Monthly Archives: December 2013

Seizing My Window of Opportunity

I’ve known for a few months now that Chef has plans to open new restaurants and when the time comes, promote from within and hire new cooks. This thought has lingered at the back of my head, driving me to work hard to impress my potential future boss and knowing that the opportunity, when it arises, would be incredible.

I think that time has come.

This morning, Chef posted on Facebook that he was looking for cooks to work with him in the new year. I had to temper my excitement but squealed with joy when Honey Bunny pointed it out too and said I should voice my interest. I mulled it over in my head, playing out possible conversations and refining how I would approach the situation. I imagine I had similar thoughts to every high school kid agonizing over how to ask someone out on a first date. What if he says no? What if he laughs at the very thought? What if he doesn’t reply at all?

Also, I have my hands in a lot of pots at my day job. They have come to rely on me for many responsibilities and I know I cannot just leave them hanging (at the same time, I know that this is not a good reason to feel obligated to stay either). I’m not quite sure how to tell them nor how to handle a transition period to either train my assistant or a replacement.

But in the end, I pushed those nay-saying thoughts away and made a decision. This is the window of opportunity I had been waiting for, ever since I embarked on this journey (which has really been a long time coming). They say when you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did. And so, with slightly quivering fingers, I typed out a simple message — “Chef, I saw your Facebook post. I am very interested and would love to get additional information.”

I quickly opened a new tab on my browser and started typing this entry to distract myself from obsessively refreshing the page, awaiting his reply. Before I knew it, the window blinked to alert me of the new message. His response? “[Matcha Bunny], you already have one foot in the door. You have to tell me what you want and we would love to take you on full time.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

I almost fell out of my chair I was so excited. There was a small part of me that was worried he would think I couldn’t handle it full time or that he would want someone with more experience.

With Honey Bunny’s help, I carefully formulated my reply. “Chef, I would love to branch out to Charcuterie. Eventually, I really want to work on the hot line. But I am a fast learner and can fit in wherever you need me.” I went on to explain that I would need some transition time, perhaps work part-time there and part-time at my day job for a month or two. Again, I anxiously awaited his response.

I clicked on the window as soon as I saw it blink. The first word I saw? “GREAT!!!”

He was eager to get the ball rolling. He said that he was glad my ambitions are in line with the natural progression of the kitchen (Pantry to Charcuterie to Pizza to the Hot Line). He wants to set up a preliminary schedule and transition me into Charcuterie when Charcuterie Guy leaves next month. He closed his message with, “Lots of learning to do before that though, so lots of cramming to do between now and then, kiddo!!”

I AM ABSOLUTELY ECSTATIC. I thanked him profusely for the opportunity and said that I would figure things out with my day job and, at least, see him on Saturday to stage as usual.

Dreams really do come true if you work hard and want it badly enough. This. Is. Happening.

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Day 18: Parental Supervision

Pomelo from my dad's tree - a gift from my parents to Chef

Pomelo from my dad’s tree – a gift from my parents to Chef

As you may have surmised from the post title and photo caption, my parents were in town today. Since Honey Bunny and I went out of town for Christmas, they graciously watched our cats for us and were returning them today. While in the area, they figured why not stop by the restaurant and see me “in action”? But more on this in a bit…

Dicing Up Salmon for Tartare

Dicing Up Salmon for Tartare

Today’s prep list was not very long, but it consisted of the most annoying and tedious tasks (super fragile crouton “rings,” for example). Luckily, I got to try and learn something new — dicing up fish for the two tartare dishes. After the crash course in fish butchery last week, I felt more comfortable with handling the gorgeously marbled salmon loin and two sides of hamachi (yellowtail). Station Lead let me borrow his knife again, with its super thin but very sharp Japanese blade. So cool. I really appreciate that they let me do the dicing (a task where even if I mess up, it’s not a huge deal). Gotta start somewhere!

No sooner had I put away the last of the diced hamachi and washed my fishy hands and cutting board did a surprise come a-knocking. Pastry Girl called over and said “people” were here to see me. My parents, cousin, and Honey Bunny were standing there, a bit hesitant to enter. I invited them in, gave them a brief tour and introduction to everyone, and went to find Chef in the walk-in. He seemed excited to see them and was very surprised to receive the pomelo. My mom had the foresight of cutting one up for them to try, and everyone in the kitchen eventually made their way over to taste the strangely dry white grapefruit. It was amazing to observe as Chef, Station Lead, and the Sous Chefs brainstormed ideas on how to use this unique citrus in various dishes, pickling and marinating it as a vegetarian “fish” because of the way it flakes. They even joked (?) about placing an order from my parents. Haha. I had Charcuterie Guy come over to meet my dad and he manned up and shared his own Vietnamese banh mi style pickle with my parents to sample and critique. Good times. After a brief visit, they said their goodbyes and we all got back to work.

