Hospitality Isn’t A Simple Act

Trying to explain hospitality isn’t easy and I’ve been stubbornly working for many days to discover this. I could look up “hospitality” in the dictionary or talk to a professor in the Cornell University hospitality program, but one answer wouldn’t be enough and the other would be too much for this arena. But hospitality is one of the most important considerations to Brasserie L’Oustau’s operations; providing a high level of hospitality is what makes the difference between acceptable and exceptional service, between a satisfied customer and one who will return again and again.

The goal of hospitality at Brasserie L’Oustau is to make you feel as though you’re a member of a special club, respected as soon as you walk in, and by the time you leave we want you to feel thoroughly cared for and satisfied with everything about your meal. We want you to return so we will know more about you to provide better service, such as who is your preferred server, if you have menu favorites or allergies and what table you would enjoy most.

When Michel Boyer opened Brasserie L’Oustau de Provence in early 2012 he brought more than a new restaurant to Southern Vermont; he introduced diners to a level of hospitality developed during decades of hotel and restaurant management around the world, most recently at Brasserie 8 ½ in New York. For nine years previous he was General Manager for food services at the New York headquarters for the United Nations. He proved his ability to understand and respect many different cultural hospitality paradigms and how to provide them through rigorous employee training and supervision.

Michel is keenly aware that the essence of hospitality is respect, both internally and outwardly to all customers. Our core staff members bring talent, enthusiasm and commitment to their positions and treat one another and their jobs with respect. These things bolster the positive attitude of all employees and set the foundation for any personal and professional interaction throughout the day. The culmination of this attitude occurs when we serve our customers with care and attentive respect.

A top hospitality employee has many characteristics which cannot be taught: warmth, optimism, curiosity, honesty, empathy, respect, diplomacy, sincerity, ambition, responsibility and accountability. We are able to hire talented and committed staff following rigorous interviews, screening and intuition. Michel’s intuitive abilities have been developed after years of extensive observing and evaluating the potential in many candidates. Being very selective assures that our customers have a consistent fine dining experience, and only people who complement the team and our service paradigm can do that.

Hospitality is the ancient practice of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm,  friendly and generous way. Brasserie L’Oustau hospitality makes those ancient practices real for today’s guests.

http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/RL/00437

Fun Mouth Appetizer

If you’re wondering about this title, it’s a literal English translation of the French “Amuse Bouche” which is a restaurant term for a little tasting sent from the kitchen before the appetizer course. It is common in fine dining restaurants and usually an unexpected surprise for the diner, a special tease for the palate while the meal is being prepared. Depending on the restaurant’s style and regional cuisine, it could be as simple as a tapenade toast or as extravagant as, well, as you might imagine.

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Currently, diners at Brasserie L’Oustau receive a bite-size cheese and choux pastry called gougères. Believed to have originated in Burgundy and most definitely French, there is really no comparison in other cuisines of the world. The gougère has a subtle flavor of cheese in an airy, moist, tender and lightly browned pastry. The flavor can be modified by the type of cheese, herbs or fillings but at Brasserie L’Oustau we use one of the classic cheeses — gruyere, emmentaler or comté — and serve them warmed.

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We have developed a reliable recipe and bake them using a practiced procedure. It is quite often the simplest foods that present a challenge, and the gougère is a good example of this. We’ve included a link here to a site that will take you to gougère recipes and ideas to try at home, but you are certainly welcome to come taste ours anytime.

http://www.tastespotting.com/tag/gougère

Staying On Course with Comment Cards

Blogs and review sites are a wonderful way to find restaurants by reading notes from people who have actually eaten at them. However, they’re the worst ways for a restaurateur to discover that a customer has been unhappy with their experience. It’s too late for the restaurant to correct a problem immediately and directly with the customer, and the review might make potential customers less inclined to go to the restaurant at all.

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Michel personally reads all comment cards at Brasserie L’Oustau.

Like many fine restaurants, Brasserie L’Oustau offers all customers an opportunity to leave ratings and comments about their experience with us, either by name and information or anonymously. Our comment card is included in the bill folder at the end of the meal where there will be a pen as well. There are 9 rating scores, a few specific questions and an opportunity for personal comments which might take no more than a few minutes to complete.

All comment cards are important and taken very seriously; the praises help us know what we’re doing right, and the suggestions can lead us to make further improvements. It isn’t important for us to know who left the comment (although we appreciate that information) but it is important that we continuously get direct customer feedback; customer expectations are constantly evolving and we will stay ahead of the curve only as long as our customers keep us informed. Thankfully, well over half of our comment cards are returned with notes for all variety of reasons, and each is helping us make Brasserie L’Oustau a better restaurant for everyone.

With decades of experience in the hospitality industry, Michel Boyer opened the doors to Brasserie L’Oustau with the power of knowledge and self-confidence. The comment cards help keep our doors open to everyone expecting the finest dining experience. We thank all our customers who have or will complete a comment card at Brasserie L’Oustau, and we look forward to your return.

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Bistro. Café. Brasserie!

