Be Ready For Service!

Mise en place redux

Food Foreplay… The Nose Knows!

You are doing a house party.

A real nice big house — great clients.

The doorbell rings…

Guests enter and say, “OMG…. It smells like you have been cooking all day — I can’t wait to eat…. what are we having?”

The host replies “Well actually, I hired this wonderful caterer and they have been doing all the work this time!”

Often we hear that, “We eat with our eyes first, then the nose.”  Sometimes it is the nose first!

Cooking aromas welcome, excite the guests, and pique their interest in the food to be served!

My favorite aroma is is rustic, earthy warmth of roasted Rosemary.

Filling a house with aromatics of Rosemary can do wonders to help set the mood, therefore preparing guests for what’s coming. The host feels confident, the guests marvel — the caterer looks spot on!

Behind The Magic Table — Kicking It Up Another Notch!

Often in off-premise catering, food is prepped and cooked at the kitchen and hauled to the event site in various special transport boxes “aka” the Cambro, reheated or placed in the oven and or chafing dishes for heat up. Which is fine. It’s only at the last minute — the guests smell the great food. Food foreplay ought to be longer than five minutes!

Sometimes there is tray passing of hot Hors d’oeuvre

Which also alerts the guests of what is to come.

Hot Air That Smells Good!

Before you leave for the event — Gather a generous handful of fresh Rosemary (6-8  12″ branch lengths) from the kitchen, a ½ sheet pan, a sheet of baking (parchment) paper.

About 30-45 minutes prior to the guest arrival — place the paper on the sheet pan, strip the Rosemary leaves off the stems, crushing and  scattering the Rosemary stems and leaves around the pan.

Cover the leaves with water — soaking for a few minutes. Place the sheet pan in the oven at 375°.

Every so often open the oven door and let the aromatic pleasantries of the steaming-roasting Rosemary escape, filling the kitchen and house.

Roasted Fresh Rosemary

When all the water has evaporated — the Rosemary starts to brown and offers us a woody forest aroma. Pull the pan from the oven, let it cool down and then discard the paper and Rosemary.

When entertaining in the back yard and there is a BBQ grill to use — toss wet Rosemary on the warm grill and open the hood every so often to let the wondrous aroma fill the yard. It’s always a big hit and gets the guest talking about the food.

Just as I was finishing this post I came across a youtube video from Chef Grant Achatz at Alinea dealing with idea creation with sense.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9eOstJq4J4&feature=related

Hold on to your aprons,

Roy Porter

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Mise En Place For Event Packing – Part 1

 “Misen en place” applies to the warehouse for pulling and packing materials for events in my book. Here’s why.

When packing for off-premise catering events I found thru the years from packing thousands of events, that you need some tools, discipline, organization, a plan with processes, and a good sound system helps too.

Packing Bag and Contents

A Few Important Tools

Packing  “aka” Packin Bag

I use a divided shotgun shell pouch. The center divider helps to keep items separated and easy to find. You find the pouches or shell bags at any good gun store for about $15-25.00. My first pouch lasted over 20 Years and preformed other “holding tasks” with ease… Drywall screws, fireworks, staple guns, tape measures, colored chalk, and cold cans of beer all seem to fit in the pouch nicely.

Recently my pouch was pinched, with a five-finger discount. I went out and bought a new one. It was also good opportunity to check out new Glocks and argue the merits of a Glock vs. Sig.

I saw some fancy new bags in leather and nylon, a rainbow of colors including pink, with extra shell loops and pockets, which might improve organization. In the end, my basic black ballistic nylon bag does the trick and offers greater flexibility. I try to keep the one trick ponies to a minimum.

The “packing bag” holds everything you need, close at hand for packing; 1½” wide masking tape, a black sharpie marker, work gloves, pen, highlighters, and cell phone. Once in a while you need to toss in a small calculator.

Give the music some volume, synch the bag around your waist, grab a clipboard and the event pull-packing list — you are now ready to pull and pack quickly and efficiently.

The packing bag idea is to have the most used items readily available for use — no walking back and forth to get a pen, or tape, because your packing bag holds the tools on your waist as you walk around!

The Packing Pull List

 I’ll discuss in another post about how to create and use the ultimate pull-packing list.

Clip Board

 Serves as a place to hold the list, a clean flat surface to write notes on your packing–pull list and “highlight” or mark thru the completed items.

Masking Tape

1 ½” wide masking tape is sufficient for labeling totes, sealing containers, or holding bubble wrap in place, etc. You always need to label hot-cold food transport boxes – “AKA” a Cambro. It’s best to write on the masking tape neatly and put the labeled tape on the front door, instead of the top or sides. Labeling on the front allows anyone to see and the labeling is less likely to get covered.

Black Sharpie Marker

 I like the medium sized or chisel point black markers. Neatly printed Black ink on a light background is easy to read from a distance, especially when you are looking for something in a hurry or low light conditions.

 Pen

 To write notes on the pull list about changes, substitutions, etc.

Highlighter

 Yellow highlighter marked thru a line item, indicates what was completed. Yellow is best for marking “completed” on pull-packing lists in case you need to make photocopies.

Sometimes you need a second color for noting specific issues to be aware of.

Work Gloves

There’s nothing worse than showing up to perform four star service with hands covered in ban-aids and grime.

If you pack, load and unload many items — taking them to and from events — invest in some comfortable work gloves. Say good bye to cuts, splinters, sharp metal edges, broken glass danger, aluminum oxide tarnish, knuckles with abrasions, etc.

Cell Phone

Then there are times you need to call the planner or the Chef, etc. to better understand what they are trying to accomplish — sometimes you have to make substitutions, deal with broken equipment or shortages quickly or even go to plan “B” and you need to tell someone quickly. No one likes surprises…

Having the cell phone in hand allows you to make the call and get it handled. Let your other incoming calls received go to voice mail till you are done packing.

As you start pulling & packing — make it a point to avoid all interruptions — short of the building being on fire.

I found often that many packing mistakes occurred because the packing staff was interrupted repeatedly during the packing process to socialize, ask questions and make requests that often had nothing to do with the event at hand. As in Surgery, you don’t interrupt the Doctor to ask about a golf tee time next week.

 At one Caterer, the recommendation was made that when the warehouse staff started packing — they turn on a blue light with a sign below stating:

Do not interrupt the packing team while the blue light is on. Write a note or come back later.

Thank you,

The Warehouse Packing Team and Event Staff

 

Station Location Marker

BTW…

The packing bag also works well when you arrive on site and walk the venue for set up.

Just reach in the bag and pull out your masking tape and label where setups and station are to be placed. This helps the staff unloading — so you don’t end up handling things twice.

Happy packing and hold on to your aprons,

Out Fox With Socks!

 “Here’s an easy game to play. Here’s an easy thing to say….
New socks. Two socks. Whose socks? Sue’s socks.” – Fox in Socks, Dr. Seuss

Socks are a really important uniform component.

In fact, good medical compression socks are the foundation, a critical tool for success — especially on a long hot day. So start with the right kinda’ socks!

Most of the time, I am twice the age and moving twice as fast as most of the staff I’m working with on any event. Often they ask, “Man, you been drinking coke or coffee all day?” I reply with, “No, I have magical compression socks on. Compression socks are one of my secret weapons. You ought to get some.”

I always recommend to staff to wear medical compression dress socks. Compression socks are critical for defense against sore, swollen, aching feet, legs, and being worn out. Besides they give a slight edge of improved performance!

