Server Name: Sean Carroll
Restaurant: Izakaya Den
Years in Industry: 12
What is your favorite dish at (restaurant)?
There are so many great dishes in our restaurant that it really is hard to narrow to just one but if I had to I think it would have to be a specialty of Nobu-san’s, our Head sushi chef. This dish only appears when the fish selection is just right but the "Toro Special” we execute has to be one of my personal favorites. We take beautiful Mediterranean farmed, sustainable Bluefin and use the toro, the fatty belly, and prep it down to a very fine and buttery texture and mix it with a little minced white onion for structure. We then take the chu toro, which is the medium fatty side cut between the akami (lean) and toro, and surround the toro creating what is most like a “tuna truffle.” Two incredibly different structures that lend to what I believe is one of the most prefect bites in sushi. The dish is plated with four pieces, cut in half, and dressed in a garlic ginger soy known as tataki, and then finished with fresh grated Japanese wasabi, cracked black pepper, and KIAWARE daikon. It’s really ridiculous!
How did you get into the business?
Curiosity and the need to be challenged lead me to the restaurant industry. When I graduated from college, I wasn’t quite ready to leave that aspect of life behind; friends or environment. I have always been a coffee nut and I decided to take a barista position at a local coffee shop so I could immerse myself in the culture and experience. That was the beginning and really laid the foundation for what was to come. I took every opportunity I was given to learn as much as possible about every aspect of the restaurant and have continued to apply and grow that knowledge throughout my years in the industry.
Toughest challenge in your field?
There are so many challenges in our industry but for me, it is the lack of respect towards servers by the dining public. Over the last couple of years, this mindset has begun to change and people are beginning to realize the amount of hard work and dedication that it takes to execute at the highest level day in and day out. The movement of farm to table, sustainable farming practices, and other powerful influences have created a far greater awareness among everybody as to where and how your food came to the plate. We as servers are constantly updating and expanding our knowledge in an effort to bring all the information to the guest and it’s so frustrating personally when people take that for granted to still see us as “waiters.” We are highly educated and most servers do what they do, not out of necessity, but out of a true love for food and the experiences it can create when it brings people together.
Things happen everyday that are amazing! We see families grow up. We establish relationships between guests. Many servers are with a restaurant for years and we get to see the high school or college graduation pictures of a long time regular’s children that you’ve known for years. You feel a small connection to his or her growth. Stories are shared and memories are created within the walls of the restaurant that last a lifetime! You see service assistants or expos come back from amazing college experiences and flourish into awesome servers! I’ve personally mentored young, growing servers and seeing the look of satisfaction and pride on that person’s face after the flawless execution of a high stress, private dinner is really rewarding! I’ve also made some of my most dear friends through the restaurant either being people that I’ve worked with, worked for, or met through an amazing dining experience and continued outside those confines!
Most embarrassing moment?
Hmmmm. Embarrassing moments happen and it’s always hard to admit. You always hope no one sees whatever it was but if it’s on display for everyone to see, you better be ready for a good razzing! One for me that sticks out literally happened my first night on the floor at a fine dining restaurant. I was so nervous, eager to start taking tables on my own, and wanted to make sure that everything went perfect, which I learned quickly is the best way to set yourself up for disaster! I was opening a bottle of white Bordeaux and though the label escapes me now, the experience never will. I had so much going through my head about the wine and service and execution, that I just got caught up in the moment and before I knew it, I was pouring the wine into the neck of a decanter and thinking to myself “What are you doing????” I was already too far into it to do anything about it and as soon as I set the decanter down, I turned around, and about five servers were down the hall looking at me in amazement as I let that bottle of white wine “breathe.” My eagerness had gotten ahead of me and unfortunately all the knowledge that I was trying to put on display became jumbled and turned out to be a big lesson in slowing down and really thinking the entire process through.
Secretly desired food/ingredient?
For me there are two I’ve never tried but would absolutely love to experience. First in sushi, FUGU or blowfish! There are only a handful of chefs in the US that are certified to serve it due to its poisonous quality but I would really love to check that out! Second, the French serve something that just absolutely captures my imagination! Ortolans are small black birds, illegal in the US, which are braised in Armangac, and eaten whole with a cloak over your head. The cloak is said to contain the aromas and also to hide the gluttony from God! French chefs see it as a right of passage and I just think the experience sounds so profound and life changing! Maybe not for everyone, but something I’d love to experience!
Person in your business you most admire?
One of the most influential persons in the restaurant industry has to be Ferran Adria, formerly of El Bulli, in Spain. His forward thinking and amazing use of ingredients continues to push chefs to change what they thought is/was possible. He has since closed El Bulli and transformed it into one of the most well rounded educational experiences in the world both in and out of the kitchen. He is truly changing lives on a daily basis!
Is there a secret dish not on the menu?
Well if I told you it wouldn’t be a secret anymore now would it! Always ask questions and press to see if there is something the chef or chefs have going on that no one else knows about!
What advice do you have for servers wanting to be well recognized for excellent service?
STAY HUMBLE!!!! Keep your head down and continue learning! Thomas Keller, the acclaimed chef of The French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in Manhattan, once said, and I’m paraphrasing, that if at some point in your career you feel as though you’ve learned everything there is to know, then you’ve really got a lot to learn! Our industry is dynamic. Staying humble will only make you better.
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