Workation: A necessary component to success.
Working any position in the Food and Beverage Industry can be exhausting. The everyday operational tasks can become challenging in the high-traffic environment. Occasionally, it is necessary to step away from your job to remind yourself why you are working in this industry in the first place. The best option for your intended escape without feeling guilty is something called a workation (work + vacation).
I encourage everyone to do this; second to Staging, it is a necessary component to succeeding and growing in our field. A workation for you should involve traveling and eating. When I walk into a restaurant, I notice everything. I notice what flatware and serving pieces are used, I notice the temperature of the room, I notice if there are ceiling fans, are they on or off. I notice the appearance and demeanor of the servers, I notice the restaurant layout, is it efficient or a circus, I notice the coffee service. I take away MUCH more from each establishment than just the food. Traveling allows me to attain that new breath of fresh air from other restaurants. This fresh air gives me continued education on how other restaurants may operate, a different network of fresh faces that share similar vision, and refreshed inspiration to continue bettering myself. My overdue workation this year was to one of nation’s oldest cities also known as the “city of brotherly love”: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The main reason I chose Philadelphia was Vetri. Vetri has been proclaimed “possibly the Best Italian Restaurant on the east coast” by Chef Mario Batali . Alan Richman, winner of 14 Journalism James Beard Awards has noted Vetri as “probably the Best Italian Restaurant in America”. With all this in mind, I thought Vetri would be the perfect place for me to experience and to continue to learn as a chef and take on new ideas in the overall dining experience. Continued education for our industry is very important; you have to go out and explore what other people are doing in other parts of the world. This is how you can set yourself apart from other restaurateurs as well as bring in new ideas to your community. Experiencing the best of the best allows you to set or realign standards for your business. The dinner at Vetri was as expected: nothing short of extraordinary. The courses were planned out thoughtfully, the plating was beautiful, the atmosphere was cozy, the service was impeccable, and of course the food was remarkable.
Vetri January 2014 Menu
Di pesce (fish)
Osso di mammut lanoso
Diver scallop and persimmon crudo
Bocconcini de baccala
Pappardelle with cockles and tardivo
Whole fish ‘secondo il mercato’
Di Verdure (vegetable)
Sweet onion crepe with truffle fondue
Ricotta ravioli with wild pecan
Spinach gnocchi wth brown butter
Almond tortellini with truffle sauce
Lasagna all giudia
Di terra (from the earth)
Smoked Canada goose stuffed endive
Chestnut fettucine with wild boar ragu
Capretto with stone milled polenta
Milk braised lamb with mint
Chocolate polenta soufflé
Pistachio flan with milk chocolate gelato
Bunet with kiwi
Aside from Vetri, the Italian Market in Philadelphia made me feel like a kid in a candy shop. The outdoor market has fresh produce as well as butcher shops and specialty Italian items available every day of the week rain or shine. To be able to sample rare types of olive oils, vinegars, cheeses, meats, etc. and have all these resources at your fingertips for your restaurant would be a luxury to me but not to the average Philadelphia restaurateur.
I cannot write in depth about every restaurant experience I had in Philadelphia, there’s too many and I would sure lose your attention. The two restaurants that I had more of an intimate connection with was Vetri and Tequilas. Having talked to my bar friends in Houston, I reached out to the owner of Tequilas. I cannot stress how important networking is in our industry. It builds a community where we can share each other’s innovations and experiences to better our industry. Learning from Vetri’s chef de cuisine, Adam Leonti, that his Panettone took five years to perfect brings me joy to know that someone else share’s my vision that perfection is attainable through perseverance, dedication, and lots of trial and error. Meeting David Suro, owner of Tequilas was a humbling experience. He walked right up to me at the bar, he noticed someone ordered Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, so he knew it had to be me. I also realized he makes Siembra Azul Tequila that I regularly find at high-end bars in Houston. His recommendations of tequila, mezcal, and food that night were unforgettable. I remember delicious tripe and grasshoppers!
Felipe Riccio accompanied me to Vetri. Felipe works for us at Camerata expanding his wine knowledge, but he is a chef first. Some past cooking experiences in Houston include Reef and Pass & Provisions. His inspiration from Vetri and the Italian market for his upcoming private dinner was noticed by his guests. Like Vetri, he incorporated quality ingredients with minimal alterations to make sure each component kept its original essence. He made sure his service was attentive but not intrusive. He stressed beauty of plateware which he really noticed at Vetri and how that element added value to each dish. That single dinner at Vetri inspired a dish at his future private dinner:
Roasted Ceci Pappardelle/ Fregola Sarda/Burro di Buffala/ Parmesan-cured Yolk
As I said earlier, there were too many amazing restaurants, bars, coffee shops I visited in Philadelphia and all of them are worth mentioning. Follow them on Twitter through Paulfeeds.com (Elixer coffee, Han Dynasty, Yard’s Brewery, Dim Sum Garden, The Ranstead Room, Franklin Mortgage and Co.) My advice is to take a workation and explore them yourself. A workation is the perfect combo of allowing you to further enjoy your profession, while actually still working…