Monthly Archives: February 2015

Better Than Expected


Wednesday was a busy day for me during prep. Making harissa broth is by no means rocket science; in essence, you’re just layering flavors like composing a good soup. The difficulty lay in the fact that I had to use a stock pot large enough for me to bathe in so that I could make a batch that yielded 20 quarts. I had to stand on my tiptoes just to reach into the pot and stir the veg as I sautéed them. Luckily the guys nearby were sympathetic to my plight and helped me lift the piping hot pot when it came time to “drop” the stock. (That expression made sense when we made stock in a kettle and the finished product would literally dispense from the bottom of it, but it seems we can use it universally to refer to straining a stock from its cooking vessel into a storage container.) Service was unremarkable, although just before we started, we made some dishes to present potluck-style to the other restaurant in the hotel (they did the same for us as part of this food tasting thing for Back of House Appreciation Week). My contribution is pictured above — pan-seared sous vide beef cheeks. Yum!

Tonight, our restaurant was bought out by a company for their own special event. They preselected dishes off our menu so each station ended up prepping for just one or two dishes (and about 30 servings of each). It was awesome watching the pass get taken over by each dish in succession.

The nature of the dinner service meant that we all had time to prep and float and the overall ambiance was more relaxed. I got to chat with one of the Lead Cooks, a tomboy-ish girl who reminds me of a good friend from high school. She’s a badass and has already become a role model and mentor to me. Anyway, I asked her if she knew Meat Guy because I had worked with him and her reply was “Oh YOU’RE the one he recommended??” I honestly couldn’t tell if her tone implied that I was better or worse than what they had expected. I ended up just asking her bluntly and she said that it’s a good thing, that I exceeded their expectations. I guess Meat Guy didn’t leave them with a good impression or on positive terms. In fact, it’s looking like I got the job not because of his hookup but rather in spite of it… but at least they like me!

Another funny bit of conversation from today – Sous Chef M talking about the average clientele for the exclusive dining room we have for special tasting menus: “I love the Asians. They often arrive late but they eat fast, rarely have allergies, and they’ll eat anything and everything.”

I also got to catch up with Sous Chef J and Sous Chef S via text tonight. It was nice touching base and I hadn’t realized how much I missed them until we spent hours updating each other on our lives 140 characters at a time. Sous Chef J reminded me that I have what it takes to be successful in this world and to keep being brave and pushing forward. Sous Chef S texted a LOT just like how he used to talk my ear off at the restaurant and I could only chuckle reminiscing about it. It’s only been three weeks but this world moves fast.

On that note, good night!

New Routine

So I’m still keeping my fingers crossed, but it seems that I’ve finally settled into a new routine that includes my desired days off. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I run Plancha I on my own; Thurs-Fri-Sat are busier so it’s me and my station partner; and then I have Sundays and Mondays off while my station partner flies solo. It’s still a bit nerve-wracking coming to work and knowing that it’s just going to be me, myself and I. Howecer, I try to remind myself to feel good about the fact that I was working the station by myself by my second week and that the chef and sous chefs are already confident (enough) in my abilities.

Today was a busy day prep-wise. We spend a good part of the week making up for all the mise we go through on our busier nights. But I hustled and managed to get everything done before I went on my break.

Family meal was some sad looking meatloaf so I opted for cereal and yogurt. Service was fairly slow although there were a few bursts of tickets to occupy our time. Nothing I couldn’t handle. I also got ahead on prep for tomorrow as I will have two big projects to tackle – making harissa broth and prepping out sofrito – along with some smaller tasks. I’m always excited and nervous when I have to make something I hadn’t made before. Hope it turns out well!

Two Weeks In


Well, it’s official — I will never be a hand model. Not that I really wanted that anyway, but random people had told me from time to time that my hands would be great for jewelry ads and whatnot. But after this second week, my forearms and hands are marred with oil splatter burns, battle scars to remind me of tonight’s crazy dinner service.

I cooked for the first half of service while my station partner plated dishes and we switched halfway through. It turned out to be pretty fair because we each had to power through an influx of tickets and dig ourselves out of the weeds. I started breaking a sweat from the heat of the plancha and just from moving so quickly. Despite the burns that I was racking up, I just had to keep going and tough it out, no time to pause and run cold water over them. Adrenaline is magical.

I was closing tonight as well and it was not until the slow drag of late night that I finally had time to think about and process the pain. It sucked. After I showered, I sat in bed for literally ten minutes spot-treating my arms with q-tips and a tube of burn cream that Honey Bunny had picked up for me after a particularly bad incident back at the old restaurant.

Thankfully, my weekend is here, although this week felt a bit short anyway since I worked only four days (after working 6 the week before). I am looking forward to spending time with Honey Bunny and my skin could definitely use some well-deserved recuperation.

