A clear conscience is a sign of a bad memory.

Aug 24 2015
by Joe Ricchio
Comments Off on If you haven’t worked in restaurants for awhile….

If you haven’t worked in restaurants for awhile….

Two years ago, after an extended hiatus from the restaurant business, I decided to plunge back in, and found it to be a much, much different place…

Boston, Massachusetts – September 2013

After recently arriving at the conclusion that at the time, after a long run given my age, I had no interest in dealing with the world of route wine sales anymore, I made the executive decision to make my “triumphant” return to the front of the house. Though the primary motivation behind this was to get out of my “enraged in the car all day, obliterated every night by 8 PM” pattern that had developed, I also will admit that I missed working evenings. Additionally, I like knowing when to show up at work, and when work is officially over, rather than the perpetual blurred lines of the wine business.

Most of my life decisions happen with astonishing quickness and finality, almost as if I don’t want any risk of second-guessing myself or making an informed evaluation of the situation. No, I need all of my efforts to be completely based on impulse, letting the cards fall where they may. This being said, I was in a bit of a rush to procure restaurant employment so I could give notice at the wine job, and I stumbled upon a trendy new Cambridge eatery that just happened to be hiring.

I will admit to having my blinders on, not wanting to see any flaws in my plan of escaping the wine world. I let some big red flags go unnoticed, which resulted in the shortest tenure of my life, lasting a total of 2 days.

Looking back, it all started with:

Red Flag #1 – Referring to a try-out shift in the front of the house as a Stage

Most commonly employed as a term to describe an internship in restaurant kitchens, and often recklessly at that, the stagiaire is usually performing an audition of sorts. It is idiotic to call following someone around on the floor for a half-shift and occasionally chatting with managers a stage. This is right up there for me with people abbreviating the title of sommelier to “somm.”

Early on in my “stage,” I witness:

Red Flag #2 – Restaurant owner treats staff as if they are incompetent 3-year olds

She prattles on and on about what a “privilege it is to work here because I’m pretty sure that you make good money,” and “how much press we have received from major publications” before flipping out about someone not doing a good job sweeping their station. She swears often, but it feels completely forced, as if she is trying to act out a caricature of what she believes is the “hard ass, tough love” kind of manager. It makes me nauseous, but I let it go out of spite (to myself). Plus I don’t want her to know she is having any effect on me whatsoever.

At the end of what feels like the most tedious pre-shift meeting ever, it happens:

Red Flag #3 – At the end of the meeting, they collectively “bring it in” by clapping loudly

Holy fucking shit! Are you kidding me? This is the maraschino cherry on the world’s biggest shit sundae, in my mind.

Still, when told that I was being offered the job, my need for validation trumps reason and I accept. I promptly give notice at the wine job, which is, to my relief, received quite amicably. To show good faith, I attend a staff meeting at the restaurant to sample new menu items that are being rolled out, even though I haven’t technically started yet. It is then that I experience:

Red Flag #4 – The owner treats new menu tasting as a privilege, not a right.

After going into a tirade about how “you people were the ones who wanted this meeting” and how “we don’t technically need to do this,” the owner proceeds to warn everyone that this is basically their last chance to “ask questions about these dishes.” Seriously? First of all, having to come to work for a mandatory meeting on your day off is NEVER a privilege. Second, fuck you AND the horse you rode in on.

Though I leave incensed, I still keep convincing myself that this is somehow going to work itself out. I take a week off between the two jobs and go up to Maine, to clear my head. By the time I return, I am feeling positive once again and show up for my first day of training to learn about:

Red Flag #5 – A two-week training period for servers

I suppose that, with all of the other bullshit, this should not have surprised me. Still, this is utterly ridiculous. If you put yourself on that much of a pedestal, assuming that learning how to wait tables at your contemporary French/American restaurant takes two weeks, you had better be Thomas Keller (in which case I probably would still think it was excessive). I understand starting people with smaller; less important sections on the floor until you’ve assessed their abilities, but two weeks of straight training (and training pay) for someone that you were confident enough in to hire in the first place?

