Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Cookin No. 47 - opening a restaurant
Monday, March 01, 2010
Cookin No. 46- Peek-a-boo
Still alive and cooking. Slightly more experienced, and once again unemployed! You may ask yourself, what is it about unemployment that makes this chick suddenly appear... well i can tell you. funds are dwindling, and i have already glued little plastic cowboys and indians, (like the little green amy men), all over the apartment. So that when you walk through my apartment, you will be confronted with battles from the times of the wild west. Now that I have finished with my boredom, I have decided to write a little bit about what has been going on since Sweet Basil, and the Chocolate Lab.
I should point out that this unemployment is temporary, and I should be back to work in a few days. Or perhaps in a few more weeks. The restaurant I am currently employed at is moving to a new location. So pending inspections, finishing touches to structure, and decorating, I am waiting knife ready, to jump back in.
However first things first. We need to start this story where we left off... The Chocolate Lab. Things went really well there, I was able to put in a line of chocolate that I had created and it sold really well. Things like pink sea salt chocolate caramels, white chocolate bark with toasted hazelnuts, honey and cardamum. Dark chocolate lemon cordials with lemon zest inside, and spicy orange cordials with orange zest and cayenne pepper. Then I got the call, the dream job call. Ocean, a popular restaurant in Easton, needed a sous chef, and my culinary instructors knew that I was looking for a job so they dropped my name. Next thing I know I’m working at the hippest restaurant in the valley. Cooking under a very talented chef, Jake, who let me exercise some creative freedom. I learned an awful lot about jerry-riggin there, the damn place was practically falling apart. But we made some awesome food out of that tiny kitchen. This was the kitchen that really gave me my chops, and lots of crazy stories. But I was working 70 some hours a week for peanuts, and an opportunity came my way... The Lovin Oven, in Milford, NJ.
The Oven is a very hip, comfort food type breakfast and lunch joint, that was looking to make dinners something more than pizza and quiche. So they offered me more money than I ever made in a restaurant before and the possibility to take charge of the line with my own menu. This is the type of restaurant that you go to and feel like you may not be cool enough to be there. But in fact you are, so don’t sweat it. The staff is comprised of hippies, punks, and other experimental lifestyle users. The menu tackles all popular food diets, like carnivores, vegetarians and vegans. Its a place where all three diets can sit down and enjoy a yummy meal together without asking the server for a “special” order.
The owners, Mike and Julie, are a husband and wife team who started the place by themselves and then finally needed to hire some kids to help out. Both Mike and Julie do all the baking, Mike is a vegan, so he makes all the vegan treats that even non-vegans love. He also manages the front of the house, ie: servers. Julie, when she is done baking, cooks the line, and until I was hired cooked all the shifts. I came in as their first professionally trained employee, and being that they were not used to someone who doesn’t need a recipe to make pesto, didn’t relinquish many responsibilities at first.
The other employees are a mix of kids in high school washing dishes, servers who are young mothers looking for some extra cash, or servers who already have careers and are helping out. Well, we only have one of those, Kristy, she and her boyfriend work/run a farm in Asbury, NJ that produces vegetables that fill my heart with love. Seriously they grow some of the most delicious and beautiful vegetables I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. They are at the Flemington, NJ farmers market in the summer, so if you are around you should have a carrot and see what I mean. The other server who is not a mother, and not otherwise stuck to a career in the food industry is a student. She is now my best friend, and room-mate.
Yes, another change of events for me, I moved out of bethlehem and into my parents house for a few months, then N and I moved to Chalfont, Pa. Its a suburb of Philly. I love living so close to a city. And there is a train station 4 blocks away! So now all my grocery shopping is done at the reading terminal market, and china town. Plus, my other best friend who lives in Mt. Airy is only 20 min away.... And she’s dating a guy who brews his own beer, so that makes it even better!