Handling It

A few quick updates. It turns out that my surprise solo run was indeed a surprise as the guy who was supposed to work with me called in sick at the last minute. But at Thursday’s meeting, Chef mentioned that it was an unusually slow night (about 200 covers) and we had plenty of staff so she was not worried about us especially since “everyone of you can handle your station by yourself with this many covers.” She looked each of us in the eye as she said this, and I was thrilled that it included me as well.

My schedule this week was alternating between opening shifts (3pm-11:30pm) and closing shifts (4:30pm-1am). So on Thursday, there wasn’t a whole lot of prep left by the time I arrived; I diced eggplant and washed spinach while my station partner went on break. I spent most of the night cooking and was on my own again by around 9pm when our reservations dropped off and most of the “openers” were being sent home early while the closers stayed behind.

….. My thoughts got interrupted just now by the sight of our girl-cat dropping a toy mouse squarely onto Honey Bunny’s face. He didn’t seem pleased about being startled awake and by none other than an insult to his hunting prowess. Moving on…

Yesterday I was an opener, which I prefer for a few reasons. I’m still getting used to shifting the bulk of my free time to the morning/afternoon before work and I’ve found that I am ironically more productive on 3pm days. I like coming in early and leaving early. Traffic is better than it is later in the day. And I have control over the prep and setup.

By the time my station partner arrived, all he had to do was dice apples and make apple puree while I went on break. The staff meal in the cafeteria was some sort of shady looking fish dish so I opted for cereal instead. Probably weakened by the insufficient sustenance, I wasn’t really feeling up to the hustle and bustle of the line at first and volunteered to work in the satellite kitchen for the first part of service  to get ahead on the next day’s prep. After dicing 8 onions and grating 30 tomatoes for sofrito, I rejoined the line and my station partner and I pushed through about 350 covers.

I got out early enough to pick up Honey Bunny to go out for burgers and beer at one of our favorite bars before their kitchen closed. It was an impromptu late night date night and I was happy to have that extra time together.

Speaking of which, the new schedule was posted and I have Sunday and Monday off, plus mostly opening shifts next week. Score!

On My Own

I had to channel my inner Eponine yesterday when I arrived at the restaurant and learned that I was going to be pushed out of the nest and flying solo. (In case my reference was too obscure, Eponine sings a song called “On My Own” in the musical Les Miserables.) I meant to double check the schedule to see whether it was intentional or someone who was supposed to be my partner was a no-show. In any case, it was now or never.

Prep went fairly smoothly. The downfall of having such a large kitchen, I’ve found, is that I waste a lot of time walking from one end to the other to retrieve the things I need. Forgot to grab a spatula? That’s two minutes wasted… and I walk fast! No more Robotcoupe tops? Time to walk back to the dish pit to see if one has been washed and ready to be used.

But I pushed through — in just two hours I made bleu cheese dressing and cauliflower puree, roasted the peewee potatoes, warmed the beef cheeks, sous vide’d red bell peppers, and set up the station including mixing flour for pan-frying chicken wings and reheating harissa broth for table-side service for the couscous. By the time I had to go on mandatory break, all I had left to do was dice two apples and pop the seeds out of a pomegranate. Prep list conquered.

Service was less lucky. We had 200 on the books, but there was a party that would be ordering 5-6 of just about everything on the menu. It started out slow but steady. One or two dishes at a time and no new tickets until I had finished plating the previous round. But then the party threw me off my game with six orders of sauteed spinach followed by six orders of beef cheeks… plus regular tickets. I panicked for a moment but then I pulled my pans onto the plancha to heat and just kept cooking. One of the other guys noticed I was going down and came over to help me plate. Saute pan after saute pan went from the holding area to the burner to the hotel pan that collected dirty dishes. My all-day counts crept higher and higher until at one point I was firing four couscous, nine beef cheeks, two wings, five spinach, all at one time. Handling the party took up my time and burner space so the regular tickets suffered (I think it took 15 minutes to get an order of chicken wings out), but after a few hard-fought hours, my board was finally clear. I plated the last nine beef cheeks by myself and cleaned up the tornado that had blown through my station.

At the end of the night, the guys came over, grinning, and asked me “So… how did it go?” They all knew it was my first day on my own and they all saw me go down pretty far into the weeds. But they were impressed by my fight. Grill Girl (yeah, there’s a chick on the grill station here.. so cool!) gave me a high five and said that I “handled”! She said she didn’t hear me cry once (in either sense of the word — shedding tears or complaining) or give up and that I kept pushing. She concluded her sentiment with this: “It’s really cool that you’re on plancha.” I guess what she meant was that even in a kitchen this size, with ten stations, it’s still a big deal to work your way up to the hot stations and for someone new like me to be able to keep up with the guys, well that’s just awesome.

I came home exhausted, dehydrated, and head spinning from the chaos, but nights like that reminded me of why I love what I do. The kitchen constantly throws challenges at you and you’d be surprised how strong, innovative, and adaptable you could be when you need it most.