Friday, June 29, 2012

Restaurant R'evolution: Three Week Check-In with Chef Rick

It's been just over three weeks since we officially opened the doors at Restaurant R'evolution, but it's been years since this journey between myself and Chef John Folse actually began. Here at the three week mark, I'd like to share a bit about the months leading up to this exciting time, as well as where we're going in the coming months.

Our Grand Opening “ribbon”
Going into the grand opening, we didn't want “day one” of service to feel like it to the customer. We wanted guests to feel like we'd been open for weeks; they deserve this! And in making this happen, what it all comes down to is training and preparation. At any restaurant that I’ve opened – and I’ve opened 10 – I learned, largely from my experience at Lettuce Entertain You, that the art of training and preparation before an opening is everything. There's really never too much when it comes to training, and it's always ongoing.

Perfecting our Gumbo set-up in training
Before we introduced Restaurant R'evolution to the public, John and I were working for over a year on development, cooking, tasting, and researching. Staff hiring and training were a big part of this preparation period as well. Timing was key, and we had 60 days to make sure that everyone we brought on board had tasted all the food and wines by the glass; knew all of the steps of service; mastered mock services; and graduated from both classroom and practical training sessions before opening night.

It's all about the prep!
In the process of preparation, there's always little stuff that we're constantly tweaking for perfection. In opening a restaurant, you learn that you must be flexible. Originally, we had planned to open R'evolution with a spring menu. So, with our actual early June opening on the cusp of summer, we're already in the process of transitioning the seasonal dinner menu into a full blown summer menu. There is so much coming out seasonally in New Orleans right now – stone fruits, soft shell crab, summer vegetables, to name a few – that we're changing about three dishes a week. It’s exciting but also challenging for the staff; it keeps everyone on their toes!

In addition to the seasonal menu evolution, we're planning the introduction of a number of additional offerings: lunch, brunch, and multi-course tasting menus for the Wine Room and Chef's Table. Every two weeks, something new will be rolled out. Once we do lunch in the next few weeks, we'll get a feel for it and go from there. There's also the hiring and training processes that go into introducing these new offerings. We're hosting job fairs for lunch staff this week, and this will be another huge influx of hiring for both front and back-of-house positions. We'll do closed lunch trainings to ramp up, and then re-start this process for brunch a bit after that.

Myself and Chef Chris Lusk during a mock service
The lunch menu will be all about a “summer lunch” experience, with a variety of sandwiches, pastas, salads, and lots of great seasonal products. Lunch will be light and quick, and very high energy. We're in the French Quarter, so it's all about the business lunch. Come Thursday and Friday, locals are enjoying longer, more relaxing meals with a beverage or two. That's big in New Orleans.

Brunch is also huge here. Right now, the Royal Sonesta has one of the busiest Sunday brunches in the whole city. Our brunch will be an a la carte service with the spirit of R'evolution, and we're excited to give a city that loves brunch a new option. Our Irvin Mayfield Jazz Playhouse  menu roll-out with coincide with the brunch debut as well. 

We're also looking forward to our private dining offerings. We'll be introducing multi-course tasting menus for our Wine Room and the “Chef's Office” space. This room is beautiful and overlooks the kitchen. These will be eight to ten course prix fixe menus, with wine pairing options. They will be very customizable, like the menus I used to do at Tru in Chicago. Eventually we'll introduce a chef's tasting menu in the dining room as well.

The Chef’s Table
In addition to all of the action at Restaurant R'evolution in the coming months, John and I are excited about some other culinary ventures.  Jointly, we're taking R'evolution to New York for a dinner at the James Beard House on August 2, and we’re also doing New Orleans Dining by Design, John's event in Baton Rouge, in August. 

Then we're headed to Blackberry Farm in November. It will be both John’s and my third time there, but our first time there together as a team, which is pretty incredible. Separately, I'm heading to Los Angeles for LA Food & Wine in August, and John is heading to London to cook at the Olympic Village; we're truly representing Restaurant R'evolution at all corners of the world. 

It's been a great three weeks, and we'll continue to roll things out progressively and methodically, see what works, keep training, and keep learning. This is just the beginning at Restaurant R'evolution.