Food Informants: A week In the Life Of Cheesemonger Emiliano Lee

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Stone Island - Official Online StoreEmiliano Lee comes from an extended line of grocers and his passion for cheese dates back to his childhood in Oakland, where he could possibly be found stealing bites of Rouge et Noir brie from the wheel in his father’s desk drawer and spending his allowance at the 6th Avenue Cheese Shop in San Francisco. After working as a cheesemonger throughout the country, Lee is now the Artisan Market Manager for Farmshop in Los Angeles. Since 2009, Lee has served as a judge for the American Cheese Society, affording him the opportunity to taste thousands of cheeses from hundreds of North American producers, and supply them with valuable aesthetic feedback. Additionally, Lee participated within the 2010 Cheesemonger Invitational, served as a panelist at the 2011 Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference, and most recently was a panel moderator on the 2011 American Cheese Society Conference.

Read on to find out how this lactose intolerant cheesemonger manages a growing retail market space.

Monday, May 21

6:25am: Up and at ’em! At this point, sleeping past 7 is sleeping in. Seven months into the project of building the market at Farmshop, and almost five months since our soft opening after Christmas. Since which has been stuffed with early days and late nights, yet every morning I get up ready and anxious for more.

7:33am: Parked the car in my usual spot, a few quarter mile from work. Walking to and from shall be essentially the most focused exercise I get as of late. The architecture geek in me loves strolling past the mini estates folks have built for themselves on this stretch.

Jeans

7:42am: Mocha time. Almond milk. Ironic being a lactose intolerant cheesemonger. Should be the masochist in me.

6:45pm: Woodworkers are here installing new fixtures, dropped off modular shelving units. Geeking out on merchandising options now once i should probably be headed home.

7:15pm: Reset a pair shelves of preserves and chocolates. It is like an ever changing puzzle, how best to construct displays to attract attention and maintain the flow of eye traffic.

7:35pm: The ice machine leaketh! Good thing I am still here? Time to grab the mop and make some phone calls.

8:55pm: Working more in an effort to work less? Taking a look at two days of downtime, so I’m in the office cranking out order guides and establishing my team for his or her tasks at hand.

Tuesday, May 22

10:02am: Brooksley texts to confirm lunch. A little bit back and forth, and it looks like we’re hitting a Korean burger joint later. Sitting within the lobby waiting for my oil to be changed.

1:02pm: Roll into the parking lot, hitting Miru 8691 for lunch. Odd name, and yet another strip mall. Still adjusting to that. Brooksley arrives at the identical time. Haven’t seen her in years, meeting her new daughter, and just wishing Andy could be here too. We’ll must all determine when we will hang. Oh the joys of being adults with demanding jobs.

3:15pm: Lunch was interesting and delicious. Kimchee fries? Korean bbq burger? Good, but somewhat heavy. Can have to return and try some other options. I was craving a bit of fat and grease though, so that hit the spot! Catching up with Brooks was great. I’ve really missed her and Andy. Now to figure out learn how to make more time like that to hang and relax.

Wednesday, May 23

9:17am: Actually managed to sleep. My body wants more. My first time with multiple time off to myself, I am inclined to listen and just relax. Time to decompress and prepare for the long weekend ahead. Now that the shop is more established, we’re seeking to be mighty busy for Memorial Day.

3:12pm: Napping on and off all day to date. Baked off some scones my friend Alison prepared and froze for me when she was in town from Chicago the opposite week. Bacon and cheddar scones. Ate them with buttery grits and fried eggs. Divine.

Thursday, May 24

7:13am: On the freeway heading in to work. The primary of three straight doubles. Hadn’t realized at the time I wrote the schedule and gave my assistant manager three days off that it was Memorial Day weekend! Silly boy. This morning’s soundtrack: Slayer. Time to get the blood pumping and power through the next few days.

8:03am: Checking in with the crew and doing my usual back-from-a-day-off walk through. Not too shabby. A handful of items that didn’t get put out, but for essentially the most part everything is as it should be. Again, the theme of letting go. It is all about support. Giving my crew the tools they need to do the job that I expect, and not relying upon myself to do it all.

