Friday, October 31, 2008

En croûte

I’m such a nerd when it comes to school, I missed one class to go up to Boston in September and I wanted to make up those missed hours so I could have perfect attendance when I graduate. I know, geeky, I just can’t stay away from the kitchen.

Having missed a Level V class, I had to work with the current Level V students whose rotation is Tues/Thurs/Sat nights. Luckily my head Chef is also their head Chef so I was much at ease coming in for the night and he put me on the Entremetier station.

Chef mentioned to me that he had tons of chanterelle mushrooms to use and immediately I wanted to make a soup. I brought up the possibility of using puff pastry and somehow do a play on French onion soup. He said go for it.

I slowly sautéed lots of onions, leeks and shallots to develop their rich flavor as the base of my soup. I had a stock pot of vegetable stock simmering and two bulbs of garlic in the oven roasting. I added the beautiful pale orange-hued mushrooms to the sauté pan and cooked everything until soft. I also had some oyster mushrooms that I sautéed to use as garnish for the soup under the puff pastry.

With my Vita-prep blender I pureed the mixture with some stock and the roasted garlic. A touch of cream and sherry were added to give the soup a little more richness. I balanced the seasonings and was ready to work on plating a prototype.

The puff pastry was somewhat deceivingly easy to work with, I cut square pieces to fit over the bowls and popped my creation into the convection oven. The pastry was slipping into the bowl so I had to figure out a way to make it stick with egg wash.

The soup emerged with a flaky golden crust that sagged in the middle since the bowl was very wide. Not exactly how I pictured it but I knew I’d have at least 15 orders that I could perfect it as I went along.

The orders started rolling in, we called it a mushroom soup en croûte. Bowl after bowl were popped into the convection oven and when the order was fired there were a few times that the expediting Chef had to wait 3 – 5 minutes for my dish (Chef Candy kept belting out, “I’m still waiting for the soup!” it’s not a great feeling when you are holding up orders – trust me). My puff pastry was fussy and decided to take on a life of its own. Sometimes it would puff up, sometimes it would sink in the soup, it took longer to turn golden brown than other times – a nightmare!

As the night wound down I was trying to get ahead of myself and start soups in the convection oven earlier – this was the winning solution and I finally got my puff pastry to do what I wanted it to – stick to the bowl and completely cover the soup. The photo I took was the last soup I made – and I enjoyed it from my dinner.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fresh Roll

My foodie pal, Barbara, brought me these 2 x 2 inch square rice noodles that she uses on occasion. The opaque squares were unique, I was used to seeing rice vermicelli and round rice wrappers but never these. Inspired by the little noodle I knew I wanted to use something similar for canapés.

My team huddled around the canapé station and I expressed my interest in using the wrappers. Chef brought us a hunk of sushi grade tuna that Ashley marinated with a mix of soy, ginger, and rice wine. We soaked the rice wrappers and julienned carrots, and cucumbers. Spencer carefully cut the tuna and proceeded to wrap the mini fresh rolls.

I toasted black and blonde sesame seeds to decorate the roll and made a spicy aioli. The final little dish was a burst of color – a perfect introduction to a meal.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Smoke House

There’s a moment every day where I day dream about food, what to make, ingredients to buy, dinners to plan, recipes to look for…and working the canapé station only fuels that dialogue in my head. Making canapés at the restaurant allows us to create and experiment with food and flavors.

For part of the day, Ashley, my team partner and I were texting back and forth discussing what we would make for that evening. She wanted to bake apples then we talked about poaching them in port that then evolved into poaching melon-balled apples or pears in mulled wine then covering them in a goat cheese mixture and toasted spicy walnuts – like a truffle. Then I thought we could reduce the mulled wine to make a syrup. The creative back and forth is something I really enjoy and building on ideas makes the whole experience more interesting.

With an idea in my head I jaunted down to school. In the kitchen I spoke to Chef and wanted to check in about anything that needed to be used that evening. He immediately sent me upstairs to the fourth floor to fetch two very large sheet trays of trout that had brined for two days. I figured our apple truffle will have to wait for another day.

Chef instructed me to cold smoke the trout and use it for our canapé – he left us to think about how we would present it and we started to brainstorm about different ideas. I love a good food challenge – how can we make smoked trout presentable and more delicious? It’s something that was hard to get excited about – not my favorite thing.

