Back of the House

The terms “back of house” and “front of house” are used in the restaurant community to distinguish between different areas in a restaurant. The back of house is the staff area, where cooks and other support staff work, where as the front of house is the area where diners sit.

My “back of the house” experience includes not only my photography of food and the people behind the food in various places around New England, but stints on the line in a restaurant in Connecticut while in high school and for a couple of summers while in college.

I’m a photographer by profession, but a foodie by nature.  I’ve been eating since I was old enough to … eat, and I’ve had an appreciation for food since I can remember.  I grew up as the last of nine kids, was told stories of my sisters and brothers stuffing unwanted peas down card table legs at dinner, and by the time I arrived on scene my mother was over any kind of passion for food that she might have ever had.   American Chop Suey and meatloaf figured frequently on the menu when I was a kid, and Friday nights were for pizza, unless it was lent, when we were guaranteed to have fish sticks.

I can picture my father cooking swordfish on the grill out back, and my mother leaning over the stove making a potato gratin with chunks of ham smothered inside, but the two most vivid memories I have from the kitchen of my childhood is dressing in front of the oven because we were New Englanders and therefore didn’t have heat in our bedrooms, and making tea for my parents before the 11 o’clock news.  I spent a fair amount of my childhood across the street from my house visiting the “Staples’ girls,” Lisa and Jeannie, who lived next door, and helping their mother, Rose, who made cakes as a side business. Weddings, birthdays and every other kind of cake imaginable, and that was my first real experience in learning to cook.

My “front of the house” resume is much longer  and more varied.  I’ve waited tables in too many places to count or even remember, and spent the majority of that time, I’ll admit, in the weeds.   That being said, each and every place was an experience that I learned from, and gave me a chance to meet some of the most amazing people.

I’ve served breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Treadway (now the Crowne Plaza, with really bad food photography) in Cromwell, CT and can remember serving Robert De Niro dinner one night when he was in town filming Jackknife. I also vividly remember having a slotted spoon thrown at me there by some crazy Irish Chef because I let something sit under a warming lamp for too long.

In the last few years I have had the good fortune of spending some of my time with many different local chefs, including James Beard award-winner  Chef Barbara Lynch.

I stumbled upon Stir, a new “demonstration kitchen and cookbook library” Barbara was starting, and everything sounded great, but looked plain.  There were no photos on the site!

We connected and long story short, I’ve worked my way into the “Gruppo” family a bit, and I’ve photographed in all of her restaurants and locations since.

Part of the beauty of being in the kitchen with Chef Barbara is you get to see an amazing Chef and her staff at work, AND you get to witness some of the back stories about the food, people and chaos that surrounds this world.   During one of these moments, Chef  was talking about presenting a cooking class to a small group of people, and taking questions from the “students,”  when as part of one the various inquires about technique and process came the question, “Is it OK to substitute two-percent milk for the heavy cream in that recipe?”

Perplexed, Barbara answered, “Fu@k  2%! …” and continued on to explain all the reasons to use HEAVY CREAM, BUTTER and LARD whenever necessary.

The web site “F2%” came from that interaction, and has been stuck in my brain ever since.  This blog is about my love of food and drink, as well as the people and places that excel at providing this sustenance that I enjoy and live for and because of.

I share this all with my wife, Susan, my daughter, Marina, and my two labs, Utah and Normand, who truly believe that food is love.

Remember, Food is Love!

Justin

justin AT justinide DOT com