My Observations in a Cafe

As I strolled into Cafe Milano on Monday night, with the clock nearing 9 o’clock, I expected a very busy night for one of the most frequented cafes in Berkeley, complete with full staffing. As I took my seat, I was surprised to notice only two employees manning the counter, one primarily interacting with customers (the one that I observed), and the other shoring up the back. With only two workers, it may seem the work was not too grueling (which it was not), however the responsibility of ensuring customers walked away satisfied more than made up for what was otherwise a slow night.

The role of the individual I observed was on the surface, simply a cashier and food and drink preparer. However, on a grander scale, he served as the sole worker with the responsibility of taking customer inquiries, questions, and complaints due to the fact that his fellow co-worker was challenged at speaking English. Basic rudimentary tasks for the individual in question involved taking a customer order, accepting the cash and giving the correct change/receipt to that customer, and processing that order. He and his co-worker switched of responsibilities if a break was needed here or there, but it was obvious that one (the one that I was examining) was the primary intermediary with customers. During the course of the night, the variety of tasks were very analogous as most of the customers ordered coffee (due to the late night) and nothing outlandish was performed.

As I sat watching my suspect, I was amazed at his congeniality, his personableness, and overall graciousness with customers. Despite the expansive customer base, my client somehow managed to recognize and playfully banter with nearly every customer that managed to walk into the cafe. Evidenced by the fact that only two employees were needed to manage a cafe with nearly seventy five customers, both workers were very well acclimated with the workplace. There was no confusion as to how to manipulate the cashier machine, clean the coffee machines, work the brewers, or make the sandwiches. The tasks were routinely performed without any issues arising. Due to the vast experience that the individual performed the tasks without a care, but this is not to say that he didn’t have joy interacting with customers. In fact, as noted, I have rarely seen anyone with such an innate sense of getting people to open up and laugh with him despite the relatively short interaction time. It seemed he thrived on interaction with new and loyal customers, often observing the customers when there was down time (which there was a lot of). Even with his coworker, the individual seemed to be having a great time and holding casual conversation for extended durations of time (towards the end of the night, they talked for 10 minutes straight without a customer needing assistance).

Although I’m not a connaisseur of cafes, the individual filled his duties and responsibilities remarkably well. There was never a moment where I felt he was lost or unprepared, in fact he seemed in total control of the place. Essentially, he was running the whole place as his coworker concentrated more on the rudimentary tasks such as emptying the garbage, and washes the dishes. He was engaged with every customer, often multitasking by taking and order and creating one at the same time. When hunger had taken hold of me, I questioned him about a particular item on the menu on and he was very courteous in explaining to me what it consisted of and was patient in my decision making process (I’m very indecisive).

While I’m normally very critical of performance, there was no kink I could find in this man’s armor. Customers loved him, he completed each order with zeal and alacrity, never delaying in his service. Additionally, he aided his co-worker if there was ever an influx of customers and held steady conversation with him. If I want to nitpick, he did disappear in the back a few times during the shift (but there were not customers), either to take a break or sit down. I won’t fault him on this as there was no work needed to be done at the moment. He even surveyed the scene for long periods of time (often staring at me because I was staring at him) to see if anyone needed assistance of any kind. If I were Cafe Milano, I would make future hires shadow this individual for he possesses both the customer service and performance aspect of the job. Cafe Milano should ensure that they retain such a well likened, superbly performing employee for the benefit of company operations.

Brown Sugar Cafe – Great Service and Even Better Food

Out of all ethnic cuisines, Thai food is by far my favorite, so living less than a block away from Brown Sugar Cafe on Commonwealth Avenue is dangerous to say the least.

In short, this restaurant is absolutely fantastic. I have never had a subpar meal here, never mind a bad one. From the outside, Brown Sugar Cafe does not look like anything special; it has a green awning and several flowerboxes, and could be mistaken for any other restaurant lining Comm Ave. But, do not let initial appearances fool you. The interior is extremely expansive, with plenty of tables to sit large parties. There are several fish tanks, as well as a small bar. And for those that like to people watch, there are plenty of tables seated by the windows that overlook onto Comm. Ave.

Now, onto the more important things… the food. As I previously mentioned, I am convinced that nothing on this menu is bad. For appetizers, I strongly recommend the traditional Tom Yum Goong soup; a hot and sour soup that is typically prepared with shrimp, although you can ask for it with chicken. I recently tried the Thai Spring Rolls, and they were extremely light and had a nice blend of spices.

