The Ingredients of Great Service

My favorite breakfast in town is served on a simple diner-style plate, with paper napkins and no-fuss silverware. It comes with coffee served in a chunky white mug and ice water in a plastic cup. The green chile that smothers my eggs and the crispy potatoes served on the side are delicious, but that’s only part of why I keep returning. When I walk into the Pantry Restaurant, the servers and bussers and host smile and say hello—they know me by name. They know my eccentric order by heart (breakfast burrito with egg whites, vegetarian sausage, fresh vegetables, potatoes and an extra side of green) and what I want to drink. They ask about my family. I feel welcomed and appreciated and I’ll go back every week instead of choosing someplace new, just for this experience.

When it comes to choosing a restaurant, good food is important but good service is arguably just as imperative. Poor service can keep you from visiting a restaurant again, while great service and great servers will keep you coming back. But what are the critical ingredients for great service? As someone who’s worked on the other side of the table, from server to bartender to manager, I decided to ask colleagues from some of my favorite local restaurants to talk about what they think defines great service and what Santa Fe restaurant staff can do to foster great experiences for their guests.

During a busy Friday night or packed Sunday brunch at any restaurant in town, you’ve probably noticed the bussers and servers hustling through the dining room, on a sort of racetrack from the kitchen through the tables and back. A well-run restaurant is like a well-oiled machine and there’s a kind of dance between the employees as they work. This is what Luis Lozoya calls “the system.” Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Luis began working as a server at the Pantry 12 years ago and is one of the most recognizable faces of the restaurant.

At the Pantry, he says, everyone works as a team. The framework of service is a kind of cross training, where everyone knows how to do everything, so nothing falls through the cracks. “You have to have a good team,” he says, “and you have to know the system. We do everything here. If there’s food to run, you run the food, whether you’re a server or a busser. If you see a table that’s dirty, you clean the table.” He points out that Stan, the owner of the Pantry, and his son Michael, who currently runs the restaurant, are there working just as hard as the rest of the staff, wiping tables and running food and filling up drinks. “The food has to be good,” Luis emphasizes, “but the service has to be better.”

Owners and managers who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty are huge contributors to a restaurant’s great service and success. When I arrived at the Plaza Cafe downtown to talk about service, Jared Garcia, the manager and son of owner Daniel Razatos, was crisscrossing the floor, darting from table to table to speak with customers and running credit cards. “We all roll up our sleeves,” he said as we sat at the counter. “My father still busses tables, runs food, serves tables, takes back the bus tubs. We’re a big team and we treat it like a big machine and we’re all working together. It’s very important to do that.” Ester Najarro has worked at the Plaza Cafe for 32 years, after coming to the U.S. from Guatemala. She points out that a good manager also knows how to communicate with customers and is always present on the floor. “A good manager walks around the tables, asking how customers are enjoying their meals,” she says. “They ask visitors where they’re from, what they’re doing in Santa Fe. A good server should also communicate well with customers in this way.”

Communicating well with customers, working as a team and even knowledge of the menu items and wine list are all important aspects of service. But great service goes beyond these technical aspects, as my colleague Jay Hayden pointed out while we discussed the concept of excellent service. Jay bartended for nearly 20 years before landing at Geronimo restaurant, where he’s worked for 16 years, and La Boca, where he’s worked for seven years. If anyone knows great service, it’s Jay. He reminded me of the difference between technical service and hospitality, a distinction made by Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Eleven Madison Park. Meyer says that service should be divided between the technical and the hospitable. Water glasses should remain full and food should arrive on time, but a server must also make the guest feel welcome and at home.

Jay believes the concept of hospitality applies no matter the style of service, whether it’s fine dining or a casual diner setting. “It doesn’t matter the level of service. The principles are the same. Even in different styles of dining, I’ve got to be spot on with service but I’ve also got to try to make that connection with customers.” Hospitality can be what separates an average dining experience from a fantastic one, and what makes you choose to go to one restaurant over another. Jay emphasizes that people have an endless number of choices when it comes to dining. “People can choose a multitude of restaurants. How do you get them to choose you?” Jared at the Plaza Cafe echoes this sentiment: “I explain to the staff that people choose us. They’re not only spending their money but they’re spending their time here and we want them to enjoy every minute.”

