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Archive for November, 2010

Who is Big Lou?

As they’ve heard about our new venture, a lot of people have asked: “who is Big Lou?” Is he a fictional character? An employee? Our butcher? I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you just who Big Lou is.

I grew up in Sechelt and from the time I was able to work–I think it was 14 or 15–I worked in kitchens dishwashing, cooking and such. Then on my time off I spent a lot of time around my friends who had cars!!!

One of my best friends since I was around 7 was Louis Jr. and we spent a lot of time in and out of his Dad’s grocery store and butcher shop. This is where I was first introduced to some butcher shop routines, like the bandsaw use, sausage stuffing, grinding, etc. When I started cooking, I got a bit more interested in the butchery process and asked more questions as time went on.

Big Lou was Louis Jr.’s dad. He’s a great guy who is also an amazing butcher and sausage maker. He always sourced the best products he could, he would pay his suppliers a bit more for better products and then used them to make and cut better products than anyone else in town. He had grown up in North Vancouver and worked in butcher shops around the lower Mainland before heading over to Sechelt to opene his grocery store and butcher shop.

If you’re lucky when you’re growing up you find mentors or people who take interest in you—maybe they see something in your youthful exhuberence that they want to help you with. Louis was one of these people for me. I spent a lot of time in his shops: both the butcher shop and his home autobody shop–he builds great hot rods as well! I spent a lot of hours sanding cars and helping around the shop.

He helped Allan and I a lot on this butcher shop in the beginning stages of design and development of the space. His understanding of the process really helped us to make the most of the awesome space we found to open the shop. He’ll be there before we open to give us more advice, and I couldn’t be happier about that. I learned a lot from him–about everything under the sun, and I I felt It was only right to honor him a bit by naming our butcher shop after him.

So, who is Big Lou?  He’s a mentor, a friend, and a great butcher who set a standard that we’re going to strive to meet every day we open the shop.

Never stop learning or teaching and you will always be successful.

Hope to see you at the Big Lou’s soon,

Karl Gregg

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The Birth of Big Lou’s

It’s probably a good guess that if you’re reading this, you already know that we’re building a new concept, a European-style butcher shop called Big Lou’s. I thought I would answer some questions in advance by giving you an idea of what the process from idea to business looked like.

Big Lou’s was initally born out of a discussion on day with my business partner as we were working on a wine drinker menu for Two Chefs and a Table. We were talking about how we were making lots of things in house, an approach which was working well for our dinners and increasingly also for our brunch menu as we were making sausages, pates, preserves and accompaniments. We chatted about how French kitchens had all these jobs into their staff, from the executive chef down the line of command, such as the saucier, baker and the “Butcher”.

When we talked of this it kind of clicked on how some very good butchers were popping up all over town and more so in large American markets. What a cool idea, we said: “a Chef being a butcher again.” Right now there are many butchers who are excellent at their craft, but they don’t come to it with a chef’s mindset and thus we hit step one of the concept: open a butcher shop with a chef’s mindset.

The idea stage

We began to expand on this idea: what if we were to look at it from a kitchen standpoint? We buy would the animals, butcher them, and then use the extra secondary cuts for braising sausages and stocks. We would use the best product to make the great by-products as they did in tradional French kitchens when the saucier would make great stocks, soups and sauces from the bones that the meat cook couldn’t use. For us, this is a great model of food making and we thought that with a butcher shop the options would become endless.

Now having ideas is great, but we all know that a lot of great ideas pass through our heads on a daily basis! In order to act on the ideas, they need to be achieveable, so the next stage was to determine whether or not the idea has a model for comparison. This could be another similar business somewhere in your market or perhaps a business in another city. If you look hard enough, there is always a comparison for direction, justification and inspiration

The idea stage is the fun part, its the excitement of “what if we did this or did this”, “how can we make that work” and “what would it look like.”

Decision time

This is where you have to make a decision to take the idea from a idea to a business plan structure, this is where the tough questions come in!!

  • Budgets
  • Demographics
  • Sales
  • Costs of builds
  • Décor
  • Concept story, etc
  • The decision to write a plan, budget and investment plan is a big decision as this is when the idea starts to become reality; it likely would have a name, style, a look even if in your head, it starts to feel real when you go through this process.

    Once you decide to write these it’s game on, you start to live and breathe it!!

