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A Source of Inspiration: LumDimSum!

16 Dec

For the past two months or so since we’ve launched our website, Anthony and I have been overwhelmed by the amount of love you have all shown to us.  We’ve gotten emails, Facebook messages, Tweets, handshakes, phone calls, and even toasts to how the website is developing and how everybody can’t wait until our restaurant is open.  First and foremost, thank you for that kindness, and thank you for reading our website!

Now, I really love giving credit where credit is due, and so I must tell where one of the biggest sources of inspiration for the website came from.

When I worked for Alan at Hatsune Restaurant Group in Beijing and Shanghai in the summer of 2008, he had this girl Kristen as his Director of PR.  Talk about somebody who truly knew everybody – she couldn’t walk into a restaurant or club in the city without knowing the people at at least three different tables.  A Cali girl – very cool and collected by her nature – but also very smart, outgoing, and a great communicator.  Alan struck gold with her, and not only have they become dear friends, but they still work together to this day.

Kristen leveraged her connections and her bright smile and branched out to direct the PR campaigns for a few other restaurant/nightlife groups throughout Beijing, and in doing so, started to brand herself in the process.  Kristen now runs a website dedicated to food, drink, restaurants, nightlife, fashion, charity, art, and the wonderful city of Beijing.

And so every time a new post would appear on Facebook, I’d go to her website and read all about what she had to say.  I kept coming back for more because, for me, it was so fun to read about new restaurants and the new happenings in a city that I love.  I realized that food is fun.  Food is worth reading about, when written the right way.  In some of Kristen’s restaurant reviews I can actually taste the dishes as I read them off the screen.  They’re colorful, they’re driven by images, and they spark the imagination.

That’s what we wanted to get out of this website.  We want to chronicle the opening of The Vaulted Door, we want to share sneak peak menu items with you all, we want to involve you in the opening of the restaurant through contests and competitions, and finally we want you to get as excited about this restaurant as we are – because once we open we certainly want to see you there.

So thank you to Kristen for the inspiration to create our own website – and one more thank you to her for writing some awesome material that really brings me back to a city that I love.  If you’re at all interested in Beijing, food, drink, or anything else that I mentioned, be sure to check out Kristen @ http://www.LumDimSum.com – really great stuff!

And finally, I really believe that Alan hit a gold mine with Kristen.  I think any restaurant that wants to be successful has to have a person like her.  Lots of restaurants and restaurant groups have PR and marketing people that sit in offices and do a very good job – but Kristen is different because she is literally on the street level, eating at the restaurants every night, meeting new people, bringing guests in, and showing them the magic of all of Alan’s restaurants.  She has become one of the faces of Hatsune Restaurant Group – one that Alan certainly appreciates and is thankful for.  Anthony and I will be lucky to find somebody with Kristen’s caliber of personality, intelligence, drive, and passion for what she does.

…we’re now accepting resumes.  Anybody think they can do it? 😉

What Is Entrepreneurship And How Does It Relate To Restaurants?

10 Dec

This past Wednesday night I got the chance to reengage with my entrepreneurial roots at an intimate gathering of about 30 graduates of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where we all came together to both congratulate and hear more of (the man I’m proud to say was) my professor Buck Goldstein’s new book, Engines of Innovation.  That was a run-on sentence, I think.

Now I’m not sure if it was because they were all UNC grads or if it was just a coincidence, but the people around me were all so brilliant, but more importantly, they were passionate about entrepreneurship.  You see, Buck’s new book (which he co-authored with the Chancellor of our university, Holden Thorp) seeks to shift the paradigm that entrepreneurship is a ‘dirty word’ and in fact unite entrepreneurs with academics at our nation’s top research universities with the hope of solving the world’s most difficult problems.  A special thanks to Doug Hamilton and Brian Fenty (two UNC grads, do you see a theme here?) for hosting the wonderful event!

