Mint Matcha Latte

Mint matcha latteLife as a restaurant consultant requires a deep well of faith along with a big dose of hustle. I’m always been prepared for hard work and have to accept the natural periods of rest that come between jobs.

Rather than fret and worry about downtime, I remind myself that taking time to recuperate and to recharge my batteries is a job requirement. I’m so wired for GO! I can sometimes forget the importance of a nap, the inspiration that can come from a dinner at a new restaurant or a book that’s read cover to cover, or even a movie. Because, as a friend likes to remind me, “you can’t transmit what you haven’t got.”

So whenever I have time between consulting jobs, I take what’s given to me as an opportunity to get inspired. This week I’ve been spending more time in my kitchen, taken a fair amount of cat naps, and had the pleasure of reading two great books (Brene Brown’s Daring GreatlyIt’s a must if you want to live a wholehearted life—and Don Frick’s biography of Robert Greenleaf, the man who birthed the idea of servant leadership).

One beverage that’s fired up my culinary creativity is a mint matcha latte. I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to perfect a latte that’s balanced with the grassy flavors of green tea, herbaceous mint, and the sweetness of whole milk.

I was first introduced to a mint matcha latte at Andante, a new café located around the corner from where I live. I got inspired by the baristas use of a house made matcha syrup they squeezed from a squeeze bottle (I offer my own recipe below) and blend it with mint tea and steamed organic milk.

Like any culinary project, it took a while to dial in the process. But the process of discovery was a delicious one! I hope my recipe’s steps and ratios helps you achieve the tasty result I’m currently enjoying at home.  I use fresh mint to infuse the drink with its mint flavor, but you could definitely use mint tea bags if you can’t get a hold of fresh mint.

Enjoy!

Mint and Matcha Latte

Makes two 12 oz drinks

Equipment:
1 milk frother (I use the Aerolatte) or small whisk
1 Bodum teapot (or medium sized ceramic bowl)

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons matcha powder*
4-5 mint stalks (30-40 mint leaves)
16 ounces of organic milk
10 ounces boiling water
1-2 tablespoon of agave syrup (or stevia)

Bring filtered water just to a boil on the stove. Pour 2 oz water into the vessel you will be making your lattes in—I suggest using a a Bodum tea pot because it helps eliminate lots of mess.

Once the vessel is warm, dump out the water.  Add the mint leaves to the tea pot’s plastic filter or directly into the mixing bowl. Pour the remaining 8 ounces of water over the mint leaves. Let the mint steep in the water for a few minutes. The longer you let the mint steep the more minty the latte will be.

Meanwhile add 16 ounces of milk to a small saucepan. Heat the milk over a medium-high flame, being careful to watch the milk. Take the milk off the heat when you start to see tiny bubbles start to form at the edge of the saucepan. Do NOT let the milk boil over!

Mint Matcha collageRemove the mint leaves from the hot water (or just remove the plastic filter holding the mint leaves from the Bodum). Add the matcha powder or matcha syrup* to the mint water and mix thoroughly using a frother.  Please note, if you do not have a frother or a small matcha whisk you will need to start with the matcha powder and add the mint water slowly. Make sure there are no lumps!

Steeping the mint leaves in the warm milk can extract more mint flavor
Steeping the mint leaves in the warm milk can extract more mint flavor

Now you are ready to add the warm milk. If using a Bodum, you can return the plastic tea filter filled with mint leaves to the teapot and pour the warm milk through it to extract even more mint flavor, being sure to remove the filter before frothing. Otherwise, just add the milk to the mint tea water.

Froth the mixture. Taste. Add sweetener. Froth again.

Serve into warmed mugs.

Matcha Syrup

To simplify the process even more, I suggest making a matcha syrup. You will need a squeeze bottle for dispensing the matcha.

Measure out the amount of matcha you would like to have for the week (for example 12 teaspoons—6 days worth for two people). Carefully spoon the matcha powder into a bowl. Slowly add just enough water to the powder to make a liquid—you want a syrup consistency that will go through a squeeze bottle—not watery! Whisk the water and matcha mixture until there are no lumps.

Once you have your matcha syrup to the constancy you want you may want to add sweetener—a couple of tablespoons is more than enough—be careful to not go too overboard especially if you don’t want super sweet drinks!

I suggest you cover and refrigerate the matcha syrup in its squeeze bottle if you are going to use this syrup for several days.

*I found matcha powder at my local Asian market at a much less expensive price than at my local health food supermarket.

 

Service 101: The Rise of the Service Jedi

Hospitality ninja
Service Jedi Illustration by Brooke Burton

Lots of people pursue careers in restaurants, hotels, medicine, and politics. Most in these service industries see their work as great a way to make a living. But rare are the individuals who perceive their job—as a server, hotel receptionist, technician, doctor, chef, bell hop, county worker, or clerk—as a calling.

In a microcosm of service workers, there is a faction of workers who go out of their way to give generously of themselves to others as a way to make the world a better place—one simple act at a time. These unique folk practice a rare art form of hospitality when they employ the humble ideals of compassion, empathy, and humility in the workplace.