    Concept plan

    This is where you have to have a great imagination to take a empty space, a space that needs walls to come down or be moved, paint to be replaced or picked, you have to be in a space that has nothing in it probably and have a great idea of what it will be. The concept plan is key in budgeting, room flow, service, area accessabilty and of course the menu and product offering

    The exterior of Big Lou's courtesy of Scout Magazine

    This part of the plan is the toughest and the funnest cause it’s building time.

    Now some people hire designers to put together a plan and design, but I find we have better success putting it together and then having a designer come in and tweak it for us or make sure we havent made massive code errors and such

    In Big Lou’s we used a lot of masking tape to create the retail side floor plan, so what we did is map out where we thought the deli cases go, where the sandwich counter should be, where the cash drawer would go, etc.

    The vision was critical and the execution of that vision is extremely difficult sometimes, but in this case the execution was very achievable and to this point very accurate from initial discussions.

    One thing about concept development is make sure you believe in it, don’t ask a lot of opinions as this can cloud the vision and introduce a lot of second guessing!!

    We had someone ask us today: “how do you dream all this up and then make it work out and come together?” I laughed and said “well, a lot of late nights and a lot of research and coffee”.

    Hope this gives some insight into what we are doing and how it progressed. I will provide some new posts on the blog when it comes to the details of the opening process

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    Don’t forget that this menu is available for one night only at Two Chefs and a Table. Call 778-233-1303 for reservations.

    We’re ready: the prep is done, the fires have been put out and it’s time to go.

    We’re ready to start one hour ahead of the event, so we have a little time to catch up on emails, phone calls and also get some face-to-face time with wine guru Keith Nicholson who, as we mentioned, has been at Laughing Stock Vineyards for 9 weeks. He’s been working at the winery helping with crush.

    The keys to success today have been and will be:

    • Solid Prep ahead of time that allowed us to be super organized
    • Quick thinking on finding solutions to some of our small challenges
    • A great venue kitchen to work out of–pretty much a small replica of what we have at our prep kitchen

    Sorting grapes is part of the Crush

    The event starts at 6 pm and we will be serving 8 courses over 3 hours, each course being 30-40 plates minimum. The menu was brainstormed by us and also the wine maker, owner and intern, over a conference call and the main theme was pork pork and, um, some more pork.

    The first guests arrive right on time at 6pm and we begin by plating some of the charcuterie items:

    • a duck pate made in house, with caramelized apples
    • serrano ham
    • duck and pork rillettes
    • a great pork cheek and herb aspic from Oyama.

    The hot appies were plated as well:

    • Prawn and Crab Cakes with Red pepper Aioli
    • Scallops wrapped with Wild boar Prosciutto.

    Also we grabbed three dozen effingham oysters and a light horseradish and chive vinaigrette. Both these and the scallops were a bit hit.

    The night is off to a solid start for us.

    At 730 pm the house is full of winery staff and guests and we start kicking into high gear rolling out some of the main courses:

    • Long Line sablefish with a horseradish polenta
    • Maple Cured Pork Belly
    • Scalloped potato Pavee with Confit of Polderside duck.

    Then the owners paused us for a bit while they thanked their crew for the great crush and picking effort by all involved. It was good to watch another grassroots style business owner and how they thank their team. It certainly gave me and Al some insight as to what we are good at, as well ideas as to what we can add to our efforts. A highlight for us was the standing ovation for Al’s pork belly—good times!
    After the short pause we were back on cue with Risotto with white truffle and quail egg and this, as with a lot of the other items, was a huge hit!!  Most people don’t see sliced white truffles on their risotto so was a big treat and something out of the ordinary.

    Then we plate the Foie Grais and lobster mushroom confit – another hit.

    Then the last course was dessert centered by chocolate pot de crème, home made apple caramel bread pudding and cheese from oyama sausage on Granville Island.

    And we are done !!!!

    A great 12 hours of prep and work turned into a great event and, not that we aren’t humble, but we gained a lot of new fans of our business and tonnes of compliments!!!!! A great night like that makes the beer a little colder and the food after wards a little better

    Talking about the food being better, some of you who have done big events, crammed for an exam or worked overtime to finish a job will know you sometimes forget to eat.  Such was the story for us, and a run to the local McDonalds was the only option left to us at 11pm on a Thursday. I guess we’re spoiled by big city life!!

