Monthly Archives: October 2014

Baking Bread

After my experience on Pastry yesterday, I had mad respect for Pastry Girl and all the work she does day in and day out. There’s a lot of heavy lifting involved — 50 lb bags of flour, 10 kilo batches of dough, full sheet trays of loaf after loaf of bread… I think the most difficult part of my day though was oven management. You would think that two convection ovens and one still oven would be plenty for a kitchen but when everyone wants to bake things at different temperatures for different lengths of time, it gets hectic.

I tried to ask Pastry Girl and Sous Chef J a lot of questions before I was thrown in head-first. Even though this is the second time I’ve covered the Pastry station, my to-do list this time was much more extensive and representative of a proper day’s work. I had a few (fixable) mishaps — I had forgotten to spray the ramekins before filling them with sticky toffee batter, but luckily Sous Chef S noticed about halfway through so I was able to just scrape them out and start over. And then when I was making apple chips, they came out lovely but I let them cool on the tray for a bit too long and the sugar started to solidify, sealing them to the parchment. I was able to salvage enough but also inadvertently made a snack of broken apple chips for the guys to share. haha.

The biggest mistake I had made was making vanilla ice cream base. The recipe had the measurements but not the instructions, and I had forgotten to whip the eggs separately and add the boiled cream slowly to temper. I just threw it all into a pot and ended up with custard. :( I wanted to try again but we were out of vanilla beans. Thankfully we have plenty of vanilla ice cream in the freezer so Pastry Girl should be OK being one day delayed in the process.

Service went smoothly though. During Happy Hour, I kneaded and portioned the ciabatta we use for table bread. Then later on, I whipped up two batches of pizza dough as well. Passers-by seemed impressed by my productivity! I didn’t miss any wellingtons or chicken pot pies (it happens from time to time that Chef asks how long on a welli and it turns out that no one had put it in the oven in the first place!) and I had fun plating up all of the desserts (helping out Pastry Girl had given me plenty of practice).

At the end of the night, Station Lead called me over. He recounted my mishaps, said they could happen to anyone, and then concluded — “Not bad for your first day!” (well, first real day). He added one more thing that he had noticed… “Desserts were flying out like that [snaps fingers]!” My timing for both desserts and the baked entrees were on point and I was happy about that. So my day was full of ups and downs but for being thrown into a new station on my own without any actual training, I’d say I did pretty well!

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All About That Bass

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On Sunday, my family and Honey Bunny’s got together for a late lunch where my mom handed me a package wrapped in red tissue paper. I was thrilled to see that it was another book, Think Like A Chef by Tom Colicchio, to add to my growing collection.

She also handed me a card from my grandma. Every year, my grandma sends me and all of my cousins birthday cards. Never misses a single one. Up until I turned 23 or so, the envelope would also include gift card or cash or a check. I figured at that point, I was cut off. (In Vietnamese tradition, when you reach a certain age or income level or get married, it’s your turn to start giving to the young ones in your life.) But this year, tucked away in the hand-picked greeting card was a $50 check and a note to buy myself something I want or need. My first and still prevailing thought was, “Did someone tell Grandma that I’m poor now?!”

Regardless, I’m very thankful for the gesture and decided to add two more books to my library: The French Laundry and Bouchon, both Thomas Keller classics. So now, between playing with the cats and taking care of chores around the house, my mornings are consumed with poring through glossy pages in search of ideas and inspiration.

Yesterday was busy for me during prep. I decided to make a round of mortadella since we finally got a replacement blade for our Robotcoupe. Chef helped me stuff the casings and mostly left me alone aside from that.

There was one funny moment when this horrible but terribly catchy pop song came on the radio – All About That Bass. I was coming out of the walk-in, Charcuterie Guy was working at the back table, and Hot-Apps Girl just rounded the corner from dry storage when the three of us stopped and looked at one another. It was as though we were wordlessly trying to see who would give in and start singing. Charcuterie Guy broke first, chiming in at the second “no treble” and the three of us burst out laughing.

Service was OK, with enough tickets to keep Chef from getting antsy but not enough to keep him from getting bored. There were spikes in activity, and at one point he called me over to the Hot Line to help Charcuterie Guy plate up five dishes on the Fish station. That was probably the most exciting part of my night. The rest of it was spent helping Sassy Stage who was alone on Pantry. On the bright side, we switched to Late Night around 9:30 so I was packed up and home by 10. Not a bad start to the week!

Week 41: The Life

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We’re back in business – tonight was okay but man was Friday night busy!!! It is a huge relief to see these 300-400 cover nights again. We all much prefer the kind of tiredness that comes from an intense dinner rush than the fatigue we had been feeling from trying to keep busy and pass the time.