Hospitality is making customers feel welcomed and appreciated, not just keeping their water glasses full and the table clear. Jay says, “I want to figure out how to make it special so their experience is memorable.” Hospitality is all about how the customer feels, but it’s directly linked to how the restaurant staff, from bussers to managers, feel about their jobs. Some of the most hospitable people in the business are those who choose to work in restaurants as a career and are passionate about the work they do. I ask Luis at the Pantry why he loves being a server. “When you’re a server you know lots of people,” he explains. “There are people who come back every year, they ask about my family and they remember me. If you do this just for the money, it doesn’t work. It’s got to be your passion.” Ester at the Plaza Cafe agrees. When I ask what her favorite part of the job is, she doesn’t hesitate. “My customers. I have customers from all over the U.S. I love my customers.”

Matt Reynolds has worked at La Casa Sena for 15 years. He’s been a busser, a food runner, a head server, a bartender and is currently managing the restaurant. He considers working in the restaurant business a career, but points out that these days, there are a lot of people in the business who are just there for a quick buck. “There used to be more full-time workers,” he says. “Now, a lot of people have second jobs or they’re going to school for something else. Being in the restaurant isn’t their major focus.” Finding a restaurant with servers like Luis or Ester, who have passion for what they do and show us the meaning of hospitality, is something special. “In a restaurant like the Plaza Cafe, you can be a career server,” Jared says. “It’s not just a cafe, it’s something bigger than that. People keep coming in from all over the world. That’s something you can have pride in.”

As a server at two successful restaurants, Jay says that a staff’s attitude definitely contributes to a guest’s sense of hospitality. “I’m happy to be there,” he says, “and that translates out onto the floor. If you’ve got a happy staff and people are glad to be there, they’ll bring that attitude to the table.” He explains that dining culture has changed. These days, servers and managers aren’t just there to make sure your meal is delivered on time. People like Jay, Luis and Ester are the heart and soul of a restaurant and they have the potential to deliver a warmth and sense of welcome that will bring you back again and again. “You’re not just a waiter or waitress anymore,” Jay says. “You’re the host or hostess of the party.”

Originally published in the April, 2015 issue of Local Flavor Magazine.

Albuquerque Power Chefs Call Their Faves

I had a lot of fun speaking with Albuquerque chefs and restaurant owners for this piece for Local Flavor’s December/January issue. Check out the magazine’s updated website to see the article in print, complete with beautiful photographs by Gabriella Marks.

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Abq Power Chefs Call their Faves

Five Abq restaurant owners/chefs name their favorite dishes—at another restaurant!—then give us tips as to what they think the next hot ingredient/technique or trend for 2013 will be.

If you do a quick Google search this time of the year, you’ll find the top five (or ten, or fifty) of everything: the best reads, the best songs, the best blogs and even the year’s best news stories. Some of my favorite lists have to do with, of course, food and wine, and I could spend hours cruising through nationwide or city-specific lists ogling the array of restaurants, dishes and outstanding wine lists. This year, Localflavor wanted to discover the best dishes in Albuquerque, but instead of leaving it to the journalists and food writers, we decided to ask some of the city’s most illustrious chefs and restaurateurs to give us their favorites.

Not only do these powerhouses dish on their most beloved eats, but they also give us some insight into what’s in store for the Duke City’s culinary scene in 2013. In line with the season—and the economy—these chefs and restaurant owners all agree that local ingredients are one of the new hot trends for the coming year. This is clear from the success of places like Los Poblanos and Skarsgard Farms. I recently signed up for Skarsgard’s Harvest Box Program, a cooler full of my “share” of the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables delivered each week. I couldn’t be happier with my box full of sweet potatoes, winter squashes and fresh fluffy spinach.

What’s the exciting technique for these foods? Another trend for the coming year is homestyle, rustic meals that get back to the basics: preserving produce (i.e. your grandmother’s apricot jams and jellies), using the whole animal (forget about tenderloins) and an emphasis on the true flavor of the food—let’s taste the lamb, not disguise it with complicated sauces! Who wouldn’t agree that some of the best meals in life are the simple pot roasts and chicken dinners of family gatherings? So put your best linens away and leave the foams, syringes and spherified strawberry bubbles of food chemistry on the back burner—let’s get down to the business of savory. Who knew you’d find a bit of your grandmother’s kitchen in your favorite Albuquerque restaurants?

