Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Time of Your Life

Chicken Liver Mousse - we got some new jars!

Chicken Liver Mousse – we got some new jars!

We had something new in the kitchen today. Music. According to Sous Chef S, after seven years of working with Chef, the idea of playing music during prep has been only casually mentioned but quickly dismissed. But Fish Guy set up his speaker set, hooked up a smart phone with Spotify, and we were jamming to Cheap Trick’s I Want You To Want Me. We had a lot of prep to do but with the classic rock playing in the background, time passed quickly.

At one point, Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) came on and some of the guys groaned at the “lameness” of the song. I teased, But guys! It’s like high school! We’re graduating and never going to see each other again.. isn’t it sweet?¬†They thought it was hilarious and, since we are all around the same age, agreed that the song takes us back to high school. Too funny.

We had two new faces in the kitchen too — Fish Stage trailed Fish Guy today while later in the afternoon, Pizza Stage showed up to shadow Pizza Guy. And I had Musician Stage on my station today, so the kitchen was pretty well staffed. Chef even came over to my station during prep and said, “Since it’s the two of you on Pantry today, I expect greatness.” He went on to explain that he has noticed that Sassy Stage is our weak link. Nothing gets past him!

Confit Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes - slow cooked in olive oil infused with thyme, garlic, and bay leaf aromatics

Confit Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes – slow cooked in olive oil infused with thyme, garlic, and bay leaf aromatics

More new things. Our menu has slight changes which include a new dish for our station. First, a bed of ricotta in a shallow dish, drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of fleur de sel and black pepper. In a small bowl, mix together confit heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved raw cherry tomatoes, shaved red onion, and chopped basil. Dress with balsamic vinaigrette and arrange over the ricotta. Garnish with toasted sourdough croutons and mustard frill. It was colorful and delicious, like our own version of an Italian caprese salad. But sadly, I waited and waited all night for the order to come in. I didn’t even know what it would be called on the ticket.

Then, at 8:15pm, a ticket rang in. Station-mate, whose station is closest to the ticket printer, pulled the ticket and sounded perplexed as he called out, “Tomato salad…?” I grabbed the ticket and peeked out around the corner to ask Chef, “Is this the new salad?” He nodded and I let out an excited “Wooo!” Apparently there were a lot of guys hanging around because I was suddenly bombarded with comments of “OMG that was so cute. Why are you so excited about a salad?” And Chef… Chef was laughing his head off! (Which is a very good thing as he had been yelling and shouting all throughout service, targeting his wrath primarily at Fish Guy and at our station…) Anyway, I eagerly plated the salad and presented it to Chef, quite proud of myself.

After a fairly slow dinner service, I helped Musician Stage break down the station. He scrubbed the station while I handled the prep list. Sous Chef J gave me advice on how to order fish, both very popular appetizers. It was very helpful to hear his perspective, based on his experience, and he seemed flattered that I asked. As I was placing my order for tomorrow, Sous Chef J told me about some of the high-end, fine-dining dishes that he used to plate when he worked with Chef at another restaurant. Michelin-star-worthy, he described it. When I’ve learned all I can learn here, that’s where I want to move next — a fine-dining, white-tablecloth, Michelin-worthy restaurant.

Before he left, Chef remarked, “We’re going to get you full-time soon, right?” and winked. I’m glad that he finds me to be a valuable asset rather than an annoying liability. I can’t wait to truly take the bull by the horns and dedicate my full focus to building my culinary career. Just one more week.

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Week 6: Filling In

Sesame Crackers

Sesame Crackers

Station Lead was back in the kitchen today, and Chef put him on garde manger with me and Musician Stage. I was a little bit disappointed because I prefer working with the sous chefs, but you can’t deny that he works at breakneck speeds during prep. We were finished with our fairly extensive list by 4pm, with the last task being these sesame crackers made from pizza dough rolled out on a pasta roller. (The guys on Hot Apps use the Kitchenaid attachment, but we also have this hand-crank Marcato model that’s coincidentally the exact same as the one Honey Bunny and I have at home.)

