Monthly Archives: April 2014

Hot Hot Heat

First of the Season Strawberry

First of the Season Strawberry

Yesterday was absolutely sweltering. It’s like summer came early… beautiful for spending the day at the beach but miserable in a kitchen that generates heat, traps heat, and absorbs heat from outside. I was whisking butter on the hot line during prep and Fish Guy teased that I was melting faster than the butter. It was intense. Everyone, Chef included, found excuses to go to or work in the walk-in, our only access to sweet, cold relief.

Prep was relatively light. Tuesdays are hit or miss; whomever covers for me on Sundays and Mondays never ends up leaving a prep list, so I spend the first few minutes inspecting my lowboy fridge and the walk-in to check on the status of my mise, looking for things to do. I decided to make a full recipe of chicken liver mousse terrines and poached potatoes for making a salmon terrine the next day. Luckily I remembered the shortage of the smoked salmon terrine because I had texted my order to Sous Chef J on Monday to ask for the potatoes.

Service was surprisingly busy today, at least for me. I had eight charcuterie boards, more than I had all of last week and more than I get on the average Saturday night. Even Chef had to laugh every time he saw one of those tickets come in. “It’s a Charcuterie Day!” he announced. Despite the influx of orders, he didn’t yell at me once; somehow I managed to deliver my food in a timely manner every ticket. After the first four orders, I almost ran out of drippings but luckily made more during a brief lull. The new batch had just barely set when I had another charc board on order. Perfect timing!

 

I’m not looking forward to prep today (Wednesday) as I have a ton of work to do. I’m having an order of duck breasts delivered to start marinating the next batch of duck & walnut pate terrines. Plus, the smoked salmon terrine always takes me a long time. Oy. On top of that, there are two garnishes that I need to replenish – the balsamic poached pears and the orange marmalade. Luckily those two are a bit lower priority and can be pushed to tomorrow if needed. Honey Bunny pointed out that Wednesdays really are Hump Days for me, as I have the Late Night shift also. It’s going to be a long day…

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Week 15: Soigne

Lavender Pavlova with Elderflower-macerated Strawberries and Mascarpone

Lavender Pavlova with Elderflower-macerated Strawberries and Mascarpone

soi·gné – swänˈyā/ (adjective): elegant, sophisticated, carefully designed

We all eat first with our eyes, and while taste and flavor are absolutely important to a successful dish, it is also critical that the presentation looks, as Chef would say, “sexy.” Any food can look soigne and sexy — even my terrine plates. I started slicing the toast in half to create long columns when we introduced the new pork pate since it is rectangular in shape and I wanted to continue that design element. Chef said he loves the little soldiers and now we do it on every plate. And he’s right — it does look pretty sexy with the long, lean lines.

But toast aside, I love watching Chef plate up new dishes. The intense focus, the steady hands and darting eyes, the creative mind at work as he recreates the visions he had dreamed up. The result is a plate that looks gorgeous and tastes just as good as it looks. Luckily I get to have this experience quite often as we are always having new dishes rotate in and out on our specials menu… most recently the strawberry pavlova dessert pictured above.

Service was busy on both Friday and Saturday nights, continuing the rough pattern of working a Tuesday-Saturday week (as I get more tired, the week gets increasingly busy, or vice versa). However on Saturday, as I was scrubbing down my station and running through my to-do list again to make sure everything was ready for service, I heard Station Lead calling from the back — “[Matcha Bunny]!” I was confused; I had no timer, nothing in the ovens, why were they calling me? As I turned the corner, I saw my mom in the doorway. Then my dad, Honey Bunny, and my cousin from Vietnam. Wow! I was surprised though flustered. A visit from family was the last thing on my mind when revving up for service. Still, it was nice to see them… even though the guys teased me about it after. “Asian families, huh?” :) Gotta love ’em.

Anywho, Monday night means it’s time to start another week. I haven’t seen the schedule yet so I won’t know until tomorrow if I am continuing on charcuterie full-time or if I will start filling in for Pastry Girl on her days off. We’ll see! Every day is an adventure.

Overheard in the Kitchen: I’m Going Down!

A Cross-Section View of the Chicken Liver Mousse Terrine

A Cross-Section View of the Chicken Liver Mousse Terrine

Today was filled with hilarious interactions and conversations so I’m going to do my best to retell the stories (they may well end up being the kind of stories where you just “had to be there” but I promise to try to provide context.

First, I was working in the walk-in to painstakingly butter a chicken liver mousse terrine when I accidentally dropped the pint cup i had been using to scrape chicken mousse off the plastic buttering card. Thinking I was alone, I let out a startled (and probably squeaky) “Oh no!” and when I turned around to pick it up, I found myself face to face with Chef himself, hands on his hips, chuckling as he shook his head. Of course, of all the people who could have caught me in that moment, it just HAD to be Chef.

