Q&A with Chef Alberto Ortiz from Rachel's: "I Cook Nice Food... This Is Not Just About Naked Women Running Around"
Is the atmosphere in your kitchen more relaxed because it's an entertainment establishment?
I would say yes, but I don't think it's because of the entertainers. I think it's because of us, we are more relaxed. We try to keep our sense of humor, plus with the music and entertainment it's relaxed.
What are some of the challenges you face here that you may not face at a typical restaurant?
One of the biggest challenges that we have is that here we have a lot of VIP customers. They request stuff off the menu and I make it for them. For instance, someone could come here and ask for a chicken francaise or seabass francaise, something that we don't have on the menu. So the waiters know that I'll make anything, so they come to me and say 'Chef Alberto there is a table that would like to talk to you about something' and I go out. I always say no problem, if it's something I have on hand, in house. Only if we don't have the item to cook, then I can't make it, but if we have it then I'll do it for them.
Do you have to keep a lot of 'just in case food' on hand?
Yes, we buy a lot of stuff just because you never know. We also get a lot of celebrities that come here, all the time.
What's something unusual you have in your walk-in just because?
We have those edible flowers that at another place I wouldn't order unless it's for something special. But we keep them here to decorate place, the orchid flowers and edible flowers, different colors and different kinds and they go bad quick. If you don't use them within a couple days, they go bad. But we keep them here on hand just because. Caviar we keep here because sometimes people order. Other places, unless you have it on the menu you don't order it.
What are some of the most outrageous requests you get from your guests?
I'm pretty sure that the front of the house gets bigger requests, like with the champagne and stuff. Not really the back of the house. I did have a customer that ordered their steak rare, like raw. Like don't even put it on the grill, just wanted it like that. Couple of people last year ordered a 10 ounce filet like that, just put it on a plate, season it, don't even put it in the broiler.
Why choose a steakhouse to accompany the entertainment?
(Alex Gonzalez, Food and Beverage Director) Because the way the club is positioned we cater to the 3% of the nation of rich people. We have people like the Trumps. Our guests are in the 3% of the nation for wealth so we want to cater to their palate. We have caviar, we have prime steaks, we have top notch of everything. So if Joe Blow comes in, he probably won't know about caviar like our guests do. Here you see Ferraris, Lamborghinis, cars that are worth $800,000-$1,000,000. That's why we want to have our cuisine at that level, the Ritz Carlton level.
(Chef Alberto) That's why are steaks are a little pricey but they are prime. We use the best steaks because the clientele is top notch. We pay a lot of attention to details here.
How many covers do you do?
On the weekend, at night...well last Saturday we did 125 dinners. Friday we did like 100. On the week day we do about 80 to 100.
Is the primary goal the culinary aspect or the entertainment factor?
(Gonzalez) The number one thing is the entertainment but the way the club is positioned we have to be top notch. If we had a different clientel we wouldn't need the fine steaks. We'd do sandwiches, like Subway.
Does the atmosphere and girls ever distract your cooks?
The girls don't come in the kitchen, we have guys back there. The servers are male and wear tuxedos. The girls don't come in the kitchen -- they can't come because of insurance issues. They wear heels so they can fall down. We don't have the girls, cocktail waitresses or dancers come in the kitchen, they aren't allowed. You can see that we are separate from the stage.
Do you feel you have a more relaxed, friendly clientel?
They are more relaxed. They come here, we give them good attention and make them feel comfortable. We pay attention to the details here. When I tell people I work at Rachel's, they go 'oh you work in a strip club'. I try to explain that I went to culinary school, I've worked in some of the best restaurants around. I cook steaks and I cook nice food like any other place. This is not just about naked women running around. I find myself explaining that we have a full kitchen like any other restaurant, even bigger. So we have a restaurant here, basically, a nice fine dining restaurant. We just happen to be a gentlemen's club as well. This part gets lost, the steaks, the good food. Once people eat here, they love it here.
Which dish best represents Rachel's as a steakhouse?
Well we do the Chateaubriand for two people. Usually, it's a 20oz center cut filet mignon, which we cook in the broiler and then we slice it at the table like French style service. It comes with garlic mash potatoes which we call Chateau potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, or any side they want, served with bernaise sauce. The server takes the steak to the table, presents it, slices it, and serves it to the guest. That I believe is one of our big things. We also have a lot of special steaks that I serve here and people keep coming back and asking for it. So basically, the Chateau, the New York Strip, the bone in ribeye (which is called the cowboy), are really good. I do specials every night. I do seafood, steak and dessert specials.
How do you come up with your specials?