    As I was driving back, I wondered what I could do to make a Mickey D’s cheese burger taste better and I think I figured it out: a nice thin layer of cold foie gras!!!!! AMAZING!

    Almost as good as what laid ahead of us after we cleaned up.

    That’s for the next episode though.

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    The Laughing Stock Winery

    The big day of the Crush Dinner at Laughing Stock Vineywards arrived and we woke up to early frost up here in Penticton—definitely a was a slow start to the day!

    We eventually got moving and had coffee with my parents, did some more catch up on event quotes, contractor stuff, emails and details for some of the other Two Chefs events and work we also have going on today. The world doesn’t stop because we’re out of down for a big event!

    Along with the Crush Dinner, back in Vancouver we are also catering for Digital Domain who is doing final overtime work on the new Tron Movie. We’re big supporters of the local community and so we will be catering for the local Arts Firehall theater for their premiere. We also are getting ready for a wrap party on Friday and a Gallery opening on Saturday. So, as much as we would like to say we are sitting back in a beautiful house in the middle of Naramata Bench getting ready for our event, my head is still also focussed on our event execution in Vancouver. This concern shouldn’t be confused with up with stress or lack of confidence. The team we left in Vancouver to look after the other events tonight are very good at what they do and they will be executing at a high level.

    Every day should start with a good breakfast, and we hit a small diner called Over Easy, which was suggested by my parents. Huge portions, good coffee and a newspaper–really what else could I ask for? We took the time over breakfast to eat, drink and get mentally ready by going over the details of the event

    After breakfast we head out to the event site at Naramata Bench. Now if you have not been out there before, it is beautiful and you need to get up there and check out what BC is doing for wine tourism. There must be 30 or so wineries within 30 minute drive of Penticton. We arrived at the event house and it is above the tasting room for Laughing Stock. It had a beautiful home kitchen with a fully stocked equipment list! That, and a view that is amazing and a great couple of hosts in David and Cynthia Enns.

    At that point, we pretty much took over the kitchen and they left to run errands and such. After some quick inventory we realised that there were some fires to put out so we head to Penticton and find what we need. With the Safari completed, we headed back and start finishing the prep.

    One advantage of working with wineries is that they, just like us, like to show off what they do. So, as we are sharing the first cuts of braised pork belly, David gives us a taste of the 06 Pinot Noir. It was light in color, so unassuming for Pinot color, but the nose had that regular Pinot stink and then the end flavor being the best like a red hard candy.

    Timeout! As much as they like to share the wines, we need to stay focused for now. We re 31 minutes from guests so off to work I go!!

    Karl

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    The day before the Crush event we had to be up early to make sure we were ready to go.

    All the prep has been done and now it’s time to make sure we get it all in the catering van and that we are set to go. There’s no turning back and the safety net is minimal as well with the event being on Remembrance Day!

    Checklist:

    • Equipment
    • Clean Chef Coats
    • Food plateware counted and packed carefully

    Now as I sat here and wrote this I realized cutlery could be an issue as we cannot pick up at a rental place on Remembrance Day, but luckily I know some people up here for extra support.

    All our food is packed into re useable styrofoam containers and deli containers, everything in small containers so it stays super cold. This is a great use of fish containers, they are the perfect height for the deli containers and will stay at 4 degrees c for hours. A major challenge of off site catering is that refrigeration is at a premium and managing everything Is never easy, we have a 5 hour trip to the next set of coolers from ours so we need to make sure we can do it ll really easily

    Of course things are never perfect, with the rush of the long weekend coming one of our suppliers shorted us Foie Gras and Pork Belly, so we are packing up and then off to pick it up, not a huge deal and fairly abnormal for them.

    We are loaded up and ready to go, 4 guys, catering van, 400 kilometers to go.

    Thank god for hands free cell phone stuff, as the whole drive till cell phone reception disappeared I was on the phone coordinating things for Big Lous, staffing for events on Thursday in the city, and talking to contractors, and real estate developers for other projects.

    But the 2 hours through Manning Park is kinda nice with zero reception, until we hit Princeton and the phone lights up like a christmas tree!!! 20 minutes throught there of catching up and then 1 and a half hours more of no cell phone coverage and lots of music and chatting.