Buck put it so eloquently when he described what entrepreneurship actually is.  The coming together of innovation and execution, Buck said, is what breeds entrepreneurship.  One without the other is useless.  And then Buck told a quick story.  A few weeks earlier at a similar event in North Carolina, Dean Smith (legendary UNC basketball coach, one of the greatest of all time) showed up uninvited and was sitting in the first row as Buck was giving his speech.  When he was explaining his thesis about innovation and execution, he likened it to Smith’s career, where he could have been as innovative as he was, but without executing on a daily basis, nobody would remember his name (and some names like Michael Jordan, James Worth, Sam Perkins, Bob McAdoo, and Vince Carter probably wouldn’t have meant so much as they do to us today).  Coach thanked Buck with the finger point that Michael Jordan made famous, acknowledging whoever gave him the assist (but actually was a Dean Smith trademark).

So we know now what entrepreneurship is.  How then, does it have anything to do with restaurants?

Let’s tackle innovation first.  I remember it clear as day, one of the most important lessons I ever learned about the restaurant industry.  Jenn, Will, and I were sitting as interns at the back table, adjacent to the upstairs bar, at Shanghai’s new Kagen Teppanyaki.  Alan was sitting on the other side of the table, and I remember vividly how the polished hibachi grill was so similar in color to his wristwatch that was clanking against it as he spoke.  “The restaurant industry is war.”  Three years later and I now know exactly what he meant that day.  In an industry that evolves daily, you must constantly innovate to stay ahead of your competitors.  When a potential guest walks down the street, she has hundreds of restaurants to choose from.  Why will she choose yours?  You have to innovate on so many different levels, which is why so many restaurants fail to succeed in the long run.  From a culinary, hospitality, service, decor, management, and advertising standpoint, you can have teams of people working to make your concept innovative, but if they fall behind for even one second, the restaurant next door just surpassed you.

And execution?  That is plain to see – without executing operationally on a day to day (and even minute to minute) basis, your restaurant will go down quickly and in flames.  Kitchen doesn’t produce, the guests leave.  The guests leave, the employees don’t make money.  The employees don’t make money, they leave.  Then the owner is left sitting there trying to eat the rest of the inventory before it goes rotten!  That can happen within a matter of weeks, literally, and that is why execution and operations are imperative for success.

Now, you have a team that is innovative and constantly staying on top of the game.  They’re always aware of what the competition is doing and always one step ahead on every level.  But the restaurant doesn’t execute their findings.  The restaurant goes down.  That is why entrepreneurship is the coming together of the two concepts.  It is only when innovative minds are paired with those who can execute that success will be near.

Finally, I’ll bring it a little closer to home and talk about the relationship between Anthony and myself.  While we both have the ability to be innovators and executors (we’re not talking head chopping here, folks), I would say that Anthony is much more of the doer while I am much more of the thinker.  I have always found it magical that I could name some ingredients and Anthony could put together a top-10 meal that I have ever tasted.  He’s like a bulldog in the kitchen – he puts his head down and produces exquisite products.  On the other hand, I’m more of a big-picture person.  While I believe Anthony sees the details and then builds upon them, I see the innovative finished product and then work my way down to the details.  The first time I saw the building that Anthony and I are targeting for The Vaulted Door, I immediately imagined a Saturday night dinner service taking place there.  From there, I worked my way down and built a plan to get to that point – layout, design, branding, competitive analysis, marketing plan, and eventually the financial that fit with and reflected the given plan.  It all started for me, though, with a vision of the finished product.

Based on what Buck believes to be the definition of entrepreneurship, I think Anthony and I are on the right track – the innovator and the executor coming together to form Long Island’s favorite restaurant.  I like the way that sounds.


Menu Item #2: Baked French Breast Chicken with Potato Pancakes and a Cipolinni Onion, Tomato, Sherry Wine Sauce and Crispy Parsnip Chips

15 Nov

Welcome back for our second cooking demonstration!  Our second menu item is absolutely delicious, and is very accessible.  By that, I mean that not many people would shy away from it.  There is nothing in this dish (like raw fish or some crazy veggies) that would deter people from eating it.  It is straightforward, but the flavors are explosive, layered, and rich.