My own weekly delivery from Skarsgard Farms

My own weekly delivery from Skarsgard Farms

1. Jennifer James, Owner/Chef of Jennifer James 101

You can’t talk about homestyle cooking without considering soup, especially during the winter season. One of Jennifer James’ favorite dishes is the beef pho at Pho Nguyen (specifically the “B2” pho menu option). Jennifer’s choice has to do with the quality of the food as well as the ethics of eating locally. She says, “The beef pho is clean, fresh and invigorating, and this is a small, family-run business that is consistent and conscientious.” Jennifer emphasizes that the trend moving forward will be a commitment to local food—not just farmers but independently owned restaurants as well. “When you eat locally, a little goes a long way,” Jennifer points out. “The $50 you spend on a local business touches a lot of fingers. People think they can’t do much but they really can—and if they don’t, these local places will disappear.”

Jennifer explains that with the current state of the economy, folks are staying closer to home and craving foods that fulfill them in a different way than the foams and pearls of molecular gastronomy. The trend for rustic simplicity in food springs partly from chefs needing to preserve local produce and this means jams, jellies, pickling and canning. Jennifer says, “I’ve been preserving foods since I’ve been cooking. When you take in local produce you want to keep it around for the winter. It’s something everyone used to do, and it provides this great burst of flavor on your plate.” Jennifer is currently serving dishes with preserved green tomatoes—yum!

Pho Nguyen, 7202 Menaul Blvd. NE, 505.830.6554

2. Pat Keene, Owner/Executive Chef of The Artichoke Café

They’re served all over the world and made with an array of different ingredients: buttermilk, blueberries and in our neck of the woods, blue corn. No matter the style, pancakes are a classic breakfast item. Pat Keene of The Artichoke Café is a fan, and her favorite are those at The Grove Café & Market. She loves the lighter, cleaner version of these French-style pancakes. “They’re thin, like a cross between a crepe and a pancake, and served with crème fraîche. With other pancakes it feels like you’re eating pure carbs, but these are more substantial.”

Pat includes crepes on the lunch menu at The Artichoke Café and says that this type of light but savory dish is one of the trends she sees moving forward. These days, focus has shifted to healthier, fresher, local ingredients, especially an array of different greens. Pat says, “I think super greens like kale, Swiss chard and collards are going to be huge this year. We’re seeing people eat them in salads, stuffings, soups and braised. You can eat them and feel good about what you just ate!”  Pat, who is committed to serving sustainable and organic foods, says Albuquerque consumers and chefs are becoming more aware of this type of fare and it shows in the quality of the food. “Eating foods that are in season and fresher is important—it’s how we ate before the industrialization of our food supply. If you eat clean, healthy food, you don’t have to ‘diet’ because the food is more nourishing.”

The Grove Café & Market, 600 Central Ave SE, Suite A, 505.248.9800

The Artichoke Cafe

The Artichoke Cafe

3. Chris Pope, Partner/Executive Chef of Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro

Arguably one of the strongest attractions to food stems from childhood memories, and for Chris Pope one of these is salt cod. “One of my favorite dishes is the baccaloa at Torino’s @ Home. It reminds me of my mother’s cooking—she used to cook with salt cod.” Chris says the appetizer, served with bread and salad, illustrates what our other powerhouse chefs have confirmed: in 2013, it’s all about simple, homestyle food. Chris says, “The baccalao is indicative of trends going forward—rustic, homey, affordable.” He also believes in supporting local businesses. “In Albuquerque, what’s exciting to me are the smaller scale, independently owned restaurants like P’tit Louis Bistro and little burger places. These are the places I want to eat, not the commercial chain restaurants.”

Chris points out that in Albuquerque, there has been an increase in local suppliers as well as more interest from patrons, and that opens up the opportunity to experiment. For example, if you buy local meats, you’ve got to find ways to use the whole animal, and this includes cuts like pork belly, ox tail and offal. He explains, “As restaurateurs, we have to keep our price points from rising, so we can’t serve only tenderloin. We have to find ways to be creative with our cooking and also bring people value.” Right now, Chris is enjoying experimenting with sausage in his dishes, and he says that these more cost effective side cuts naturally lend themselves to simple, homey, rustic dishes.

