Monthly Archives: January 2014

Total Eclipse of the Pressure Cooker

My batch of avocado mousse - it garnered a lot of compliments!

My batch of avocado mousse – it garnered a lot of compliments!

A pressure cooker exploded today. It almost gave me a heart attack.

Backing up just a bit — our seafood purveyor was late with our delivery today. And I mean really late, like 45 minutes before service late. So Fish Guy had no choice but to par-cook his octopus in a pressure cooker to get it done in such a short amount of time. Cue the Octobomb.

I had been challenging my knife skills with brunoise cucumber for the oyster mignonette when I heard this loud sudden explosion coming from the back room. There was a hissing sound, a metallic crash as the pressure cooker managed to plunge itself into the ground from the stove where it had been simmering. I could hear Chef shouting as panic ensued. Just as I had turned around, I felt something hot land on my cheek. I think it was just some hot water, but man… the entire kitchen was COVERED floor to ceiling in octopus particles and the fishy cooking liquid. As New Hot-Apps Guy’s Brother put it, it smelled like a baitshop. Chef called out “All hands on deck!” and we dropped what we were doing to help scrub seafood tentacles off the ceiling.

In other eventful news, Station-mate seriously injured himself today with a peeler. Mine, coincidentally. We were in a rush to get a ticket done, and he was using the peeler to shave parmesan slices off a block held in his hand. He ended up running the peeler right through his fingertip and slicing his fingernail almost completely clean off. Ack. It makes me cringe just recalling that memory. I made him go take care of it and we were a man down for a while as the tickets piled up. Fortunately, he was fine after he finally stopped the blood flow, and it happened toward the end of the night so he was not incapacitated for too long. Poor guy. I hope he takes care of it tomorrow on his day off.

Anywho, those are the critical updates for tonight… other than the mention that Station-mate and I were singing Total Eclipse of the Heart at least a handful of times today to pass the time while we prepped. Hence the post title. Good times :)

Back again tomorrow. Final day of Restaurant Week. So excited.

Career Trajectory: Quarter Life Crisis

One of my friends shared a link to this article today on Facebook called the Asian American Quarter Life Crisis. I wanted to share it with my friends and Matcha Bunny readers because the story truly resonated in me. My parents have always been incredibly supportive but not without also stressing the importance of education, hard work, and persistence. And so, I could especially sympathize with this: “Most of us have been raised to think about our futures for as long as we can remember.  It starts with math workbooks.  Gifted summer camps.  Endless SAT prep.  All for the sake of fabulous college applications, which lead us to the best universities.  The best internships.  The best (read: most lucrative, most prestigious, most stable) careers, which usually fall somewhere in the vicinity of medicine, law, engineering, and (corporate) business.”

When I tell people about my latest life decision to leave the office and become a line cook, I get generally positive feedback about this lofty idea of pursuing my dreams. “Good for you!” they tell me. But their well-wishes are always tempered with hesitation that they “would never be able to do it” themselves. And it’s not cooking that they refer to… it’s giving up financial security and stability. (Of course, I’m referring to acquaintances, coworkers, clients, etc. My close friends, my family, and Honey Bunny are and have always been genuinely supportive.)

But one person I told — one of my old mentors, an SAT tutor from high school — had something a bit different to say: “In today’s economy, it’s not easy for a person to quit a secure job. But you did it! And you did it for the right reason: to follow your heart. I’m really, really proud of you. You’re an entrepreneurial artist–and I suspect that you have found your calling in life.”

If you asked me where I thought I would be five years ago, this life… is nowhere near anything I could have even begun to imagine. Come to think of it, five years ago I was this close to signing a three-year contract to teach English in Japan. And now at the restaurant, we’ve been taking on more and more stages, so it would seem that I had seized the perfect opportunity to be hired with a bit of seniority.

Just taking a moment to reflect on how funny life works out sometimes. :)

Week 3: Restaurant Week = Hell Week

Torching some peppers to make chimichurri

Torching some peppers to make chimichurri

Restaurant Week is a bit of a misnomer when they extend the event ever so slightly with each passing year. This year, kitchen brigades all over the city are subjected to TWELVE days of utter chaos. Chef personally mans the pass every evening and each station preps for a huge amount of guests. Tonight we were scheduled to have 215 on the books, which did not include any potential walk-ins (like the party of 7 at 9:59pm… grr…). The pressure is high on so many levels – additional prep work, how quickly those boards fill with tickets during service, and perhaps most importantly, the influx of new diners lured here because of the Restaurant Week prix fixe. First impressions are key — each of them is a potential return customer… or a negative blast on Yelp from a one-time visit.

I had been worried it would just be Station Lead and me since Dishwasher Turned Pantry quit, but Musician Stage showed up and was a great help today, even though he was sick as a dog and probably would have preferred staying at home to recuperate. There was an insane amount of prep but we managed to get it done. I even had enough time to help make ravioli with Charcuterie Guy who was assisting Hot Apps with their pastas. Station Lead whipped up a quick family meal.