This dish was especially delicious.  The chicken was cooked to perfection – it had a crispy, baked outer layer (almost a baked crust) and a moist, tender, juicy body.  Potato pancakes are one of my favorite dishes – the consistency complimented the chicken very well (the fried, golden outside played nicely with the softer center).  The absolute best part of this dish – no doubt in my mind – was the sauce.  It started with the aromas racing through the kitchen when Anthony sauteed the already-baked cipollini onions.  They are semi-sweet onions and a fairly new found gem of modern cooking.  They’ve been around forever, but have found a place in mainstream cooking somewhat recently.  I’m glad they have – they are delicious.  When Anthony hit the mix with the sherry wine, the entire pan went on fire as it burned the alcohol out of the sauce.  What a site to see – and you can see it just below!

A really fantastic dish – and something that you can probably bring yourself to cooking at your house!  As I said, this is an accessible dish.  It takes the artistry and creative mind of a chef to develop and imagine the dish, but any ordinary cook can recreate it and bring it to life in their own kitchen.  So do it!  And take a picture, make a video, or leave a comment about how it tastes!

Without further ado…

Recipe

Chicken Preparation

2 French Breast of Chicken

Season with salt and pepper

Saute skin side down in two tablespoons of olive oil

Roast in oven 20 minutes at 350 degrees

Sauce Preparation

8oz cippolini onions (peeled)

1/2 pint grape tomatoes (halved)

1/2 cup julienne carrots

1/8 cup toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup sherry wine

4oz brown chicken stock

2 tbsp butter (cold diced)

Roast cippolini onions in oven for 10 minutes

Add julienne carrots, cherry tomato – saute 3 minutes

Add sherry wine and allow one minute for alcohol to burn off

Add dark chicken stock

Add toasted pine nuts and butter

Potato Pancake Preparation

2 Idaho potatoes (peeled)

10 leaves of basil (chiffonade)

2 eggs

1/2 cup flour

1 tbsp salt and pepper mix

Shred potato with cheese grader and squeeze out all water

Add eggs, flower, basil, salt, and pepper and mix thoroughly

Strain out excess liquid

Hand-form and pan fry until golden brown; flip and cook through

Parsnip Garnish Preparation

3 parsnips (peeled)

1 tsp salt

With peeler, cut strips lengthwise

Deep fry until golden brown

Season with salt immediately

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We sincerely hope that you enjoy these demonstrations – and we want you to bring them to life in your own kitchens!

Until next time, fellow eaters…

Restaurant Review: Union Square Cafe

28 Oct

I was sitting at my computer about ten days ago and a thought popped into my head: why haven’t I been to Union Square Cafe?  I’ve been to most of the restaurants that are part of Union Square Hospitality Group – Danny Meyer’s select and diverse portfolio of restaurants that all compete for ‘best in class’ awards.  After all, I did work for Danny’s restaurant Blue Smoke for some time.  As an employee we had tremendous incentive to go eat at the other restaurants – discounts through the EDP, or employee dining program.  Why, then, had I never chosen to go to Union Square Cafe – a restaurant that, for the past 25 years, has consistently vied for top honors on Zagat’s list of ‘favorite’ restaurants?

My good friend Joseph joined me on our Tuesday night excursion into the city to eat what I was anticipating to be a phenomenal meal.  We got to the restaurant just in time for our 9pm reservation and were warmly greeted at the front door by the welcoming maitre d’.  Our table was upstairs, so the host walked us past the bar, through a small back dining room, up the rustic, Colonial-feeling stairs, and seated us along the balcony overlooking the beautiful artwork adorning the wall.  We were quickly greeted by our server Jen – who turned out to be a true gem – but weren’t nearly ready to order anything.  While we were looking over the menu we devoured the delicious bread that Jen had given us.  The bread was pretty ordinary, but there was a butter spread that was drizzled with a pinch of seasoning and set our meal off on the right foot.