I like to call this radical group, the Service Jedi.

Like the peace-making warriors of the Star Wars cannon, The Service Jedi are a band of unique individuals who study, serve, and use an unseen force of goodness to help those in need. They approach service as a calling, not just a career.  The Service Jedi are modest heroes whose metier is to uplift others, rather than themselves.

The Service Jedi are outliers in the for-profit world of Big Businesses. They are a scarce and powerful folk who practice a rare art form of service that is admired by many, but accomplished by few. The Service Jedi have the power to transform people and experiences.

The Service Jedi may begin their journey alone, but naturally seek out others like themselves for alliances and understanding. Within the ranks of The Service Jedi, all are students. Few are masters.  Despite galactic differences between industries, Service Jedi can identify each other’s talents and appreciate their similarities. Through connection, The Service Jedi increase their power as they step away from isolation and share their hard-earned knowledge and emotional intelligence. Continue reading

Restaurant Unstoppable

valentines day restaurant tableFinding good resources for inspiration or direct support within the food and beverage industry can be difficult. There are websites and food publications like Saveur, Lucky Peach, and Bon Appetit that may have helpful ideas you can use. Restaurant books, chef memoirs, and exposés on the service industry can give perspective and ideas. Reality television shows like Restaurant Impossible, Top Chef, and Kitchen Nightmares can entertain and teach by example.

But it is face-to-face conversations with restaurant professionals that many in the food and beverage business lack the most. Thanks to the restaurant industry’s long hours, pace of business, and fierce competition restaurant leaders can easily get isolated from each other. Many restaurant pros rarely see fellow comrades, unless they run into each other at the same late night noodle shop or bar. And even then, we are frequently too exhausted to share quality resources or ideas.

Restaurant Unstoppable: The Pod Cast

Last week I was approached by Eric Cacciatore, creator of Restaurant Unstoppable, to be a guest on his weekly podcast. Restaurant Unstoppable is a weekly radio show that features industry professionals’ insights and tips on what it takes to succeed in the food and beverage industry.  I had to admit I hadn’t heard of Eric’s show, but I was intrigued by his enthusiasm and dedication to growing an online resource for restaurant professionals.

Restaurant Unstoppable is a place where restaurant people can share insights and ideas that can be accessed at any time of the day. Bravo! I like what Eric is trying to do, so I agreed to be interviewed. Who doesn’t want to be part of building something cool?

Eric sent me a rather detailed questionnaire before our interview. His questions about what it’s like being a hospitality consultant got me thinking about simple solutions I could share with people in the restaurant business.

Here are a few hiring tips I shared:

  • Smile when you interview applicants.  If the applicant is unable to smile, don’t hire them if they are applying for a front of the house position.
  • Have open interviews once a month, even if you don’t need people. It lets your current staff know how important doing great work is and it keeps you open to finding extraordinary people.
  • Pay great people more. When you find great people, pay them a little bit more than average if you can afford it. Even $.50 more an hour can go a long way in making a difference in the choices of barista or counter person. Paying more encourage great people not to go elsewhere.
  • Feed your team. Once you get a great team, make sure they’re fed. Offering a great staff meal can go a long way in making your food workers happy and perform well.

Continue reading

Service 101: Shame and Self Loathing in the Restaurant Industry

Service is an honorable profession
Service is an honorable profession

We live in a time where chefs are celebrated like rock stars and restaurants make great TV.  But no matter how popular chefs have become, the people who wait tables, deliver food, and clear dishes exist outside the realm of cool. Service staff occupy a space that’s filled with shame.

Discrimination against service staff is so hardwired in individuals, even journalists are unaware of their bias. The media may do a good job of elevating the status of chefs in the eyes of the dining public but many do much to continue the stereotype of a servile service staff.

Flip through a newspaper or magazine or peruse an online media site and you will find that the largest percentage of stories about waiters focus on unfavorable service styles or controversial tipping practices. Hospitality leaders like Danny Meyer may be cited in profiles about elevated service but the media does little to raise the public opinion of servers, bussers, and runners alike. Rare are the laudatory profiles of service professionals that deliver in the dining room. It seems that in popular culture, there’s no honor in making a living as a server, busser, runner, or barista.

In my professional experience, service professionals who identify themselves as career waiters or full time bussers are regarded by friends, family, customers, and the business community with pity and dishonor. Shame motivates many full time waiters and service staff to hide details of their restaurant work from friends, family, or acquaintances. Service work is—if referred to at all—is spoken about as a way to “pay the bills” until they get “a real job”.

Continue reading

The Cup of Life

cup of lifeEarly in my twenties I designed a tattoo to be placed onto the soft spot of skin near my ankle. The tattoo artist placed a thimble-sized chalice, made of curving blue lines that overflowed with abundance.  I named it “The Cup of Life”. It was to be a pictogram of who I was–a life-force so strong it bubbled over the top.