Service started off with a not-so-happy happy hour. I think we had 2 tickets in the first 40 minutes – so slow! But then dinner really picked up. I got into the flow of the rush – sending out my terrines at lightning speed, helping out the boys on Pantry (it’s more fun making those salads when it’s just a once in a while thing), and hopping over to Hot Apps. I heard Singing Hot-Apps Guy shout out, “If I don’t get some help right now, I WILL go down!” I answered the call and he seemed relieved to have an extra pair of hands help with his eight tickets all simultaneously on fire. He and I work well together. I plated dishes, walked orders to the window, refilled his mise en place with trays of pasta from the walk-in, and perhaps most importantly, was there to listen as he talked through the tasks at hand and got himself straightened out. Then Sous Chef S came over to bail him out so I could get back to charcuterie. I later learned that we ALL heard his cries of “Oh no, I’m going down!!!” and we all had a good laugh in retrospect.

Speaking of Singing Hot-Apps Guy… a little character development: he lives in a local trendy neighborhood with his Instagram-famous girlfriend, sports a mustache/beard with or without Movember, wears highlighter colored t-shirts and plastic neon stunner shades (“ironically” of course), and scoffs at coffee that is not fair trade, organic, etc in favor of the brew he brings from home in a mason jar that was either Etsy-purchased or Pinterest-inspired. He is a nice guy but I love to tease him about how hipster he is. Today he was telling us about how he’s getting a new bike (he was recently in a motorist accident that landed him in the hospital – though he still showed up for work the next day, bruises and all!). His bicycle was totaled and he said today that he must get a new one because “that’s his thing.” Pastry Girl made the first comment about his hipster-ness and I remarked, “So, if I were to throw your mason jar mug out the window, that would just be the icing on the cake, wouldn’t it?” Pastry Girl almost fell over laughing and Singing Hot-Apps Guy chuckled heartily at the friendly jab.

Back to my brief comment about working together well, “flow” in the kitchen is incredibly important, especially when working in close quarters with a partner. You really need to be self aware and to anticipate what your partner will do next, where he/she will need to stand or walk, what drawer he/she would need to open, etc. Fumbling around and being in the way just leads to disaster. Apparently it’s hard to find someone you “jive” with and when you do, you find that you always want to work with them. This makes me strive to be someone who is easy to work with by working clean, being efficient and systematic, keeping a well-organized mise, staying calm under pressure, and recognizing and anticipating the needs of others.

Anyway, just some thoughts and musings from today.

PS: We had a great ticket come in today. “Mushroom Pizza — NO MUSHROOMS.” WTF.

Compliments on My Work

Balsamic and Port Wine Poached Bartlett Pears

Balsamic and Port Wine Poached Bartlett Pears

Yesterday was still a long day for me, since I was doomed to the Wednesday night Late Night shift. I had my day planned out nicely and I got a ton of work done despite coming in at noon: happy hour chicken liver mousse jars, sweet potato jam, poached pears, pickled cipollinis, deviled eggs, slicing salumis and bread… it was quite a productive day. So much so that I had a bit of trouble making my prep list for today (although there is ALWAYS something to do on Charcuterie).

I sneaked onto the Hot Line during a slow part of service to melt some butter for capping my happy hour jars and shared space with Hot-Apps-Turned-Fish Guy. (Side note: I really need to think of a naming convention that will account for when people get promoted / change stations…) Anyway, he lowered his voice a bit and told me, “You know, they were talking about your terrine on Monday.” I don’t know who “they” were, but he continued, “They said your buttered chicken liver mousse terrine looks really good.” I was surprised but happy to hear the compliment. Pizza Guy K confirmed that conversation, adding that Sous Chef S tried to brush it off as “no big deal” but then Singing Hot-Apps Guy (who is notorious for having loved, and excelled during, his time on Charcuterie) took a look at it and seemed surprised to admit that mine looked better than his did when he was on my station. Yay!

was glad to hear that they were admiring my work, especially the buttered chicken liver mousse because those are such a pain in the butt. Once I pop the mousse out of the loaf mold, I smooth it out with a plastic card, pour melted butter over it, and sweep the butter around until it evenly coats the mousse in a thin layer, preventing oxidation. All of this, however, has to be done in the walk-in so that the mousse will stay solid and the butter will start to set. There’s a delicate balance in the process too — skim off too much and you’ll need to re-butter parts of the terrine, too little and you end up with a product that’s encased in thick solid butter that will crack when you cut into it. It’s a race against time as your butter starts to solidify the moment it hits the terrine. The best advice I’ve gotten from everyone who passes by me in the walk-in is “Don’t f*ck with it too much.” haha I have two more to do today, so I’m hoping these recent compliments will give me more confidence.

