Monthly Archives: January 2014

From the Depths of My Sole

Okay, okay. I’ll stop with the fish puns. At first I was just doing it for the halibut, but then it really cod on and I was hooked. But enough floundering around – there will be future opportunaties to krill you with laughter. Time to tackle the update I had promised you.

Remember how I mentioned that Fish Guy gave me a portion of an entree he had created? Well, I cooked it up on Sunday per his instructions, and here it is:

Voila - Petrale Sole with a Brioche Crust

Voila – Petrale Sole with a Brioche Crust!

Stunning, right? It was absolutely delicious even without any of its accoutrements. The crust was crispy and buttery, the fish itself was sweet and delicate. Honey Bunny has been on a white fish kick lately, so this was the perfect appetizer to share.

The Petrale sole will be one of the entree selections for our Restaurant Week menu, and when it’s served up in all its glory, here’s how it will look:

Petrale Sole, Purple Carrots, King Oyster Mushrooms & Meyer Lemon

Petrale Sole, Purple Carrots, King Oyster Mushrooms & Meyer Lemon (thanks, Instagram!)

I really love the brioche crust idea. That’s an idea I’ll dolphinitely be trying out in our home kitchen soon!

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Week 2: Heart and Sole

Family Meal: Spicy Tomato Soup with Cheese on Toast

Family Meal: Spicy Tomato Soup with Cheese on Toast

This was my second successful week with three days in a row at the restaurant. I’ve fallen into routine with the guys, in a good way, except for my aching feet. I have slightly flat feet and I knew coming into this industry that I would be among the cooks with plantar fasciitis, but nothing could quite prepare me for the excruciating pain in the soles of my feet by Hour 12. Still… totally worth it.

Today was a bit difficult in the sense that Dishwasher-turned-Pantry did not want to do a damn thing. I don’t dislike him, but I recognize that there is a clear personality clash — he likes to talk a big game and act like a tough kid from the ghetto. And usually, that’s fine by me as long as he still finishes his share of the work. But today, he literally did three things from our prep list… by comparison, Station Lead and I each knocked out about a dozen. Charcuterie Guy could sense my frustration though and assured me that working hard to make up for his slacking off will only make me a better cook/chef.

On top of it all, I got my first burn in the kitchen. I was carrying a full sheet tray of beets (about 10kg worth) that had been roasting in the oven when my towel (aka pot holder / oven mitt) slipped and my bare palm made contact with the hot metal. AHHH! I was just glad I didn’t drop the beets. That would have spelled disaster adding salt to the literal and figurative wound.

Luckily, I had a game plan. I knew I couldn’t stand all day running cold water over my hand (as I would have done at home) because sooner or later, the guys would notice and call me out on it. So I moved on to a carefully selected task — poaching the eggs. It was the only job that would give me a very legitimate excuse to stand next to an ice bath (into which I dunked my injured hand). Unfortunately, it continued to sting for a good hour or so before finally forming a blister. (I wish I had remembered to pack the burn cream that L had gifted to me.) Sigh. Also I later discovered, while tossing a salad in an acidic vinaigrette, some random nicks and cuts on my hands and arms… casualties of the work environment. Just another part of becoming “one of the guys,” I suppose.

It seemed as though every station was busy today, and family meal was a bit of an afterthought. Station Lead whipped up a spicy tomato soup paired with cheese on toast. The toast was especially good — mozzarella, gruyere, and parmesan tossed in worcestershire sauce, sprinkled onto slices of white bread, and left to broil until the cheese was melty and golden. Yum… I went outside to eat, and coincidentally Station Lead was on a smoke break. He said that he knows it’s frustrating to work with Dishwasher-Turned-Pantry, but that I was doing a great job picking up his slack and to just keep doing what I was doing.