My first day of “training” brought everything flooding back, but I tried to remain positive, reminding myself that “my ego writes checks my body can’t cash” to the point where “my body is perpetually in a state of overdraft.” It quickly becomes apparent that they intend for me to put in two solid workweeks of training, which would be fine if I were getting started at NOMA, but in this case, and with the amount of FOH experience that I have (for better or for worse), this is entirely unnecessary. Still, I press on, all the while being “trained” by this jabroni who is clearly threatened by my presence, and keeps going way above and beyond at every opportunity to demonstrate that he is “probably the best server here.” I refrain from informing him how very little that means in real life, opting instead to listen to his stories about getting laid by random customers and how much money he makes.

After literally following this kid around for 6 hours, which if you aren’t actually doing anything feels like an eternity, I sit down with one of the managers to begin tasting through wines by the glass, etc. It is during this time that I discover that said manager is actually taking my old job at the wine distributor, and suddenly his barrage of very specific questions starts to make a lot more sense. Honestly, I’m happy for him and I toast his success over several shots of Jameson at Trina’s Starlite Lounge shortly after.

Still, I press on, showing up for training shift number two the next day. In an effort to make some kind of reasonable conversation with the veteran idiot from the day before, I bring up that I had been to Trina’s last night, and had a few more than I had expected, to which his response is “You’re kind of a boozehound, huh? I mean, I’ve heard you bring it up like 3 or 4 times now, and you know that kind of thing isn’t going to fly with the owner.”

It takes every ounce of my willpower not to repeatedly kick this asshole in the balls as hard as I possibly can, but after a few deep breaths I am able to compose myself. I choose the mindless activity of polishing wine stems to center myself. Thirty minutes later I am enjoying staff meal when one of the female servers begins to harass Veteran Idiot, referring to the fact that he has a (clearly white) friend nicknamed “Wu-Tang.” He immediately gets defensive, to the point where it seems that he may burst out into tears, and I cannot help from laughing out loud. I also cannot help but wonder what the Christ I’m doing sitting at this table right now.

All bets are off as the owner, who was absent yesterday, begins to host the pre-shift meeting. She runs through her usual barrage of “why everyone but me is a fucking moron” before we begin discussion of the night’s specials. I actually start to feel ok about interacting with the staff for a few minutes; before any semblance of feeling good is completely dashed by a 40-minute discussion regarding how poorly everyone has been “clienteling” and getting notes on regular customers. The subsequent “Let’s bring it in!” pushes me over the edge, and I am only able to muster three or four claps of my hands before retiring to the employee bathroom to furiously text my friends in search of a new job.

After three minutes, I am unable to find new employment but also painfully aware that I cannot play restaurant with these people for another second. This is not to say that there aren’t a few reasonable people working there, it’s just that the ones who aren’t particularly brutal. I post myself by the back exit, and when one of the managers that I actually like walks by I stop him, explain that I am grateful for the opportunity but it is simply not a good fit, hand over my apron and put an end to the madness. On my walk to the car, I feel great despite knowing that I’m going to be kind of destitute financially over the next couple of weeks. I also remind myself that I was going to be on training pay for 2 weeks anyway so who cares?

A few days later, I line up a new job downtown that is much more my speed. I have come to realize that I have no desire to work anyplace “cutting edge,” anyplace trendy. I want to be someplace that has a proven track record, and is consistent. I don’t care if it is featured on Eater or anything like that – I prefer that Yelp reviews of the place be few and far between. I just want to go to work and do my job well at this point in my life, I don’t want to interpret anyone’s vision or be responsible for this and that.

The restaurant industry has become a ridiculous place, plagued by paranoid restaurant owners who recklessly overstaff in an effort to avoid bad Yelp reviews, which can, it should be pointed out, be penned by literally anybody. It is difficult to find an establishment that doesn’t pool tips (a practice that rewards inexperienced and incompetent servers and penalizes those who are good at their job), and it has even become common to be expected to tip out the kitchen, when their compensation should be solely the responsibility of the employer. That’s how the business works, if you don’t want to deal with the general public you work in the kitchen and make less money, whereas the floor and bar are more profitable but involve much more social interaction.