    We make it to Penticton a bit later than we had hoped but with a couple stops, some snow on the pass through Manning Park, it happens. We got to my Parents and got everything sorted with the winery, and we are ready to go for a early start Thursday

    We finished the night with dinner at a local pasta joint that is owned by a chef from Vancouver that I worked with in the Boathouse concept. He is doing pretty well and we all looked forward to some italian food, wine and catch up with my parents and wine gorou Keith Nicholson who has been taking a sabbatical doing crush, picking and general wine tasks at Laughing stock for the last 9 weeks.

    And of course we will call it early so we are well rested for the big day!

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    We’ve built a big part of our business on events and we work a lot of them, approx 670 in last two years. They range from private dinners, to gallery openings and wedding and everything inbetween. We enjoy them and have a good time at most of them but what we really look forward to most are the big events, the challenging ones and the ones that take us on the road. Tomorrow morning, Jason, Mark, Al and I will head out of the city for an event that we’ve all been excited about for some time.

    When we pile into the van and head out of town, our destination will be Penticton, where we’ll be putting on a “Crush” dinner for 35-50 ppl who just finished a huge amount of work picking, sorting and crushing grapes from this years growing season. In preparing the dinner, we’ll be working with great ingredients like foie grais, truffles, wild boar and such and this is also very exciting for us!!! We’ll have a 5-hour drive as a team to chat about the latest events, the new butcher shop and other work stuff even as we keep our eyes peeled along the way looking for roadside fruit and produce stands to find some great stuff to bring back to the restaurant.

    Penticton has the extra appeal of also being my Mom and Dad’s home and we will get a visit in with them briefly tomorrow night for dinner—we’ll have some good home cooking. And maybe a poker game into the wee hours. The only thing missing will be one person, and she knows who she is and I wish she was coming up to help us serve, but that will have to wait until next time!

    The challenge of these types of events is massive as we’re essential working without a safety net. We’re five hours away and can’t run back to the restaurant so we have to be 100% packed and ready. We will get to work with some great products in a home kitchen, which is fun but a part of the whole challenge!

    We will document this trip with pictures and with some more stories and some more advice as we go but for now it’s off to prep at the restaurant and get some supplies from Granville Island.

    Cheers,

    Karl

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    Five courses to celebrate Laughing Stock Vineyards’ 2010 harvest

    Laughing Stock Vineyards produces ultra-premium wines from their winery located on the Naramata Benchlands. Owned and run by David and Cynthia Enns, Laughing Stock has in a short decade become a consistent award winner.

    Laughing Stock describe themselves as “a serious enterprise with a light hearted attitude”. The winery was named in reference to David and Cynthia’s previous careers in investment and financial consulting and their wines are often been given the names of financial terms—Portfolio, Blind Trust, Small Caps. Likewise, their wine club is referred to as the “Preferred Share” Wine Club.

    Two Chefs and a Table will be travelling to Naramata on November 11th to cater their Crush Dinner, which celebrates the end of the crushing of this year’s harvest of nearlyh 100 tons of grapes. Though the harvest was particularly late, there is still early evidence that this year’s harvest will produce great wines and add to Laughing Stock’s track record of award wins.

    The same five-course meal featuring a range of Two Chefs and a Table signature dishes will also be offered in the Two Chefs and a Table bistro on Wednesday November 17th, again with each course to be paired with selections from Laughing Stock’s collection.

    As always, reservations are strongly recommended for this dinner event. The cost per person is $65 (not including tax and tip). Call 778-233-1303 or email info@twochefsandatable.com for reservations.

    For more information on Laughing Stock Vineyards, please visit http://www.laughingstock.ca/.

    Crush Wine Drinker Dinner Menu

    Truffle and prosciutto risotto
    Fresh truffles, Spanish Serrano ham, quail egg

    Scallops and cured Wild boar
    Qualicum scallops, smoked boar, red pepper aioli

    Foie grais
    Pan seared, bacon, lobster mushroom confit

    Entrée choice of

    Maple cured pork belly
    Quebec maple syrup, fresh herbs, pan seared, roasted carrots

    or

    Long line sable fish
    Buttermilk Poached, bay leaves, tarragon, horseradish polenta

    Dessert, choice of:

    Cointreu pot de crème’s
    dark callebut chocolate, cointreau candied oranges,vanilla whip

    or

    caramel apple pudding
    crème anglaise, raisins, bourbon



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