By: Linda Kissam (Chef Photo Courtesy of Temecula Creek Inn | Panna
Cotta photo courtesy of Tom Plant)
There’s absolutely no doubt that Temet Grill’s Executive Chef Salvatore is an amazing culinarian. This boy can cook with the big dogs. If you’ve been to the Temet Grill at The Temecula Creek Inn in the Temecula Wine Country area of Southern California you know I speak the truth. If you haven’t, you’re missing a profound treat. Layers of flavors, generational recipes, and some sassy nouveau cuisine all seem to mix and mingle with ease. That being said, there’s another side to Chef Sal that brings big smiles to the home office guys – a profitable bottom line month in and month out.
I met with Chef about a year ago and am still fascinated with that conversation. At the time I was writing a travel destination piece so the conversation was a lot about his food and culinary vision for the property. But once we got past that discussion another layer appeared, his pragmatic business side. So I thought I’d catch up with him and see if that’s still a focus for him. I am really glad I did, he’s one fascinating…calculating…numbers kind of chef.
Chef has been in the restaurant business since he was 14 working in a family owned restaurant. He learned to dice, chop & sizzle with the best of them…but he also learned that if the bottom line isn’t showing black, there will be no business to work at. “It’s simple mathematics,” he said, “Calculate, calculate, and calculate.” He tells me that his job is to send in a P & L in to headquarters each month that is worthy of being framed and hung on a wall in the corporation’s hallways.
He starts with the notion that nothing is ever wasted. “I tell my staff to have a plan for what they will do with say a whole fish or side of beef. Maybe you’re going to cut the center out of the Ahi for a specific high end dish, but what will you be doing with the rest?” Think, calculate, execute may just be Chef’s mantra and applies to the preparation of the simplest onion to the mightiest black truffle. “Getting to a profitable bottom line takes thinking about the whole picture of whatever you’re doing and NEVER forget the customer is king.” He tells me he works with sales and catering to make sure he understands what the month coming up looks like. He knows when to be light on staff and when to bring in extra help. He chooses his staff to play a specific part in his “orchestra”. “As a conductor if I am doing my job, everyone and everything is in tune; Customers, staff, corporate – everyone. If not, there is a problem.”
As “conductor” Chef makes sure he mentors his staff on both the culinary and business sides of the job. He told me it takes about 3-4 months and about $1,200 to train a staff member. It’s his hope that the match is perfect and the new staff member becomes a lifer. He’s looking for drive, passion and integrity in his staff. “If these guys listen to me, I can promise them a career in this business that will make them a good living. They’ll never be out of a job, especially those who understand and successfully practice the business side.”
What’s it take to be top chef? Chef says a culinary school degree is key. It takes about fifteen years of training, traveling and making good career decisions to get the top spot. Don’t be afraid to take some lower paying positions at first to get the experience you need. If you’re good, you’ll move up the ranks. He stresses showing up to work each day with a good attitude, passion for the task at hand, and of course a plan in mind that requires a whole lot of calculations and proper execution. No wonder this guy’s P & L’s hang in the hall of corporate, he’s a rock star from pen to pan.
Chef Sal’s Limoncello Panna Cotta | Compliments of Temet Grill at the Temecula Creek Inn, Temecula, California
2 cups heavy cream
1 cups Butter Milk
2 oz of Limoncello
3 leaves gelatin (Bloom in Ice Water for 2 minutes)
1/2 vanilla beans
6 oz sugar
8- 4 oz. Plastic cups
Bring the cream and buttermilk to a low simmer for about 2 minutes.
Stir in sugar, let it come back to a simmer for a minute and turn off the flame.
Whisk in the bloomed gelatin and cover with plastic wrap.
Let sit for 30 to 45 minutes and swish stir every 20 minutes so the mixture starts to cool down a bit.
Pour into plastic cup and let sit in refrigerator until set.
1 pints strawberries, cut strawberries into four
1/2 cup sugar
Place all the ingredients into a large bowl, covered with plastic, over a pot of simmering water, let cook on very low flame for 1 hour or until the beautiful strawberry jus has extracted from the berries.
Strain through a coffee filter and chill the jus.
Place fresh strawberries (or berries of your choice) and a couple of tablespoons of jus over the panna cotta and serve.
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