I was working a small dinner off property for The Conservancy last Thursday when I received a phone call from EJ, one of the sous chefs in the Ridgway kitchen. EJ said we have a problem at the restaurant. We have no gas.
I immediately remembered a time when a line cook said to me years ago, “Chef, we’re getting low on gas.” My response was short, I’m certain, and hopefully not too filled with foul language. I did swear a little in those days. We did run out of gas. But our provider raced to the restaurant and got us back on line immediately.
The correction was not so simple this past week. I called my wife Wynne and asked for phone numbers for TECO. I called John Everding at Bayside to see if they had gas. He said yes, but he was talking to a restaurant a few doors east and they were out. I think Bayside ran out while we talked.
I love to solve problems. It’s a challenge I’ve never been afraid to face. This time I faced it from afar. What I saw from my perch while catering the dinner were young men and women in whom I have placed great trust doing their jobs to perfection.
Michael, my executive sous chef at Ridgway, raced back to the restaurant, quickly analyzed our cooking capabilities and edited a menu with my business partner Sukie. We’re lucky because Ridgway has lots of electric equipment in the main and prep kitchen. We also have lots of catering gear that is easily adapted to emergency restaurant cooking.
Here is a list of great things that occurred in the next hours and days.
* John Everding could not reach TECO so he called the Naples Daily News. At that early time they knew nothing of the outage: Sharp thinking on John’s part. * The continued reporting from the NDN became my most current source of information. I read the online paper almost hourly. * I awoke at 3:33 a.m. Friday morning. Not an unusual time for me when stress is high. I call it the devil’s halftime. I’m sure others can relate. My first stop was Commercial Glass to pick up five cases of butane canisters. My first call was to Taylor Rental. We do a lot of business with them and we were lucky enough to get a gas griddle. * I emailed Mayor Barnett, City Manager Bill Moss and Assistant Manager Roger Reinke, and they communicated with me thereafter every day. I was speaking for all restaurants. We had all gone through 9/11, Charlie, Wilma and, oh yes, this last recession. The weekend of the gas line break was the first time we could all breathe that collective sigh of relief! * Bayside had no option Thursday night but to close. Abel Gonzalez, the executive chef for Bayside, improvised shift by shift and by Saturday had a very good menu. * Tony’s Off Third bakery found they could cook some fresh items in small electric convection ovens. Curtis, our overnight baker, was patient and provided Tony’s morning customers with their usual fresh product. * The bakery overall was in pretty good shape. Like most bakeries we prepare the base cakes early in the week for the busy weekend and have them available. We ran out of carrot cake Saturday night. * On Friday morning, Emily Duncan, our pastry chef, sat with us and we planned an open house for Tony’s. We went forward with the planning, gas or no gas. The event was a huge success. We’ll do it again for those who missed out. * I had good communication with Jason Parsons, the new GM at The Naples Beach Hotel. * By Friday night we had created a gas outage menu and it was terrific. We served no fried foods. We might want to visit that option with some frequency for our own good health!
What is the bottom line for me? I had the opportunity to watch some young and very capable chefs and managers perform up to and beyond expectations. I never saw panic. I did see enthusiasm, willingness and passion for their jobs. I did a little planning and thinking, but for the most part the work was accomplished by the next generation. They did it well. Sukie and I are fortunate to have these wonderful people work for us. I know I’m grateful and happy to see others earn their stripes.
My wife Wynne always reminds me to be happy with what I have. I have a lot, starting with Wynne, my kids and our extended family at the restaurants.
Wynne has completed the planting in the garden and the holiday decorations for Ridgway. We are in full swing for the holidays. Ridgway and Bayside will be packed next week. And I expect many will discover that Tony’s now has unbelievably high-quality pastries.
This feeling of completion and joy is what the spirit of Thanksgiving is all about. I hope this feeling never goes away. I love what I have.