Sunday, November 25, 2012

Meandery Day Off...

Gorgeous day in the East Bay and I am contemplating my Sunday in all it's stretched out glory. Kids are puttering on their laptops nearby, Dererk is as well. We are comfortably set for the day as we went foraging yesterday in one of those long slow decadent crawls for the small pleasures in life. Derek and I took Sam and Sara to the Monterey Market in Berkeley (I know it is confusing since there is a Moneterey California, but it is the street name in Berkeley).

We were starving when we got there so we stopped in at Gioia's Pizza. This tiny hole in the wall is packed with people all the time but the pizza is truly delicious, and the line goes quickly. Sara and Sam stopped in at the little cheese shop down the way and grabbed a Chai Latte and a hot coco. Gioia's usually has 6-7 specialty pies to choose from. We got (collectively) slices of spinach and pepperflake, a butternut squash, a "Julian", a mushroom and a sausage. They were so good we got back in line for additional slices.

The Monterey Market is one of those places that could probably only happen in Berkeley; a sprawling, jam packed glorified produce market with every thing you can imagine that grows in the ground, on a tree, on a plant etc. The smell of citrus washes over you as you walk in, 20-30 different varieties (we stocked up on key limes for key lime pies), plus melons and seasonal items like persimmons.

We were fascinated by this bright green cauliflower that looked like a Thai dancer's hat. I think it would probably make a really cool pickle for the charcuterie plate around the holidays, like tiny Christmas trees. I may go back next weekend to grab some for that purpose (really any excuse to hit Gioia's again is a good one IMO)

They also had at least 20 different varieties of mushrooms. Sammy (the cutie in the picture is my 12 year old son Sam) is holding a Japanese mushroom called Shimeji. We grabbed some large oyster mushrooms (I am making dirty rice with dinner that I am going to throw the mushrooms in... either that or pasta for lunch). We also grabbed some Scotch Bonnet peppers for jerk chicken.

On our way home we stopped at Cream on Telegraph. There was a line out the door for the delicious (I am assuming house made) ice creams and vegan cookies. All four of us got ice creams and cookies for less than $10.00 (the slices of pie were $3.00 or $3.50). Rasputin Records is across the street and Sam wandered over and got a few of the free records... actually a box, a really heavy box that I then had to carry back to the car.

We sat on the ledge by Rasputin and ate our ice creams while Sammy rifled through the records and were... accosted(?) by a very drunk homeless man who sang us a song about his "wife and his girlfriend" and then introduced himself and asked for our names. When he tried to get Sara to take her glasses off, I finally shooed him away. It is not an unusual occurance in Berkeley, especially in that part of town, but I still feel sad when I see people so down on their luck.

Derek and I hit Compass Star for dinner with friends at the Wine Bar, which was a fantastic time. I have been so busy I have hardly had time for my friends, and I am sorely missing them. So this weekend was a blissful combination of cooking, getting projects done around the house, cooking and munching on Thanksgiving leftovers and seeing friends and loved ones.

I will be going into work very early tomorrow to start getting a handle on inventory and various projects I would like to get done (I need to make headcheese and duck liver pate), plus make stock (Turkey) and soup for the week (Split pea and andouille). We were so busy last week I am not even sure what I am out of and that was a cause for chaos late in the week (Wed was truly awful for Wendy and I).

I feel pretty good about the slow steady increase in business and all of the good feed back we have been getting, I am feeling slightly behind on curing pastrami etc, but I know one solid week of catching up will make me feel a lot better. I also feel a little weird that I have not called my Turkey to go dinner clients to check up on their meals... It felt like pure chaos on Wed trying to get everything out the door and I feel like this should be getting more streamlined and less chaotic. My biggest problem with the increase in business, is there is less of me to go around and more for me to do. I was hitting a pretty critical burn out so I was coasting a little bit, trying to fine tune a few new menu items but not doing a lot of new stuff. I know Sean must be feeling a little abandoned as I have been conserving my resources.

Partially it is stress about the business side of the Cafe. I hired a new accountant and I am hoping this will start to clear away some of the clutter. I have been getting mysterious bills from the EDD (Emplooyment Development Dept). They are mysterious because I hired a payroll company right away and they should have been paying these taxes and filing my D9s, but either they have not, or there is a disconnect between the LLC and the original paperwork I filled out pre-LLC. I have called the EDD multiple times and they keep directing me to their web site to do things electronically, but it has not worked thus far. I will have to try calling again on Monday. I've also emailed my payroll company to see if they have indeed filed this paperwork, but have not yet gotten a response.

So there ya go, the good side and the bad side of doing what you love!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

One Year... wow...

We celebrated our one year anniversary last Thursday, November 15.

It seems like time has gone by so fast. So many things have happened and so many thing are different from my vision or expectation. Some things have been amazing and some have been very difficult. Most of the surprises have been pleasant, remarkably so. My favorite surprise has been how fantastic our customers are.  From our first customer, Kevin, who bought lunch for his entire staff for six week after we opened to help us get started... to Kathleen who comes in most mornings for her fat free latte, who started paying extra for her latte when she knew we were going to raise the price (in two weeks) because she didn't want us losing money. To all of the people who are willing to be first in line to try some crazy new thing (wine bar? prickly pear soup? Spanish teaching dinner?) that pops up in the creative hive mind of the Compass Star.

The downside is losing Stein to burn out and the ongoing struggle to make ends meet.