Ok, ok... Back to the oven. So after putting in a year and a half at the oven, getting up at 5:30 am to cook breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. I will now be doing just dinner! How did this little hole in the wall restaurant of chaos make the leap to real restaurant? Liz Gilbert. I’m sure you have heard of her, she’s the superstar writer that wrote Eat, Pray, Love. Its gonna be a movie, Julia Roberts is playing Liz Gilbert... Well anywho, I did not meet Julia Roberts, but Liz Gilbert lives in Frenchtown, NJ which the next town down the river from Milford. She became a regular customer of the Oven, loves it so much that she is building a new restaurant for Mike and Julie in Frenchtown. Well, she and her man from Bali, own Two Buttons, an import store where you can buy big Buddha statues. Two Buttons is in a large warehouse, and they are giving part of the space to the Oven. Not only is this new space bigger and better, but dinner will be served every night, in a real kitchen with real equipment! I will never have to light a burner with a lighter again, from now on I just turn a knobby, and BAM! Flames appear!
Lets just say that the old Oven was very make-shift. The walk-in was outside and a hike away. The freezer was an old refrigerator turned freezer in the basement. The basement aside from being creepy, would drop dust and other nondescript pieces of foundation on you when someone from upstairs walked over head. The dishwashing area was just a 3-bay sink and kids using elbow grease. The oven rattled and had to be kicked regularly. And the other appliances came from hell, I had a emersion blender shock me while I was making soup! So this new space, with its new equipment and walk-in inside the kitchen, is a relief.
And now I have arrived at the end of this story. Sitting in my kitchen with nothing better to do. Well I do need to go buy a new tea pot, and wash some dishes too. So I think that I will sign off.
Wishing you all good food and good company.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Cookin No. 45 - Once Again
With that said and done… onward:
Well, I suppose that it goes without saying that much has happened… two days after mother’s day I was promoted to sous chef at the restaurant. I had a wonderful time with my new responsibilities. And I think that I did well, I am sure that I met the expectations set before me. I would like to think of myself as hard and dependable worker. I was always early, put in more time than was asked, and I hope that I made the kitchen run smoother with my crazy OCD ways. I have found that I am a particular person, and I like everything in its place, or rather, the place which I put it in. HA! Dominic the GM, loved pushing my button by messing with my towels. I tend to get all twitchy, which I am sure is amusing when I am seen in the height of frenzy. I am also sure that one would also feel a sense of pitty that I would get wigged out over so little of a thing. Egh, there is method to my madness, I swear!
Anywho, after a wonderful run of things, the restaurant closed, and we were all out of a job. September 29th was the last day. I am sure that it is a day that I won’t ever forget. There was lots of chaos, we were just trying to get threw it and deal. We only got a week notice, and the reason… I suppose business wasn’t going good, there was a long diatribe, but I would rather not put too much thought into it, otherwise I’ll make myself nuts. You can’t change some things. I was sad though, I felt that these people, who I spent most of my waking hours with, were my family. And it is always hard to see your family fall apart.
I suppose to sum it all up I would have to say… This I believe:
When the tickets are pouring in, and you don’t know if you can push yourself any further, somewhere deep within an extra bout of adrenaline kicks on, and you find yourself moving without thought, just pure movement. In moments like this, you find yourself amazed and proud. Like a parent watching their child tackle a difficult task, you step back and see yourself flowing in the most profound way. Its movement like this that can not be replicated on command. It only comes when you are at the end, when you need it the most.
On the line, on a busy night, all you can hear is the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. The dishwasher grinding away, plates being slammed, knives chopping, your coworkers grunting, this sizzle of shallots hitting hot oil, the smell of meat grilling, the ticket machine going off. Occasionally a glass will drop, and you take a moment to glance in the direction of the offending noise, relieved for a short break. Sweat pouring off your face and down your back. In moments like this, I am proud to part of the cool kids club, the gang of the deranged who work hard just to please the masses who don’t even know your face. Diners don’t think about what sort of goon is cooking their food, they are kept in a perfect climate, a paradise that is separated from hell only by a swinging door.
Working in close proximity with other people, no matter their past transgressions, creates a relationship more intimate than any other. No matter if the meat head next to you is a convicted felon, or a religious family man, this person becomes your family. You trust them, and a loyal bond is formed that can’t be broken by anything that is thrown your way. Yes, you may fight and argue, but at the end of the night, your share a few drinks, a few laughs, and you know that this person has your back. If you need a ride, if you need a hand, if you need a shoulder, this is the person that you turn to.
This I believe:
I am a chef, and this is a life that I love, hate, and live. I chose this life for that one moment, when the first forkful enters the mouth, the first taste, and the sigh; when the patron’s eyes are closed, a small smile on their lips, and the love of food washes over them. That single moment of completeness is why I keep going.
