Tag Archives: cooking

New Project: Lobster & Leek Terrine

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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!

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Always Improving

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As soon as I arrived today, I was greeted by Chef frantically announcing that we all need to get set up ASAP as we will be starting with the happy hour menu at noon and nixing the snack menu. It sucked, but at least I had anticipated not being able to get much done while trying to work around nonstop service from noon to 10pm. I managed to finish my light prep list and even help Fish Guy with some of his prep (returning the favor for his help with the daikon and carrots the night before).

I was bummed that we nixed the snack menu after having put in all that effort to make those damned Scotch eggs, but Chef suggested frying them off to accompany family meal today. They were gone before I could even bring them out to the dining room, snatched up eagerly by the guys in the kitchen. At least they all seemed to enjoy it. It kinda makes my effort worthwhile… kinda.

The noon game was stressful — we knew that if England lost, Chef would be in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Noon is VERY early to already experience Angry Chef, so we were all silently praying for the UK. Sadly, they lost to Uruguay and the vibe was a bit off for the rest of the day. Service was slow and instead of getting angsty, Chef just called it a day and went home early, leaving us in Sous Chef S’s capable hands.

The mood immediately improved as everyone relaxed a bit. We still run like a well-oiled machine (the Henry Ford quote “Quality is doing it right when no one is looking” still hangs in our kitchen) but without the added stress of Chef’s watchful eye. It was an interesting dinner service as Sous Chef J was assigned to the pizza station! I liked watching him pull and stretch the dough; he has intense focus and deftly moves his hands as though he’d been making pizzas for years (this was apparently his first time working the station). Again he brings his zen-like demeanor and calm aura, much appreciated in the chaos that is the Kitchen. I’m still working on not getting too frazzled when I start to get overwhelmed with tickets.

But the exciting thing about today is that I was able to make the proper pickling liquid per my dad’s recipe, using this cane sugar based coconut vinegar that he likes. I also sprinkled the vegetables with kosher salt and let it sit for a few minutes, purging all the excess water, before pickling them. The result tasted great, and passers-by did tell me that it reminded them of eating banh mi (which was the idea). Also, I cut into my second round of the five spice pork liver mousse today; this was the batch where I had soaked the livers in milk overnight to mellow out the iron-y flavor. This too was a huge improvement on the first and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

The 19-year-old (I had previously referred to him as Fish Stage because the first day I met him, he had been shadowing Fish Guy, but he was since hired to work on Pantry and I most often refer to him as part of the Pantry Boys…) asked me an interesting question today: if I were offered to move up to Hot-Apps now, would I accept? I really want to work on the Hot Line, but I really, really love Charcuterie. There is so much to learn and so much room to experiment, and I am making a product that I am truly proud of (follow me on Instagram to see my frequent posts of new projects). I am a bit envious that Musician Stage skipped the rest of the Cold Line to start working a few days a week on Hot-Apps, and I heard that Station-mate is coming back and will be working on that station as well even after his disastrous difficulties with Charcuterie. But that’s not the point, is it? I don’t need to move at the same pace as them, and going onto the Hot Line doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re “better” than I am. Plus, what I am learning is a more unique opportunity. After all, every kitchen has a Hot-Apps/Saute station, but how many have house-made charcuterie? And so, my answer was that I am happy to spend more time on this station. My perfectionist desire to adhere to recipes (weighing out ingredients down to the gram) coupled with a creative urge to experiment makes this the perfect station for me, with or without a stove to stand in front of.

Early Morning, Late Night

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Yesterday felt especially exhausting as I had to run some errands in the morning for work. Two items on my order list were panko breadcrumbs (to make another round of those oh so fun Scotch eggs) and blue tape (the lifeline of the kitchen to those who are vigilant about labeling everything). Sous Chef J’s reply to each of those items was, “Can you pick them up?” Sigh. So at 9:30am, I headed to Home Depot to grab the contractor’s special 9-pack of tape before swinging by the local Japanese grocery store to pick up some breadcrumbs (and two onigiri – more on this later).

On the bright side, I managed to finish assembling a smoked salmon terrine in about an hour and forty minutes. I’m getting faster at it each time, so that’s exciting! I have to tack on an extra few minutes for filleting the salmon loins and making the anchovy butter though; Fish Guy told me that he was able to do the salmon terrine from start to finish in 1.5 hours. That’s my next goal!

Speaking of goals, we opened for the snack menu again: Chile vs. Spain! Despite only having a handful of people sitting at the bar, they all ordered food and drink. It surprised me after the first time when we had dozens of people flock to the bar but only a few tickets for food ring in.

Regular service was slow though. So slow that Chef called it a night at 9pm and switched to the Late Night menu. Sous Chef S, my usual Late Night partner, wasn’t working that day so Fish Guy filled in. I had planned to get some prep done in anticipation for all-day service today (Thursday) but I was so tired I had mentally prepared myself to push it off. Fish Guy offered to help and it made the work go so much faster. I was cutting some fine julienne of daikon and carrots for a second batch of pickles, and he showed me some tips to make it easier and more consistent. Much kinder than during the day when all I’d hear (sometimes at me and sometimes at others in the same situation of endless cutting) is comments like “You’re STILL working on that?” and “Those need to be smaller/better/finer!” from passers-by. And I got to knock an item off my prep list! Yay!

Off I go to start another day. Snack menu at noon, early happy hour at 3pm, and then regular happy hour and dinner service after that. Sheesh!

Daytime Drinking

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Fresh mango as a post-work midnight snack.