I feel more and more like I am part of the community, but still too small to really be caught up in small town politics. The past year has been crazy. My 6 year relationship with Brion ended. I went through a very crazy few post-break-up months where I fell in love with someone I shouldn't have, explored the rock star side of being a chef, made adjustments to my life, my menu, my restaurant, found love with a younger man (he is 31). Encouraged my BFF to open a wine bar in the evening hours, made adjustments necessary to sharing my kitchen (with mixed but cheerful success).

I feel like I get more comfortable in my place every day. I sing in my kitchen. I love the people I work with. Janet and Wendy are amazing women and I truly enjoy my time with them. Sean is passionate and inspired and I see him struggling with the things I struggled with in my earlier days and my heart goes out to him. Donna Mae and Mary are awesome. Ramiro saves my sanity every week. I love my workplace.

It also feels strange to see new businesses come in and not be the baby on the block any more. Barrel Aged opened a block away and is the new newest place in town. I remember when Jimmy and Creek Monkey were the new place in town. I especially love how much we all like, encourage, inspire and support one another. I love how much the local people encourage and inspire us in turn. I knew the odds were against me, the economy was against me, money was going to be super tight... I think anyone who tries to open a business in this economy must be a little crazy, and every time I hear of some small business failing I sweat a little. But I feel like we are doing ok. I feel really excited about the year to come.

I hope this blog will encourage and inspire others who might be dreaming of opening their own restaurant. I hope it will scare you, and serve to educate anyone who thinks this is easy. I hope it will prepare some for the stressful reality. But not discourage. I am here and still standing. I love what I do.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Almost One Year!!!!

I can't believe we've been open almost one year! The first year of owning a restaurant is legendarily difficult; the vast majority of restaurants don't make it one year... even really good ones like Cuba Linda. I know there are things I need to deal with... like the accountant we hired that we never heard from again (we need to get a new one). And paying sales tax for last year (I am paying penalties now because it is two months late). And renewing my liquor license on the 31st (pricey). And a million things like that....

BUT... we've been loved and embraced by the local community, to a level I would have never hoped or imagined possible. Martinez is an amazing town. My kind of town. I feel like we've gotten into a great rhythm with our landlord and developed amazing relationships with local compatriots like Jim Blair from Creek Monkey and Ashley and Irash from Barrel Aged. I don't think I could love what I do more. My mornings with Janet and days with Wendy are full of fun and happy chatter. My collaboration with Sean is enriching and exciting. I am getting into a good grove with my wholesale clients. All of the extra business (wholesale, catering etc) is what will eventually make it so I can bring home a paycheck. And it continues to grow in a sustainable way.

I feel like I am growing more mature in my role as La Patrona. Advice to people thinking about opening up their own restaurant? Don't expect to make money the first year, even if you are busy, even if your product is priced well, even if you have cheap rent. You are building your business. If you can't be ok not making money for a year, don't get started. That is the primary reason most restaurants fails. We are busy, rent is cheap, my overhead is low... I am still not bringing home a paycheck (but I will be soon ). I will pay off my few friends/family who loaned me money soon I hope as well. 

We will do something special for the week of our one year anniversary but honestly, I just feel so good about making it this far. I know there will be many many challenges going forward, but this is a great mental milestone. I am constantly amazing by how different the reality is from what my original expectation was... but in so many ways it is so much more rewarding and amazing than I expected it to be. It is a lot like having a child... I think you don't really understand how much you will fall in love until you see the reality vs "in theory". All of the complicated little pieces. I wonder what the year ahead has in store for us? I feel like my wings get stronger as time goes on and I find my comfort zone and build confidence that I can DO this.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A day in the life

A rare day at home today! I've been busy with all of the changes and catering and everything else that passes through a working single mom's life. But now I am sitting on the couch using my ancient iPhone (a 3G!) to update the blog.

I cant believe it's been almost a year! November 15 will mark one year officially open. I have web writing a lot about the emotional side of starting a small business. Tonight I am feeling mellow and wanted to post a few pictures from
the day to day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Life and all it's various nuances...

I am sitting at my desk, a rare free evening. My cat, Lilu, has been going through a phase where she wants to be a mommy (I think) and keeps dragging baby squirrels into the house. One dissapeared under my desk a week ago... suddenly sitting at my desk also involves smelling dead squirrel. It is not as easy as one might think to write about food while smelling dead squirrel. In fact, it is hard to sit here at all.. and yet I persevere...

Anyway, so two weeks has passed since Chef Stein, my beloved ex-sous-chef, left the restaurant. It is strange in many ways (like when I notice how low I am on some food product and realize I am the only one keeping track of such things now, so I better get on it!). But in general it mostly feel just... quiet. I am not sure I realized how stressed he really was about being there, but the air is suddenly deflated... calm and placid. He came by with his lovely bride today and (YIPPEE!!) had fixed my immersion circulator and Alicia made me this really awesome pig chalk board. I am going to use it to post the Charcuterie Specials.

Last Sunday I spent the day at my shop, singing and dancing around the kitchen playing with Creek Monkey's Octoberfest Bratwurst. It is bound and cased and now I get to sous vide cook it (which is always better) this week. I should have done a lot more while I was there, but one of my dearest friends came into town and I drove to Newark to meet her for dinner. There are some people that no matter how long it is between visits, it always feels like home when you are together.

The new employees are working out really well so far. (dear god, it really smells like a dead squirrel) Wendy is adorable and Ramiro is fantastic. I am dating someone young enough that we bumped into my daughter's English teacher at breakfast the other day and she thought he was my son (and then high fived me when I told her we were dating!). It feels so strange to be where I am now, compared to a year ago. A year ago we were getting ready to open the shop, no idea what to expect, making sausage and salumi... the path ahead a dark highway with indiscernible curves and hazards.

