Brandon Gillis and Josh Sharkey definitely have high-end chef cred: Gillis graduated from the French Culinary Institute and has worked at New York City's Tabla and Franny's; Sharkey graduated from Johnson and Wales University and has worked at New York City's Oceana, Jean Georges, Tabla, Bouley, and Café Gray. But in 2009 they opened Bark Hot Dogs in Brooklyn, a casual restaurant that features burgers, sandwiches, and of course, hot dogs. But the ingredients are locally sourced, the condiments are homemade and they even have a Bark Ale among the beer options. Gillis and Sharkey tell us how they've used their classical training to elevate fast food.
Why did you decide to open Bark?
Brandon Gillis: Josh and I worked really well together and started a small catering company on the side while at Tabla. We realized there was a huge gap in the quality of food between fine dining and casual and saw an opportunity there.
Josh Sharkey: Fast food in America has a stigma—that it must be cheaply made, mass produced, and with little indication of its origin. With that comes little focus on quality. We wanted to change that.
Do you think restaurants in general are getting more casual?
JS: Yes, for better and for worse. There certainly are a lot more casual restaurants than ever before. I think the economy has a lot to do with it at first. But ultimately I think the consumer is much more educated and knowledgeable about food than ever before. If you're going to charge $30 for a roasted piece of lamb, it needs to taste amazing, be perfectly cooked and seasoned and come from a reputable source. The upside is that we are now eating better food, at more sustainably driven restaurants, and supporting local farmers and artisans.
BG: The downside is the misconception from some restaurateurs that because they are running a more casual concept, some of the standards of high-end cuisine do not relate—and this is where things go wrong. Just because a restaurant is casual, it doesn’t mean that it should not still have quality, attentive service, high cleanliness standards and focus. I hope that with the influx of casual restaurants from experienced and seasoned industry workers this becomes less and less of an issue.
What techniques do you use from your previous training? What do you do that's different from your non-classically-trained competitors?
BG: We have a very traditional brown stock in our gravy, a gastrique for our Angus Chili, béchamel base for our Smoked Cheddar Sauce, and incorporate our sausage-making training. Even a classic custard technique has influenced how we prepare our slow-cooked egg on our breakfast sandwich.
JS: On the flip side a lot of our recipes were tested for months to get them perfect, such as our pepper relish and cucumber "green" relish. Having a background in classical techniques has allowed us to approach food in this fast food setting very differently. Efficiency used to come from mass-produced and pre-made products to speed up production, but we utilize the skills we had in professional kitchens to create an efficient production system. A big part of what we do is sourcing the right seasonal ingredients from the right people and that’s one of the main things that sets us apart.
What's next for you guys?
BG: Our goal from the beginning has always been to open more of this concept. It is an economy of scale inside and out. Not only in terms of purchasing and infrastructure, but also hopefully on its impact on the community. If we can influence just a small part of how people view fast food and how their children view fast food then I think we will have accomplished our goal.
Long before the first customer walks into a restaurant, the most important meal of the day, arguably, has already been prepared: The Family Meal. It's the meal that restaurant staffers eat together before service starts, and it needs to sustain them through the next eight or so hours. Often used as a way to repurpose overstock and leftovers, it's also an opportunity for cooks to experiment with new ingredients, prepare different cuisines than what the restaurant is known for, or just make what they happen to be craving that day.
Needless to say, the quality varies. "I believe in taking care of employees and keeping them happy," says Kevin Chun, executive chef at Macao Trading Company in New York City. Recent staff meals at Macao featured seafood fried rice, artichokes and linguini and chicken enchiladas. "But I've been in many kitchens where family meal consisted of scraps, unedibles or product on the verge of spoilage. I wouldn’t serve those items to any of my family, so why would I serve it to my staff who I spend more time with than my family?"
Luckily, most of the chefs I interviewed have had positive family meal experiences. Here are the best meals…and some that are better off forgotten.
Anthony Meidenbauer, executive chef, Holsteins Shakes and Buns at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Las Vegas
The staff tends to love stewed items, like braised short ribs and pork belly. My favorite is when we turn the short rib into a rich tomato ragout over fresh pici pasta. Korean braised pork belly with kimchi fried rice is also a huge winner. Fajitas are the least favorite because they’re served too often.
Manuel Trevino, executive chef, Marble Lane at Dream Downtown, New York City
We have a twelve-day rotating staff meal schedule, including a day for tacos, burgers, sandwiches and a focaccia-like pizza made by the pastry chef. There is no day for pig ears yet. A favorite is burger day when the real treat is the curly fries.
Beth Castollio, pastry chef, Blaue Gans, New York City
We typically start with something like a Bibb lettuce salad with beets, apples, and pumpkin seed oil. We almost always have a pasta dish, like bow-tie pasta with peppers, carrots, and celery in a tomato cream sauce. Then a meat—chicken wings are a favorite. Dessert is cookies or leftovers from the day before. Schnitzel and spaetzle are also a favorite, as are cheeseburgers. One time one of our line cooks took whole potatoes and wrapped them in schniztel and baked them. The potatoes looked interesting—but they weren’t actually cooked.
Jake Klein, executive chef, Morrell Wine Bar, New York City
The three most popular dishes are paella, a Latin-style meatloaf studded with whole hard-boiled eggs and chunks of provolone, and fried chicken. One of our cooks can always be counted on for a great Mexican meal—his grandmother makes a killer mole poblano from scratch and sends it in a care package. One of our bartenders brought in her mom's kimchi, that was awesome. We've also had a couple of mishaps: chicken so spicy that even the bravest, most heat-proof palates on staff couldn’t eat it. Risotto was also noteworthy—texturally, think Elmer's glue.
