The Cook as The Customer

The Cook Dines Out

I haven’t dined out very often in the year since I moved to Los Angeles. Sure there’s the late night runs to Canter’s for pastrami on rye at 2 am after work with the gang or the quick bite to eat at the beach on my days off. But between the busy life of a pastry cook, the exploration of a new city and life on a tight budget, dining out is not part of my life the way it used to be.

Simply put, eating out, grabbing a bite to eat, quick fixes, all these easy ways we fill our bodies with food on a daily basis are simply no comparison to a true dining experience. An experience with it all: service, ambience, attitude, poise, emotion, all the elements that may make or break the meal. That ten dollar plate of sushi from the food court at Westfield’s is nothing compared to the sushi chef winking at customers in Little Tokyo as he expertly slices a rainbow roll. Skipping the quick bite on the go to savor the experience can be all the more worth while.

I found myself lucky enough to be sitting not once but twice this month in restaurants for what seemed to be the first time in months. Sure I’ve been to diners and cafes, had stops along the way and the quick fixes, but these were the real deal. Fraiche in Culver City, the brain child of Chef Jason Travi and The Foundry on Melrose, West Hollywood’s home to Chef Eric Greenspan, both finally offered me Los Angeles dining experiences.

What really struck my attention most about these restaurants, besides the thoughtful food and tasteful ambiance, was how important it really is for food industry workers to dine out. When dining out, you can place your experience under a microscope, and thus you begin to understand the nature of the experience you are trying to create yourself. I really enjoyed learning that Oscar was the name of the man filling our water glasses at the Foundry. I felt this allowed the customer a familiarization with the restaurant. And when two of the items we had hoped to order were no longer available at Fraiche, I realized how different the perception of “86”ing an item is for a customer versus the relief it sometimes brings a line cook.

Experiencing for yourself the efforts that you try to present every night allows you to view the way you work in a new light. The braised short ribs of Fraiche melted in my mouth. Instead of merely adding sautéed apples, pops of crisp fresh apples garnished the plate as well, along with peppery grits, tucked underneath the short ribs. The thoughtfulness of the plate help me understand the importance of thoughtfulness in every aspect of my own work.

Braised Shortribs at The Foundry

The service at the Foundry was impeccable; nothing made me realize more just how important good service really is. Not only is it important to dine out to realize what you are doing and why you are doing it, but also to understand what to look for in the future. I always say “in my restaurant” this or that, and dining out is a way to find out those standards. New silverware was placed for every course, a manager brought out most of our courses, and we felt very taken care of, without feeling stifled.

The experience must be also for ideas, to understand what is going on in the industry. The fragrant scallops of Fraiche, the floral orange zest warming every bite of perfect pasta and tender scallops. A simple speck, mission fig, and mozzarella salad at Fraiche, fresh flavors brought together in the best way. Crab cannelloni at the Foundry, a mix of woody roasted and fresh fennel, topped with crunchy gratin breadcrumbs. The amaretto shot to finish a stone fruit cobbler at the Foundry, cool and complete.

Working so hard, day in, day out, sometimes it is hard to see exactly what it is you are doing. Experiencing food yourself, having a dining experience, makes you realize just what you are working so hard for each day. It makes you realize what makes a great restaurant great and what you need to do to make that great restaurant for yourself.

Stone Fruit Cobbler at The Foundry

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