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Interview with Joseph Cassis, RAMMYS Employee of the Year Finalist

July 11, 2017

The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) presents Joseph Cassis, an Employee of the Year finalist for the 2017 RAMMY Awards Gala on July 30. The Employee of the Year award is given to someone who serves as a model employee by displaying outstanding service, an excellent work ethic and a positive image. This excludes managerial positions, giving house employees an opportunity to display their hard work. ​​

Name and Position:
Joseph Cassis, Head Bartender at Passionfish in Bethesda.  I was born in Charleston, WV and graduated from West Virginia University before moving to Leesburg, VA.  I’ve been drifting east ever since.

How did you get started in the business? What was your first job in the industry and what did you learn from it?
Technically, my start in the industry was working as a busboy and dishwasher in my church’s banquet hall when I was 14.  I’ve worked almost every front of house position since then, but that job was when I fell in love with the frenetic energy of a busy service in a restaurant setting.  It also taught me that a smooth service involves every aspect of the restaurant operating effectively, which means that no one is more or less important than anyone else.  From the host stand to the dish room, everyone plays and interconnected part in ensuring the guests have the best possible experience.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’d still hope to be involved in the D.C. restaurant scene and with Passionfood Hospitality in particular.  I’ve enjoyed the past 7 years with them and look forward to seeing what we do next.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My old boss at a seafood restaurant used to constantly tell me when things went wrong that “It’s just crabcakes.  You ring them in, we cook them, the guests eat them; everything else is incidental.”  Any time I’m having a bad day, I find myself thinking, “It’s just crabcakes.”

Why do you love working in restaurants? 
I love the stimulation; there’s always something going on or something to do.  I’ve never quite been able to match the sensation of a busy restaurant where a large group of staff are working in unison to make things run smoothly.  I enjoy interacting with guests and the day to day operating of the restaurant, but nothing is quite as fun as the bedlam of a busy happy hour.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I can’t imagine loving a profession more than restaurant work, but I’d like to work in a bakery if I could.  I’ve always enjoyed baking and it seems like the complete opposite of what I do now, I think it’d be an interesting change of pace.

What is your favorite ingredient?
Chartreuse.  Sometimes green and especially yellow, it is my favorite ingredient to add to cocktails.  It has a flavor profile that is impossible to recreate, enough alcohol to add structure, and just enough sugar to not water down a drink.  Whenever I’m stuck on what a cocktail needs, I add Chartreuse.

What insider foodie tip do you have for diners?
Engage your server.  We see the food and drinks every day, get the run down on what we think it is we do best, not what we happen to be featuring at the moment.

You’re hosting a dream dinner party.  What three people would be at your table?
Christina Tosi, owner of Milk Bar.  Her cookbook is one of my favorites and taught me that you can do advanced techniques in a very low tech kitchen.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler, head bartender at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon.  He literally is the reason I wanted to be a professional bartender and I constantly visit his blog when I need advice.
Danny Meyer, who actually wrote the book on service.  I’ve read Setting the Table at least a dozen times and still find new things to learn from it.

It’s the last meal of your life  - what’s on your plate?
Spaghetti and meatballs. 

What are your pet peeves?
Punctuality, I consider everyone’s time valuable so I don’t like having mine wasted.
Things that are out of place, I take the concept of mis en place very seriously.
Taking eating out too seriously, its supposed to be fun.