Since then so much has happened... the restaurant, my youngest baby, has taken on a personality of it's own,   often nothing like mine. So much of it's personality has Stein's imprint, and the colorful cast of characters that roam in and out of it's doors leave an indelible mark. (The squirrel smell is really gross)

I've met so many people who have taken an interest in our success, deep and important connections... commiserate spirits. It is such a unique experience, such a difficult journey. I still feel like I am free falling... the baby bird jumped from the nest, the wings are stretching, poised for flight. Please let me fly before I hit the ground! But I feel strong, I feel full of magic. I feel like the future is forming, dawn is breaking on the dark highway and I can see glimmers of the road ahead. (and that is all the dead squirrel smell I can take for one night)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Big Changes and Going with the Flow at the Compass Star

Has it really been that long since I last posted?

Big changes are coming for my little restaurant. I am losing Lindsey at the end of the week as she is going back to school (Cal Poly). She has been a treasure and I will miss her and hope she comes back to visit when she can. I've been interviewing for a counter person to replace her (Which is a whole blog all on it's own). 

But the strangest change is Stein is leaving. I remember reading Heat and chapter after chapter of Bill Buford's observation of Mario Batali's sous chef and his infinite unhappiness at one golden moment in time at Babbo. Stein got to that unhappy place, slowly over a long period of time. The ridiculously long wait to open when he was working for free. The discouraging realization that there is never enough money to fix the stuff that need fixing, buy the items we need to put out the quality of food to which we aspire, even pay for the minimum of stuff we need to comfortably operate. The stress and strain of the first year of a small restaurant opened on a shoe string. Being exhausted by the sheer overwhelming neediness of the venture, while still balancing the needs of his family. Dealing with the chaos of me... my focus and drive sometimes baffling in it's direction; frustrating in it's ability to tune out what it doesn't want to process. Chaos. Lack of control in a venture which he was deeply invested in. When I began to suspect he was not going to be happy ever again in our kitchen, we talked about possible solutions... there didn't seem to be a way to make things better and so... he quit.

There is no way to overstate how integral he was to the opening of this restaurant. I am still not sure how I am going to survive without him. In the last week, I see him try to impart wisdom, give advice... I am not sure if it's better to let my fears show? I just want him to be happy, in the end, about being free of the burden of this complex venture and the chaos and stress that seem to never abate. I feel relieved that I won't have to observe my dear friend in the depths of misery. We both feel relieved I think. I just want to make his last days here as pleasant as possible. I can never repay him for everything he has done to make my dreams come true.

We did have the going away dinner party last Friday at the Wine Bar. It was lovely but I missed having Alicia there and Jonathon and Leah. They are people who are important to Stein and I wish they could have marked the event with him (Alicia is stationed elsewhere right now and life conspired to make it difficult for Jonathon and Leah to be there).  I am grateful that I have an amazing new intern, Janet, to help with the process in the weeks ahead.

We found a counter person. Her name is Wendy and she is adorable. A young mother of two, she lives with her husband and mother in law in Martinez. She is a clothing designer as well ("They just don't make nice stuff for people who are plus size!"). She starts tomorrow.

Oddly, we've never been busier. It's been a strange catering year in that, typically things start to slow down after school starts, but we have been contacted almost every day about possible future events. I've been on 5 site/job walks in the past week. So my business is getting busier on all fronts, and I am losing my right hand man all at the same time. I know I can do this, I keep trying to find the sliver lining.

I suppose the silver lining is I can better target my payroll dollars towards the cleaning person we've desperately needed and the less expensive part timer for the counter help. Stein was really too well trained to do those jobs, and he can focus on getting a job where he can use his formidable skills, or starting his own BBQ rub company (which he is interested in doing). But I am really going to miss that guy and all that he brought to the organization.

I feel like it is the time to make some changes. I feel like I've been coasting... tired and overwhelmed... constantly trying to "catch up". But recently, I started dating someone who has to go to bed really early for work and so I've been going to bed earlier as a consequence. The extra sleep seems to be clearing some of the fog. I feel like we were originally planning for this low key sandwich shop but the reality is Martinez is full of foodies who are not afraid of hand made edibles. I am going to make the menu tighter, smaller and start upping the ante on some of the specials. I am feeling creative again.

I spent today (we were closed for the holiday) in the restaurant, just feeling the space. It feels so different with Sean and crew there in the evenings and the new cleaning guy. I also started reading again, books on food, magazines on food, looking at pictures...

Money, as always, is still very tight. I have been contacted about a large job in February, which would enable me to pay off everyone who helped me get started, which looms large in the back of my mind always. I am also hopeful money will be less of a worry when my payroll is smaller. It's always such a stretch to pay for everything. 

Anyway, I am pooped and tomorrow will come quickly, but I wanted to check in and mark some of the big changes that are coming or have happened :) Also posting a cute picture someone took of Derek and I shortly after the wine bar opened.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Busy Times...

It's been crazy at work! As many of you know I cater, have wholesale clients AND the restaurant. Well, everything has been busy all at once. Which is why I have not been blogging very much...

I catered every weekend for 6 weeks in a row. Lots of amazing parties, especially birthdays (which is unusual, usually big catering is strictly weddings). About half of my clients wanted "finger foods". I love the visuals on finger foods, but the definite downside is most people don't feel like they really ATE anything. So you are serving a very high labor item (lots of fiddling with little stuff for finger foods), and lots of it (people don't keep track when they are "nibbling") and then at the end of the day, everyone is wondering what time dinner begins anyway?