Over time, the meaning of the tattoo morphed to fit my changing personality. During my dating years, I joked with suitors that my tattoo was proof that I was the Grail; a treasure worth pursuing.

During my years as a successful mixologist, the tattoo was evidence of my commitment to the fine art of creating and enjoying cocktails. Later when I began studying wine–the history, varietals, characteristics, regions, flavor profiles, and wine makers–I thought the tattoo proved my enthusiasm for wine.

Then, three years ago, I gave up drinking all together.

Once I took away the daily act of wine tasting and removed boozy cocktail making from my skill-set, my tattoo trademark seemed inaccurate. During the summer months I tucked my ankle behind my leg to hide my insignia. Who I was and what I stood for was uncertain. I was undergoing an overhaul.

Continue reading

Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese

cauliflower gratinJust about everybody loves macaroni and cheese. Kids and adults. Vegetarians and meat lovers. Even gluten free folks and carb-loaders alike crave the instant comfort of the satisfying combination of cheese and pasta.

Though most people may enjoy the indulgence of a ooey-goey macaroni and cheese, not everyone seeks to become a modern day expert on the subject of marrying dairy and pasta. Few go out of their way to become fluent in the way of whey; cow, goat, and sheeps’ milk, and dried pasta.

Thanks to the journalistic skills and writing talent of Garrett McCord (VanillaGarlic.com) and Stephanie Stiavetti (TheCulinaryLife.com), the work of understanding the art and mechanics of making truly great macaroni and cheese dishes is served up for you to enjoy in their newest cookbook: Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese.

Garrett and Stephanie are great food writers who elevate macaroni and cheese to a whole new level. They lavish their readers with entertaining stories and important insights on cheese and pasta. Melt, The Art of Macaroni and Cheese is a cookbook filled with well-crafted recipes that are a pleasure to cook with year-round.

Beautifully photographed and elegantly styled by the epically talented duo of Matt Armendariz, photographer, and food-stylist Adam Pearson, this book is as educational as it is visually stunning. Melt is a perfect holiday gift for the difficult to buy-for food lover: the book is filled with unexpected gems of information (like a comprehensive guide of artisanal cheeses and a primer on the fundamentals of pairing specialty cheeses with pasta), witty headnotes, and fascinating research. The book oozes with inspiring food photos and over 75 original recipes.

While some single-genre cookbooks might veer too far into the lane of kitch, Melt, The Art of Macaroni and Cheese navigates an enjoyable path for the home cook who seeks to create satisfying gourmet comfort food.

Organized in stylized chapters, Melt is an incredibly versatile cookbook that gives readers different ways to approach cheese and pasta: creamy stovetop macs, hearty casseroles, refreshing salads, and surprising sweets.

Continue reading

Service 101: How to Get a Restaurant Job on Craigslist

how to get a restaurant jobWant to find a great job in the restaurant industry? If you want to get hired, the best thing you can do is to be impeccable and pay attention to every step in the process. It doesn’t matter if restaurant work is your life-long passion or a way to pay the bills. How you approach your job search will directly impact the chances of you finding and keeping a great job.

The first step in finding the best restaurant job is to slow down and pay attention to the process. Take a little time to understand what kind of job you really want to get.

Remember: it’s better to send out four great cover letters and four great resumes than blanketing craigslist with a slew of resumes via your smart phone.

  1. Figure out what kind of job you really want.  Before you send out a single resume, get clarity on what kind of job you really want. Are you seeking a full time job as a bartender at a fine dining restaurant or a part time counter job as a barista? Do you want to make the transition from server to manager?
  2. Don’t send a resume to job posting that you don’t really want. Sending resumes for a position you aren’t really interested in is a waste of time for you and for the people looking to hire you.  Don’t let financial stress or fear motivate you to send resumes for a job you wouldn’t enjoy doing.  Only apply for jobs you would actually want to go to every day. Continue reading

Service 101: The Language of Service

IMG_0536

Most businesses don’t have the time or money to teach their staff what true hospitality is. Instead of investing in teaching compassion and genuine hospitality, most restaurants and retailers invest their time and money in teaching their teams how to recite a finely-tuned script for making friendly and efficient sales.

Rare are the shop keepers and restaurant employees who craft their language to suit the buying needs of their particular customer. Instead, it’s “what can I get for you” or “are you ready to order?” Rather than take the time to share stories of how customers were won over or made regulars through a few key exchanges, businesses focus on encouraging number of sales per hour, check averages, and a high score on a secret shopper report.

The problem is, the more we focus on speeding things up, the more we lose an important part of building business: connection.

Continue reading

Mint and Basil Pesto with Avocado Oil Recipe

Mint and basil pesto with avocado oilWonderful, unexpected things can come into your life and change you in an instant. An intoxicating scent. A random act of kindness from a stranger. A new ingredient.

Lately, I feel as if I’ve had a front row seat to a show of lovely and surprising moments. Unpredicted things reveal themselves to me and demonstrate in delightful ways that life lived with an open heart and open eyes can turn out to be truly extraordinary.

