Joy & Happiness and the Recipe for Lemon Pepper Chicken, Baby Redskin Potatoes and Herbed Green Beans!
This is the one you've been waiting for!
A WORD ABOUT JOY
The former owner of my favorite hang out in Cleveland, Nighttown Restaurant, visited Cork just before Christmas, and he and his wife invited Ari and me for a drink to celebrate the holidays in style, at the Hayfield Manor, a fabulous 5 star luxury boutique hotel.
Brenden Ring was one of the first owners to shut down his restaurant temporarily, at the beginning of the pandemic, before it was mandated by the government. His brave decision helped me to have the courage and confidence to do what I felt was necessary, and I closed as well.
I was happy to get a chance to thank him, in person finally, for his leadership. We talked about our permanent endings as well, and while neither of us had any regrets about our decision, we both spoke about our restaurants, which were well established and dearly loved, with much sorrow and sadness.
While one’s end was a bit more strategic and a lot more lucrative, we both suffered a terrible loss. It was a comfort to talk to someone who seemed to share the same sudden and massive void and odd sort of guilt; that you have gone on living, when such a huge part of you has died.
When Tastebuds closed, I truly felt like I was alive during my own funeral. I was deeply touched by the outpour of support, people sharing their favorite meals and memories and thanking us for our many years of service and saying how much we will be missed.
Of course, there was the occasional asshole asking for recipes without expressing any sympathy or sadness, like asking a widow at her husband’s wake, if you can have his fishing gear or golf clubs! It was just too soon. I am ready to let go of these things now, because I know in my heart, and maybe Brendan does too, that to start again is impossible. Not because of the reasons some might expect, like age and money, but because restaurants are expected to perform as efficiently as a sleek, modern, high speed train, and we are more “Orient -Express” kind of people.
When Brendan and I began in this business, the entire hospitality industry genuinely wanted to make their customers feel welcome and happy. We grew up watching chefs like Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and Emeril Lagasse and shows like Cheers. The reward of ownership was watching a community grow around you of regulars who become friends, even family.
What mattered was the experience of the guest, the taste and quality of the food and drinks, the friendliness of the staff and the ambiance of the dining room. Your success was measured by the amount of returning customers you had, not by the amount of stars or awards or appearances on television.
We both agreed that something changed in the business, years before we left, that made the decision to walk away, just the slightest bit easier. Something had been missing.
“When we are sorting through the restaurant obituaries, will we know for sure that it was not because the weary veteran chef decided, as I have often been tempted myself in these weeks, to quietly walk out the open back door of a building that has been burning for a long time?”
- Gabrielle Hamilton, New York Times (2020)
I told him, that the first 13 years (2001-2014) at Tastebuds were absolutely amazing, but after that, the joy just kept getting harder and harder to find.
He repeated those words slowly, really thinking about them. “The joy just kept getting harder and harder to find.”
We all exchanged thoughtful glances, and shook our heads in agreement.
I’d killed the festive mood, as I sometimes do, with my heavy contemplation! But life’s most interesting moments are usually pretty serious.
I knew I was onto something. I struck a nerve in all of us and I wanted to explore it further.
Months later I wrote this:
Where It All Went Wrong
(Warning; Explicit Language, Sexual Reference)
What we produced and sold at Tastebuds was happiness. I drilled this into my staff and it applied to everyone, not just our customers. Our cardinal rule was that everyone gets a hello, a goodbye and a thank you. That meant everyone, from co-workers, to delivery drivers, repairmen and certainly customers. My staff ate free, they’re family and friends got a discount and delivery drivers were often offered something to drink, especially in hot weather.
Happiness drove every decision. We were open three hour a day, five days a week, and we closed for two weeks every 6 months! This meant we had to be damn good to make a profit, because profit was based on volume! There was no room for mistakes and I designed a system that eliminated 99.9% of mistakes, by having the same person do the same job, at the same time, everyday. Thus, they were able to perfect their craft, so much so that it became a joy. The more you do something, the better you become at it and the less it feels like work.
My staff stayed with me unprecedented lengths of times. The only downside, was that they were paid at the absolute ceiling and lingered at that rate for far too long. Looking back, I wish I would’ve taken the time to explain that, instead of leaving them to wonder why their pay just stopped increasing suddenly.
I took tremendous pride in the fact that we went 13 years without one food complaint. Of course, in those days, you had to actually complain to a person and that person would have likely been me. People knew how hard I worked, how hard we all worked and that I would’ve probably cried.
Back then people watched us while they waited in line. They struck up conversations with other customers and seemed happy to wait. Then, gradually, one by one, customers lowered their heads, their gaze lured downward by the glow of their cell phones, just like my employees and the human interactions we once loved, became interruptions and annoyances.
Until finally, Joy had had just about enough of being ignored, and without anyone noticing, she packed up her things and walked out the door, holding it for Misery, disguised as a revolutionary, bringing with him Yelp, UberEats and Instagram.