I may try to guide clients away from finger foods only events for a little while.

Wholesale business is great too. Two clients are doing some great high profile stuff with my products. I adore Pete, who is the owner of the Mr. Nice Sausage truck at the 11th Street Off the Grid location. Mr Nice is apparently some kind of 1970s pot reference (A very famous European pot seller/grower). Pete sells my Andouille, Chicken Apple Bourbon and Bratwurst on rolls. He also carries our Blackberry Berbere Organic Catsup.

My other higher volume wholesale client is Residual Sugar in Walnut Creek, who carries some of our cured meats and salumi. Fantastic place!

The other exciting development is the teaming up with Andrade Wine group to open the cafe in the evenings for a wine bar and small plates. It's been a lot of fun to play with the food and develop the menu.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

6 Months and Counting...

(or life and the state of me)

It's been the most insane experience of my life. So much more than I expected... deeper, richer... a rush like nothing else.

We continue to get busier and we continue to learn and grow. We raised our menu prices slightly and that has helped a lot to assuage my fears that we would be slammed busy and continue to barely break even. I still have yet to start paying off friends who gave me money to get started and this is really important to me.

We have so much going on now. Lots of catering and I am REALLY excited about my first teaching and wine pared dinner with Sommlier Sean (Andrade of Andrade Wine Group). He selected Spanish Wines to go with a five course tasting dinner in mid June. Getting to talk to people about food makes my little black chef heart so happy!

We started a Friday Happy hour on May 25th. Our customers wanted us to stay open late one night a week and we choose Friday because it was Lita's Bocce night.  The picture to the right was the Chiccetti (Venetian Finger Foods) from last Friday. Bacon Freak with Crostini, Chicken Apple Bourbon Sausage Hand Pie, Meatball Slider, Pancetta-Sage and Orange Crostini, Soft Boiled Egg with House Made Andouille, And Smoked Eggplant Caponata on Crostini. It was a holiday AND raining (so no bocce) and kind of slow, but so much fun!

It's been a crazy few months... I split from my long time significant other and I feel like being single, 42 years old and autonomous has been an lusty distraction. It is a strange rock-star life of Caligula-like proportions... cook all day and obsess about food, hang out in my kitchen with two fantastically talented chefs that I adore (Stein and Haley), chat with customers all day, then roll out still smelling like blood and cinnamon with my room mate Mary (Chef at Pizza Antica) to Creek Monkey to drink amazing beer and hang out with the fantastic crew there, watch Matt and Jim Brew, then collapse in bed, sated. Wash... Rinse... Repeat.

I went and hung out Monday in Port Costa at this ancient bar/restaurant called the Warehouse down by the water. It felt so good to just be in the sun with an amazing beer, a beautiful man, and low key down to earth  people. I watched the river flow by and felt the bay breeze on my face and tasted the marrow of life.

I feel like there is so much more I want to write. My life is insane and scary right now, but so amazingly fulfilling.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Adjustments and hitting my stride

The past few months have been such a rush. I want so much to give the unvarnished truth about what it has been like to do this crazy thing (open my own restaurant), but it is so difficult to express the highs and lows... which are dizzying extremes.

This past week felt like movement. It started with a fantastic Friday night out in Martinez where I met up with friends at Creek Monkey for a burger and beers. The owner's assistant (the totally adorable Valerie or "Val") said there was something special going on at Ray' Lounge, which is kind of a smallish dive bar around the corner from my place. We all ambled over to Ray's and Val's new room mate's indie SCA band was playing. It was really really cool. We had cute 20-something hipsters following us over and we all headed back to Creek Monkey for a final beer before I embarked on one of the worst Saturday hang overs I've ever had. I tried to talk a friend into bringing me Pho, but to no avail. I canceled all but my most non-cancelable appointments for the day and laid in bed, moaning and sleeping.

Saturday night I met up with friends in Berkeley for my dear friend Adina's birthday pizza at Zachary's Pizza on College. I had never had deep dish pizza and it was REALLY filling. The place was PACKED too. I tried to get back on the horse and have a couple of beers... then a super cute friend drove me home.

Sunday I hit breakfast with another good friend and then into the Farmer's Market for the goodies for the restaurant for the week. Spring produce is finally coming around and the sun was shining and I met up with someone I am casually seeing for a coffee and fantastic conversation. Then back home to for a day of wine tasting in Napa with my room mate, Mary Carlson, who is sous-chef at the Peasant and the Pear in Danville and her mom.  We hit Oxbow Market in Napa First.

 It was pretty touristy, in a cornflake Napa kind of way. I had to go check out the Fatted Calf, which is a Napa place making their own charcuterie. I wanted to hate the place, but there is just no way to not love it. The guys were unfalteringly kind and respectful to their customers, even when it was wall to wall bodies they were constantly making eye contact and apologizing for the wait.

A place like this could be total assholes to their customers (Like they are at Big Sur Bakery) and people would still be clamoring to buy their stuff. It was great to see how well my own products hold up against such great stuff and I felt even more committed to the culture of Yes we are trying to foster at TCS.

We also got coffee at Ritual, which was kind of funny. They had this little hot plate and wire frame they were making single cups of coffee on which ranged in price from $5.00 to $7.00. It took like 5 minutes to get this cup of coffee that was kind of so-so. I suspect I have grown super spoiled by the coffee we have at work. Weaver's Coffee kicks all kind of ass.

