Week 19: Time for a Vacation!

Why, hello Mr. Pig.

Why, hello Mr. Pig.

Ahh… the end of another successful week. Every week has its challenges and achievements and this was certainly no exception. I received a surprising amount of encouraging and “Go get ’em!” messages from friends and readers regarding my prospective request for a raise. I arrived at the restaurant ready to defend my case on Friday morning when Chef came rushing down the stairs, blood spurting everywhere, the flesh on his hand severed to the bone. And when I saw to the bone, I am NOT kidding. He saw my reaction to the gore and teased me by waving his hand in my direction. But between the thick chasm created by his handiwork on the roof (I think he was fixing one of the air conditioning units), I swear I saw white… clearly identifiable as the bone beneath his right index finger knuckle. GROSS.

He was hemming and hawing about whether or not to go to the hospital. “It needs stitches!” we behooved him. Finally he relented. Holding a piece of paper towel to his war wound as a compress, he had Pastry Girl wrap it in blue tape (the painter’s tape we use to label deli containers). Satisfied at the binding, he flexed his hand and decided it was sufficient; he announced that he would have a cigarette, get dressed, and get to work. WHAT? Midway through his smoke break though, we realized he (and his car) had disappeared. I guess he changed his mind.

He did come back after his visit to proudly show off his internal AND external stitches. Though he wanted to stay for service, he was eventually convinced to leave us in the hands of his capable sous chefs. He needed to get home and rest up. (He showed up briefly today, Saturday, as well before wishing us a happy Memorial Day and reluctantly retreating home again.)

So. That happened. Needless to say, I didn’t find it appropriate to ask him for a raise.

The kitchen is less stressful without Chef’s watchful eye. Though some of the guys treated as a “when the cat’s away the mice will play” sort of situation, it actually helped me focus better and work harder without that added nervousness. Friday was mainly geared toward planning and working out my next projects with the sous chefs, although Friday night service was INSANE. We had 120 on the books but ended up doing about 380. Despite rounding out the evening with about 5 or 6 charc boards myself, I ended up floating for everyone. On Fridays and Saturdays, Chef tries to have at least two of his three sous chefs present so that he could have one of them assigned to partner up on a station and the other floating to bail out anyone in need of help. Throughout the night, I had to go to Hot-Apps to help Singing Hot-Apps Guy plate pork ravioli, bailed out the Pantry Boys who had lost control of their board (I almost lost my voice that night from all the shouting and callbacks), pulled and tossed pizza dough for Pizza Guy K, ran to the walk-in to fetch chicken stock and other mise items for the Fish and Meat stations, and gave Pastry Girl a hand with desserts. I was literally everywhere, but I love nights like that. The more different things I get to try, the more familiar I will be with the entire kitchen’s methods, critical for an aspiring sous chef. (I think it takes a certain kind of intuition to be able to glance at someone else’s station in the walk-in and within seconds, select which pint cup contains the eggplant puree he had asked for.)

Today (Saturday) was the opposite in the sense that I had a prep-heavy day while service was slow overall. As we had suspected, everyone seems to have gone out of town for the holiday weekend. Our meat delivery was late, throwing off my original plan of banging out the chicken mousse first thing. I had to revamp my game plan though I was not nearly as productive in those first two hours of my day as I had hoped. At 1pm, the brown boxes arrived and I kicked it into high gear. I made a full recipe (1 kilo) each of the chicken liver mousse for happy hour and for the terrine and charc board jars. That’s two kilos of chicken livers, leaving me with exactly one pound leftover for a spiced French-Vietnamese pate, my next experiment.

Split Pig's Head. Mmm BRAINS.

Split Pig’s Head. Mmm BRAINS.

Unexpectedly, a whole pig’s head had also arrived. I wanted to do headcheese as the next terrine (I even watched a 20 minute YouTube video for making gio thu, completely in Vietnamese) but Sous Chef S warned that Chef might hesitate. I guess it freaks people out so it does not sell quite as well as, say, a pork liver and truffle pate. But there it was, a whole head in all its glory. We had to saw it in half in order to brine it properly, and it would have to brine for at least five days before I could use it. It being my station, of course, I held the head tightly while Sous Chef S busted out the industrial bone saw and got to work. The sawing action was making my hand numb and I grew increasingly nervous that my hand would slip. I had zero fear of the raw pig’s head. I did have great concerns of a saw capable of slicing through a skull like a knife through butter.¬†Luckily we had no such casualties.

French-Vietnamese Spiced Pate (Before)

French-Vietnamese Spiced Pate (Before)

Finally, I ground the meat and spices for that new pate in record time, right at 4pm, squeezing in one last task before setting up my station for service. I took a Before picture, though I was not able to cook it off today since Pastry Girl was baking a TON of bread and needed both convection ovens. The guys will take care of it for me tomorrow and we’ll see how it tastes come Tuesday.

Do Chua (Vietnamese Pickled Daikon and Carrots, banh mi style)

Do Chua (Vietnamese Pickled Daikon and Carrots, banh mi style)

During and after service I managed to get some more prep done: I pickled some daikon radish and carrot julienne and batons (I did two sizes, the more traditional baton and a more “refined” thinner julienne, at Fish Guy’s suggestion) using my dad’s recipe for pickling liquid. It tasted a bit different since I had to use seasoned rice wine vinegar, the closest thing to coconut vin that we had in the kitchen. Still, I sneaked a taste before I went home, and even though it had only pickled for a few hours, it was tasting pretty close to a good banh mi style garnish. I made sure to take a picture because I know my dad will enjoy seeing a dish like that in a real professional kitchen.

Gigantic Daikon Radish

Gigantic Daikon Radish

And funny story — the night before when I was ordering the daikon, I asked Sous Chef S if he thought our produce purveyor could send just one. He said he would ask. When I went to the back fridge to retrieve it, I found that they had sent us one nearly two feet long. Talk about making the “one” really count! This picture was taken with my 11-inch chef’s knife for scale. It reminded me of the Japanese farmer who grew a peculiarly shaped daikon that became internet-famous.

I also capped the 24 happy hour jars, 15 board jars, and 1 chicken liver mousse terrine with butter, and right after service, I poached off slices of potato for Meat Guy to build a salmon terrine for me the next day. He saw my potato slices simmering on the stove and a wave of relief came over him. “I thought I’d have to do the whole process from start to finish in one day!” he remarked. I replied that I wouldn’t do that to him, though his surprise made me think that other people running the charcuterie station did (or would have). With three full sheet trays of poached potato slices safely stored on the speed racks in the walk-in, I bid my goodbyes and headed home, exhausted but happy.

Our restaurant is closed on Monday for the holiday, although I feel a bit cheated since Mondays are my usual days off anyway. The perk is that Honey Bunny has the day off as well so we are taking advantage of our “real” weekend to spend quality time together. Time for a vacation!

Wishing you all a very happy (and safe!) Memorial Day Weekend!

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