Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We will miss you, Chef Gil Gaitan

A beloved teacher and mentor; Tony's favorite professor at Le Cordon Bleu, Chef Gil Gaitan passed away on Monday at the age of 57.

With sadness yesterday, Tony called with the news and reminisced about how Chef Gaitan was in Caribe recently and he was still as passionate as ever about teaching. Always teaching, and loving what he did. He was always joking, and smiling, almost giddy with excitement like a child when he talked about cooking.

Measuring to make a huge batch of gingerbread

Back in 2003/2004 when Tony was attending school, he learned of Chef Gaitan's interest in food art. Tony brought in some pictures of some artsy pumpkins I had carved & airbrushed to share with Chef, who later invited Tony and I to join him on a weekend in December at the school to make some food art of our own: ginger bread houses from scratch.

Assembling the houses

From what I understand, Chef Gaitan came in every year on his days off to make several houses that he would donate at Christmas time. That particular weekend he taught Tony and I how to make and bake the dough for the walls, how to make pulled sugar flowers and candy canes, the icing for holding it all together, and the meringue snow. He sent me home with copies of recipes and templates and I had a blast finishing my ginger bread houses at home.

Chef showing us how to make candy canes

One of my finished houses at home

I remember upon meeting him, thinking it was generous of him (or maybe a little crazy?!) to take so much of his free time to do this each year, making a dozen plus houses to give to charities. But it didn't take me long to notice he was a how he acted, and later in how he spoke of Bible studies and his church.

Later in the spring and on another occasion, I joined Chef Gaitan on a weekend day to learn how to make Easter eggs out of sugar–the big, hollowed out kind with a sugary scene inside.

Pressing sugar into the moulds

Chef & I discussing airbrush techniques

Airbrushing the sugar eggs

I brought in my airbrush & we exchanged tips and tricks. He showed us how to make roses and lilies out of frosting (he sure made it look easy!) and other techniques of sugar egg creation and assembly that I was as excited to learn, as he was to teach. Though a couple flowers have broken off since then, I still display my egg each year at Easter.

One of the eggs we made

I was blessed to know Chef Gaitan, even if only through a handful of encounters, but also to know him through Tony, who spoke of him all the time while attending school and often over the years since. There's no doubt he was an integral part of shaping Tony's career in cooking. He will be missed. And he will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Visitation is this evening. More info and obituary.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Bad Review & A Pleasant Surprise

Tony called me today pretty moved by the gestures of a customer and an employee. A pleasant surprise, to say the least.

The gestures being letters they each wrote in response to a negative review recently published about Caribe. The paper, being The Southside Pride, a South Minneapolis neighborhood newspaper. The article being the words of the "Queen of Cuisine," Carla Waldemar. To Southside Pride's credit, they published both of the letters in response to her review, which is how Tony and I found out about it today. A customer brought in the paper to show Tony.

The customer is Carmen, who we did not know before opening Caribe, but she has since become one of our favorite regulars. She's Puerto Rico born and proud of it. The employee is one of our cooks, Katy, who unknowingly to us, also wrote the editor, not knowing we had just seen the review for the first time last week, also brought to our attention by Carmen, who was outraged.

Here is the review, followed by the letters in response:
The letter to the editor from Carmen

The letter to the editor from Katy

To say we are humbled is an understatement. Not by the article, but by those who stepped up on our behalf, without our knowledge. Your words far outweigh the insulting review and we are truly grateful for your kindness and support.

And as far as the review goes, we're not necessarily concerned with the negativity of it. We can take criticism and try to learn and grow from it. But the writer's decision to take it a step further and personally insult Tony, the waitress (or was it her grandma?), and make claims that weren't even accurate is what bothered us. It seemed her biggest complaint was that the food didn't properly meet her misconstrued expectations of Caribbean cuisine.

Was everything really that bad? And truly, if everything except the dessert and beer was so unacceptable, why didn't she say something at the time and allow Tony or our staff to correct the problem? Really...if we make a mistake, we want you to let us know. If something wasn't cooked properly, that is a problem. But if something wasn't as spicy as you thought it should be, then the problem is not with the food.

Ms. Waldemar, we invite you to return. We really do want you, and everyone who visits, to enjoy their meal. We value your feedback...just refrain from insults.