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…
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.
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~!