Our first winery was V Sattui. I regretted it right away. It is like Napa's version of a Disneyland ride. With long lines for everything and every part of the winery is also a gift shop with kitschy stuff. Usually I like the wines but this time the only one I liked was $45 a bottle.  

Much better was Savour in St Helena. This fantastic tasting room is also one of my clients, but there was room to breathe and comfy chairs to sit in and all of the wines we tried were fantastic. It is always a lot of fun to go hang out with Dejan or Meghan and have a sip or two (or seventeen) of wine.

The last place we had time to hit before everything shut down was Prager Port Works. This is one of those places that has been around forever (hence the money stuck all over the wells as you can see below) but manages to still have the port maker in the tasting room to talk to people and retains an intimate and local flavor. Also... the ports kick ass! We stayed for a little while after they closed to chat with the guys and generally have a great time.

Most of the wineries close around 4:30 so we headed back to First St in Napa to grab a bite to eat for dinner. We tried to hit Oenotrie, but it was slammed. Mary and I went to school with Anders Bergen, who is the sous chef at Oenotrie and it is a fantastic place to eat if you can get in.

 We ended up at Celadon. I'd been there before with my sous chef, Brian Stein and they had this fantastic pork belly with watermelon salad. We tried a bit of this and a bit of that. Anyway, fantastic day!

The week at work was crazy. I am madly in love with our intern, who just completed six weeks of her internship. We are keeping her on part time to help with some of the work load this summer. I wish I could afford to hire her full time, but we are just not there yet.

We've finally done the 4 month temperature check on the restaurant and decided to try to get more fiscally healthy by doing a more reality based menu price costing. We determined we needed to raise a few prices. When we are as busy as we are and not making money, there is something wrong and we need to fix it.

We also are rolling out a few new things. Sliced meats in the cold display. Staying open later on Fridays starting the end of May. We will also be open for a champagne brunch on Mother's Day (info coming soon).

I told one of my regulars I would be raising prices on some of the items she likes and she asked me how much more for her latte. When I answered $.50 more she just handed me the extra $.50 right then... lol I love our regulars.

This past Friday was insanely fun. Stein had been sick a lot last week and was finally feeling 100%. We had a slamming day with customers hanging out til well after we were closed (I think our last one left at 4:30) and drinking wine. I was really proud of the holiday dinners we sent out this time. I have been unhappy with the packaging of the past few and I think we did a much better job of making the food as pretty as it (hopefully) tastes. Lots and lots of foodies in for the Charcuterie board. I especially had fun with one of our regulars named Greg, who is usually only in for lunch when he is working. He had Friday off and could sit and have a glass of wine and really enjoy the afternoon. It was a lot of fun to chat about my work background and why I do what I do and just generally geek out. It was a weird combination of me being able to chat with people and still being insanely busy. Usually it's one or the other, but Stein and I are really starting to hit our stride (WHEW!).

I also went into Residual Sugar this week to deliver a large order of our meats for their new lunch service. I ended up chatting with the owner Jim and had a fantastic conversation about salumi. He and his wife want to learn how to make salumi and I am going to try and carve out some time to spread the faith. They have a wine aging cave at their new house and I would suspect they could easily do curing for home use in that environment.

OH and I am teaming up with Sean Adrade of Andrade Wine Group for a Spanish teaching dinner! I am SO excited to be in the thick of this creative primordial ooze of the babyhood of my restaurant.

I have also been invited to Australia next year for 8 days to teach a class on breaking down a pig and making salumi. This seems freakishly exciting to me!!!!

Anyway, so there it is. My life as a (sort of) Rock StarTM Chef! Also the Best of Diablo Magazine 2012 closes on April 8th (hint hint) if anyone wants to check that out and vote... you know... for thier favorite restaurant (insert evil grin here)!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The baby is four months old!

We opened the Compass Star on Nov 15 and so in just a couple of days the baby will be four months old!

It's been such an amazing four months. I am still not getting paid and money is a constant struggle, but we are managing to pay our other bills, which is pretty good for a first year restaurant. I have an extern now, her name is Haley and we simply love her. She is finishing her last requisites for the Cordon Bleu school in Sacramento.

We spent Sunday at my house breaking down a 240 pound pig that was organically raised for my friend Ajax. It was a GORGEOUS pig, very thick and lustrous fat, great color and texture. I feel so good about the education Haley is getting at the CS from Stein and I. Remedial knowledge of butchery is a great skill to have in any high end kitchen and salumi is very trendy right now with few restaurants are doing it. She is already a bad-ass, but when she leaves our care, she is going to be even more so!

I am still madly in love with Martinez and enjoying the foodie scene downtown. I spent Monday Night at Creek Monkey hanging out with Jim Blair and his new brew master Matt getting a lesson in beer making. It was (of course) ridiculously interesting especially how amazingly delicious all the parts of the beer making process are. The mash was like oatmeal made out of Grape Nuts and the wort was.... SO yummy, I could drink that like tea. I can think of 20 things I could make with these tertiary ingredients that would be amazing. I really love the brew pub, the bar tenders (I think Valerie is my favorite) are great and lots of good beers on tap. The beer they are currently making will be served at the April 21st Craft Brew Festival and we are planning to make a fresh sausage that incorporates that beer and serve it at the festival as well. It seems unbelievable to me that it is almost April.

I feel a lot of kinship with Jim, we both opened our first restaurants right around the same time and have been both horrified, brutalized, inspired, exhausted and delighted by the process.

