Bonus Post

This blogger skimmed the book, “The Story of The Waldorf-Astoria” by Edward Hungerford, published in 1925. The Waldorf-Astoria was originally “The Astoria,” built by the Astors, a super-rich family.

For most of the 19th century and before, Broadway was the favored location for hotels. However, the 1880’s saw congestion from a street railway and cars. The thirteen-story, 450-guestroom Astoria was therefore originally located at 35th Street at Fifth Avenue. Construction started in 1891. “From the first the idea was to create a hostelry with as little of the typically hotel features in evidence as humanly possible… Haste was not permitted… The house was well-builded. And thoroughly. This ideal became an obsession on the part of the men who built it.” It opened in March 1893. In 1895, construction began on another hotel next door, of sixteen stories. In November 1897, the completed complex became known as the “Waldorf-Astoria.”

The hotel’s restaurant served partridge and lobster. Its general manager, George C. Boldt, believed in “management by wandering around.” In the summer of 1898, he commissioned a classy steam-yacht, the “Calypso” that could be booked by up to 25 guests for a day. He also offered car rides around town before common people drove. Boldt trusted all the guests, even those who asked to cash personal checks. No other hotels were so trusting.

The hotel boasted a number of “firsts.” It was the first building to have a passenger elevator in the United States. Boldt had the brilliant idea of carving a street at the rear of the combined hotels to ensure no one could ever take away their light and air rights between 33rd and 34th Streets. The Waldorf became the first hotel in Manhattan to take up a whole city block.

In 1776, in order to collect extra revenue, government official Peter Stuyvesant established the liquor license for taverns. “It was especially forbidden to sell strong drinks to Indians.” The hotel obtained a liquor license. Unfortunately, the passing of Prohibition cost the hotel lots of revenue. It re-purposed its bar. The Waldorf also offered a roof garden, which became an ice skating rink in the wintertime.

The author wrote, incredibly (italics added by this blogger), “Upon the broad open desk lie the registers, three or four of them so that in a pinch, as is frequently done, guests may be received and assigned rooms at the rate of sixty to ninety to the hour.”

Read the book to learn further details of the hotel’s existence through the mid 1920’s.

Yes, Chef

The Book of the Week is “Yes, Chef” by Marcus Samuelsson, published in 2012. This is the autobiography of a famous chef. He was born in Ethiopia at the start of the 1970’s, but when he was three, he and his five year old sister were adopted by a Swedish couple.

Samuelsson grew up in Goteborg, Sweden. He enjoyed the suburban lifestyle of an industrialized country, including youth soccer. There were three posters on his bedroom wall: Michael Jackson, the king and queen of Sweden, and Pele. After ninth grade, Swedish schools channel students into a career-oriented or a university-oriented curriculum. In early 1989, after graduating, Samuelsson went to work in one of the fanciest restaurants in Sweden, “Belle Avenue.” At 21 years old, he supervised ten interns at a restaurant in Switzerland.

Because he was dark-skinned, Samuelsson encountered discrimination all his life– in the schoolyard and in employment. When he approached the restaurant “Bouley” to ask for a short-term internship, he was summarily turned away. The only famous black chef he had heard of during his training was Patrick Clark, who was ever rated only two stars by the famous restaurant guides Michelin and Zagat. Samuelsson writes, “When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality…” He would hire all walks of life, due not to aiming for impartiality, but because he would achieve maximum cultural diversity.

To pursue his dream, Samuelsson thought he needed to continue to “pay his dues” in France. In order to get promoted, an aspiring chef has to “…completely give yourself up to the place. Your time, your ego, your relationships, your social life, they are all sacrificed.” In France, there were no intermediaries between farmers and chefs. The former were direct suppliers to the latter. In Switzerland, “We relied on shipments of shrink wrapped or frozen specialty items and that resulted in chronic separation between our product and seasonality.” The traditional French chefs’ training included brutal bullying of underlings by the upper echelons–who were the only employees who had job security.

In February 2008, Samuelsson opened his own restaurant, Merkato 55, which had an African theme. This blogger thinks it’s an insult to people’s intelligence to use the name “African” to describe an eatery, or use it in a book title, for that matter. This blogger theorizes that the labeler thinks people are too ignorant to recognize the name of an individual African country. African countries are all different, regardless of stereotypes.

Samuelsson and his business partners were pursuing a growth strategy. “In less than twelve months, we were scheduled to open eight new restaurants…” There were nine hundred guests at Samuelsson’s wedding in Ethiopia. Read the book to learn about Samuelsson’s take on cuisine, his successes and failures in connection therewith, and his unusual familial relationships.

Bonus Post

“Heads in Beds” by Jacob Tomsky (pen name), published in 2012. This ebook is the career memoir of a hotel employee.