Right after we placed our order we were visited by Michael, one of Union Square Cafe’s managers.  I had met Michael over a year ago at Union Square Hospitality Group’s New Manager Orientation, which is an all-day event at three different venues where the new managers in the company get to know about Danny and his partners and also learn about and get to meet their colleagues from the other restaurants.  Michael welcomed us to his restaurant and assured us that we would have an enjoyable experience.  It was nice to catch up with him for a little bit; it had been a while since I had seen him last.

Our appetizers came and 3 distinct, beautiful aromas hit our noses just as the plates touched the table.  We were sharing the appetizers so we could get a taste of each, and that was definitely the best idea of the night.  Not sure if I had a favorite because all three were so delectable.

The first appetizer we ate was USC’s take on fried calamari.  Instead of being heavily-battered as is traditionally seen, the calamari here was a little bit lighter than usual.  The sauce is what made this dish: a spicy anchovy mayonnaise that was texturally hardened with the consistency of cold butter.  It was so rich that even a dab of it on the calamari provided a salty, creamy taste that made the dish jump.

Our next appetizer was a pasta dish: housemade whole wheat pappardelle with Tuscan tomato sauce, walnuts and rosemary.  I love the concept of homemade pastas, especially when it is in the form of ravioli, pappardelle, or lasagna.  Something about having everything on a plate be fresh is so appealing to me, and USC certainly stood out to me because of that very quality.  Typically I’m not a huge fan of whole wheat pasta, but it added a certain amount of heartiness to this dish.  The pasta was cooked to perfection: al dente with the perfect coming together of crunch and preparedness.  The sauce was simple yet elegant – very representative of the service style and overall culinary mission of the restaurant.  The grated cheese topped it off; this was one of the top 10 pasta dishes I’ve had in my life.

Our final appetizer was compliments of Michael’s and the restaurant’s generosity and hospitality.  We were sent a dish of seared yellowfin tuna tartare with Pantelleria capers, lemon, celery, and fennel cracker.  There’s not much explaining to do here.  Simply put, my compatriot at the table had never eaten raw fish (or any form of tuna, for that matter) in his life and he thought it was delicious.  It seemed to have a component of sea salt that gave it a crunch and a wonderful explosion of flavor.  The best part of the dish, though, was the sear.  As somebody who has (tried to) sear sashimi-grade tuna and also seen it done very well, I have to say that this was the nicest, cleanest sear that I have ever tasted.  The sear was especially crispy and taut for only being about 2 millimeters deep, and the way it complimented the meaty, soft tuna was impeccable.

For our entrees, Joe and I each ordered one, knowing full well that we were going to be trying the others for our second bite.  I ordered the day’s special: a roasted red snapper dish with a chickpea puree and a tri-color carrot salad.  I was choosing between that and the striped bass when our server told me that I had to try the snapper.  Goodness was she right!  It’s not fair to judge against the bass because I didn’t get to taste it, but I was extremely happy with the decision I had made (or that Jen had made for me).  I’m typically not a lover of chickpeas, but that is mostly because of the texture of them.  As a pureed dressing for the snapper, the saltiness and almost thick earthiness of the chickpeas was a perfect compliment.  The tri-color carrot salad was sweet and garnished with little bits of dried fruit.

For his entree, Joseph ordered the oven-roasted chicken with sunchokes, 24k nugget potatoes, spinach, and smoked oyster mushrooms.  The only thing I could say to Joseph after I tried his chicken was that I don’t typically order chicken when I go to a restaurant anymore, but this dish was one of the best tasting chicken dishes I had ever had.  The flavor was exploding in every bite, the chicken was moist and the crispy skin added a crunch that took the dish from great to extraordinary.  The side component of those four unique ingredients worked so well together, and complimented the chicken beautifully.  There was a glazed sweetness to the potatoes, almost as if they had been sauteed in a touch of honey.  When combined with the savory flavor of the chicken, this dish had everything one could hope for.