Rolling out pizza dough for the crackers

Rolling out pizza dough for the crackers

Service flew by in the blink of an eye today. We ended up doing about 350 covers, and though our station was able to keep up, some of the others were not so lucky. Hot Apps, in particular, went down hard. We were a bit shorthanded for a Saturday and Sous Chef S was floating for most of the night. He made his way back to Charcuterie just in time for an order for a King platter, immediately followed by a Prince. It’s a lot of work, so I jumped over to help — he sliced the terrines while I garnished them with their corresponding marmalade, mustard, jam… good thing I’d been paying attention to the rest of the cold line’s dishes! Just as I was placing a sprig of chervil on one of the terrines, another ticket came in. A second King. Sous Chef S laughed at the ridiculous influx of charcuterie orders and we moved quicker to push the first two platters out. That was a fun way to end the night, and it felt nice to have reached a point where I am familiar enough with the other stations on the Cold Line that I can step in to help and actually be useful.

I am definitely relieved to finally have a day off. It’s a difficult life – being in the kitchen – and it’s only going to get harder, physically and mentally. But I’m loving it and I am so looking forward to doing this full time. Just two more weeks of this weird half & half schedule… March 5th is my official last day in the office!

Tough Love

Adorable teeny-tiny ravioli for the pea soup. They're about 1 inch in diameter. So cute!

Adorable teeny-tiny ravioli for the pea soup. They’re about 1 inch in diameter. So cute!

Today was much more organized since I personally made the list yesterday and have a better bearing on the status of our station. And my brand new knife, which is still currently unnamed, certainly aided me during prep. There’s something magical about how efficiently you can work when you have a sharp knife in your hands. And I think my investment in this new badass knife shows the guys that I’m serious about succeeding in the kitchen.

Prep went smoothly and we even finished our list early enough to help out other stations. It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to help Sous Chef S with pasta. Service started off with a bang. Happy Hour was super busy! I had to swallow my pride and ask for help to get the many, many oysters shucked (we literally had dozens of oysters on order at any given time). Chef seemed especially hard on me today too, always checking to make sure my dishes were timely and soigne. He personally came over to show me a new way to plate one of the newer dishes, and when he reached into our lowboy refrigerator for the slices of pickled cucumber, he found a super thick mutant of a slice. He threw it down on the cutting board, looked me in the eye, and said it’s not good enough. It didn’t matter that the cucumbers were sliced days ago, when I wasn’t even in the kitchen. This was my station and I was personally responsible for its mise en place. It sucked, but I worked through it anyway. It’s also all the more reason for me to look forward to working here full-time; I’ll physically be in the kitchen more and can have better control over quality.

It seemed that others noticed the exchange as well. I had Late Night with Fish Guy tonight. Ha – that sounds like the name of a parody talk show. Fish Guy has always taken a personal interest in make sure I was learning the “right” way to do things (not the lazy way) and that I had the proper tools (like recommending the knife shop I went to). He asked me about what happened and he told me that Chef only does that because he cares. He wants me to improve and that’s his way of pushing me to do better. Fish Guy brought up an example — Other Pantry Guy (the one who quit back in November). Fish Guy said that Chef rarely yelled at him, and that the reasoning was that he didn’t care. Other Pantry Guy didn’t seem to want to put forth effort and take pride in his work, so Chef returned the favor of indifference. So there’s a lot of tough love in this kitchen, if you’re worthy enough to receive it.

Honey Bunny was already asleep by the time I got home at 12:30, so I showered and fixed myself a bowl of instant ramen before typing up this entry. TIme to hit the hay!

My Shiny New Mac Knife

Mac Professional Chef's Knife

Mac Professional Chef’s Knife

Honey Bunny and I made great use of our President’s Day holiday this week — a visit to the fish market, a three-course lunch at a cute Italian restaurant, and knife shopping. I had been wanting a new chef’s knife for a while now, ever since I knew that I wanted to pursue Kitchen Life as a career. Fish Guy recommended this particular knife shop so I could actually see and feel the products in person. I had already done my research and bookmarked a few I wanted to try (as well as the appropriate pricing). The guy at the shop seemed a bit surprised that I was the one doing the shopping, and even more so when I rejected the 8 inch blade in favor of a 10 inch. I ended up selecting this one. And it’s beautiful.

So I was especially excited for my day in the kitchen today so I could test it out. Everyone complimented me on it — Sous Chef J, Station-mate, Meat Guy, Fish Guy… even Chef! In fact, Chef borrowed it for a fish filleting job he was working on. And it would disappear from my cutting board from time to time as Sous Chef J borrowed it for particular tasks. But no one could love it as much as I did. It sliced through shallots like butter and made the finest ribbons of mint chiffonade I’d ever seen without a single bruise. Love love love.

