I am feeling irresolute as this summer Staging is coming to an end. As I start work today, I feel empty, wishing that I could dance all day and then go to The Restaurant and cook all night. There are just not enough hours in my day. I stop by to pick up my knives that I left at The Restaurant over the weekend, and The Sous asks me if I am going to suit up and help them today, or “am I over it?” Ha! Yeah right. I am so tempted to stay. But, I know that staying up until 12:30 on a “school” night will not serve me well tomorrow at my real job.
My former artistic directors from the ballet came into The Restaurant this weekend to finally watch me in action. Any time someone comes into The Restaurant that I know (which has happened countless times this summer), I have this weird feeling like I am not being the person that they think they know. Sometimes, like I have told you before, I feel like I am living a double life. I am not quite sure how to handle people observing that I have this other love that is not ballet; A love I have only ever felt while cooking. I feel weird as I walk out to greet them from behind the Boos Block in my Chef’s jacket and apron, exposed and uneasy, which, if you know me, is not my personality at all. I feel the most confident when I am in my kitchen cocoon, having my own personal experience as I cook food for married couples, best friends, the uncomfortable diners, and first dates. It is the same feeling I have being on stage with the ballet. I don’t have to talk, but just move my body and produce art for people who are watching me, without interaction.
On Saturday, The Sous calls me to tell me he will be late, and to start a couple of tasks like putting the Russets in the oven for the gnocchi, taking the butter out of the walk-in for the biscotti, and defrosting the prawns that had just been delivered that day from the East Coast. When I get to The Restaurant, there is only one potato so I can’t start the roasting, I cut up the butter to soften it but I am blanking on the amount of sugar that goes into the biscotti recipe itself, and my drip system to defrost the prawns is a little precarious.
So, the only tasks I have left are to just chop, and chop, and chop, and chop. I am horrified and alone with just my knife skills to keep me company. And let me tell you, I don't like their company. This leaves me quiet, and irritated as 5pm rolls around and I begin to cook.
I had been working with Chef M on Thursday and Friday of that week. He works much differently with me than The Sous. He always has a lesson to teach me, and he likes to work with me on many of the projects, rather than letting me fend for myself. The Sous is different. He lets me flounder a bit, and then comes in for the rescue, having probably watched me struggle the entire time. I love these two juxtapositions at The Restaurant. They work together beautifully teaching me how to be independent, but also allowing me to know I have some support when I feel like I am sinking. I am disappointed, though, because Chef M has Saturday nights off, which means because I am working only Saturdays this coming year, this past Friday night was probably the last time I will cook with him. He is a brilliant teacher that will be missed.
Overall, I feel like I really took a huge turn in my cooking this past weekend, though. On Saturday night, after quickly getting out of my quiet mood, I basically ran the whole pasta station by myself. The Sous is observing and coaching, and helping me out by warming my plates in the salamander, or completing a finished plate of pasta with a drizzle of olive oil and pangrattato.
Originally, last week, they told me I would be running the whole station by myself without someone their to assist me. I knew I would not ready for this. At all. It is not the cooking that I have anxiety about, but the Mise en Place that would take me hours and hours. I would probably have to bring my sleeping bag, and sleep on The Restaurant's floor the night before so that I could wake up at the crack of dawn, and start my prep work. I would probably still be prepping at 9pm that evening, thinly slicing garlic and dicing anchovy filets to order.
But, luckily I have had two days of Chef M’s pasta training to prepare me for Saturday. Besides one of my dishes being slightly too lemony, and everything always needing just a pinch more of Kosher salt, I thought I did a pretty good job for my first Saturday night almost alone. At around 10, there is an order for gnocchi, and The Sous asks me if he can cook the dish to see if he “still has it in him.”
Ha! I have this odd feeling that he still does.
Their is this sensation that Chefs get, The Sous calls it The Groove, when you mindlessly, yet passionately, cook and create food for hours and hours. I finally experience this on Saturday night, as sweat pours down my temples and I create dish after dish as if I am dancing choreography that is only known in my muscle memory. It is a rush; An addiction. I have only ever known this feeling while performing on stage.
After this summer, I have decided I am probably not going to go to cooking school. I hear mixed reviews, and I have asked EVERY Chef their opinion that I have met over the summer. But after a conversation late Saturday night, after The Restaurant closes, the Chefs tell me to just work with as many Chefs as I can and learn everything possible from each one. I won’t learn how to butcher a Hamachi at cooking school, or be quizzed on how to wipe cheese off a knife I have borrowed. Yes. I actually forgot to wipe off a Chef’s knife after I cut a soft cheese for a cheese plate, and then they used it to cut into a sashimi grade Ahi Tuna. He was not happy with me.
I won't learn those kinds of lessons in cooking school. I will learn, however, how to perfect my brunoise, and julienne, and know the recipes to hundreds of sauces, stocks, and reductions. But, is this not also something I can learn on the job?
Some Chef’s will teach you to clean your station as you go, while others will want you to clean your station after you finish a dish. Some Chef’s will want you to bring your pot you are cooking with to your 1/9 pans, while other’s will want you to keep the hot pan away from their Mise en Place so that it doesn't get spattered with olive oil and butter. Some Chef’s believe you are the artist, while others want you to do exactly as they tell you, word for word.
The most important part about being a Chef, and learning from a Chef, is humility paired with hard work. All of the Chefs that I have met this summer are the most humble, brilliant men, who work harder than anyone I know. I am honored to have gotten to know them, and watch them get into The Groove.
I want to thank everyone at Anchovies & Olives, "The Restaurant" for the most amazing, life changing summer: Especially Head Chef Charles, The Sous Chef Manu, Chef Matt, Chef Brandin, and Ethan Stowell, The Owner. Thank you for teaching me this foreign language that I now feel like I can communicate with just a little better. I am elated that my stark white Chef's coat now has stains of olive oil, blood, and parsley.
I will be Staging there on Saturday nights throughout the year when I am not performing with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
And Readers, Thank you so much for going on this journey with me of Summer Spoon.