Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Burnin' Down the House

Since we only have a limited amount of days on each station it is important to master each dish and be in total control of it for at least one night. Last night I concentrated on the calamari appetizer. Getting into the kitchen at 5:30 pm I went straight to work cleaning the calamari – removing the head and tentacles from the body. Once that is done, the body tube needs to be skinned and the cartilage that gives it shape needs to be removed. Back to the head, I proceed to cut off the tentacles right below the eyes (which stare at you in a creepy way) and clean out both extremities. It’s important to be careful to remove the tooth and cautious not to pierce the ink sac which is not always possible. It is amazing black ink gets ALL over everything and when wearing white the combination is a disaster. One looks like that had a fight with an army of pens and lost!

After painstakingly cleaning the calamari, the haricot verts needed to be blanched, fennel shaved thinly with my nemesis the Japanese mandolin, garlic cloves peeled and sliced, fresh lemon juice squeezed to deglaze the pan and Parmesan cheese flakes for garnish. We had herbed Panko on hand, good extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress the fennel and green beans.

While I was prepping for service, I noticed a gray-haired man walked through the Garde Manger kitchen and he proceeded into the main working kitchen. He wore a chef’s jacket but not chef’s pants, so I thought that he was just someone that was visiting the kitchen and put it out of my mind. Next thing I know, the same gentleman comes back into our small kitchen and I was surprised to see it was Chef Jacques Pepin in person! He asked Chef Laura if she could make him a small salad and she happily obliged. I was thrilled to be in his presence, he is approachable and very understated quite honestly a veritable legend in the cooking world. My surprises for the night didn’t end there!

Once service began I was ready to whip out dishes of calamari per order. I was a little nervous manning the stove, the dish isn’t complicated it is just very easy to overcook and the calamari is sautéed on the stove and then Panko breadcrumbs are added and the entire sauté pan goes under a broiler to brown the breadcrumbs. With too powerful cooking sources it was tricky to ensure that nothing was overcooked. While behind on two orders of calamari, the gas flames licked the outside of the pan and ignited the oil in the pan, I quickly moved the pan away from the gas and fumbled to get another larger pan to cover the flames and extinguish my “little” fire. Instantly the flames reached up in between the two salamanders (over-the-stove open broilers) and the greasy mechanical parts caught fire. With one fire out and another started there was no easy way to extinguish this new problem that was not burning out. I blew into the one inch space betwen the salamanders as hard as I could and Chef did the same and after a few heavy huffs and puffs we managed to stop the flames and smoke.

I imaged myself standing out in front of the school’s restaurant with the fire trucks surrounding us and the diners and Chefs all pointing at me because I set the school on fire. Not what I want to be remembered for – luckily that scene never played out and I gained my composure and caught up to my orders. That being said, whenever you face a grease fire the best way to stop it is by smothering it with a large pot lid and never use water! Sometimes a lot of baking soda can put it out too but that usually is not as convenient. Smother a grease fire and be sure not to get it close to flammable curtains, wood cabinets, etc. Smokey the Bear says, “only you can prevent forest fires,” did he mention anything about the perils of cooking?

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