Food Woolf Season Finale, 2014

foodwoolf season finaleEver noticed that the best shows on TV communicate a particular theme each season?

Shows like Homeland, the Killing, Mad Men, and other past greats like The Wire or The Sopranos tell complicated stories with dramatic themes like: you can never go home, you can’t deny your true nature, or the past will always catch up with you. 

If the writers have done their job well, the theme of the show is reflected in the main and secondary storylines all the way through until the televised narrative comes to a dramatic end.

I’d say that if my life was a series, this season has been full of wonderful narrative twists and turns—some expected and others completely unanticipated.  The season in my life and on has been about big changes that began with small actions and events.

By aligning my personal and professional goals with my internal compass I saw how the incremental turns could lead to entirely new vistas.

The theme of 2014: Actively live in the paradoxes.

The paradoxes:

  • Give in order to get

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable

  • Go slow to move faster

  • Get small to go big

Whenever I made leaning into a paradox a priority throughout my days in 2014 I saw extraordinary things happen. When I actively chose to do the opposite of easy—picking up the phone when I wanted to not call back, sending a generous email to a stranger rather than ignoring their request—I found success, generosity, abundance, and work that I have always wanted. Continue reading “Food Woolf Season Finale, 2014”

A Remembrance of Tomato Chutney

The Chutney Maker. Oil pastel by Brooke Burton
The Chutney Maker. Oil pastel by Brooke Burton

“If we don’t cook all of this down soon, it will go bad,” my mother says.

She points to the case of juicy summer tomatoes sweating in the heat on the kitchen counter. She drops a sack of onions on a thick wood cutting board. My mother pulls a chair up to the counter and hands me a heavy cleaver. I am to be my mother’s summer prep cook. I am nine.

My uniform for work is simple. I’m dressed in a one-piece bathing suit and wear swimming goggles pulled so tight over my face, the skin underneath puckers from the suction.

I am not skilled with a knife, but my will push my small hands to go faster. Beads of humidity, tears, and sweat pool at the bottom of my mask as I struggle to chop white rings of pungent onions into tiny slivers. We sing our favorite songs from Godspell.

I watch my mother chop onions into tall mounds. Her face is wet with tears and her long, wavy hair drips with sweat. I marvel at her strength. I feel the smallness of my hands on the big knife.

When we are done chopping, my mother stirs the piles of our hard work into a pot. She adds the liquid guts of the tomatoes, bags of brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, crushed cardamom, mustard seeds, and freshly chopped coriander.

The pot on the electric stove pushes rings of heat and spice into the air that are so heavy, my heart bangs against my chest like a bird trying to escape its cage.

We stand together, though, stirring our precious chutney with a long wooden spoon. The chutney is not yet chutney. It still has hours to go until it becomes the tawny stuff we heap on chicken. Fresh from the pot the reddish mash tastes of bright summer, the spice of fall, and something green and unfamiliar. 

When the kitchen gets too hot, we charge outside for mouthfuls of fresh air.  Exhausted, I crawl to the living room and fall asleep. Down low on the green shag rug, I dream of tomato chutney and the sweet juice soaking through light clouds of basmati rice.


My mother recommends following the Tomato Chutney recipe from Recipes: The Cooking From India for this dish. This British cookbook was first published in 1969 and is full of easy to follow and delicious recipes and can be found used on many websites for under $5.

Writing a Restaurant Consultant Workbook

Sorry it’s been a little quiet around here lately. There’s a good reason, though. I’m almost done with my first draft of my e-book on how to become a restaurant consultant! Hooray!

I’m working hard to detail the steps I took to building my business as a successful restaurant consultant. I want my book to serve as a resource for anyone who wants to start their own consulting practice, creative business in the food industry, or be a private chef.

I’m eager to publish because I want to help as many people possible to find the answers to questions about starting their own business as a restaurant consultant or private chef.

Continue reading “Writing a Restaurant Consultant Workbook”

Service 101: Selling Happy

I am a consultant to restaurants and businesses who want to have a strong service program. I write training manuals, I build operational systems that support strong performance, hire and train great teams, and coach people on how to engage guests (and increase sales).

But most importantly, I’m in the business of teaching people the how and why of selling happy.

Plenty of restaurants have figured out the process of making great tasting cakes, a sandwich, latte, or fried egg. But what many restaurant owners forget to spend time on is how they deliver their products to their guests.

Here’s the thing, businesses that thrive in today’s connection economy need to do more than just deliver high-quality products that people need or want.  Successful businesses with a dedicated fan base are ones that go out of their way to delight their customers. Continue reading “Service 101: Selling Happy”

Service 101: The Problem with Folklore

Back in high school I became fascinated with folklore. I marveled at the hand-me-down stories and morality tales that were whispered between teenagers. There were many versions of the same tale. There was the one about the couple at make-out point who find a hook on the side of their car. The tarantula stowed away in a crate of bananas. The sad end of a child star, as a result of a deadly mixture of pop rocks and Coca Cola. Though the details of each story may have been interchangeable—they were murdered! They escaped! They ate the spider! The spider laid thousands of eggs!—the story left the audience feeling in a similar way. Uncomfortable.