Service came in waves again today, with the occasional lull abruptly broken by a full board of tickets. Dishwasher-Turned-Pantry seemed to have found his focus because we barreled through those tickets with no issues, despite Station Lead leaving to help Pastry Girl. Someone had advised that if I want to work the Hot Line someday that I should take every opportunity I can to observe them at work. So when we had finally cleared our board and I could hear the printer go silent for at least a few minutes, I wandered toward the pass. Chef was not here tonight so I was watching Sous Chef (expediting), Meat Guy, Fish Guy, New Fish Guy, New Hot Apps Guy, and the other Sous Chef. They moved seamlessly as a unit, grabbing this pan and that sautoir and reaching into their low ovens. I watched as the expediting Sous Chef plated up dishes… when he could, he would describe to me how they prepare the ingredients or where the inspiration came from. He was particularly proud of a dish he had developed and gotten on the menu. After he plated the customer’s order, he added a few scraps and put together a mini-dish for me to sample. I thought it was a nice gesture (and it was really good — an elevated spin on southern shrimp & grits).

We broke down our station and cleaned up around 9:30 but sadly, a few last minute orders trickled in at 9:45 and we had to scramble to assemble those. I had stayed around to help some people with their cleanup when Fish Guy approached me and gave me his last order of a fish dish from his mise – sole with a brioche crust. He explained how to prepare it and I was excited to take it home and make it for Honey Bunny!

Anyway, today made me realize that not everyone is cut out for Kitchen Life. Some people can’t last more than an hour and some people keep sticking with it even though they could not care less about the quality of the work they create. But I gave up a lucrative career in the office (not to mention my free time at home that could be spent cuddling with Honey Bunny) for this. I love this life — the cooking, the teamwork, the adrenaline rush during dinner service, the beautiful creations I get to plate. So I realized, earlier I was frustrated with Dishwasher-Turned-Pantry because we look at our lives differently. To me, this is not just a job. It’s a life-changing opportunity for which I have given up so much in hopes of gaining that much more (and so far, things are looking pretty darn good).

I’ll let y’all know how the fish came out when we make it tomorrow night ;)

Friday (Late) Night Lights

Tongue Terrine

Tongue Terrine

Last night, I was scheduled for my very first “Late Night” shift. From 10pm to midnight, the restaurant has a limited menu available for patrons at the bar and communal table. Each Saturday night when the new week’s schedule is posted, it’s a bit of a gamble whether or not you’ll have to do a Late Night shift. There are generally two — one to run the hot line and one to run the cold line. Pizza Guy and Pastry Girl stick around to help. Sometimes, if the night is slow enough, they will close up early. But Sous Chef and I were the lucky ones who were assigned to a Friday night Late Night shift (which rarely ends early).

The kitchen felt eerily empty after most of the guys left. Especially so because we had a new stage join us yesterday. Let’s call him Musician Stage for now. His background was like something out of a movie — packed up his bags and left behind his Midwest home to move out west to Hollywood. He played in a few bands and was hoping to make it big in the City of Angels. When that didn’t pan out as expected, he decided to get in the kitchen and found us. Station Lead assigned him to trail me for the day, 1) to get him out of his hair and 2) to get my opinion on whether he would be a good fit. (He seemed hardworking and listens to instructions… so far, so good.)

I got to spend more time on the Hot Line during prep, which is always a welcomed sign of progress. Since our immersion circulator broke, we had to replace our 56-degree eggs with poached ones. After poaching off over twenty eggs, I moved on to the deep fryer to finish some of our salad garnishes. It’s seriously hot on the well-named Hot Line, especially with this unusually warm winter we’re having, but I can’t wait for my chance to tackle the challenge of working service on the Hot Line someday. (The Hot Line, by the way, consists of the Meat, Fish, and Hot Apps stations.)

Service had its spikes… a handful would print at once and then a lull. Around 7 or so, someone gave us a heads-up that the front of the house basically just sat the entire dining room at one time and to anticipate being bombarded with tickets. And bombarded we were, handling at least 30 covers in the span of 10 minutes. Like the calm before the storm, I could see the quiet settle over the kitchen just before the second courses started raining down on the Hot Line. I overheard at least 5 tickets fired simultaneously at any given time. It was a mad house!