The author provides tips and tricks for gaming situations in the jobs of valet, housekeeping manager and front desk manager. He writes that entry-level workers start on the overnight shift, laboring on weekends and holidays. The managerial positions are stressful with long hours and no overtime pay.

The dead-end position of bellman pays well, but never offers advancement, just better shifts. The reason is that hauling luggage allows for frequent collection of cash tips which might be shared with fellow employees, but not with the IRS. Some workers singularly collect considerable tips on the sly by developing one-on-one relationships with guests– reserving the best rooms for them, “… supervising the bill, and essentially being a private concierge…”

Union membership offers lots of paid time off and job security. However, if a private equity firm purchases a hotel but the hotel-property-manager-seller continues to manage the hotel, there might be extensive replacement of non-union personnel with inexperienced, lower-paid incompetents.

Furthermore, top management might impose petty, draconian supervision that makes life difficult and emotionally tiring for the workers– as happened with Tomsky’s employer. The quality of customer service declines forthwith. Nevertheless, Tomsky and his colleagues were under pressure to keep guests coming to the hotel, so when management turned penny-pincher and minimized one freebie, workers continued to grant others, like room upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout, reduced minibar charges, etc.

Tomsky also relates that immediate causes for termination include “stealing and sleeping on the job.” Movie and minibar are the charges that guests most often challenge. Both guests and hotel employees have money-saving or money-making schemes. The author writes, “… beware of any employees not wearing name tags. They are up to something and don’t wish to be identified.” Some guests make odd requests. One time, eight female guests rumored to be partying, requested a Bible. The author writes, as it turned out, “They just wanted to roll a joint, simple as that.”

Read the book to learn the phrases hotel employees and guests should use to get desired results, the kinds of punishments the hotel agents mete out to difficult guests, and how guests can get the most out of their stay.

Bonus Post

The ebook “Uncorked” by Marco Pasanella, published in 2012, is the author’s personal account about a family who opened a wine store in a ramshackle building on the site of the former Fulton Fish Market, an up-and-coming neighborhood in Manhattan in 2005.

According to the book, Americans have access to more than 24,000 kinds of domestic and international wines, although 4/5 of the wine sold at the store was the lowest-priced variety. Pasanella describes the steps he took in dealing with inspectors from the New York State Liquor Authority. He had to apply for a liquor license and thereafter, comply with arbitrary laws. He was told that “60% of a shop’s annual sales come between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.”

Pasanella, a decorator in his previous career, learned various other factoids from friends and research. The high-volume wine sector in the last decade has shifted from London and New York to Hong Kong. A cork is the preferred stopper in commercial wine bottles because it releases sulfur fumes from chemicals used by some winemakers, while keeping oxygen out.

Read the book to learn many more handy wine-business tips and lessons Pasanella learned; some of which he learned the hard way.

Medium Raw

The Book of the Week is “Medium Raw” by Anthony Bourdain, published in 2010. This is somewhat of a sequel to the author’s first nonfiction book, “Kitchen Confidential” in that he provides an epilogue on some of the people depicted in his anecdotes; he also elaborates further on various aspects of being a chef, on his own personal life, waxes enthusiastic on the food he has eaten, and gives the reader a detailed bunch of reasons why the likelihood of becoming a full-fledged, successful chef would be low if he or she were to attend cooking school.

The job of most chefs involves a ton of physical activity that is tough on the joints in an environment of high heat and humidity. Paying one’s dues once meant “…burn marks, aching feet, beef fat under the nails, and blisters.” Nevertheless, the kitchen is a meritocracy, where the irresponsible, faint-of-heart cooks get weeded out quickly.

Bourdain’s life has consisted of “…mistakes, failures, crimes, betrayals large and small.” He wrote Kitchen Confidential at a time in his life when he was furious; “the angry, cynical, snarky guy who says mean things on  ‘Top Chef’… [on] hurried hungover early mornings, sitting at my desk with unbrushed teeth, a cigarette in my mouth, a bad attitude…”

Read the book to learn Bourdain’s take on people, places and fancy food in the restaurant industry.

Confessions of an Event Planner

The Book of the Week is “Confessions of an Event Planner” by Judy Allen, published in 2009.

This volume contains various realistic scenarios of business, personal and charity events to show the reader the nature of the event planning industry. The acronym for how to prepare for any problems is ABC: Anticipation, Backup plan, Code of conduct.

There is always at least one troublemaker at every business event, who must be watched. The author describes their personality types, a few of whom include those who make unwanted sexual advances; those who feel entitled to a hotel room better than the one they were assigned; men who show off their masculinity, and women who are provocatively dressed.

The author points out that meticulous planning is required with business celebrations to head off possible untoward occurrences. There are companies that try to cheat on their taxes, and business executives who have their hand in the company cookie jar. Irate guests might do damage to hotel property. There may be a male executive officer whose mistress (and secretary) is booked in a separate room, but stays in his room at night. When children are attending an event, the planner has to consider appropriate food menus, food allergies, legal waivers and contingencies for liabilities. Part of the planner’s job is to prevent lawsuits by thinking through safety issues and complying with the law. Sometimes, event employees will recognize a situation in which guests’ behavior is about to spin out of control, and put the kibosh on it. They need to work as a team.