I thought we could serve it on a potato gaufrette – a crisscrossed slice that would be deep fried and Spencer wanted to make an apple/radish slaw to top it. Chef buzzed around our station, he liked the gaufrette idea and suggested using sweet potato instead. With two whole sheet pans of trout to smoke I took charge of that task since we had SO much fish I had to smoke it in batches. Each time I would open the smoker I would be blasted with grey smoke that would fill part of the kitchen with a woodsy aroma of wood chips. My eyes would water and burn a bit from the blast.

We flaked the trout, placed a small amount on the sweet potato chip and added a bit of the tiny julienne of apple and radish – looking at it we knew it was missing something. I suggested making a lime aioli with fresh lime juice and garlic. Ashley liked the idea and she went ahead and started the mayonnaise. On the plate Spencer swirled the aioli with a decorative flare and we added some of the mixture to the trout. For an ingredient that none of us liked the canapé turned out to be an attractive little bite – and by the end of the night I could have passed as a smoked trout the way I smelled!

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Coming into the kitchen, I remembered Chef Phil asking me to use the pâte à choux dough he had from a previous class for that evening’s canapés. I searched the walk-in, found the containers of dough and decided that it was a little past its prime. I decided to whip up a new batch – this is the very same dough that you would use for éclairs, profiteroles, cream puffs, etc. At this point, I can make this type of dough in my sleep and I think I must have been sleeping when I gathered all the ingredients because it didn’t quite come out the way I expected.

The general recipe for pâte à choux is:
- 250 ml water
- 110 g butter
- 140 a.p. flour – sifted
- Pinch salt, pinch sugar
- 4 to 5 whole eggs

With 85 covers booked at the restaurant I planned to quadruple the recipe – giving me more than enough choux for the night. The procedure is very easy, water and butter (cut into small pieces) are placed on the stove heating the water and allowing all the butter to melt. Don’t boil away the water or it will mess with you flour proportion – this is why we cut the butter into small pieces – it melts quicker.

Take the pot off the stove and add all the flour all at once – return to low heat and stir with a wooden spoon to dry out the dough and remove some of the moisture. The dough should come together and be a smooth mixture.

I added my quadrupled amount of flour and started stirring to combine it – something was wrong because it wasn’t coming together and I thought to myself – why is this so watery?? Almost immediately I realized I must have been asleep when measuring the amount of water – in actuality I put 8 times the amount of water into the pot. Stupid me I was annoyed with myself, time was running out and I needed to get it piped and into the convection oven immediately. I ran around the kitchen like a fool and got 4x more flour and butter. I melted the butter in a sauce pan and sifted the flour into the watery mess of dough clumps. Once the butter melted I added it to the mix and prayed it would turn out alright.

I placed the now massive amount of dough into a stainless bowl and then started to add the eggs. So here is the deal with the eggs – one is added at a time and incorporated fully before you add the next. I quickly did the math…8x the recipe equals 32 to 40 eggs!! I laughed to myself and just worked with half the dough to bring it back to a reasonable portion, and 15 to 20 eggs later, my dough combined to a perfect consistency.

I piped the dough into mini-sized balls of dough, brushed them with a mixture of egg wash and cream and rushed two giant sheet pans into the convection oven for about 20 minutes. The little mounds of dough puffed up and turned from pale to golden brown.

While all of this was going on, I left Ashley to create a wild mushroom filling and a cranberry compote which were both equally delicious. We were ready in time for service and cranked out plate after small plate. At the end of the night, with so many little puffs left over, I made some Crème Chantilly and plated mini-sized cream puffs that were shared with Level V and VI students throughout the kitchen. A little something sweet to end the busy night.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Canapé [kan-uh-pey]

1. a thin piece of bread or toast or a cracker spread or topped with cheese, caviar, anchovies, or other savory food.

Moving to a new station is like waking up in a house you just moved to. You fumble around looking for familiar things in a new environment and slowly you become comfortable in your surroundings.

The canapé station is a place for Level VI students to practice skills, show creativity and demonstrate resourcefulness. Chef Phil will come to the canapé station and say, “I have such and such in the walk-in, what can you guys make with that?” and that ingredient must become a part of our planning.

Our first night, the weather in New York City had turned colder than normal so I felt like it was a soup night. Having arrived in the kitchen a bit early, I asked Chef if there was anything we needed to use up and he said that we had a clean slate to start. So, I tossed the idea of a purée of butternut squash soup served in little white ceramic shot glasses. He liked the idea and said go for it.

