I was a good chef.
Scratch that; I was a very good chef.
Like all good chefs, I had my faults.
I drank too much.
I worked too hard.
I ate the worst foods at the worst times.
I had a short temper.
I was tough on my staff.
Although my talent and accumulated skill set provided a very rewarding career, I never grew up wanting to be a chef.
I was all set to go to UCLA Film School in the early 70’s.
My Dad had just bought me a badass rig: a Gibson triple-pickup electric guitar and an oversized Marshall amp-pre-amp setup. I was all set for the one-hour commute from Ventura to Westwood as I waded knee-deep in aspiring starlets. I was going to start a band in Hollywood (I was so full of shit—I had “contacts”) and then on to film stardom.
That was the plan.
Then I was going to be a lawyer until I found out all the jokes were true, and I would have to sacrifice way too much of my soul to become successful.
I kind of “fell in” to the fine dining-resort-country club chef thing because I thought it was easy and I was very good at it. I could use different skills that fed both my creativity and my enormous ego through food and ice-carvings and baking. I was continually looking for different edible garnishes to adorn my plates and I would use California Cuisine garnishes on traditional French classic dishes.
But I wasn’t making magic.
Single mothers perform magic every day.
They feed, clothe, bathe, and educate their families while holding down at least one job that is most likely not paying her near enough. Then they make their paycheck stretch to its absolute limit as her nest full of hungry little mouths snap and squawk.
I did have a small hand in performing a bit of magic at a world-famous golf resort. I was managing several food restaurants on the property, one of which was a Mexican Cantina. After the dinner hour concluded, the Cantina was transformed into a very popular disco.
When I started at the resort, I was charged with bringing down the high operating costs, as my reputation for running good numbers for my employers preceded me.
For three straight years, food cost was over 38% and pour (liquor) cost was in the mid-twenties.
Now you have been to resorts. You know they charge you stupid high resort prices.
When I checked out the menu and how the food was being ordered and prepared, I was shocked to see that nothing was actually being prepared on site. They were having their beef and chicken machaca processed elsewhere, and even their rice and beans were not cooked in any of the beautiful rows of machines in the state-of-the-art kitchen.
I got out my grandmothers’ recipes for everything. We were cooking real Mexican food in a world-class golf resort.
I also discovered that sales were not being accurately recorded after I left for home, usually after the dinner hour ended.
Basically, the bartenders (and their supposed supervisor) were stealing.
When I found out that if I hit my requested budget figures, a big bonus and a trip to Mexico were the rewards, things changed.
After replacing a few bad eggs on the staff, and listening to the help, the numbers reflected our efforts.
Our quarterly numbers?
Food cost: 22%.
Pour cost 13%.
I would be headed south for a two-week long trip discovering the different flavors and (senoritas) of Mexico.
Let the magic begin.