Come service, we were absolutely slammed. At one point, even Station Lead called over one of the Sous Chefs to double check the tickets on our board compared to the dishes that Musician Stage and I were already starting. On top of it all, we even had a party of 20 with two salad options on their prix fixe menu. Sheer and utter chaos. Much yelling throughout the kitchen, especially from Chef.

But at the end of the night, Chef congratulated us all for another successful service. Before he left, he gave me a high five and said, “Great job this week” with the little wink he gives when he really means what he said.

I had Late Night tonight but luckily the flow of tickets was slow and when they did come in, they were mostly for pizza (Pizza Guy stays behind to help). Sous Chef was with me, and he and I got to chat. I told him about how I had attended an expensive dinner at which Chef was a guest chef, and it turns out that he was at that same event assisting Chef in the kitchen. Small world!

After about 45 minutes, he finally got frustrated with the lack of orders and declared an early Last Call. We cleaned up, scrubbed down a bit, and packed up our knives. At midnight, I finally left, completing my third week of working 3 days in a row at the restaurant and my very first Restaurant Week experience. I’m exhausted but pleased and so glad that I made this decision. I love Kitchen Life… even if my feet don’t. And riding the wave of service during the intense rush feels awesome.

Despite having witnessed the chaos firsthand, Honey Bunny and I are going out for Restaurant Week tomorrow night. I’m really looking forward to our date night but I can’t help but feel a little bit bad for the kitchen. After all, our schedule reads “Restaurant Week Nightmare” at the bottom. ;) Time for some much needed rest!

Just Got Paid

Frisee Salad with Duck Egg, Blood Orange Segments, Truffle Vinaigrette

Frisee Salad with Duck Egg, Blood Orange Segments, Truffle Vinaigrette

Thank God it’s Friday night and I
just-just-just-just-juuuuuuust got paid!
~ ‘N Sync

The guys all seemed extra excited today… the reason? Payday!!! But more on that later.

Station Lead, Station Mate, Sassy Stage, and i were on Pantry today. We had assigned the Stage to clean oysters and pick frisee. Each task had its own disaster despite clear instructions and explanations. With the oysters, we arrange the cleaned ones on a bed of ice in a shallow perforated pan nested inside a solid pan (to catch the melting water). This keeps the oysters from drowning in fresh water and/or suffocating. When Charcuterie Guy went into the walk-in, he noticed that there was a shallow SOLID pan full of drowning oysters resting atop a large perforated pan. We showed Sassy Stage his mistake and he didn’t seem to care that he could have destroyed expensive product and even gotten customers violently ill. Oy…

But almost worst than that though was the frisee. I remember what a pain it was to pick frisee when I had started as a stage, but you improve each day and you have to understand that it’s just a job that needs to get done. But Sassy Stage did something I didn’t think anyone would do. I was chopping almonds for one of our garnishes when I heard Charcuterie Guy call my name. I turned around and he was holding 5 full, unpicked heads of frisee… that he had pulled out of the trash. It turns out that Sassy Stage was trying to hide them so that he would have to pick less. Somehow I don’t think Chef would appreciate throwing away money because of someone’s laziness. Station Lead was livid.

On brighter notes… I got a bit of respite by poaching eggs on the Hot Line. Fish Guy taught me a few tricks for doing batches of ten at a time, which really helped a lot. After chilling in the ice bath, I trimmed off the stray whites and arranged them on a plastic tray. As I carried it into the walk-in, I heard Chef’s voice exclaiming “Nice poached eggs there, young lady!” I patted myself on the back and it made my day better.

We had to scramble to finish our prep and set up in time for service. It felt like people were waiting outside for 5pm when the doors open because just as I was picking up my fork to shovel down some family meal, the tickets started flowing. Happy Hour flew by in the blink of an eye and before I knew it, Restaurant Week orders flooded in. I was glad I didn’t have to run the board, as it filled up quickly. Without the added pressure, I could focus on keeping my head down and putting out pretty salads and tartares. H came in with her friend for dinner, but unfortunately we were so slammed that I couldn’t say hi. Floor Manager did tell me which table she was at so I could look out for the ticket and make sure their frisee salads were extra nice.

We did 380 covers tonight, and it made the evening move so quickly. It was 10 o’clock before we knew it and everyone cleaned and scrubbed down the entire kitchen. By 10:45 or so, all of the guys were still keeping busy. It turns out that every two weeks on Friday night, Chef is completely oblivious to the fact that everyone stays late in order to wait for their paychecks. Eventually he started handing them out. His face lit up in a big smile as he handed me mine — my first paycheck from the restaurant! Woooooooo!

I was supposed to have Late Night but since Dishwasher Turned Pantry unexpectedly quit, the Sous Chefs said I would work Saturday’s Late Night and Station Mate would pick up tonight’s. Sadly for him, it was his sixth day in a row working and Late Night was the LAST thing he wanted to do. Around 11:30, we both got the go-ahead to go home.

Honey Bunny and I went out to a Brazilian place for a late dinner (the same place as last Friday). It felt really nice to share a meal together despite my crazy schedule. :)

One more day before my “weekend”!

