Tag Archives: christmas

Day 18: Parental Supervision

Pomelo from my dad's tree - a gift from my parents to Chef

Pomelo from my dad’s tree – a gift from my parents to Chef

As you may have surmised from the post title and photo caption, my parents were in town today. Since Honey Bunny and I went out of town for Christmas, they graciously watched our cats for us and were returning them today. While in the area, they figured why not stop by the restaurant and see me “in action”? But more on this in a bit…

Dicing Up Salmon for Tartare

Dicing Up Salmon for Tartare

Today’s prep list was not very long, but it consisted of the most annoying and tedious tasks (super fragile crouton “rings,” for example). Luckily, I got to try and learn something new — dicing up fish for the two tartare dishes. After the crash course in fish butchery last week, I felt more comfortable with handling the gorgeously marbled salmon loin and two sides of hamachi (yellowtail). Station Lead let me borrow his knife again, with its super thin but very sharp Japanese blade. So cool. I really appreciate that they let me do the dicing (a task where even if I mess up, it’s not a huge deal). Gotta start somewhere!

No sooner had I put away the last of the diced hamachi and washed my fishy hands and cutting board did a surprise come a-knocking. Pastry Girl called over and said “people” were here to see me. My parents, cousin, and Honey Bunny were standing there, a bit hesitant to enter. I invited them in, gave them a brief tour and introduction to everyone, and went to find Chef in the walk-in. He seemed excited to see them and was very surprised to receive the pomelo. My mom had the foresight of cutting one up for them to try, and everyone in the kitchen eventually made their way over to taste the strangely dry white grapefruit. It was amazing to observe as Chef, Station Lead, and the Sous Chefs brainstormed ideas on how to use this unique citrus in various dishes, pickling and marinating it as a vegetarian “fish” because of the way it flakes. They even joked (?) about placing an order from my parents. Haha. I had Charcuterie Guy come over to meet my dad and he manned up and shared his own Vietnamese banh mi style pickle with my parents to sample and critique. Good times. After a brief visit, they said their goodbyes and we all got back to work.

I teased the Sous Chef that they were all on such good behavior for my family, to which he immediately retorted, “Of course — don’t want to piss off the Yakuza.” HA. I thought that comment was hilarious (and a bit racist). A few of the other guys continued to remark about how delicious the fruit was. One said that when he first saw it, he thought it was a giant yuzu. “It looks so little in the picture on the bottle!” he insisted. I laughed so hard, but he is right — it looks exactly like a monster-sized version of the Japanese citrus.

Family Meal: Pork Belly Mac & Cheese

Family Meal: Pork Belly Mac & Cheese

Just before service began, Chef took off. I later learned that he had had a hernia for a few weeks now but refused to take time off because of the holiday rush. “The man is a beast!” people said. He breezed past us as we huddled outside, eating our humble dinner. No one got sick from family meal this time. In fact, it was really really good. The meat really resembled the Chinese rotisserie sides of pork that hang in the windows of BBQ shops (heo quay, in Vietnamese). I wanted to go back for seconds but I knew that I would then just want to lie down and take a nap afterward. Instead, I went inside and checked on the tickets that had already begun to print.

One of the tickets on order was for a happy hour portion of oysters on the half shell. Usually Station Lead jumps at the chance to speed through the process as though he were a competitive oyster shucker, but since he and Dishwasher-Turned-Pantry Guy were outside, I went ahead and handled this order. I don’t usually get the opportunity because though I can do it, my inexperience means I’m slower than they would be. Sous Chef was manning the pass tonight in Chef’s absence and he peeked over to see if anyone was paying attention at our station. I think he was a little surprised to see me shucking and even more so when I delivered the completed order to the pass. Three oysters proudly resting in a bowl of crushed ice. A small victory but I’ll take it.

Service was sadly slow-paced today, although we had an especially long lull because of a printer malfunction (someone had unplugged it so we were not getting any tickets for about 20 minutes or so). A bit of panic set in as we fought to catch up, but then it was smooth sailing after that. Station Lead and Dishwasher-Turned-Pantry Guy took frequent cigarette breaks, leaving me to make the occasional salad and help with the Pizza and Charcuterie stations. Pizza Guy taught me how to toss pizza dough — holding it as though my hands were paws (hilarious because of his nickname around the kitchen… ask and I’ll tell). I got a nice turn off my wrist but it was hard to catch it properly. I’ll definitely have to keep practicing. Using my dough, we made a pizza for the guys to snack on — chicken, bacon, ranch. Yum!

Charcuterie Guy told me that he is planning to leave mid-January. He found a gig with a chef he used to work with and it’s a great deal — a salaried position as a Kitchen Manager / Executive Sous. He’ll have normal hours, decent pay, time off to spend with his son…. the only downside is that he would no longer be cooking regularly (mostly overseeing). I’m going to be sad to see him go; he’s been one of my best friends in the kitchen. Maybe we bonded after that booty slapping incident; that joke is still widely told among the guys today and they never stopped teasing Charcuterie Guy for it. Hahaha.

Oh – I almost forgot to mention. This year, I really wanted to be one of those people who made cute little homemade gifts in jars. So last night, despite fighting a mad allergy attack, I pumped out a dozen jars of satsuma mandarin marmalade and left them at each of the guys’ stations this morning. They seemed super excited for the Christmas present and there were lots of hugs all around, even from Pastry Girl (need I reiterate the importance of being on Pastry Girl’s good side?).

I love being part of this kitchen and can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for me. Ciao~!