For entrees, their Pad Thai is extremely flavorful and full of freshly chopped peanuts, and the portions are large enough to bring home for lunch the next day. Another noodle dish I recommend is the Drunken Noodle, but be warned, it is very spicy. My favorite dish on the menu is the Yellow Curry, to which you can add your choice of meat and vegetables. For those that do not like spicy food, the Chinese Broccoli is a great option. The dish is very simple; your choice of meat and loads of fresh Chinese broccoli, all served in a light ginger soy sauce and your choice of rice.

The service at Brown Sugar Cafe further enhances the experience. The food comes out quickly, making the restaurant the perfect place to grab lunch in lieu of fast food. The servers are very attentive, and are happy to make accommodations such as switching a vegetable or protein in a dish.

I went here for my last birthday, and the experience truly took service to the next level. If you are looking for a fun and memorable birthday dinner- look no further. I do not want to give it away, but let me say that flashing lights and disco balls may or may not have been involved… as well as an order of their fried ice cream.

Brown Sugar Cafe – Comm. Ave.
1033 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02115

Peru’s Booming Exports: The Food Industry

Peru’s economy has been booming in recent years. This article explores one of the major growth areas, Peru’s renowned food industry.

The Peruvian economy has been thriving in recent months with exports on the increase. The Peruvian national statistics and information bureau, INEI, reported that Peru’s economy was 7.1% higher in May 2011 than the same month the previous year. Exports have had a large responsibility for this boosting of the economy of which various food products have played a major role: great news for Peru and all those who miss its delicious food and drink.

Peru’s agricultural exports are expected to reach $4.3 billion by the end of 2011, continuing the ten-year trend of a 21% annual increase, according to the Peruvian Exporters’ Association (Adex). Peru has become the leading exporter of asparagus as well as the second main exporter of organic coffee. In addition, exports of Peruvian pisco have increased and it is now being sold all over the world.

Pisco, the clear grape spirit is proving a great success in the United States, where imports have double in the last year, according to the consulting firm Veritrade. It can now be found in bars all over the country and is growing in popularity. But it’s not only in the United States that you will see Peruvian pisco in bars and restaurants; it is gaining popularity in Europe too, especially in France.

France has become the second biggest importer of the Peruvian spirit and has largely contributed to the 77% growth in exports of the product, which was witnessed at the beginning of 2011. Its popularity is spreading throughout Europe and many independent bars, restaurants and clubs in the UK, Germany and Spain now sell pisco sour, the famous Peruvian cocktail.

Peruvian organic coffee is also proving a leading contender in the world market and last year export sales reached $16 million. This is undoubtedly important for Peru and the coffee producers as it provides a sustainable source of income for those in the poorer areas of the country. Furthermore, it diversifies the local economies and will hopefully provide the financial resources to fuel social and economic development within the coffee growing areas. Sold in many cafes throughout the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, why not try a cup.

With many food and drink products being exported now is the time for all those who have travelled to Peru and experienced the delicious, intense flavours to be on the look out for various products within their own countries.

The Best Food Cuba Has To Offer

Cuba is famed for its beaches, diving, lifestyle and dancing. But one aspect of the Cuban holiday which is often overlooked is the Cuban cuisine, which is unfortunate because the mixture of cultures combine to make a truly unique combination of flavours and textures. The country’s cultural influences are so diverse as to create a unique flavour to the food – a mix of Spanish, Chinese, African, Portuguese, French and Arabic.

Yet these global influences are completed by indigenous local food stuffs – yucca, malanga and boniato are local root vegetables routinely used in Cuban food. The main meats used in Cuban cuisine are chicken, pork and beef (though the latter is subject to rationing as government property, so is harder to find) usually marinated in citrus juices and slowly roasted until tender. It’s simple, but delicious, and something that will see you hunting out the best restaurants throughout your Cuban holiday.

Cuba is also home to even simpler snacks and light treats. Masitas de Puerco Fritas (lightly fried pork cuts, slow cooked until tender), Pinchos (kebabs) and Fritas (the Cuban hamburger, spiced with shoestring potatoes and onion) all put this country’s fast food to shame not only in terms of value, but flavour. So below is a quick list of some of the dishes to look out for while enjoying a holiday in Cuba.

