Day 3. Working 6 days a week is starting to take its toll on my body, especially since I feel like I’m STILL recovering from the epic Labor Day Grotto Hike Fiasco (how it gets to be 90+ degrees in Malibu and still a good idea to go hiking is beyond me, but hey – we survived and had a great time!). Regardless, I woke up excited to get in the kitchen and learn something new. I always do.
I was told that business was booming this past week and that there would be a lot of prep work to do today. I glanced at the prep list and got started on the task I knew would inevitably be assigned to me — petite herb salad. Luckily, frisee and I have developed a better relationship in our short time together, and my hands are able to pick those pesky little yellow hairs much more deftly and efficiently. It may be a bit of muscle memory developing, or my desire to finish quicker with the promise of being able to pair up with my station lead and work on some “cooler” projects today. I think it was the latter.
My motivation paid off. I finally got to use a knife today. I halved heirloom cherry tomatoes, and I halved them good. Green ones, purple ones, orange ones, yellow ones, and of course, bright red ones. I had a veritable rainbow packed away in those plastic quart containers. And the adventure was just beginning.
My next task was to pick concord grapes off their stems. We were making a gelée — hand-juicing the grapes through a China cap, boiling it down with secret flavorings, blooming strips of gelatin, and pouring the mixture onto trays in thin sheets. I was reminded of why I love the food here — it’s impressive how much intricacy goes into every dish… I mean, look at all this effort for a garnish!
Perhaps the most exciting part of my day was helping to season and mix the fish tartare dishes. The salmon one was my favorite, mostly because I’m partial to the preserved lemons common to Moroccan cuisine. That one had the most complex plating, as you can see in the photo above. All of those greens? Hand placed by tweezers. Not even kidding.
The albacore tartare was to be made into a torchon. Encased in plastic wrap, the finished product resembled a raw fish sausage. I also became privy to just how much oil goes into making a good tartare. As much as I love them, I don’t think I’ll be ordering them anymore…
I generally tried my best to make myself useful. I arranged strips of salmon skin onto a baking sheet to make the cracklings for garnish, I fetched items from the walk-in and back fridge… luckily, my station lead took it upon himself to show me some new tricks today, so I had an opportunity to observe and take mental notes.
Today’s lesson was brought to you by the letter X — xanthan gum! We used it to thicken a dressing that ended up with the viscosity of a mayo without any of the oil or heaviness. It was fluffy like a cloud. Pretty cool. Another noteworthy part of prep was getting to use the Vitamix to make truffle aioli. Yum… I was jealous of all the tickets that came in with “Fries” on them. Those people were in for a treat!
It was so hot today that some of prep was spent in the walk-in itself. Shortly before service, I helped my station lead cut and prepare a cucumber mint gelée (for the albacore) as well as the grape gelée (for the salmon). We also rolled the tuna torchons (he did most of them though — my failed attempts were, to use his words, “painful to watch”).
Despite the massive prep list, everything was done with plenty of time to set up for service. After scarfing down a quick family meal (which oddly resembled tom kha gai but with a curry-like consistency), I buckled down and prepared for the influx of tickets. Happy Hour went by like a blur. Happy peach, happy tuna, happy arugula salad… I tried to anticipate the guys’ needs, setting out ingredients and bowls, but largely, I was just trying to stay out of their way.
Luckily, I was able to prove my worth with the tartare dishes. Having a personal interest in those dishes (I’ll almost always order a beef or tuna or salmon tartare if it’s on the menu!), I paid close attention to each and every element on the plate and prepared them for the station lead in advance whenever they were fired. He gave me a proverbial gold star (“She’s a rock star,” I think he said) so that helped my confidence level.
After a steady stream of tickets all the way until the end of dinner service, we were finally able to take a deep breath and clean up. Lots of plastic wrap all around! And when everything was put away, I went upstairs to grab my backpack to find a few of the guys chatting with Chef. It was fun listening to them share their “war stories,” so to speak. They gave me advice as well – don’t go to culinary school. Or if I do decide to get a culinary education, try going to Europe. They say the quality of education is much better and the price is comparable if not cheaper than in the US. It gave me a lot to think about as this adventure of mine progresses.
In any case, we parted with familiar words — “See you next Saturday?” “You bet.”