Saturday, October 18, 2008

86 The Tuna

Music to my ears!! When one of the more labor intensive dishes on the menu (that comes out of the station I'm working in) gets 86'ed for the night, it's music to my ears. It also means we've made a crap load of them already-just early in the night.

It was a Sunday night. It was suppose to be slow. I was going into work purposely on this slower day so that I could do more watching and learning. And to really perfect my skills! Not the case this night. There were 149 in the books to begin with, and the count was getting higher and higher with last minute reservations and walk-ins. Respectable for a Sunday (compared to the 80 something they did last Sunday!) To top it off, there had been a wedding brunch in the dining room during the day. The staff was already tired, even before dinner started.

So let’s see. Chef wasn’t working and the bosses for the day were Chef Paul and Chef Michael. On this night, I was working in pantry (where I wanted to be!), and working pantry this night was Patsy (love working with her and learning from her!) and Hugo.

I was feeling more comfortable making my way into the back locker room and then into my station. I knew some of the things I had to do to set up, and even began going through everything and making sure the things we needed were in order. I got the “Why aren’t you working grill with me?” from Jayme (each time I get that question from someone!! I love it! Hopefully one day I will be able to work with everyone!!)

One of the bummers I realized right away? There were no more aprons left. It was Sunday, and many of the clean linens from the week were already used up. I asked a few people if they had been moved or if I had missed them some how. They all told me, “Nope, you’re out of luck. Happens on Sunday’s.” I was struggling to deal with how I’d get through the entire service without my apron. It had deep pockets—where I kept my notebook (with notes on all of the dishes and ingredients) in one pocket, and my chap stick and an extra sharpie in the second pocket!

As we began setting up, I noticed that Hugo, who had gotten there after me, had an apron! Shoot! How did he get one? So the next time no one was around, I kind of cornered him and asked him where there were aprons. He looked at me. Like his secret was out. He had stashed it last night—before leaving. Hugo. That pro. He knew they wouldn’t have aprons by the time he got in on Sunday. I was impressed with his wisdom and foresight. What made me even happier? He had stashed TWO last night! And he was willing to give me the second one. I had an apron in my future! Whoo hoo! (Now that I think about it, was the second one saved for someone else? Opps, sorry! But thank you Hugo!)

So some of the things I did? I cut ginger again—but this time, I first sliced it up real thin using the slicing machine, then I julienned it. When I was at the slicing machine, I wanted to confirm that I was using it correctly. As I looked around to see who was nearby, I smiled when I saw that Jayme was coming towards me. I was in luck! He’d help me. That boy, he’s so funny. He had a look of terror on his face—“Oh god! Don’t hurt yourself!”

I saw how they fried up the ginger, croutons and bread—that fry machine is dangerous! We ran around stocking our station, prepping and chopping. We were worried we would run out of daikon sprouts, so I also julienned some daikon (and then soaked them in an ice water bath so they’d firm up.) I had the opportunity to make family meal for a second time around—putting together a much yummier salad this time around! (Although I’m not going to take it personally…I did notice that the salads are not usually the first to go on the family meal buffet. Why don’t these boys eat their greens??)

When we finally had a little bit of time, Patsy told me to head up for a break. I wanted to. I wanted to go sit outside in the fresh air. I wanted to sit and talk with everyone. But instead? I stayed behind. Why you ask? Because I wanted to study my notes. Dumb, I know. Dorky, I know. As much as I wanted to be social and hang out with everyone, I wanted to impress them all even more. And in order to do that? I needed to take one last look at my notes. I had stopped by the restaurant a few days prior, before dinner service, so that I could write down all the details to every dish that came out of pantry. I even drew diagrams. So I could visually see what plate it went on, what it looked like, etc. I had been studying them every free moment I had and I wanted to be ready.

When everyone got back from break—I learned what was really about to happen for the night. It was going to be a busy one. There were a lot of reservations in the books—and not to mention a dinner party for 20. There was a lot of talk about stocking up. Lots of “Are you ready??” Lots of “Let’s make sure we have extra prepped”, and “You know we’re going to get slammed tonight!” Yikes. I don’t know if I was mentally prepared for such a busy night. As we looked at what was in the books for the night, it looked like we were going to get hit hardest around 8 pm. Well, it started earlier than that, and lasted late into the night. They just didn’t stop coming in.