It's strange, we've been so well received (we have a five star rating on Yelp... sure it's only like 10 reviews, but lol, still!) but I seem to obsess about the failures. Unhappy customers make me lose sleep. It doesn't happen a lot, but when it does... it's awful. One of our regulars came in specifically for the bangers and mash special and we'd sold out by one pm. We made easily twice what we normally would have for a Friday special, but people have been waiting for us to showcase some of our fresh sausages and they came in droves. She came in, we were sold out and she was so upset! I hate that kind of thing, but I have to let it go and try not to fixate.  (also, note to self... make some frickin sausages for your retail customers... they want them!)

Stein was saying the other day, we can have someone come in a ton and then suddenly disappear. It can be because they are on a trial that ends, but it's hard not to wonder if we did something wrong. I want so much for people to be excited and happy about their experience.

We are also getting ready to reprice our menu. The price of brisket has gone up, in addition to just being a lot more realistic about costs now that we've been open for four months (YAY!). I've been doing the menu price costing so Stein and I can meet and chat about exactly how we want that to go, then I will have to change all the signage and menus and give fair warning to our customers of the changes.

I adore my regulars, funny food snobs for the most part (and as Alan says, "Good food, plus I like your tight jeans!"). I feel so at home there. I will be teaching a sausage making class soon at the shop for some of my regulars. They are small game hunters and want to make some Duck or Goose pepperoni (which sounds fabulous!).

I am also officially single, which is a little strange. It is so stressful to dissolve a 6 year relationship on top of opening a restaurant, but I think I am working through it all and I feel like I am getting to the other side. I go back and forth between being terrified and being euphoric. It feels right that Spring is coming. I went to the Farmer's Market on Sunday and my favorite small family farm had beautiful hand picked asparagus and so many treasures. I stood there smelling the produce and thinking that if Spring had a smell, it would be like produce fresh from the soil.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Crazy Day

Monday is a big prep day for Stein and I. We start each week fresh and so our sauces an other staple items must be rebuilt from scratch. I usually start the weekly special in the early morning and Stein will often get soups going when he comes in later in the morning. Today I didn't get enough product to do more than a days worth of the special (lasagna),so tomorrow I will need to come in early and get all that done.

So today we were happily meadering about our morning getting things prepped (A very quiet morning too!) and then people started coming in and asking for lunch stuff around 10:30am (lunch doesn't usally start until 11:00 am). Stein always asks me, "Is everything ready in the front for lunch?" I said, "yes"... it felt like famous last words.

Then we got slammed. I'd made double my normal amount of pastrami for a Monday and three times as much corned beef. We sold out of both by 1:30pm. We sold out of quiche. We sold all but one serving of the lasagna. It was so busy. I heard rumor that they'd done an auction for forclosed homes at the court house.

It was a fun foodie day, but I felt like I couldn't spend time with the new foodies that came in. I did get to do some charcuterie stuff with patrons but not much. Ahhhh well I hope people had good experiences.

I had a wonderful relaxing weekend at the River wrapped lovingly around some of my most beloved and cherished friends in a place that is full of magic for me. I know I am not as focused right now as I could be on work. I know the recent break-up of my 6+ year relationship along with the brutal schedule of being a new restaurant owner is taking it toll on me mentally. It is one reason I am really grateful for Steain, who is a rock in the midst of my chaos, and Haley (our extern). It is so important to us to really arm her with some specialized skills that will make her a bad-ass in any kitchen she is a part of. She is already a hard worker and great to work with. Charcuterie is a hot trend in our industry and when she is done with her internship, she will know more about it than almost anyone she will work with. I feel really good about that.

As much as my heart is at the River, if I can get a weekend of work at home in I will feel like I am carving some clarity out of Chaos. I need to sit with Stein and reprice our menu, and then I need to redo all of our signage and also our web page. Plus I despeately need to go thru the list of checks the acountant sent me and label what they were all for. If I can get some quaity time with my kids, that would be really awesome as well. Clarity from Chaos. It must happen.

One of my favorite wholesale customers is trying to get his sausage truck on Off the Grid in the City. So I will be giving him some samples of my Andouille, Chicken Apple and Bratwurst, plus the Berber Blackberrry Organic Katsup for the oganizers to try. It would be pretty cool to be a part of something both high profile and cool like Off the Grid. I am looking forward to showing Haley how to make fresh sausages and how to use the sous vide set up to get them cooked to the perfect temperature.

Life is motoring right along. It feels so different and strange now. Like the road ahead of me is wide open and the horizon is an endless unknown. But I don't feel afraid. I feel wanderlust; I want to see where the road goes. I feel like it's MY road. Life is truly a gift... so rich and amazingly beautiful.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Three months...

This week's specials:

Duck Cassoulet with side salad

Soup tomorrow: Kale and Sausage in a rich garlic beef stock

Soup TBD... not sure yet but I picked up some butternut squash today

Today was Monday. I spent the weekend out at the River (the Stockton Delta) with some of my oldest and dearest friends... It felt good to get some down time! I spent all day Saturday prepping some box lunches for one of my favorite clients. He is the bank manager for next door (he and his staff are so nice we switched our merchant bank) and the event was a Napa wine excursion for this club (something like the Young Overachievers of America... I would presume he is the president of this club?). We did 115 box lunches (they were awesome, I hope everyone liked them). So I busted my ass Saturday from about 7am to 4pm (The power went out! It was such a pain) then ran home to grab my daughter and stopped for groceries before making the so achingly familiar trek to my childhood stomping grounds.

