Sunday, June 14, 2009

From Beginning To End

When I woke up this morning at 9:30, I already wanted to go back to bed. The exhaustion was unparalleled and I couldn't imagine have to get up and cook for another 12 hours again today. But, all The Chefs do it. Five days a week.

Today has been spent reliving all of the amazing memories I have had over the weekend. I can't get them out of my head. They replay like a broken record, skipping to the same places over and over again. Some are funny, like watching a really drunk woman stumble out of The Restaurant with her boyfriend in tow. Some are humiliating, like when one gnocchi dish that I made was sent back about a minute after I had said, "Service, please. Table 10." Their scallop had been under-cooked.

It was cooked to me.

I met Chef M for the first time on Friday. I was appointed to work with him because he was going to be at the same station that I had worked at the night before with The Sous. He made the same dishes, but in a different way than The Sous. He didn't care about the order of things, he just wanted the dish to have all of the components that made it what it was. He told me everything else was just artistry. The Sous is more exact. He taught me the way he made the dish, and wanted me to replicate EXACTLY what he had done. I definitely feel more comfortable having exact directions, but the fun part of cooking, I have now learned, is mastering the method, and refining it, to create the best dish possible.

Last night I was given two dishes to focus on, one was the gnocchi I had been making for the past two nights. Chef M asked me right before service which dishes I felt the most comfortable with. I told him the two I thought I was the "best" (haha!) at, and he told me that those were mine the whole evening. No matter what. If an order for gnocchi came in, he wasn't even going to look at it. It was my responsibility. From beginning to end.

How often do you make a dish about 15 times IN A ROW? Never. Well, at least I haven't. I now know the two recipes I made last night like the back of my hand. Each time, I would refine my method more, and more. I was learning what I didn't know the time before. I am sure there were victims along the way. A couple of pieces of burnt garlic. Maybe a scallop that was slightly cold in the middle undercooked. But, I didn't hear any customers complaining.

Well, except for that one table.

I found that for the gnocchi, the front left burner worked the best. That burner heated the olive oil and the finely diced pancetta to the perfect temperature right before I would throw in the blanched potato gnocchi. The little gnocchis seared brown on one side, and right when the oil started to bubble, I would add in the mandoline-sliced garlic and bright green favas. I would cook those for almost a minute, and when the garlic started dance inside the pan, and then I would ladle in the homemade vegetable stock to cool down the garlic. A trick The Sous taught me. I would add a handful of kale and a little square of butter to finish off the sauce.

The butter had not always been a part of the recipe. It came from refinement process. I hadn't always done that, but I found it made the sauce have more beautiful sheen, and well, it just made the dish taste better. I would frequently see Chef M put in a little nub of butter.

That was his secret.

To finish the gnocchi, I would season the sauce with a decent amount of kosher salt and add just a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. The lemon juice, I discovered, made all of the flavors pop.

Meanwhile, while all of this was cooking, I was searing a scallop that I had rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with salt. Putting it presentation side down, I would put it on the grill, and squeeze a little vegetable oil to sear it. The olive oil was just for flavor. Once I flipped the scallop over, I would put my plate in the oven to warm it. It was the perfect amount of time to not get the plate too hot, but also warm enough to keep the gnocchi at a good temperature as it went to the customer. Then, I would take the scallop off of the grill, slice it in half and take the plate out of the oven. I would tilt the pan and spoon, (not dump from the pan, as I WAS doing) the gnocchi onto the warmed plate, ladle any extra sauce around the gnocchi, top with the sliced scallop, drizzle with finishing oil, season with more kosher salt and call for service. I would quickly take a damp towel, and clean the sides of the plate in case I had gotten a small drip of sauce on the side.


Sometimes it would be 4 orders of gnocchi in a row. So, I would cook two orders of gnocchi each in dueling pans. It was beyond exciting. The rush is similar to dancing on stage. No wonder I like this profession.

It was fun to watch the recipe come to life from beginning to end. Earlier in the day, Chef M had taught me how to blanch the favas and pop them out of the tough membrane that they come in. He taught me how to make the gnocchi I would be using from a heavily-salted baked russet potato, combining it with one egg yolk, and a handful of flour. I squeezed lemon after lemon to fill squeeze bottle with fresh juice. I watched as they made vegetable stock out of scraps of vegetables like parsley, a bit of celery, carrots, onions, peppercorns, and dried chickpeas. I chopped kale, removed the little foot from each scallop, and refilled small bowls with kosher salt.

Ocassionally I would watch my dish go to a customer. I loved watching their face light up as it was presented in front of them. At the end of the night, by the dishwasher, I would see the gnocchi bowls licked clean, with maybe just a few pieces of pancetta that couldn't be picked up with the tines of a fork. I assume that means people liked their meal.

I didn't hear otherwise, except for that damn scallop.

At the end of last night, I decided I would make the gnocchi dish for Erik. It is the first recipe I have learned from The Restaurant that I can see myself creating at home. Making the gnocchi, blanching the favas, freshly squeezing the lemon juice, finely dicing the pancetta, and making homemade vegetable stock.

From Beginning to End.


  1. What a great post. It's posts like this that make me want to go cook in a restaurant... I just worry that the excitement I would get would be ground to a halt by all the other STUFF that goes with working in a restaurant...

    Plus the hours suck.

  2. Awesome Kari, keep writing! I love to hear about each of your days at the Restaurant!

  3. Oh boy. I am so sorry you are so wiped but, um, I love hearing all about your experiences. Thanks for pushing through the fatigue to keep writing about it all! :)