When Ashley came into the kitchen, I had told her what my plan was and she complemented the soup with her ideas. Ashley baked off small phyllo pillows, we made a goat cheese/crème fraîche topping and prosciutto straws.

Chef Phil gave us this great idea to take thin strips of prosciutto and wrap them around skewers. The skewers are baked in the oven for about 10 minutes, then allowed to cool. The prosciutto straws slip off the skewers and hold their cylindrical shape.

Our canapés need to be ready to plate slightly before 8:00 pm. We usually figure out the plating design close to this time and make a few samples for the Chefs in the kitchen to munch on and give their opinions.

With thumbs up from the Chefs we are ready for service and ready to knock out anywhere from 50 to 75 small plates in the span of an hour or so. The canapé is the first impression our patrons receive at the beginning of their meal – so we need to hit it out of the ballpark.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Party Season

Monday night, the restaurant was closed again for a private party. Many fellow students were annoyed that their time in the kitchen behind certain stations was being interrupted by yet another private party.

With my last night in the pastry kitchen I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to make one of the desserts that may be on my final exam. Around 5:30 pm it was clear that Chef only had 6 students to help out to make the night successful and he was very upset. I headed back to pastry after he called attendance and was the only Level 6 student doing pastry that night.

I consulted with the pastry Chef and got to work making the chocolate brioche bread pudding so I could serve at least 50 portions. I got to work making maple ice cream, chocolate custard, and candied orange peel for garnish. I have to admit it was a slow night, once I got everything prepped and ready there was a long lag time until we actually had to plate desserts. While some protested and decided to skip the night, I was happy to be there to make the dessert practically by myself. Sometimes it’s nice to be a one-man show.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

VIP Dining

Ending the busy work week in a bustling, chaotic, time sensitive professional kitchen may be too much for some people. I find it exhilarating and I always look forward to my nights behind the scenes at L’Ecole.

That very evening I had three guests dining at the restaurant – friends that have supported my new venture and have been wonderful followers of my blog. I alerted the expediting Chef that a VIP table was coming in for dinner and to please ensure they have a wonderful dining experience. Ret, Mimi and Andy arrived for their reservation and in between the appetizer and fish course I was able to sneak out and see how everything was going. Moving from the brightly lit kitchen to the dim lights of the dining room – it took me a couple of seconds to be able to focus. The waiter pointed me in the right direction and I arrived at Table 22 to find my VIPs.

My guests all seemed excited and ready for the evening’s dining excursion. I was so happy and proud to be a part of their experience. I had to know what everyone ordered and was thrilled that each one of them ordered something different off the prix fixe menu. After chatting for a few minutes I had to excuse myself to get back into the pastry kitchen to finish my work.

That night, I prepared the dough for the tangerine tarts, the cream cheese/goat cheese filling, I worked on part of the chocolate custard for the brioche bread pudding and worked on putting it together with Chef Alain and Ashley.

Nearing the end of the night, I saw the dessert order for Table 22 come in and noticed Ret & company ordered three different desserts – well with four desserts on the menu, I had to make sure they also received our toffee pudding so I marched it right out to the table to surprise them.

Again, I was met with faces of delight and compliments and I thought, what a wonderful way to end the work week.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Privé Party

The restaurant was closed for a private party on Wednesday night. Our goal for the evening was to feed 70 patrons all at once for every course. Not so hard if you're organized. The kitchen seemed empty when I got there and I saw Chef Phil working away. I asked him if he needed help and he requested I make Pâte à Choux for an hors d’oeuvre he planned to serve. I went to work and whipped that pastry dough into shape and it came out perfect.

My tour of duty was in pastry that night – so I went back to Chef Alain and asked him what we needed to accomplish for the night. Chef decided to make Tarte Tatin to feed 70 guests – it was great to see how another Chef interpreted this classic dish – since I made this dessert for my Level V project it was still fresh in my memory how I prepared it.

The night dragged on as there was not a lot for us to do – our moment to shine was when we plated 50+ desserts at once in an assembly line format. I brushed on a caramel sauce, another student studded the plate with finely chopped walnuts, a slice of tarte and a quenelle of rich vanilla ice cream.