Medical compression dress socks are special made socks that increase your blood circulation.

My interest in compression socks started years ago, in my other life as a Direct Marketer; I was reviewing SKU’s from a sales campaign at Uniforms To You (UTY), at the time, the largest uniform store West of the Mississippi. UTY was then acquired by Uniform Advantage.

I noticed several Doctors purchasing large numbers of medical compression socks. I asked the store sales associates, “What’s with the multiple socks purchases?” “Are the cardiologists giving or selling the socks to patients?” No one knew.

A day later another Doctor was visiting the store and I asked, “Are you giving or selling the compression socks to patients? … Because if you are — you could get a volume discount – we’ll include gift wrapping and even deliver for you…”

He replied, “That would be nice — I just wear these.” Then continued with,” When I perform surgery, I always wear compression socks. You see when you going in to 12-14 hours of procedures standing on your feet on a hard floor — you need all the help you can get — compression socks help you by improving the circulation in your legs and feet.”

How Compression Socks Help You

The main therapeutic benefit of compression socks is providing graduated pressure on the lower leg and foot, to alleviate circulatory problems such as edema, phlebitis and thrombosis.

Even if you are in good health, you will benefit from wearing compression socks.

Unlike traditional dress or athletic socks, compression socks use stronger elastic to cause more pressure on the lower legs, ankles and feet. Compression socks are tightest at the ankles, gradually applying less compression towards the knees.

By compressing the surface veins, arteries and muscles, the circulating blood is forced through narrower circulatory channels. As a result, the arterial pressure is increased which causes more blood to return to your heart and less blood pooling and swelling in your feet. If you have worked a 14 Hour day, standing most of the time, you know the feeling.

Another benefit is improved efficiency and faster recovery by stabilising muscles and helps removing lactic acid that is collecting in muscles when you are very active.

There are two types of compression socks: Gradient and Anti-embolism. Gradient does the trick for most of us working on our feet for long periods of time.

“One can never have enough socks.” -Albus Dumbledore

Compression socks are available in a wide range of opacities, colors, styles and sizes, making it hard to tell the difference from dress socks.

You find them in light, to medium to firm compression. Most of us just need the light to medium compression. Start there as you can always increase the compression.

If you shop on-line at say, foryourlegs.com you will find a wide variety and plenty of information on the compression levels to make an informed decision.

Most medical uniform stores sell several types of compression socks also. You’ll find top of the line socks made by Under Armour, Futuro and less expensive socks at Walmart.

Get yourself some compression socks and you will immediately notice how much better you feel during a long event and at the end of the day.

BTW, since this is part of your uniform you may be able to deduct your cost of socks from taxes. Your tax advisor can advise you best.

In any case view the socks as an investment in your well-being – your feet and legs will thank you!

 Hold on to your aprons…

Turning On The Service Radar

A long-range radar antenna, known as ALTAIR, u...

Image via Wikipedia

An arm is raised from a nearby table, fingers snap and a commanding voice says, “Garçon.”

According to Wikipedia, “Garçonis the French word for boy.

In English, and various other languages, “Garçon” was adopted as the specific meaning of a (male, usually young) waiter, especially of low rank in a larger establishment, that serves food and/or drinks.

In France or anywhere else today, it is considered rude to address a waiter as “Garçon.”

It is instead recommended you call them monsieur or mademoiselle, depending on their gender. In the United States we often hear.”Sir,” or “Mam,” “Waiter,” or “Waiteress” or “Excuse me” being called out when a guest needs something during service.

Such requests for attention and service need to be few and very far apart.

The Service Radar Concept

I have this practical theory that serving staff needs to turn on and heighten their own service radar. I often talk about it in training classes and pre-event meetings.

Basically the serving staff needs to be more aware of what’s going on at an event and look for opportunities to be of service or perform those highly appreciated random acts of kindness.

The idea of service radar evolved from several sources:

Upscale Dining Adventures

I recalled years ago when dining in upscale establishments, the serving staff always seems to anticipate when a guest would need something — How did they did that?

Watching Kung-Fu Movies

Remember the blind old guy always knows where the enemy is hiding and always counter acts their advances. Bruce Lee was also a master at this and so is Jackie Chan. They know the next move and staff ought to also.

Hanging Out At A Japanese Dojo

When living in Japan as an exchange student, I often visited a local dojo (Place of the way) and the sensei (Master or Teacher) actually pulled this awareness concept off.

No matter how quiet the students were during sparing matches the blind folded sensei had an uncanny heightened sense of where they were — all the time. I admired the ease in which he would always know where blows and advances were coming from and subdue his opponents. I wish now I had asked him how he did it.

Inspiration and Leadership For staff

Besides when I have had supervisory responsibilities I used to shake my head when opportunities to take care of guests arose and staff seemed to be un obvious to them untill pointed out.

So I started talking about the need to be aware anticipate, and it grew from there. Some times I talked about staff pretending they were gardeners and growing the guests… some water.. some food, a little plucking, you talk to them. “Employ a gardeners touch and teat them as you would like to be treated.” I would say. I received some strange looks and laughs — however service improved.

Flip Your Service Radar Switch On

Turning on your service radar is an important Zen like activity. Take a deep breath, listen, open your self up and feel what’s going on — absorb — soak it up and it happens. OK so it’s like calling on “The Force” in Star Wars — it does work though!

Then you will know where to go and how to better take care of your guests, whether it’s clearing plates, refilling wine, a cocktail from the bar, directions to the restroom, the list goes on. However by being more aware you will find more opportunities to be of service. The guests win and so does everyone else!

Internal GPS and Service Radar Meet Up!

By chance I had dinner recently with Leonard Szymczak. Leonard is a renowned author, seminar leader and psychotherapists (www.the.roadmaphome.com) Leonard got to talking about his practice of helping people find their internal GPS to make decisions and find their way in life. Wow what a great concept.

I told him about the service radar concept and his eyes lit up. “Exactly” he said.

I asked him what advice works best for helping new students finding they’re Internal GPS – that might be might be useful to staff learning to turn on their own service radar.

He paused a moment and said, “First, is belief that you can. If you don’t believe it can happen, it won’t. And if you do — it will happen faster! Second is focus or concentrate on opening your self up to listening, feeling and absorbing! Third is practice. As you practice, turning on the service radar will become easier and with more clarity, awareness and range.”

Radar on? Check!

Hold on to your aprons!

Rub a Dub Dub Redux

 
Instructions on Employee Hand Washing
Image by bmann via Flickr
Recently I wrote a post on hand washing which brought several good questions about off-premise hand washing.

On-premise events always have plenty of hand washing sinks.

Where as off-premise events are usually held in parks, beaches, fields, historical venues, etc. Often off-premise sites have limited or no running water for hand washing by the staff while working.

Once at a large bridal show event where several caterers were showing off food, presentation and serving skills — the local Health Department Inspectors arrived and began writing tickets because the caterers and their temporary kitchens did not have adequate hand washing facilities. Bummer.

The Inspectors wrote tickets for other infractions such using plastic milk crates for various purposes, other than the “specific intended use” of carrying dairy products for a certain local dairy. Major ouch for a few more.

I was lucky, becoming new a “BFF” with the adjoining kitchen by lending them a spare propane tank when their tank went empty – they in turn shared their make shift hand washing station when the Inspectors arrived to visit us. Whew that was a close one.