I go by what's in season and what's available. I also go by what people like. I notice that I did a cajun bone in ribeye, blackened with a brown-garlic butter sauce with shoestring potatoes. It's a really popular dish. I blacken it, cook it to temperature, then I make the sauce with fresh garlic, brown it, deglaze it, parsley and we make a homemade demi glaze sauce. We hit it with that at the end and then just adjust the flavor, mount it with butter and put it right on the steak. Take some potatoes on a mandoline, cut shoe string potatoes very fine. Fry it and pile it on top of the steak. It looks like a bird's nest. People love it.
Does service on a busy Saturday night begin later for you?
Sometimes. It begins after seven o'clock, maybe 6:30, but it goes until eleven. We'll do steaks and seafood all night long, and shrimp too. We got the huge, jumbo shrimp cocktail that people love. We have coconut shrimp, jumbo lump crabmeat, stuffed button mushroom with crabmeat inside topped with provolone cheese. It's made like an au gratin it's pretty nice. We have some good food here. I'm not just saying that because I'm the Chef here and I work here but we do.
Can you tell me about the steakhouse menu?
It is. We have 10 ounce filet mignon, 8 ounce filet mignon, all center cut. We have 16 ounce New York strip. We roast our prime rib here daily. We make a point to run out some times so it's fresh everyday. We have porterhouse steak, boneless del monico steak, veal and lamb chop. Seabass, salmon, mahi mahi that we run different ways, oscar style and francaise. Lobster bisque and french onion soup are very classic steakhouse.
Has Rachel's been affected by the economy?
Well, I don't really know. But managment says the economy has effect everybody. I guess it's also affected us. Not too sure but I think we have slowed a bit from last year, the year before. It has affected us too much though. I have noticed a little less dinner but we are still doing good. It has affected everybodoy, in one way or another. I wasn't here but I've heard that five, six years ago we use to 150 dinner in season. But now we are down to 100-125. It's effected everyone. I haven't heard any restaurant say that they haven't been effected by the economy.
Do you have many women as guests?
Yes we do. We have a lot of couple for dinner here, regular people that come here for the food rather than the entertainment. We do have a lot of women that come with their husbands or boyfriends and we do a lot of parties, private parties; bachelor and bachelorette parties. A lot of older couples too from Palm Beach and Jupiter.
What other special events do you do here?
We do charity. For our pairings, we do dinner and charge maybe $125 per person and half that money goes to charity and I'll make the food for it. We've done it with Grand Marnier, a red wine, wiskey, we do it about once a month. We have a lot of people come in. We have one coming up February 24th with Grand Marnier. We'll be having a salmon encrusted with coconut and almond, a mousse which is like a parfait with white chocolate mousse, dark chocolate mousse, and strawberry mousse. The appetizer will be a Waldorf chicken salad.
What are some things you have to explain to a new hire in the kitchen?
Well, stay off the girls and stay in the kitchen (laughing). They are happy, they are like 'oh my god, I hear Rachel's has the most beautiful girls'. You might see them if you stick your head out but we don't allow them to hang out there. That's any employee, basically, you do your job and go home. The same way that we don't allow them (entertainers) in the kitchen, we don't allow them (cooks) on the floor.
Do you do pastry?
I love pastry, it's my passion. I make cakes, every time there's a customer here that has a birthday I'll make one. I make desserts, one of my personal favorites is a cinnamon apple tart because I like it. It's a cinnamon apple, I make the pastry crust, I make a caramel sauce with brandy and I make a homemade ice cream and top it with whip cream.
Do you cook for the girls? What do they eat?
Yeah, everyday almost. We have what you all employee meal but not for just the entertainers -- for all the employees; managers, bouncers, valets, servers, floor host. We do chicken sandwiches, cheeseburgers, they can order whatever they want, if they want to pay for it. We do chicken salad, seafood salad, steak sandwiches, stuff like that.
Where's your position?
I cook over the grill and I stay there from beginning til the end. I don't like office chefs. I've worked with other chefs that make the schedule, do the ordering, they dictate and go home, I bake and cook. I graduated from Florida Culinary in '96, right across the street. I was a chef at Texarado, I've been around for awhile; owned my own restaurant and all.
What's the craziest thing to happen working the line?
I used to make a dessert called Heath Bar Pie, which is caramel ice cream, spongecake on the bottom and we melt the ice, put it in the tin and put it in the freezer. This cook came in, took the ice cream and put it in the oven by mistake. Another guy, was making the onion soup. I told him to take it from the stock pot and change it to another container. He thought that he had to strain it, like au jus or a broth. He strain it and threw out the onion. When I saw it I said, 'where's the onion?'. He said, 'I thought you told me to throw it away.' That's definetly up there.
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