I make a prep list on the back of an old menu from the previous day. Items like aioli, blanched cauliflower, and avocado puree frequent the list, and comfort me. The Chefs trusts me enough to not be babysat, but don’t worry, I am still on a constant running video surveillance, as I should be.
I start the day by making aioli which I know is egg yolks, lemon juice, a garlic clove, a splash of water, and finished by a constant stream of vegetable oil. I am planning to use three egg yolks, cracking each yolk in my prep bowl, and straining the white protein through my hands. The Sous enters the walk-in, looks over at me, and says, “Whoa, Stage. Easy on the egg yolks.” I take the one I am presently perfectly straining in my hand, dump it in my prep bowl and begin making the aioli with two egg yolks.
The aioli breaks.
The Sous smirks, and gets me another egg from the fridge. I pour the broken mixture back into the empty oil pitcher, add the yolk he gets for me into the empty Robot Coupe, pour the broken mixture back as if it were the vegetable oil, and it forms into a fluffy cream mixture. First task complete.
Tonight, I am working with Chef B, The Thursday Chef, at the same station I was working at last Thursday: The day I cut myself. My goal today is NOT to repeat the mistakes of seven days ago. He asks me to cut a peach for the same recipe, in the same way. That dreaded peach. I figure, hell, why not? At least I can redeem to myself, and to others, that I am not always full of blunders. I learn from my mistakes this time, square off the peach for stability, REMOVE the pit, make sure my hands are curled and protected, and slice thinly. Success.
After all of those improved knife skills, that peach ends up becoming a puree.
Chef B and I are working in tandem, like a dance, sharing a cutting board and knives, and as always at this station, fighting for ineffectual light and limited square footage. He lets me slice some fish with his beautiful Japanese sushi knife. As I am salting the fish after my mediocre attempts at cutting, he stops me, and tells me that I ALWAYS have to put His knives back to where I got them from, on a blue prep towel folded to the right of the cutting board. Chef B, tongue in cheek, says that when the knife is not in its place, It will either cut me because it is not in a safe place just laying on the cutting board, or He will “cut me” (if his knife happens to drop on the ground). That knife goes back to its place the entire night, as if a magnet is pulling it there.
I do my best cooking on a stomach full of Fried almonds, sips of Kombucha, and Peronis. But at 6:00p.m., I have none of these in my belly. The Restaurant is still kind of dead and the sound of the ticket printing out to my right can only mean one thing: an order for Gelato or Sorbet. Hmm. Did I mention I need a beer?
I know it sounds trivial, yes. But I can’t scoop freaking ice cream to save my life. It either ends up consistent to a "7-11" Slurpee, or in the Gelato’s case, a minefield after it has been detonated. Tonight, there is a brand new Hazelnut Gelato, just delivered, and never been scooped. The perfect victim. As I am creating my first curls into the Gelato, it is crumbling into my scoop like sand. The spoon is not hot enough, and the Gelato is too hard. I know. Excuses, excuses. The Gelato should scoop smooth, like a long river, and look even and calm, when you are finished with it.
By the end of my torturous experience, I have The Sous and The Head Chef watching me, as they sometimes do when The Restaurant is not busy. This flusters me even more. They observe as I butcher out ridges in the Gelato like I am some force of nature. The Sous looks over and says, “Wow, Stage. Are you trying to go for the Grand Canyon?” I respond, “Well, I was thinking more of the Sierra Nevada Range.” Chef B gives me a tip after I completely destroy the untainted Gelato: Use steaming water from the espresso machine to heat the scoop. This man is brilliant.
The funny thing is they want me to be able to run this station by myself someday. I would get stuck at the first Gelato order, every time. By 6:00 p.m., I would probably have a toddler's temper tantrum, stomp out of The Restaurant, and throw my apron down on the pavement.
This damn Gelato is not getting the best of me.
I love that The Chefs don’t let me get away with anything. Well, almost anything. The Sous and Chef B keep testing my food every forty-five minutes, or so, like a required emissions test; Only letting me serve the food if I "pass". I get a correction from Chef B to not put a small mixing bowl, filled with Kumamotos, on the ground by the mini- fridge. The bottom of the bowl sits on the floor, and the dirt from the floor gets on the cutting board. Oh, yes. Common sense would benefit me in this profession.
Later, The Sous looks over from his station and asks me if I salted the soft-cooked eggs? Have I put aioli individually on each one?
I show him how I am salting the eggs, delicate and snug, so that the salt only touches the top of the egg. He shows me that I need to salt from ABOVE, and on the cutting board, not on my plate. He takes his hand, filled with Kosher salt, and puts it almost even with his ear, and in a circular motion, salts a prep plate to show me the technique. I look over and there is a perfect coating of salt all over the silver disk. “Even, Stage. Even.”, he repeats.
At the end of the night, Peroni in hand, I begin wrapping the stations 1/9 pans and changing deli-containers filled with pickled radishes and mint puree. I have already overturned a 1/9 pan of toasted pistachios all inside the mini fridge, and I accidentally break 3 out of 10 grissini Chef M made yesterday. (His were better, by the way. He ends up using more yeast, and rolling them smaller and shorter.) They are obviously more delicate than mine were. Shut!
I see The Sous efficient method for wrapping his 1/9 pans. He rolls out the plastic wrap still in the box, covers the container airtight, and then with a swift movement with the side of his right wrist and forearm, he swipes to loosen the plastic. He quickly seals the the edges, and moves on to the next. I would say it takes three seconds, maximum, and as he says, with pride: “airtight and stackable”. Easy enough. I try to attempt this technique with a small bowl of ground black pepper. I take the plastic out, and wrap one side of the small bowl. As I go to loosen it from the container with “my version” of the swipe, the small container of black pepper tips and spills all over my clean cutting board and the floor. Classic. I look around, subtly, nobody sees, and I laugh: OUT LOUD. I will be putting that item on my prep list tomorrow. And, while I am at it, I’ll add the grissini, too.
At the end of the night, while listening to P.Y.T and Billie Jean to honor the late M.J., I have a conversation with another intern at another reputable restaurant down the street. He is fresh out of culinary school, and in the same position as I am; Just a Stage. I realize, right then and there, I am one lucky Bitch. I have been working at The Restaurant for six and a half days (remember, cut finger). I get to watch, and learn, from one of the most talented, and humble, Head Chefs in Seattle, and work with his amazing team of Chefs who are willing to teach me. I have worked two stations, not gone to culinary school, and the best part: I am not auditioning for the job like the other Stage.
I’m just here to learn.