This situation got me to thinking and researching. What do other caterers do for hand washing? So I asked around.

Some caterers drag a garden hose along with a shut off valve. Most I found didn’t do anything — hoping for the best.  I heard comments such as, We always wear latex gloves. You got to be kidding. Gee we never thought about it and when you find a solution tell me.” Gross…

Some make their staff wear latex gloves all the time during the event. You must remind the packing crew to pack extra gloves and encourage staff to change gloves often. Some catering staffs actually believed that latex gloves don’t collect germs, bacteria, or viruses. One staff member remarked, “They use them at hospitals so they got to be safe around food.”

The following week I “duck taped” an old metal folding paper towel dispenser around a Cambro Insulated Beverage Carrier. I grabbed a pump bottle of hand soap, some extra folding paper towels and a five gallon bucket to dump-drain into.

The make shift assembly was functional and worked pretty well. I received several teasing comments for the duck taped look. However overwhelming supporting comments came from staff on how nice it was to be able to wash their hands. A week later I found a better solution!

Cambro Hand Washing Unit

Hand Washing Station Solution

The simple solution is the unit created by Cambro. If you already use their insulated beverage transports, you simply add the hand washing accessory unit ($140.00) atop of the beverage carrier. See picture above.

Next add warm water, a soft scrub brush, a five gallon dump bucket, paper towels, and hand washing soap and you’re ready to launch an all out offensive against the spread of germs, bacteria, viruses and illness! It really doesn’t make difference what kind of hand washing station you create, so long as you have one.

On very big or lengthy events with a large staff, bring extra paper towels, perhaps two carriers and some extra or back up warm water, such as extra carriers or a two gallon pot to warm up extra water. Plan ahead as you may have to bring the back up washing water also. 

Be sure to pass the word to the staff – keeping the “NETMA Badges” to a minimum. This small incremental lift in attention to details will pay off in many ways besides reducing the spread of germs.

Remember: Proper hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of germs, bacteria and viruses — so wash hands often!

Rub a Dub Dub…

 
hand washing with soap
Image via Wikipedia

While hand washing may seem simple enough, many of us do not actually wash our hands properly.

Which unfortunately often results in the spread of illness, especially during food preparation and handling activities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million Americans get sick; more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 people die from food borne illnesses each year. Research indicates the bad germs, bacteria, and viruses are most often spread by human hands. Consider for a moment how many germs can live on you hands?

Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes to two hours or more on surfaces like tables, trays, doorknobs, bars and counters.

According to the CDC, the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick our selves and spreading illness to each other is to wash our hands thoroughly.

Hand Sanitizer Is Not The Solution

So you’re thinking hand sanitizer, right? Wrong hand sanitizer can only do so much — preventing MRSA infection isn’t one of those things. Plus hand sanitizer doesn’t remove grease and oil from you hands.

Recent warning letters from the Food and Drug Administration to four makers of popular hand sanitizing products who made claims that the FDA is having trouble supporting, “about preventing infection from E. coli or the flu, or Klebsiella pneumoniae, MRSA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus.” You can get sick just trying to pronounce some of these bacteria and viruses.

Wondering what the big deal is about MRSA? Don’t treat the spread of MRSA  lightly. Check out the information posting http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004520/

MRSA can cause common infections and some uncommon ones that resemble life forms from another planet from a galaxy very far away which sometimes, can even lead to death.

So if you’re counting on a hand sanitizer to protect you, don’t.

When Should Hands Be Washed?

  • Beginning of an event or shift
  • Prior to setting tables – when handling any flat, glass and stemware
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Prior to serving food to guests
  • Before eating food and after eating
  • After using the toilet
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching garbage
  • After clearing tables
  • At the end of an event or shift
  • When ever hands get dirty

Five Steps to Successful Hand Washing  –  Lava las manos correcto mundo

Proper hand washing involves five steps.

Step 1: Wet and wash hands with warm water, which is essential for proper hand washing.

Step 2: Apply soap. Either bar or liquid pump soap. You may need to experiment with the liquid hand soap to find a soap that is non scented, hypoallergenic, and not too aggressive on the hands.

Step 3: It is important to rub hands and finger together vigorously, for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing all surfaces; between fingers, the palms, back of the hands, and wrists.  

Keep in mind that the soap combined with the scrubbing “agitation” and foaming lather that helps to dislodge and remove germs and dirt. Clean around and under the fingernails. Use a soft scrub brush if available.

Step 4: Rinse away soap lather with warm water.

Step 5: Dry with paper towels. Use the dampened towel to turn off any spigots or faucets.

Steps To Better Hand Washing

Ok, so this hand washing procedure seems simple enough. Yet when tested most people will fail the hand washing test. So how do we get better or teach successful hand washing?

1. Training: Include effective hand washing as part of orientation and review training with staff. Include notes and reference in the manual in writing. Glo germ and the cdc have some additional materials beyond what is listed here.

2. Inspect, What You expect: Use Glo Germ™ www.glogerm.com the most effective tool to help teach proper cleaning of hands. Check out the video at you tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfRVZsPbDJA

Basically you coat your hands with Glo Germ and then proceed to wash your hands. After the washing you expose the hands under a UV light and surprise — see how much area was actually missed during hand washing. The process is an eye opener for most and shows how much icky-icky bacteria, germs and viruses can be left on ones hands.

3. Reinforce: Put up the hand washing poster, download from the CDC or the Glo Germ site. Mention as a reminder from time to time at pre event meetings especially as flu and cold season start.

Remember: Hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of virus’s, bacteria, germs and illness. So wash hands often and thoroughly!

Review of the Catersource 2011 Trade Show

If you are involved in on/off-premise catering you must attend the annual Catersource conference and trade show in Las Vegas, NV.

I started to write this post the day after attending — however I have been consumed with several large and demanding projects. So here we go!

With very limited time this year – March 1st I headed out early Tuesday morning driving East across the barren Mohave desert towards the new city of lights — during the transition from a dark night to an Electra dawn.

With the windows rolled down, breathing in brisk desert air and listening loud to; The Ramon’s, Pink Floyd, Puccini, Sinatra, Country and some new electronica dance music while channel surfing thru an extensive menu on Satellite radio. This made the long drive pass quickly!

Industry trade shows and gatherings such as Catersource, are a rich depository of industry related information, education, relationships fostering experiences, and a library of trivia.

Later at some opportune moment – what was collected is called upon and used in some purpose, often not for the intended purpose. Basically you get to see a lot of new and very cool ideas, concepts and interesting people. I constantly found the long time pros helping newer players to excel!

What did I see that was new and or interesting to an information and idea junkie like me and perhaps you?

I started at one end of the trade show floor going aisle to aisle and booth to booth finishing as the doors were closing and people where preparing for the spectacular Tuesday night party.

After so many sales reps are asking the usual monotonous, “How are you?” I cut to the chase by asking, “What’s new? What’s unique?” Usually followed with “What are people attending the show finding interesting in your booth or with your company or products and services?” and the inquisitive “How does you product, compare to brand X.”

That’s the point where we get down to business and have an information exchange and usually learn something useful.

Setting aside the wonderful suppliers for a moment, it was really great to meet the people attending. Some I have been exchanging emails with – as readers of this blog, some new — we just met for the first time while scoping out a booth or demonstration — all united with a common cause to get better at catering!

Here is some of what I saw and found interesting at the trade show. You may already know about these ideas, perhaps you will find some new here!