I teased the Sous Chef that they were all on such good behavior for my family, to which he immediately retorted, “Of course — don’t want to piss off the Yakuza.” HA. I thought that comment was hilarious (and a bit racist). A few of the other guys continued to remark about how delicious the fruit was. One said that when he first saw it, he thought it was a giant yuzu. “It looks so little in the picture on the bottle!” he insisted. I laughed so hard, but he is right — it looks exactly like a monster-sized version of the Japanese citrus.

Family Meal: Pork Belly Mac & Cheese

Family Meal: Pork Belly Mac & Cheese

Just before service began, Chef took off. I later learned that he had had a hernia for a few weeks now but refused to take time off because of the holiday rush. “The man is a beast!” people said. He breezed past us as we huddled outside, eating our humble dinner. No one got sick from family meal this time. In fact, it was really really good. The meat really resembled the Chinese rotisserie sides of pork that hang in the windows of BBQ shops (heo quay, in Vietnamese). I wanted to go back for seconds but I knew that I would then just want to lie down and take a nap afterward. Instead, I went inside and checked on the tickets that had already begun to print.

One of the tickets on order was for a happy hour portion of oysters on the half shell. Usually Station Lead jumps at the chance to speed through the process as though he were a competitive oyster shucker, but since he and Dishwasher-Turned-Pantry Guy were outside, I went ahead and handled this order. I don’t usually get the opportunity because though I can do it, my inexperience means I’m slower than they would be. Sous Chef was manning the pass tonight in Chef’s absence and he peeked over to see if anyone was paying attention at our station. I think he was a little surprised to see me shucking and even more so when I delivered the completed order to the pass. Three oysters proudly resting in a bowl of crushed ice. A small victory but I’ll take it.

Service was sadly slow-paced today, although we had an especially long lull because of a printer malfunction (someone had unplugged it so we were not getting any tickets for about 20 minutes or so). A bit of panic set in as we fought to catch up, but then it was smooth sailing after that. Station Lead and Dishwasher-Turned-Pantry Guy took frequent cigarette breaks, leaving me to make the occasional salad and help with the Pizza and Charcuterie stations. Pizza Guy taught me how to toss pizza dough — holding it as though my hands were paws (hilarious because of his nickname around the kitchen… ask and I’ll tell). I got a nice turn off my wrist but it was hard to catch it properly. I’ll definitely have to keep practicing. Using my dough, we made a pizza for the guys to snack on — chicken, bacon, ranch. Yum!

Charcuterie Guy told me that he is planning to leave mid-January. He found a gig with a chef he used to work with and it’s a great deal — a salaried position as a Kitchen Manager / Executive Sous. He’ll have normal hours, decent pay, time off to spend with his son…. the only downside is that he would no longer be cooking regularly (mostly overseeing). I’m going to be sad to see him go; he’s been one of my best friends in the kitchen. Maybe we bonded after that booty slapping incident; that joke is still widely told among the guys today and they never stopped teasing Charcuterie Guy for it. Hahaha.

Oh – I almost forgot to mention. This year, I really wanted to be one of those people who made cute little homemade gifts in jars. So last night, despite fighting a mad allergy attack, I pumped out a dozen jars of satsuma mandarin marmalade and left them at each of the guys’ stations this morning. They seemed super excited for the Christmas present and there were lots of hugs all around, even from Pastry Girl (need I reiterate the importance of being on Pastry Girl’s good side?).

I love being part of this kitchen and can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for me. Ciao~!

Talk the Talk

One of my friends posted a link to an article recently about Kitchen Slang 101. It opened with a paragraph written in what most people would probably consider to be a foreign language, but it made complete sense to me after having walked the walk and talked the talk for the past four months. (Not to mention I watched an awful lot of cooking reality TV shows prior — Gordon Ramsay fans, anyone?)

Source: The Guardian UK

Source: The Guardian UK

I thought it would be helpful for Matcha Bunny readers as well, since I know a lot of my entries (often typed with fervor and likely some delirium after a twelve-hour, caffeine-fueled shift) may sound great in my head but not make sense to anyone else. Some of the terms vary from kitchen to kitchen, but many are surprisingly universal amid the subculture of Kitchen Life.

