Thursday, March 31, 2011

Restaurant Impossible

I'm hooked on the Food Network, though I usualy watch and listen with one eye and one ear while doing something else. Last night I put aside everything for another episode of Restaurant Impossible, Robert Irvine's show in which he takes a failing restaurant and turns it around in 48 hours with $10,000. Irvine goes in and assesses food, ambiance, and service. At last night's restaurant, the cook ("I'm not a chef but I'm a good cook") used canned green beans, instant grits and frozen shelfish among other "garbage," as Irvine called it. He tossed it all out, gave cooking lessons, and a cooking test that resulted in a switch where a younger man became head cook and the original one, a line cook. He also demonstrated that where they were spending $10 on a large can of gravy, he could make it from scratch for $1 and it tasted much better.With the help of a design crew, he tore out an old red bar-top and replaced it with a wooden bar, painted over a huge mural, brought in new chairs and chair covers for existing chairs. Then he created a new menu and sent the wait staff home to study it. Next day they were tested on it; if they passed, they got a T-shirt and worked that night; one girl failed and was sent home to study. Questions such as "Describe the fried green tomatoes" needed a fuller answer than "They're fried green tomatoes." They were served with feta on a bed of--I forget what (guess I too need more study). As his last act, Irvine carefully targets a community segment--college students last night--and passes out samples. By the time the restaurant opens--and those last minutes are hectic--there is a long line waiting outside.
At the end of the show, there's an update on how the restaurant is doing: of the few I've watched, at least one closed in six months, but most were doing alright. Last night's restaurant, owned by two young novices, three months later, was on the right track but not doing gangbusters. This must be a humiliating experience for the owner and exsting staff, but it surely works miracles.
I've always had a bit of a restaurant itch, I suppose because I like to feed people. I could see myself serving the tea-room or deli food that I love--chicken and tuna salads, Cobb salad, maybe some things with smoked salmon and anchovies. But I well know the failure rate of restaurants, and I know I have no experience, so I scratched my itch for several years by working at The Star, a cafe on the North Side owned by my good friends Betty and Don Boles. They specialize in steak, chicken-fried steak, and burgers. Best chicken-fried steak I've ever eaten--burgers and steaks are good too. I really did love talking to the customers, but I tired of rolling silverware and eventually decided that restaurant work, like anything else, had its ups and downs. So I'm back to cooking at home.
Right now I'm baking chicken that I found on one of my favorite blogs--Mystery Lovers Kitchen. I seasoned two chicken thighs with cumin, salt, rosemary, and oregano. My house smells divine. After they're cooked I'll roll them in Parmesan, olive oil, salt and garlic salt and pop them back into the oven for a minute. I promise--I'll only eat one and save the other for tomorrow night. I love cold chicken!

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