Monthly Archives: December 2014

Christmas in the Kitchen

image

When I was growing up, I used to nickname my dad the “No Holiday Man.” Whenever I was off from school, especially during the winter, he usually had to work while my mom would generally get federal holidays off. It would be a good year if the holiday happened to fall on his scheduled day off. But what I never understood nor appreciated until this past week was this: it really sucks to have to work when it feels like the rest of the world is having fun and spending time with loved ones. And most importantly, I learned how difficult it is to explain to others that I (and people like my dad) don’t choose to miss out on Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving or other days that should be spent with friends and family.

image

Anyway, Christmas Eve was crazy busy during dinnertime (we got slammed around 7/7:30pm) and the wave retreated as quickly as it came. The dining room was empty by 9, so some of the guys went to the store to get beer. After our shift, a few of us hung out in the alley drinking Tecate and toasting Feliz Navidad…. Sassy Stage was using it as an excuse to be sociable while also avoiding midnight mass with his family. Ha!

image

Christmas Day was relaxing. We brought home Peking duck from a nearby Chinese restaurant (doing Christmas like the Jews), played some board games, and “rented” the movie that seems to be challenging our modern definition of free speech — The Interview. It was a stupid-funny Seth Rogen movie, exactly as expected, though wildly racist against North Koreans. Was it worth all the hype? No, not really, but I was glad to have seen it if only to be able to talk about it with everyone else.

image

On Friday morning, I brought in some Taiwanese beef rolls from, believe it or not, the mall food court, and all of the guys loved it. Chef ate almost a whole roll by himself!

image

Friday and Saturday were okay, mostly making chicken liver mousses to get my station ready for NYE and to have extra made for the hundreds of wellingtons we’ll be making for NYE as well. The smoked salmon terrine I made on Saturday will be the last one I make at the restaurant and I had to 86 the Henry the 8th board… it’s the end of an era! Meanwhile we still have the smaller charcuterie board but soon we’ll run out of the Terrine of the Day for those too, then duck & walnut and salmon after that, until all I will be making is chicken liver mousse until we close. So sad! On the bright side, most of my menu favorites are staying, and my parents are coming in for date night next week. Excited for them to try my food!

Advertisements

Female Chefs in Film: The Hundred-Foot Journey

Tonight after work, Honey Bunny and I had an impromptu date night at home, ordering a pizza and popping in a movie. I’d heard good things about The Hundred-Foot Journey and Honey Bunny was in the mood to watch something new, so we selected that.

On the surface, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a charming story of an Indian family who opens a restaurant literally one hundred feet away from a Michelin starred establishment in the French countryside. There’s a Romeo and Juliet type love story between the talented son who had learned how to cook by watching his mother and the classically trained female (!) sous chef of the haute cuisine kitchen across the street. Without spoiling the movie for everyone, there were ups and downs and a happy ending.

It’s the kind of movie that I would usually enjoy, but sadly it just made me angry and I know that is entirely due to the life I lead now. Kitchen Life is not easy for anyone but I think it is especially difficult for a female to rise through the ranks in this male-dominated industry.

In the movie, Marguerite had labored and toiled for years to earn the title of sous chef with the hope of becoming head chef after that, but it takes just a few months for the prodigy Hassan to shine as the golden boy at Le Saule Pleureur, wowing the Michelin critics with the incorporation of Indian spices into traditional French dishes. The movie plays off Marguerite’s reactions as jealousy but if you ask me, she is understandably frustrated that her hard work is being overlooked because of someone who just showed up and blew everyone out of the water. I’d be livid!

A similar situation occurred in Ratatouille when Collette was concerned that Linguine was just using her so that he could impress the chef and move past her. Though he did finally give proper credit to Remy for his culinary skills, Collette never gets her moment in the sun and at best becomes business (and romantic) partners with Linguine. Luckily, the (animated) food porn, feel-good primary story, and cute anthropomorphic rodent protagonist keep that movie on my all-time favorites list.

Anyway, I was a bit sad and angry and disappointed to realize that not just one but at least two movies depict this dynamic of the male “star” chef and the hardworking female who will always work under him regardless of her own merits, skills, talent, ideas… It’s archaic and a remnant of the way this industry used to be.

It also just inspires me to work harder so I can achieve my dream of earning a Michelin star (or similar prestige) someday, still a rare accomplishment for females in the industry. An unexpected realization to have come from watching an ordinary ol’ movie chosen for date night.