Family Meal: Chicken Salad

Family Meal: Chicken Salad

It was a really hot day so we had chicken salad sandwiches for Family Meal. I decided to forgo the sandwich part and make a simple salad instead. It was pretty darn tasty though awkwardly warm as they were in a hurry to toss everything together as soon as the chicken was cooked (given the option, we would have chilled the chicken first). Still, it was a valiant effort and definitely one of the best uses of chicken so far.

Modern French Culinary Art (1966)

Modern French Culinary Art (1966)

Sous Chef J brought in an old book that he had purchased over the weekend at a used book store that features “modern” (it was published in 1966) French dishes with tons of recipes and even glossy color photos! It was awesome. He and I flipped through it during service when we had breaks between tickets. It was fascinating to see what qualified as “modern” back then… and just how much FAT is in those French dishes! The book included some terrine recipes so we may try to make one in the near future. A 60’s revival of sorts.

Anywho, Chef said we could come in at noon again today, so off I go to get ready. Thursdays usually suck just because I’m still exhausted from the long day before. I anticipate a lot of coffee in my immediate future…

Smart Enough to Handle It

Carefully weighing out my salts for the chicken liver mousse

Carefully weighing out my salts for the chicken liver mousse

First off I wanted to say thank you to my readers for expressing your well wishes, suggesting over-the-counter and natural remedies, and just messaging to say hi after I posted about all my skin conditions. I did end up going back to the doctor, and he prescribed a stronger corticosteroid for the heat rash. However, my dear friend suggested using witch hazel — it is an astringent that bears similar cooling and soothing properties as aloe but also reduces inflammation, redness, and itching. I have to tell you, it’s magical stuff!!! That spot on my hand has not looked so close to normal in a very, very long time.

I’m also about halfway done with the antibiotics. Unfortunately, after one particular dosage yesterday afternoon, I was struck with waves of nausea. It felt so bad. Each step I took, I briefly considered asking to go home. But NO! I was determined to see it through. Thankfully I was mostly done with prep so I could sit outside for a few minutes and drink water. I felt considerably better after Family Meal, so it must have been caused by trying to digest the pill on an empty stomach. Lesson learned.

Speaking of Family Meal, I got a request from a dear friend to talk more about it. I’ll be honest – Family Meal is often an after-thought. We all spend our afternoon focused on our mise en place first and foremost. Whoever finishes earliest (or in some cases, whoever is closest to finishing or could spare the extra time) makes Family Meal. It turned out that Pizza Guy J was on Hot-Apps yesterday but when it came time to roll his gnocchi, he could not find any gnocchi paddles to make those iconic ridges. Instead, they used those smooth pillows for Family Meal. SO GOOD.

Family Meal!

Family Meal!

Service was really slow today. So slow that Chef sent Pizza Guy K home and had Pizza Guy J float between Hot-Apps and Pizza. When Hot-Apps did get busy, Chef himself came back and tossed a few pizzas into the oven. Some lucky Tuesday night patrons were served pizzas made personally by the head honcho! ;) Haha. He also made a salad or two with Sassy Stage and he even fried an egg for me for an order of the smoked salmon terrine. It was really interesting working hands-on alongside him.

But speaking of slow service, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally slower. They are also, coincidentally, Pastry Girl’s days off so Sous Chef J fills in for her. However, Chef called me over to talk with him today. He said that he is opening his new restaurant(s) soon and he will need Sous Chef J to take the helm more often in his absence. He asked me if I would be interested in training on Pastry and handling both the Pastry and Charcuterie stations on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. At first I hesitated a bit. After all, my goal is to work on the Hot Line. But then Chef lowered his voice and continued, “Quite frankly, you’re the only one around here smart enough to handle it.” I was flattered that he thought highly of me and that he was considering me (and only me) for this opportunity, so I accepted. This week and next, I’ll start training on Pastry. Woooooo!

With this added responsibility, however, I spoke with Sous Chef J to get some advice. I asked him when line cooks generally move up from the starting pay rate. He replied that it depends (there isn’t a set time period or station) and it’s really up to Chef. He also made sure to point out that Chef won’t just magically give away pay increases; you have to know when is the right time and when to ask for it. He added, “Don’t go into the conversation with the battle already lost. Be confident!” So with that in mind, I think I will wait until after I get trained so I can make sure I will be able to successfully handle both stations before I ask. I hate talking about money, so I’m still hoping Chef will think of it on his own… but from the sounds of it, that’s not usually the case with him. haha.

Even without any pay increase, I am truly honored that he thought of me for this opportunity. As far as I know, no one other than the sous chefs really handle two stations simultaneously. And I want to learn every part of the kitchen as best I can so that I can someday take on that sous chef role and fill in as needed (in addition to leading the kitchen in Chef’s absence, of course). So far, every day feels like a step forward and for that, I’m really happy.