8:47am: It is great seeing the cheese case so full and abundant. And an increasing number of old friends falling into place. Rockhill Creamery arrived last week and i’ve already gotten a second order in. Seeing how Pete & Jen’s cheeses taste and fit into the scheme of things here and the way well received they’ve been is fulfilling indeed. Being able to carry on those relationships and continue to support the cheese makers I’ve bonded with over time really makes all of it worthwhile. Seeing the smiles and reactions when giving people their first taste of something new? Priceless.

10:23am: Grabbing a quick nibble off the family tray in the bakeshop. Blueberry polenta cake, oh how good and evil you are! I don’t even need to know what number of of these I’ve eaten over the weeks. They do keep me going though, that’s for sure. Sometimes it’s all I remember to eat until nightfall except for many nibbles of cheese and meats to taste how everything is doing within the case.

11:15am: Cranking through sandwich production and starting to get the stream of oldsters coming in for prepared foods. Need to rent another hand or two to help out and get some further support so we can focus more on education. With so many unique products on the shelves, we could practically use a tour guide to walk guests through the shop. Something I like doing myself as every item has a reason for being here and a narrative behind it.

3:20pm: Within the lull now between lunch and dinner service within the restaurant, but that’s becoming less and less of a lull out there as of late as increasingly more people learn about what we have to supply and start coming by more often. Covering the counter while the overlap between morning and evening shifts occurs, getting everyone’s breaks taken care of while now we have the bodies available.

5:20pm: Finally getting myself off the floor. Grabbing a quick bite (tuna salad and coleslaw) while I flick thru the day’s emails so far and take care of some paperwork before heading back all the way down to count out the tills and start wrapping up the day’s business.

7:15pm: Longer closing shifts than usual as we prepare the butcher case for a busy holiday weekend. Within the prep kitchen forming beef patties and laying out steaks for display. Oddly energizing!

9:08pm: Sent the crew home about an hour later than normal for a regular weeknight. Stepped in to assist them close down and clean as much as head home. Glad to see them ready and willing to pitch in longer hours and tackle tasks this late within the day in good spirits.

10:35pm: Finished up on the back end now. Filled out the cash log for the day, wrapped up the more important and urgent emails, wrote up my manager’s log entry for the day.

Friday, May 25

7:48am: Checking in before donning my coat and apron, the cases look good but already we have got special orders calling in for burgers and accoutrement.

10:32am: Busy right from the beginning, and no sign of letting up. Aside from the same old business, we have got special orders to fill and cheese & charcuterie platters to construct. It’s tedious but fulfilling work putting those together. Like painting. Cheese and meat flowers we call ’em. Something I’ve always taken pride in, as with everything it’s down to the details. Appeal to all the senses, use the better of what you’ve got got, and make it pop… but at the same time, keep it simple. It is a fine line between beautifully built and cluster f*ck.

1:35pm: Particularly solid crew today, cranking out sandwich production and covering all the bases. Cannot put a price on this kind of support, and everybody on board looking out for each other.

5:40pm: Pushed through the bulk of the day pretty strong, great energy and everyone feeding off one another. Did a ton of merchandising today with lots of recent products in, and it has been awesome having fruit back in from our friends at Frog Hollow Farm. Amazing stone fruits, and guests keep commenting they’re the most effective they’ve had. Great thing about that: these are first of the season they usually’re only going to get better! And once more, it is all about those relationships. The guys here have had an awesome long relationship with the farm, and other than the farmers’ market we’re the only other dedicated retail outlet for their mouthwatering produce. Had them bring down a ton of preserves on their truck this week as well, so we’re packed and set there too. A fast nibble and glancing at emails in the office before I head back down to start the closing out process.

9:55pm: All wrapped up downstairs. A extremely solid day, and our second best sandwich sales up to now. Great seeing the crew step as much as that challenge since we’ve started that whole arm of this system. It’s added a complete new element to the market and created a dynamism on the service island that was only a bit lacking before. Like someone commented last week, “Now it seems like… a market!” It’s been a blast seeing each new piece come together, and it should be a hoot looking back in a year and seeing the progress we have made. Bit by little bit, and sometimes lots!

