Whew. ServSafe is now under my belt. My Culinary Management class took the exam early this month and we just got our scores back a few days ago. I’m happy to report that I passed. The refresher course has actually come at an ideal time as I just started a new job at Smith Canteen. My first few days involved trying to figure out how to arrange storage so that we were in compliance with health codes.

In the past weeks, Steve taught us about the restaurant experience for guests and opportunities for us to be great. He included ideas like having the chef visit all of the tables in the restaurant. He said that many people find being able to chat with the chef and be able to convey all of their ideas and concerns directly to the person in charge of the food is a great touch. However, he warned that the chef shouldn’t stand and hover creepily over diners without saying anything, because that becomes a negative experience. Last year, at Le Bernardin, I saw Eric Ripert glide out of the kitchen and come and visit one of the tables. Even though he didn’t visit my table, I remember how the entire dining room atmosphere changed and how thrilled I was to see that he was in the kitchen.

Beyond the dining experience, we’ve also been discussing developing a brand. Julia Heyer came back from her brief hiatus with a great tan and jumped right into branding. She spoke about what a brand is and what needs it fulfills. We learned about the different factors that go into building a brand, from describing the attributes and personality to coming up with a brand statement, and finally, the name.

We had Roberta Ronsivalle visit from Mucca Design, the firm responsible for the branding and look of Balthazar, Pastis and Brooklyn Fare. She spoke about using a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to define the challenge and come up with a strategy to express the restaurant’s goals. For example, she showed pictures of the custom fonts they developed for some of their clients — allowing them to update their menus regularly using a font based on a person’s handwriting, or just giving them a font that best fit their brand personality. Roberta then took us into detail about Brooklyn Fare, from its inception, to defining the idea, naming it and then creating buzz for it. She gave very interesting insight into the thought process behind developing these brands and gave us a glimpse of the quality of their work.

Lastly, the Culinary Management students were supposed to go to the Fulton Fish Market last Thursday, but unfortunately the trip was canceled. Instead, we started to learn about purchasing. I’m excited because I recall being very good at numbers in middle school and I want to see if those skills have held up. I actually like using excel spreadsheets to try to cost out recipes, and converting vague recipes into grams is a dorky hobby of mine. It should be fun!

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