Apr 12, 201710:33 AM
All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans
Convergence for your Pleasure
Nelson NY, Getty Images, 2010
Anyone who has ever worked for a restaurant, ate in one, or even walked by one, knows how these businesses are a tight well-oiled machine. Okay, so not all, but most are that way.
There are loads of hospitality professionals in every restaurant, each one assigned a specific task and they are judged by their efforts doing those actions. A bus boy may want to be a waiter, but he won’t make it to that level unless he is a very good bus boy. The dishwasher may want to work the soup line, but he will never get close to doing that work unless he is a very good dishwasher.
I mention all of this only to demonstrate what a complicated business restaurants are; and I have not even hinted at the challenges in creating a drink menu, a wine list, or a daily special. Even if one piece falters, the whole structure of the deal fails. Sadly, we’ve all been there when failure seems to be the kindest comment we can make. Along with the vow never to return and then we bad-mouth the joint every chance we get.
With all the talk of teamwork and everyone pulling together for the common good, in reality there are areas of a restaurant that could function independent of other areas. Of course, the “back-of-house” is totally dependent on other areas. Wait staff could not function without chefs and bartenders, and so on.
But there are two areas that likely could function detached from the rest of the departments. The kitchen can go its own way and still succeed. The bar could be a great success away from other areas necessary for the operation of a restaurant.
Don’t think for a moment that many an accountant has indeed suggested that if the place were just rid of (fill in the blank here), then the profits would flow. Those thoughts are wrong, of course, but as profits start to shrink and personnel issues cause even the most optimistic humanist to doubt his/her sanity, then a little what-if exercise can be cathartic and fun.
Play-like aside, it is interesting to note that these two departments in a restaurant, covering both food and drink, have become dependent, mostly on each other. And in New Orleans, they have even come to strongly rely on each other. That fact is not necessarily true in other markets.
This interdependence is a fairly recent development. More of a discovery actually. The more normal operating model has been that the kitchen created the dishes on the food menu and the bar created alcoholic beverages, mostly traditional. The culinary side and the cocktail side were each on their own, operating in a vacuum, not in an inter-dependent environment.
All that, in many instances, changed about 15 years ago. First of all, many of our new restaurants are chef-owned and chef-driven. The chef’s name is on the front door and that means even if the bathroom is out of toilet paper, the chef is ultimately responsible. Chefs do not take their names or their responsibilities lightly. It’s one thing to have a big corporation’s name on the building. The chef/owner cannot be so cavalier about a name his family entrusted to him. The second cause for the close working relationship between the chef and the mixologist is that everyone has realized that to the customer, it’s all one. The food, the drinks, the service, the silverware, the appearance of the restaurant, and everything else…it’s all one.
There is also the conjecture, on my part, that Tales of the Cocktail has gone a long way in educating owners and staff of the importance of matching cocktails with cuisine. We long ago acceded that wine is a fine accompaniment to meals, but cocktails, again until recently, were relegated to sidelines or as a precursor to a fine meal. They are now full players residing on the table with the main event.
When these facts hit home with me is when I was speaking a few years ago with a young, talented mixologist named Alan Walter – now at LOA but back then at the gone and still-lamented, Iris. Walter was talking about his holistic and organic approach to creating and making great cocktails. He likely thought it was a throwaway line but he said, “Chef Ian (Schnoebelen) made available to me one or two burners on his stove so I can prepare my raw ingredients.”
Chef Ian is now the genius behind Mariza in the Bywater. He has always been cutting-edge. But by recognizing that the bar and the kitchen were a part of the same world, Ian was truly onto the best restaurant model anywhere.
This close working relationship between two front of house functions is pretty common in New Orleans. It does not appear that such a relationship exists in most places. I am still seeing cocktail menus floating out in space with no culinary tie-in, and the reverse happens all the time with dining choices.
That’s pretty amazing considering the well-recognized Amazon way of operating: you order something and then Amazon suggests 15 other items that go with your order, which other customers have tried and enjoyed. It is all so obvious and yet so unseen in the Old-World model of restaurant service.
It’s all changing, however, and now the movement is towards assisting the client, namely us, to leave the establishment satisfied on all counts.
Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored, at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life," hosted by Tim every Thursday evening at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m., on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans. Previously broadcast episodes are available for viewing at http://www.wlae.com/appetite-for-life/