There is no way to talk about the magic that happens at the cafe without sounding full of hubris... It was easy to blog when I desperately needed to vent about the many difficulties and travails getting the shop opened. Maybe I am a glass half full kind of girl, but even though I am still not taking home a paycheck, I feel over-the-moon ecstatic about how well we have been received by this beautiful town we've fallen into. People come in every day and engage Stein and I in conversations about the cafe, the meats, what we are doing... they treat us like a special treasure (even when I am sporting dishwashing gloves and a cleaning rag in my hand).

Yesterday three distinguished elderly ladies happened by the shop, they each bought a beignet and french press coffee and snuggled in the corner table in the thin morning light. We've had some trouble getting the beignet to cook right recently, so I always ask people how they are right away. The quieter of the three sipped her coffee and stopped suddenly and stared at me intently. She asked how long we'd been open and then said the coffee was the best she'd ever had. I told her about our coffee roaster (John Weaver) and a bit about the coffee. Then that lead into the meats and all of the hand made food. She solemnly nodded and they spoke in hushed tones. So simple... just beignet and coffee, but they were so complimentary and encouraging!

And I am so excited to be welcoming  my first apprentice, Haley, to the Compass Star. She is finishing her culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu and is interested in making salumi. She will be coming by the shop tomorrow and I will take a picture of us together for the blog. I plan to work her through the full progression from basic to complicated: cured meat, smoked meat, fresh sausages, fresh smoked sausages, pate, dry cured meat, dry cured sausages, and emulsified sausage. I am relieved to have a focus for the next six weeks for making some sausages! We've been so busy it has been hard to squeeze in the time to keep up on our supplies.

Anyway, so things are motoring along. I love my vocation so very much.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A day of rest...

Today is Saturday. I met up with Stein and his lovely bride at the Restaurant Depot for some weekend shopping for the cafe, then we hit Aunt Mary's in Oakland for a noonish breakfast. It is odd... everything was really good, but not really to my personal taste. The portions were really big! Above is a Eggs Benidicto, which was a corn based cake with an egg, (really good) mole, guacamole and pico di gallo.

It feels strange to have down time... a guilty pleasure. I should be working! I spent some time designing the labels for selling sliced salumi in the cold display. We have so many customers ask for salumi by the pound so we got some nice vacuum seal bags and new labels and we are going to roll out some sliced salmi for sale next week. I also trolled the Internet and picked up some aluminum individual sized pie pans for future pot pies and quiches.

It's been a strange few weeks. My long term (6+ years) relationship ended (amicably). The foodies continue to embrace the restaurant more than we could have possibly imagined and Stein and I slip into an ever more regular and comfortable routine. It feels strange to be single. I've dropped a bit of weight and it is nice to feel sexy, in control of my life and thriving in my vocation. I feel like the next year is going to bring about changes that I cannot begin to fathom as I sit here in a sunny corner of my house. I feel excited and energized about the future.

Money is still a constant issue, but it feels like there could be some progress and things are getting better and better.

Foodie Fridays are developing as we'd hoped with our regulars coming in for extended lunch time schmoozing. It is my favorite day of the week!

Tomorrow I will go to the restaurant in the morning to prep for next weeks specials and fill a catering order. I will probably head over there around 8am. We got a delivery of organic beets that were too small for chips last week so we pickled the golden ones and will serve them next week with duck confit, arugula and some soft goats milk feta. The other special will be apple bourbon sausages with beet greens (we chopped them off the organic beets) and I am not sure what starch we will serve with that? I am hoping to done prepping by noon to get the catering stuff delivered and get home in time for the super bowl and to prep the food for the Culinary Symposium here at the house.

Very Cool!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Amazing week at work...

This week was an amazing food week for us. We made porchetta (pork belly stuffed with rosemary and garlic, braised in red wine) and Kabocha squah polenta. I felt like we managed our food product really well (the pork bellies had been in cure for Residual Sugar just in case they needed a second round of potted pig) and we are getting the produce thing under control.

We were approachd by Catalan family farms (organic, Merced) for produce delivery to the restaurant. I ordered a case of romaine (Which we run out of ALL the time), onions, celery, beets and I think red onions. The produce was gorgeous! But the caseo of romaine was HUGE, like 4 times what we would use in a week. The beets were too small for making chips, but they were some of the most gorgeous beets I've ever seen. So we par boiled them and put the golden beets in the Italian pickle brine. Weare going to serve it next week with the duck confit we just made and some kind of decadent locally made soft goats cheese. I hope people will go for the beets; they are so beautiful and delicious. I am not sure what we are going to do with the red beets? Borscht?

I think our customers are starting to trust us to make good food but I am not sure they are going to for Borscht! LOL

I am in love with my restaurant. I am in love with Martinez.

Foodie Friday has really started to catch on. We get a late crowd that is mostly dine-in and likes to linger and talk. I get to chat up everyone and even my shyer sous chef gets out and mingles with people. This week my "Boyfriend" (foodie extroinaire) came in on Friday as well and really enjoyed the Pumpkin Beer Brat soup and the special. There was a group of three in the restaurant that (all three) ordered the Charcuterie plate (which is very unusual). I figured they must have read about us in the paper and came specifically for the meats, but it turned out they just happenstanced in and like charcuterie and were pleasantly surprised that we made our own on site. They sent me an awesome video via email this morning of a friend making Slovak sausage (what we would think of as Keilbasa).

