Today reminded me of what inspired me to get into the restaurant industry – the fast ramblings of an excited, creative madman who expects you to somehow execute his vision given minimal instructions and very few details. And just like on TV, all you can really say in response is, “Yes, Chef!” (That will be me someday, rendering a group of young aspiring cooks befuddled and speechless with my demands.) More on this in a bit.
At Sous Chef S’s suggestion and with Chef’s approval, I decided to make a lobster and leek terrine a la Marco Pierre White. Classic French cooking at its finest, this terrine looked beautiful and celebrated its ingredients in the simplicity of its preparation. First, I had to separate the lobster tails and claws from the rest of the body in order to skewer the tail and prevent it from curling. The running joke in the kitchen is that we are all on a highway to hell with all of the lobster lives we take (every other protein arrives… pre-butchered so to speak). Anyway, those get poached in a brandy-based court bouillon and then shocked in an ice bath. The pain in the butt was cracking open the giant claws to extract the meat, maintaining as much integrity as possible; whole claws and tails make for a more visually stunning terrine.
Then it was leek time. I had a 5 kilo bag of Holland leeks just for this teeny tiny terrine… once I peeled and trimmed all of them though, I ended up with exactly enough (about 5 pounds). I poached these for fifteen minutes until they were so soft they were barely able to hold their shape.
With these ingredients (and a terrine mold lined with plastic wrap) ready to go, I asked Chef if he could show me how best to layer the terrine. Sadly he ended up doing it FOR me rather than just showing me, but still, it was amazing to watch. He worked under MPW in the UK when he was first starting out, so I think this project brought back memories (good ones, I hope).
Just as he was finishing up, he declared that we should serve this with a lobster vinaigrette. He turned to me and started rattling off a list of ingredients and instructions for making a lobster infused oil. The conversation literally went like, “Alright, go fetch some mirepoix and sweat it down. Get the lobster bodies and roast those, do ya know what I mean? Add some tarragon…. and ginger! Add ginger. And a bit of tomato paste. Top it off with olive oil and set it somewhere warm to steep.” He gave no warning for me to grab a pen and paper; I just had to commit it all to memory. That paragraph looks simple enough now, but imagine it spoken very quickly and in a British accent. I was dumbfounded but managed to reply “Yes, Chef” before running off to gather ingredients and repeat them to myself before I forget. Upon closer inspection, you’ll also notice that he gave no quantities, no timing, no oven temperature… it was all up to me and my intuition. Stressful, but I enjoy these challenges. I like being handed difficult situations and making things happen.
We’ll see how the oil (and the terrine!) turn out tomorrow. And tomorrow I’ll be making my first salumi: a round of mortadella! So excited!