Sometimes event planners must deal with “too many chiefs, not enough Indians” with clients preparing a personal or nonprofit celebration. The goal of the nonprofits is to raise funds, but if the goal of the nonprofits’ events representative is to acquire social power, publicity for herself, or find her next husband, then the charity event may actually suffer a monetary loss. Even when all parties have the best of intentions, the nonprofit event may also be a failure because inexperienced volunteers are running it.

In short, the author provides advice on what to do before, during and after an event to ensure a safe, enjoyable occasion that a planner can be proud of.

Into Thin Air

The Book of the Week is “Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster” by Jon Krakauer, published in 1999. This book tells the story of a group of people (naive tourists) in 1996 who had a burning desire to climb the world’s tallest mountain, yet were ill-prepared to do so. The guides they hired charged tens of thousands of dollars, but the guides were themselves inexperienced in dealing with the trip’s harsh conditions. Among other serious problems, there was a lack of: a) life-sustaining equipment due to poor planning, b) physical fitness and c) adaptation to the altitude among the participants. One thing led to another… Read the book to learn of the tragedy that ensued.

Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop

The Book of the Week is “Ben & Jerry’s: The Inside Scoop, How Two Real Guys Built A Business With A Social Conscience and A Sense of Humor” by Fred Lager published in 1995.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, a couple of childhood friends who had drifted apart, resumed their friendship in their late twenties. Their work lives were aimless at the time, so they decided to go into business together. They settled on selling ice cream, based on Ben’s life philosophy, “If it’s not fun, why do it?”

Ben and Jerry worked around the clock in the couple of years it took to create a business plan and convert a gas station in Burlington, Vermont to an ice cream store. The 1978 Grand Opening saw the giveaway of free ice cream cones to the public. This book– the owners’ first– describes the trials, tribulations and triumphs they experienced in getting the business up and running, and growing.

Don’t Try This At Home

The Book of the Week is “Don’t Try This At Home” edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman, published in 2005.  This is a compilation of anecdotes from chefs who encountered some difficult situations during their careers.  Some told of “making lemons from lemonade” and others gave a general overview of their experiences.

Four chefs whose stories were particularly intriguing, include Daniel Boulud, David Burke, Marcus Samuelsson and Geoffrey Zakarian.

Boulud recounted an episode in which, as culinary chairman of a fundraising event, he and his staff and extra hired help were required to make 1,200 servings of pea soup.  The “400 pounds of a variety of five peas” were to be stored in “25-gallon stainless steel containers set in ice water.”  Certain people failed to stir the soup hourly overnight, as they should have done, so it fermented.  The next morning, “All twelve hundred servings’ worth, was sour, useless garbage.”  The guests would be arriving that evening and were expecting high-end pea soup.

Burke is another chef who also saw a serious problem for which he had to come up with a solution quickly.  He was supposed to cater a man’s fiftieth birthday party at which there would be a surprise dessert, envisioned by the wife.  She wanted a greatly enlarged, custom-made French dessert (“floating islands”) that would serve 200 guests. However, all of the meringues to be used in the dish collapsed, producing a very unprofessional look.  It could not be presented at the end of the meal.  What to do?

It was a language barrier that caused the Swedish-speaking Samuelsson excessive grief while he was working at a restaurant in Switzerland.  This was on New Years’ Eve, no less– one of the biggest nights of the year for business.  He was asked to make terrine, which required proper setting of gelatine.  He had never used powdered gelatine before, could not understand the German, French and Italian instructions on the package, and did not ask anyone for help. The resulting concoction smelled bad, and resembled bathtub mold. Was it too late to salvage the situation?

Zakarian tells of how he became a foodie.  When he fell in love with France on a college assignment, he scrapped his academic plans to enjoy the fine food there instead.  Even so, as a starving student, he led a frugal existence, until two strokes of great good luck allowed him to partake of more luxury than otherwise.

Kitchen Confidential

The Book of the Week is “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain, published in 2000.  This is the eloquent account of the author’s personal experiences as a worker in the restaurant business.  He provides anecdotes on the people, their personalities, problems and the kinds of behind-the-scenes activities and events that restaurant patrons do not see.  He describes one of his first kitchen jobs he held when he was a brash youth, and how his older coworkers put him in his place.  Other forms of entertainment that culinary workers enjoy include the initiation rite of sending the new kitchen help on a fool’s errand, and playing practical jokes on the restaurant manager.  Bourdain tells of his employment woes and others’.   He also reveals culinary dangers (dirty little secrets) about which diners may not want to know.  This book is educational for anyone wishing to enter the restaurant business as well.