It was the perfect first job, and after… well after I couldn’t think of a single place in the valley that I wanted to work at. I loved that restaurant. So I spent one week doing nothing. well, I did draft my resume and sent it out to 5 different job postings. Went on three interviews and two were very disheartening joints, then landed a part-time job at a chocolate shop in downtown Bethlehem. But I wouldn’t start for a while, so I had three weeks to relax and see what 8 hours of sleep feels like. I have to report that a nights rest is awesome! I went out walking all over town for hours each day, made bread, read a bit, wrote in my journal, painted and started to repair my social life. I have to say, that unemployment was starting to suit me just fine. However it does get boring, especially when you see your funds dwindle.
So I finally started work at the Chocolate Lab, on Broad Street. My new boss, Arleen, is a really awesome person. She is the first boss of mine to have the unique disposition where she see’s her employees as helpers, and truly appreciates all the work you do for her. Just by showing up on time she is overjoyed. It’s a pleasure to work for her. I am mainly making candies, which is sooo much fun because it allows me to be a perfectionist. I am also now immune to the smell of chocolate, which helps you get threw the day ;).
I am really looking at this job as a way to get threw the holidays, and I also see it as a way to learn something that I think would make me valuable to future employers. However, after the holidays, and business dies down at the shop, I am going to have to move on. Where, I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to stay in the valley, or move, or even stay at the shop part time. Do I want to keep cooking for other people, or open my own joint? I don’t know if I want to continue cooking on the line, or find another avenue in this culinary world. There questions have been plaguing me, either by my own mind, or by other people. I have found that everyone has an opinion about my predicament, and all is wonderful advice, but I think that the answer needs to come from me. I don’t doubt that what ever I decide, I will be happy. I know that I am capable so I have no worries. For now, I am going to relax and enjoy the holiday season.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Cookin No. 44 - What is this Contemporary Cuisine Business Anyway
Nothing much has happened in this world of mine. Much work and little play. At least work has a healthy balance of play involved. Yesterday, (Monday) the restaurant entertained a group of women taking cooking classes at a local college. The head chef asked me to assist him for the demonstration on contemporary American cuisine. But the first thing we had to figure out was, what in the world is contemporary American cuisine? I personally think that it follows parallel to the new wave of cooking. Fresh ingredients, bending the old rules, and making some new ones. Take for example, the set up of a plate. Traditionally a plate should have a starch, vegetable, and protein. But today, we are combining those ingredients to make something intriguing and new, take for example the tilapia dish on our menu. Tilapia is a very common fish now a days, it is a good cheap fish to add to your menu, which will bring in some revenue. It actually replaced orange roughy, which has been over fished, and has now become an expensive ingredient. But tilapia is nearly man made. Almost always farm raised, it has a delicate flavor, that is not only forgiving, but it takes on the flavors of the ingredients that it is cooked with. What we do at the restaurant is wrap it in partially cooked angel hair pasta, then flash fry it in a pan on high heat. Thus making the pasta crunchy, and also acts as a protective shell around the fish, keeping in the moisture and flavor. We then serve it with cherry tomatoes, shallots, capers and wilted spinach, and a citrus burre blanc sauce. The tartness of the capers and the burre blanc bring out the fish, and the spinach adds a robustness to the whole dish. This is not an old fashioned dish, though it has the elements of the old school ideals, citrus with fish, and so on. We have combined the old ways, and freshened it up. That is what this new wave we are riding is all about. The ladies were very impressed, and even though we were expecting culinary students, we enjoyed ourselves.
After the demonstration, I went home, and settled down for the night, when my power went out! It was out for nine hours! My neighbor and I sat in the dark speculating that it was because of the squirrels. They are probably angry because they are done hibernating, but its so cold, that they are confused and out of nuts. So they are up to no good. we must act against these furry terrors! Bah! Anywho. I am going to head off to the restaurant and earn my paycheck.
Until next time my friends,
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Cookin No. 43 - Honesty is the Best Policy
This evening, after the rush of dinners at the restaurant, the head chef, Chris, and I were sitting outside polluting our lungs with tobacco and tar, when one of the waitresses, Allie, came running out of the door and towards her car with one of her shoes in her hand. Half barefoot she acted like a skittish animal when we asked her what happened. She said, “Don’t worry about it”. Someone in the kitchen told us that she spilled soup on herself. Immediately my mind flashed to the large pot of, made this morning, mushroom soup that was sitting in the back room. I started to shake my head. I knew that Chris was thinking about the same pot. Chris said, “I don’t think I want to know.” I agreed.
