Q&A With Chuck Gittleman, Chef at Deck 84 in Delray Beach
Still, he was kind enough to spare some of his time for a chef-to-chef chat. Here is our Q&A:
What is the biggest challenge in opening a new restaurant?
The logistics of the kitchen. And seeing what the staff can do. I have to see someone cook before I can tell if they're going to work out.
What's it been like working with Burt Rapoport?
I've known Burt for 15 years. It's been a good experience. He repeats the same thing with all his concepts, customer relations. You feel a sense of ownership in the restaurant.
How did you feel about leaving Bogart's of Boca to come here to Delray Beach?
I liked moving because Bogart's was a little limiting. Here it's a little more casual. We are serving people on boats. Saturday night, we served on someone's boat -- the waiter had to take his shoes off before getting on the deck [laughing]. But people can catch something and bring it to be cooked. I'll prepare it and serve it with some great sides.
That's very Key West style, no?
Very. We are keeping true to our island theme. I'm keeping local, running snapper on the menu and as specials. We also have a little something for everyone. We have barbecue, Asian, burgers. And every seat is a window seat.
Will you be staying here at Deck 84 or returning to Bogart's?
I've been splitting my time between here and Bogart's, but I'll be staying here. I'm putting my key people in place. The season at Bogart's jumps when movies come out because of the theater being so close.
What is the most challenging thing about working in this kitchen?
It's a small kitchen. Usually you have a production line in the back for all your prep and then the line. This kitchen has just the line, and with this volume, I have guys starting at 5 a.m. 'cause we have to get things done. I like to make my own bread, but I just don't have the oven space for it. Fortunately, we've being buying from Old School Bakery right here, and it's been great. It's a small community of people in this industry, and we all help each other out. I know a woman who has having problems now 'cause it gets dark more often, her chickens won't lay eggs in the dark. So she's getting less production out of them. But you deal with stuff and figure it out. We'll be featuring farm fresh eggs to keep it local.
So you are going to be doing brunch/breakfast?
Oh yeah, we did this last weekend, Saturday and Sunday. [I groan and curl my lip at the thought.] I actually don't mind cooking eggs. We went to New York with Burt on a sort of food retreat. We went to the Breslin, in the Ace Hotel. I got inspired. You won't see the same dishes here as you do there, but I have a different respect for brunch and breakfast.
How often do you actually get to cook the line?
Well, I actually did my sous' prep today. I jump back there when I have to. I've been working in between the hot line and garde manager. Expoing both sides and helping out pantry at the same time 'cause there's a little more to it.
Expoing from the line, do you ever find it hard to resist jumping on a station when you're weeded?
Yeah, I get anxious to jump in and help. Only 'cause it takes time to get into a routine. Took about four to five days here, everything from how to cook things to where to store stuff.
With the kitchen in full swing now, are you going to be making changes to the menu to make it easier to execute?
I am going to be making some changes. I don't want to give everything away just yet [smiling coyly], but I will tell you we're going to be changing to a ten-ounce burger. We do it at Bogart's, and it's just a beautiful presentation.
How do your cooks feel about that one? It's only two ounces, but it'll be longer and a little harder to temp accurately, right?
They'll gripe about it a little, but it keeps better, and it's actually easier to temp. A mid-rare comes out as an actual mid-rare.
What were some of the big problems you faced during the opening?
Computer glitches! We got a bad batch of printers in the kitchen, so everything was off. We actually ended up having to get a whole new set sent to us overnight. I'd also say making everything uniform. I have a snapper on the menu and was running a yellowtail snapper for a special; keeping things like that straight can be tough when you're so busy.
So who do you find it harder to train, your cooks or the wait staff?
For me, my cooks I work with are a close-knit group, so it's harder with the wait staff. I guess I'm a little biased, though.
I overheard your host on the phone -- you have no available reservations on a Wednesday night for the inside. How do you deal with that sort of volume?
It's a great feeling being so booked. We overprepare. Well, we aren't overprepared, but we are ready for anything.
After all this time in the industry, do you still get the same excitement from an opening?
It's very exciting. It's a passion you just have. I was at a wedding the other day; there were a couple of us there, and we ended up talking about work. It was just funny being out and all we can do is sit there and talk about work. Critiquing the food, talking about our reps, airing out chef gripes.
What is the secret to a successful restaurant in South Florida? In this economy?
Consistency! Consistency, ticket times, organization, and watching your flow of business. I've been working in restaurants since I was 14; I was trained to watch your clientele.
Does Mr. Rapoport have a heavy influence on the menu, or does he give you free reign to be creative?
He gives me the room to do my thing, but at the same time, he has a great palate. His knowledge of food and cuisine is unsurpassed. I rely on him for that, if I have questions or anything. We go to the table, me and my sous chefs and him, and talk about ideas and things.
What are traits you look for in your chefs?
Organization and cleanliness. I can tell pretty quickly by watching someone work if they are going to be good or not. They also have to be passionate. Education is great, but if you don't have that passion... I can teach someone to cook but can't teach them the passion for it.
What's the most serious you've ever been injured on the line before?
I did faint from heat exhaustion once. It gets so hot back there, and I hadn't eaten or drunk anything. Been burned and cut a ton of times. I worked in this one place where the chef told me I should by stock in medical supplies 'cause I was constantly getting hurt.
So who would you challenge in an Iron Chef competition?
Daniel Boulud [laughing]. But he'd probably kick my butt.