I’m curious to see when this bubble finally pops, when the public’s enthusiasm wanes and they move on from the “star chefs” and other nonsense to something else entirely. Until then, a flurry of restaurants will continue to open and cannibalize one another in a za’atar-induced frenzy, the upswing hopefully being that only the truly great ones will be left standing in the end.

Feb 14 2015
by Joe Ricchio
Comments Off on Blizzard Gumbo

Blizzard Gumbo

Ahh, the perfect Saturday – we have been informed that, due to the 12th blizzard this month, that there is a citywide parking ban for the next two days. Initially I had plans to attend a New England-style boiled dinner and whiskey party, but once I thought about it nothing sounded better than just stowing my car in a friend’s driveway and not leaving my downtown apartment for two solid days. That’s what this weather does to me, and I’m perfectly fucking fine with it.

The evening prior I had spent a few hours at a local BBQ joint observing their methods for an upcoming magazine piece I am writing, and stuffing my face with delicious smoky meat for a few hours, during which I had consumed three beers to help take the edge of the previous night’s “90’s videos and red wine fest” that had gone well past three in the morning. When I arrived home, I poured myself a glass of wine and sat down in front of the TV, though after about 45 minutes I found myself feeling quite sleepy despite only 2 glasses deep. Taking advantage of the possibility of catching up on rest, I call it a night at 10PM and doze off immediately, only to awaken at 12 with mind-numbing anxiety. After about 15 minutes of trying to shake it, unsuccessfully, I get up and open more wine, drinking two bottles of California Cabernet that is pleasant enough, and catching up on the new season of Kroll show until finally being able to pass out again, around 3.

Hence, today all I really want to do is take a Clonazapam, drink lots of water, and cook the kind of food that involves a long, leisurely pace. This, and I will probably alternate between getting work done and focusing on my second play through of Dragon Age: Inquisition on PS4, the inspiration for which being the fact that I had no idea the first time around that my attractive female inquisitor could engage in a sexual relationship with the cute female elf rogue – not to be missed out on (I promise this has nothing to do with the fact that it’s Valentines Day). Who knows, maybe I’ll even get around to playing Civilization 5 for the 123rd time, I don’t know, I don’t know if I’ll have the time…
The idea to attempt Louisiana Gumbo for the first time started with the package of Niman Ranch Andouille Sausage I’ve got in my fridge, the gift bag spoils from a trade event I attended a few nights ago. It got the gears turning, and after rolling out for a bowl of chicken pho at Huong’s for breakfast I head to the grocery store to procure ingredients, as well as other provisions to get me through this fucking storm.

Ingredient breakdown is as follows:


I decide to forego the seafood in my version, opting for air-chilled bone-in chicken thighs to compliment the sausage, and add a flavorful fat content to augment the roux. I only mention the air-chilled aspect not to be an asshole, but because I recently came to the revelation that there is considerably less water retention in these birds. How much difference does that make? I don’t know but it sounds good.

In addition to the “Trinity,” of onion, celery, and bell pepper, I’ll be rolling with okra as a thickener instead of filé powder. I decide to employ a method I learned while cooking Bahian stews of soaking the okra in lime juice beforehand to temper the slime factor a bit, but not too much as I need it to act as a thickener. Lastly, I will add a liberal amount of garlic because, well, there is simply no other way in this house.

I decide to toast up some dried peppers and buzz up into fresh chili powder to compliment the fresh thyme and bay leaf. Also, I may toss in a little MSG.


Creole Rose, with its signature “Popcorn Aroma,” is the natural choice here – I actually make a separate trip to Rosemont Market to procure this all-important element.

