Sunday 26 February 2017

Learning from Legends (part 2): DANIEL BOULUD

When people ask me “Who is the greatest chef on planet earth?” I do not hesitate to answer Daniel Boulud.

During my years working for him, he was like a French Batman. If you made a mistake, Daniel would surely find it, he was incredible at being everywhere and seeing everything, no one was safe, any day could be your last. It was the Olympics of cooking and no one gets a medal for participation.

Restaurant Daniel
in New York City was tough. With incredibly long hours, physically exhausting days, huge quantities of customers to serve and the constant demand for perfection, this was the most difficult place I have ever worked. One thing is cooking a few pieces of fish for a cute 20 seat restaurant; another is cooking over 100 portions of fish at different times using different methods that all demanded precision. And let’s remember fish doesn’t come in nice square little pieces… it has to be gutted, cleaned, scaled, filleted and portioned, plus it needs sauce and garnishes to become a dish and we are only talking about the fish station here, you still got canapés, cold kitchen, soup, rotisserie, vegetables, meats, pastry and bakery.

Daniel’s drive for perfection has led him to make everything from scratch to be able to control the quality each step of the way. In Cuca we have adopted the same thinking: if we serve it, we make it and we make everything from scratch every single day.

If you enjoyed this entry, do not miss the previous one here!

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Learning from legends (part 1): FERRAN ADRIA

Ferran Adrià was like the Wizard of Oz crafting fascinating new ideas with food from behind the curtain of El Bulli.

Formerly known as the world’s best restaurant before serving its last meal on July 30th 2011, El Bulli remains a mystery to many. Working there was really like being Charlie in The Chocolate Factory. The thought and effort that goes into creating a meal is absurd and what made the restaurant magic was the philosophy behind everything they did.

Let me share with you how every season at the famous restaurant began: the new team arrived in the morning, had a brief overview of the restaurant (the kitchen, the dining room and the gardens) and are introduced to the senior staff. We were then told to come at 8am the following day in jeans and t-shirts. We all arrived and the Chef explained that the job for the next 7 days would be gardening. If the gardening concept to the well-trained internationally selected chefs and service professionals wasn’t strange enough, we were asked to remove, wash, polish and place back one by one the thousands of beautiful river stones used to cover the garden. After this was explained we all looked at each other waiting for the hidden camera to appear but, sure enough, this was no joke. Why not just clean them quickly and throw them back? Questions like “What the hell are we doing?” were in everyone’s mind as none of us expected gardening and professional stone polishing the path to become a world-class cook or waiter, right? Wrong, the Jedi mind-training was in the message.

If on your first day you didn’t care about the garden or the stones or the thousands of little details that made El Bulli the best restaurant in the world, you certainly did by the time you left.

As a matter of fact all the big name chefs I have worked for have one thing in common: the smallest details done incorrectly result in the biggest possible punishments. The lesson is clear: notice the most basic of minute details because your customers do. Every day we apply this to Cuca and have become obsessed with the many small things that remind our guests where they are and why it’s different.

Friday 23 December 2016

Eat like a pro

Our tips for better restaurant dining:

1. Ordering 
Allergies aside, when placing your order never ask for something not on the menu. It will not be given the same care and attention and remember, the guy putting it together has probably never done it before. The result is food thrown on a plate failing to deliver any sign of deliciousness. It’s not on the menu for a reason…

2. Appetizers
Try sharing a few appetizers instead of a main course if you want to experience the best of a restaurant. This depends on the place but traditionally a main course must contain protein, vegetables, starch and sauce, while an appetizer encourages a more freestyle way of cooking and thus allows to really show the personality of the chef. Appetizers focus on pure flavor without a confined structure. For a delicious example of this freestyle cooking you may want to try a great tapas restaurant in Jimbaran, Bali we keep hearing about! 😉

3. Specials
Specials aren’t so special! The reality of a special is very simple: it is either an old product re-packaged for quick sale or a first attempt at an idea that probably will never be good enough to make the menu. Not a safe bet for an amazing meal. We don’t make specials in Cuca. Dishes are tested and made over and over again until we think they are menu-worthy, but never served to guests. Our recommendation is order the dishes they have successfully cooked a few thousand times on the menu rather than becoming the guinea pig trying the experimental dish of the day.

4. Reservations
When you make a reservation, ask for a good table. Even if you have never been to the restaurant before, there are always bad ones (noisier, with bad views, in a high traffic area, beside the toilet, etc.) and the staff knows what tables are really good and thus preferred by regular guests. Ask and you shall receive.

5. Being a real VIP
If you want special treatment, don’t demand it. Instead, thank the staff graciously when you leave. This will ensure next time everyone will remember you much better.They will be fighting to take care of the good guy rather than the angry one.