Olive Garden

Olive Garden’s Culinary Institute Exposed

For a while I had to work at an Olive Garden to help pay the bills.  I can tell you that it was one of the worst jobs I have ever had.  The kitchen cleanliness was so bad I wouldn’t even eat a bag of chips I brought in for fear of germs leaping onto any food I wished to consume.  Though it was illegal the management cast a blind Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscanyeye to employees smoking in the prep kitchen where it was not uncommon to find dozens of cigarette butts lying on counters, the floors and even on hand sinks.  Their bonus checks were good so they didn’t care and the health inspector was rumored to be in their pocket.

The management staff’s general approach to customers was to treat them like cattle.  Servers were often seated with three or four tables all at the same time which guaranteed none of the tables were going to receive good service and as a result the server was not going to receive a good tip.  Again, their bonus checks were good so they didn’t care.

They did not care about their employees, their customers, health concerns, the law or anything other than their bonus checks.  It was not a circumstance of one bad management crew as this staff has routinely been rewarded for exemplifying the Olive Garden standard.  It is the OG culture.  Two of the managers were recognized with a trip to the Culinary Institute of Tuscany.  Both said there wasn’t much educating as the company kept them drunk most of the time.  Both also said that the food they experienced in Italy was nothing like the Olive Garden menu.  No surprise there.

Now a former Olive Garden manager has outed the Culinary Institute of Tuscany as a fraud – he says it is actually a hotel that parent company Darden Restaurant Group rents out during the off-season.  According to the article, “There wasn’t much learning involved. Still though, it was a free trip to Italy.”  The article appears on the foodie web site Eater and you can read it HERE.

Valentine’s Day Dinner Fail!

valentine's dayJust a quick hop on the old soap box.  Ladies, it’s Valentine’s Day.  Granted it means nothing to men except that if they don’t put forth some kind of effort they’ll be sleeping on the couch until Mother’s Day.  Well, ladies, I’m here to say, “Don’t settle!”

If Valentine’s Day is special to you do not let him off the hook by taking you to a glorified fast-food restaurant like Olive Garden or Ruby Tuesday or Outback Steakhouse or Red Lobster or Applebee’s or Texas Roadhouse or any of those fern barns that are just a clown short of having a drive-thru.

Not even Cheesecake Factory; that’s still phoning it in.  He needs to take you to a nice restaurant, a restaurant that actually takes reservations not herds you into a lobby like so many heads of cattle.  A man who loves you doesn’t want you packed like a sardine in a cramped foyer.

I wouldn’t even cut him slack over one of those cliche heart shaped pizzas.  Unless of course he made it himself from scratch.  That’s the absolute best Valentine’s dinner – one he cooks for you or even better with you.  Cooking together can be amazing foreplay whether it is a full blown meal or something as simple as chocolate covered strawberries.

But once again I beg you, don’t settle.  The only thing worse than forgetting is a half-ass effort.  Make him earn it, ladies.

olive garden

“Restaurants Open On Christmas”

As a chef it disturbs me that so many Americans are afraid of cooking a meal. What am I talking about?

A quick look at Google Trends will reveal that the most popular searches Christmas Day 2009 were “restaurants open on christmas,” “cracker barrel hours,” “huddle house,” “dunkin donuts open on christmas.”  Sad.

Restaurants open on ChristmasIt is one day, folks, cook something!  This trend is very disheartening to anyone like myself who loves to cook – that someone refuses to cook even one meal, even on Christmas Day – they just have to eat out.  Mother’s Day is another day that baffles me.  I can think of no bigger slap in the face to mom than dragging her to some ubiquitous Olive Garden, making her sit in a crowded lobby for hours and then shoving that carcinogen laced pseudo-food down her throat.  Dido for Valentine’s Day.

One of the great experiences in life is for family and loved ones to gather together and share with one another – share their art, their stories, their food and their love.  Going to eat at a restaurant on Christmas Day, to me, tells those around you that they are a burden.  That you only visit loved ones because society’s folkways suggest you are a heel if you do not, or rather society’s folkways expose you as a heel if you do not.

I understand that some people feel overwhelmed by a lot of the activities during the holidays but how about cutting out all of the trivial stuff and just sit down noshing and sharing with those who love you.  But if circumstances dictate that you must go out and consume lethal amounts of additives, saturated fats and hydrogenated oils then here are links to IHOP, Denny’s and Waffle House, but I implore to throw together something easy and spend the rest of your time with the ones you love.

It is one day, cook something!

Hear is a great dish that is ready literally in seconds:

Recipe: Oyster Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 quart whole milk
  • 1 pint oysters
  • 1 stick real butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. In a sauce pan or even in a large microwaveable bowl combine milk and oysters and heat to a simmer then add butter and season to taste.
  2. Enjoy!

The Never-Tipping Pasta Bowl

Tis the season for all-you-can-eat specials.

There’s a nip in the air, the kids are back in school and restaurants are empty.  It must be Fall.  The main giveaway is that restaurants are running “bottomless” specials.  After buying uniforms and school supplies parents are tapped out.  There’s no money left for a night on the town.  For this reason it is the slowest time of the year for the restaurant industry.

Servers hate this time of year because it means they have to work harder for less money.  Why?  Because to lure customers in many eateries are offering all-you-can-eat specials at super low prices.  This is great for mom and dad but not necessarily for that struggling undergrad trying to put themselves through school.

Now this lecture is not aimed at those of you who take advantage of such bargains and leave a proper tip for service received.  It is for those of you who rationalize that if you don’t tip the neighborhood mega buffet then why should this be any different.  The difference is that you don’t have to go get your refills yourself.  Someone brings them to you, freshly cooked mind you not poaching on a steam table for hours.

There are probably some of you reading this wondering, “How could anyone think that you wouldn’t have to tip just because the menu says all-you-can-eat?”  That’s the other reason servers hate this time of year.  These specials draw non-tippers like politicians to a kickback.

It also brings out the bingeaholics as well.  These are people whose goal is to make the restaurant lose money.  They will actually skip meals so that they can put away five, six and even seven portions of the never-ending special.  What’s worse many bingeaholics are also non-tippers but even those who aren’t need to realize that if you are going to make the server fill your trough a half a dozen times with unending meatloaf you need to up your tip.  Hey, you are already getting a break on the price so why not throw a few extra George Washingtons at that single parent trying to make ends meat?

Now from the consumer’s standpoint – if they can possibly offer you all-you-can-eat for under ten bucks do you think it is something you want to put in your body?  Doubtful.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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