Folklore may be a good way to deliver a moral idea, but it is an incredibly ineffective way to share an organization’s plan for service.

Continue reading “Service 101: The Problem with Folklore”


I follow a twenty-something woman with a messy ponytail and rock tee-shirt into the air-conditioned coffee shop.

A tall Latino man in a Coffee Bean baseball cap waits for her behind the register.

“Good morning,” he says with a smile. “How may I help you?”

Her face is expressionless as she keeps her eyes down. She scans the multitude of apps on the screen of her sherbet colored iPhone.

“Iced blended,” she says. A double-click with her agile thumb launches an app.

“What size would you like,” he asks.

“Regular,” she says, annoyed. Her mouth is angry. “Put some whipped cream on top.”

The tall register man leans closer. What did she say? Continue reading “Iced”

Service 101: 10 Things Restaurants Can Do to Improve Service

Restaurants are built on two major principles: serve great food and give great service. Problem is, many restaurant owners fail to take the time to chart out what specifically they want their service to look and feel like or invest the funds to create a solid service program.

When things start to go off track, sales slump, and Yelp reviews get increasingly worse, that’s often when people at the top begin to wonder what they need to do. When things are going wrong with a business, many hope they can find a quick fix to a bigger operational problem.

It doesn’t matter if you are about to open a restaurant or have been up and running for years, asking for help from a hospitality consultant like can definitely speed up the process and make a positive impact on your bottom line (just ask my clients!). But beyond a shot in the arm from an inspiring workshop or coaching session, restaurant owners and managers need to take a long-term commitment to working hard on daily maintenance of hospitality principles with their staff. Continue reading “Service 101: 10 Things Restaurants Can Do to Improve Service”

Soft Boiled Eggs, a Remembrance

food memory

It is morning in Los Angeles. Not yet 9 am, and I have claimed a corner high-top table at Republique, my new favorite restaurant by my friend, Walter Manske. I turn on the computer and prepare myself for a morning of writing. I have notes, a pot of coffee, and soon, the breakfast I ordered.

Moments later, a runner places a wood board before me. On it is a freshly baked baguette with a trio of white porcelain dishes: one holds soft butter; a pot of handmade strawberry jam; and another, two soft-boiled eggs.

The yolks are orange as sunset and hide behind translucent whites cooked so slowly they appear to be made of custard. I pull a coin-sized bite from the baguette. I marvel as the crust explodes into tawny shards.

I dip the soft interior of the bread into the egg yolk and take a bite. Suddenly, sensory memories flood my consciousness. I am transported to an early morning in Angers, France several decades ago. Continue reading “Soft Boiled Eggs, a Remembrance”

Service 101: Being the Unseen

Big Traveling Potluck dining table

It’s dinner hour at The Big Traveling Potluck. I head straight for the kitchen.  Three of the ladies behind The Potluck—Erika, Pam, and Sharon—garnish the succulent smoked lamb and pull the vegetable skewers out of the oven.

Tina, a strong Finnish woman and host of the night’s events, hands me two spoons and a silver tray piled high with lamb and lollipops of vegetables.  “Let’s go,” she says. 

It was almost a year ago when I first volunteered my hospitality services to The Big Potluck founders, Maggy, Erika, and Pam. I wanted to apply my hospitality skills and restaurant experience so I could help to relieve them of the organizational pressures of the event and they could be free to do what they do best. Continue reading “Service 101: Being the Unseen”

Service 101: How Do I Become a Restaurant Consultant?

Ever since I wrote the essay “How I got into Restaurant Consulting,” I’ve gotten lots of emails from men and women who are considering restaurant consulting as a potential career. Though the people vary in age and approach, they all ask the same big question: What do I need to know in order to become a successful restaurant consultant?

I wish I had a simple one-line answer, but I don’t. There are no easy answers or shortcuts for building a meaningful career as a freelancer.

how do I become a restaurant consultant

Continue reading “Service 101: How Do I Become a Restaurant Consultant?”

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. Continue reading “Mint Matcha Latte”

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 “Service 101: The Rise of the Service Jedi”

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 “Restaurant Unstoppable”

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 “Service 101: Shame and Self Loathing in the Restaurant Industry”

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 “The Cup of Life”

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 ( and Stephanie Stiavetti (, 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 “Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese”

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: How to Get a Restaurant Job on Craigslist”

Service 101: The Language of Service


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 “Service 101: The Language of Service”

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 “Mint and Basil Pesto with Avocado Oil Recipe”