A quick note of warning for vegetarians, before I begin though: You’re likely to be considerably less gushing about Cuba’s food than your carnivorous friends. The concept of vegetarianism for ethical, health or religious reasons is virtually unheard of. You should still be able to find something, either from the large quantities of local fruit or the handful of rice and bean dishes available, but Cuban cuisine is unlikely to be a highlight of your vacation.

Chicharrones

These are hot thick belly cuts of pork with skin, a layer of fat and meat. The flavours and textures to combine for a tasty (though not necessarily good for you!) snack. You may find these sold in Cuba’s markets and cafes, and are the perfect antidote for a growling stomach while exploring.

Masitas de Puerco Fritas

As mentioned above, these are pork chunks slow cooked until tender and then fried lightly in their own oil. Often these are served with sliced onions and ‘mojo’ sauce. Surprisingly filling for something considered a lighter snack!

Arroz con Pollo

This chicken and rice dish is actually popular throughout Latin America – its principally made up of rice, chicken, vegetables, herbs and saffron. It’s not a million miles from Paella, but in Cuba, the dish has a slight variation whereby it includes garlic and tomato – it can be highly spiced, but not spicy hot. This one is worth trying for the authentic Cuban experience, as it’s a popular Sunday lunch dish on the island.

Moros y Cristianos

This dish translates as “Moors and Christians”, and its name is supposed to hark back to times when Moors and Christians lived alongside each other on the island. The basis of this recipe is black beans (the Moors) and white rice (the Christians) and the dish is found throughout the Caribbean. Of course, the Cuban version is delicately spiced giving it a unique localised flavour.

Ropa Vieja

Don’t let the Spanish translation of this put you off (“old clothes) – Ropa Vieja is one of the more popular dishes in the Caribbean, and as ever the Cuban version leads the way in terms of delicate spicing. The basis of the dish is shredded beef, vegetables in a sauce (usually tomato based). As with much Cuba cuisine, local belief is that it tastes better on the day after preparation, when the flavours have had greater opportunity to mingle.

Cuban sandwiches

These make a wonderful lunch food – and were made popular on the island in the 1930s with sugar cane workers. Using Cuban bread (similar to French and Italian loaves), the sandwich is lightly toasted and typically contains roast pork (sometimes marinated in garlic or citrus), ham, dill pickles and swiss cheese and mustard. Once you have had one of these you will crave them for the rest of your days!

Costillitas

These are mouth-watering babyback ribs, marinated in typical Cuban fashion with citrus, garlic and herbs and then cooked slowly for the best part of an hour to guarantee tenderness. They are then typically served with black bean and rice.

I’ve barely scraped the surface of Cuban food and drink here – the beverages, for example are unique and the deserts (unsurprisingly for an island with so much sugar cane) are some of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Hopefully this should convince you that a holiday in Cuba can be just as focussed on the food as a vacation in one of its more culinary renowned holiday rivals.

Is Paris Really The Gourmet Food Center Of All Europe?

Paris is a city of phenomenal restaurants, quaint bistros, and tea saloons as well as the little cafes we have heard so much of. These establishments serve a variety of fine gourmet foods from elegant fine dishes to foods from the region including ethnic cuisine from restaurants that make you feel at home and a variety of so many different foods you will never be able to sample them all.

Lovers of fresh food will enjoy the markets that exist in Paris where you are able to walk around and rub elbows with the locals as you experience the thrill of the outdoor markets and enjoy the taste of the fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables and the newer organic foods.

Of course the high end fine dining is what Paris is known for and if you are looking for this you will find no shortage of choices in Paris. In gourmet stores such as Layfayette’s you will find a huge selection of regional gourmet foods and fine wines from all over the globe. The store is very popular and a great place to buy local food to cook your own meals if you don’t want to eat out the entire time you are there.

If you are not a fancy food connoisseur and are more into just eating a quick bite and getting back to exploring the area you can find a wide assortment of familiar haunts if you are an American especially. You will be able to eat at pretty much any of the larger fast food establishments you are accustomed to from home such as Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, and McDonald’s, where you will be able to drink a beer with your burger if you so choose.

I suggest that you try to blend in and enjoy the local culture and the local food as much as you possibly can. You will see that many of the local diners and restaurants have budget menus with less expensive offerings which many of the locals partake in. Try some of the rare tastes that you may not get a chance to sample again.

Even though Paris is known as the gourmet capital that isn’t all that it is, there is also the regional native food. And one thing good about these kinds of food is that they are cheap, and the locals prefer it as I said. Take advantage of the opportunity to explore the new foods as you explore the sights that Paris has to offer.