Want to prep the ingredients for one of these? Mussel & Burger Bar is paying prep cooks $12-$15 an hour. | Photo courtesy of M&BB.
Want to prep the ingredients for one of these? Mussel & Burger Bar is paying prep cooks $12-$15 an hour. | Courtesy of Mussel & Burger Bar

Finally, cooks are making some money! Recall what I wrote about the serious labor shortage in restaurants last year? Look no further than this Facebook post by Mussel & Burger Bar to confirm the market-wide (actually nationwide) labor shortage. In the post, the restaurant solicits prep cooks who it’ll pay $12-$15 per hour. That’s an astounding number given the rate was closer to $9-$10 last year and likely a dollar an hour less two years before that.

And if you really want to dip back into history, when I was a prep cook 34 years ago, starting pay was $3.50 an hour at one of the city’s top restaurants. Back then, cooks applied merely in hopes of getting a job. Now chefs are not only searching hard for good labor, they’re usually poaching skilled cooks from other restaurants.

“Bourbon & Beyond” festival still way beyond city’s grasp. Saw an email recently from the Office of Mayor Greg Fischer saying the much needed and long-awaited bourbon and food festival won’t happen until at least 2017. Some lowlights from the communiqué:

“We had hoped to launch the festival this summer, but after much discussion with those involved — including local chefs and distillers and our production partner, Wimmer Presents – we realized that 2016 was too aggressive. …

“When we advised Wimmer Presents that we were not comfortable proceeding with the event this year, they indicated that they would continue to develop a bourbon/food festival, host the event, and assume all financial risk and all planning and production for a 2017 festival. This is a great solution for all involved as our city will have another bourbon/food festival without city government assuming any of the risk.”

And there you have it in that last sentence: The city doesn’t want to assume any risk, but it wants a seat on the committee so it can take credit for the event once it happens.

Every restaurateur member I’ve talked to on the committee says it’s a whole lot of talk and little to no action. They also say that since the city doesn’t want to “take any risk,” that means it wants private business owners to do the work — as if local restaurateurs weren’t already the busiest volunteers in town.

Worse, some of the chefs involved on the committee rightfully bristle at the proposed name, “Bourbon & Beyond,” since it doesn’t mention food at all. I see their point.

So if you ask me, 2017 is incredibly optimistic.

Patrick Roney was one of about 20 chefs who cooked at the first-ever Creation Gardens Live Fire. | Photo by Steve Coomes
Patrick Roney was one of about 20 chefs who cooked at the first-ever Creation Gardens Live Fire. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Four-hundred chefs turn out for Creation Gardens’ Live Fire: You may not know of Creation Gardens, but the Louisville distributor is one of the most significant local suppliers of the food you eat at independent restaurants. Two weeks ago it hosted its first-ever Live Fire event, which saw 400 chefs gather at Copper & Kings distillery for a cold-weather cookout that beat all I ever saw.

Chefs from Louisville, Lexington, Cincinnati, Owensboro, Nashville, etc., came to eat whole roasted pigs, ducks, chickens, prime rib, camel chili (yet, ’tis true), Wagyu, cheeses, charcuterie and drink Copper & Kings brandy and Falls City beer.

Why is this important to you? Partly because it demonstrates Creation Gardens’ commitment to local chefs — which ultimately means you. And also because it brought so many out-of-towners in to see the restaurant and bar scene. That’s excellent exposure.

Survey says … Americans believe restaurant workers should be paid more. According to a 2015 survey by Alix Partners, 51 percent of Americans think restaurant workers should be paid more. But here’s the catch: Of that 51 percent, only 63 percent are willing to pay higher menu prices that would fund those labor cost increases.

Some other interesting goodies in the survey:

• 65 percent want to control if and/or how much they tip. (No change there.)

• 47 percent want more chains to offer all-day breakfast. (They’re getting their wish in spades, yet there are fewer cooks than ever to cook it.)

• Only 16 percent say loyalty programs are influential in their choice of restaurants. (Why be loyal when the industry showers customers with discounts? The industry is its own worst enemy here.)

• “Fresh and local ingredients” is now the No. 1 attribute consumers consider when selecting “healthy” restaurants meals. (Yeah, right. Just more proof people say one thing and do another. Just ask any restaurateur. It’s why burger and pizza places keep popping up.)

• 70 percent say in-restaurant tablets or kiosks influence where they choose to eat. (This should be no surprise given the hours we spend staring at our video devices.)

8UP's patio bar | Courtesy of 8UP
8UP’s patio bar | Courtesy of 8UP

8UP reopening rooftop space March 31: Given the warm weather we’ve had lately, I’ve spent every social moment I can eating and drinking outside. You’ve got to love El Camino and Cumberland Brews for playing along, serving practically anyone outside if it’s in the mid-50s or higher.

But it’s a bigger affair to ramp up the outdoor program at 8UP, which arguably has the coolest elevated patio in the city. So it bears mentioning that Thursday, March 31, they’ll throw a party with a DJ and drink specials. Great view, too.

The Hub has a nice outdoor patio and fire pit, too, so save some calendar room for that one.

Bottoms up at Gordon Biersch Honey Belgian release next week: Here’s a bargain that’ll help a good cause. Gordon Biersch downtown is launching its new Honey Belgian beer with a $3 pint party on Wednesday, March 23. Proceeds from all your generous consumption will go to StageOne Family Theatre, too.

If you’ve never been to GB, give it a try, especially if you’re into correct-to-style beers. They do an excellent job with the classics, plus the food’s quite good. (Great outdoor dining area there as well.)

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.