Every day, I wake up with the intention of sharing with you and then the day begins. Not that it’s a bad thing but after months of trying to catch up, I finally had an epiphany; there is no catching up.The restaurant business is different every day. Creating any kind of a routine is a pipe dream. From equipment failures to supply short shipments to awnings blowing through the dining room window spewing glass all the way to the middle of the kitchen on New Year’s eve morning to pity parties in my head because I’d stood for so many hours my feet were numb, every day is full of the unknown leaving my hope for a little time here impossible.
And yet here I am. Service begins in six minutes. My station is ready. The chefs are ready. They’re having a smoke. I’m sharing with you. Routine may be out of my reach but I’m not giving up! In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s now three days since I started this post..
My uncle, Joe Chase was here last week to visit our family. Despite him having precious little time, he generously photographed Italian by Night during a prep shift and a bit of evening service. It was really the only way we could spend time together. I know. I’m profoundly aware of how loving this was. Joe was very mindful of being unobtrusive and to not capture anybody not wanting to be caught. Not everybody likes to have their picture taken. I so love his photography. Have a peek at what he saw.
The day started with Chef Hagay Erez coming in on his day off, which is why he wasn’t in his kitchen whites, to work with me and our new sous-vide machine. We spend weeks testing new recipes and ideas before I write the new menu. That day we tested everything from a shallot to an octopus. Hagay moved to Canada from Israel with his wife and daughter last year to build a new life in Saint John. His perspective makes us mindful of how fortunate we are to have been born in Canada. He brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge and has quickly become part of our family.
With all of the crazy of running our business, my partners Gord Hewitt and Liz Rowe place big value in finding the joy. Some days are harder than others to find it, but eventually we always do. Joe caught Liz and I sharing a laugh, over our morning coffee, while we discussed how we’ll tackle the evening service. Mitigating any possible trip ups in order to provide our guests the very best experience we can, takes more than good food and service. We count on a little divine intervention!
When I showed, Joe’s photos to the staff this shot of Liz and me was everyone’s favorite. One server said, “I’ve seen you two laughing together so many times, that picture is perfect!”
Pastry Chef Kate McCarthy is absolutely fearless with a bag of flour. Here she is starting her day of baking focaccia, baguettes and sour dough boules, making gelato, tiramisu, creme brulee, pavlova, pizza dough, grissini, sauces, garnishes and all that before noon – kidding! Her skill and enthusiasm completely trumps her youth.
Julia Bustin came to us with zero experience in a professional kitchen. Eight months later, she can work circles around line cooks with years of experience. She proved my theory that interest coupled with the right mentoring produces an efficient skill set. It doesn’t hurt that she is also an artist. She and Kate create dessert platings that Picasso would be proud of.
Chef Axel Begner is the most experienced and celebrated chef in our kitchen. His humble, steady and focused work ethic is a perfect role model to the entire restaurant. It’s a dream come true for me to work and learn from him every day. He produces all of our gnocchi and ravioli at an illegal speed and works the pizza line several nights weekly. He said,” if someone told me a few years ago that I’d be making pizza, I would tell them they were crazy, but I LOVE IT!” I asked him if he missed having his own restaurant. He said, “No. I’ve done that. I love being here with young people doing my job. I can do what I love to do without the worry or responsibility. And I’m learning too. You can never be too old to learn.” This is a smidgen of the kind of wisdom he shares with us every day. This is a shot of Julia, me and Axel before service.
Chef de partie, Jordan Hatfield is my gentle giant. He’s six and a half feet tall and so cool. Calm, easy-going, skilled and reliable make him invaluable to the team, but he’s going to have to get a new hat!
King of the dish pit, Connor Walker was a complete disaster eight months ago. Doing dishes in a busy restaurant is a sweaty, icky and stressful job. Seemingly a thankless job, but actually the epicenter of the kitchen; without clean dishes… After months of working every shift he could get his hands on and becoming an absolute star, he’s left us for university. We wish him the best life has to offer and look forward to watching his journey.
Prep cook Conor McKibbon-Green, also came to us green. I hired him because he had worked at McDonalds. Knowing that systems drive food chains made him perfect for our prep team. Conor is a science student making him a weapon whenever we need to figure out biological or mathematical problems in the kitchen. I know some day he’ll be moving on to fulfill his career, but for now I live in a world of denial that he’ll be with me forever.
Once in a great while, you work with someone whom you instantly develop an intuitive artistic shorthand. Chef Stephen Wade is my sous-chef. His quiet demeanor guides the team through long days of prep and wild nights of service. Of all the team, I spend most time with Stephen. By nature, I’m painfully quiet while I work. Stephen and I have worked for hours, side by side, saying little more than, “beside” or “behind”. These are kitchen safety phrases, so your co-workers know where you are. Most people would be bored out of their minds working beside me and yet this born-in-England, soccer fanatic, book worm, dog-loving workaholic hums along happily.
Joe caught Stephen carefully placing one of his creative garnishes on the gnocchi pomodoro. A lovely parmesan tuille filled with creamy ricotta that with a bit too much pressure will crush in your hand.
Joe was able to catch a few of our service team, Abby, Emmanuelle and Kate, just as we opened. Our servers are critical to ensuring a successful night at the restaurant. No matter how good the food is a poor server can sink the night. Our front of house team rocks! I wanted you to see where I’m spending my time and with whom. This isn’t everybody, just those who happened to be working when Joe was in.
My partner, Gord wasn’t here during Joe’s first visit so he came back and captured Gord and I looking very tired and bedraggled early Saturday morning after a bumpin’ Friday night
I’m sharing a simple gnocchi recipe, just as good, but different from the one we use at the restaurant.
- 3 lbs russet potatoes
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Preheat oven 425*F
- Prick potatoes with a fork and place on a baking sheet and bake 1 hour
- Allow potatoes to cool for 5 minutes then scoop pulp of 1 potato at a time into ricer into a large bowl
- Add salt and egg…mix well…sift in flour and knead til blended…add more flour if necessary
- Divide gnocchi into 4 pieces…gently roll each piece into 1 inch wide tubes
- Cut tubes into 1 inch pieces
- Place on large sheet dusted with semolina flour
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Add gnocchi and cook until they float.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove gnocchi from boiling water to your favorite sauce.
- Serve immediately.
THE LOVE: Don’t let your potatoes cool down to much or they’ll be gummy.
It’s been so lovely to be here again. Thanks for reading.
photography by Joe Chase