Cooking Schooled: A Restaurant Veteran’s Best Advice
On Keeping It Simple
Owner, Hollyhock Hill
What’s the secret behind your famous fried chicken?
“It’s fried in an iron skillet, just like Grandpa used to do it. We flour it, put it in an iron skillet, fry it, and serve it. We don’t use any exotic herbs and spices and so forth. It seems pretty simple, but sometimes simple is better. My grandpa used to say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
On Mixing the Classic Classic Cocktail
Owner, Red Key Tavern
How do you make your Manhattan?
“It’s just a bourbon pour with some sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters, topped with a cherry. We make a lot of Maker’s Mark Manhattans here. It’s a very simple drink. It doesn’t take us a lot of time, that’s for sure.”
Are there any variations?
“My dad [Russ Settle, who ran the College Avenue bar for 59 years] never made a Manhattan with bitters. I don’t, as a rule, put bitters in a Manhattan for someone who has been drinking them here for years.”
Does it come in a fancy glass?
“I will tell you that our sign is actually a Manhattan glass. A lot of people will say it’s a martini glass. But it’s not a martini; it’s a Manhattan glass. So that’s what we’re known for—that drink and that shaped glass. We don’t have very many of them now. We used to have a lot more, but they break very easily.”
On Playing the Waiting Game
Server, St. Elmo Steak House
What’s the protocol for waiting on celebrities?
“You try your best to be invisible. You try your best to be a fly on the wall. Because they’re not there for you; they already know all eyes are on them. Just try to be a silent observer and hopefully you come away with a good story. St. Elmo is an institution. Because of its reputation, all I have to do is not mess it up. We treat everybody the same when they come through the door. Whether it’s Adam Sandler or some guy toasting his fifth anniversary with his wife, people are visiting us to celebrate something. That’s the thing we consider always. We can only mess up someone’s evening by not delivering on the promise of great food and great service. That’s what has made St. Elmo an icon.”
On Staffing the House
Restaurateur with ownership in Siam Square, Black Market, Rook, and Thunderbird
What traits do you look for in a potential employee?
- Personality: “It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable or skilled someone is. If I have to prompt them to give more than one-word answers in an interview, I’m pretty sure it’s not a good fit.”
- Smiles: “I can train people to taste wine or describe our food, but I can’t train someone to be friendly, as hard as I try.”
- Passion: “We look for people who are curious about the job and who are always wanting to learn.”
- Humility: “I want the people who work with me to be willing to admit what they don’t know. If someone on the waitstaff doesn’t know what an ingredient is or where it came from, I’d much rather they find out than make up an answer. Once a restaurant writer came in and asked about a type of mushroom, and a waiter gave a name of a mushroom that didn’t
exist. We caught it before it went to press, but that’s not our style.”