Day 17: Merry Christmas!

“I’m Jewish, you insensitive jerk,” was some guy’s reply to Station-mate, who was regaling us of his hilarious cautionary tale to wish people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in order to be politically correct.

Shaved Candy-Striped Beets - aren't they cool?

Shaved Candy-Striped Beets – aren’t they cool?

Today was hectic but fun. Chef finally got to take a break for the holidays after apparently working for 32 days straight (according to Facebook), so the overall atmosphere was more relaxed and carefree. It was also a bit bittersweet as today was the last day I would get to work with Singing Hot-Apps Guy, who is moving on to another kitchen. (By the way, it has been brought to my attention that Hot Apps Guy could be misconstrued as an Appetizers Guy who is physically attractive; thus, I will be hyphenating “Hot-Apps” from now on.) But everyone was in an especially jolly mood with the approaching holidays!

I brought in a box of holiday toffee from TNT Toffee in Hermosa Beach to share (a gift from my day job). I opened up the package and left it on the table upstairs in the office where everyone has to stop by to at least pick up their aprons. As it turns out, everyone really liked it but had no idea who had brought it in until I asked someone if they had a chance to try it. Between all of them, the one-pound box had disappeared within the hour. Just in time to devour the doughnuts brought in by Catering/Events Girl.

Mint-Steeped Coffee

Mint-Steeped Coffee

I know I mention coffee on many occasions, but did I ever mention that we make ours in a pot? The first person to come in tosses coffee grounds and water into a stock pot, brings it to a boil, and strains it through a filter-lined chinois. The moment it is ready, just about everyone in the kitchen flocks over, plastic quart container in hand and fighting over the ladle. That’s right — we ladle our coffee out of a stock pot. I suppose it is the best way to make enough coffee for 15 caffeine fiends. Singing Hot-Apps Guy suggested steeping some fresh mint so I gave it a shot. When Station-mate looked at it, his eyes widened, and he whispered to me, “Hey — someone put green sh*t in your coffee….” HAHA, I love peppermint tea, so I thought it was pretty delicious!

The prep list was light today and according to the guys, it was the first night in weeks that there was no party on the books. A huge relief for us. I knocked out a handful of the items and Station Lead invited me to his cutting board for a crash course in fish butchery. He had worked at a sushi restaurant for an austere Japanese chef for years before working with Chef, so he knew his stuff. He broke down a whole loin of salmon and one of yellowtail in mere minutes. It was awesome. I love his knives too — I am definitely saving up to add a thin-bladed Japanese knife to my kit.

I was reminded of how much I love this kitchen when I observed how everyone chips in to help each other and run like a well-oiled machine. While our prep list was light, Singing Hot-Apps Guy had unintentionally prepared a batch of gnocchi dough using 6,500 grams (14 pounds!) of potato. Over twice the size of a regular batch, this meant it also took twice as long to cut and roll. Since he had to spend more time on this task, it was already 4pm or so before he was barely able to get started on ravioli. He had to move his operation over to Pastry Girl’s area, and the two Sous Chefs and I helped him out, assembly-line style. With four people tackling the ravs, we finished in no time, but not without some chitchat and joking around. Pastry Girl made a lewd comment that took one of the jokes way too far, but then she turned back and declared that, being female, she and I were the only one who could make a comment like that.

I rushed back to the Pantry station to find that Station-mate had gotten a plate of family meal for me — a generous pile of food that included deep-fried gnocchi. Chewy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, it’s like an awesome doughy tater tot. After all the snacking throughout the day, though, I didn’t really eat much of it (a good thing — I’ll elaborate later).

Service started with a bang and there was a steady flow of tickets throughout the night, with 120 on the books and many walk-ins on top of that. Charcuterie and Pizza got slammed early on, so Station-mate and I split up to help them. It got tense in the kitchen, and one of the Sous Chefs completely flipped out on Pizza Guy for being late on a ticket and then delivering a burnt pizza (“Too much character,” Station-mate calls it). A lot of yelling and arguing… it’s just like in the TV shows.

When it was fish, meat, and pasta’s time to feel the brunt of the rush, I noticed that Charcuterie Guy was working on a Vietnamese-inspired pickle. He asked me to taste it and give some feedback, and when I told him about how my dad made similar pickles, he got really excited and asked me to text him a recipe. So Dad — your ideas might star on our menu in the near future!

Shortly after we made it through the halfway mark, Station-mate wasn’t looking so good. He said he felt like it was food poisoning and that he needed to go vomit (sorry, TMI). We tried to think back on what it could have been… he and I had both eaten a lot today and many of the same things. Except one. One part of family meal was made of leftover leftovers, and I didn’t really like it so I ate around it. He apparently scarfed it down, and it was at this point that we saw a few other people feeling pretty bad as well. I told him to go get some air and I helped carry our station through the end of service.

10 o’clock rolled around and after cleaning up and breaking down our station, we went outside to hang out and unwind. The others trickled in and out, exchanging hugs and well-wishes for the holidays. Someone even shared sips of mezcal (a distilled liquor similar to tequila). More than one person mentioned that there would be Christmas gifts forthcoming, which made me feel a bit better about my belated gifts (I am planning to make everyone gifts but was not able to finish them in time to bring today). I am so thankful for this second family that I’ve had the pleasure to work with each Saturday for the past four (four!) months.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

UPDATE: Turns out I spoke too soon. That family meal spared no one and I fell ill later that night / early the next morning. Sigh. Win some, lose some? I think getting sick from a sketchy family meal really makes me one of the guys. :P