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Ask the Chef! Part Four.

Hello! so, normally I do a Culinary Corner piece about the upcoming menu. I'm hoping to get back to regular service by next week-- it's difficult to write in any great detail about buffet-style food. Please know that you can look forward to a Pasta station, a Stir-Fry station and at least one Carving station in the dining room. So, rather than my typical Culinary Corner post, I thought that answering a few questions might be a good idea.

  • How are staffing levels in the Food and Beverage department? Well, I guess that's the big question isn't it? As you now we lost quite a few servers in a short amount of time as well as the Director of Dining, so things are tight. Assistant Director of Dining Lora Hayden is working hard to keep things together, and is working with Susan Jackson, the Dining supervisor who normally takes care of the Care Center. Next week is buffet service again. The week after, I am hesitantly confident that we can open for regular service. We have at least eight servers starting in the next couple of weeks, so that will help. I will keep you posted, we don't want to limit service anymore than you do. In the kitchen things are similar, we are very short on dishwashers as well as cooks. Our culinary staff is usually willing to work doubles and overtime, so the shortages back here have much less impact on your dining experience..

  • Why are we turning over so much staff? We seem to go through this pretty regularly, not sure what the solution is. Many factors go into an answer, and to be honest if I had a solution I would be using it. The most obvious answer of course is that the cost of living in the Front Range has increased so quickly that no one can afford to work some positions, especially here in the southern suburbs where things are more expensive than in Denver. The Minimum Wage in Denver is now $17.29 an hour. What that means is that in the job market we have to be significantly higher than $17.29 to compete at all. Remember, that's "minimum" wage not "good" wages. Full time at minimum wage equals around $37,000 a year before taxes. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Denver is $1967, which comes out to $23,604 a year, with first and last month's rent plus deposit due when signing a lease. Unleaded is $3.35 a gallon and there's no public transit available to our property. Paying salaries that are seriously competitive would be difficult without a significant resident rate increase, which none of us want. Yes, we do draw candidates from Aurora and Englewood, but there are perfectly good jobs there too that are much closer to where people live-why would they come all the way down here? Often people who are hired in the Front of the House locally have other sources of income, live at home or are students not looking for a serious job. The fact that we end up hiring high school and college students for these positions kind of guarantees that their tenure will be short even if everything else is equal. Human resources spends a significant amount of time sifting through resumes, screening and interviewing candidates. Food and Beverage managers spend inordinate amounts of time working with what they have, training existing employees only to see them leave, which increases the workload for remaining staff, increasing turnover. There is a great deal of stress on management when there is a high turnover rate, as staffing levels are never what they need to be and things never seem to reach a state of "normal"-- leading to even more turnover of experienced managers. Please be patient and understand that we are working on trying to bring the best dining experience possible.

  • Why is the chef so darned handsome? What?? How did that get in there? Oh come on guys, you're making me blush. Next question.

  • What's happening with Memorial Day? We are planning a buffet menu with burgers, ribs, brats, corn-on-the cob and other selections. Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day are all very similar with grilled foods and relaxed atmosphere. We may or may not actually fire up the outside grill, depending on reservations and the weather.

  • Will we be doing the outdoor barbecues this year? Yes. As you know for the last five or six years we have done cookouts on the Pool Patio every Tuesday from Memorial Day until Labor Day. The idea has always been to sit and enjoy a casual meal, with generous warm weather cocktails out of doors. The arrangement has changed over the years, last year we did two seatings which helped ease the demand but many felt that being rushed out the door diminished the overall fun and atmosphere of enjoying the summer air. This year we are planning on one seating, from 4:30-6:30. Reservations will be taken in advance, menus will be creative and spontaneous, we don't usually distribute them in advance.

  • What's going on with the Hunt Club? Well, it looks like construction will begin on our carry out outlet soon, probably in early June. Not sure how long it will take but a month is probably about right. what we are opening is a storefront with food available from 11AM-7PM. Please come in and order what you like, whether its a grilled filet mignon (ready to reheat), tuna salad, or macaroni and cheese. The menu will will be independent of the dining room menus, with exceptions whenever we feel that something would be a good fit. The idea is that every item in the storefront has a price according to our food cost, no one is trying to make a profit here. Since it isn't based on meal credits, there is no need to order a full three courses, and since it will be all chilled, there is no timeline on when to come get your order. Honestly I see many residents stocking up for a few days based on what they like. Prefer soda in the can? No problem. Want to take out ice cream? No problem-- take as many as you like. Cookies? Available daily or by the dozen. Some other Vi properties have a similar storefront, but nothing of the nature and scale that we are planning, so this will be a work in progress. I, for one, am really looking forward to it.

  • Dining room closure? Well as far as I know, we are on track to close the Dining Rooms sometime between late August and early September but as you all know that timeline could easily change. I have no idea how long it will take, but I anticipate at least through the end of this year. We will be offering dinner buffets in the Centennial room nightly as well as Sunday Brunch. Keep in mind that none of us have much control over this and we will be working as hard as possible to make your experience in the temporary dining space as fun and enjoyable as we can. Action stations, themed menus, and drink specials will all help to break up the flow, and we promise to make the Holidays as special as we always do! I will fill in more information as it comes to me, right now you all know about as much as I do.

  • Any new beer? Well yes and no. The good news is that we are getting a better space to brew in, much less dependent on weather. Down in the parking garage, a space that used to have old equipment will now have a floor, power and a sink to use which will give us so many more options. Bad news is that I had to pull out all the fermenters, pots and other items to make room. We still have the Chocolate Porter, and I found half a case of the Amber so we do have beer. We also have Mead that has been waiting patiently for its time in the sun and so maybe it's time to enjoy that too. As more things progress I will keep you updated.

I hope this helps answer a couple of questions for you. I encourage you all to come to the Culinary Corner meeting Monday at 10 am to learn more about the menus and what we are serving. See you there!

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