The Head Chef, quiet and innovative, finally taught me something at The Restaurant over the weekend. Usually, I don't ever get to work with him. His skills are far beyond anything I am able to do right now, or ever, and I know I would just get in his way. I watch him often though, desperate to see his artistic statements on stark white plates. He is always relaxed, and subtle, yet produces the most immaculate dishes. I know that in years to come, I will wish I knew how talented he really is right now. I don't even have the knowledge base to admire all of his gifts, and I am unaware that I am taking him for granted.
But, on Saturday, he asked me if I would help him out, for the first time. His task for me: finely mince shallots. My eyes grew wide.
Although a simple task for most cooks, mincing a shallot is rather difficult if you do not know the correct technique. And, I am just assuming that I don't. He asked me if I knew how to do it, and I said, I know how I would do it, but teach me how you would do it.
He says that everyone knows how to cut a shallot, but he has a slightly different technique. He peels the shallot and slices it in half so that it is more sturdy. (Never done that before). Then, like he was swooshing a wand, he slices the shallots horizontally upwards, making the cuts as close together as possible. (Hmm. Never thought about making them smaller or bigger that way). Then, he does the same vertically, rotates the shallot 45 degrees, then again vertically. Off of his shallot comes the smallest pieces of onion I have ever seen, all consistently minced. I could have stacked them one on top of each other, and it would have created a consistent tower of purple squares.
Then, he tells me not to run my knife back over the shallot because they get watery and don't last as long. (Oh...I always do that. Eek!) I nod my head at him, ears and eyes wide open to his lesson, and he leaves me be.
I leave his half cut shallot on the right hand corner of board, like a trophy, and begin to delve into my task for The Head Chef. I am nervous, and want to do it right. I can't go back, and rock my knife all over the shallots like I would at home to make them smaller. He will know, because by the end of his night, they will be watery.
So, slowly, I begin to recreate the example he just showed me. I swipe my pairing knife down the length of the shallot five times horizontally, as close as I can get the knife, and eight times vertically. Then I rotate the purple bulb and with a bigger knife, begin pulling it down the shallot. A confetti of onion begins to fall off of my knife. While not as consistent, it looks similar to The Head Chefs, which is far better than I thought for my first time trying his technique.
After about 4 shallots, and lots of onion tears, I have aquired a massive pile of minced purple and white confetti. I notice that some are bigger and some are smaller, but over all, the cuts are much more consistent that I have ever chopped a shallot before, and I didn't have to rock my knife back over it!
The Sous walks by, looks over at my cutting board, and says excitedly, "That's what I am talking about!" He obviously wasn't looking too closely, but I will take the compliment.
I put the shallots in 1/9 pans, sifting through the shallots with my finger tips to discover any long pieces I need to remove, and I quietly place them at The Head Chef's station.
I can't wait for the next lesson.