Cultivating Ideas

image

I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so tired at work today until I realized that my schedule was all messed up this week: worked 5 days, then one day off, work 3 more days, then Christmas Day off, work 2 days, and then finally I’ll get the longest break I’ve had all year: three days off in a row. I definitely took for granted how nice it is to have two days off to recuperate after a week of work, but luckily, Mondays are typically pretty easy and I got one of the FOH guys to make me an espresso.

The great irony of the day, however, was just how many Henry VIII boards were ordered on a day that I’m usually not working. (Six, in case you were wondering.) I guess a lot of people are coming out of the woodwork to partake in our charcuterie one last time before we close, and even a Monday night is no exception.

The coffee kept me all wound up long after I got home so I used this time to further my learning and research about food. Okay, fine, I mostly just sat in bed and thumbed through The Gramercy Tavern cookbook looking at the pretty pictures. But I also jotted down some ideas to add to my journal and even started playing around with menu planning (I may or may not be entertaining the possibility of hosting a pop-up dinner in the near future…). After two hours, my head is still spinning with ideas for dishes, pairing ingredients, cooking methods, even garnishes and plating. This isn’t the first time I’ve conceptualized dishes (sometimes I’d even draw color-coded sketches) but it is the first session where I’ve sat down for the sole purpose of being creative about food and I think that’s a pretty exciting step toward becoming a real “chef.”

image

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

image

Apologies for the lack of updates this week. December is our busy season with 20- and 30-person holiday parties booking our private room just about every evening. Imagine having to put together 7 of X, 5 of Y but one of them without meat, and 15 of Z for which we may or may not have enough of the same plates… and they all have to arrive at the pass at the same time. Meanwhile we have to keep working regular dinner service which is already in full swing because who wouldn’t throw a party during peak dinner-eating hours?

On the bright side, we all had an excuse to listen to Christmas songs during prep. Festive music helped to ease the tension so we could all de-stress a bit. Well, most of us. Sous Chef S continued his relentless complaining which had not ceased since last week when Chef took off unexpectedly for being sick as a dog. Grinch aside, listening to that Christmas song by Alvin and the Chipmunks (you know, the one that goes, “Me, I want a hula hoop!”) while working alongside ten dudes definitely made my day.

Anyway, I’m working all this week, other than Christmas Day, in exchange for taking a mini vacation with both my and Honey Bunny’s families just before New Year’s. I’m super excited for it though there’s a lot of work to do before that (we have a prix fixe dinner event going on for NYE). Here’s to another week!

PS: We went to see the final Hobbit movie tonight and I was so happy to hear (a paraphrase of) my favorite Tolkien quote toward the end — If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

Fan Club

image

On Thursday night, one of the servers walked into the kitchen to tell me that a group of people had ordered a Henry VIII charcuterie platter and name-dropped me. I didn’t recognize the name of the guest until I recalled a message I had read on Instagram from a follower who had mentioned that he and his fellow foodie friends would be dining with us that night. (So of course, I only knew them by their instagram handles.) It was fun meeting them in person and I felt like a minor celebrity. (I later saw that they posted pictures of my dishes on Instagram and mentioned that it was “really cool” that I came out to see them!)

I got my time to shine again the next day (Friday) when an old acquaintance unexpectedly decided to bring his colleagues in for a holiday dinner. A different server told me about this table and again, I didn’t recognize the name. I also got swamped with tickets, sending out five charcuterie boards back to back. But at the end of the night, the server came back and said they were still there if I wanted to say hi. I was curious (the name was bugging me all night!) so I followed him out into the dining room. He told me along the way that he wish Chef understood how much customers love it when chefs come out to greet guests at their table (“he might have a larger fan club,” he added). As soon as I saw the face I was so surprised. He was one of my clients when I worked my old office job!!! They seemed to have a really good time and seeing that reminded me of why I love my job – I get to make people happy by creating good food.

They asked me where I was headed after the restaurant closes and I said I was considering Chef’s new project. They seemed eager to see where I end up next, and I’m just excited to be building a small following outside of my friends and family (my OG fan club… love you all!).

It’s not all sunny over here though. I am still sick (common cold, methinks). Honey Bunny laughed when I told him about how dissatisfied I was with the shitty tasting cough drops I bought and he laughed even harder when I told him about my minutes-long internal debate at VONS. There I stood in the cold medicine aisle, trying to choose between my old reliable Ricola ($1.99) and the generic “honey lemon herb menthol” drops that were on sale for $0.99. I decided to save that dollar because hey – the struggle is real, guys. Huge mistake.

Oh well… I’m just glad my weekend is finally here and I can try to recuperate. Stay warm, friends!