If you think about it, everyone starts off with a first course. Salad or soup or some other appetizer. Most of the appetizers on the menu are cold. So the majority of the first course items come out of our pantry station. By the time you get to second course, you have the option of fish or seafood, or steak or something from the grill or even pasta. Those all come from different stations. You’ve got a few more people taking the load. Not as true with the first course. Most of it, came from us. I have a whole new respect for the pantry teams out there—this is hard work! And probably one of the most under appreciated stations for a cook to work.

Some of the highlights/events/memories from the night? When the group sat down, they had the option of a salad or our spicy tuna roll (essentially we had to prepare 20 items all at once since both choices came out of our station). Many of them chose tuna. One of our most complicated dishes on the menu right now. We physically didn’t have enough room in our area to even plate that many dishes! In addition to Patsy, Hugo and myself, we found we needed helpers for parts of the night. Chef Paul and even Chef Ian (pastry chef!) came and helped us at our station. It was just too crazy and too many orders to handle. It was shortly after the party sat and ordered all their tuna and we realized we were just about out of it, and that’s when we heard it “86 the tuna! Everyone hear that? 86 the tuna!”

The pretty spicy tuna roll--thank you Patricia for snapping this the last time she was there!

What else? We found that there didn’t seem to be too many cucumber salads that night (shoot! I still haven’t plated one of these dishes!) I am better at plating the tomato salad, although cutting the tomatoes? Still not so good at it. I glanced over at one point and saw that Patsy was removing the slices I had just mad. They were too thick. SHOOT. I was so mad at myself. But glad that I caught her removing them—if I was going to learn, I was going to have to take some criticism. Good thing that with a restaurant like that, they can use scraps and mistakes (it even pains me to say that word out loud) in other ways. I’ve gotta practice cutting tomatoes before going back (or be glad that heirloom tomato season is almost over!)

We were told there were no more sardines and that it was off the menu tonight (which is probably the second hardest dish to plate from our station.) Just as Patsy and I were feeling happy that we had one less dish coming from our station, we were told. Sardines were replaced with these beautiful blue lake shrimp. Keep it on the menu. Bring back all the sauces, bottles, accoutrements we had started putting away.

But it was ok. Tonight? I was more prepared. I had studied the sardine diagram the most—for some reason, this one just confused me! So I was ready tonight. And while I’ve tasted the sardine dish and liked it, I’ve just got to say, that these shrimp were beautiful! And the smell of them were heavenly. If I could only eat one dish from our station? Probably the shrimp.

I had the opportunity to taste one of the chocolate cakes that Chef Ian had created and was putting on the banquet menu now. It was SO GOOD. Moist and soft. But dark and rich too. As soon as your fork cuts into it, chocolate comes flowing out. Yum. Another moment? Jayme must have had an order for the kobe supplement, and there must have been an extra piece. He put a teeny tiny piece on a plate and had the runners bring it to our station. It was heavenly.

We went from all of the salads and appetizers to dessert. This time? I tried to watch them plate these as well. I had the chance to plate the strawberry shortcake (so pretty!), and watched as they finished off beautiful plates of bread pudding, gingerbread cake, boca negra, and even cheese plates. Amazing how intricate each plate was and how beautiful they all looked.

A snapshot of the strawberry shortcake!

The happiest moment in the night? Hmm, toss up. At one point, Chef Ian was in our station and talking with us about something. I referenced that we had sliced dates already that I had just transferred into a 9 pan. He smiled at me and gave me a look. I thought to myself—I got the name of the pan wrong. It’s something else. But no! That wasn’t the case at all. He was smiling because I had gotten it right! “Way to go—check you out using the right terminology!”

But probably the winning moment? Near the end of the night, when the restaurant was slowing down and we had just been swamped for the last few hours, Chef Paul (who I’ve been secretly a little scared of until that night), told me “That’s a nice looking salad. Thank you for your help tonight.” Such simple words. But I was in heaven!! It meant that I hadn’t failed. And hopefully it meant that I was good enough to stay. Good enough to be more helpful than to get in the way. Each time I go in, I tell myself “if you get in the way more than you help out, you have to leave.” And each time, I get just a little sad thinking “What if this is my last time coming in to cook?” Well, hopefully after this night, they'll let me come back again. Because I'm ready!!

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this... I can only imagine what goes on downstairs during service as I've never truly witnessed it myself. Thanks for taking me there!