At the end of the night, all the students went out into the dining room to receive a round of applause – it felt good being appreciated – we were rock stars in that moment.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sticky & Sweet Tour

My first night as a Level VI student and I find myself back in the pastry kitchen making new confections and sweet desserts. The entire L'Ecole menu has changed and that goes for desserts as well. Our newest creations include a tangerine cream cheese tart, chocolate brioche bread pudding, an individual Tarte Tatin and a toffee pudding. My group is responsible for the tangerine and chocolate brioche menu items.

The first day in the kitchen with a major menu change is always frenetic. Recipes change, plating varies with the whim of the Chef and some students look like deer caught in headlights. Chef Mimi was filling in for Chef Alain on this first night and she walked us through a priority list of "to-dos" so we could get organized and have a smooth evening. My team, Ashley and Spencer, and I knocked out the list and were done prepping everything by 8pm.

We share the kitchen with the new Level V students who looked as nervous as I was on my first day working in L'Ecole's kitchen. Everything did go smoothly that night, and we all worked well with each other. I really enjoyed making the maple vanilla ice cream that is served with our chocolate bread pudding. We start with a rich Crème Anglaise with the addition of a good quality maple syrup and cook the sauce until it is nappant (thick enough to coat the back of a spoon).

The ice cream maker in the pastry kitchen is this incredible stainless steel behemoth compared to ice cream makers on the consumer market. The now chilled Crème Anglaise is carefully poured into the machine and with one flick of a switch the ice cream is ready in 10 minutes. As the machine freezes the mixture I check it at different intervals to see how it is forming. Once the consistency is similar to soft-serve ice cream than I know it is ready. Extruding the ice cream into super chilled hotel pans I take an off set spatula to smooth it out and pop the trays it into a small freezer called a blast chiller. The blast chiller continues to quick freeze the ice cream and hold it until service. I have to admit the ice cream we make is one of the best I've tasted, super creamy, slightly dense, and made with nothing but all natural ingredients - who wouldn't scream for that?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The United Nations of Food

For weeks now Barbara, my foodie pal, and I have been planning an ethnic food tour of Jackson Heights, Queens – the neighborhood where she resides. Barbara has been telling me about all of the green grocers and spice markets and how one could find hard to come by ingredients. From Colombian meat markets to Indian spice stores and Peruvian restaurants to Indonesian – my curiosity and appetite for new cuisine was peaked.

We started mid-morning with a walk down the main street with bakeries, restaurants and stores featuring Latin foods from South and Central America. It was a Spanish cornucopia. The Colombian butchers and bakeries were bustling with activity – we walked into one of the bakeries to check it out and I picked up a sweet roll for our walk to Little India a mere few blocks away. Like from day to night, the store fronts went from selling plantains to exotic curries and gorgeous saris.

The Indian shops were fascinating, rows and rows of fresh vegetables, spices and giant bags of rice. I was like a kid in a candy store when my eyes feasted on all the bagged spices. I would find things and ask Barbara, “How would I use this?” or “What in the world is that?” She was delighted to tell me about the veggies and spices that I had never seen before.

I had my mental shopping list in my head and as we continued our tour I kept on adding exotic ingredients that I wanted to buy. The air was perfumed with the scent of incense and the blare of sitars flooded my senses. We headed to Patel Bros. Supermarket to knock some items off my list. Inside the busy market it was hard to focus on one single item – again the kid in a candy store problem – but I zeroed in and found cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks and black sesame seeds. Barbara told me to ask for saffron at the cashier – I thought she was kidding – but knew I wanted some. So, I asked and from below the cash register vials and containers of saffron emerged like highly-guarded jewels. It almost felt black market and clandestine so I had to buy some!

After our jaunt through Little India, we headed to lunch and had spicy, wonderful Indonesian food at a small local restaurant. The sauces were sweet, spicy, peppery and just delicious. With our stomachs satisfied we went through the Asian markets which is always an eye-opener for the uninitiated.

Sweet soy, star anise, frozen banana leaves were all crossed off my international shopping list. Just meandering through the aisles is an education in food – I wondered what half the ingredients are and I am amazed by the variety. Where else can you find Chinese chives or galangal? The eggs in the dairy section had a small sign that said “baby chicken inside” – ok, I’ll pass on those! – nearby there were trays of duck eggs and speckled quail eggs.

Laden with my purchases we sauntered back to a Latin market to pick up some plantains since I was craving them all day. The October day was filled with bright blue skies and cool weather. Walking along the streets in Jackson Heights you would come across specialized food vendors making homemade quesadillas, tacos, freshly cut fruit and Chinese dumplings with lines of pedestrians queued up for tasty snacks.