One such incident of unexpected treasures came in the form of a bottle of Bella Vado avocado oil.  The oil’s flavor is unmistakably derived from ripe avocados and has the ability to uplift the taste of a salad, an omelet, or even a handmade pesto. Ever since I started using it has changed the way I approach making lots of my every day meals. I never expected I’d find a flavor revolution in such a small bottle.

I discovered this unexpected treasure earlier this year at the first annual Big Traveling Potluck. I received two bottles –  avocado oil and an avocado oil with jalapeno — in our event swag bag. I had never seen avocado oil before — it’s no wonder, Bella Vado is the first avocado oil maker in the US — so I had no idea what to expect.

Continue reading

Service 101: How I Became a Restaurant Consultant

When you open a new restaurant in Los AngelesI recently received an email from a business student who wanted to know how most restaurant consultants get into the industry. Though I may not have the official statistics on restaurant consulting at my finger tips, I do know my own story. I’m happy to share my perspective on the business of restaurant consulting with you.

How do restaurant consultants get into the industry? 

For me, I started young. I was a teenager when I got my first restaurant job. I worked in the 110 degree kitchen making milkshakes at a fried seafood shack. My intention getting into restaurants at that time was to make some spending money. I never imagined the food and beverage industry would be where I would make my profession.

I became a waitress and bartender in my twenties. I enjoyed taking care of people and found comfort in the camaraderie I felt with my co-workers.  I knew I had a unique talent for service and my entrepreneurial spirit helped kept me rolling in the tip money.

From Part time to Full Time

I went from dabbling in restaurants to taking things a lot more seriously when I started managing restaurants in my 30′s.

The more I poured myself into my job, the more I discovered that the work I did in restaurants fulfilled me in a way that writing never could. I enjoyed building a community, being of service to others, and getting passionate about the products we sold. I saw how leading others not only helped transform their lives, but also mine.

It was also around this time that I began to see that restaurant work was an honorable profession. It was a job I was learning to enjoy from the inside out.

Then, after six years of thriving as a restaurant General Manager, I went to work for Nancy Silverton, Joe Bastianch, and Mario Batali as part of the service team of Pizzeria Mozza and later, Osteria Mozza. It was there I honed and developed a service vocabulary and systems.  I became a trusted leader in the dining room — in sales and in happy, return guests. Then, after more than four years of putting my service theories to the test through personal research and development, I felt ready to begin my work as a Service Consultant.

Continue reading

A Recipe for Buttered Coffee

bulletproof butter coffeeI spend a lot of time around caffeinated beverages now, thanks to my new job working for a Los Angeles-based organic coffee company. I have plenty of choices at arms reach: a brew of the day, a latte, or a perfect shot of espresso. Hand-made coffee gives me more than enough energy to get me through a long day.

The other day I overheard the owner/coffee buyer discussing his daily ritual of buttered coffee. “One cup of the stuff,” the owner said, “and I’ve got enough energy for the morning, I don’t have to eat until lunch time.”

I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Butter Coffee?”

Buttered Coffee?

I can’t say that putting a pat of butter in my coffee sounds all that appealing. But when a coffee professional suggests buttered coffee as a great source of sustainable energy and a cognitive enhancing beverage, I couldn’t help but get interested.

I had to try butter coffee for myself.

Buttered coffee may not be something I’ve ever heard of before, but Tibetans have been adding yak butter to their coffee for centuries. Thanks to people like Dave Asprey, a health conscious evangelist and author of The Bulletproof Exec, the beverage has become popular with people looking to maximize their energetic potential.

And the recipe for buttered coffee couldn’t be any simpler.  No need for gourmet shop ingredients and fancy techniques. All you need is a frother or a blender, coffee, and a high quality butter.

Taste Test: No Oil Slick. Just Frothy Goodness

Once the buttered melted a bit, I submerged my milk frother into the coffee. I was surprised at how quickly a thick foam formed at the top. The taste?  With just one tablespoon of a butter, my coffee had a velvety and silky mouthfeel that wasn’t a bit oily. I found that adding a tablespoon of coconut oil and agave made my beverage even more delicious and decadent.

Use Great Ingredients

If you’re going to make a buttered coffee, I suggest using the salt free Kerrygold butter. I’m in love with the stuff. I’ve been this way ever since I was awarded with a year’s supply of Kerrygold’s butter and cheese. I got lucky when my name was pulled from a hat at this year’s Big Traveling Potluck raffle! I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the high quality and nutritious butter from happy, grass fed cows from Ireland.

coffee frother for buttered coffee

Buttered Coffee

1 heaping tablespoon of Kerrygold Butter
2 cups of coffee
Optional: 1 tablespoon of agave
and/or 1 tablespoon of coconut oil*

Heat the container you are going to froth your coffee and butter in with hot boiling water. Dump the water.