Here are a few of my favorites from the list of Kitchen Slang 101:

1. Running the Pass / Running the Board: The “pass” is the window where food is transferred from the kitchen (“back of the house”) to the servers (“front of the house”). There is an expeditor (the executive chef, sous chef, chef du cuisine) who runs the pass, calling out orders, coordinating tickets, and making sure that subsequent courses are not fired until the diners are ready. The “board” or “rail” is positioned at each station and lined with “dupes” (duplicate tickets). The person running the board is responsible for ensuring that his/her station syncs up with other stations that have items on the same ticket so that the whole table arrives at the pass simultaneously.

2. Mise: Short for mise en place (French for “everything in its place”), this is the lifeblood of a station. A well-organized, well-stocked mise (pronounced MEEZ) will make a night go smoothly. Aside from borrowing pinches of salt though, do NOT take or rearrange someone else’s mise.

3. On the Books, Covers, #-Top: The number of people “on the books” refers to how many total people have made reservations for a given night’s service. The number of “covers” is how many diners were served on a given night. A #-top refers to the number of diners at a table; a four-top is pretty standard, a 15-top is a nightmare. You can also use #-top to refer to the table itself that can accommodate X number of diners.

4. 1/9 Pan, 1/6 Pan, 1/3 Pan, 1/2 Pan, Hotel Pan: Those metal or plastic trays have a lot of names depending on their size. The smallest one, a 1/9th pan, is so named because nine of them can fit in a full pan. From my observation, our kitchen will abbreviate the sound to “nine pan” and drop the “nth” for speed. On my first day in the kitchen, Chef took me aside and said, “Let me show you around.” He pointed to each of the pans and called them by name in rapid succession. When he finished, he asked, “Think you can remember all that?” No pressure….

5. Soigne: Seeing this one on the list made me laugh out loud. Chef says it all the time and I really had no idea exactly what it meant nor how it would be spelled. Soigne (swan-YAY) simply means with finesse. This is especially important for VIP tickets.

6. Stagiaire/Stage: That’s me :) I hope by now, all of you Matcha Bunny readers knows what this term means! Just remember, it’s not stage like a performance. It’s stage, which rhymes with fromage.

I was surprised to see so many terms compiled in one place. This list really does help you talk like a line cook… aside from cursing like a sailor. Just another reason that working in a kitchen is not for the weak of heart. haha.

Day 17: Merry Christmas!

“I’m Jewish, you insensitive jerk,” was some guy’s reply to Station-mate, who was regaling us of his hilarious cautionary tale to wish people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in order to be politically correct.

Shaved Candy-Striped Beets - aren't they cool?

Shaved Candy-Striped Beets – aren’t they cool?

Today was hectic but fun. Chef finally got to take a break for the holidays after apparently working for 32 days straight (according to Facebook), so the overall atmosphere was more relaxed and carefree. It was also a bit bittersweet as today was the last day I would get to work with Singing Hot-Apps Guy, who is moving on to another kitchen. (By the way, it has been brought to my attention that Hot Apps Guy could be misconstrued as an Appetizers Guy who is physically attractive; thus, I will be hyphenating “Hot-Apps” from now on.) But everyone was in an especially jolly mood with the approaching holidays!

I brought in a box of holiday toffee from TNT Toffee in Hermosa Beach to share (a gift from my day job). I opened up the package and left it on the table upstairs in the office where everyone has to stop by to at least pick up their aprons. As it turns out, everyone really liked it but had no idea who had brought it in until I asked someone if they had a chance to try it. Between all of them, the one-pound box had disappeared within the hour. Just in time to devour the doughnuts brought in by Catering/Events Girl.

Mint-Steeped Coffee

Mint-Steeped Coffee

I know I mention coffee on many occasions, but did I ever mention that we make ours in a pot? The first person to come in tosses coffee grounds and water into a stock pot, brings it to a boil, and strains it through a filter-lined chinois. The moment it is ready, just about everyone in the kitchen flocks over, plastic quart container in hand and fighting over the ladle. That’s right — we ladle our coffee out of a stock pot. I suppose it is the best way to make enough coffee for 15 caffeine fiends. Singing Hot-Apps Guy suggested steeping some fresh mint so I gave it a shot. When Station-mate looked at it, his eyes widened, and he whispered to me, “Hey — someone put green sh*t in your coffee….” HAHA, I love peppermint tea, so I thought it was pretty delicious!

