Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Mise en Place and The Spoon

Today is the first day I am cooking since I have been working at The Restaurant. I think cooking will forever be changed for me. For the better.

The first course of action today is that I have to buy a mandoline at a cooking store so I can thinly slice my garlic and shallots like The Chefs do at The Restaurant. I, of course, come out with not just a mandoline, but with a new All-Clad saucier that The Chefs cook with, beautiful white pasta plates that are similar to what they use for serving the gnocchi at The Restaurant, and miniature ramekins for my mise en place.

And a big metal spoon.

The Chefs only cook with metal serving spoons.

For me (and Anthony Bourdain) mise en place is like a religion. It is a way to meditate through my dish(es), and make sure I have everything perfectly prepared and settled: measuring, washing, mincing, and chopping. It also gives a Chef (or a Stage like me) a lot of self-satisfaction in each of the dishes they create. It is a completely different cooking experience when you handle, and prepare, every aspect of a dish. Having all of your ingredients be prepared ahead of time helps with cleanliness of your station, and of your mind, and makes for a faster and more efficient Chef.

I now understand that pride.

Today, I roast potatoes for the gnocchi. Make the gnocchi dough. Roll it out on a gnocchi board. Blanche the gnocchis. Blanche fava beans. Peel the fava beans. Slice garlic and shallots on my new mandoline. Place red pepper flakes and salt in my new mini ramekins. Wash and chop dinosaur kale, and squeeze and strain fresh lemon juice. I also boycott, my safeguard, Whole Foods' previously frozen scallops, and actually shop for fresh scallops at a specialty seafood store.

All for just ONE pasta dish for two.

Another change for me is with The Spoon and cooking. The Spoon is used to taste, to stir, to toss, to scoop, and to plate. Maybe once or twice at The Restaurant, I have seen The Chefs use a spatula to flip a scallop, or a pair of metal tongs to pull treviso off of the grill, but The Spoon is the preferred tool for cooking.

If I take my new All-Clad saucier pan with my towel-wrapped hand and tilt it at a 45 degree angle, The Spoon can accumulate the maximum amount of sauce in the pan to pour over the gnocchi. It's as if The Spoon and the pan are dancing seamlessly into the curves of each others stainless steel.

Cooking tonight should be a new experience. I will only touch my pan with a towel wrapped hand. I will start with olive oil and pancetta in a cold pan so that I can render the maximum amount of fat without burning the pancetta. I will toss the gnocchi into the pancetta-laden oil and let it stay there until it gets crispy and golden on each side. Then, I will add sliced garlic (stored in olive oil), my blanched favas, and a generous amount of red pepper flakes, for just a minute so that the garlic just begins to jump a little in the pan. Then, to bring everything together, I will give the pan a splash of vegetable stock (from the box) and a handful of kale. I will season everything with kosher salt and maybe, if I feel like it, add a small nub of Plugra to finish off the sauce.

Meanwhile, I will sear off my scallop in olive oil AND vegetable oil, not touching it, so that it will get the most perfect "toasted pine-nut" color on each side. Then, I will warm my plate in a 200 degree oven, tilt my pan at a 45 degree angle and spoon the dish onto the plate. At the end, I will top the dish with the perfectly cooked scallop, and drizzle it with a little bit of olive oil for a shimmer, and a little more kosher salt.

I might be yelling "Corner!" and "Behind!" to nobody but me, my husband, and a dog, but I will enjoy it just the same.

I told you I have changed.


  1. Ha. I love that moment when I have all my ingredients chopped and prepped, lined up in bowls and ramekins next to the stove. I've washed my knives and cutting boards, put away extra ingredients (this only happens about half the time). I like to pause for just a minute, going over in my mind how I'm going to prepare my dish(es), thinking about the timing of everything, taking a breath before I start the actual cooking. That quiet moment, before the food hits a hot pan and begins to sizzle, it's a beautiful thing.

  2. Yay! You've learned SO much already. Question: what size saucier?

  3. Kairu-It is a beautiful thing. I am excited to experience it.

    Maggie- They use a 2 and 3 qt. sauciers.

  4. okay is it a big metal spoon that is used for tasting too? how very alice in wonderland.

    i always picture those cehfs with poclets and glasses filel dwith little spoons for tasting.

    Great post. Love it. And love my Mise en Place on a good night too.

  5. I'm so excited! Except for the apps she made me, Loren and Joelle at The Restaurant--a secret I can't keep well--this is the first meal she's made since she started Summer Spoon (pause to eat...) Wow. 6 out of 5 stars--a first. I'm impressed babe. Very proud of you.

  6. Your passion for food, and ability to articulate it is rather magical to behold. You had me with the Moroccan Turkey Sliders...

    Keep up the inspiring work, your talent and enthusiasm are infectious!

  7. How exciting!

    ps it's a mandoline. A mandolin is the musical instrument!

  8. Anonymous- Mandoline! Right! It is changed:) Thank you!

  9. Awesome Kari - you are developing finesse in your technique. Makes all the difference!