Put the coffee and the butter into a hot mug or hot blender. Wait 10-15 seconds for the butter to butter melt. If adding sweetener, add it before blending the beverage. Froth the coffee (either with a hand held frother or a blender). Serve immediately.

*When you add the coconut oil and butter to your coffee, it’s called a Bulletproof Coffee

Service 101: Beyond Profit, How to Open a Juice bar

cranberry date juice blend

If you’ve even played around with the idea of opening a juice bar, you’re not alone. Lots of people–about one in ten new restaurant owners today–want to invest time and money into turning fruits and vegetables into liquid gold. I work as a restaurant consultant in the city of Los Angeles and in a few city blocks there are at least one or two juice bars and there are more on their way. Fresh juice bars are a $5 billion dollar business that’s projected to grow from 4% to 8% a year.

So why is a fresh juice bar such a popular idea? Well, if you think running a juice bar is easy, think again. There is no such thing as easy in the business of food.

Search the internet for suggestions of how to start your own juice bar, and you’ll find advice that suggests that location is the most important thing to figure out first. After that, they say, come up with a business plan, and then come up with a concept.

As someone who has worked in the restaurant industry for over two decades, I humbly suggest you consider something else first: is running a juice bar something you want to do for the next five years?

Freshly pressed juices are the newest food fad. Lots of people want to get in on a business that promotes a healthy, on-the-go lifestyle for health conscious people who want to take care of their bodies in a fast and efficient way.

Juice, my friends, is the new cupcake. Continue reading

Angry Neighbors

small neighborhood

A funny thing happens when you bring a little food business to a small community: while most of the population celebrates their new food options, others–a small, warlike bunch–see the new eatery as a threat to their entire way of life.

While most may celebrate the proximity to a new pizza joint, being a stone’s throw from a great gourmet food shop, or have short walk to a charming café, a fringe group will always emerge within the community. Quick to anger and fast to threaten, these are the people within a locale who dedicate hours a day to gather proof that the new business will destroy their peaceful way of life.

First World Problems/Old World Problems

Throughout history there have always been Angry Neighbors. Early agrarian humans beat their hairy chests in anger when Cro-Magnon man built their first cave. British royalty set cannons afire when caravans (the Medieval equivalent of a food truck) got too close to their castle. Certain villagers in 1600‘s Salem Massachusetts were hung or imprisoned when they let their animals graze too close to their neighbors’ property.

I’ve opened more than a dozen restaurants during my career in the food industry, so it shouldn’t come as such a surprise by the back lash. Every new shop earns its own brand of negative feedback. One shop gets a city planner who doesn’t like the style of coffee being served. Another, the irate woman with a clip board filled with signatures that demands the end of the scent of pizza baking. Perhaps it’s the irate man who spits with rage over the infringement of so-called property rights whenever a stranger parks a car on “their” street.

Whenever I see an Angry Neighbor snap a picture of a my employees (a quiet father of four, a bright-eyed student looking to pay her bills so she can go to school) park their car legally on a quiet street for proof of something detrimental, or listen to a Concerned Citizen’s voice-mail threatening to sue me for smell of bread baking, I can’t hold back the astonishment.

I suppose it’s the nature of the furious rants that shock me.

How bad can handmade food be for a neighborhood?

Is street parking more important than sustenance?

Where is the compassion for our fellows?

I understand that change is hard for some people. But what is lost if we open our neighborhoods up to people who want to serve the community? Surely there are better causes than attacking a small business that’s dedicated to making something beautiful and nourishing for a neighborhood.

We live in a broken and hurting world. Why make the world a more painful place over street parking? Is fighting for an empty street really a worthy battle?

Service 101: Why Good Customer Service Is Hard To Find

Time = Money
Time = Money

Want to know why great customer service is hard to find? Because it requires an investment of time, money, and planning.

We’re fast to complain about the shortcomings of businesses who fail to give great service — just read Yelp and you’ll see all sorts of disappointments in the area of customer service — but are we actually willing do something about it?

We all may hope a culture of appreciation and helpfulness was built into every business exchange, but desire doesn’t make it so. Money and intention do.

So if you want great customer service, you need to start investing in it.

Investing in Hospitality

Kindness and generosity of spirit may be inherent for some, but natural empathy and kindness is a trait that requires cultivation in most people.

The average Jane and Joe don’t spend their days thinking up ways to relate to another person’s pain. The hourly worker isn’t empowered to dedicate time to creatively problem solve a solution that will make a stranger feel better about themselves and the product they just purchased. In truth, most consumers and employers want fast and efficient help that comes at a low price. They expect nicety and warmth will be offered to them gratis.

The sad truth is, we live in a world where we expect altruism and compassion but we don’t cultivate these traits in our institutions. Schools don’t require Mindfulness and Compassion 101. The workplace isn’t where you take classes on empathy. Our government doesn’t require our public servants to be trained in radical hospitality. I mean, who can afford such frivolities!?

And yet, how is it we expect people to be giving and kind to one another in our daily exchanges, if we don’t invest time in speaking about such things?

