What I learned from two great chefs and great bosses

Everything I do for organization myself and what I teach my clients is based on one very simple principle: Make it easier! Any structure that is complicated and cumbersome is not going work. It has to be simple, easy to follow, and yield tangible results. As I’ve worked to simplify things in my life I’ve always had two voices in my head from my days as a chef.

I started my fine dining career at Il Capriccio in Waltham. (Still a great restaurant. Get there if you are local and haven’t been.) Rich Baron is the chef and co-owner. He’s a great guy and a talented chef. I started there on garde manger (salads and apps) when I was on externship from culinary school. He wanted me to stay. I wanted to go back and finish school. We struck a wonderful compromise that I would stay for a year. I owe him a lot for that opportunity, for his seeing something in me, and for many other things. Anyway, when I moved from garde manger to the “hot line” when I decide to stay for the year, Richie pulled me aside before my first night on the grill and and said, “Kid, we get good ingredients. Don’t fuck them up.” 

As glib as that advice/guidance may seem, it gets to the heart of why I devoted my culinary career to authentic Italian food. All the technique in the world can’t compensate for inadequate raw materials. And, when your starting point is great raw materials, you don’t have to work so hard to make them shine.

The other voice in my head is that of Adam Halberg, the Chef d’ Cuisine at Via Matter when I was a cook then Sous Chef there. Again, I owe him a lot. He, Richie, and Carmel Quagliata were my three most important influences as a young chef. (I’ll write about Carmen on another day.) I’m very lucky to have been a sous chef under Adam. He wasn’t just concerned in helping me move forward in terms of my ability with the food. He really focused on teaching me how to manage people. What I learned from him has helped me be a better chef, parent, coach, etc. 

But the thing that is cogent to this post is what he said to me once when he was reflecting on the difference between Italian food and French food. “If a dish ins’t right, an French chef will ask, ‘what can I add to make this better?’ In the same situation and Italian chef will ask, ‘what can I take out to make this dish better?'” (Of course this is a bit of an overgeneralization, but there is a lot of truth in it.) Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been drawn to Italian food. 

But that certainly is a sentiment that I hold to be true in the rest of my life. If something isn’t right or a system isn’t working for me, I always ask, “How can I make this easier?” It totally works!

Standard disclaimer: I don’t edit much if at all. This is a deal I have made with myself. It keeps me from being frozen in the metaphorical carbonite of perfectionism or falling into the “Sarlacc” of avoidance behavior. A new post done is always better than a perfect post undone.

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