Chef's Blog

Solage Calistoga's Executive Chef Brandon Sharp shares his passion for cooking, life and all things Napa Valley.

April 3, 2010

At the front of the kitchen, behind the expediter’s station and facing the hot line, is a 60″ dry-erase board, only a couple inches smaller than Ryder’s new flat-screen. (To its right in the above picture are the clipboards with BEOs [banquet event orders] and above them the clipboards with daily order sheets–meat, fish, produce, dairy, etc. The fish clipboard is the one that’s broken in half [whether over an angry sous chef's own knee or the head of a prep cook, no one will say] and the order sheets cut to fit.)  This reassuringly low-tech piece of equipment has uses that I haven’t realized in previous kitchens.

One section of the board is given over to the items that are not clearly spelled out on the menu: ice creams, sorbets, and cheeses. The runners update this section daily after checking in with the pastry cook, and they pass the information along to the servers in the pre-shift lineups.

The big section in the middle of the board is for brainstorming, and the sous chefs and I write our menu ideas up there depending on the topic. It may be Spring ingredients and combinations, dinner menu items, or as here, lounge menu ideas. Since solbar is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week, there are few days when all kitchen management are here at the same time, and this is how we share our ideas.

This section is used to assign menu items to the sous chefs and me. By the second week of March, a lot of our winter ingredients were phasing out, and we needed a more wholesale change to the menu than the usual rotation (2-3 new dinner items per week) demands. Each of us took 3-4 items from the dinner menu and came up with Spring replacements. The actualization is seldom as cut and dried as that, but it’s a starting point, not to mention a scoreboard that you can point to if someone is demanding humiliation.

I’m often asked, “I never would have thought of this–how do you come up with this stuff?” Well, we do it by thinking about what we want to eat, mostly. We check out the hot sheet from the produce company for what’s new and plentiful and ripe (and cheap). Also, there’s a working knowledge of produce by month in the collective unconscious of California cooks.

It boils down to what makes our stomachs rumble, and what makes one another groan with anticipation when we star a sentence with “What if we took . . . ?” Jack London, whose house in Glen Ellen is great for a picnic, said (something like) “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a stick.”  As it says at the top of our white board, “If it tastes good, do it.”  Somewhere between those sensibilities–the predatory and the epicurean–is where we cook.

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