Hillary Eaton

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

This Sommelier Is Turning Wine-Speak into Comics

When it comes to restaurant lingo, nothing is more perplexing than somm-speak.

While overhearing an expediter yell at a line cook in the middle of service can sound foreign to the uninitiated, the world of “soigne” has nothing on the strange, poetic language that sommeliers—and, consequently, wine writers—have adopted when talking about wine.

Because descriptions like “loamy forest floor” can sound ridiculous to casual wine drinkers, MaryseChevriere—sommelier at Dominique Crenn’s Petit Crenn in San Francisco—decided to channel foofy wine slang into art. The result: Fresh Cut Garden Hose, an Instagram account that contains a series of cartoons inspired by the strangest of somm-speak.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

José Andrés Wants the World to Cook with Sunlight and Biofuel

When planning their menus, designing their kitchens, and choosing their vendors, ethical chefs have to ask themselves: Is it OK to serve bluefin tuna? Do I want to support the local economy by only buying from small, local suppliers? What about using my restaurant concept torehabilitate juvenile delinquents?

But while most of us are familiar with people examining the ethics of controversial foods like foie gras, your stove can be just as problematic. Alternative energy sources in the kitchen are one of the latest and most exciting intersections of technology and food, helping people to combat the use of unclean cooking methods, to go green and conserve gas and electricity, and to provide a much-needed resource to communities in need.

To get a better look at these new technologies and their ability to change the way cook, we caught up with José Andrés, one of the chefs at the forefront of the alternative energy, clean-cooking source movement.

Originally appeared on MUNCHIES

I Lied My Way Into the Upper Echelons of the Restaurant Industry

Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. 

I was a line cook from age 15 to 22, working for free when I was still in high school. Was I a great cook? No. But could I hack it in any kitchen? Yeah, I think I could have been a line cook anywhere.

I came to New York and I had a job all lined up: I was suppose to go work for a chef who was running a four-star New York Times, three-star Michelin restaurant—Christian Delouvrier from Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel. He asked me to come help him open a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, right when it was really starting to pop; I was going to be his right-hand guy, and I was so excited. And then the restaurant never opened.

READ MORE: Restaurant Confessionals

I had moved to New York without any other job prospects, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I started looking at line cook jobs, but they were only paying minimum wage, which was about $7 per hour around then. It would barely cover my rent.

So, I had to find a waitstaff job—something I’d never done before. I called everyone I knew and lied my way through interviews for different waitstaff jobs. The first job I ended up getting was at Oceana, a three-star New York Times fine-dining restaurant in Midtown: suit and tie, big wine list—you know the kind. I managed to lie my way into a job as a back waiter there—a waiter’s assistant. 

And I was just not good at it—at all. I didn’t know how to move in a dining room, didn’t know how to carry a tray, didn’t know how to put down wine glasses, didn’t know how to set a table. I didn’t know how to crumb a table, how to speak eloquently about wine—all those little things that you need to know as a fine-dining waiter. I was just absolutely terrible.

The front-of-house manager quickly came to realize that I was faking it and demoted me. I started out as a back waiter—which is basically the number two in the dining room—and then they had me do bus boy stuff.  Well, I didn’t really do that very well either, so then I got demoted to running food. And I didn’t do that very well either, so then I got demoted again to polishing glasses. From back waiter to glass polisher, all in the span of two or three weeks. Frankly, they were being very generous. They just didn’t give up on me—I don’t know why.

One night, I was bringing up this big oval tray with probably 30 or 40 glasses on it. I was behind someone, so I said, “Behind!” But I didn’t say it loud enough, so the guy popped up and I dropped all the glasses. And these were nice glasses: They probably cost $15-20 each, so you’re looking at $700-1,000 in broken glasses. The manager just went, “Yeah, this isn’t working out.” And I was like, “I understand.” So, I got let go.

After that, I was fired from a bunch of front-of-house positions. It’s like not being able to play baseball and starting in the major leagues. I got let go from my first seven jobs because I just lied my way in. Like, “Oh, you’ve worked at that restaurant?” And they’d just take it like that—I’m convincing. What did I say? Anything to get a job.

I picked things up along the way. After a while, I went from switching jobs every week to every month, and now I’m at three or four years per spot. Growing pains. I ended up as a manager for a Danny Meyer restaurant, and I learned all about hospitality and his philosophies about taking care of the employee so they can take care of the guest. I worked there for two years before I went to help open a small restaurant that ended up not being very successful. After that, I worked as a floor manager at a Mario Batali restaurant. (I always wanted to work at one of his joints because he’s got great restaurants and is a great operator.) Then a friend of mine recommended me for a Japanese joint—we doubled the revenue between years four and seven—and now I’m the general manager at a thriving LA spot.

