Monday, June 18, 2012

Trying to buy Petit La Femme

Saturday was the wedding of the year in Sonoma County. It was a very special event with an Irish theme. My friend Josie got married to Kim with whom she fell in love at the Sundance Film Festival almost three years ago. Kim is Irish hence the Irish theme.

All the excitement and the wonderful setting with great food brings me back to New York City and some of the weddings I planned, cooked for and executed. One wedding really stands out, the theme was Gatsby. It was a wonderful and very special wedding. It took place in East Hampton, New York.

The wedding party was dressed in Gatsby Era designs. As you can see New York City, Hampton, New York and Connecticut was a very big part of my career and our family life.

While doing the occasional catering and doing turn arounds for restaurants I also had this fantasy of buying a small restaurant. The restaurant was called Petit La Femme. It was in the Village and a favored of mine as well as Koch, the mayor at the time of New York,  along with a few film and television stars. The restaurant had only 6 tables; the kitchen was so minute one had to really be organized. I wanted that restaurant in the worst way.

I pounded the pavement to secure financing which took me about 4 weeks. I had two investors, rearing to go. The day before my Attorney and I were going to sign the purchase of the restaurant, I went down to look at it one more time; I believe Heidi went with me. The restaurant had a lock on it and some IRS notification at the door. I called my attorney and told him what was happening and he advised me to drop the idea of buying this little gem. It would give me problems, especially since the owner had a big debt to the IRS and the City. As they say, one dream down the drain.

The restaurant business is one of the toughest to maintain; anyone who is familiar with restaurants knows that. Opening night can make or break you and if you do not have operating capitol for at least one year don’t even bother to open a restaurant.

The upside is it is like going on stage - it can be fun but, never loose sight that it is a lot of work. Never open a restaurant if you are not a people person. I have seen more Restaurateurs/Chefs fail because they do not want to handle the public. Networking besides having a great product and a well-trained staff is a must. Staff can also harm the success of your business. Owners need to be aware that servers and bartenders have to be treated with respect and be well trained. My father used to say, “Do not expect your staff to do something you will not want to do yourself. You are only as good on the top as with the staff you surround yourself with, never any better.”

In my fifty years plus in the hospitality industry I never forgot that and used it as a training tool. To this day I have former staff write or call me and tell me I was a tough task master but it served them well, even if they chose a different path in their career. Some opened their own businesses, others climbed the corporate ladder in the Hotel Industry. If you put yourself out there, the rewards and recognition are rewarding.

Next we move to California with my two youngest children.

The recipe I like to share is a true French recipe:

Set oven at 350*

Tomates farcies a’ la Provencale.

4 large tomatoes, halved
1 cup good bread crumbs
2 to 4 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
1 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes, dry, remove stem and cut in half. Lightly squeeze the seeds and some of the juice out. Do not remove the meaty part. Set aside.

Mix bread crumbs with the parsley and garlic. Fill the tomato halves with the mixture and set on a baking sheet treated with olive oil or vegetable oil.

Top the tomatoes with some olive oil and bake for about 6 to 8 minutes.

Place on a serving dish and serve as a side dish with fish or chicken. Beef is also an option. The tomatoes also make a great lunch dish on a bed of lettuce with grated cheese and chopped eggs on top.

Serves 4

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