Taking Charge

Happy Hour Salmon Tartare

Happy Hour Salmon Tartare

Thursday morning it looked like it would only be Station Mate and me tackling the restaurant week prep and service (a daunting task for sure). Shortly after we said our good mornings, he told, or rather warned, me about a new stage that had started with us this week. Let’s call him Sassy Stage for now… he is already notorious among the entire kitchen for his bad attitude. (On a side note, Musician Stage whom we met last week was formally hired and will be joining us on Pantry.)

Chef was there bright and early and overheard plenty of the not-so-flattering feedback about Sassy Stage. As Station Mate and I were divvying up the prep list, I noticed a new face that must belong to Sassy Stage. Chef noticed his presence as well and walked over to him for a stern pep talk. “You really need to be at the top of your game today. Listen to what these guys tell you. No attitude. Besides,” he paused to point at me, “she’s a tough one.” Station mate chimed in, “Yeah, [Matcha Bunny] runs a tight ship.” :) Pleased to hear their affirmations, I didn’t know what else to say other than “Thank you, Chef!”

We got Sassy Stage started on a task. It took him 3 hours to pick frisee. He spent the first hour doing a poor job, his excuse being that he got away with similar quality the day before. Charcuterie Guy saw that Station Mate and I were busy, so he did his part with helping us mentor the new stage. He checked his work, declared it insufficient, and called me over asking me how I wanted to address it. It was pretty bad. I showed Sassy Stage how to do it right and asked him to go back and fix what was already “done.”

It was then that I realized… not only was I to run the board later that night during service, I was also in charge of keeping the station organized and maintaining quality control during prep. Not gonna lie, I liked it when even Station Mate (who has been here much longer than I) would come over and ask me to taste the avocado mousse he made and provide feedback. I welcomed the opportunity to learn this station backwards and forwards. More on this later.

Service was a madhouse tonight with the influx of restaurant week diners. It was also hectic because of having the special dishes from the restaurant week menu in addition to the regular repertoire. But I managed to keep control over the board. The sous chefs stepped in periodically to make sure we weren’t in the weeds, but I think they were a bit impressed when I had delegated the correct dishes and set out the appropriate plates to match the tickets on order. A few minor hiccups here and there, but nothing that couldn’t be ironed out. At least Chef didn’t yell at us.

At one point in the midst of the chaos, Sassy Stage asked me something and I asked him to say it again, gesturing to my ear to show I hadn’t heard him. He sighed, rolled his eyes, and raised his voice in an aggressive tone. Not something that anyone should have to deal with during the dinner rush. I stopped what I was doing, stood up, looked him straight in the eyes, and said, “Look. If I ask you nicely to repeat yourself, it’s because I could not hear you over everything that’s going on. Don’t get frustrated at me.” His face turned a bit ashen. I realized that Sous Chef had witnessed the whole exchange and gave me a little “good for you” smile for keeping my station in line.

Later when things calmed down, he apologized with the excuse that he has trouble controlling his tone and inflection. I had been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but to be honest, working a 12-hour shift with that kind of attitude, intentional or not, is difficult. I told him that Station Mate and I are the nicest people on this station and that he had better figure it out before meeting the relentless Station Lead tomorrow.

At 9:45pm, Chef made an announcement to the entire kitchen. “Let’s play a game,” he said as he set a timer for 7 minutes. “Anyone who is not completely done breaking down and cleaning their station by the time this timer runs out is fired.” It was an amazingly effective scare tactic to make 15 guys haul ass and clean. Two tickets came in for our station while we were packing up, so we barely missed the 7 minute deadline. Luckily Chef was, of course, joking. But we all moved quickly anyway on the off-chance that he wasn’t.

I asked Station Mate if he could show me how to make the prep list and do the ordering of ingredients, the last task of the night. He grabbed the clipboard and off we went to check the walk-in, dry storage area, and the back fridge. How many pounds of radishes would yield the 3 quarts we needed for Friday night service? How many cases of arugula will we need?  Do we have enough beets? What do we need to prep tomorrow to get us through the next few days?

In the walk-in, we started to talk about his “promotion.” He was recently given notice that he would be moving onto Charcuterie when Charcuterie Guy leaves. I am really happy for him and I think he truly deserves it. I did also admit to him that I was a bit jealous because of my own ambitions (if you’ll recall, when I told Chef I would take this job, I had stated my interest in moving on to that station). He is a really nice guy though… He said he knows how much I wanted it, and he told me that he wants us to learn together. In the meantime, he mentioned that I would be leading the Pantry station. Learning the ins and outs. Perhaps even taking over for Station Lead entirely (he is actually one of the sous chefs as well but has always been on Pantry on the days I worked). While disappointed that I won’t be moving on to another station as quickly as I had hoped, I am grateful for the leadership opportunity and what it means: Chef, the Sous Chefs, and Station Lead all have confidence in my abilities as a line cook and a leader. All in due time.

[Also — yesterday Honey Bunny sent me the sweetest “just because” text message. It was so nice to read it at the end of my very long day. In an effort to spend more time together, he adjusted his work schedule to stay home a bit longer in the mornings and make up for it by leaving the office later. Thank you so much for your support, Honey Bunny! I love you!]