I was comforted by the array of cultures represented in this one neighborhood and thought if these people could live together and co-exist in such harmony with respect to their varied cultures, food, language and customs then why in today’s world is there so much aggression with war, genocide, and hatred. It makes one consider how special this country really is – accepting all people to have a place at the communal table.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Out with the old...

As I mix the ingredients to make our green apple sorbet, it strikes me that this is my last night in pastry and the last night in Level V. I wonder in amazement how quickly time has passed and realize that I have only 7 more weeks of school left until graduation.

Tonight, the current Level VI students experienced their last night in the kitchen in anticipation of their final cooking exam on Monday. At the end of the night, pictures were being taken, voices were raised in excitement and many family members dined that night at the restaurant. There was an air of finality but also one of accomplishment. I wondered how I would feel on my last night in the kitchen with our final looming just days away. I quickly tossed those thoughts out of my mind and focused on making the sorbet in the ice cream machine. The ice cream machine is a professional kitchen model that makes sorbet and ice cream in the matter of 10 minutes or so. The sorbet is made of frozen apple purée, simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice. Once the sorbet it extracted from the machine we smooth it out on to a half sheet pan and place it in the blast freezer to set properly.

Our team raced through our prep work and we were careful not to over produce since the restaurant’s menu will change on Monday and we will begin rotations through the stations once again as new Level VI students. These new recipes will be the ones we are tested on for our final – so it is vital to learn them inside and out.

As the night wound down, Chef came over with our evaluations and new group assignments and starting stations for Monday. I was concerned and wondered who I’d be partnered with – there are some students that would make this last rotation difficult (I’m being polite) since our work ethic/focus/skill level doesn’t mesh well. My current partners, Ashley and Tim, have been so wonderful to work with – we are a well-oiled machine and we just rock-it-out every night in the kitchen. We can pull each other out of the weeds, we split tasks evenly, we all get a chance to work on part of the recipe and we define our duties for service way in advance. We “work” not only in the literate sense but in the way you want your left hand to know what your right hand is doing. So, the change in groups is always a worrisome dilemma for most of us.

I braced myself, Chef showed me my evaluation and finally revealed my new group – and the envelope please…I’m working with Spencer and Ashley yet again! I took a deep breath and Spencer came from no where to give me a high-five. The smile on his face led me to believe that he had already learned about the latest trio. Spencer is great to work with he’s funny, easy-going, plays well with others and he can cook. I might have to slap him around a little but he won’t mind – I’m Alpha dog and he has a thick skin. Having Ashley on my team is like having a warm hug from Jesus, we work brilliantly together and have bonded as friends.

The most ironic part of this whole plan for Monday…can you imagine what station we will be working on first? Sweet Jesus, the pasty station! for another week and a half. We’ll survive, we always do and we’ll kick ass as we have in Level V.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice

Adventures in pastry continue, and one of the recipes I would like to share is a Chai Crème Anglaise. The cream and milk are infused with chai spices and the resulting sauce is rich, velvety and delicious. This sauce goes really well with fruit-based desserts.

Chai Crème Anglaise
8.5 oz. milk
8.5 oz cream
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp. ginger powder
½ tsp. whole cardamom seed
4 whole cloves
½ vanilla been split and seeds scraped
4 oz. sugar
4 egg yolks

Heat milk, cream, spices, vanilla bean and half the amount of sugar. When the liquid simmers turn off the heat and cover pot to allow the flavors to infuse for at least 45 minutes.

After the liquid has infused, put back on the heat. In a separate bowl beat together the eggs and sugar by hand until pale – this takes a minute or so.

Temper the sugar/yolk mixture by adding some warm milk infusion then return this mixture back to the pot. Cook until the Crème Anglaise is very thick and coats the back of a spoon. Working over moderately high heat, continue stirring the sauce with a wooden spoon so as to keep the mixture moving.

Strain Crème Anglaise through a fine Chinois and immediately cool sauce in an ice bath. Once sauce is brought down in temperature then refrigerate until needed.

Our pear dessert begins by poaching the fruit in a chai-tea liquid until soft. Once the pears have cooked, they are removed and set to cool. Afterwards the pear half is topped with a small piece of pear bread and covered with Swiss meringue. The pears are then baked to give the meringue a beautiful bronzed color.

