My first Thanksgiving at the restaurant is, sadly, our last one. The day was insanely hectic, since we only do our all-you-can-eat buffet service once a year. After having come in early a few days over the past few weeks, my mise en place was done and ready to go when I arrived. The other stations were not so lucky. We all fought for oven space as all 20 turkeys filled the convection ovens, 15 rib roasts took the pizza ovens, and brussels sprouts and croutons borrowed space in the ovens on the Hot Line. We set up the buffet using work tables borrowed from the kitchen, and Chef drafted me and Pastry Girl to help serve food out front. After a slightly shaky start, we found out rhythm and served up food to over 300 people throughout the day. Even Honey Bunny was able to come out and grab seats at the bar with his BFF. We all celebrated with a round of beers at the end of the night, and we were super exhausted even though we worked fewer hours than usual. Luckily there was plenty of leftover food that we were able to take home. All in all, it was an interesting experience and I’m glad I got to try it once.
Just a quick word before I go to work. Thanksgiving prep is well underway at the restaurant. Our walk-in is packed to the brim with over 50 rib roasts, 20 turkeys, 8 bushels of oysters, filling for 30 pies, pounds and pounds of peeled and chopped carrots, bin after bin of trimmed brussels sprouts… even my station is packed with all the fixins’ for those Henry VIII platters and five full chicken mousse terrines for the buffet line. Today I’ll be spending most of my day on the slicer — we have half a leg of prosciutto and four varieties of salumi to slice! On the bright side, I’ve gotten most of my prep done already since I had come in early yesterday and Saturday (10am!) to squeeze in extra oven time. Today the scramble throughout the rest of the kitchen begins!
Hi Everyone! This week has simply flown by with all the prep in anticipation of Thanksgiving. We are open for an all-you-can-eat buffet and it is already completely booked out (200+ covers) plus a waiting list. This, plus the reintroduction of our king charcuterie platter (it’s so gluttonous that we’ve dubbed it Henry VIII) means that I have a whole lot of work to do. Here are some updates:
We have a new guy who used to work with Chef years ago but left to join a catering company (more money though less food creativity). He is filling in on Hot-Apps a few days a week. We got to chat on Wednesday night during my Late Night shift and it was cool to learn about his background, having graduated from culinary school and worked for Wolfgang Puck’s catering group. He asked about my experience and remarked that it didn’t seem like I had been doing this for only a year (in a good way).
Service was hectic since it had started out so slow that by 7:30 or so, Chef had sent home three people. And then, as luck would have it, the rush came. We all ended up floating around and filling in where needed — Chef and Sous Chef J took turns tossing pizzas, I’d run back to put wellingtons and chicken pot pies in the oven, Honey Badger helped Sassy Stage with salads, at one point, I was even plating dishes on fish.
It was just me and Sous Chef J during Late Night, and he asked me again what I planned to do with regards to the new restaurant, which is turning out to be his and Chef’s joint project. He told me that Chef had asked him who he wanted (and did not want) on the new team and he had strongly pushed for me. No pressure. I asked him how the kitchen would be structured and he told me that the layout is very different from the way it is now — Pantry will have a fryer next to them, there are two or three cook tops on either side of the pass… Additionally, the menu is going to be small and frequently changing, leaving plenty of opportunity to experiment with new dishes. Sous Chef J said I should talk to Chef and iron out the details, see what my options are. But, he added, he would really like for me to go.
I was reminded of what a pain-in-the-butt it is to break down and de-bone a rabbit… we had ordered four of them to do a batch of rabbit, pistachio, and apricot pate. I was actually pretty quick at butchering them down to the main components — front legs, back legs, loin, saddle, and neck meat. But the time-consuming part was deboning the legs. By 4:45, I had to stop, get my station cleaned and set up for service, and then come back to the butchery off-and-on during service. I was finally able to get my terrine marinating at the end of the night (I needed to know how much rabbit meat I had first so that I could scale my recipes). With all the scrambling though, I could see how it would be easy to fall behind on my station. If I hadn’t gotten the salts and alcohol and meat mixed together that night, I would have lost an entire day in the process. Sigh.
Yesterday was Honey Bunny’s first day of funemployment while he transitions between jobs (he found a new one that seems to be better in all respects — commute time, role, responsibilities, salary, and it’s a cause he truly cares about… it’s the camp program that we had met through as volunteers in college!) so we got to enjoy a leisurely brunch before I went to work.
When I arrived, still earlier than the rest of the guys, it turned out that one of the convection ovens was no longer working. It had already started to crap out this past week or so, but at least it would generate some heat and could cook things that were not picky about fluctuations in temperature (so not cakes or breads, but baking potatoes or roasting chicken). Now we were down to just the one convection oven plus the still oven which I usually get all to myself since everything takes considerably more time in there. This threw a huge wrench in my game plan as I needed to cook off my rabbit terrines and some chicken mousses, and I was dependent on keeping one of the convection ovens at 325 degrees (a temperature that other cooks could use as well) and the still oven at 225 degrees (for chicken mousse). Since Pastry Girl needed to bake bread, however, my rabbits were pushed to the still oven and I wasn’t able to get to the mousses at all.
I was feeling panicked. It got worse when I realized I only had 4 chicken liver mousse jars for the charcuterie boards for Friday night service. It was already 4pm. I told Chef and was honest about my fuck-up and he simply replied that it’s not a big deal and I could just use slices of the terrine if I needed to. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It reminded me of Sous Chef J’s advice that when dealing with Chef, honesty is always the best policy. (Sous Chef S tends to fib or exaggerate and often gets yelled at when he gets caught in his lies…)
We ended up doing over 300 covers, and Chef congratulated us all on a job well done at the end of the night. And as for me, I’ll be coming in early today (Saturday) to get some extra prep done. I hate feeling rushed when it comes down to the wire, plus I want free reign over the equipment in the kitchen!
I started my day on the wrong foot. Tuesdays are often stressful as it is impossible to predict how much work I’d have to do after two days of being away… but yesterday took the cake. It turned out I had to slice and poach 20 potatoes and assemble two salmon terrines, in addition to catching up on some garnishes. The excuse was that I should have written a note for someone to cook off the potato slices on Monday but that’s unfair – no one else in the kitchen has to write up prep lists 2 days in advance. I should be able to trust that the sous chefs can handle my station in my absence. It was way too early in the day to already have to put up with so much BS, I almost lost it. But getting upset wasn’t going to get the work done any faster so I just buckled down and focused. Luckily Sous Chef J had nothing to do so he was able to help me with some of the other tasks.
At the end of prep, Chef came by and remarked, “Look at you! Just one salmon terrine used to take you all day but now you’ve done two AND other stuff. Good job!” It was a bit of a backhanded compliment but I appreciated it nonetheless.
And later on, Sous Chef S apologized to me for the state of my station so all is well.
For our last hurrah, we are bringing back the acclaimed King platter – an epic presentation of all of our charcuterie offerings. I had been busy building up our inventory of terrines, ensuring a variety of classic favorites. We are even bringing back the venison terrine, which has not appeared on our menu in years. Pictured above was a board I made last week for one of Chef’s VIP guests. In addition to the usual salumi, chicken liver mousse, duck and walnut pate, and salmon terrine, it also featured wild boar, pork and truffle mousse, and headcheese. Super excited for this revival, even though it means a lot of work for me!