Getting Started:

30 minutes prior to cooking, I season the chicken thighs with chili powder, salt, and pepper. In the meantime, chop the celery, green pepper, onion, and garlic, as well as getting the spice blend ready (salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper).
Now every Southerner will tell you that your gumbo is basically as good as your roux. Though there are many tips and tricks out there that act as shortcuts, I decide to do it the old fashioned way, first browning the chicken in butter before removing to a bowl and adding the flour to the pot (after lowering the heat), scraping up the browned bits. For the next 57 fucking minutes, I stand over the pot and stir while listening to the first Gravity Kills album and using my free hand to operate the laser pointer toy to keep my cat out of the goddamn kitchen. Over this period of time, I watch the color of the roux slowly transition from beige to peanut butter to caramel to almost milk chocolate, which was my target hue. The whole time I was concerned because I couldn’t tell if I was seeing flecks from the chicken or if I was burning the roux, but in the end, when I added the trinity of vegetables, it all smelled fantastic. Stir for a couple minutes, then add garlic before ladling in a little over two quarts of chicken stock, one cup at a time, and then the spice mix and chicken thighs. After coming to a simmer, the pot is covered and let to roll for 90 minutes, during which time I prep the okra and sausage.

It’s worth noting that I understand and am confortable with the fact that any or all of my methods constitute sacrilege in the religion of Gumbo, and my response is simple: Chill the fuck out, I’m a northerner and I don’t know any better.
I add the okra and sausage to the pot to simmer for another 40 minutes, starting the rice in the meantime. The Creole Rice package suggests that the best way to cook it is by adding a bit of butter and salt to my stock base, because what could that possibly hurt?

As the Gumbo closes in on the last ten minutes, I pull the chicken and remove the meat from the bones (which, as you may have guessed, is not difficult at this point) to put back in the stew. I will admit that yes, the finished rice did have a buttery, popcorn-y aroma but also that could have been the result of, well, adding butter. Either way, it has a very pleasant flavor that seems custom designed to work with Gumbo.

The last step before serving is adding both salt and a liberal amount of Tabsaco sauce for vinegar and heat. After assembling, my first bite does not disappoint, and immediately justifies the full hour spent slaving over the roux. Seriously, this Gumbo is fucking awesome, and it’s only going to get more awesome when I enjoy leftovers tomorrow. Really deep, rich flavors – I immediately put down a pretty large bowl despite the fact that I burn the fuck out of my mouth in the process. This is because I lack any semblance of patience in almost any situation and that will probably never change.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s “Sunday Blizzard Carbonnara”

Feb 09 2015
by Joe Ricchio
Comments Off on A Big Mac in the comfort and safety of your own home

A Big Mac in the comfort and safety of your own home

I want a Big Mac in the comfort of my own home.

Typically, on the rare occasions that I enjoy this glorious treat, it is consumed behind the wheel of my parked car, as this is the one fast food sandwich that presents solemn issues to consume while driving. I mean, you can, but you’ll be finding shredded lettuce for months, in everything from the cup holder to the cigarette lighter. Plus, there is a certain satisfaction to gripping the Big Mac with two hands, preferably in a relaxed fashion rather than navigating through traffic while using your knees to manipulate the wheel.

Today, however, in the middle of yet another cold and fucked up winter day, I decided that I was going to relish a Big Mac in front of my TV, preferably while watching a documentary about a notable historical figure who has achieved things of equal importance to what I was about to do in his/her lifetime. Of course, if I pick one up at the drive thru and bring it home, it will be tepid at best, so I knew I needed to take matters into my own hands here.

