I used to love going to dinner on a Friday night, the end of the work week, a cold martini, fantastic food that I didn’t have to cook and the best part – being served, oh, and no dishes to wash! Those evenings are a distant memory because since February every Friday has been (happily) spent at The French Culinary Institute.
Being on the opposite side of that equation has its perks too. After a long day at my 9 to 5 job, I head down to SoHo, put on my Chef clothes and start the second half of my day. Walking into the kitchen, my first stop is the coffee maker – no matter how full the carafe is I always make a fresh pot and then proceed to my assigned station for the evening.
I try to get into the kitchen as early as possible so I can access the amount of prep needed and get ahead of the curve. I’ll to talk to Chef Phil and he’ll alert me to what we are running low on and what I should start first.
On Friday, I immediately tackled the somewhat labor/time intensive Ratatouille served with our lamb chops. The peppers (red and green), eggplant, onions, zucchini must be chopped macédoine and the tomatoes emondé (blanched, skin/seeds/pulp removed, chopped coarsely) and concassé – all prepared and sautéed separately then combined to marry the flavors.
At that point, the laundry list of “to-dos” is almost never-ending. About a dozen potatoes are washed, peeled and placed in cold water in preparation for their date with the French mandoline. Half the potatoes are julienned (for Pommes Darphin) and the other half sliced into very thin rounds (for Pommes Anna). Working quickly (oxidation happens quickly), the julienne potatoes are seasoned with salt and pepper, the excess moisture is gently squeezed out and await a hot sauté pan with some blended oil. The julienne potatoes sizzle in the hot oil and form a nice crust with the addition of unsalted butter. The same application for the Pommes Anna, however the potatoes are laid out into a spiral design and take a little more time to put together. Both preparations done properly yield a crisp, round potato cake that is sliced into six servings for service. We generally prep for 40 – 45 covers on the Saucier station, our lamb and rabbit dish have been very popular.
And the list goes on…pears are cut into perfect cocottes (football shapes) then sautéed and caramelized. Cipollini onions are soaked in warm water to ease the removal of the outer skin and they are cooked glacé à brun (glazed to a brown caramelization – cooked in some water, butter, salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar to boost their sweetness). Bok choy is washed, trimmed, cut and blanched in salted boiling water, then shocked to preserve its bright green color. Bacon is cut into small lardons and gently sautéed. Herbed-compound butter is prepared for the lamb and chilled. Most nights we start the rabbit and lamb stock as the base of our two sauces and those simmer for a few hours to extract all the rich flavor from the bones, mirepoix and bouquet garni.
Finishing the final two sauces, isn't that why French cuisine is so revered – those complex, rich and flavorful sauces that have an unparalleled depth – and that Madames et Messieurs is a whole other story.