At service, the pear is warmed slightly in the oven, a pool of Crème Anglaise fills a shallow bowl the pear is placed in the center and a drizzle of pear sauce is added with some toasted pine nuts. All the hard work making all the separate components come together beautifully and the real satisfaction is watching the empty dessert plates coming back from the dining room.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Reprise in Pastry

The pastry kitchen is air-conditioned to help keep dough, marble tops and sticky sweet confections at a cool temperature. Unfortunately the AC doesn’t do anything to help cool tempers.

Our second night in pastry was instructed by Chef Mimi since Chef Alain had the night off. It’s funny to work on the same recipes with a different Chef – everyone puts a spin on how they do it their way. As students, it is almost like we are starting at square one with the same recipes.

Chef Mimi instructed us throughout the night and gave us her spin on plating our two desserts. I don’t know what it was but I was not playing my “A” game that night. It all started with the nougatine…(insert fuzzy dreamscape here)

Nougatine is made with corn syrup, fondant and butter – the corn syrup and fondant are melted until golden brown, removed from the heat and the butter is stirred in and allowed to cool. A half sheet pan is with lined with parchment and the mixture is poured out and resembles amber-colored glass. Once the nougatine is sufficiently cooled it’s then cracked into many shards to get ready for the food processor to blast it into a sugary dust. I know you are thinking…what is the purpose of that?! Here’s where our luck runs out.

The sticky shards are pulverized and then sifted through a fine mesh strainer onto a Silpat-lined sheet tray. The dust is carefully applied to the Silpat in an even thin layer. The sheet pan goes into a 350 degree oven for a 60 to 90 seconds and then emerges to resemble a opaque sheet of melted sugar that is thinner than a millimeter thick. Immediately we take a square cutter and score the glass sheet while it is still warm. The nougatine sheet is then allowed to cool once again and then very carefully we chip away to remove the perfect 3” x 3” squares. These nougatine squares are part of the garnish for the apple sorbet dessert.

That night, nothing was going right with our nougatine, we tried to make the opaque sheet of sugar 3 to 4 times and each time the sugar would crack, or come out of the oven bubbled and warped – we just couldn’t get it right. Luckily we had some squares from the last class and tried to salvage what we could of the new batches.

I think we were cursed that night, our first meringue didn’t form properly, our apple foam was flat, and plating the desserts was a bit haphazard – not our best night – but I blame the temperamental nature of pastry – it is never straight forward, always fussy, and needs constant care every step of the way.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

How sweet it isn't

Our first night on any station is always a bit unnerving and switching to pastry/dessert made for an interesting night. Our pastry Chef runs a tight ship, he laid down a set of guidelines that he reiterated, “I'm only going to say this once." Sharing the mid-sized pastry kitchen with us are three Level VI students, they handle two desserts and we deal with the other two. I decided to head into class a little early that day, in case there was a lot of prep to be done. Chef Alain was puttering around the kitchen, I said hello and asked what I could do first and he responded, "make simple syrup."

My other team members filed into the kitchen, made their introductions and we talked about our game plan for the evening. Chef outlined what had to be prepped for service in order of priority and we went straight to work. Chef has the most interesting accent and sometimes I have no idea what he is telling us which makes for interesting results. At times, he sounds German, South African, French, English, and Australian, and this is all at once in one sentence giving the listener a round the world aural experience.

On the dessert menu we are preparing a green apple sorbet with fennel foam and a tea-poached pear with pear bread and meringue finished with a chai Crème Anglaise. There are lots of components to plating both desserts and our list of “to-dos” was quite long. In pastry the only drawback is getting out of the kitchen last. Usually, we see a parade of our fellow students on Poissonnier, Entremétier and Saucier leaving and waving goodbye to us with smirks on their faces as we wait for our orders to come in. They’ve all been there so it’s now our turn to wait it out until the last patron has had their final course on the prix fixe menu.

Mid-way through our evening, Chef had a slight freak-out on two of the Level VI students – I was ready to hide in the walk-in refrigerator at that point. Chef was great with our little team, we just kept our nose to the grindstone and said, “Yes, Chef, No Chef.” We are no fools to tangle with a Chef who seeks perfection.

I’m sure the next few days in Pastry will be quite interesting – I just wish it came with subtitles.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chop, Chop!!