Torino’s @ Home, 7600 Jefferson St. NE, 505.797.4491

 4. Cherie Montoya Austin, Owner of Farm & Table

When you’re traveling, the best food spots are always the tiny local restaurants you stumble upon by accident. But if you’re lucky enough to live in Albuquerque, you don’t have to go searching for these places, as Cherie Montoya Austin, founder of Farm & Table, is quick to tell you. One of her favorite dishes is the moules Roquefort at P’tit Louis Bistro in Nob Hill. Her description of the dish piques my appetite. “The mussels are so delicious, so homey and comforting. They’re in a white wine and blue cheese broth, and I can go through a whole bowl and be perfectly satisfied.”

As with our other restaurateurs and chefs, Cherie places huge importance on local food. She reminds me of a key aspect of Albuquerque that can easily be overlooked: 300 days a year of sunshine! “Albuquerque has a vibrant farming community and with the use of greenhouses, we can grow food year round.” Farm & Table grows an abundance of produce for the restaurant on their 1.5-acre farm, with broccoli, cabbage, carrots and turnips in season right now, to name a few. Like Jennifer James, she grew up preserving food and eating the produce grown by her family. “My grandparents grew all their own food. That’s the way we were raised, and food tastes better when it’s fresh.” Currently, the restaurant is in the midst of preserving quince, a highly aromatic, pear-like fruit, by turning it into membrillo paste, which is especially suited for holiday dishes.

P’tit Louis Bistro, 228 Gold Ave. SW, 505.314.1111

Moules Roquefort

Moules Roquefort at P’tit Louis Bistro in Nob Hill

 5. Claus Hjortkjaer, Chef at La Provence Brasserie Restaurant

At La Provence, Claus Hjortkjaer says that after 40 years of being a chef, he still gets excited about foie gras. His favorite dish pick brings us full circle to Jennifer James 101: he absolutely loves the foie gras there, as well as the atmosphere and concept of Jennifer’s restaurant. “I like the foie gras because it’s never prepared quite the same. The restaurant has a great atmosphere and attention to detail. The menu isn’t large, but what’s included is very well prepared.”

Claus concurs with his colleagues about trends for 2013. He feels that with the economy in its current state, people are becoming more aware of and more critical of what they eat. He says, “People may not eat out as often as they used to, but when they do they want top notch, homemade meals.” He also believes that simplicity is key. “I’m of the opinion that you don’t cover up the food with flavor, but you enhance the food with flavor. I never serve cocktail sauce with oysters—that covers up the flavor of the oysters!”

Claus says people are looking for the same thing in wine as they are in food. “If people go out and order a bottle, they’re more inclined to have something special, above and beyond, more of a handcrafted, flavorful wine from a small winery, not something mass produced.” This is why he likes Gruet. “When I go to Gruet, the winemaker isn’t sitting in his office. He’s in the vineyard, standing between the vines.” Cheers to that!

Jennifer James 101, 4615 Menaul Blvd. NE, 505.884.3860

Taberna La Boca-The Best of Spain in Santa Fe

Do you like tapas? Spanish wine? Sherry?! Check out my latest article for Localflavor magazine and if you live in town, swing by Taberna La Boca for a glass of Fino–yum!

T A B E R N A  L A  B O C A

from LocalFlavor magazine November 2012

The amazing creativity and energy of Chef James Campbell Caruso brings another winner to the Santa Fe culinary scene.

If your idea of dinner consists of an appetizer, entrée and dessert served at a quiet corner table to something that sounds suspiciously like elevator music, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover a very different atmosphere at Chef James Campbell Caruso’s new restaurant, Taberna La Boca. The Spanish music’s handclaps and toque guitar are almost overtaken by the collective sounds of voices and laughter. People are gathered around a large community table just inside the entrance where the doors are flung open, blurring the lines between inside and outside. Some sit, some stand and everyone eats. Even your mother would have to admit that here, eating with your hands is proper etiquette.

“I hate the fine dining concept, and I don’t like entrées,” Chef James, who has been nominated for the James Beard Award five times, says when I ask him about the concept behind Taberna. “We wanted to have a traditional tapas bar like you find in every corner of Spain and bring that to our community. It’s almost like a travel experience—when you come here it’s like you’ve gone somewhere else.” In Spain, tapas evolved as a practical snack to accompany the drinks in taverns. Thin slices of bread or meat were used by sherry drinkers in Andalusia to cover their glasses and keep the fruit flies away. Eventually tapas became a way to increase alcohol sales, since the salty ham or chorizo snacks made tavern-goers thirstier.

