Monthly Archives: March 2014

Week 11: My Station

The Orange-Apricot Marmalade I made yesterday

The Orange-Apricot Marmalade I made yesterday

I love having my own station. Except when I think I had my mise en place all prepared and ready for the days I’m away from the restaurant but it turned out that Saturday night service ate up a good amount of my products. Yup. That happened.

I feel like I’m always making chicken liver mousse. It’s one of the most popular items on our menu and one that we are renowned for, so I’m often running low or preparing in advance for the weekend rush. The recipe is also Chef’s pride and joy, so for his sake, anyone running the charcuterie station had better make sure that we have plenty and that the terrines, board jars, and happy hour jars are all made properly. I learned recently that Station-mate was not only struggling with the planning aspect of this station but that he had personally ruined a lot of product by either missing steps in recipes, inaccurately measuring ingredients, or simple lapses in judgment like getting water from the bain marie into the liver terrine. Poor guy. Luckily I have yet to make any such mistakes… I even prevented one today, having closely examined my batch of livers to find a stray gall bladder, the bile contents of which would have completely destroyed the recipe.

The Makings of Sweet Potato Jam

The Makings of Sweet Potato Jam

Today was a busy day of buttering two chicken liver mousse terrines from yesterday as well as making a chicken liver mousse terrine, board jars, sweet potato jam, walnut mustard, deviled egg filling, and harissa aioli. I was constantly running around doing something. Before I knew it, service had started and the waves of tickets were relentless. Apparently Saturday nights are the nights when people like to order charc boards! I had seven on order today. Ridiculous. I went through nearly two full loaves of the country bread we use for toast when just one loaf could last me about two nights of dinner service on the weekdays. After a marathon like tonight, I am exhausted!

Tonight was my Friday and I’m very much looking forward to a break. Catch y’all again on Tuesday!

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Focus That Even an Earthquake Can’t Rattle

Friday night’s service was busy. How busy you ask? Well, this is what my board looked like at one point…

My Beautiful, Chaotic Station

My Beautiful, Chaotic Station

You can’t really read the tickets in this photo, but (going right to left) there were two charc boards, one charc board on the second course (but with such a light appetizer that I was told to fire it anyway), and three a la carte terrines plus one soigne (extra nice-looking VIP) terrine for a friend of Chef’s. With the help of whomever was passing by at the time (Meat Guy and Fish Guy each aided me at some point), I sent out the three boards in 18 minutes. INSANE.

We were all so busy, in fact, that none of us felt the earthquake that hit our city. Not a damn thing. We didn’t even hear about it until someone in the front of the house asked if we were okay. (It seems the guests in the dining room had felt it and the aftershocks.) Most of us laughed it off, though Fish Guy stepped outside to call and check in on his girlfriend. We thought that was adorable and teased him for it… until I turned my phone on at the end of the night and saw that Honey Bunny had checked in on me too. Sorryyyyyy Fish Guy!

More updates to come later tonight. Saturday is always a busy night!

Four Terrines in a Day

My First Duck & Walnut Pate Terrines!

My First Duck & Walnut Pate Terrines!

I will repeat — the Charcuterie station is a whole lot of work. At least I didn’t end up staying until 1am yesterday (Thursday). A quick update before I go to the restaurant.

– The first thing I did when I got to the restaurant was start my pre-measured wine reduction for a full recipe of chicken liver mousse terrines. I had also weighed out the livers and the curing salt in advance, so while that came to up to temperature, I moved on to another task before coming back to blend everything and bake my terrines.

– The tongue braise I had left overnight was done and waiting for me in the walk-in. I strained off the braising liquid and reduced it to a thick gel, the binding agent of the tongue terrine. Meanwhile, I had the fun task of peeling the rough outer layer off the tongues.

– I unwrapped my three duck & walnut pate terrines which had been pressing for about 24 hours. They turned out great! Very smooth, straight sides, and the texture was just right. After re-wrapping them, I cut one open to see how it looked — and I was startled to see HUGE chunks of back fat embedded in the terrine. There was a mis-communication about how large I was supposed to dice the fat… Sous Chefs J and S said it would be fine and that I did a good job for my first.

– I dried out the potato slices that I poached yesterday and started on my next task — the smoked salmon terrine. This bugger takes FOREVER! There are so many layers and doing every part of it on my own (stacking and trimming the potato slices, filleting the blood line off the salmon, whipping the anchovy butter, not to mention layering!) was a daunting effort. I managed to finish it in just under two hours… but like Chef said when I told him I felt that everything was taking me longer to do because it’s likely to be my first time doing it, “Do it right or do it twice.” He knows I am trying my best and that I am taking a while because I want to make sure my terrines are good the first time. Anyway, the salmon terrine will have been pressing for 24 hours by the start of service today (Friday) so I’ll cut into it and find out how it looks!

– Service was dreadfully slow today, especially on Charcuterie, so when I was not floating on Pantry or Pastry, I started working on prep for the next day. I cut an extra loaf of country bread (the one I use for toast), finished dicing up dried apricots for orange marmalade, boiled backup hard-boiled eggs for the Happy Hour deviled eggs, I even started peeling and segmenting (supreme in French) oranges for the orange marmalade.