Most people’s first assumption would be that I have plans to somehow augment the ingredients of the Big Mac, in an effort to show that I can do it better when I use grass-fed beef, aged cheddar, bibb lettuce, etc. The primary concern I have with that method is that it would involve fixing something that isn’t broken, which is a colossal waste of time, every time. I call it the “Green bean casserole syndrome.”
No, I’m going straight to Shaw’s Supermarket to procure my ingredients, because there’s nothing that’s supposed to be “farm-fresh” about a Big Mac. I momentarily consider adding fries to the menu, but the thought of cleaning out the fucking fryolator puts that idea to rest. Seriously, EVERY time I use the home fryer it sits on the counter for weeks, taking up space, until I finally decide to go through the awkward and messy process of dealing with it’s contents. Plus, to be honest, you’re not going to achieve the same flavor of McDonald’s fries at home, it just won’t happen; even if you re-incorporate the beef tallow that was corrupting oblivious would-be vegetarians for decades, you won’t be able to get it exactly right.
“Two All-Beef Patties”

Historically, McDonald’s has been repeatedly questioned on this statement, fielding accusations involving everything from ant thoraxes to used syringes. In this case, I give them the benefit of the doubt, opting for 80% lean beef from what I presume were manic-depressive cows. I plan on seasoning the shit out of them, and pressing them thin, using a mold to shape them because I want perfect little circles.

“Special Sauce”

It is widely assumed that Mac sauce is just Thousand-Island dressing, but upon doing a bit of research I find it more accurate to make a boosted-up version of French dressing. I start with a bottle from Wishbone (I sat in the aisle for awhile contemplating between that and Ken’s), and add Heinz sweet pickle relish, minced onion, white vinegar, sugar, salt, and, my only concession to the fast food rule, Kewpie mayonnaise. This is because I don’t allow lesser forms of mayo into my house, and I’m not about to start now. I make this a bit in advance to let the flavors properly meld.


Iceberg – the most nutritionally devoid vegetable known to man – is the ONLY way to roll here, shredded up finely. It’s the only lettuce that will actually get soggy in a salad spinner, making it even easier to prepare. What’s great is that I get to enjoy a “White American Salad,” prior to cooking, featuring iceberg and the leftover French dressing. Of course, Hidden Valley Ranch would be preferable, but this will do in a pinch. I just wish I had some warm Pillsbury Crescent Rolls to go with it..


Holy fucking Christ, there is some chemical in Kraft Singles that makes them absolutely irresistible, and though the package boasts “No artificial flavors,” there is something man-made in there. I even like peeling back the plastic, and the mildly rubbery texture of the cheese. In this case, I have opted for the “Orange American” varietal. I have also already had three of them, prior to cooking.


I’ll be honest; I don’t eat jarred pickles very often so I have no fucking idea about the difference between Vlassic, Cain’s, etc. In the end, my aversion to babies makes me steer clear of one based solely on it’s association with storks, so I go with the Cain’s bread and butter pickle chips. I don’t even really like the pickles that much on the Big Mac, but I’m a slave to authenticity here. Wait, I just used the word “Authenticity” in regards to food. I hate myself. Where are my pills?


I used to live with one of my best friends, Jon Dietz, who was an absolute Nazi about finely dicing onions. Though aesthetically pleasing, I normally don’t take the time to mince them super fine, but in this case, it’s important. This is for you, Dietz.

“On A Sesame Seed Bun”

I love how Supermarkets have bakeries, and then they have the “bakery aisle.” To me, that aisle smells like pure nostalgia, an amalgamation of scents from Thomas’s, JJ Nissan, Freihoffer’s, Country Kitchen, and the like, that kind of bread that can ONLY come from a factory, untouched by human hands. There are three options for sesame seed hamburger buns, and I go with the “Koffee Kitchen” or some shit like that, based entirely on the fact that they come in packages of 4 buns instead of 24. I only need two, and the rest will just slowly become a mold farm on top of my microwave over the coming weeks before I finally acknowledge them and throw them away.

Mac Attacks Not Heart Attacks

Ok, time to get this bitch started.

I get some butter melting in the pan to toast the buns – I know you’re technically supposed to trim the middle bun a bit, but I decide to compensate by just pressing both sides on the griddle.
Once the buns are toasted, the patties go into the hot pan. I really want them thin so I do like you aren’t supposed to do and press the fucking things down, speeding up the cooking process. After about two minutes on each side, they are sufficiently browned and good to go.
First the bottom bun, then sauce, then onions, lettuce, and Kraft single before the first patty goes down. Then my buttery middle bun, more sauce, onion, lettuce, and pickles before the last patty piles on and I crown it. It is slightly bigger than the McDonald’s version, largely due to the size of the burgers, but it looks quite pretty.