If you want to grow employees or people who treat others with warmth and compassion, we have to take the time to teach such traits.

And guess what, folks. Time = money.

business exchange
Invest in hospitality

Time = Money

We can wish all day long that kindness and compassion were inherent traits that were  taught in homes and in the business world, but–on average–they aren’t.

As a people, we would rather spend money on software training, speed, and efficiency than traits like big-heartedness and unselfishness. Check out the job postings on most company websites and you are not going to find empathy and benevolence listed under job requirements.

To get great customer service we have to build meaning into our work and begin growing gentleness and hospitality within us.

A Call to Action

Businesses: If your business collects complaints about customer service or you own or work at a restaurant that’s plagued with flaming Yelp reviews, I suggest you think about investing more time into building a culture of hospitality. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest you seek outside help (there are great books and people like me who specialize in teaching such things).

Consumers: If you find yourself consistently disappointed with the service you get at restaurants, banks, retail stores, and daily business exchanges–I have a revolutionary suggestion for you: start investing time and money into supporting the businesses that treat you well and learning how to be kinder to yourself and others.

If you want to be treated well or have employees treat customers with kindness and respect–we have to be willing to invest in it. How will you start investing?

The Big Traveling Potluck, A Revolutionary Gathering

audience

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised 2.0*

A poem inspired by The Big Traveling Potluck. *Adapted from Gill Scott-Heron’s original 1970’s spoken word poem

You will not be able to stay home and read about it from your laptop, brother and sister.
You will not be able to plug in, Face Time, or zone out on page views and rankings.
You will not be able to lose yourself on Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram;
Skip out for a hand-crafted cocktail during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by KitchenAid
Or shown on the Food Network without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you glossy, inkjet pictures of
Melissa Lanz, Matt Armendariz, or Helen Jane
blowing a bugle or leading a charge in Temecula
to find a personal mission statement, be kind to yourself, or
embrace your blog as your power name.

The revolution will not podcast a web-isode of
Maggy Keet, Erika Pineda, and Pam Anderson
being generous and kind.
Gaby Dalkin and Lori Lange won’t be there to
tell you to mash avocados into Guacamole or
bake snickerdoodle blondie bars three different ways.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the California Avocado Board
or Harry and David, Whole Foods, Redwood Hill Farms, Sabra, or Kerrygold
and will not star Ree Drummond
or Mary Sue Milliken.

table at Big Potluck

The revolution will not make your cupcakes look more sexy.
The revolution will not offer you that font for free.
The revolution will not make you more relevant.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner,
because the revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of your favorite blogging characters
in mustaches and shiny hats showing you how to have faith in yourself
or a Power Point slideshow that will give you the steps it takes to be fearless and successful in online publishing.
The revolution will not be televised.

reedrummond

The Real Housewives, Bon Appetit, and Top Chef
will no longer be so damned relevant,
And making friends with so-in-so in order to get invited to “that thing”, will not be as important,
and people will not care if Food Gawker and Taste Spotting accepted that photo or not,
Because all kind of people will be more interested in talking about
how their work online can make a difference–
not just in their own lives but in friends’ and strangers’ day to day.
Trends will mark how people which people are forging a new trail
and the markers will be fearlessness,  self-lessness, and compassion.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on Facebook
and no pictures of macaroons, quinoa, gluten free flour mixes, and multi-course dinners on Instagram
The theme song will not be written by Justin Timberlake, scored by John Williams
nor sung by Adele, Elton John, or Jack White.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not start playing
after a short commercial about a new app, a new camera, or a new ceramic dish for your prop closet.
You will not have to subscribe to the meal plan,
or worry about natural light vs. artificial light,
or how to improve your brand image with a cute banner.
The revolution will not go better with Neuske’s bacon.
The revolution will not show you how to win the internet.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.

helenjane

The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.
The revolution will make you the pilot.
The revolution will put an apron on you and tell you to cook with heart, already.
The revolution will make you a digital publishing house of one (or many).

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.

The revolution will not be re-broadcast, Tivo’d, or saved on Hulu.
The revolution will be digitally published.
The revolution will be live.

Salted Dulce de Leche Latte

salted caramel latte at homeI have a dirty little secret: I have a thing for milky, sweet coffee drinks.

Look, I know the fondness for a spicy or sweet latte isn’t the worst sin a person could have, but it isn’t a transgression I want to indulge in all the time. Now that my job description includes working in with lovingly crafted artisanal coffees, my palate needs to be developed so I may experience the nuanced flavors, exciting aromas, and subtle textures of a well-made cup of coffee or espresso.

Coffee is like wine; the flavor of the beverage is the result of climate, growing technique, varietal, location, and how the fruit is harvested. The process of getting a bean ready for consumption requires such an incredibly long process and delicate labor, it seems wrong to cover up its natural flavors.

Ask any coffee expert and they’ll tell you that a truly great coffee — like a beautiful glass of wine — should be enjoyed in its most natural state. A mindful drinker can experience aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel that can only be encountered if the beverage is treated with respect.

