September 29, 2007

Customer Service Sadism

I wish I could say that I've stayed away from my blog for so long so that you could get a taste of what customer service is generally like in Spain: slow, tedious, and sometimes non-existent; but I can't, that would be a lie - although not the part about customer service.
Let me give you an example. The other day I went to a trendy and expensive furniture store. I wanted to exchange a chipped 4 euro coffee cup that had formed part of a 500 euro purchase (not mine). The 14 employees of the store were divided up into 4 basic groups: talking on the phone in a rude manner, smoking cigarettes outside, standing in groups bitching about their whatever, and smirking nastily from behind the cash register. As I waited in line for 20 minutes behind the other 6 customers who seemed to think that it was normal to wait while over a dozen employees roamed around without even acknowledging our presence, when it came to be my turn, I decided to boldly ask a question. "Um, hi, excuse me, for exchanges?" Someone barked at me, "You'll have to talk to Alvaro, he's the only one in a 75 kilometer radius authorized to exchange the broken cup that we knowingly sold you".
"Ok, um and who's Alvaro?". The surly employee replied, "well, he was in the smirking nastily group, but since then he's shifted to the talking on the phone in a rude manner team," gesturing to a sullen man behind her. So when he hung up the phone, "excuse me Alvaro, I'd like to exchange this coffee cup." He looked at me, "You'll have to wait your turn" and went outside for a cigarette.
Now you might say, isn't that just water under the bridge, can't anyone have a rotten day? But the reason I brought it up was because I was reminded of the whole experience by the charming waiter that served us in the Galician restaurant where we went for lunch today. After waiting patiently for 20 minutes for him to come over to our table while he buzzed busily around us, I waved him down with my most winning waiter smile. His response, "you'll have to wait." Brilliantly disrespectful (so much so that my American restaurant-owner friend fantasizes about working there), rude, downright uncivil. What gives? My Spanish brethren like to tell me that the reason that restaurant service is so bad is that the waiters are not working for tips. While I agree that it is annoying when Brian shows up at your table at _____________ American restaurant with crayons and begins to kiss your ____ the whole night, isn't there something to be said for customer service meaning just decent and friendly treatment between humanoids? Maybe they get off on it here, maybe waiters like to treat their customers badly just as much as customers don't enjoy themselves as much if they are treated with respect. Are Spaniards customer service sadists?

September 12, 2007

How to build a starter kitchen

I was interviewed a couple of months ago by someone who was doing an article about how to start a wine cellar with 200 euros. It seemed like an excellent idea to me, especially considering that everyone has to start somewhere and that a few pointers can go a long way.
I was reminded of this article again last night when a good friend asked me if I could share a few easy recipes with her, and give her a few pointers in the kitchen. She went on to say that when she goes to the market or the grocery store she unsure even of what to buy, and frequently ends up with very few things to build on, which is the way that I like to think of cooking. For me, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, condiments, are all building blocks. Unless I have something very specific in mind when I go food shopping, whether at the supermarket or the farmer’s market, I tend to buy what “looks good”, knowing that the possibilities for mixing and matching will be endless once I get home. This is in fact what I most love about cooking; above all I am an experimenter and an inventor in the kitchen. I might use a recipe for inspiration, or for general cooking times or temperatures, but I like to take a recipe and turn it over and over in my head, creating its new identity and then throwing in a little bit of whatever else I can think of. Usually, I will do my shopping with a very definite idea in my head – chowder, chard, Poland, comfort, etc. but in general the finished product morphs a dozen times, again depending on what ultimately “looks good” while I´m in the store. I understand however, that even if you are able to chose the vegetables that are in season and the best cut of meat, you don´t necessarily know what to do with it when you get home. How do you know that what you are buying is going to “work”.
So, what are the building blocks for starter kitchen? They would obviously have to be broken down into groups of things, and this would clearly be open to debate (which I am more than welcome to) depending on the cook, the size of a kitchen, and whatever other possible factors such as food allergies (I, for example am allergic to onions, a building block for most kitchens) or refrigerator space. I should also point out that the interesting thing would be to create a starter kitchen that would contain not only basic elements that enable one to cook (i.e. Oil, salt, pepper), but also basic elements that enable one to cook WELL.
On top of these basic elements, it would then have to include the variables, those things that again, “look good” and that are in general can be used in a huge variety of dishes, and would include things such as vegetables and starches such as rice, pasta, couscous, etc., while it would also include meats, fish, poultry, etc. that can be prepared, and enjoyed at any time, without too much of a hassle. And then of course there is the price factor. Knowing how much things are going to cost you in general, and not to mention how long they are going to take to cook, is a huge help when it comes to stocking your kitchen with food. If I´m running to the grocery store with 10 euros in my wallet and want to get something good for dinner, I automatically know before I get there certain things that are out of my grasp. In fact, I brag about the fact that I can usually guesstimate how much my cart full of groceries at the supermarket is going to cost me down to the euro.
I know, isn´t that just fabulous for me, but that being said, my friend’s question still remains: what should she buy, how should she shop for it, how much will it cost and what does she do with them once she gets home?. All of these are valid questions, and ones that one by one I hope to address and answer here, hopefully with a little help.

September 5, 2007

I still don´t get it...

What is going on around here? I promise that I don´t have a personal vendetta against Ferran Adriá, but it seems you can´t shake a stick without it hitting some mention of his wonderful exhibition in the Kassel, Documenta. Were we the only people who actually went and realized that he didn´t do anything – at least not there. In the latest edition of Museo Manía magazine (Museum Mania – yes, I have been reading a lot lately), there is an article that starts off with the line (roughly translated) “Ferran Adría´s contribution to the most recent Documenta in Kassel constituted an eternal compromise between art and cooking”. What?? What contribution? I promise that if someone writes and explains this to me, I will eat happily eat my words in the form of gels and foams.

September 3, 2007


What I’m about to say is no news flash. In fact, it might even be considered old news by those in the know and those who know me, but it is worth re-mentioning every once and a while. I love GAGO. GAGO from Bodegas Telmo Rodríguez, D.O. Toro, that potent and enveloping wine that stylishly wears one of the most beautiful “labels” I have ever seen on a wine bottle. GAGO, synonymous with GOOD AND GORGEOUS.
It is a sumptuous wine, but lively, not stuffy. A noble prince with a dignified jaw line and a level head, but also prone to fits of laughter. Yes, I know, speaking of laughter… It is all the best of the Toro: the dense lush fruit, serious structure, and potent tannins that the region is known for, mingled together with a frank and open elegance that the region is starting to become recognized for.
Pour a glass of GAGO and you will find it deeply jeweled-garnet in color, brilliantly reflected around the rims of the glass but densely opaque in the center. The prince’s cape, his velvet pantaloons or whatnot. It is aromatic to say the least, even before being either daintily or heartily swirled. The enveloping aromas become spicy and peppery, with an intense underlying aroma of sweet dark cherry cordial, chocolate cherries, black cherries and all the other cherries in between. On the palate it is velvety and elegant, but again lively, potent and bold, suggesting that there might be even better things to come.

Gago 2004, Compañía de Vinos de Telmo Rodríguez
D.O. Toro, around 15 euros
(photo thanks to La Vinia)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...