We had a few new people join us this week – there’s a girl who had briefly staged with us previously who is now working on Hot-Apps (let’s call her Hot-Apps Girl for now) and a guy who was working in Chef’s other restaurant and is now on Pantry a few days a week (I’ll come up with a nickname as we get to know him better…). Not gonna lie, I initially felt a bit slighted that Chef put that new girl on Hot-Apps instead of me, but she does seem to have more experience working on the Line than I do. Instead, I focused my energy on the new terrine I made and some cool garnishes. I was working with some shiitake mushrooms which I’ll be serving with the country pate, and in retrospect, I think it’s pretty cool that I’ve built up enough experience to get to this point where I can say that I casually improvised a pickling liquid resembling a homemade cider vinegar. I sampled the quick-pickle after only 10 minutes and it already tasted pretty darn good (though harsh) so I can’t wait to see how the flavors develop and mellow out over the next day or two.

I read an article tonight titled “Dear Chefs, This Is For You” and I thought it was inspiring. I needed a bit of reassurance that this life I’ve chosen is worth the sacrifices, so the “letter” really struck a chord. They said it would also be a good read for friends and family of those living the Kitchen Life, so here it is if you’d like to check it out. Dear Chefs

Regardless, I’m pretty excited that my weekend is finally here and that I get to spend both days with Honey Bunny! Next week will be interesting – with Chef gone at some events and Pastry Girl and Meat Guy taking the week off to move, the schedule looks super funky. Perhaps most notable is that I will be pulling a double shift of sorts on Thursday, covering both Charcuterie and Pastry. Good times..? :)

(Oh, and WordPress just informed me that this is my 200th post here on Matcha Bunny. Thank you for following me on this journey even though I know that some of you do your reading in unconventional locales… not naming any names here.)

Oh What A Night

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Five days. I watched the Jersey Boys movie on my day off on Monday and that song about December 1963 has been stuck in my head for five days. It’s a great song but man… five days is a long time! It came on the radio yesterday (I think it was Meat Guy’s playlist) and I was thrilled. It must have been an amusing sight to see a bunch of 20-somethings jamming to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

Wednesday was a long one since I had Late Night. It was surprisingly productive as well; Sous Chef J did some deep cleaning on Pantry while I got a head start on prep. I knew I’d have a lot of work to do the next day but I still wanted to come in at noon like everyone else so I took advantage of that extra time in the kitchen.

Yesterday was a busy busy prep day for me. First I did a batch of happy hour chicken mousse jars as quickly as I could. Then I moved on to the bulk of my day: I lined three terrine molds with sliced house cured lardo and filled them with the pate de campagna I had marinated. At 3pm I tackled my last task – a smoked salmon terrine.

Service was steadily busy, which was a relief since we started the day with only 44 on the book. But then something bad happened. Reality Show Guy came running into the kitchen and was followed by a very disgruntled older couple. We pieced together that he had gone outside and peed on the bush that lines their property… WTF. His excuse was that the bathroom was occupied and he was desperate, but the worst part was that he just kept making excuses instead of apologizing. Chef sent him home at that moment and I helped Sassy Stage for the rest of the night since he was now by himself on Pantry.

Oh what a night!

A Look Back

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Yesterday (Tuesday) was rather unremarkable, so this post is actually going to be about how I spent my Monday off instead. In the morning, I had accepted a consulting gig at my old office and spent two hours training the third person to fill in my position since I left 7 months ago. It was nice to see familiar faces although I was anxious about coming in; it felt like I was meeting an ex-boyfriend for coffee or something and I prepared myself for the “it’s not you, it’s me” conversation. Luckily that wasn’t the case and everyone was just happy to see me.

Feeling energized from getting my day started off early, I decided to spend the afternoon cooking a delicious homemade meal for Honey Bunny: Meatless Monday and Italian night all rolled into one with a vegetable lasagne and vanilla panna cotta. I contemplated buying the “no bake” pasta sheets for my lasagna but decided to roll out my own fresh pasta instead. And then at home, I stared at the pantry debating whether to use store bought jarred sauce or to make my own. My hand wavered but finally reached for a can of San Marzano tomatoes instead. It took about 2 hours to put together and another to bake in the oven but it was so worth it.

I also made panna cotta for dessert and I had no idea it was so easy! I had it from the stove to the fridge in less than 10 minutes and an hour later, I could jiggle the ramekins every time I opened the refrigerator door. To accompany the dessert, I grabbed the blueberries I had kept in the freezer from the time we went blueberry picking and made a quick compote.

It reminded me of how much I love to cook and that I should make the effort to keep practicing even on my days off. But it’s bittersweet because Mondays always make me miss my “old” life, when we would both work 9-5 and then enjoy dinner and our evenings together at home… sigh.