Joseph and I each enjoyed a glass of wine with our entrees.  He drank a 2003 Fihl Merlot and I had a 2008 Von Buhl Riesling Kabinett.  As soon as I took the nose on the wine I knew that it was going to be deliciously sweet – and I was right.  It complimented my snapper perfectly, not to mention the fact that I could sip that wine for days…weeks?

When it came time to decide on dessert, Joseph and I were faced with our toughest decision of the night.  Each dish sounded tasty beyond belief.  Jen first recommended a dish that I found intriguing, but I wasn’t sure about how it would taste: fresh panna cotta with raspberries and aged balsamic.  I declined because two others caught my eye and I still wasn’t sure I’d like her recommendation.  I couldn’t decide between a dessert featuring a pear and one with mint, and Jen said, with no equivocations, “You’re going to have the pear.”

The gentleman running food arrived at our table with two desserts: my Greenmarket pear upside down cake with spiced rum ice cream and Joe’s brioche French toast with roasted apples and brown sugar ice cream.  Jen followed closely behind him with the fresh panna cotta dish and told us that we couldn’t leave without trying it.  My expectations for dessert here were already through the roof, but one bite in and I was floating so high above anything that I had ever dreamed that it took a while to get back down.  How would I begin to describe these three dishes: they were creations of brilliance in flavor profile, texture combinations, sheer richness, and presentation.  We legitimately considered licking the plates and bowls after we were done as part of the “No Morsel Left Behind Act.”  Not to mention, Jen was spot on with her recommendation of the panna cotta.

Upside Down Pear Cake

Brioche French Toast

Panna Cotta

Eat and Drink This!

The homemade pastas are to die for.  Simple yet elegant and more than delicious.  Terrific wines by the glass that you most certainly should consume with your meal.  Ask your server for the best pairing.  Dessert!  You cannot leave without eating at least two desserts; I don’t care how full you are.  Also, you’ve got to try the oven-roasted chicken dish – it will be your favorite chicken dish…ever.

Skip It

There was legitimately no part of my meal that I would have wanted to skip.  It was an incredible meal; a truly memorable dining experience.  If I could do it over again, I would not eat lunch the day of my reservation and order more pasta dishes – USC has a long heritage and history of Italian chefs, including current Executive Chef Carmen Quagliata.  Take advantage of it as much as you can and try the Italian-inspired dishes.

Where To Sit & When To Go

I loved sitting upstairs.  It was quiet and our server was able to devote so much attention to us, even though she had a full section.  We didn’t get to sit in the main dining room, but it seems that that would be a terrific experience as well.  The restaurant was brimming with people even at 10pm.  A late reservation is nice, it is more laid back and relaxed.  It would definitely be interesting to see how they maintain that smoothness of their operations at 7pm on a Friday.  I’m sure they don’t bat an eye.

Special Events

USC recently (within weeks) celebrated their 25th Anniversary.  Congratulations on that!  Additionally, one great thing to see is the chef and his cooks as the Union Square Greenmarket picking out their fresh produce for the day.

Overall

I rate the dining experience as a whole.  When I got home and thought of how to describe how I felt, I decided, without a doubt, that this was a top 10 dining experience of my life.  Early in the meal I said to our server Jen that she was ‘on point’ – her service was flawless and her confidence was attractive.  She knew exactly how our meal should go and she delivered accordingly.  She took us on a culinary adventure for those two hours, and when we emerged, we were better men for having been through it.  Who am I kidding using terms like ‘been through it’ and ’emerged’?  It was a privilege and an honor to eat Chef Quagliata’s food in Danny Meyer’s restaurant being served by Jen and greeted by Michael.  Joseph and I were the lucky ones.

Rating

An overall excellent experience.  46 points.  3 Stars.