Again we asked A what happened, again she said not to worry. Chris and I put out our cigarettes and headed into the back room, to look at the foreboding pot. There was visibly 3 inches of soup missing. Again Chris asked A what happened, again she said not to worry. I didn’t have to look to know that Chris’ face was beginning to turn bright red with anger. He said, “I will only ask you one more time, what happened, if you tell me I won’t be angry, but if I have to ask you two more time, I will be ******* pissed.” A, then told us that as she was standing talking to another waitress, her foot slipped into the pot of soup. She also said that the other waitress told her to hide the “evidence”. Oui.
A very mad head chef went outside to smoke another cigarette, and I stayed behind to tell the two girls that if something happens to just come out and tell us, to not hide it, because what is done is done, but if you hide it, and we found out later, then bad things would happen. We would have ended up selling shoe soup instead of mushroom soup. Regardless of the food cost, we can fix the problem now. They didn’t seem to understand. Rather, they didn’t want to listen to me, instead they wanted to throw the blame around to other unforeseen forces. I understand that Chris is a formidable guy at times, but he understands mistakes, I understand that they didn’t want to get yelled at, but the yelling would have been worse if the lie continued.
My pearls of wisdom fell on deaf ears. I suppose that it was right then and there that these two young girls showed their age to me. I just wish that I could have made them understand. But I suppose that there are people who would rather push the blame around and create scapegoats, instead of saying, “my bad”.
So I send out this pearl to all of you… even though the truth hurts, the truth is less painful than the lie. A lie is salt that rub into the wound. You will loose credibility and respect if you sling lies.
Other than that, all is well in my world. My birthday is on Sunday, and I am looking forward to that. A nice meal with my family, and a little bit of relaxation is all that I need. But this is the big 25, I am becoming aware of age suddenly. You know what though, bring it on baby, I think that I will look good with grey hair ;).
Until next time my friends, Buone Appitito…
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Cookin No. 42 - The Trials and Tribulations of a Cook
Today, I was straining the fryer as usual; going through the same moves and all, when something went wrong. I still can’t pinpoint what happened, but suddenly there was a searing hot pain in my leg, and when I looked down, the 350o oil was spraying all over my right leg. I am proud of myself when I didn’t scream like a girl, instead I said:
“OH *bleep*, that hurts, *bleep bleep* that’s hot, Danny this is *bleeping* hot, *BLEEP* *bleep* hot *bleep*”
Instead of dropping everything, I turned the nozzle off, that the oil was coming out of, and went to examine my leg. What is really strange is that all I could think about was, how great it was that I had just shaved my legs, so the guys wouldn’t see a hairy mess, and how if I get a nasty scar, it won’t look good in the summer when I show a little leg. I must be demented, or vain. Hmmmm. Danny ran and got me some burn cream and an ice pack. Being the ghetto thugs that we are, we duct-taped the ice pack to my leg. Yet another reason why duct-tape is the best invention ever!
That’s the thing, in the kitchen, when we don’t have the proper tool, we make something to help us out. Usually aluminum foil and duct-tape are our handiest tools. These are the tricks that you learn. If a sauce breaks, just add water. Something not cooking fast enough, add stock and cover it. Don’t have a lid, use another pan.
This evening, Dominic, the GM made an interesting dumpling, that was actually really tasty. He purred shrimp, scallions, garlic, bacon, oil, salt and pepper, and formed them into little balls, then coated them in cornstarch, and deep fried it. He served it with a poached egg yoke, wasabe and soy sauce, and sarache sauce (A hot chili sauce). They were actually really good; they would make a nice appetizer. I would make a wasabe mayonnaise to serve it with, and make a trio of sorts. The shrimp dumpling, some ahi tuna slices, and a mini duck confit spring roll.
Confit, (pronounced confee), means to cook something in its own fat, so duck confit, is usually braised, and because duck is very fatty to begin with, it becomes super tender and juicy, and the meat falls apart, looking a bit like pulled pork. It is absolutely delicious!
Well, that was my wonderful night at work, burned myself, and got some good ideas. Hopefully I will survive tomorrow.