Station Lead and I worked well together today. Maybe he was in a good mood or maybe I’m getting better (I think it was a little of both). At some point the topic of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came up and he asked, “And the best Sherlock Holmes is….?” I replied with Benedict Cumberbatch and his response was a resounding “YESSSSS!” We bonded over watching BBC. Dishwasher-turned-Pantry was on the station with us too, but he expressed no interest in the topic.

Charcuterie Guy kept me company for part of my Late Night shift. Luckily the food orders on the Cold Line were fairly slow. I think I did three or four terrines, a salad, and a few orders of deviled eggs. In the downtime, I went over to keep Sous Chef company, who was a little more bogged down with orders of grilled cheese and fish & chips. He loves to talk about food, especially dishes that he misses from his homeland (Chile), so our conversations generally gravitate toward eating more so than cooking. At 11:50pm, we finally cleaned up and headed home.

Slightly limping as I hobbled into the house, Honey Bunny asked if I’d be interested in a late meal at this Brazilian place nearby. I hopped into the shower and we went out to paint the town red. I can’t remember the last time we stayed out till 2am, but that pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) and an impromptu date night with Honey Bunny really made my night. Hence the delay in posting this entry until this morning.

Now it’s time to start a new day. Can’t wait to see what adventures await!

Rocketman (and Woman)

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time ‘til touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man….

The Ticket-Stabber

The Ticket-Stabber

Prep today felt more comfortable as Station Lead had called in sick and Station-mate and I were left to our own devices. We work really well together as a team, so we knocked out the prep list with no major issues (other than finishing up some prep at the start of service). As we were working, Chef belted out Rocketman in his best Elton John impression. It was awesome.

A few quick updates for tonight (so I can get to bed and rest up for tomorrow):

1) We had a new stage join us today. He arrived at 11 all decked out in a chef’s coat with his culinary school’s name embroidered on it. He told me that Chef instructed him to find Fish Guy and when I told Fish Guy he had a stage today, his immediate reply was “I don’t need no stage!” He didn’t stay long anyway. Around 12:30, he said he had to go. Apparently, he thought he would be observing rather than participating and he also “didn’t think he would have to stay this long.” The guys all laughed… really hard. It turns out that this happens frequently with stages, which may also explain the slight distrust when I first joined the kitchen. They also patted me on the back for sticking it out and now becoming “one of the guys.”

2) Surprise health inspector visits send everyone into a frenzy. Today was the very first I’d experienced, and it was a madhouse as people rushed around, making sure all of our setup was up to code and that we had no violations. The visit itself seemed pretty smooth (we got a great score) but it definitely disrupted service as I felt too nervous to make anything for fear of messing up. The tickets piled on…

3) Speaking of tickets, I got to run the board today in Station Lead’s absence. I was put in charge of making sure Station-mate (and Charcuterie Guy, who would occasionally jump on to help) were working the correct tickets and had the proper number of dishes “all day.” It was a rush. Today was not particularly busy but the inspection threw us off and Station-mate wasn’t feeling too well… still, we overcame those obstacles and finished service on a strong note.

I checked the schedule and it turns out I have “late night” tomorrow. That means I (and another person) work an extra hour or two when the restaurant is still open and has a limited menu. Station-mate came over today and whispered, “Did you know you have Late Night tomorrow? You just started working here! That’s messed up!” Hahaha. That’s okay though; I’m welcoming every opportunity that comes my way to show what I’m capable of. As one of my friends pointed out, I’m well-suited to Kitchen Life because I love to face challenges (and find it all the more satisfying to overcome them).

Another day at the restaurant tomorrow. Adieu~!

Week 1: I Survived Three Days in a Row

If you look closely, you can see flecks of black truffle... probably the most expensive ingredient my knife had ever sliced through. (Station Lead moved too quickly for me to take a proper photo - VIP pasta order for Chef's friends.)