The inspiration for Taberna came from Chef James’ travels to Spain. Here, the streets are lined with tapas bars, all with their own specialty. The idea is to hop from one to another, always with a group of friends—your tapeña—eating and drinking along the way. “Each house has their specialty. You go to one specifically for the fried fish, the next for the razor clams and the third has really good tortilla española,” Chef James explains. The hop starts late, around 10:00pm when the streets explode with people and groups of friends hang out together eating and drinking until 3:00 in the morning.

The community feel of the Spanish tapas bars is what Chef James loves best about the culinary scene in Spain and what he wants to share with Santa Fe. He says, “In Spain, they’re so passionate about the food and the ingredients and the history and the cooking style, but it’s almost secondary to the space and the social way to gather and eat and share food and wine with your friends.” Although Chef James’ other tapas restaurant, La Boca, is similar, Taberna presents a more casual, communal dining experience. The food is simpler than at La Boca and more focused on traditional style tapas.

The physical space at Taberna is also different from La Boca. Chef James took a cue from La Boca’s tightly spaced tables, which encouraged conversation and sharing between tables, but added a long, 12-seat bar and big community table where people can gather and crowd in. Want to talk to someone at the other end of the table? Just get up, walk over and continue eating and drinking. There’s never a need to wait for food: there are cold tapas on the bar available to order as soon as you walk in. This is definitely a bit of Spain in Santa Fe, a call to the Pintxos (tapas speared with toothpicks) bars in Basque country where your bill is tabulated by how many toothpicks have collected on your plate. Chef James says, “My concept is: you’re here, let’s start eating!”

Taberna represents no less than a coup against the status quo of dining in Santa Fe. Our idea of a single big entrée is giving way to smaller portions that everyone shares. Chef James points out that those in Santa Fe’s innovative culinary scene have been quick to respond to the tapas concept. Our city now has four restaurants focusing on tapas including El Farol, where James was once executive chef. Since opening in September Taberna has been full almost every night. He says, “When I first started La Boca, I had some critics tell me I was just jumping on the trend of small plates. And I said it’s not a trend, it’s a revolution! It’s changing the way we really want to eat in the US.” The price point is low and the diner is in control—you can choose several tapas and a bottle of wine or just have a glass with a three-dollar tapa during happy hour.

This revolution extends to wine. While La Boca serves wine from France, Italy and Spain, Taberna focuses solely on Spanish wine with great emphasis placed on sherry. The only wine you’ll drink here is wine you’d find in a Spanish tapas bar. With the high quality but inexpensive price of most Spanish wines, this is music to a wine lover’s ears. And if you think sherry is an old lady’s sweet after dinner drink, Chef James will soon change your mind. One of his first trips to Spain took him to sherry country and the seaside town of Jerez, part of the sherry triangle and one of three towns where sherry can legally be made. “There’s something magical about that area. The sherries smell like they bottled the air in Jerez, this real salty, briny, fresh seafood and sea foam scent that you find in fino sherries, the real fresh, light sherries.”

Chef James Campbell Caruso

James was one of four chefs nominated to compete in the Sherry Council of America’s “Copa Jerez International Food and Sherry Pairing Competition,” and listening to him talk about sherry makes me long for his fantastic gambas a la plancha, shrimp with garlic, lemon and olive oil seared on the flat iron grill, or the mariscada verde—shellfish stew with garlic, Albariño, mussels and clams. Many of the tapas served at Taberna are prepared with Spanish wine, like the champiñones al Jerez, a plate of different mushrooms sautéed in fino sherry. This is, of course, the way to drink sherry—with tapas the fresh, salty, tangy wines shine.

Sherry comes in several styles meant for several different types of food, as Chef James will explain to you. There are four major styles, and all of sherry making comes down to trying to make a fino, that fresh, light sherry perfect for seafood. “The sherry has a layer of yeast growing on it that protects it from oxidation. Every other sherry down the line occurs because something went wrong with the fino and the yeast died. So they’re all happy accidents.” As the wine ages and oxidizes more, you are left with amontillados, olorosos and cream sherries, which are progressively richer and sweeter with dried fruit, raisin and nutty tones, better for pairing with dessert. At the end of the line is Pedro Ximénez, a super-sweet, super-rich sherry that’s so thick you can order it at Taberna poured over ice cream!

