday. It sounds like a Christmas carol, 12 beef tenderloins, 11 boxes of shrimp, 10 roast turkeys, 9 legs of lamb, you get the rest.

Set Yourself Up For Sucess

Most of my days are filled with a series of emotional highs and lows. One moment I can experience the exhilaration associated with executing near perfection, only to be deflated moments later when something does not reach my standards. You don’t have to be a Four Star Chef at a high end restaurant to feel this way. Passion and pride are not exclusive to any single segment of the industry, ethnicity, gender or age; you either feel this way or you don’t.

This was the first blog I ever wrote and thought everyone might enjoy it. I look forward to contributing and sharing new ideas and concepts to the site.

Having served thousands of buffets over the years, I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert on the subject. I am actually a fan of buffets. When executed properly, a buffet can be a great way to experience new foods while meeting a wide range of guest preferences.

I still remember my first Vegas buffet. I was like a kid in a candy store; my eyes wide open with amazement as I perused the multitude of high quality offerings systematically laid atop shaved ice with razor sharp edges. Quality, variety, and value had all been packaged into a memorable and exciting dining experience. I bragged for weeks to my fellow chefs, friends, and anyone else who would listen about what I had experienced.

Soon after my Vegas trip, I took my first cruise and found myself once again excited about what I had discovered. Nonstop all day gorging on creative, well-prepared, professionally cooked foods was too good to be true. I am not sure if it was an anomaly or sheer luck, maybe all the stars had lined up correctly or the Chef was just that good. Whatever the circumstance, I was once again impressed.

On recent trips, I have found evidence of a reduction in quality, variety, and service. In most cases, attempts to be creative and interesting often failed, leaving me disappointed and hesitant to dive in with both feet as I had done before.

If you serve buffets, I would like to suggest the following:

Serve the same quality foods that you would in your a la carte restaurants. If you trust your purveyors, take advantage of high-quality overstock push list items to save big bucks.

Treat a chafing dish the same as you would a plate with all the same basic components. You wouldn’t just throw food on a plate; you shouldn’t do it here. Take the time to plan and properly lay out your chafing pans.

Use real sauces with appropriate accompaniments and functional garnishing. At our hotel, we utilize the same natural reduction sauces on all foods; our food and style do not change with the service.

Keep it cold or hot, clean and fresh; change pans and utensils frequently.

Utilize as many action stations and bars as you can. People love to have the ability to customize their choices.

Offer paired specialty cocktails, both alcohol-based and mock, along with wines and beers.

Utilize props to create an appropriately themed atmosphere.

Don’t sacrifice service; staff appropriately in all areas.

I don’t consider myself over the hill. I may have a few more aches and pains as well as a couple of gray hairs, but I can still work the pants off most people. I do wonder what I will do in the next 10 years as I move towards senior status and become a card carrying AARP member, as well as a senior American Culinary Federation member. Will my body continue to cooperate, allowing me to do what I love or will I have to make some decisions about my line of work?

I think, for many of us, cooking is a selfish act. What I mean is that we are doing what we love for all the right reasons. Job fulfillment, a huge sense of belonging and the rapid passing of 12 days is an addiction not easily overcome. There is nothing perfect in life, but who else gets paid to play?

As I am writing I am also thinking about the next stage of my life and where I want to go with it. Forget the economy and what people are saying. There is always opportunity; you just need to find it or create it. Will you be able to meet new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities or will you become a has-been before your time? The choice is yours, make a life plan and live your life to the max!

* Health- If you are not healthy, nothing else matters. Take care of yourself.

* Attitude and Outlook - Take a step backwards, you may not carry the clout you think, recommit yourself and be grateful. A positive attitude breeds positive results.

*Education and Experience - Enhance your foundation through formal education, industry opportunities or self study. Keep an open mind.

*Step Out Of Your Box - You took risks earlier in life that paid off. If you’re reading this, I assume you’re not dead. Playing it safe is a comfortable place to be, but rarely leads to anything but an existence.