Art of Flame "Fire on Water"

Art of Flame    www.artofflame.com 

Fire on Water!

As you may know, I’m big on “function over fashion” any day of the week – however the flame floating on water in a glass container, takes the prize this time.

Medrith Nolan, the inventor is a chemist. She figured how to make a unique safe, visually stunning multipurpose decorative flame. Her creation is simple, intriguing and so safe — it often passes the open flame limitation with ease.

I had a great chat with her and applaud her for turning her idea into a success! Yes she has some new design coming out – so don’t wait. Now you can make use all those glass vases collecting dust in the warehouse.

I expect to see her floating flame creation gracing tables at events and talked about widely.

 Vikki Smyth   www.vikkismyth.com 

Vikki is my favorite designer for working with acrylics in all shapes, colors, sizes. Jackie has managed blend the gray area of function over fashion, always with stunning results. She is simply the best for “floating food in the air concept.”

You will find she is full of energy, passionate with her infectious enthusiasm — morphing science, craftsmanship, and art into some really amazing wow attention-getting designs. Everyone I’ve sent to her for solutions and products over the years is always satisfied!

Black or white Honeycomb is her newest design — which can create a “vertical bento box” display. There are lotsa’ combinations that make this a crowd pleaser for displaying Hors d’oeuvre, Tapas (Small Plates), Dim Sum and Desserts.

ISI North America    www.isinorthamerica.com

Carol Kentis was showing off new “carbonator” aka as the “twist & spakle.”

Thru some incredible end of show discounting — I picked up a new “Twist and Sparkle” unit and a Thermo Whip Plus.

Already I have put the “Twist & Sparkle” to good use pumping CO2 into wide variety of beverages — all were great over-the-top experiences.

This has been a great hit at several parties carbonating a variety of juices; cranberry, orange, apple, pineapple rum, coconut milk, mango, guava, grape juice. I have been giving this puppy a work out. Jack Daniels, a few dashes of Reagan’s #6 orange bitters chilled and carbonated became very popular at one party for toasting shots — fizzy cosmopolitans at another. Lemon infused sparkling water at another. Adding air makes a difference.

Thermo Whip Plus

The thermo whip Plus is more than a whip cream on demand maker. Fresh whipped cream is always enjoyed for a high end coffee or dessert bar.

Warm Bailey’s Irish Cream foam was hit at St. Patrick’s Day parties.

However the optimal applications for the Thermo Whip Plus are far more exciting — especially when you blend in lessons learned from macro-gastronomy.

I have been fooling around separately with warm beet, carrot, sweet potato, and green pea foam to dress plates – an airy tempura bather with great success and I even experienced a few food fatalities. The Thermo Whip Plus – as the name implies is insulated — so dressing up warm plated food on a fast-moving plating line with a hot sauce-foam is a breeze and will keep you outta’ the weeds!

I’m on mission to create some tasty soy-based foam for those lactose intolerant and hard-core vegans. If you have ideas — let me know. I promised my newest “BFF’s” at ISI, that I would share and post my research so that others can benefit!

BTW I’ll being writing more extensive posts on these wondrous culinary tools here at the blog soon.

Sunkist Bar Buddy

Sunkist Bar Buddy

        www.sunkistresearch.com/index.php?mod=product&id_prd=510&idctg_prd=67

Sunkist Bar Buddy has been around some time, an indispensable tool for high volume consistent cutting (sectional) of wedges and slices of apples, oranges, lemons, limes and tomatoes.

What’s new? Additional blades such as the 10 piece wedge. The new 10 wedge blade saves you money on bar garnishes and is absolutely perfect for cutting lime wedges for small tacos. Besides the 10 wedge sized lime wedge fits better in the top of a bottle of Corona beer.

Cutting limes for bar service often is often delegated to on-site bartenders. Really the preparation ought to be preformed by the kitchen or select staff — so that lemons and limes and other drink garnishes are prepared properly saving time, keeping on-site labor in check and maintain consistency and quality of cutting.

Bamboo Imports         www.bambooimports.com 

Extreme customer driven picks and skewers created from bamboo. Losta’ colors, styles, shapes, great service.

While talking with Ryan Young, he showed me several examples of customer wish created products. Ryan explained, “Caterers are in the food serving and entertaining business. We’re in the sourcing and production business to support caterers. Most of our products were created by requests from caterers. We’re always on the look out for new requests.”

Fresh White Endive

California Vegetable Specialties      www.endive.com

Belgian endive has been used number of times as an edible transport vessel-carrier for a large variety of toppings.

When I asked what’s new “Humus bars” was the reply. With so many variations on flavored humus there certainly is potential. Great ideas on how to use endive at the site above.

Belgioioso Cheese         www.Belgioioso.com 

Famous for their authentic Italian style cheeses — especially the mozzarella sheets — was another visit after the endive booth. So with the new concept of humus bars, so I asked, “Why not soft cheeses?”

Belgioioso creates 12 different flavors of soft cheese that when formed as cannels or piped would sit nicely in the endive. So another food presentation idea worth considering.  

Big Ass Fans New Pivot 180

 

I have been an advocate for several years. The fans do the trick of moving large volumes of enough air at low speed to lower temperature.

Showing off a new Pivot 180º Fan, that will be great for cooling event and kitchen-cooking-preping tents during warmer periods.

  

Blaze Products            www.blazeproducts.com

New clear container, looks cool behind glass blocks supporting a warming griddle because you don’t see the container. Another nice plus is that you can actually see how much fuel is left.

So instead of tossing ½ used fuel cans at the end of an event, cap’em and use the remaining fuel next time, you’ll same money and help the environment.

 

The new chork: a blend of chop sticks and a fork The Chork http://www.thechork.com The Chorkä is quite an idea blending a fork and chopsticks together. How many events do you take tons of forks and chopsticks for Asian food? The Chork solves the problem with one utensil that will certainly be a popular topic of conversation.I have another idea for the Chork -- which I’ll reveal in another blog post!Electric Buffet Burners

Buffet Burners    www.buffetburners.com

Bob Feaglery enlightened me about the applications, ease and smart use of this electric chafing dish heaters for adopting existing chafing dishes. Using existing chafing dishes is the key point here.

As you know many,  historical sites, office buildings, and venues prohibit any open flames – so instead of buying new electric only chafer dishes — adopt these heaters to your existing rectangular and round chafers.

The heaters meet the no open flame requirement and from further discussion if you are at a venue on a regular basis — I suspect the operating cost and safety consideration beats using the canned fuel.

 

 

Caviar Specification Tool Kit

Chef Rubber   www.chefrubber.com

Chef rubber is a great resource for macro gastronomy, tools, specialty pastry ideas. It was a lot of fun to see some many items — get your hands on them and ask questions about use. The staff was such a treat to answer questions and offer ideas!

If you have been thinking about adding Caviar spheres or perls to dishes or cocktails and weren’t quite sure where to start, this is the place. Order the Caviar Specification Tool Kit and start making tasty luscious pearls right away.

I have been looking at using round silicone molds to use to make ice spheres for drinks for specialty bars such as Scotch bars. The round sphere melts slower — so the cocktail is cooled and not watered down.

I found a 2” dia. silicon sphere mold here that’s perfect for a whisky bar.

Creations in Lucite     www.creativecoverings.com

Edgy display and in clear, opaque, black plastic and a willingness to  customize.

