Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Adrenaline Rush Beings

After the break, I went into the back to put a hat on. In order to work in the kitchen during service, I had to have a hat on. I couldn't get it just right, and found myself trying to push it back down throughout the night. If this is going to continue, I'm going to have to perfect the hat wearing thing. Good thing there wasn't a mirror around, because I would have been horrified. It's just not an attractive look. Between the clogs (which although unattractive, are seriously the most comfortable shoes I own), the black and white checkered pants, the dirty towels strung through my apron, and that floppy hat, I have never felt more unattractive. There's got to be a way to create a more attractive looking uniform. Hmmm. Next project. But in the meantime, the clothes weren't the reason I was there. I was there to cook!

I don't even really remember how it happened. We saw people walking down the stairs into the dining room and getting seated and we knew it was coming. Pantry is in charge of all of the salads and cold appetizers (and also plating dessert), and so as soon as the guests were arriving, we knew we'd be the first to get hit. And sure enough, before I knew it, the sound of that machine started up. A ticket was coming in. As soon as it did, Patsy would grab it, tab some water on the top so that it would stick to the counter, and then as she called out the orders, everyone started moving.

One of the first things that came in was an heirloom tomato salad. She grabbed both Tony and I and talked us through how to build it. The perfect slices of tomato, cheese, avocado; how to sprinkle the micro basil over the top; the method and technique of drizzling both the olive oil and the balsamic. The salt and pepper to finish. Her's was perfect. All of the items were the exact same width--and she was able to build it with such height. Even her drops of the balsamic on the two plates were perfectly the same. Dot here, dot there. Patsy stressed to me--the plates have to look the same.

Then another ticket. Another tomato salad. "Remember how to do it? You do this one." Me? Build a tomato salad? For a paying customer? Ok! Bring it on!

Now, I've made many a tomato salad. I had JUST seen her do it. And it's not hard. BUT, it was. And there was a lot to remember. How many tomato slices vs avocado slices vs cheese slices. How many cherry tomatoes to get? Salt now. Pepper later. But only one crank of the mill. And the olive oil line should be consistent. But the balsamic? Just drops. Lines over the top, dots around. And oh. Why aren't my tomato slices and avocado slices the exact same size? How did she do that so well? It was not easy. And I got a finger print on the plate. Shoot. Where's my towel? And too much pepper. And oh! The micro basil! Almost forgot. There sure was a lot to remember.

Next? Oysters. Now I've eaten many oysters. But actually shuck one? Never. Tonight was the night! And man! Those little guys can be tough! And that shucking knife sharp and dangerous! As I was struggling with one, Jose had already shucked the rest of them. All eyes seemed to be on me again, waiting. I finally got it, and the dish was ready to go and placed on the counter ready to be picked up. Not a moment too soon. Another ticket was coming in. Actually there was two this time. And then three. They were coming in more and more frequently now. My heart was beginning to pound.

Next, I learned how to prepare the kobe beef tartare. First. Lines on the plate with the miso dressing. Then the sesame paste. With the back of a spoon, Patsy ran the spot of sesame paste through the lines of miso dressing making a beautiful plate. Then Patsy threw the kobe beef into a bowl along with some pepper paste, some more miso dressing and salt, and mixed it up with her hands. Using a mold, she put the beef onto the center of the plate, and as she lifted the mold, it was a perfect flat circle. Then she grabbed a quail egg, and carefully with her knife cracked the tip off one end. She removed the egg from the shell, placed the perfectly cracked egg shell on the plate, and then placed just the yolk onto of the beef. To finish, she grabbed three of the bread 'toasts' we had made earlier and displayed them perfectly in this little mini 'mug' on one end of the plate. It was a beautiful dish. One that I made about a million of that night. I think it was the one dish I think I actually perfected.

Other dishes? The signature salmon pizza. A beet salad. A very difficult deconstructed tuna roll. And sardines that while they were simple in their preparation, the difficulty in plating made up for. I learned how to make all of these dishes that night. And no. I didn't do them perfectly.

Something as simple as the salmon pizza? Because I was trying to move quickly? I cut it too quickly--and the slices weren't all the same size. The second I made the cut, I saw it. Yikes. Someone at that table as going to end up with a small piece. Even the runner gave it a second look and asked Patsy if it was ok to send out before taking it. As he explained to me that I had to be careful with my cuts, that if it was too uneven, we'd have to fire a brand new one. I felt horrible. I deserved this little lecture. And he really wasn't even lecturing me. He was helping. And teaching. And I knew I had made the mistake. But I was already feeling bad! But there was no time to dwell on it. I could hear the next tickets coming in and we were beginning to fall behind.

Other small errors? I grabbed daikon sprouts once instead of the rainbow micro greens. Opps. Relatively small mistake in the large scheme of things, but I was still so mad at myself! Stupid mistake! They don't look alike. The daikon was obviously for the tuna! Damn.

Then there was the issue of which plate to use. And when it came to the tasting menus that were coming in, I had a little bit of difficulty with the portion size. Ok, so it wasn't just the tasting menus that I had the portion problem with. There was that one REALLY LARGE beet salad I made. It was unacceptable to the server. He wouldn't take it. I had to size down my salad, and re-plate. Damn. And just when I had gotten the two little wedges of cheese and the toast points perfectly displayed on top.

I had a hard time remembering which oil or which sauce to put in each dish. There were a number of different squeeze bottles and a different combination of flavors for each dish. Our mise en place was extensive, and it was hard to remember which items went with each dish when there were so many choices right in front of me! It definitely took a while for me to get use to.

Even now, days later, I'm finding myself walking down the street and muttering to myself...beet salad: herb oil, lemon juice, frisse, watercress, dates--don't forget the dates!; kobe beef tartare: miso dressing, pepper paste, chives, shallots; sardines: cayenne pepper, eggplant raisin, pine nuts, lemon preserve, onions, fennel salad, sardines and on and on. Which dish used the sauce from the little squeeze bottle? Why can't I remember?! Did I remember to put it in the dish each time I made it? I almost want to make flash cards. Seriously. I need to be ready for next time. I hope there will be a next time.

to be continued...

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