How Does It Taste?

Pretty spot on. In the original you taste more of the toppings, but in my version, for better or for worse, the burger flavor comes through more. My decision to aggressively salt the meat pays off, because if you’re going to cook the shit out of something it better be seasoned well. True to form, my version would be damn near impossible to eat with one hand, while driving. I think the biggest difference is that real Big Macs have a certain soft and mushy quality, even the beef, that I simply have no idea how to replicate, yet I weirdly enjoy…

What Do I Drink With It?

This is my first time drinking wine with a Big Mac, so I go for something middle of the road in regards to fruit and acidity, in this case the Altesino Rosso from Tuscany. I mean, the Big Mac is practically custom designed to pair with sugary drinks that are terrible for you, so whatever you choose will no doubt be an improvement, and honestly I plan on annihilating the burger before I’m even 1 glass down anyway so…

What Did I Watch?

There is a series on Netflix called “The Men That Built America,” which chronicles the exploits of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, and Henry Ford. Though it’s actually quite interesting, it recaps the entire 1.5 hour episode about 8 times throughout each one, presumably to accommodate what would have been the commercial break. The upside to this is that the repetition, while extremely frustrating, is quite useful in retaining historical facts.

Worth the McEffort?

Yeah, just to say you did it. Plus now I have enough Heinz sweet relish and Cain’s bread and butter pickles to last me for the next decade, so there’s that.


So a few days later, upon a friend’s request, I made the Mac again, and I have to say it came out twice as good for two reasons:

First, for the burger patties, I started with 2-3 ounce balls of meat, which I smashed down with a metal spatula in a red hot cast iron pan, flipping after 45 seconds, seasoning, and pressing down again. This not only added char, but the texture was much more true to form.

Second, the Big Mac sauce got even better over three days of letting the flavors come together.


Feb 07 2015
by Joe Ricchio
Comments Off on Kids Cereal on Donuts, Because, Why Not?

Kids Cereal on Donuts, Because, Why Not?



Once again, I find myself staring down a donut topped with memories of watching The Karate Kid until the VHS cassette wore out and brutally clubbing my older cousin with my Millenium Falcon toy. This time it’s Little Bigs in South Portland bringing the Charms & The Cap’N, plus some real marshmallow to remind you that you’re technically a grownup now. I would like to offer the suggestions of both Cinnamon Toast Cruller and Apple Jack Fritter if anyone is looking for a project..


Feb 07 2015
by Joe Ricchio
Comments Off on What it’s like to be hungover after 22-31 drinks..

What it’s like to be hungover after 22-31 drinks..

Usually still a bit drunk upon awakening. Mania ensues, texting, making idiotic plans, posting stuff. Then I finally stand up, experience vertigo and nausea. Pill regimen. I Stare off into nothingness for 40 minutes in the shower, thinking about breakfast. Drink lots of water – avoid coffee because my heart rate is already through the roof, and in regards to anxiety where most would have butterflies I have a hornets nest – after convincing myself that everyone is not, in fact, out to get me, I leave the house in search of what I perceive to be sustenance. This usually needs to have a soup component. After eating, all hope of my day descends into hell, and my number one priority is to get home immediately. Sometimes I’ll get stoned at this point, which always seems to make it worse because now I’m physically sick and I can’t think in a straight line. I’ll lie in bed for a few hours, mind racing about how the world is collapsing around me and too dizzy to fall asleep, before convincing myself that a bottle of wine could even me out. It does. Around 5 I forget what the first part of the day was all about, and head to the store to pick up more wine and make myself dinner. After around three bottles, a heavy supper, and several mindless shows, usually documentaries about successful people in an effort to make myself feel worse. I begin to get restless and have to go to bed immediately to avoid the risk of going out. Drink lots of water. Goodnight.

A day off the grid.