Day Fourteen: Wednesday November 14th, Renovation, Personnel & Recipe Challenges
Of the countless limitations that life has straddled me with, plumbing and electrical are the most obvious. Mike Holmes is the proverbial sun-kissed bodybuilder, bikini-clad girls fauning around him, as he kicks sand in my vitamin D-deprived face. And although I can always count on an “unexpected” problem when tearing down walls of a previous restaurant, I hate plumbing and electrical problems because they are the most visible reminders of what I don’t know about how to build restaurants. These problems seem to come out of the woodwork (or drywall) like long-repressed horror stories. Anyone who has done this before can attest to the sinking feeling that comes as a result of the gamble they took of punching through a wall or digging through the floor because of some dark curiosity or some delusionary design ideas. When I asked that the washroom wall be taken down, it revealed some recently-installed vent pipes coming up through a slab of concrete separating the mainroom floor from the basement ceiling. No problem, just cut and redirect it. But a big chunk of the concrete had to be dug out because of some oddity in the floor/ceiling’s architecture. (I am resorting to gothic descriptions here because the endless days and nights are beginning to take its toll on my formerly bright-eyed and busy-tailed outlook). Removing this chunk of concrete is no little expense. It is beginning to look like it is time to beg for personal loans…again.
Meanwhile, all the noise from the renos forced me to hold front-of-house interviews at a cafe down the street. It was a disappointing day, as most of the candidates who knew something about food and service (and had a wealth of experience in solid restaurants) were unabashedly disappointed by the concept of pooling tips with others. It’s something that most ethnic restaurants do (for reasons that I shall explain in another post), but seasoned servers/bartenders in the mainstream restaurant scene are not used to. I remember the backlash that came when I attempted to institute this at a variety of top-notch non-ethnic restaurants in the city. People who are used to making loads of money “on their own” don’t take to sharing it with others too well- who can blame them? None of today’s candidates made the cut. More tomorrow…
Also, because of the dust from the demolition, we had to move the recipe development process to Mrs. Moon’s home. She would be meeting our executive chef, Shin, for the first time, and I had asked her to prepare some dishes I wanted him to taste. If they were really good, we would keep them on the menu as is, but it was more than likely that Shin would have to tweak and ”finish” the dishes with the view our specific customers’ tastes in mind. We began with two kinds of cucumber kimchi: one flash-marinated and one that had been fermented for three days. Next it was napa cabbage kimchi, again one of them fermented for three days and the other made the same day and kept in a briny broth until ready to serve. The idea was to offer our guests a choice of two kinds of kimchi, at differents stages of fermentation. The reason for this is that there are two types of kimchi-eaters out there. One who is just getting their feet wet and the other who has been swimming in the pool for some time. Kimchi- and there are over 50 kinds- is an acquired taste. It has everything to do with the fermented quality of it. I have found that people either love it or hate it, very few in-betweeners. All four of the cucumber and napa cabbage kimchi options were better than average, but still needed some signficant help.
We went onto Japchae, a vegetarian sweet potato noodle dish. In a restaurant with so much meat, this dish was going to be a god-send for our vegetarian friends, so it had to be very good. It came off well, the vegetables perfectly cooked, except we knew that the hon-shimeji mushrooms would have to be replaced by enoki mushrooms. The texture of the former was better, but it tasted too earthy, felt too heavy.
Finally, we finished with shikhae, a sweet rice punch, usually served as dessert, but often drank before a meal to aid digestion. Often the best tasting ones look distasteful: grayish bits of rice floating in a syrupy brownish liquid. This one tasted great- a recipe passed down from Mrs. Moon’s grandmother- but we needed to do something about the colour of the juice, whiten it up a bit, to make it look more appetizing. Or perhaps put it in a dark bowl rather than in glass. But we would have to leave that for another day.