Friday 24 June 2016

The rush of the hot pass

Running the hot pass is that unique task that Chefs de Cuisine perform during service where all those years of work finally come to a conclusion.  You have your Trainees figuring out the flow, Junior Cooks learning basics and trying to master their stations, Chefs de Partie running around looking for fires to extinguish, Sous Chefs observing every single detail and the Chef de Cuisine directing the service, playing the cooks like a conductor does an orchestra, controlling every dish, every item, every guest’s multicourse meal, every special request… literally cooking with 40 hands.

The Chef the Cuisine is there, standing at the front of the kitchen and waiting, as guests pour into the dining room, for the sound of the printer to begin spitting out tickets as fast as the ink can mark orders from hungry guests. Numerous dishes, allergies, preferences, moods, expectations and different reasons to come: some with birthdays, some anniversaries, some a special night out, dinner with friends or just plain old hungry and looking for dinner. Whatever the reason, it will dictate how fast or slow guests want their food, how much or little attention they require from waiters or the Chef, and all this will need to be taken into consideration to execute a meal as close to perfection as possible, a meal they will not soon forget. 

Great food with bad service counts for nothing, as does great service with badly prepared food; it must all come together. During service there are no teams, friends, enemies or barriers; it must be everyone for the guest, all staff at full attention to anticipate needs. Chefs must control, they must understand their team and use them like the gas pedal of a car: pushing for speed but not too much to lose control and letting up to slow down and maintain quality and precision. 

Chefs know service time is where hours of work can pay off or be ruined in seconds, where good restaurants become great and great ones can fail. A service turns kitchen staff with potential into super heroes and those without into mere spectators only watching as the magic unfolds. Amazing individuals do not necessarily make an amazing team and a great team is critical to a successful service. It is the job of the Chef to motivate those needing a push, to scold those lacking motivation and to get rid of those who don't belong. No matter how good is today, once it's over the focus is tomorrow and nobody cares about yesterday if they are booking today. 

Chefs know that a guest will judge a restaurant on one meal alone, one opportunity to fail or succeed. Definitely a rush.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Kitchen for dummies

Let's start from the very beginning... The first step in a professional kitchen would be learning the rhythm, the pace and flow, where to stand and where not to, what to touch and what will burn you, cut you and hurt you. This takes time and often recovery. 

Step two is learning the absolute basics. This takes as long as it has to. It depends on someone’s focus, age, drive and demanding girl or boyfriend. 

Step three is learning one by one the various kitchen stations: pastry (desserts), cold kitchen (salads and cold dishes), entremetier (vegetables), poissonnier (fish & seafood) and saucier (meat & sauces). Cooks are transferred from one station to the next for a minimum of 6 months and until they can prove they can deliver. Once they have done time on each station and if they are still standing, they are ready to become Chef de Partie.  They fill in on any station when someone is sick or just decides “no more” and keep a close eye on everything being done. They are basically a baby Chef learning key elements of management, costing, ordering and helping to run the flow of both information and work, assisting like a fireman to extinguish problems. 

Only when you have really mastered being a student can you dream of being a teacher and after a few years as Chef de Partie you know what you are talking about and are ready for a Sous Chef position. Sous Chef is pretty much the same job but instead of helping, the responsibility is now painfully entirely yours. Sous Chefs need to be masters at getting things done, no excuses, no compromise, no procrastination, just done and done well. You are the extension of the Chef, the go-to guy, the person keeping the boat floating. 

At the very top of the pile is the Chef de Cuisine. This guy has done all of this and either by years and years of hard work or great timing when the person on top passes out from exhaustion, finally gets a shot. Where the Sous Chef is like Luke Skywalker, the Chef de Cuisine is like Yoda. They need to cook beautifully, answer any question, catch mistakes before they ever happen, deal with happy and unhappy customers, be the hero and the villain, they do it all.

Food doesn’t get good by accident, there is a team of people who have dedicated their days and lives to making things delicious: the team behind the chef and the magic behind the kitchen. 

Saturday 23 April 2016

Tuning up Cuca

One of our philosophies is to make Cuca just a little bit better every single day: either by tweaking our recipes, training our team on something new, planting a tree or simply finding amazing hand soap. The small things make a big difference. This year we feel particularly proud of these tiny details that make us better:

- Rainy season is wet and sitting in our beautiful garden lounge is not advised for a good part of the year as unexpectedly you can get caught in a tropical storm. The addition of a canopy covering the side of Cuca has now made outdoor dining possible year round with the bonus of blocking the hot sun during the day.

- Bali is hot, that’s why people come from all over the world to the beautiful island, but keeping our dining room comfortably cool has been quite a challenge we have had since opening. Our latest addition of 6 serious ceiling fans and a few more air-con units seems to have finally done the trick.

Acoustic panels in our ceiling
- If you have ever been to Cuca when we are fortunate to have a few groups of excited diners you know that it can be noisy, very noisy. The “smart” idea of using hard materials for the floor and large glass windows instead of walls was great in theory but a nightmare in reality. After 2 years of thought and numerous (and often ridiculous) suggestions, we have hidden funky acoustic ceiling panels above every table to eliminate that noise. And what a difference they make!

- When it rains it pours and after it pours our parking lot becomes a lovely lake requiring a boat to access our main door. Arriving hungry, soaking wet and without a paddle was not the best beginning, so we have added concrete to elevate the parking, garden lights, landscaping and even lines to park your car in between. For those who had to swim to Cuca for food we do apologize, it is all sorted now.

Our brand-new online booking system
- Our website was let’s just say “understated” and served its purpose until now but we were (as you were) aware of its much needed makeover. Packed with photos and really capturing what Cuca is today, our new website in now in place.

- Making a reservation in Cuca was always done by people. Our staff would painstakingly reply to each and every request and ensure all bookings were handled manually like in the 1940’s: yup, a paper book with all the guests’ details hand-written with their specific remarks. It worked well, with a real touch of classic hospitality, but as Cuca got busier, to maintain the system was a nightmare. So we have finally progressed with the times and have now an online booking system that does not compromise the genuine hospitality of Cuca but does help with all the paper, pencils and post-its.

With problems come solutions and for now we have caught up but tomorrow the question remains: what can we do to get just a little bit better yet?