Thinking back to my initial excitement about landing this stagiaire gig, I remember worrying that with Chef’s growing popularity, it would be increasingly difficult to obtain this sort of opportunity. This feeling was reaffirmed today when a filming crew took over our kitchen right in the middle of service when we had an expected 200 covers “on the books.” A night that would have normally been busy enough was made completely topsy-turvy with the addition of camera men, boom microphones, and about a dozen “aspiring young chefs [living in] a house in Los Angeles where they will learn from noted culinary honchos and compete for the apprenticeship of a lifetime.” (Yes, that is the description provided by the television network; I looked up the show.) Sooooo…. I may or may not be on TV in the near future ;)
Anyway, today’s prep was mostly uneventful. I was back on garde manger and spent a lot of quality time with the mandoline to prep our salad ingredients. We do have a new cauliflower soup on the menu, so today was probably the first day I really got to cook. In a very large, very round, and very heavy pan, I sweated onions, garlic, and chopped cauliflower in one pound of butter. ONE POUND. You know those packages you buy from the grocery store with the intention of it lasting at least a few weeks? I used it up all four little sticks in one dish. (In our kitchen, they don’t even come wrapped in quarter sticks; just pounds at a time). Granted it made a few gallons of soup, but still… I could feel my cholesterol levels rising just smelling it. And boy, did it smell delicious. I was proud of my work; it tasted great and I don’t even like cauliflower. (Honey Bunny loves the stuff, so I’ll definitely have to scale down this recipe and make him some one of these days.)
Our usual station lead was working elsewhere today so one of the sous chefs helped us during the prep and later would run the board. At some point during the day, he asked me what I do throughout the other days of the week (my day job). He said that he really likes how I respect the food and the artistry that goes into preparing and plating it. He said that he doesn’t see that in every stage or even in all of the cooks who pass through this kitchen. I just thought it would be ideal to work in a place where I personally love the food. I’m glad it seems to be an asset from their perspective.
Everyone was prepping a lot today, so family meal was an afterthought of reheated hot dogs and french fries. It didn’t matter anyway since we had little time to eat before the film crew started invading the kitchen. The sous chefs were all wired up with microphones and one of the grips walked through and affixed duct tape over any exposed brand names. The director (?) and his crew had only walked through once before I noticed a very strong Us versus Them mentality cropping up. I could see why though, as one of the cameramen obliviously knocked over an entire stack of dishes, sending a few of them crashing to the ground. Pastry Girl was NOT pleased.
Most stations were assigned one of these young hopefuls. Charcuterie and Pizza were the lucky ones who managed to go about their day without a shadow. Ours was genuinely interested in being helpful, staying out of the way, and after observing a few times and with some assistance, was able to plate a complete dish. She was full of good intentions and though the situation was frustrating, none of us could be mad at her. It was quite crowded though, and with extra lighting and plenty of shouting at the pass, the overall ambiance was a bit tense. There were moments when I could tell things were being exaggerated a bit for the benefit of the cameras, but I’ll be honest – when Chef called out a ticket and everyone responded in flawless unison “Yes Chef!”…. it was pretty darn cool. We…. don’t do that all the time. (Although sometimes I wish we did!)
There was definitely an audible sigh of relief throughout the kitchen when the show finally wrapped. Things returned to normal and we were able to finish service like a well-oiled machine. I feel like the learning curve (for this station at least) is finally tapering off. The stand-in station lead mentioned that we had some new plating for a few dishes and after seeing one go out, I was able to replicate not only those dishes but plate up others as needed. We were completely swamped tonight so all of us were plating multiple dishes simultaneously to push out the tickets. “I don’t know how” was not an acceptable excuse for any of us — you just had to learn.
Tonight was another long night — I stayed behind to help the guys break down the mise en place, scrub the counters, and put away the garnishes. We exchanged high-fives all around, and I left feeling great. My aching feet can attest that I put in a hard day’s work doing what I absolutely love and that in itself feels awesome.
You know what else feels awesome? A giant cup of boba and free muffins and bagels (the perks of being regular customers and making friends with local business owners!).
Can’t wait till next Saturday!