Demarle   www.demarleusa.com

Food grade fiberglass and silicone molds-shapes for well; butter, sorbet, chocolate, ice cream, bread, mac & cheese bites and more. This is one of those thrust your imagination into overdrive for possibilities companies.

I’m not a big pastry maker. However I often marvel at the creations, and am always borrowing techniques and ideas for other and cocktail creations and enhancements.

Sterno    www.sterno.com

“Flame on!”

New Sterno Jet Burner

Sterno was showing off their new Jet burner. This innovation will be outstanding for certain stations where portable fast heat is needed to finish off dishes that also has stylish form.

New Sterno Torch

The new torch was also on display. Seems the days of carmelizing desserts and such with my plumbing torch are coming to a close. The canisters use the same fuel source as the butane stoves.

Xroads Philippine Sea Salts             WWW.Philippineseasalts.com 

An informative chat with Lennie who founded the company. Her sources follow traditional sea salt farming practises long time in the making. The taste of her salts were fresh and clean!

I have been considering using finishing and or premium sea salts as lead generation offers or gifts to select clients packaged in special vessels. The different textures, flavors and colors is certainly appealing especially when finishing seafood dishes. Xroads has some truly unique bamboo packaging.

I learned that all sea salts are to be labeled with a notice about possible allergic relations to shell fish. Often sea salts contain some trace amounts of what causes a reaction. There’s nothing like a guest experiencing anaphylactic shock to dampen the enthusiasm for a party.

Mini Push Up

J.B. Prince    www.jbprince.com

Another kid in candy store moment with lotsa’ things — hard to find, unique culinary tools, and I didn’t have to travel to Manhattan. The booth staff was as always very helpful answering questions, and explaining new and different applications. What a joy!  

JB Price has the new push ups cups in two sizes that have become so popular for breakfast, snacks and desserts!

Vanillaness at it's best!

Nelson-Massey Vanilla     www.nelsonmassey.com

Beth was a real treat to talk with. I received an in depth education on vanilla —  a spirited debate concerning vanilla from Tahiti and New Guinea or Mexico, plus a review of some other new flavorings and extracts – which I will be experimenting with shortly.

Sensational vanilla flavoring that fills your mouth with wholesome “vanillaness” Ummmm so good!

Pick On Us   www.pickonus.com

There was the book: “Stick It, Spoon It, Put It In a Glass” signing with chef Eric B LeVine, certainly a masterpiece to add to your culinary library.

There was large display of so many different ways to secure and transport food; picks, skewers, stirrers, etc. of all types of color and shape and design.

3M

New “Scratchless” stainless steel scouring pads — that doesn’t leave marks on stainless steel. Essential for cleaning stainless steel display items that have accumulated crud – you know the kind where the only grime removal tools left are harsh chemicals or elbow grease.

New Safe Tray

Safe Tray                 www.safetrayproducts.com 

There was two nice lassies from Scotland. One was Alison Grieve, the inventor who was was pitching in a very charming way her new Safe Tray.

The Safe Tray I believe, has great promise.  The collapsible handle on the bottom is perfect for learning balance, stacking and a few new magic tricks and navigating thru crowds that have been happily drinking. see the video at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSgayqzrcks

Safe tray is “spot on” for training new inexperienced staff to hold, balance, serve and clear tables with a tray. We had good a good chat about establishing distribution and learning to drive on the “right” side of the road. I plan on using he trays for training new staff soon. I wish them well!

Must Have Sklips

Skipco    www.sklipco.com

I have seen the ads for the sklips™. This was the first time I could actually get my hands on them. A simple, functional design for turning sheet pans into stacking racks.

I bought a box and have been using them extensively on events since the show where counter and shelf space was limited.

Another great application is to use them give some height to buffet tables which are usually flat. Stack a few sheet pans add some draping to cover the pans and suddenly you are escaping flat land, safely.

Suggest you order a box or two of each size and add them to your culinary tools arsenal.

Cocktail Rimmers    www.cocktailrimmers.com

Rimmed cocktail glasses especially for specialty welcome or signature cocktails at events present an incredible visual, tactile-tasty garnish which instantly increases the perceived value to guest.

With over 30 prepared varieties of colored, flavored sugars and salts makes this the one stop shop for cocktail rimming. Every color and flavor I had been challenged to create and experimenting with over the past few years was here. Great, now I can move on to something else. 

 I love the Wrap-N-guard for at least two ideas; a built in nice stainless steel stylish wind screen — which comes in handy on windy days for outdoor events, plus the space saving design that require less space for transporting chafing dishes.

Space saving at first, doesn’t seem like such a big idea…until you try packing 26 chafing dishes for a large event. The space taken up is huge. Or if you are trying use one van to deliver several hot lunches to be served from chafing dishes. The space saving and bulk reduction helps a lot. 

 
 

 

New Misty Stix

 MistyStix                  www.dryiceflordia.com 

 

Having been challenged at some events like large outdoor weddings on hot summer afternoons in Southern California with getting 200 cold Moijtos or Margaritas served quickly to thirsty guests as the ceremony concluded.

Faced with no freezer or cooler and limited resources; time and staff – I often inserted small pieces of dry ice into the drinks, to cool and not water down the cocktails. The icy smoke cascading off the glasses always looks so inviting. However my dilemma was always guests grabbing a cocktail too soon and burning their lips on the pieces —  I was often fishing out the larger pieces as the trays left for passing.

MistyStix solves the problem. The capsule stirrer holds the dry ice and preventing burns from the dry ice. The unit can we washed and reused.

BTW the way I also learned of this terrific site for locating dry ice anywhere in the world www.dryicedirectory.com something to add to your computer and cell phone favorites.

Truffly Made   www.truffymade.com

What I liked best was the simple clean mold designs and a willingness to help and even create custom molds. I told the rep in the booth of my quest for round ice spheres. He promptly showed me a sphere mold that was just over and 1” in Diameter.

He provided me with samples for testing. Now I’ll be ordering a few molds to make smaller ice spheres for some special cocktail and drink events.    

 

Vanilla Fig Balsamic Vinegar

Gourmet Blends         gourmetblends.us 

There’s a lot of good Balsamic vinegar floating around these days. Some OK, some good and what I found here had an exceptional clean, wholesome, satisfying taste — I dreamt for a moment I was standing in an aging room somewhere in Modena, Italy and that we were lucky to sneak a sample of something that had been waiting 12 years just for this moment!

The quality is high and the blends such as vanilla fig are sensational for dressing up some strawberries, persimmons and ice cream!

Best part two parts the boys can ship on large volume packaging – so you don’ have to fool around with all the smaller bottles and they work with you to create and work out the details  for special unique gift packages to give to clients!

Summary

As mentioned in the start of this post — I listed just some of the more interesting booths I saw at the trade show. Can’t wait to put to use many of the new and different ideas I found.

Mark your planner now for next year: February  26 – 29 th 2012 in Las Vegas, NV. 

Hope to see ya’ there!

P.S. Want more information on Catersource 2012?  Here’s where to go:      
                                         http://www.catersource.com/conference-tradeshow

 

 

Essential Tools For Servers!

What tools must every server have when showing up to work?

At most catering companies, banquet facilities and hotels — there’s no list.

You will find at better run, finer, high-end catering & banquet operations there is a list.

Let’s start with basic essential tools; a polishing cloth, waiter’s cork screw, flashlight, pen and notepad, a cell phone, and a can-do good positive attitude.

