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Turning Lemons Into . . . Preserved Lemons

A beautiful hostess at this busy restaurant was telling my friend and me the other day about the pop-up option for lunch. It's a great restaurant with good food and natural light that flows in through the windows that wrap the dining room, which could account for why the restaurant is so busy. She explained that the pop-up served soups and breads, "kind of like Panera." I suggested to her that such a great restaurant deserves a better description than a comparison to Panera. Before I got a chance to craft her speaking points for her (occupational hazard), she gave me an obstinate look that said she was not interested in this teaching moment. Clearly the restaurant was busy in spite of her.

I know how much goes into the making of a great restaurant. It's a labor of love with tight profit margins, unforgiving hours and a fickle following that generally floods you when you open and gravitates to the next new thing after you've gotten your groove. Add to that the free-for-all-for-haters that is Yelp, and the idea of opening a restaurant can seem insane. Yet good people do it all the time. What kills me is knowing how much blood, sweat and tears gets poured into every great restaurant -- and that just one unfortunate point-of-contact, albeit from a bored hostess, tired server or hungover line cook, can sour the diner's experience.

On a brighter note, I called a small, chef-driven restaurant the other night because I couldn't find information beyond their hours online. The woman who answered the phone actually read the menu to me verbatim. So nice! The food sounded amazing, and she was passionate. So we went and had an incredible meal served by a bright and energetic server who was so lovely that we completely forgave the fact that she forgot to bring us a dish. The restaurant was busy, and we could tell she was working hard.

The last time I had dinner at that aforementioned "Panera-like" restaurant, the hostess was hanging out of the front door having a loud conversation with a friend in a car across the parking lot. I was with my long-lost second cousin Lenny, who's a chef in Arizona. He and I had just met in person for the first time - having first connected on Facebook - so sharing a less-than-pleasant restaurant experience made for a hilarious ice-breaker (kids today!). Once we were seated, an amazing server turned the whole situation around, being well-versed on the menu, lovely and effervescent. Lenny and I both agreed that you can teach skills - how to cook or write a press release - but the personality thing is something you're either born with or not.

We're currently hiring a new assistant at my PR firm. Of the top three candidates, one mispronounced my last name, one spelled Emma's name wrong and one spelled Hilary's name wrong. And these were our top candidates. I'm holding out for someone as effervescent as the server who turned our experience around after her co-worker greeted us with half her body out the door, or the woman who read me the menu over the phone.

This is not sour lemons. Truly. For the most part, the restaurant industry is comprised of bright and passionate people, as is the world of PR. Good people come together to do great work that will hopefully make the world a little better. A truly great employee - in a restaurant or a PR firm - will turn lemons into lemonade.

In my kitchen, I turn lemons into preserved lemons. They're a great staple to keep on hand to stuff into the cavity when you roast a chicken, or mince into sauces and dips. And in a mason jar with some beautiful ribbon tied around the neck, they're a great gift to share with all your foodie friends.

One 3 C mason jar

10-12 Lemons

1/2 C Kosher Salt

Pour 2 T kosher salt in the bottom of a clean mason jar. Cut half of the lemons lengthwise, from the top about 1/4 of an inch before the bottom in a cross, so that the lemon opens like a flower (see below). Pour 1 T salt into each lemon, close it back and stuff it into the mason jar. The lemons will shrink as they render their juice, so stuff them in tightly. You should get about 5-6 lemons in the jar. Whatever the number of lemons, squeeze the juice from an equal number of lemons into the jar and top with 2 T kosher salt. Seal and let sit in a cool, dry place for a couple of weeks.

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