The Performance Continuum

27 Oct

I was going to start off by writing ‘The worst thing you could do is want to be good at something,’ but I decided against it because that, in fact, isn’t the truth.  There are plenty of things I just want to be good at.  I don’t want to be the best piano and saxophone player in the world, but I do want to be able to play them fairly well.  I don’t want to be an Olympic runner, but I do want to be in good shape.  So that’s not a good example, because we can’t be world-class in all that we do.  It is unrealistic and trying to do so would take a lot of the fun out of life, I believe.

However, when you find something that makes you happy and something you want to do for your life, there is no other way to go about it but striving to be the best.  What does it take to be the best, then?  Being the best is a combination of a lot of things – natural abilities, applying what you learn, being mentored by the greats, etc.  But the biggest thing is striving for perfection.

One of the most influential scenes in any movie, for me, was in ‘Remember the Titans’ during the championship game when Coach Boone tells his players at halftime to play their hardest, and “win or lose” they are still champions.  Julius, a star defensive player on the team, interrupts the coach and says: “No, it ain’t Coach. With all due respect, uh, you demanded more of us. You demanded perfection. Now, I ain’t saying that I’m perfect, ’cause I’m not. And I ain’t gonna never be. None of us are. But we have won every single game we have played till now. So this team is perfect. We stepped out on that field that way tonight. And, uh, if it’s all the same to you, Coach Boone, that’s how we want to leave it.”

Julius was right when he said that none of us will ever be perfect.  That is fine.  But the only way to maximize our potential in this life is to strive for the unattainable perfection.  We reach for what cannot be reached and, in doing so, we climb to heights we never dreamed imaginable.

When it comes to restaurants, it is imperative that everything we do is at a level ‘above and beyond’ what others are expecting and hoping for.  My friend and mentor Alan Wong once told me that, “The restaurant industry is war.  You have to win the war to be successful.”  The only way to win the war is to go above and beyond in everything that you do and always striving to reach that level of perfection.  The first step in being the best is wanting to be the best.  The second step is doing everything to the absolute best of your ability and always striving to step your game up to the next level.  It’s about never settling, always striving, never wavering in your pursuit to be the best.

The final thing to realize is that ‘good’ is the enemy of success.  Too many times we do something well and then settle at that level.  We don’t push harder to become great; we don’t go above and beyond.

Whether it is in a restaurant or not, when you set your mind to something make sure you go above and beyond to reach where you want to go.  Always strive to be the best and never give up until you get there.

 


Bias for Action

22 Oct

I’m starting a series of posts that are in the group ‘What Does It Take To Succeed?’  This is the first post in that section.  If you’re interested in restaurants – or even business in general – you should definitely take a look and let us know what you think.  We’re always open to input and our guests and reader’s opinions, so let us know anything that is on your mind!

Today I want to talk about a concept that my Dad taught me when I was a little kid.  I’m a ‘big picture’ kind of guy, and when I was younger I would always talk to my Dad about the entrepreneurial ideas that I had.  Ideas after ideas, and some were really good – some small such as local services and some larger-scale like social networking sites.  It must have been the first idea that I brought to my Dad, looking for his input and approval, where he told me that in order to succeed in any venture I’ll have to have a bias for action.

What does this all mean?  I mean it is pretty clear to understand the words.  I think Nike sums it up pretty excellently with their ‘Just Do It’ slogan.  That’s what it is about.  Get to work.  Roll up your sleeves and get into the idea.  An idea is an idea.  Put the wheels in motion, get things churning and then an idea transforms from a vision into a reality.

When it comes to opening a restaurant, it is more important than ever to have this bias for action.  There are so many decisions that have to be made that, if you don’t want to take years to open, you have to get right down to work.  When you sit down to discuss or decide on something, you have to make the decision by the time you leave the table.  Otherwise things will draw on for days, weeks, months.  It is so important, then, to get the wheels churning and keep pushing, day after day.  You’ll reap the benefits when your restaurant is open and you know that you built it.

That’s where we’re at now.  It is more important than ever to push harder each and every day – keep trying to reach the day that our doors are open and we’re serving you the best food you’ve ever tasted.  Isn’t that what you’re waiting for?

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