Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Going Home?

It's now been roughly 19 months since I was back in the US. In that time I've spent the majority of it in the Kathmandu valley, but I've also made trips to Annapurna, several to Langtang & Everest, a stop over in Tibet, another in Bhutan, a holiday in Thailand & Cambodia, and most recently my short trip to Guangzhou in China. I've written a book that I wanted to write, I've stayed rather active on this blog, I've supplied the population of Kathmandu with salsa and other foods, and will be opening a restaurant some time this fall which has consumed most of my time and energy since the Spring. It has been an interesting few months to say the least.

About one week from when I'm writing this I will be landing in the US, at Boston's Logan airport to be precise. It's been a long time to go without seeing family and friends. Thanks to the blessings of technology like this blog, Facebook, e-mail and Skype I do get to regularly stay in contact with those from back home to varying degrees. But that whole notion of home is something that for me has been in flux for so long, I'm not entirely sure where it is. My Father joked with me on a recent Skype call that I had lived in Nepal now longer than most places that I had lived in the US, and I think that has some truth to it, but I felt obliged to point out that we also were already on our second apartment over here. A rolling stone gathers no moss I'm told.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Guangzhou- Where shopping is literally a way of life

I often wonder if Mao is spinning in his grave with such velocity that the Chinese could harness it as a power source. There seems to be no country that has become more driven by consumer markets than China...well aside from the US, which supplies much of the demand, but still it's a far cry from some communist utopia. Now this isn't to say that China is some market driven utopia either, their construction policies are clearly centrally planned, and market demands would never create a city like what I just saw in Guangzhou, as I think occupancy rates are under 40% in most of these buildings. Despite this you can't help but be impressed with the engineering and the layout of this modern city in China.

View from outside my hotel 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mr Smith Goes to China?

As the horribly slow process of registering a company and getting a visa here continues, I'm scheduled to fly out to Guangzhou China on Monday to pick up the majority of the kitchen equipment, furnishings and dishware for the restaurant. For those that don't know Guangzhou is a large provincial capital that sits just on the mainland side of Hong Kong. If it means anything to you it was known (and still often is) as Canton in the west.

I've never been to mainland China with the exception of Tibet, but then Tibet is Tibet and China proper is something else entirely really. I really don't know what to expect. From the pictures that I've seen it looks very much like a well to do modern city. In fact quite a bit should look familiar there as much of what I've purchased over the years back in the US was shipped out of this area. With everything in Nepal also imported from China, it just seemed to make more sense to go to the source to get everything. That and the selection here in KTM is really abysmal. Often types of glasses or dishware you are looking for can't be found, and if they can be found there is only one or two options available to select from. Asian dishware is often made to fit Asian eating styles, so finding bowls that are better fit to salads and not rice, curries or soups is often tough. Plates are also either too small, and those made for Indian audiences often have these horribly gaudy patterns. I'm hoping to find stuff that is ready to be shipped across the ocean to western clientele as those products will obviously better accommodate the food I'm planning on serving.

Other items I hope to find are kitchen appliances. Some items that we need,like fryers, griddles on a gas range, char broilers, and cheese melters would have to be custom made in KTM or possibly imported from India if even available there. We're hoping that we can also hunt down cooking equipment that is made for western forms of cooking. We will also be looking for refrigerators and freezers, though these are items I know we can get in KTM, it's simply a matter if it will be cheaper to get it in China.

All of this though hinges on whether or not the Chinese decide to grant me a visa  to go or not. Hopefully I'll find out tomorrow. If you are from most countries the cost for a single entry visa costs 29$, but for Americans we have to pay 150$. While I'm use to paying more for a visa as an American, the scale of the difference is kind of crazy. Anyway crossing my fingers that I walk out of the Chinese consulate with a visa tomorrow and get to fly out on Monday.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Making a Menu in Nepal

Doing business here can be challenging and so can cooking. If you combine them together you can get one really good sized headache, but as they say the harder the challenge the greater the reward. Putting a menu together here has lots of challenges ranging from seasonal or unreliable availability of many ingredients to strange pricing structures that make it hard to cost things effectively or even accurately due to variation. Despite this we set out to create a high end pub style set of food that we believe we can reliably make at a cost that people will find acceptable. Exciting for me as well is the fact that we were able to put together a full western style menu complete with graphics and proper descriptions, I think a first in Nepal. It's still not done, and I have no prices actually listed, just place holders but in this post I thought I'd talk about the menu's development to this point. For those that are curious I did the design work in a combination of MS Expression Design and Publisher.

Menu Cover 

The only thing to say about the cover is the logo. We've gone through roughly a dozen logo incarnations, and have almost settled on this one, any further changes should be rather minor. One of the challenges we faced in logo design is that the brand will not be just the restaurant, but a variety of packaged goods as well that we already will be selling at the farmer's market here and hopefully at some of the grocery outlets in the not too distant future after launch. Thus we needed a logo that could transform to fit other foods, but still be the same base logo. Other logos had fonts and flames that couldn't be transformed without removing all resemblance to the original and thus any connection to the brand. This logo on the other hand can keep the same geometry, the same font for "Brian's" and just change the colors, remove the flame and change the font in the center and have individual product packaging that resembles the original closely that people realize it's all related.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Buildings & Condiments

So things are continuing to move along with the restaurant. I stopped by our floor the other day and walls had been knocked down, new doorways erected and service windows were knocked out for the kitchen. It's exciting to see the plans becoming a reality. I was most excited to see the north wall opened up where our bar is going to be, giving me the first actual view of what you will be able to see while sitting there. Even with the monsoon rains and cloud cover obscuring the Himalaya it was still really nice, and I'm really looking forward to what see what the views will be like in the Fall when the monsoons clear and visibility is at its best.Below are a couple photos showing the space under construction.

 The open terrace area on a clearer monsoon day

 The north wall, where the bar will one day sit- clouds obscuring the great view.

Looking inside from where the bar will be. 

 Entrance, that opening on the left will be the service window to the kitchen.

Still lots of work to do!

As the construction continues we're still working on plenty of other things. Refining the menu, filing paperwork,putting together seating plans and figuring out how we will train staff. One other thing I've been doing is working on which recipes I want to use for things like condiments and sauces. Some I've made for years and are quite comfortable with, like the Tequila-Lime marinade and the salsas. Others I've learned since I've been in Nepal and have become comfortable with as well, like mayo, and pasta sauces. Some others though are things I'm either less familiar with or I am still playing around with different recipes to find something that is at least as good as the stuff that comes in a bottle. For instance BBQ sauce is something I'd like to do myself, but I won't use my own until I can make something that I'm as happy with as say Sweet Baby Ray's- and as of yet I haven't found that. I'm still playing around with ketchup as well, but I'm happy to report that I may have finally stumbled upon the recipe I want to use yesterday, as that batch came out very close to what I want.

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