I love the rythm of the town. The jurors come and go. We have a new crop in this week. Two older gentlemen have adopted the restauant as their lunch time hang out and they are both really into food. I love to hear themmaking happy noises when they have lunch! One of our original court house regulars, Ginger, came by with her best friend for Foodie Friday. I was so excited to see her I jumped out and gave her a big hug! Her friend thought this very impressive; Ginger was THE Man for being so in with the chef. They had a great time with their carafe of wine in the sunny corner round.

We have hit our break even point more weeks than we've not in the past 6 weeks, which is pretty spectacular. I've been told this is highly unusual for a new restaurant and I am just so proud of Stein and I and so exited for the future. I am at the point where I can sit down and get started setting up repayment of the pesonal loans from friends who have helped me get started. Nothing would make me happier than to pay off my debt this year and actually start taking home a paycheck!

I love my early mornings in Martinez. I am up before light and the little bayside town is usualy glistening with morning wet when I roll up. Mornings are our quiet time and there is something about a hot cup of really good coffee and sun streaming in and a quiet anonymous space to think unfettered. We get the translators in the morning, happily chattering away in Spanish. They love the morning buns and french press coffee.

Every Fridy my first patrons of the day are Jeff and his dad. They get beignet and french press coffee and I chatter away to them both, sometimes grabbing my mocha and sitting down. Stein usually comes in right around this time and we pre-shift what needs to still be done to get ready for lunch. Our food is very labor intensive and there is little down time and much coordination needed to get everything done.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Watching Food of Medieval England on the Cooking Channel

Which is hysterical. DEAR SWEET BABY JESUS it is good to have some down time. I am just vegging out, I spilled some red wine on my shirt, I made boxed pumpkin pie (which is on sale at my local Safeway), tried to coerce my friend Debbie in to coming over for football (Niners ROCKED it tonight)... and we put the brisket in brine oday so I don't need to go in tomorrow (other than to hit he famer's market).

I also cooked down he rabbit legs in port wine and mire poix and got that stored for Monday's ragu, plus made the layered polenta and goat's cheese. Now we just need a soup for Monday and we will be set. I have been wanting to do a pumpkin beer and bawurst soup. I saved some bratwurst from our special from two weeks ago and I will see what kind of pumpkin beer is at the store... only people in Martinez really seem to want vegetarian soups... but I like beer and brats... and pumpkin.

I am madly in love wth Martinez. I have been so embraced by the local foodies... so much more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. It is flattering and wonderful, but I am also worried about meeting expectations. When people have so much faith in you, there is  long way to fall. I just hope I can deserve all the kudos. I really really want to be that good.

Sleeping in til 7:00 am is so totally going to rock! Snuggling with the kids will be sublime! What will I do with  day (almost) off!?

What I didn't do... case the Sec and Tusca for Savour. I feel especially bad about it since I am drinking the left over awesome wine they gave me for the salumi! I realized whenI went to case it that I had not added te fat. I broke the blade for my buffalo chopper and won't b able to replace it until Monday. But I alreaady bound the meat! Argh... at least it's salted so it is preserved properly.

(ohhhh the Medival Feast part of the show)

Friday, January 13, 2012

I love my vocation

Today was La Patrona carving a lot of chaos into something less chaotic and some truly beautiful moments. My absolutely indispensable sous chef had the flu. He's been sick for a while but he finally was too sick to come in. Brion saved me and the week was one of our slowest ever, so I made it thru and put out our weekly special and our Friday meatball slider special without losing my mind.

It was a week of magic. I am still tired but I feel clearer. I feel like I am embracing my reality. It seems too good to be true; this beautiful little bay side town with so many passionate food people. I  feel embraced; like I am home.

This morning two of my favorite regulars (Lita and her husband) came in for Beignet and a charc plate and I got to putter around and talk salumi. The day was sunny and bright and I hustled to get the stuff done that Stein would normally do, fry off some chips, slice the smoked duc for the special... plus my own prep; the pasta, the charc plates, the Muffuleta sandwiches for Savour's Groupon special.

Dejan From Savour came by to grab the sandwiches and Bri and I chatted briefly with him. It was a busy and happy day. Hirsch and Aldith came in for lunch. So did the beautiful and fabulous Alicia Stein. The woman who had the horrific ccustomer service experience last Thursday came back in (YAY!) and I got to 1. grovel for forgiveness (much to her amusement) and 2. Buy her a salad. I think we both had a good laugh about my abject miserableness over her prior experience. And I think she was charmed by my honest desire to make it right, and that I had been waiting for her to come back for that purpose.

Then at the end of the day a group of seven come in, three women, three men, and a beautiful tiny baby girl all wrapped up in a cloth around momma's body. There was something special about the group... a euphoria... like people who had just seen the face of God smiling directly at them. The mom and dad of the baby were starving; they had not eaten all day but he had a tiny scrap of paper in his lapel with his list of food allergies... dairy... eggs... nuts... I sold them some of our beef and potato soup in duck broth, two teas and a latte. They all sat in the middle of the restaurant with grins on their faces... This BTW is pretty unusual for people who were clearly in town to deal with stuff at the court house.

We got to chatting, while baby girl flirted with me (giant blue eyes, big dimples) over the top of the snuggi she was firmly wrapped in. Today her adoption was final. Momma and Dad were there with her aunts and uncles and they had just left the courthouse with the papers that made it official that they all would belong to each other forever. And the whole family was glowing with joy, relief... joy.

Life can be so unbelievably beautiful.