Written by  ,     May 20, 2024     Posted in Uncategorized

The A.D.D. is at a full rage today, bear with me please.

“Ed Z was Salt and Pepper” was the original title of this blog, in follow up to last week’s nod to our original Chef at COBBLESTONES, Chef Edward Zaranski, during our new podcast:

Raising a Glass; Cheers to Hospitality, Lessons learned and Doing “it” Better” the “it” to be defined along the journey–the “journey” being loosely defined as me finally writing “the book,” being driven by my “Cheers” co-host, brother in law John. (Are you still with me?). Trying to tie it all together…

So, we spoke briefly about the late Chef Ed Z last week, but his role in our restaurant history deserves much more than “a nod” and brief off-the-cuff anecdotal conversation. Then, today, I was otherwise looking for an archived recipe for our current Chef Enx, as we are bringing back the Vegan Black Bean Chili (what’s old is new again!)….and I “mined a gem” in the Sugar Sync file circa 2007, containing a huge percentage of our recipes dating all the way back to our opening menu, in 1994!! Ed Z and I launched COBBLESTONES together and the great percentage of our recipes and culinary genius emanated through his hands. And look at this here! (Stay tuned…).

In between writing, planning for tonight’s 3rd episode’s recording of “Raising a Glass” and said recipe searching and exploring, I got up and paced the house. Wife: “What are you up to?” Me: “Can’t figure out how to tie it all together into a book.” Wife: “A preface. Some stories. An ending.” Me: “Well duh! But what’s in the middle of it?! Am I telling people how to run a restaurant? Or, how crazy guests are? Or the challenges of having 100 employees? Or…” Wife: “Yes. All of that. Write about the salt and pepper shakers…”

Hmm. I can do that. Case in point: Back to Ed Z…HE was salt and pepper. Simple and yet, the difference between basic and genius. Too often, “What’s missing?” is just that.  Salt and pepper.  And “Voila!”  (Or “BAM!” if you are a fan of Emeril over the Francophile Julia Child, or French uber Chef Paul Bucose).

The very process of “us” began with Chef Ed Z and his incredible culinary talent, his French training and ability to create “Eureka” food moments and yet dude just wanted to eat pizza and drink beer. “Add a little salt” he would say to the young’ins…

Our years in business together were trial and error, always seeking to hit the right notes–an apropos cliche in that we were filming in Chef Z’s Music Room, a private room at COBBLESTONES named for Z’s affinity and another talent as a musician–us trying again and again in answering how to be special and better for our community but not overplaying our hand! I speak in terms of “The hummus model” and how upon discovery of this Middle Eastern phenomenon on a culinary foray into NYC so so many years ago, I excitedly brought it to Lowell! Hummus was introduced to our menu on three occasions through the early years, until the local demographic was finally ready for it years later, less enthusiastic for some time than were we. (Now? There are more hummus flavors than I think styles of potato chip! But then, notsomuch…and that’s how long I’ve been around!)

Back to Ed Z’s genius. Or is it back to salt and pepper?

And add a little salt.  Not too much though…you can always add, but you cannot take away, a life lesson too!  (One I apparently impressed upon my youngest daughter about partying responsibly as she headed to college…as she thanked me many years later!  Imagine that. She touched my heart.)

What’s old is new again.  Vegetarian and vegan and organic…these dietary themes becoming more mainstream every year and, why…for health reasons.  Or ethics. And/or flavor…”Chicken doesn’t taste like when I was a kid” says Grandpa. “Pork doesn’t taste like anything these days” says Grandpa.. Rejecting corporate farming and chemicals and food sources and inflammation and allergies and… cancer….? All topics for a future podcasts I am sure!

In the most casual of restaurants, salt and pepper comes in little paper packets. In typical restaurants, it comes in shakers, in varying degrees of basic and fancy. In “next level” eateries, they bring over the grinder; “Some fresh ground pepper on your salad sir?” Then, in fancy fancy places, it comes in a tiny little bowl, with a tiny little spoon.. “And our salt is coarsely ground, sourced from the Himalayas..” (Dead sea, Hawaiian volcano, Maine seacoast…choose your sodium source, etc). And in the fanciest of restaurants, there’s none a’tall. “It would kill the Chef to know you are helping with the seasoning!” (Also, no salt and pepper shakers allowed during pandemics.  Someone touched that—you could die….and, back to the packets!

Whenever I’m having dinner with my in laws, there’s the grinders for some of us—a more current iteration than the table-iodized and McCormick fine black, each of which my father in law insists upon, the self proclaimed;  “Fussy bugger.”

My friend Jack Finn hates the grinders.  “Why make me do the work?”

Now…where was I…?

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