It might sound surprising, but I’ve long seen a direct connection between the culinary arts and maintaining the highest standard for water quality. I realize that at first blush the two don’t seem to have all that much in common, but when you look into what preparing great food and providing superior water quality are all about, some powerful parallels emerge.
Let me back up: I was raised in and around the restaurant business. For many years in the late fifties, sixties and seventies, my grandparents, Marieanne and Eugene Labbat, owned and operated the East Hampton, New York, restaurant Chez Labbat. During that tenure, Chez Labbat became extremely well known and a local favorite. Jackson Pollock was a regular as were many other celebrities, but you didn’t have to be a big shot to feel special there.
As the name suggests, my grandparents served French cuisine and they put their hearts and souls into every dish. They always took an artisan approach to both the food and the way they treated their customers. They focused on every aspect of the dining experience and developed a remarkably loyal following as a result. It was a place where people from all walks of life went to enjoy fabulous meals and an uplifting atmosphere.
I spent much of my childhood hanging around the restaurant, and for years watched firsthand how the loving care my grandparents put into their business translated into success, both financially and in their stellar reputation. As a direct result of that formative experience, I went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of Hyde Park in 1987 and later became a sous-chef working at a place called Sardi’s in New York City.
For reasons that don’t really apply to this discussion, in 1989 I switched careers and started working with my dad, Steven R. Kenny, in his swimming pool service business. From the start, I couldn’t help but see the connections between the culinary arts and pool service. Sound strange?
Consider that both fine dining and aquatics provide highly personal experiences that directly relate to health as well as pleasure. Swimming in fetid water and eating unwholesome food are both really bad for you and unpleasant, while healthy eating and swimming in what I sometimes call “gourmet water” are extremely healthful and enjoyable. To my mind, an aquatics facility that has nasty water is not that different from a restaurant that serves lousy food, and the exact opposite is true. Great food and great water will keep customers coming back because both make them happy and both have real value.
Similarly, a clean aquatics facility that features a comfortable environment around the water, one that doesn’t smell bad, for example, is much like a well-appointed dining space. In both cases, the environment complements the core experiences of dining or swimming.
Also, in both professions, chefs and water quality professionals rely on recipes. Great water requires proper mineral balance, sanitization, oxidation, filtration and circulation. There is, essentially, a cookbook for providing safe and appealing water. Is it any wonder that health departments regulate both types of businesses?
Finally, there is a culture of personal service. When I take care of my clients’ water, I often think of my grandparents and how they made seamless service their primary business principle.
When we polish water and tend to the needs of our customers to the finest detail, we’re doing the same thing as great restaurateurs; we’re creating an experience that consumers will want to revisit over and over again, something they look forward to and may even come to cherish.
Yes, I do see many direct parallels to fine dining and the aquatic experience. They both have the capacity to make people happy and it’s up to us as professionals to make satisfaction job number one – just like my grandparents did all those years ago.