Our last night on Saucier and I’m a little sad because it has been a very good experience for us as a team. We were all a but apprehensive about the meat station having seen melt-downs, fights and chaos from other teams. Tonight, we are down one member from our usual three-person team so Chef assigned some students to help us with our prep work. We also had a Level VI student who needed to make up a class before graduation to work with all night. Ashley and I felt calm about the work we needed to get done, she and I would tick off the list of “to-dos” and assign them or do them ourselves. That’s one of the reasons my team rocks, we communicate with each other – and communication is key for my sanity and for everything to work properly. I want to make sure we are all on the same page, we are doing things by priority and we are watching the clock.

By this fourth night on Saucier, we know the score, we decided to take charge of one dish each. I am back to lamb chops and Ashley works the rabbit orders. Our Level VI student focuses on making the Pommes Anna & Darphin, something that can take an hour or longer to complete. The best advice on the meat station is to be organized and ready…when orders come in I begin by searing the chops in a extremely hot sauté pan with blended oil on both sides. I time them based on thickness and judge their doneness by touch. Usually the chops are ordered medium rare, some medium and a few well-done.

So orders begin to be called out, I sear my chops and get into my groove. Once the chops are seared they are set aside until the next step in the cooking process – a round of composed herb/hazelnut butter is placed on each chop and then placed under a salamander (broiler) to develop a golden color. Once the chops come out of the salamander and the order is fired then I can start plating. Here is the logistical problem – the salamander is not next to my station, so we’ve learned that having someone run the chops to the salamander back and forth was vital to keeping us on time and running smoothly – as simple as that. I ask our Level VI student to do this as part of her duties for the night.

Orders are coming in… 3 rabbit, 3 lamb medium,…then 2 lamb medium rare and rare, 1 rabbit, then 1 lamb well-done, 2 rabbit…and the orders stack up. Watching the order board helps us stay in tune with what is going out and when orders are ready to be fired. It is a simple system but one screw up and you can set yourself back quite easily.

My first set of chops sent to the salamander came back with the composed butter dark brown almost burned. I said to the student that she needs to continually check the chops under the broiler since they go from pale to golden brown quite quickly. She started to scrap off the charred part of the butter thinking we could serve it and I decided that it needed to be re-done. Note to self: screw up #1.

I sent her back with the chops with fresh herbed butter and as I was searing chops to order I look over and see her chatting with her classmates and NOT watching the chops under the salamander. Note to self: screw up #2 is not happening on my watch. So, from across the entire meat station I yelled, “Watch those chops, pay attention!” and proceeded to stamp my feet up an down like a crazy person to get her attention. I was pissed!! She was going to burn the second batch if I didn’t catch her. Luckily with my vocal intervention the chops came back to my satisfaction.

The orders continue, I pass the seared chops to her to be patted with the herb butter and run to the salamander and half the time I’m applying the butter myself and she’s oblivious. I don’t understand why this is so difficult to comprehend. I give you the chops, you place a tablespoon of butter on it, and you run it to the salamander. Note to self: annoyed and wonder if I don’t speak English?

At once, I have 6 lamb chops that need to go out at once. I start plating the chops in a line, first the Ratatouille is place in a ring mold on the plate and slight pressure helps it form into a perfect disk. Then the burning hot chops crisscross and lean on the Ratatouille, a wedge of Pommes Anna and finally napping the dish with a luscious sauce. I turn around and hand “our helper” the dish to start running them to the waiter station. The dish sits on the stainless steel table for another 30 seconds and as I turn around with my next plate and notice this dish just sitting here I belt out, “RUN THESE DISHES NOW!” Irritation and anger set in for both Ashley and myself but we hold it together. Note to self: Perhaps, deaf, dumb, blind? Maybe all of the above!

The real deal breaker came mid-way through the height of service, Ashley and I are working our tails off and we turn around to see “her” shoveling down a huge plate of food from family meal and shooting the shit with the Entremetier station. Here Ashley and I are hungry and busy, we haven’t eaten since lunch and lazy-girl is stuffing herself with food – clueless to what we are doing. That was really the final straw, she was practically useless to us all night and we put her on menial prep tasks after she finished her hefty plate of food – we needed to keep her away from us and get her out of the way. Note to self: Am I being punished or tested?

Now, I can understand why British Chef/Restaurateur Gordon Ramsey is such a freak of nature in the kitchen and expletives run from his mouth like water from a faucet. To quote him, “I have a very assertive way. It's wake up, move your ass, or piss off home.”my sentiments exactly!