When working with catering companies to improve service, a recommendation to management usually includes this short list of tools as “conditions of employment” for the serving staff.

Notice is given to the staff, with time to conform, and then “inspect what is expected.”

If staff arrives at events without the proper tools — they can leave, get the tools on their own time, and then return prepared to work. You might be staff tight on an event or two. However, word will spread quickly among the staff and suddenly the “I forgot” excuse disappears and service improves!

If the catering company never serves beverages in crystal, glasses or stem ware – skip the polishing cloth.

If wine is never served at your events, drop the cork screw opener and replace with a basic pocket knife. A Swiss Army knife with a cork screw is a better tool of choice. Here’s why:

Years ago at an event, a guest showed up unplanned with several cases of wine. Being the only server on staff with a cork screw, the host gave me an extra $80.00 tip for opening the wine bottles with my Swiss Army knife cork screw.

Rethink the glass and wine service aspect, because there’s huge opportunity for increasing revenue proving these services.

Besides the perception of quality of an event with wine service, glass, or crystal vs. plastic cups is much higher.

 

Magical Polishing Cloths - Flour Sack

 

1.   Magical Polishing Cloth  

The high concentration of polyester and little if any cotton in table napkins doesn’t work for polishing silver, stainless, glasses, flat and stemware.

The best tool is a 100% cotton polishing cloths, AKA “Flour Sacks.” Yes, Grandma was “correcto mundo” on this point of using a good dish cloth.

If you don’t have the flour sack type polishing cloths — Bed, Bath and Beyond and Williams-Sonoma are great sources to get them.

Cut the cloths (32″ Width x 38″ Length) in half; hem the cut ends and you have twice as many polishing cloths. Add your name to the cloth with stitching, or a marker.

Once a fantastic member my staff Julie, dyed her polishing cloths orange, resembling her brilliant hair color. There was no mistake the orange colored cloths belonged to her.

Color coding like a name on the cloth helps with easy owner identification.

Flatware

When placing flatware, use the polishing cloth to polish-wipe-buff out any water spots, or film residue.

The trick is to place the flatware, in the polishing cloth, while holding the cloth in your hand. Buff out the flatware and gently “Push” placing the flatware onto the table, in the correct position.

This method leaves no finger prints or smudges on the flatware and knife blades sparkle. A little practice and you’ll get it.

Glassware

A polishing cloth is the bomb to “polish-wipe-buff out” any dust, residue water spots on crystal, glasses or stemware that’s not up to par.

Have cloudy or water spotted glass and stemware?

Steaming or boiling hot water with a shot of white vinegar is part one of the trick here.

Use a thermos, a small pot of boiling water or even water glass full of steaming hot water for the wetting powers of steam.

Expose the glass in question to the steaming evaporation for a moment, then wiping with a polishing cloth — usually does the trick.

If the servers setting up  need to to use stronger methods such as a full vinegar dip or making a paste from baking soda and water several glasses, then some one needs to addrss the problem be getting on site.

If the glass has lipstick on the rim, have the glass cleaned again.

If dusty, dirty, spotted, or cloudy glasses with mineral deposits are constantly arriving at your events — then you need to have a serious chat with the rental supplier or dish washer.

Staff should not have to polish, wipe out every glass.

Polishing Is Attention To Details

Clients, planners, coordinators, photographers, and guests who arrive early are always impressed when they see serving staff polishing various items.

Later comments heard include,” This is an excellent caterer. You know — I saw the staff polishing the forks, knives and glasses when we first arrived.” They figure if you pay attention to the flatware — the food and service will be “A Game” quality.

 Step Up The “Bling” At Buffets & Stations

Polishing cloths can add last minute luster and shine to silver service buffet chafer dishes, serving utensils or an elaborate silver urn coffee station.

If you are using stainless steel chafer dishes, the water spots, finger prints and smudges can be buffed-wiped away with the polishing cloth. A little stainless polish helps too.

A polishing cloth has many uses including; insulating hands from hot entrée’ plates during service delivery.

Once a guest fell during an event and fractured her arm. I fashioned a splint and made a sling out of polishing cloths. Her family drove her to the hospital. She returned later to join the party — giving a few hugs and a generous tip to the staff. 

 

Waiter's Cork Screw

 

2.   Waiter’s Cork Screw

A Waiter’s Cork Screw aka “pull or lever type wine bottle opener” is next. Carry the opener in your pocket all the time when working on events. Use the foil cutting blade for opening packages during setting up.

Try out a few different types. Some openers are small, stainless gracefully adorned with rosewood handles.

A few are big, plastic and easier for newbie’s to handle. Find one that feels comfortable to work with because some day the opener and your hand will get a real work out.

Avoid at all costs the F-18 drone wine bottle cork extractors, you know the ones where the arms like wings are pulled down to extract the cork.

Staffs often earn extra tips for opening bottles of wine table side providing they know how to provide wine service properly.

 

Mini Mag Pocket Flash Light

 

 3. Flash Light

Carry a small flashlight. Read the “Be Ready For Service” blog post “Let there be light.” 

Pocket Note Pad

4. Pen and Pocket Notepad

 A pen enables you to write information, special orders, directions, and changes.

A small (3”x5”) spiral top pocket note pad works best for easy quick reference and keeping track of details while nesting in a pocket.

Think of the small expense as an investment in yourself.

You may be able to deduct the expenses from your taxes. Your tax advisor can best
advise you on this.

Besides staff will make more tips!

 

Cell Phone

 

 

 5. Cell Phone

Nearly everyone has a cell phone these days. Often the cell phone is glued to fingers or ears.

Serving staff need one for especially for communicating. If staff is late to an off-premise event, staff needs to call and let the lead-captain know what’s going on.

Some times incorrect addresses or directions were given to the staff and the cell phone is the life saver.

Walkie-talkies are the tool of choice and need to be used on events for communicating among the staff. A cell phone works in pinch.

Staff needs to put away cell phones while working — so they are not making, taking cell calls, updating face book and twitter or checking the Nikkei Index for stock prices. When guests observe staff texting and talking they feel “dissed” and ignored.

I have been known to collect cell phones from offenders and return at the end of the event along with a stern warning.

 6. A Can-Do Positive Attitude

A good positive attitude is the most important essential tool to bring to every event.

A good attitude will get you through rough spots and challenging and unexpected moments that crop up in catering.

There are millions of pages, thousand stories and books written on the importance of, and having a good attitude.

I encourage you to read them often as they provide inspiration and assurance — a sorta’ “charger” or pick me up.

What it boils down to is; make a decision to have a good attitude and doing your best!

When you excel at any thing and do your best — there’s personal satisfaction.

Some times going home tired after an event where you gave your all and made a difference in some way, is a great physic payoff — even though there was no tip.

“Think not of yourself as the architect of your career but as the sculptor. Expect to have to do a lot of hard hammering and chiseling and scraping and polishing.” –BC Forbes

Polishing Your Brand

Keep doing great work and find ways to turn your work and style into something outstanding, over-the-top, sensational service. Let’s call it “Your brand.”

Set an example, help other staff members out. Many will balk.

Ignore them and keeping pushing your limits, style and techniques. Others will take up the challenge and collectively most of you will get even better in small subtle ways. Remember, “All boats rise with the tide.”

Some one will notice your actions and with that comes acknowledgement and more opportunities and better financial rewards.

Basic To Basics

This list here of serving essentials covers the most basic items.