There are three main styles of French restaurants but the bistro and café are perhaps most familiar to Americans. Images or memories of intimate rooms with tables for two, mottled mirrors reflecting bottles at the bar and walls displaying framed pictures of Parisian streetscapes or French travel posters may come to mind. The food served could be simple or fussy, hardy or light, moderately priced or expensive, and almost always with some sort of Continental influence. The cafés would feature the less expensive foods, perhaps not serve any alcohol and usually make excellent coffee.

Then there’s the brasserie. When we built Brasserie L’Oustau in late 2011 we found many people were unfamiliar with the brasserie restaurant. (The best way to pronounce it would be to say the woman’s undergarment plus a type of horse-drawn carriage: bra + surrey.) To be sure, a brasserie is as original to France as a bistro or café but it is also very unique and well-defined. There are few authentic brasseries in America, and we are one of them; we have had world-traveling customers tell us our design and menu are the closest to a traditional Paris or New York brasserie that they’ve ever seen, and this is our greatest compliment.

A Bit of History: The French word “brasser” translates as the verb “to brew” which gives you insight to how the brasserie originated. In villages throughout France the local brewery is a most important member of the business community and well supported by the citizens. A restaurant inside a brewery is a natural development.

Beer casks of oak.

I imagine a summer lunch break or walking home after a full day of agricultural work sometime in the early 1800’s  when the men and women longed for a relaxing draught of beer and a moment of socializing. They might enter the village’s cool and lofty brewery to sidle up to a counter where the proprietors would swiftly offer a taste of the most recent tap. One glass, two perhaps, and food might be the next request. But these proprietors were brewers, not restaurateurs. The food provided would be simple family fare from the region, familiar to all their customers and easy for the owners to prepare and keep for spontaneous requests. The brasserie restaurant would serve foods like paté and cured meats, cheese boards with bread, confit, long-simmering soups and fresh salad greens from the house gardens. The dishes would be hearty, affordable and familiar. The ambiance is relaxed, a bit noisy from clattering plates and mugs, and everyone is enjoying themselves.

The interior design of Brasserie L’Oustau is simultaneously grand, warm, comfortable and inviting.

At Brasserie L’Oustau we aspire to define and interpret the essence of a French brasserie here in rural Vermont. After searching for many months, we were fortunate to find a building which could have easily fit many large beer casks, and it had already been operating as a restaurant for more than 20 years. After two months’ renovation, we had transformed an American pizza and barbeque restaurant into our French brasserie with a vast bar, tile floors, brass railings, banquettes, large mirrors, warm hues of gold and chocolate brown and an extensive list of beers to complete our full drink menu. There will be articles about some of these details but be assured they are all ubiquitous to a brasserie.

Our menu reflects the traditional fare of French brasseries, and many of these dishes will be discussed as we tend to this blog. The current menus can be viewed on our website where you might find a brandade de morue or steak tatare appetizer (featured in the previous article), warm duck confit salad or moules frites — all familiar to today’s brasserie menu.

Not the least important, serving staff at Brasserie L’Oustau are trained in the classic French service paradigm and wear the traditional uniforms of white shirts, black ties and vests, and floor-length white aprons. The training requires strict attention and takes many hours to complete, but we insist on maintaining a high level of service for our customers’ needs. This may not have been true for the first brasseries in France, but breaking with tradition in this way is a good thing.

Steak Tartare Done Well

There are all kinds of theories as to why a mound of finely chopped uncooked beef mixed with raw egg yolk was ever put on a plate for the first time. At the end of this article there are links to sites that offer extensive information to the possible origins of steak tartare, but we will provide just a quick history of the dish in France.

Steak tartare (once referred to as “steak a l’Americaine”) was first officially acknowledged in France in the 1911 Oxford English Dictionary. Because words would have taken some time to be incorporated into recorded vernacular, the dish most likely began to be served around 1900. This coincided with the expansive growth of urban areas across the country where brasserie restaurants would add this newly popular dish to their menus. To this day steak tartare remains an established and expected dish on the brasserie menu.

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Today’s “raw food movement” includes uncooked meat products for the same reason it recommends uncooked plants, arguing the act of cooking changes many of the healthful benefits of most foods. If fresh cut meat is handled and prepared properly there is very little chance of illness from food-borne bacteria, and Brasserie L’Oustau’s steak tartare is one of our most trusted and popular dishes.

Our Chef is very careful with the preparation of his steak tartare beginning with the choice of farm that provides our beef. By using the regional purveyor Northeast Family Farms, we are able to work quickly and directly with the fresh meat to protect it against bacterial exposure. We use the tender and mildly-flavored top butt cut of beef and immediately portions it into pieces large enough for 4-5 servings. Wrapped tightly and frozen until needed, it is then partially thawed and hand chopped into a fine texture.

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To flavor our steak tartare, raw egg yolk and various flavorings are added to the chopped beef right before serving. The combination of ingredients – yolk, mustard, capers, parsley, Tabasco, Worcestershire, brandy, salt and freshly ground pepper – is a signature recipe that results in a light and multi-leveled flavor.

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We are pleased and proud to offer Brasserie L’Oustau’s steak tartare on our menu with a lightly poached quail egg, greens, toasted thinly sliced baguette and olive tapenade. You can choose an appetizer portion as well as a larger entrée portion served with pommes frites. This is steak tartare done well.

http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodmeats.html#steaktartare
.pdf for a Knol archive article on the history of steak tartare