The World Cup continues, which means we opened our doors at noon today for the Mexico vs. Brazil game. It is a cruel punishment to try to get work done in the middle of our normal prep time only to be periodically interrupted by the evil ticket machine. Each time a ticket rang in, it made me bitterly wonder what kind of person has the luxury of coming out to our bar to drink and nosh on a Tuesday afternoon. Must be nice…

Today was also the first day ever that I was among the last to arrive, not because I was late (it was only 11:05) but because apparently the guys had all planned to start their day early in order to take an hour long break to watch the game! Oh guys. No matter; Pizza Guy J streamed the game on his phone, so even though I had plenty of work to do, I was still able to listen in on the highlights.

Sous Chef S left me a prep list and even ordered a pig’s head for me to make a second round of headcheese. Unfortunately it arrived frozen solid, so Chef suggested butchering it tomorrow after it has some time to thaw.

I focused on making sure my station was set up properly and double checked my mise. I had to butter two terrines, so I spent a good amount of my day in the walk-in. While I was in there, Chef, who was working on the wellingtons, told me that he had received feedback that the terrines were under-seasoned and that next time, we’ll cook off a small amount to taste and adjust prior to baking the entire batch. He didn’t seem to be blaming me. I always scale the recipes properly and I weigh everything out to the gram, so I think he’s just looking to refine and adjust his own recipe. That’s what I love about cooking; you’re always looking to improve and try something different.

Service was respectably busy for a Tuesday; I generally gauge how busy my station is by the number of charcuterie boards we sell. Today’s number is 3, surprisingly high as we generally sell more pizzas earlier in the week while charcuterie sales soar on and around the weekends. By 9pm though, it seemed that the restaurant had cleared out because the flow of tickets slowed substantially. I started breaking down early in hopes of leaving early, but no such luck – we found out at the last minute that we were getting bug bombed and would have to cover everything, move dishes to the walk-in, clear off shelves… the whole drill.

We’re opening at noon again tomorrow and I’m in desperate need of Scotch eggs, so I’m planning to come in early and make sure I have time to finish my prep. I mapped out my game plan for the next week or so. If everything works out, I’ll be making a lobster & leek terrine a la Marco Pierre White (which Chef had made while working under the tutelage of the man himself!) on Friday and then starting my first salumi on Saturday with a batch of mortadella. Super excited to try these new projects!

Week 22: Eight Hour Service

Another one of Sous Chef J's hilarious blue tape messages

Another one of Sous Chef J’s hilarious blue tape messages

So we opened at 2pm today for the England vs. Italy World Cup game for early happy hour, which ran right into our usual 5pm happy hour and dinner service after that. By the end of the night, we were all absolutely exhausted. A five-hour service (on Saturday night, especially) is already rough, but eight?? Brutal.

Knowing that we were opening early, we all had to adjust our game plan a bit, though I think I may have been affected the most. Each of the other stations had at least two cooks working tonight, so they could divvy it up (one works happy hour while the other continues prepping). But since Charcuterie is me, myself, and I, I had to think things through. As soon as I arrived I knocked out the prep I would need for happy hour items so they would be ready for early service. I cleaned up a corner of my station to set up all of the garnishes and kept a cutting board on my side table to keep prepping between tickets. It was tough, especially with everyone scrambling with last-minute prep and therefore using up all of the good equipment — the chinois without any tears, the measuring cup that wasn’t cracked, the Vitamix blender top with the sharp blades. I managed to do a half-recipe (15 jars) of happy hour chicken liver mousse so that Meat Guy (or one of the sous) would not be screwed for Sunday’s service. Chicken liver mousse needs to rest for at least a few hours after cooking before you can butter it and serve; having to whip it up for the same day’s service would be seriously cutting it close.

We easily did 110 covers in the first hour of the early happy hour service. Being a British gastropub and airing the England vs. Italy game, we seemed to attract all of the ex-pats out of the woodwork. Orders came rushing in with fish & chips and bangers & mash. It was intense and we could hear the crowd quickly forming at the bar. Not gonna lie, hearing all the cheers and yells really made me want to not be at work and to be out celebrating just like them!

We had a short break before the happy hour tickets rolled in. We had 135 on the books for regular dinner service, a respectable number but what made the evening difficult was the way the reservations were distributed. We had an unusually high number of large parties, 6-tops, 8-tops, 10-tops, a 16-top, some double-booked to arrive at the same time, some barely scattered by a 15-minute gap. INSANE.

TGI(my)F indeed. It made me feel as though I were in college and had all of my finals on the Friday of finals week: get slammed all at once and go out with a bang. Time to relax and enjoy the weekend!

Oh yeah, pro-tip: if you’re ever in need of a liquid bandage, super glue is the kitchen’s go-to item. Another pro-tip: water makes super glue react. I burned myself on the panini press the other day (there’s a stupid raised ridge on the bottom platform that singes your wrist if you don’t reach in at the right angle) and the blister burst open, leaving a wound exposed to the dangers of vinegar splash from my station’s garnishes (stings like a mo’fo!). Fish Guy offered me some super glue today and as I stood there waiting for it to dry, he trickled a bit of water onto it and it instantly solidified and turned white in color. It’s like a synthetic scab now, which is awesome.

And Happy Father’s Day! I’m so thankful for my dad’s never-ending support, especially this past year as I’ve embarked on this venture into the restaurant world. Food speaks to him and I feel like we have so much more to talk about nowadays, which is really great. Love you, Dad!