The prep list was light today and according to the guys, it was the first night in weeks that there was no party on the books. A huge relief for us. I knocked out a handful of the items and Station Lead invited me to his cutting board for a crash course in fish butchery. He had worked at a sushi restaurant for an austere Japanese chef for years before working with Chef, so he knew his stuff. He broke down a whole loin of salmon and one of yellowtail in mere minutes. It was awesome. I love his knives too — I am definitely saving up to add a thin-bladed Japanese knife to my kit.

I was reminded of how much I love this kitchen when I observed how everyone chips in to help each other and run like a well-oiled machine. While our prep list was light, Singing Hot-Apps Guy had unintentionally prepared a batch of gnocchi dough using 6,500 grams (14 pounds!) of potato. Over twice the size of a regular batch, this meant it also took twice as long to cut and roll. Since he had to spend more time on this task, it was already 4pm or so before he was barely able to get started on ravioli. He had to move his operation over to Pastry Girl’s area, and the two Sous Chefs and I helped him out, assembly-line style. With four people tackling the ravs, we finished in no time, but not without some chitchat and joking around. Pastry Girl made a lewd comment that took one of the jokes way too far, but then she turned back and declared that, being female, she and I were the only one who could make a comment like that.

I rushed back to the Pantry station to find that Station-mate had gotten a plate of family meal for me — a generous pile of food that included deep-fried gnocchi. Chewy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, it’s like an awesome doughy tater tot. After all the snacking throughout the day, though, I didn’t really eat much of it (a good thing — I’ll elaborate later).

Service started with a bang and there was a steady flow of tickets throughout the night, with 120 on the books and many walk-ins on top of that. Charcuterie and Pizza got slammed early on, so Station-mate and I split up to help them. It got tense in the kitchen, and one of the Sous Chefs completely flipped out on Pizza Guy for being late on a ticket and then delivering a burnt pizza (“Too much character,” Station-mate calls it). A lot of yelling and arguing… it’s just like in the TV shows.

When it was fish, meat, and pasta’s time to feel the brunt of the rush, I noticed that Charcuterie Guy was working on a Vietnamese-inspired pickle. He asked me to taste it and give some feedback, and when I told him about how my dad made similar pickles, he got really excited and asked me to text him a recipe. So Dad — your ideas might star on our menu in the near future!

Shortly after we made it through the halfway mark, Station-mate wasn’t looking so good. He said he felt like it was food poisoning and that he needed to go vomit (sorry, TMI). We tried to think back on what it could have been… he and I had both eaten a lot today and many of the same things. Except one. One part of family meal was made of leftover leftovers, and I didn’t really like it so I ate around it. He apparently scarfed it down, and it was at this point that we saw a few other people feeling pretty bad as well. I told him to go get some air and I helped carry our station through the end of service.

10 o’clock rolled around and after cleaning up and breaking down our station, we went outside to hang out and unwind. The others trickled in and out, exchanging hugs and well-wishes for the holidays. Someone even shared sips of mezcal (a distilled liquor similar to tequila). More than one person mentioned that there would be Christmas gifts forthcoming, which made me feel a bit better about my belated gifts (I am planning to make everyone gifts but was not able to finish them in time to bring today). I am so thankful for this second family that I’ve had the pleasure to work with each Saturday for the past four (four!) months.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

UPDATE: Turns out I spoke too soon. That family meal spared no one and I fell ill later that night / early the next morning. Sigh. Win some, lose some? I think getting sick from a sketchy family meal really makes me one of the guys. :P

Day 16: Crazy Season

Family Meal: Cheddar Biscuits with Smoked Chicken and Coleslaw

Family Meal: Cheddar Biscuits with Smoked Chicken and Coleslaw

The holidays are upon us and that means that the restaurant industry is INSANELY busy. We have a wall right by the window where they post all of the details for private parties, catering events, and large tables (10 or more people). Yesterday (Friday the 13th), the wall was absolutely plastered with sheets including a 50-top. FIFTY. The banner at the top read, and still reads, “Welcome to Hell.”

So having seen that picture on Facebook, I made sure to arrive early today anticipating that they would have used up most of the mise and that we would have a lot of prep to do today. The only people in the kitchen were Morning Prep Cook, Morning Dishwasher, and, to my surprise, Station-mate! I hadn’t seen him in nearly a month since he started getting Saturdays off. I went to get my cook’s shirt (the shirts, by the way, hang up high in the teeny tiny kitchen bathroom) when a very embarrassed New Guy walked in on me. He was a new stage (today is only his second day) and he worked at another restaurant with New Hot Apps Guy. New Hot Apps Guy suggested that he come check out our restaurant to get some experience while he attends culinary school. I told him I am a stage as well, to which he immediately, without skipping a beat, replied, “Oh, are you on Pastry?” …….. Just because I’m a girl, I thought to myself with a mental eye-roll.