When I got to the restaurant today, the first thing I did was check the prep list. Five items. Out of literally dozens. That can’t be right. So I ended up spending the first hour setting up our lowboy refrigerators and double-checking the list. Either they had no idea how much mise we would need for the weekend ahead, or they were just lazy, trying to get away with as little work as possible. Anyway, I finally had an accurate prep list and got to work with the help of Sous Chef J. It wasn’t until 1pm that Musician Stage finally showed up.

Blistered tomatoes, ready to be confit

Blistered tomatoes, ready to be confit

Oh, and today I learned a really cool way to peel tomatoes. If you toss them into a deep fryer on high heat, they’ll just sit and fizzle for a bit. And then suddenly, POP! POP! POP! The skins will blister and explode. Just pull them, drop into an ice bath, and pluck away the dried bits of skin. SO COOL. It saved me a ton of time while making confit tomatoes today.

Service was forgettable. Chef left around 6pm so Sous Chef J ran the pass, leaving just me and Musician Stage on our station. We did just fine though and kept up with the flow of service. All in all, a good night.

I should name my knife. Station-mate calls his Excalibur. Thoughts?

Week 6: Valentine’s Weekend

The festive chalkboard at the restaurant

The festive chalkboard at the restaurant

Another quick update (in an effort to spend less time in front of the computer and more time living and enjoying life). On the bright side, lots of photos :)

Friday, Valentine’s Day, was INTENSE. Everyone and their significant others decided to dine out for the occasion. The restaurant offered a three course prix fixe menu. Our station had four of the five appetizer options, so that was rough. We went straight from prep to service without any family meal. At first, service wasn’t so bad; after all, despite having over 300 on the books, the overwhelming majority were two-tops — couples going out on an intimate date. Additionally, Station Lead was (apparently) released from jail and rejoined the team. But then a party arrived and I ended up taking over the pizza station’s work area to build seven truffle caesar salads. It was chaos. Eventually, it got to a point where we stopped looking at tickets and just started making things as Chef called out for them.

Ahi Tuna Carpaccio

Ahi Tuna Carpaccio

 

My favorite dish was the ahi tuna carpaccio. It tastes delicious and it looks beautiful. Chef asked me what I thought of the dish and I told him I love it. Turns out that he and the guests did as well because we’ve added it to the regular dinner menu. Yay! Ahi tuna tartare/mince, ahi tuna slices, pickled Persian cucumbers, avocado mousse, bits of blood oranges, icicle radishes, and micro cilantro, dressed with a bergamot orange and castelvetrano olive vinaigrette. Complex but amazing… like so many of our other dishes.

Icicle Radishes (they curl up when shocked in ice water - super cool!)

Icicle Radishes (they curl up when shocked in ice water – super cool!)

Tonight’s service wasn’t much better. Apparently the Saturday after Valentine’s Day is also a popular night for going out. On the bright side, prep went much smoother today and we had time for arguably the best family meal ever. We had a good amount of leftover 36 ounce steaks (the rib eye for two) from Valentine’s Day, so we seared it all up for us to enjoy for dinner along with some roasted vegetables. Yum!!! Also, since both nights were so ridiculously chaotic, Chef treated all of us to a round of beers at the end of each night. Much needed and very much appreciated. Happy fucking Valentine’s Day, said Chef, exhausted.

Cheers!

Cheers!

The best part though, was finishing up my Late Night shift on Friday night and coming home to Honey Bunny. I was feeling dog-tired after a 14-hour day and ready to just go inside and plop down on the couch. But just as I was about to turn the key, I noticed a post-it that read “Knock First!” I obliged and heard Honey Bunny’s voice beckoning me inside. I was greeted by La Vie En Rose¬†playing on his phone, and he was sitting at the dining table all set up with roses, candles, a bottle of bubbly, and smoked salmon crostinis. SO ROMANTIC!

Valentine's Day Surprise!

Valentine’s Day Surprise!

The guys asked me about my Valentine’s Day at work today and they all gave Honey Bunny mad props for planning around my crazy schedule. It’s not easy being the significant other of someone living Kitchen Life, but I really, really appreciated the surprise, even though it was already 12:30am when I finally got home. And now that I finally pushed through three and a half days of work at the restaurant, I can’t wait to spend a real two-day weekend of quality time with Honey Bunny. :) Till next time!