UberEats is like sexual intercourse without any foreplay. No, it’s worse than that. It’s a glory hole in a gas station bathroom. Sure, you get your dick sucked, but by who? And where has that mouth been? In that situation, there’s really only one thing you can be sure of. Behind that wall, the restaurateur is getting fucked, I mean, unless they’re into that type of thing!
Some owners are happy to bend over to increase their bottom line. Feeding people is not an act of love, it’s merely a way to generate income. I guess every profession has a divide, half that eat, sleep and drink the business they are in, love it with a passion and can’t see themselves doing anything else. The other half, landing in the business, not even they know how or why, but seemed like a good idea at the time. Or the poor bastards who got into the business to get rich!
To me, sending an Uber driver to collect food from an independently owned, chef driven restaurant, is an unconscionable breach of contract; that unspoken agreement that makes the whole thing work. You know the one, where we chefs and restaurateurs give up our blood, sweat and tears for very little pay, all for you to marvel at our creation and give us that nod of approval and attention that we craved, but never got as children, so we may die of our alcoholism, drug abuse, obesity, or suicide, knowing that at least we have left our mark!
Now, I’m sure that there are many healthy, happy chefs and restaurateurs, that felt loved and nurtured as children, I just haven’t met them yet! Just like, I haven’t met an Uber Driver yet, who cares that you are missing your child’s game or recital, or a friend’s wedding or family reunion, just to be there, listening to them impatiently shake their keys, before grabbing an order and rushing out the door, leaving you to watch from a window of your empty dining room, as they fling the bag that you meticulously packed, into the trunk of their Kia, before speeding off.
And Yelp? I had it drilled into me as a kid, “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one!” Now, thanks to YELP, I think we can safely change that quote to something like, “Assholes are like amateur food critics, every asshole is one!”
And why do I blame INSTAGRAM, for stealing joy, as it relates to the industry? I can sum it up in one word; TWEEZERS! Fucking tweezers! Before the cell phone camera became as essential to dining out as the fork, chefs didn’t have to look like rockstars and their food didn’t have to be pretty. Now, tiny petals of edible flowers, miniature leaves of herbs, and sprouts and seedlings of vegetables are applied with a surgeon's precision, at an exorbitant expense to the owner. I for one, am not afraid to say, they add very little to the taste of a dish. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll take some grated cheese or shaved truffle for that price!
Here’s a dish that needs nothing more to entice you to make it, I hope!
The Recipe for Lemon Pepper Chicken
4 6-8 ounce Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, Pounded and Soaked in 2% Milk Overnight
Ari can show you how to tenderize the Chicken in this delightful video! https://photos.google.com/u/0/photo/AF1QipNtAHhUwvyHx-FOTCphWbY63K7uuSxrbZakrwV9
1 Cup Drakes Crispy FryMix (Available at Gordons Food Service Store)
1 Tablespoon Trade East Lemon Pepper Seasoning (Available at Gordons Food Service Store)
Clear Fry Oil or Vegetable Oil
Heat Oven to 475 Degrees. Mix the Crispy FryMix and the Lemon Pepper together thoroughly. Heat large sauté pan (medium high heat), then coat with oil no more than 1/8 inch deep. Then, working in batches of two if necessary (don’t crowd the pan), dredge the chicken breasts one by one through the fry mixture, coating each side well. Then place chicken breasts in the hot oil, serving side down. Sauté the chicken 2-3 minutes per side then transfer to non-stick baking tray and finish in the oven, 10-12 minutes, until the internal temperature of the fattest part of the chicken reaches a minimum of 165 degrees.
Baby Redskin Potatoes
For BEST results boil, coat with garlic & rosemary mixture when cool and chill overnight, then roast the next day.
1 Pound Baby Redskin Potatoes (Cut in half if they are around the size of a golf ball, in quarters if they are bigger).
3 cloves Garlic peeled and chopped
1 Tablespoons Dried Rosemary Leaves (Urban Herbs or Gallucis)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Butter
Kosher Salt and Pepper
Boil potatoes in salted water, till almost tender. (You should be able to stab easily with a paring knife, but still be able to lift it with the knife without it sliding off easily).
Melt Butter in sauce pan then turn off heat and add rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper and whisk in olive oil.
Drain Potatoes and return to pan. Then pour the garlic and olive oil mixture all over the potatoes and gently mix well. When completely cool, transfer to a ziplock bag and refrigerate overnight or cook immediately.
Heat oven to 475 Degrees. Arrange potatoes onto a non-stick baking tray or one coated with cooking spray. Roast potatoes around 12-16 minutes, until golden brown turning every 6 minutes or so. Adjust the seasoning and enjoy.