– Around 9pm or so, there was a knock on the back door. Honey Bunny and his BFF Z were here! Apparently they had gone out to dinner and decided to come to the restaurant for drinks and dessert. Bartender L took care of them for me and she asked me if I wanted to send them something on the house. I cut a slice of the chicken liver mousse (one that I have made) and sent it out along with the doughnuts they had ordered. At the end of the night, I rushed to clean down so I could leave and meet up with them at home… but not before “capping” (that is, buttering the bottom side) of my two chicken liver mousse terrines from today.

Thanks to all the work I put in Wednesday and Thursday, today should be a lighter prep day. Off I go!

(Fun Fact: Somewhere while writing this entry, I was distracted by the reveal of Pikachu in the very first episode of the Pokemon animated series. SO CUTE!)

Late Late Night

Housemade Pickled Cipollini Onions (charcuterie garnish)

Housemade Pickled Cipollini Onions (charcuterie garnish)

It’s 1am and I just got home from the restaurant. It was getting to the point where Honey Bunny sent me a text to check up on me because I was gone later than usual, even for a night when I had the Late Night shift. After working nonstop and at full-speed for fourteen hours straight, I am exhausted!

As I mentioned yesterday, I had a whole plan outlined for my week ahead. And I’m glad I did – it really helped me stay organized and on-task throughout the day. As soon as I got in, I dumped the mirepoix into a large rondeau (a wide, shallow round pot) and started sweating the vegetables for my veal tongue braise. While that was working, I went upstairs to get the meat grinder and set it up on my station. The duck pate had been marinating since Sunday in a proprietary blend of herbs, spices, and booze, and now I had to make and cook the actual terrines. While I passed the marinated goodness through the grinder, I had some diced back fat brining in a fragrant solution. Then I put together a batch of panada — a paste made from white bread, eggs, and cream. Similar to adding breadcrumbs to a meatball mixture, the panada acts as a binding agent for my duck pate. Everything goes into the giant commercial mixer in the Pastry Room along with some walnuts.

My next task was to line the terrine molds with plastic wrap and then layer gently with caul fat (which would become the outer layer of my duck pate). I packed the pate mixture in tightly (any holes would cause the terrine to oxidize from the inside and that’s just not cool). I was able to yield three full terrines and into the oven they went. For three hours. This gave me time to move on to other tasks, like buttering a chicken liver mousse terrine, cooking hard-boiled eggs for deviled eggs, and boiling some malt vinegar to pickle a new batch of cipollini onions for garnish. And set up my station ready for service before 4:30pm. Victory.

Service started off terribly slow. I seized this opportunity to prepare my potatoes for building a smoked salmon terrine the next day. As I peeled the yukon golds, I remembered what my initial preconceptions of staging would be like — free labor that would simply sit around and peel potatoes all day. I chuckled at my old self; it feels like it has been so long since I started on this journey. I took the peeled potatoes over to our industrial slicer in order to shave off perfect slices of uniform thickness. Still no (or very few) tickets came in.

Our cryovac (vacuum sealing) machine has been broken for a few days now, so I had to poach the potato slices instead of sous vide. The poaching method is a simpler technique but much easier to overcook the potatoes (as I ended up doing…). Luckily they were only slightly more tender than I wanted, and still very usable. I transferred them as quickly as I could to a sheet tray so I could let them chill in the walk-in overnight, but of course, this is when the tickets started flowing in. Luckily one of the dishwashers helped me by bringing the pan of potatoes to the freezer to stop the cooking while I managed my station as well as Pantry. The boys were getting hit hard and there were tickets where I had to make my dish as well as theirs in order to push that course out.

At one point, I went over to Hot-Apps to check on the status of a ticket, and Singing Hot-Apps Guy asked me to plate a few dishes for him. I was happy to help and he seemed so relieved! Again, I thought back to my first few days in the restaurant last August, when I didn’t really know anything and was of very little help (or at least, it felt that way).

Dinner Service transitioned into Late Night and I was immediately slammed with an order for a dozen deviled eggs. What the heck?! I thought they looked cute side-by-side so I took a picture.

One Dozen Deviled Eggs

One Dozen Deviled Eggs

When it seemed safe (ie: no tickets had come in for a while), I went to set up my veal tongue braise. I had rinsed the brining veal tongues earlier so I just had to transfer them to a metal 600 (that is, a 6-inch-deep metal pan), top with my braised vegetables and wine reduction I had made this morning, and cover with veal stock (or in this case, REM, a less concentrated stock). This is brought to a boil before I wrap the (very hot) pan in plastic wrap twenty times before placing in a 225 degree oven overnight. I was super proud of myself for doing it all on my own!

But then, around midnight when we were planning to break down and clean up for the day, Sous Chef S found a huge chunk of pork butt that I needed to dice up and store in the freezer. I swear the piece of meat was the size of a small pig — probably 30 pounds. It was bone-in as well, so it took me a while to work around the bones. He had to get his boning knife and cut around the bones. Eventually we got the job done, and Sous Chef S teased, “So…. are you still happy you made the decision to do Charcuterie?”