I went up to grab my apron and shoes before running back down to check the prep list. I was pleased to see that it was relatively light! They really overcompensated for the parties so there was plenty of leftover mise. It also seemed that everyone who worked Friday night was planning to come in late today. The next person to walk through the door was Fish Guy, and we all shared a laugh over how all the Asians were there earliest.

The guys had me segment oranges again, so I started with that. The guys started to trickle in, and I got some happy greetings and high-fives out of them. Have I mentioned before that despite coming in only once a week, the guys are often making the same jokes and singing the same songs as the last time I saw them? I actually kind of like it because it feels like I don’t skip a beat or miss out on much. I laughed so hard as one of the guys reminded me of Charcuterie Guy’s misappropriation of Shakespeare from last week (“A rose by any other name is still a rose,” says he).

Since we had four people on Pantry today (Station Lead, Station-mate, Former Dishwasher, and myself), we plowed through our list relatively quickly and proceeded to scatter and help out the other stations. I claimed pasta with Singing Hot Apps Guy, making short rib ravioli and rolling out fluffy potato gnocchi. That was when Singing Hot Apps Guy confided in me that he gave his two weeks’ notice yesterday and would be moving on to the same restaurant as the Sous Chef who left about a month ago. In the nearly-four months that I’ve been staging, I’ve already seen a handful of people come and go. :(

Just before service, I helped Charcuterie Guy make his orange marmalade, which I’d say is progress over what I usually do (that is, steal a piece of toast and a dollop of the orange marm to snack on when it’s not too busy). He told me before that he wants to find another restaurant so that he can be closer to his infant son, and it seems that his personal deadline is the new year. I’m really going to miss him; he’s my homie! (Even after what happened later during service…)

5 o’clock rolled around and family meal was served! Fish Guy spent all day smoking some chicken. He knew everyone (myself included) was getting sick of chicken, so he decided to smoke it so that it resembled pulled pork. Piled onto homemade biscuits and topped with a dollop of coleslaw and it was awesome. I ate three biscuits. One of the Sous Chefs ate six. We definitely needed the nourishment to push through this evening’s rush.

The tickets printed in a steady stream, and in addition to a busy restaurant, we had a 30-top of passed hors d’oeuvres and a 14-top that booked a six-course tasting menu. Tasting menu? I didn’t even know we did a tasting menu! It was intense. When the Expediting Sous Chef fired one of the courses, everything was put on hold and our entire station was cleared off to accommodate the 14 plates (or bowls). But service could not just stop, of course, so while some of us rushed to plate the tasting menu, one or two of us would continue handling the tickets on our board, taking over other nearby stations for precious counter space as needed. In a word: insane.

It wasn’t just the salads and cold appetizers. Oh no. Our station is one of only two areas in the kitchen with long, accessible counter space (the other being in the back where Pastry Girl rules over her domain). So we had to plate up our regular dishes while jostling around Hot Apps plating their truffle capellini and seared quail, Pastry plating the cheese course, and Pizza pumping out four flatbreads at a time. The cheese course was amazing. A wheel of white cheese from the Pyrenees region of France, wrapped in puff pastry and baked so the outside was golden and inside was melted. There was a bit leftover so we passed around samples. I definitely need to get the name of that cheese…

Tonight was really all about communication and lending a hand to keep stations from being in the weeds (falling behind). I stepped over to Charcuterie to help with the salumi plates. Former Dishwasher and I garnished pizzas as Pizza Guy pulled them out of the 600-degree oven. Charcuterie Guy came over to help plate the quail. He was on our station cutting and serving up the sunny-side-up quail eggs on each of the 14 plates… and he subsequently stabbed my knuckle with my own paring knife as I was reaching to get something. Poor guy, he apologized profusely. It’s no bigger than a paper cut, but it definitely startled me. I’m slowly earning my battle scars from the kitchen. haha.

Honey Bunny and I know from experience that eating tasting menus can take some time (we have been blessed with the opportunity to enjoy some excellent 3-hour dinners that way). What I hadn’t really realized until tonight was that it meant the kitchen works later as well. It was a long night tonight as I stayed until the tasting menu desserts were plated, especially since everyone was pitching in. Finally, just a few minutes after 11pm, I waved goodbye to everyone and they all congratulated me on a job well done and made me promise to come back next week. Now I truly understand why the schedule says “Welcome to crazy season…. and happy holidays!”