Additives assault a coffee and rob it of its inherent and natural flavors. Overly hot milk, whipped cream, packages of refined sugar, spice dustings, sprinkles of cocoa, Splenda, or flavored syrups do nothing to heed the delicate nature of a coffee bean. All that extra stuff disses the fruit.

All that being said, I really do enjoy a hand-crafted, flavored latte. Forget mass produced syrups, artificially enhanced nondairy creamers, or flavored powders. If I’m going to attempt to make a flavor cocktail with my caffeinated beverages, I use high quality ingredients.

Salted Caramel Latte (Dulce de Leche con Sal)

What makes this decadent salted caramel latte so good is the balance of espresso with the sweetness of the caramelized milk and the highlight of Maldon sea salt. This isn’t the lowest calorie beverage, but it’s a cheat-day worthy treat!

2 Tablespoons of Dulce de Leche*
1 cup of whole milk.
1 shot of espresso
1 pinch of Maldon Sea Salt

Begin to heat the milk in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the dulce de leche. Stir often, making sure not to let the milk scald. The milk is ready when it begins to thicken and micro bubbles begin to appear on the side of the pan. Add half the pinch of maldon to the milk. Stir and remove from the heat.

warm milk

Pull your espresso shot. Add your shot to a warm, appropriately-sized coffee cup. Add the milk. finish the drink off with the smallest 1/4 of a pinch of pulverized Maldon sea salt.

Serve immediately.

*Dulce De Leche is an ingredient you may buy from a store or make from scratch at home. For a 100 % from scratch recipe, I suggest Alton Brown’s 3-hour step by step guide. Or if you want to make dulce de leche from  sweetened condensed milk, David Lebovitz has some suggestions.

TC’s Big Yes

Tom "TC" Cheever. Photo Credit from Jennifer Hancock Ferguson
Tom “TC” Cheever. Photo Credit from Jennifer Hancock Ferguson

There’s no easy recipe for dealing with pancreatic cancer.

In a space where I rely on certain structures of form, images, and ideas, I can’t find a formula to talk about profound grief. I can’t make the connections between a recipe, a photo, and words of sorrow. How does a culinary writer approach the topic of death and not reference about food? Is it appropriate to talk about loss and an easy-to-make pizza?

Ever since I found out pancreatic cancer took my friend Tom “TC” Cheever in January I’ve struggled to find a way to express my grief.

Just 43 years old, my friend was a well-respected improvisational comedian, sketch comedy writer, the father of three beautiful kids, a loving partner, and friend to all who knew him. No one expected pancreatic cancer could overtake the bright light that was TC. I certainly didn’t. He was a big, hearty guy with a laugh that could wring the awkwardness from any moment.

TC embodied improvisational comedy’s most important rule: say yes to everything. He leapt into improvised scenes with a big smile and his arms outstretched like a catcher ready for anything. I swear, he made every scene he was in better.

But now that TC’s gone, I’m left with an unexpected void and an uneasy silence.

The inelegant return

There is no dish that pairs well with pancreatic cancer. No well-lit photo of a plate of food to distract myself from the sadness. No pithy story that ties up the ends of a beautiful life cut short by fate in tasteful bows.

I can not turn to a traditional post to find my way through this. Instead, I celebrate my friend’s life through memories and story telling with friends. I fill up the space with love and service–getting into action is always the best way to move through pain and fear–but it’s a slow, incremental process to mend the fissure.

“I have nothing to complain about in my life,” TC said in a speech he wrote for his memorial. “And neither should you.”

It’s true. There’s nothing to complain about. I am alive. I have words to play with. Meals to make with friends. Time left to show up and –if I can muster it– be of service to everyone I meet.

TC taught me to say YES to everything–even the hard stuff. Say yes to the sadness. Say yes to the discomfort. Say yes to healing. Yes to the possibility of what the next yes will bring.

Yes.

 

Work Small to Go Big

dear company X
To Whom It May Concern

Got an email yesterday from an internet promotional firm, Company X* today. The first line hit me like a shot of fear, pulled straight from the freezer.  “A website is only as good as the kind of traffic it has,” the email read.  The only measurement of my writing, the email’s author suggested, was in the number of visitors who come to my site. The email wasn’t done there. If I really cared about the perceived value of my blog I would invest in Company X’s services to boost my organic page ranking on Google. I would email right away to sign up for specialized SEO improvements and program for other B2B thingamabobs.

Rather than write a vengeful response, I hit delete. It was the kindest thing to do for everyone involved. Because there’s no point in getting upset, angry, or hurtful.  This little blog isn’t trying to compete with Corporate America or The Number One Website in America. What that salesman was selling doesn’t apply here. My writing is quiet industry, not big business.

Now I’ll be honest with you. I hear plenty that sometimes makes me wonder about this stance. There are plenty of sources that are quick to remind me that if I don’t stay ahead of SEO/Marketing/or traffic rate monitoring I’m already too far behind to catch up. But I know in the center of my being that the only way for me to truly succeed is to think differently.

