Monday, September 8, 2008

Now, Onto Savory!

As I left pastry, I could see everyone was settling in and setting up their stations. Stocks were being stirred and I began to smell a mushroom soup as well as a lobster stock. The start of a Duck Bolognese was coming together (with some fantastic Muscat wine being poured in!), while a polenta was being stirred on another stove top. The fish station was coming together with ice being loaded into a number of hotel pans, and the fire was starting to get going at the grill station. I could see cooks looking through their mise en place and ‘borrowing’ from each other’s little containers of ingredients.

I looked down to the pastry area and saw that there were a few more people that had come in by now. There were peaches all over the counter, and those corn waffles were done now and sitting on the counter cooling. I kind of wish I could have stayed down there. I wanted to see that peach dessert come together (served with a Prosecco sauce!) But it was time to move on and I couldn’t think about pastry anymore. And I was excited. Chef told me to follow him into the walk-in. He asked me to grab a bowl and started throwing things into it. I was still unsure what we were doing. Celery was going into it, and herbs—thyme, dill and parsley.

We headed out to the kitchen and he claimed a spot on the line. He told me they had gotten some fresh branzino in, and that was going to be the special for the night. They were going to be grilled and finished off in the oven, and we were preparing everything that went with it. It was going to be served with a romesco sauce, some fresh figs, some olives, chestnuts, fingerling potatoes and a celery salad with a lime vinaigrette. Mediterranean flavors for a Mediterranean fish.

I was to start by picking off the leaves off the top of the celery—just from the most inner leaves. I rinsed my herbs, and then set them aside to dry. Then I was to cut the olives. First cut off the ends on both sides, and then to remove the pit from the olive. I was left with two discs and then the middle part of the olive, with a hole down the center. One of the line cooks had come by to see what we were doing. He suggested using the cherry pitter for pitting the olives. He was adorable. Came back to check on me throughout the process, and kept wanting to know how the cherry pitter was working. Brilliantly!

When it came to washing the herbs, I wondered if I was suppose to rinse them? Soak them? Pat it dry at the end or let it air dry? Even the simplest thing, "wash the herbs", turned into something that made me think.

All the while, I was trying to keep my station clean, returning items back to the walk-in when I was done, taking items to dish (I just couldn’t get enough of the dish station!), and keeping everything together in small tins once they were all cut and prepared.

I found myself biting my lip throughout the day just to stop myself from smiling
. I was already that awkward ‘new girl’ in the kitchen. I didn’t need to be the creepy smiling awkward ‘new girl’. Right?

The romesco sauce had been started before I got there, but as Chef was walking around and tending to a million other things, I was to keep my eye on it. I wasn’t sure what the consistency was really suppose to be, and I tried to move the sauce around so that it wasn’t sticking nor burning. But there was no spoon or spatula or anything. I was actually suppose to just be "flipping it". I of course, was too timid to do that, but it was clear my sliding it around wasn’t enough. One of the other chefs took pity on me I think, and each time he walked by, he would also come to the stove and give the sauce a good flip. Thank goodness for Seth’s help. The sauce didn’t burn and when Chef came back, he seemed happy with it. Phew!

Next step? Blend it. Chef put it all together in a blender and told me to head back to the prep area, look for a guy named Nacho working a blender, and ask him to blend this. I was off. Eyes wide open for a guy with a blender. I found him and asked him nicely to help me blend this for Chef. Damn him, he had all these questions. What consistency did I want it? Should he add some water to thin it out? Yikes. I didn’t ask. I didn’t even think to ask. Add water? Better not add a thing until I check with Chef. Good thing. I took it back to Chef, and he added a few other things (and yes, water did end up being one of the things!). A few more seconds on the blender, and we were good. The sauce ended up turning out beautifully! My first romesco! I’m going to give it a try at home.

During this time, I was watching everyone else hard at work. I asked a lot of questions. What are you making now? What are you doing? I saw family meal come together. The cook doing that? Super skilled and super quick with his knife. He was not someone I’d mess with.

Speaking of Family Meal Chef. One of my happiest moments in the kitchen? When he asked me to stir the cous cous he was making for family meal. Me? Stir the cous cous? Yes! Of course! Happy to help!

Another chef, Jamie (great name!), was grilling and cooking one of the branzino (that had been stuffed with all those herbs I had cleaned). We were going to plate it and bring it to line-up to talk about with all the servers. I was on Cloud Nine watching this dish get platted. All this had been envisioned by Chef, and now we were all seeing it come together. With all of the ingredients that I had prepared! It was the best feeling. I was so proud when we were talking about it at line-up. And mind you—I really didn’t do anything. First, it wasn’t my vision. And picking celery leaves off? Hardly counts as tough. And the fish? I didn’t even go near it. The closest I got was a quick lesson from Chef in how to pick it up—and where to grab it from. But nevertheless. I was like a proud parent. To me, it was as if the dish was my own. Excited when the servers asked questions about its preparation, and thrilled when they all tasted and the fish disappeared within seconds.

I sadly realized that soon enough, the dining room would be slammed. The line would be buzzing, tickets would be flying, and I’d be in the way. I was already feeling a little in the way. I was constantly moving to get out of the way of an oven door opening, or a hot stock pot en route to dish, or a hotel pan filled with something hot coming by, or someone needing to access the refrigerator under the counter I was standing in front of. I know this is all normal. The space is small. Everyone is always going to kind of be in someone’s way. And each time someone asked me to move, I apologized. Finally, one of the chefs told me (very nicely and almost laughing at me), “Don’t be sorry! You’re fine. Just move.” Got it. No need to say sorry each time I guess. Just seemed like the right thing to do.

Other mental notes I made? My lips were DRY! All the talking, all the biting on my lips from my nervousness, and of course, all the heat. I sure missed my trusty Chapstick.

And you know those slots on the left hand sleeve? They’re meant for pens. Why are they built into the chef’s jacket? Because EVERYONE is ALWAYS looking for pens in the kitchen. And silly me? I didn’t stick any in there when I was changing. Definitely something to remember for next time (hoping there will be a next time!) Each time everyone one shouted out asking for a pen, I kicked myself for not having one. It would have been such an easy way to contribute!

Oh. And you know the thing about towels being coveted. I get why. You always seen to be needing a towel. To grab a hot pan handle, to wipe your station clean, to clean a plate, to dry a bowl, something or another. There just didn’t seem to be enough! Next time? I’d tuck a few more into my apron. Just to be sure I had one. Always.

I said good-bye to everyone after line-up. I was sad to go. I wanted to see it all come together. I wanted to see the line really cranking. But there didn’t really seem to be a way to do that without getting in the way. It was best to leave. Everyone was really nice. Waving good-bye and smiling. Oh, and my favorite question from one of the cooks? “When are you coming back?”

I left feeling exhausted. I had been up early working in the office, and then went straight to the kitchen. I had been on my feet, and it was hot in the kitchen! I knew I smelled bad, and my feet were beginning to ache as I walked up a hill to my house. I haven’t been so tired, yet so happy and feeling so fulfilled in a really long time. It was all so worth it. I wondered how the night was going. I wondered if Chef was going to let me come back. I wondered how many covers they did that night, or how quickly the fish sold. Most importantly? I wonder who ordered the branzino that night and did they like it?

1 comment:

  1. sounds like fun! quite an evening. I've spent a gazillion hours in the kitchen lately but, sadly, just my own ;)