It IS a whole lot of work, and I hope that these nights of being the last person to leave the restaurant at 1am are few and far between. But I love this station. I love working on my own and relying on me, myself, and I to get things done and do them right. I love learning the very specialized skills and techniques that come with making charcuterie. And I can’t wait to master it. I recently read a website bio for a local chef and it proclaimed that she was the “Queen of Charcuterie.” Now that’s a title I wouldn’t mind carrying someday.

Here’s to another busy day ahead.

Tuesday is the New Monday

Imported Prosciutto di Parma from Italy - a whole leg!

Imported Prosciutto di Parma from Italy – a whole leg!

Now that I’m officially on charcuterie, my schedule is a fairly consistent Tuesday through Saturday week. I like that because 1) I get Sundays off as originally hoped, 2) I get a “real weekend” of two days in a row off, and 3) I work the busiest nights of the week.

Today I was reminded again that you WANT to be scheduled to work on the busiest nights because it means that you are good, you can handle the rush, and you are needed. Service was quite slow today, and at one point, Chef decided to rearrange the schedule a bit. Fish Stage was awarded the opportunity to float between Pantry and Hot-Apps tomorrow, which is a big deal! I know he has been eager to move up in the ranks and I’m sure Chef can see his potential to grow as a line cook. Sassy Stage, on the other hand, had his days off switched around so that he gets Thursdays and Fridays off. Two of the three busiest nights. I feel bad for him and for what this schedule change implies, but at the same time, he does not seem to be learning as quickly as expected (not to mention he still talks back when given instructions…). We’ll see how THAT turns out.

Today was a busy day for me during prep, and it will continue this upcoming week. On Tuesdays, after being away from the kitchen for two days, I come back to discover a heavily depleted mise en place and no prep list or indication of what I should be doing. I counted the number of happy hour chicken liver mousse jars and noticed those were low so I started there. After consulting with Sous Chef J, I also sketched out a plan for this week — today I did the happy hour jars, deviled egg filling and egg whites, broke down a huge leg of prosciutto, diced pork butt to add to the marinating duck pate, and quartered my pickled cipollini onion garnish. Before I left, I also started an overnight confit of pork shanks in duck fat so I could render the drippings.

Melting down the duck fat for my confit

Melting down the duck fat for my confit

Tomorrow I will be braising the veal tongues that had been soaking in brine for the past two days, pressing and cooking off the duck pate, making two terrines of chicken liver mousse, and buttering one terrine that has been sitting in the walk-in. I may also start pickling a new batch of cipollini onions if I have time, and I’m hoping service is slow again so I can use that time to sous vide the potatoes for my next smoked salmon terrine – Thursday’s project. I hope to catch up by Friday so that Sous Chef S and I can start working on new recipes for salumis and rabbit mortadella as promised.

Charcuterie is considerably more work than Pantry — it requires more planning, it is teaching me to work more efficiently, and perhaps most dauntingly, the workload falls mainly on just one person (me). I am also doing something different every single day, although I do still have daily routine tasks such as slicing bread for toast, cutting salumis, picking chervil for garnish, etc. I enjoy the variety although it also makes me nervous right now because it’s my first time doing everything and I want to make sure I’m doing it correctly. (Singing Hot-Apps Guy has been a great resource for my many, many questions.)

I find that when I lie in bed at night, just before I fall asleep, I think (and sometimes worry) about the projects I have to work on the next day. But in a sense, I think it’s a good thing — it means that this station is truly my own and I worry because I care. I want to put out consistent, high quality products, and I want to make sure that I am caught up with my inventory. This is Chef’s pride and joy, after all, so my ability to execute is critical. I did make a pretty bad mistake today during service though — all of our terrines are wrapped in plastic wrap, and one slice that I had sent out had a teeny piece still stuck to it. He didn’t yell — he just told me to come over and he showed me the plastic. I was horrified and I think it showed in my face because he just told me to be more careful next time. I think he could tell that I was already disappointed in myself, so he graciously decided not to pile on (he does not often show such mercy to the rest of the guys). Sigh.

I had one Charc Board today and perhaps a dozen a la carte orders. I spent the rest of my time floating among the Cold Line. I help the Pantry boys with their first experience with 63 degree eggs. That’s right — we finally got a shiny new immersion circulator and the eggs on our caesar salads are BEAUTIFUL. I also helped Sous Chef J with Pastry. At one point, he decided to start taking inventory so he could get a head start on doing the orders; he poked his head around the corner to my station and said “[Matcha Bunny], for the next 20 minutes, you’re in charge of both Charcuterie and Pastry, okay?” On my watch, I got to complete an order of the doughnut dessert from start to finish! That was exciting — usually I just drop the doughnuts into the fryer, or push them around in the oil, or garnish the serving dish, or scoop the ice cream. I was so pleased with my finished product that I took a photo just before I placed it in the window for pickup.

Bourbon glazed doughnuts with orange curd and homemade vanilla ice cream

Bourbon glazed doughnuts with orange curd and homemade vanilla ice cream

Anyway, time to get some rest for a long day tomorrow. Lots of work to be done – no rest for the wicked!