Being an entrepreneur or blogger today doesn’t mean following the same rules as big business. We gotta work small to go big.

Outside of Industrialist Thinking

Seth Godin — an entrepreneur, marketing guru, and best-selling author of over a dozen books — proposes that successful entrepreneurs of today need to avoid the industrialist mindset and be creative in our approach to business.  Unlike the olden days of success measured by the millions, the entrepreneur of today can’t expect to win over the entire world. The modern businesswoman must figure out how to deeply impact a thoughtful few.

If we create something special that can inspire or profoundly move just ten people, Godin suggests, those individuals gush to a handful of friends about the great thing they just found. Those friends will tell ten people, and if you move that group too, you’ll watch as your work creates a fully vested, heart and soul marketing campaign for your unusual website/brand/product. By working small and thoughtfully, you can grow big from the bottom up. Momentum builds.

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Freelance with Faith

comarades in arms

Living the life of an entrepreneur is exciting and rewarding. Especially when it isn’t harrowing and daunting. Being a consultant, an artist, or a specialist for hire means you have to be uniquely talented, work hard, and be patient for the next right job to come in. Never having a set schedule is a benefit, but freelancing requires a strong belief in one’s self and trust that you’ll get through difficult stretches between jobs. In short, we gotta have a lot of faith.

Faith as a business model?

Yes, operating from an intuitive place isn’t a concept that works for everyone. It’s an idea that can make most people’s skin crawl, especially those who rely on market trends, data, and poll results. But for people like me who work from the gut, intuition as a business model is something that requires practice and a lot of vulnerability. For every gutsy move or courageous jump, there are plenty of uncertain moments that cause white-knuckle indecision and fear.

Being isolated and working in a way that’s opposite of how most mainstream business people operate can make for some truly uncomfortable moments. That’s where having like-minded friends comes in.

We need others who share the same business challenges and have a similar mindset to run big ideas by. When we’re feeling crazy, fearful, and generally uncertain of ourselves, it can really help to have like-minded people who know what you’re going through to share their insights, advice, and good will. When the going gets rough, it’s good to know there’s someone else out there who knows exactly what we’re going through.

One of my freelance cheerleaders is Vivien Kooper, an LA-based ghost writer who makes a living helping ordinary and extraordinary people tell their life stories in book form. My friend is funny, smart, and shares a common language for the big, esoteric ideas.

What I value most about Vivien’s friendship is how common her un-common language is to me. Her language of faith, fear, and a willingness to surrender over to a higher power is part of her daily language. “I’m just staying in faith that I’ll be taken care of,” Vivian said to me after a particularly lean couple of weeks. It was exactly what I needed to hear. “I just know that the right job is going to come in when it’s supposed to.” Faithful words like that comfort me and offer a sense of relief.  She reminds me it’s okay to believe that one of my job requirements is to surrender to the unknown.

That’s certainly not the kind of feedback I get from every business contact I make. Continue reading

Service 101: The Friendly Incompetent, A Business Archetype

Who is the weakest link in your business?
Who is the weakest link in your business?

Regardless of what business you’re in, every line of work has its share of archetypes. You may make your living in a dining room, in the middle of a retail showroom, under stage lights, or in the center of cubicles. Where doesn’t matter. Just like a movie with predictable characters, we all encounter common personality types in the workplace.

Heroes vs Foes

Boilerplate people we want on our team are types like the fearless leader, the go-getter, the quiet workhorse, the inspirational force, and the problem solver. But no matter how great your workplace is, there always seems to be a few pernicious characters. You know the bunch. They’re the complainer, the drama queen, the liar, or even the Friendly Incompetent.

Business Archetype: The Friendly Incompetent

I recently witnessed the most astounding version of the Friendly Incompetent, a negative business archetype, at a bookstore in Pasadena.The book shop employee was a tall, good looking guy with a nice smile. I noticed him right away as he said hello to customers as they walked into the store. Just as I was taking mental note of his good service instincts, however, I began to notice a pattern of neglect. Every time he’d say hello to a new customer, he’d turn his back on them just moments after they crossed the threshold.

He would ignore needing glances and check his iPhone or push a stack of books from one side of the counter to another, like a child pushing blocks for no reason. When an inquisitive book-buyer made her way to the front desk, the tall smiling guy exited the counter in order to adjust a coffee cup display just before she could reach him. Seconds later, I watched as another co-worker noticed the neglected customer and  jumped to her aid with a great sense of urgency.

Later, the Friendly Incompetent complained loudly about the colors of the bookstore’s carpets and how disappointed he was in the state of the book-selling business. When customers asked for information about a particular item, he pointed them to a faraway shelf, rather than walk the person to the stack of books himself.

After just one hour of observing this man, I calculated he not only lost the business several hundred dollars in lost sales opportunities, he also reduced efficiency in his co-workers. In addition, he created such an uncomfortable setting of bad customer service, I had to leave.

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