Saturday, May 26

6:18am: Hitting the road early today as now we have some early platters and orders to complete, and it should be packed and busy busy busy today. Slayer and Metallica for the drive in.

10:25am: The place is packed, and there are a ton of people wandering through… nevertheless it feels more like everyone seems to be out for a day at the markey rather than doing any holiday shopping. No worries though, the important thing is that they are tasting. With a lot of what we have now to offer unavailable elsewhere, sometimes that’s all it takes. Always great when someone comes back every week or two after trying something saying they couldn’t get it off their mind and just had to come back back for more. Lately, Seana Doughty’s “Fat Bottom Girl” has been doing that lots. Gotta adore it.

6:40pm: Counting out the tills, was asked what I used to be doing at 9. Sitting within the office wrapping up, I replied. Looks like I am headed out for a drink. God knows I could use one tonight!

9:04pm: All wrapped up, and the closing crew was capable of wrap up the day smoothly and get set up for tomorrow morning with time to spare. Have a feeling tomorrow is going to be a crusher with all of the lookers coming back to purchase. Headed out for a drink, and probably a bite as I’ve only had a little bit of tuna and cucumber salad today.

9:32pm: At Waterloo & City. Love this place. Great house made charcuterie, great food, and great drinks. Starting with a pint of Old Speckled Hen, and Mich just ordered us a couple plates of prawns.

10:18pm: Drinks are sliding down easy, and people prawns were amazing… and big! Two filled the plate, sitting on a luscious puree of something delicious (did not catch it in the outline) aside some grilled radicchio. Totally hit the spot. Ribeye for 2 developing next.

12:38am: Bloody red meat seared to a crusty perfection and a bottle of wine later… definitely a much needed relaxing moment. Good conversation connecting with a comrade in food. Meeting some good folks tonight, too. Charcuterie wishes and humidity controlled walk in refrigerator dreams, my friends. Thinking in regards to the basement and dreaming up a wish list.

3:12am: Mich broke out the old Wax Trax box set, listening to some classic and groundbreaking tunes before calling this late night a wrap.

Sunday, May 27

7:20am: In early again, making sure we have got the day’s special orders lined up. Also have two big platters to build for a wedding that Mina from Grace & I is attending. A little bit something extra as she’s always good to us.

9:25am: Second mocha down, and too busy to be tired. The place is hopping early again. Not as much foot traffic as yesterday, but now we’re selling up a storm. The stream is steady with the occasional big order to fill. Persons are stocking up for tomorrow. Good thing, too… we may have underestimated the turnout for fresh meat. The beef is flying out the door. It feels great, and again the energy within the shop is riding high.

11:14am: With my mid shift on the floor, we’ve got support to keep us from feeling overwhelmed. Plus my assistant is back! I’m definitely keeping a greater eye on the calendar from here on out. And i appreciate all the more what she brings to the table and the support she gives. Last night aside, this has been an exhausting stretch. Probably our busiest weekend since opening.

6:28pm: One more day to go, and never working the closing tonight is a relief. Not exactly an early day, but I am going to take it. Numbers look good. Pleased with the entire team, too. Everyone on the floor really made this weekend a success so far, and that i hope that they had as much fun working it as I’ve. Exhausting, but these are the moments we live for on this business. Fun fact: tomorrow we should always break the 1000 mark on sandwiches sold thus far this month. Not too shabby for our first few weeks of creating them… can only imagine what that program will likely be looking like next year. After this weekend, I’ve come to comprehend how important good support is and the way far more we are able to use. Time to place more ads and hope to meet some good candidates. It is tougher than you think… especially here where we’re looking for retail workers in a world of waitstaff. Thankless? Sometimes. Fulfilling? In this case, definitely.

7:49pm: Made it home, and the siren’s song sings of sleep. Going to lie down earlier than I have in years and see what dreams may come.

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