L.A. Thompson, venue manager, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, New York City
Before service the staff gets a hearty meal of rice, mixed salad and roasted or grilled chicken or Cajun grilled salmon. Other days fried chicken, crispy French fries, and green salad are on the menu. The roast chicken is a favorite because it's not as heavy as the fried chicken. The best meal was the other day: lobster, rice, mixed salad, and roasted fingerling potatoes. The least favorite is frozen vegetable lasagna from the grocery store. Hey, some days it's got to be like that because there's too much going on.
Forget Paula Deen’s Lady’s Brunch Burger, KFC's Double Down, and the fact that New York's Governors Island was renamed Pig Island last weekend: There is a new wave of diners who are heading in a more restrained direction food-wise, whether that means being more mindful of their food's origins or going all-out gluten-free or vegan.
"In general, a lot more people care about where their food comes from," says Dan Kluger, chef at the James Beard Award-winning (and perpetually packed) ABC Kitchen in New York City. "For us, organic is more of a sustainable, green sort of culture whether it is good animal husbandry with the raising of the meats we use or sustainable agriculture and aquaculture. But there’s definitely more knowledge and interest among diners."
So how can restaurateurs tap this market, if they haven’t already? Terry Walters, nutrition expert and author of Clean Start, weighs in on the trend.
Have you noticed an uptick in interest in eating clean?
I've noticed a huge increase. Many factors have lead to the increased interest in eating clean, from difficult economic times, to increased illness among all ages, greater awareness of food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies, environmental changes and much more. Greater demand for locally grown produce has lead to greater support of our local farmers, more accessibility to locally grown produce and a greater connection between farms, farmers and the greater community.
How should restaurateurs to pay attention to this trend?
If a restaurant wants to make itself accessible to people following a vegan or gluten-free diet, then I think that’s fabulous. But if it’s simply not what they’re about, then that’s okay too. For instance, there will always be a demand for steak houses, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find many vegans dining there, and if the do they shouldn’t be surprised to find limited options.
Any other advice?
I get tired of the only vegan option on a menu being a stack of grilled or roasted vegetables. But just because I like to eat vegan and gluten-free, doesn't mean that everyone I dine with prefers that as well. I like a restaurant that's connected with local producers, whose menu changes with the changing season and according to availability, and who has something to offer to everyone. I'm not a fan of labels that perpetuate judgments about diet and nutrition, and find that they turn away more than they serve.
In chef Gabrielle Hamilton's best-selling memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, she tells of running into a colleague on the street, where he introduced her to his mother as "one of the best female chefs in New York City." Hamilton, owner of beloved East Village restaurant Prune and newly minted James Beard Award winner, then cracked, "Now, if we could just get that word 'female' out of the sentence."
Yes, women chefs are still definitely a minority, even though the likes of Hamilton, Nancy Silverton (Los Angeles's Osteria Mozza), Stephanie Izard (Chicago's Girl & the Goat)—and of course the old-school game changers Alice Waters and Lydia Bastianich before them—run wildly popular, critically praised establishments. So how do female chefs not only deal, but thrive in a notoriously macho industry? Here are some tips:
Learn how to navigate office politics. "I tried to align myself with people who could help me and avoid working with people who could hold me back," says Amy Eubanks, executive chef of BLT Fish in NYC. "You need to be very good at what you do and don't give anyone any reason to question or doubt you. They may not want you there, but if you show up early every day, work harder than anyone else, keep your head down and your mouth shut—there isn't a negative word anyone can say about that. And when you're finally in charge, start changing the system from the inside."
Acknowledge that there will be prejudices—and then move on. "I always experience discrimination because I am a woman in BBQ," says Lee Ann Whippen, chef and partner at Chicago's Chicago q restaurant. "The only way I've been able to overcome it is by being strong, successful and winning contests." Whippen has won a slew of barbecue competitions, was the only woman featured in the TLC series BBQ Pitmasters, and beat out Bobby Flay in a pulled pork Throwdown. "It has been a rough road but with tenacity and being goal-driven, I have received a lot of respect from my peers."
Use PR wisely. "I take the fact that I'm in the minority and capitalize on it," says Whippen. "When promoting my restaurants or competition teams I emphasize that I'm a woman in my public relations content. Sometimes being the underdog drives customers or fans to be on your side and help you succeed."
Don't play into stereotypes. "Never lose sight of the fact that most of the world considers cooking women's work—just because it's professional doesn't make it men's work," says Eubanks. "Try to surprise people with your work ethic and positive attitude, don't sleep around at work, and above all else, become friends with the dishwashers."
- What Farm-to-Table Really Means
- From Haute to Hot (Dogs)
- Feeding the Staff
- Courting a Certain Kind of Diner
- Female Chefs Dish it Out
FROM OUR PARTNERS
- Smarty Pants
- Maryland – #1 in Innovation & Entrepreneurship
- New Data on Success
- New book BUSINESS BRILLIANT by Inc.com blogger Lewis Schiff
- Old Dominion
- No matter what you ship, your business is our business. Visit odpromises.com.
- Constant Contact
- Over 500,000 Small Businesses Use Constant Contact®. Safe, Simple.
- The rugged Torque
- Buy 1 Kyocera Torque, get 4 free. Only at Sprint. Restrictions apply.
- Undesk your desk phone:
- ShoreTel Dock for iPad/iPhone. BYOD better.
- Business Essentials
- Represent Your Company With A Custom Name Badge. Find It Here!
- Servers up to 45% off
- Technology optimized for today, but scalable for growing business needs.
- PCs You can Trust
- Discover how an ASUS PC with leading reliability is fit for your business