Depending upon the season and locale bug spray, sun screen lotion, a snack, some bottled water, a lint roller and shoe shine brush, plus a few other items might be in order too.

Since I don’t know it all – and if you have a suggestion for the list – let me know.

Keep polishing and hold on to your aprons,

Bombs Away

How is staff disposing of the remaining liquids in glassware when clearing?

Dumping the left over contents into the sink? A bus tray? The Trash Can?

I have seen a lot of inadequate “drink dumping” containers.

Most were hasty made, messy, not effective and prone to disaster.

19 Gallon Beverage Tub

Years ago during a very large wedding on a hot summer afternoon — I witnessed a full 19 gallon rope tote split open, causing a Tsunami like wave of lethal drink remnants flash flooding across a garage floor.

We were lucky and able to wash it down with a hose. However the initial flood and later the stench from the surrounding planters were nearly unbearable, plus several cardboard boxes of supplies were soaked.

There had to be a better way I thought. As I worked or attended various off-premise events — I always looked to see what was being used to solve the drink dumping dilemma. I heard some horrible stories and saw a few good ideas and one that really does the trick.

An Easy Effective Solution

The best solution I have seen so far, is to place a mesh strainer on the top of a five gallon bucket. Simple, manageable… you’re all set.

Whether you are catering a party for 10 or a 1,000 this inexpensive and functional concept works well and is easy to duplicate whether you have several scullery stations at a massive party or multiple events going on simultaneously.

Place the bucket/strainer in your designated scullery area close to a trash can and where the dirty glassware is racked and staged. Remove the paper napkins, coasters and pour “bombes away” the remaining left over contents of the glassware into the strainer sitting on top of the bucket.

When the strainer is filled with debris — simply empty the strainer in the trash can.

When the dump bucket fills to the ¾ level (Around 36 Lbs. of liquid weight), put on some latex gloves, remove the strainer and dump the strainer’s contents into the trash.

Next carry the bucket to a suitable draining spot; a sink, a toilet and dispose of the buckets contents pouring carefully. There’s always at least a toilet at any catered event — even if the toilet is a portable.

Avoid dumping into the grass, flower beds or surfaces drains as the drain usually divert into to the street and the next day will bring complaining calls of nasty odors which will reflect poorly on the host and caterer.

Five Gallon Bucket

 

Five gallon buckets are best because they are a manageable size and FREE to acquire as various items are packed in the bucket; peeled potatoes, fruit, washing detergent, etc. Chances are – there’s several around the kitchen right now.

Wash a few out and when dried write “Drinks Dump Bucket” with a black broad tip marker on the buckets side. 

TableCraft 10" Inch Medium Mesh Strainer

 

Next get some TableCraft 10” double mesh strainer ($10 – $14.00). write “Drinks Dump Strainer” with a black broad tip marker on the handle.

The mesh strainer collects ice cubes, straws, garnishes, picks, cigarette butts, basically the trash that guests leave in the various types of glassware — while letting the liquids and ice melt into the bucket underneath.

To get rid of large amounts of accumulated ice cubes, just pour some hot water into the strainer and then dump the strainers contents into the trash. In most cases the ice melts fast enough. 

Rubbermaid Utility Cart

Another time saver for clearing the glassware from tables, at the end of the event and after guests has left. Just place the bucket-strainer on the top shelf of a Rubbermaid lipped 2 shelf utility service cart and cruise thru the dining area dumping the remaining contents of the glassware in the bucket-strainer.

 Working in tandem with someone to clear and rack the emptied glasses speeds up the process especially of there are wheels under the glassware racks.

Tables need to be cleared of all glassware after dessert is served and cleared. However there’s times where a special presentation or entertainment is going on – guests are lingering — so the staff must wait till the end. 

When an event ends have the bucket and strainer cleaned with a pass thru the dishwasher and dried so the bucket-strainer are ready for the next event.

The identifying labeling may seem obvious. However labeling serves a purpose when you make a change and especially when there’s new untrained staff. You will have less staff wearing “NETMA” badges and the staff will start making additional suggestions for improvement. 

Remember: 1. Add the bucket and strainer to your event pull list.
                             2. Do away with the old procedure.
                             3. Inform all the staff about the new method.

If you have a better idea for dumping drinks – please tell me about it.

Hold on to your aprons,

“Pass The Salt and Pepper Please”

If you are “On the Floor” as I am often, at catering events you hear this request a lot.

Despite the best quality ingredients and the magic of a talented chef — some guests still want salt and pepper on their food. Yes, some have been known to sprinkle salt and pepper before  tasting the food. I refer to that as “Asalting the food.”

Reasons for adding salt and pepper to food include; being food snobs, old bad habits, damaged taste buds due to smoking, or a guest claims to add salt to prevent dehydration on a hot day. Some guests like the aid to digestion that back pepper provides and some simply enjoy black pepper’s savory warmth.

Even though black pepper is the world’s most traded spice, black pepper usually is overlooked in the shaker — as some basic mediocre commodity on the table until something happens or a decision is made to kick it a notch or two.

Disaster In The Making

We’ve all seen it…

A guest removes the black pepper shaker top and tries to lightly sprinkle black pepper on their food and ends up dumping most of the shaker out – for any number of unintended reasons. Sometimes these guests want their course replaced because of the pepper dumping.

Good quality table salt and ground black pepper does not belong in plastic, shiny metal bullets, aluminum mini canisters or paper packets mixed in with packets of sweeteners for coffee or tea.

Coronita Mini Salt & Peper Shakers

If you’re serving BBQ or Baja style fish tacos — OK then I’ll opt for the smaller Coronita beer bottles as shakers because that fits with food theme and decor.

However in more formal service, salt and pepper shakers need to be glass or crystal, clean and polished; meaning the holes are not clogged, no water spots, food particle or smeared fingerprints from the last week’s event.

Good etiquette suggests that two salt and pepper shakers be on one 60” round table — one of each shaker per four – five guests. The shakers need to in the same location on each table — say at 3 and 9 o’clock.

There needs to be enough fresh salt and pepper in the shakers, so the guests don’t have to ask for more.

Why Are Guests Removing The Tops Of Black Pepper Shakers?

The reasons include; the shaker was overloaded, the contents are compacted from over filling or expanded grains from absorbing moisture, the shaker holes are clogged (dirty), or the ground black pepper is larger than the holes in the shaker top.

The last point escaped me till a member of the staff, pointed it out one day after replacing two elegant plated entrée’s. Tim said, “Look here, the ground pepper in the shaker is larger than the holes in the shaker top. How are the guests supposed to shake the pepper out?”

I replied, “Good Point. I never saw that. We must work on a solution and make it better!”

We did. Here’s what we discovered and the course of action taken.

I talked with the Executive Chef. We spoke at length to several suppliers and became more knowledgeable on table salt and ground black pepper.

After considering options we made some decisions. Then we established some written standards and procedures to provide an above average experience for the guests, regardless of location, menu and serving staff. We wanted quality ingredients, an over-the-top guest experience and consistency at all events. 

What’s Inside Counts!

As for table salt in most cases, pure anodized shaker salt is the choice.

If you are going high-end or looking to truly enhance the guests dining experience consider finer (smaller) ground Kosher or mediterranean sea salt.

The taste of either is cleaner and there are no additives as in iodized table shaker salt. Make sure that the salt in the shaker will pass thru the holes in the shaker top.

