Celebrity, prestige, talent and success seldom stave off the culinary catastrophes which occur while on the road to building your dream. What’s worse, once you achieve success your immune system doesn’t turn into Teflon and the problems cease. They usually become more complex.
This column isn’t meant to disparageThomas Keller, or his staff – he is one of the true culinary artists who symphonicly leads his team in perfect orchestration.
Successful artists are aware of their ranking. Most often they are tougher on themselves then any of their critics or peers could ever be. Yet, it is good for others in the business to realize on occasion; even the top names on the culinary roster face the same problems. The business is often an untamable beast serving as a backdrop for problems few would ever imagine.
I am fortunate. Bouchon is my local bakery of choice and when explaining this to family and friends the comment draws looks of envy and sounds of gastronomic pleasure from anyone who considers baked goods an entrée item. I frequent the palace of pleasure as often as my diet and wife allows. I can never pass Yountville without adding a box of muffins, scones, cookies or bread to the load usually in my car. A trip over the Mayacamas for a simple muffin or two is not unheard of. And, although his product is available in stores closer to my locale, the experience of being in a Keller location is the difference between seeing a Warhol in a gallery or actually visiting “The Factory.”
On a recent weekend visit with guests the tune at the bakery was hardly on key. After ordering a box of assorted pastries, a sandwich and a savory luncheon scone, I asked for a chocolate éclair to be cut into four pieces. I thought that would hold us over so we wouldn’t delve into the box of delights until we passed Dean and DeLuca. A day of dealing with wine country tourons was enough to pique any desire for sugar.
The bewildered look and response I got from the employee was comical considering the setting.
“We can’t cut the éclair. We only have one knife. We use that for sandwiches,” she said.
I immediately thought – to myself- you don’t need four knives to cut four pieces at Bouchon- do you? One knife should suffice.
When I explained that the sandwich knife could cut the éclair, the employee asked another person, presumably the shift supervisor and again, the response was that they cannot use the same knife to cut desserts that cut sandwiches.
I was astonished that someone under the tutelage of Keller’s team could not have made a decision to either walk the seventeen steps to the restaurant across the courtyard- Bouchon Bistro – and get another knife, or us the sandwich knife and then wash it in the sink at he other end of the counter.
The episode doesn’t end their. After cancelling the éclair request, I paid the bill, and decided to explain the dilemma to the host at the Bistro. He accepted my story and said he would look into the matter. Still dismayed at the lack of customer service or care, I decided to express my mounting dismay to the employee Windexing the bakery’s front window. I knew he was the manager. Good managers always pay attention to the windows. It’s a sign of a caring manager. Gary Delay the new manager at Bouchon Bakery heard my story and proceeded to tell me that they couldn’t use the knife that cut the sandwich because of the company’s cross contamination policy.
Yet, that did little for my palate craving an éclair more than ever before. Delay also told me they had run out of plastic knives but would make sure to order some. Of course, this too did little for my craving or my need for an éclair.
The experience once again confirms my belief that nobody in the business is sacrosanct from the incidents which erode success and impede perfection. And, it should make all of us realize that training needs to be constant and continual.
It would be a good topic for a pre-shift meeting.