If you don’t immediately get addicted to sherry, there are some other amazing Spanish wines on the list, all reasonably priced. A friend and I ordered the 2011 Louro do Bolo from Valdeorras, a blend of Godello and Treixadura, two grapes from the Galicia region in northwest Spain. This wine is comparable to Chardonnay, with bright citrus fruit, buttery overtones and a toasty oak character.

All this adds to another of Taberna’s revolutionary qualities, which is its versatility. The restaurant transforms into a café at lunch, with coffee and delicious bocadillos, little sandwiches of rosemary ham, pork shoulder or Ahi tuna salad. Tapas are served until 11pm, which is great news for Santa Fe’s late-night diners whose options have been, to date, somewhat limited. Chef James also plans to hold educational classes about Spanish cuisine and sherry. In his opinion, added knowledge of food and wine serves to enhance your enjoyment. Of course it’s more fun to drink sherry at Taberna where you can look across the bar and see an Amontillado aging in cask, a gift from the folks at Bodegas Hidalgo, one of the most well respected Sherry producers in Spain.

For Chef James, food and the sense of community it brings to people are a way of life. Chef James says, “In Spain, everybody’s a chef. There’s a real camaraderie, fraternity. It’s not an obsession with food, it’s just so ingrained that they don’t even think of it. To them it’s like breathing, it’s like, why wouldn’t you enjoy every single meal?”  Viva Taberna La Boca!

Southern Hospitality

Is great service a dying art?

I grew up in North Carolina. After moving to New Mexico in 2003, I discovered that there are certain things I’ll always miss about the south: southern cooking (like biscuits, which never really get quite as fluffy and crumbly up here at 7,000ft), the feeling of grass between my toes, rivers and lakes and streams and creeks everywhere. One thing about the south that I look for everywhere I go (and that is more often than not hard to find) is good old-fashioned southern hospitality.

When I grew up, I was taught that the guest gets the best. This wasn’t an inconvenience or something to gripe about; it’s just the way things are done. Even if you don’t have lots of money, your guest should get the best of what you’ve got: the best linen, the most comfortable chair and the first piece of the pie. Being treated like royalty really does something for a person—you start to feel cared for and appreciated and at home. When I go back to North Carolina to visit, I know my mom will have the bathroom ready with fresh towels and washcloths and a brand new bar of soap. She’ll say, “I put fresh sheets on the bed and gave you the nice down comforter, in case you get cold.” She’ll offer to cook whatever I want, suggesting favorites from childhood like black eyed peas and collard greens. I couldn’t possibly feel more at home. All the money and glamour in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t make a person feel comfortable and welcome.

I have a very good friend in the restaurant industry who told me once that there’s a big difference between service and hospitality. Service is making sure the guests have everything they need: water in their glasses, napkins on their laps, food delivered on time. Great service is like a nice new machine—all of the parts run smoothly and it does what it’s supposed to do. But great service can never be complete without hospitality. Hospitality is how a place makes you feel. My favorite breakfast spot in Santa Fe is The Pantry Restaurant. Simple food and a diner setting with chunky white coffee cups and no-fuss silverware on paper napkins. But when I walk through the door the servers smile. They know me by name. They know what I’m going to order and what I want to drink. They smile and wave and ask me about myself. I feel welcomed and appreciated and I’ll go back every week instead of choosing someplace new, just for this experience.

Hospitality is just as rewarding on the other side of the counter as well. I love to cook—there’s something relaxing and therapeutic about cruising through a cookbook and deciding on a recipe, then pulling what I need out of the fridge and organizing the operation: onions here, sweet potatoes there, green beans and garlic in the small pan and chicken in the oven. I get lost in thought while I chop vegetables or get absorbed in BBC radio programs while I sort lentils. But for me, the best part about cooking is the pleasure it brings to others. I can spend all day on a recipe and think, geez, this was too complicated, all I want to do now is clean up and finish with this. But when I serve that bowl of Bouillabaisse to my boyfriend and he says, “Wow! This is so awesome!” while gobbling down three bowls, I feel very warm and fuzzy on the inside.

This is why, for me, a restaurant isn’t just a place to eat. A server isn’t just someone who refills your wine glass and a cook is more than the preparer of food. Hospitality has the power to transform a meal into something greater, whether you’re at the table or the stove. The greatest host is the one who welcomes you in, like you’re a neighbor from two doors up the road.

In the kitchen, the hub of hospitality