Some Back Ground On Black Pepper:

The word “pepper” is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit pippali.

The English word for pepper is derived from the Old English pipor.

Black peppercorn

 

Black pepper comes from the dried ripen berries of the pepper plant (Piper nigrum), a climbing vine in the family Piperaceae. The plants are native to India’s Malabar Coast, where the Malabar pepper and Tellicherry pepper hail from.

Tellicherry is a higher-grade pepper, made from the largest, ripest 10% of fruits from Malabar plants grown on Mount Tellicherry, hence the name. Tellicherry has just a bit more warmth, zing and earthy aroma.

Currently Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing roughly 34% of the world’s black pepper crop. Black pepper is also grown in Indonesia, Brazil and a few other tropical regions.

So depending on where the black pepper was grown will have influence on how it tastes. Check your sources and origins carefully. The French have a term for this called “Terroir” The literal translation is how the earth, water and air — the growing environment affects the taste of fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, seafood, etc.

The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is approximately 5 millimeters (0.20 in) in diameter, dark red when fully mature. Although we are focusing here on ground black pepper — I’ll mention briefly about the other peppercorns. We’ll talk about using freshly ground black pepper in grinders in another blog post.

 

 

Black and White Peppercorns

Black peppercorns: Are picked when green and dried in the sun until they turn black.

White peppercorns: Ripen on the vine, the berry is fermented and its red-brown skin is removed. Be careful as some unscrupulous suppliers have been known to bleach the peppers to avoid the peeling step.

Green peppercorns: Are picked while green and not yet ripe. They are then freeze-dried, dehydrated or packed in brine or vinegar.

Pink peppercorns: Are the dried berries of the Baies rose plant, mostly grown on Reunion and Madagascar. The Baies plant is native to South America not India, and really isn’t a pepper plant.

Black pepper like coffee is being cultivated in small batches around the world. Recently an organic black pepper crop from Ecuador arrived. Great earthy taste, however the heat intensity is just not suitable for table service. Watch for new developments as it seems closer to the equator is better for growing and more heat!

Many things have been used to extend pepper, including juniper berries, pea flour, mustard husks, and papaya seeds. Check the quality carefully.

 

Getting Your Salt & Pepper Shakers Outta’ The Weeds!

Gather all the salt and pepper shakers used for guest table service.

Line them all up like attentive soldiers. If you have different styles and heights, separate them and then decide on only one style. Get rid of the mismatches, obsolete units and replace with matching shakers – so all your shakers are the same.

As the shakers degrade over time this allows for scavenging tops and bases as you replace providing you stick with the same design and supplier.

Order some extras (back ups), as shakers have a tendency to wander off. Be sides good stylist salt and pepper shakers are not very expensive unless you go for crystal.

Samll Pepper Shaker

I like smaller shakers. Smaller shakers contents are fresher and they are less obvious on the table.

TableCraft makes several nice shakers. (http://www.tablecraft.com/storefrontB2CWEB/browse.do?action=refresh_browse&ctg_id=759&root=747&dispatch=itemdetail)

If you decide to get rid of all your current salt and pepper shakers spend some time looking around for a size, style, design that you like and price that makes sense and assurance that the manufacturer will be around. Once I found some great styling shakers at Ikea. A large quantity was purchased only to find out nine months later the line was discontinued.

Some manufacturers make the holes in the pepper shaker top just a little larger than the salt shaker tops – check and sort accordingly.

Some others add more holes for the pepper or for the salt. The jury is out on which goes in what shaker based on the number of holes. Just go with what you like.

Dump out all the salt and pepper. Inspect threads on the shaker and top for spice accumulation and plugged holes. A wooden tooth pick, a stiff tooth-brush, and a small container of warm water are good for cleaning the messy threads and holes out. 

Inspect the glass shaker and tops. If a shaker is chipped, scratched, the top dented, rusty, or corroded replace it.

Pepper and salt more so, absorbs moisture which causes the contents to cake up and not shake out – so the salt and pepper needs to be replaced at least once a quarter. In locations more humid and closer to the ocean — you need to refresh the contents more often.

Soak all the shakers to loosen all the accumulations and then pass the shakers and the tops thru the dishwasher for a good cleaning.

Make sure the shakers and tops are completely dry, before refilling.

Now is a good time to make sure the holes are clear, as sometimes pepper grains become lodged in the shaker top holes.

Polish the tops of the shakers. A soft polishing cloth composed of a cotton flour sack works really well.

Bed, Bath and Beyond is a good source if you don’t have some. http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?SKU=14667172. There are several other good uses for the cotton polishing cloths which I will cover in another blog post.

Fill Up

Start with clean hands.

Place two grains of dry uncooked rice to the salt shakers to absorb moisture.

A large wide mouth squeeze bottle or small mouth funnel with a teaspoon will make filling the shakers faster. Avoid over filling and leave some room at the top for the contents to shift when the shaker is turned over and shaken. Having a ½ sheet or hotel pan to collect the overflows and helps keep the work area clean.

Size Does Matter

What ever ground black pepper you decide on must fit thru the holes on the shaker top.

Get some samples from your suppliers to taste and test to see that the ground black pepper passes thru the shaker top holes.

A good supplier will ask what type and size grind you are looking for. Usually pepper grinds are classified or based on passing thru a shifting mesh.

Mesh is a term that refers to the number of openings per linear inch in a sifting screen. A fine grind, such as a 30/60 mesh, would sift through a screen with 30 openings per inch, but would stay atop a smaller screen of 60 openings per inch.

Coarse dustless grind: 20/30 mesh, many people prefer this grind of pepper to the shaker grind; the slightly larger-sized grind seems to have a little stronger flavor, yet it will still fit through a standard pepper shaker hole. Be sure and check though.

Dustless grind: 30/60 mesh; is a very popular ground black pepper.

Here’s a great example from Penzeys Spices.

http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeysgroundblackpepper.html

Transporting Salt And Pepper Shakers To And From Off Premise Events

Depending upon the number of guests in attendance determines the amount of shakers needed – remember budget two each for each table. Look back at your event guest counts and sort the events into size groups say 20-60, 50-120, 200, 250, 300, etc.

Standardize on the shaker packing sizes. If you send an extra here and there, it’s OK. This will allow you to pack the shakers in advance, therefore not having to count them each time you go to an event. You just grab a box(s) based on the guest count and go!

Get rid of the cardboard boxes. They get wet, soggy, trashed and if the shaker inside turns sideways or over — you have salt and pepper all over.

Salt & Pepper Transport Containers

Get some airtight food storage containers like those found at organize.com (http://www.organize.com/lolofostcosh.html). These are great for transporting the shakers to and from events.

Label the containers “Table Salt and Pepper Shakers” and the name of your catering company. Why “Table?” Because special interactive station-buffets set ups will be using a different types of finishing or flavored salts and peppers and you really don’t want table salt and pepper — so the “Table” designation avoids the confusion and embarrassment later.

Maintenance

The salt and pepper shakers need to be inspected after each event and made ready for the next usage. This falls under side work and is a great way to fill time for staff waiting around for the next assignment or in between pickups and deliveries.

A few minutes of inspection, top off and cleaning and polishing gets you already for the next event.

Summary…

Seems like a lot of attention to salt and pepper shakers.

Yes, however we were surprised first by the response from the serving staff and then from guests who noticed the attention to details and for making this small aspect of service better, than before.

Hold on to your aprons,