Seasoned Green Beans
1 Pound Fresh Green Beans
3 Tablespoons Butter
2 cloves Fresh Garlic finely chopped
Kosher Salt & Pepper
Add green beans to salted boiling water and cook till tender (4-6 minutes, longer if the beans are large). Drain water and return beans to pan on low heat. Add the butter, turning the beans to coat, when butter has melted add the garlic and cook just till fragrant. Season with Salt and Pepper to taste and serve.
So, how can we get back to the place where joy resides? Well, Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” -Glinda, the Good Witch. Wizard of Oz (1939). Real and lasting joy cannot be attained by scrolling, it comes from real human interactions and experiences.
Looking for joy on the very device that stole so much of it away, is a bit like asking your husband’s mistress how to save your marriage. There is no incentive.
The apps on your phone are designed to keep you there, as long as possible, tempting you to make purchases, alerting you to breaking news stories, leading you to terrifying videos or tweets that make you angry. Whatever your intention was when you looked down at your phone, you are essentially hijacked into looking at something else and feeling something unexpected, and seldom is it joy.
That is why it is so important for you to bring joy everywhere you go, and by all means go places! Show up to the places that you remember being happy, the beach, a cafe, museum or park. Attend a concert, a comedy club or a book signing!
Smile and say hello to everyone you see or pass on the street, and allow yourself to be amused rather than annoyed, if you do not receive a response. This will happen more often than not! Compliment someone on the job they are doing or the outfit or jewelry they are wearing. Ask a server or barista their name, and ask how there day is going. Give excellent service if you are in customer care or the hospitality industry. Let someone merge onto the highway or pass you or take your parking spot.
One only has to get behind the wheel of a car in Ireland to experience what I am trying to explain. I swear, drivers actively seek out ways to help one another. They smile and lift their index finger from the steering wheel, signaling pedestrians safe crossing, or another vehicle to merge or turn in front of them. There is always a kind nod or wave from the pedestrian or driver, and everyone gets to feel really good.
We Americans torture one another, scream, give the middle finger and even shoot guns at one another in traffic. Everyone arrives to work or home stressed out and angry, feeling like they narrowly escaped a collision or death.
I cringe when I think about how I had to speed things along at Tastebuds. Everyone got a hello and a goodbye, but I was uneasy if conversations went any further, eyeing the long line. I think about that a lot, when I’m checking out at my local grocery store here in Ireland, and learning all about the customers in front of me and the state of each of their family members and their thoughts on the weather forecast for the next week, day by day!
But then, it’s my turn, and the cashier asks me about my son, who has gone ahead of me, to check out the sports equipment in the windows. She says she can’t believe he’s only eight and she smiles looking at him, as she drags my groceries, slowly across the scanner, noting how tall he is! When he returns to help me bag, she says what a good boy he is for helping, and she asks him what sports he plays and which he likes the best. She informs us of the beautiful, warm and sunny week ahead. I’m kidding! This is Ireland! She asks if I’ve brought my umbrella, as we notice it has begun lashing!
We leave feeling that we are a welcome addition to the community, and that we are cared for and liked. Many times on our walk home, I’ve had men ask if they can help carry our parcels. In the cold and rain, neighbors offer to give Ari a lift to school or sports training. Ireland is considered to be one of the top friendliest nations, which is often attributed to its ability to find fun in the best and worst of times. I attribute it to the belief that everyone seems to share that, “It is better to give than to receive.” -Acts 20:32-35.
A friend here in Midleton called me from the playground, a block away, asking if I could bring her a knife, to cut up a watermelon that she had just bought. It was one of those gorgeous first warm spring evenings, that you just want to go on forever, so I was happy to oblige. I headed out with a cutting board and a roll of paper towels as well.
She cut giant slices for all the children at the playground and they were all so delighted! I thought to myself, “Aha! This is what joy looks like!” I reached for my phone, but the screen was frozen for some reason. I was surrounded by happy kids, united by their love for watermelon, sitting on a park bench next to a generous woman who’s heart was filled with joy, and I was sitting there upset, trying to fix my phone. In trying to capture the scene, I almost missed it entirely. I know now, that this happens more than we realize. Thankfully, I put the phone away, grabbed a slice of watermelon, sat back, and really really enjoyed that experience!
So often, we miss out on the joy of the moment, by being on our cell phones or by trying to capture it on our cell phone cameras. Then, we miss even more of it, editing those photos and posting them, causing our friends, family and followers to miss their moments by looking and liking our posts of the moments we only pretended we enjoyed! No wonder nobody’s happy!
Now put down your damn phone and clap along to this!
Such a good song, right? I told you they wouldn’t all end in tears!
Thank you so much for supporting me and reading my work! Don’t forget, “It is better to give than to receive.” If you’d like to test that theory, become a paid subscriber and watch your life improve exponentially!!!
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Enjoyable read. Look for JOY, what an interesting concept. You seem to be getting comfortable in your new life.