If you look closely, you can see flecks of black truffle… probably the most expensive ingredient my knife had ever sliced through. (Station Lead moved too quickly for me to take a proper photo – VIP pasta order for Chef’s friends.)

Before I go on to today’s events, I was told that yesterday didn’t just FEEL busy, it truly was insane – we did over 400 covers! When Station-mate came in today, Station Lead told him about last night, finishing his story with “And [Matcha Bunny] kicked ass!” I’ll be honest, I gave myself a little pat on the back after hearing that. I deserve it; I wasn’t able to sleep well because my mind was still reeling from all of the quickfire thinking and processing.

We had a LOT of prep to do today since last night’s service wiped out our mise en place and backup ingredients. On top of that, there was an off-site party today that required a lot of extra work. Good thing we had three of us to complete the job without a moment to spare. Everyone else was slammed for the same reasons, so family meal was an afterthought and it wasn’t even ready until 20 minutes after service had already begun. Roasted chicken mixed with fries… like a pseudo-poutine (minus the cheese and gravy). Or as Honey Bunny likes to call it, Chicken Surprise. At that point, I was so hungry I didn’t even care. Chef had had a busy day running around, making sure everything for the party was packed up, transporting the goods and some of his guys over to the venue, then rushing back in time for service so even he grabbed a pile of fries for himself.

Just before service, Station Lead and Chef asked me if I was tired. My mentality is that honesty is the best policy, so I replied that I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit tired. Note to self: never admit to Chef (or Station Lead) that you’re tired. It WILL result in the immediate delivery of a double espresso which you will have to knock back like a shot of tequila. (Apparently I lucked out with just the one… turns out back in the “old days” they would keep the coffee coming regardless of how late in the evening it was getting.) After I finished it, he remarked, “We’ll make a man out of you yet!” Pastry Girl overheard and let out a dramatic “NOOOOOO! Don’t do it! Don’t give in!”

Service was fast-paced but not overwhelmingly so. Except for a 19-top that decided to order off the full menu rather than selecting a prix fixe… and this one time that our printer decided to stop printing tickets and we had to complete three or four tables on the fly. Luckily, we were able to push through and complete a relatively smooth service. I can already feel myself becoming more familiar with how the kitchen runs: identifying which dish would “drive” the ticket (take the longest to cook and therefore be the determinant factor of how much time we had before meeting at the window), calling for times, giving 1-minute warnings. But when it got super hectic, I just waited for Station Lead to assign me my next dishes (somehow it felt like for every ticket, Station-mate and I would each work on multiple dishes simultaneously).

My feet were KILLING me by the end of the night though, similar to the my very first day staging in the kitchen. By the time 9 o’clock rolled around, I could not wait to go home to Honey Bunny, get our routine Saturday night boba, shower, and apply a generous slathering of Penetrex to the soles of my feet. Station Lead gave us the go-ahead to leave a bit earlier (around 10:30) but not before saying that I did a great job this week… and to reiterate that he will continue to be tough on me, as he is on Station-mate and Dishwasher-turned-Pantry Guy. I noticed that he takes a slightly different tone with me though; he seems genuinely interested in pushing me so hard so that my “best” can keep improving. Challenge accepted.

I knew it would be difficult, but knowing and doing (as I’ve quickly learned) are two very different things. And boy am I exhausted. I am so happy that tomorrow is Sunday and I finally get a day off to relax, go out to eat someone else’s cooking (or at the very least, cook at my own pace without hundreds of hungry patrons waiting), and get some much needed rest. Tired as I am though, I have no regrets… except wishing for more hours in the day to spend with Honey Bunny. As I said to Chef last night, so far so good.

Celebratory Meal: homemade chicken noodle soup, boba, and complimentary muffin from the boba shop owner.

Celebratory Meal: homemade chicken noodle soup, boba, and complimentary muffin from the boba shop owner.