My job is to find and fix problems all the time—and there’s always problems. They might be big or small: two guys getting in a fight at a bar; someone’s drunk and doesn’t want to pay their bill; an employee showed up drunk; something’s over- or undercooked. Everyone always thinks it’s just a business and you’ve got to make money and that’s all we’re concerned about. But my primary concern when someone comes my restaurant is that they enjoy themselves and have such a great time that they’re going to tell all their friends and they have no choice but to come back.

I’d say anything I could to get a job, so when I’m interviewing people here I know they’re thinking the same thing. And I understand it! So, I try and ask them questions about how they would handle certain situations. What’s your knowledge base? You say you have good wine knowledge? I would not describe my wine knowledge as “good,” but I bet it’s better than your “good.” You can tell kind of quickly when you’re talking to someone if they have it or not.

The best waiters never started out as waiters. I believe in promoting people from one position to another, because something as simple as carrying a tray of glasses is very valuable. How do you carry a glass? Is it clean? How many can you carry with two hands? That’s where we start—polishing glassware and silverware.

Thomas Keller talks about how his mom use to clean bathrooms. You’ll see him at the French Laundry, sweeping the floor. He owns the restaurant and is one of the most important chefs in America, but he still cleans.

Same thing here. I want our staff to have that attention to detail. A lot of people who come in here are a little bit younger, and they start at the bottom. After doing that for a while, you realize, I know how to carry a tray and I know how to polish glassware and I know what’s clean and not clean. And then you get to become a back waiter, and you have to learn to set up a table. And then you become a food runner and you learn what the food is—and then you become a waiter.

The best waiters in my restaurant all started out as back waiters—all of them. They aren’t going to disrespect their back waiters because they use to be one of them.

Originally appeared on Vice

There’s Blood and Bladders in Your Wine

Like any respectable human being, drinking booze is my favorite pastime. When I consider the world of wine, there are a lot of terms that are used to talk about it; fish swim bladder is not one of them. But maybe it should be. Because, lo-and behold, the crystalline clarity of that glass of sauvignon blanc may have the swim bladder of a sturgeon, or any number of bizarre and unexpected fining agents to thank for its alcoholic perfection.

Fining, the process used by a large portion of  winemakers to purify and stabilize the wine, gives it clarity of color, removes sediment and suspended solids, and strips away any unwanted tannins, odors, or colors. It’s one of the most influential steps on the outcome of the finished product. These fining agents, which are either negatively or positively charged based on what it is the winemaker is trying to extract, are usually added to the barrel or tank after fermentation or before bottling and allowed to sit there, attracting the oppositely charged undesirable particles in the wine, slowly collecting or absorbing them, and bringing them to the bottom, leaving the wine purified.

Depending on what it is you are trying to remove and what type of wine you are making, different fining agents—sometimes multiple ones—are added to the barrel. The weirdest part about all of it is that they’re often animal protein by-products, ranging from the mundane (like bentonite, or volcanic clay, and carbon) to the strange and slightly freaky, like casein (milk protein), egg whites, gelatin (taken from pig or cow skin and connective tissue), chitosan (crustacean exoskeletons), kieselsol (colloidal silicic acid), isinglass (fish swim bladder), and even blood. Mmmm, blood.

Isinglass fining solution getting added to a tank of Sémillon. Photo via Wiki Commons.
Isinglass fining solution getting added to a tank of Sémillon. Photo via Wiki Commons.

Fining agents such as isinglass, chitosan, and casein are almost exclusively used for white wines, and egg whites are used towards red wines. Substances like bentonite, gelatin, and kieselsol are more versatile and can be found in white, blush, and red wines alike. But one of the more traditional and effective fining agents has been blood—usually ox—whether in liquid or dried form. Nothing like a little blood to really make a glass of wine sing, amirite?

The use of blood in wine fining is an old practice, one that has dwindled over the years as other means have become available. It’s also been banned in the EU and the US since 1997, when the mad cow disease scare was in full effect. France raided several wineries in the Rhône Valley in 1999, confiscating 100,000 bottles that were thought to contain ox blood, as well as 480 pounds of the dried blood fining agent. While some small non-exported Mediterranean wineries may still use blood in the fining process, because of the US and EU’s ban on blood as a fining agent, you don’t really need to worry about blood in your wine unless you’ve got a 25-or-over year vintage that you’ve been saving. And if you do, that’s awesome and you should drink it, blood cells or not.

Either way, while some of the agents used in fining are bizarre—and definitely raise questions for those vegetarians and vegans out there—something to keep in mind is that the amount of the fining agents left over in the finished product of the wine is trace, if any at all. Unless you have a severe food allergy to milk or eggs, or an ethical issue with the use of animal protein products, there’s no reason not to sit back, relax, and enjoy a vintage glass of fish bladder-fined wine.