Saturday, June 6, 2009

Déjà Vu

Déjà vu set in today as I bought my first Chef's coat at a restaurant supply store. It was this compelling sense of familiarity. It reminded me of 15(+) years ago when I was the naive little ballerina, back in southern Virginia. I got to buy my first pair of pink pointe shoes in a ballet store off of E. Virginia Avenue on a sunny Spring weekend. This is when ballet was not hard, or painful, or draining.


It also wasn't a passion, so I guess that makes it all worth it now. But, I do fear that I may be getting myself into some recognizable territory here. Should I be worried about my patterns and career choices? Starting out fun and adventurous, and ending with tears, pain, callouses, and passion?

As a little dancer, getting to go "en pointe" is this giant accomplishment because it means you have actually reached a certain level of your dancing. Today, as I clutched my chef's coat at the checkout stand, I was reminded of that little ballet dancer coming out of the ballet store, clutching her shiny new pointe shoes.

I had no idea HOW to dance on those pointe shoes, I just knew I wanted them. The ribbons had not even been sewn, but having them meant there were so many more possibilities for me.

Same with cooking. I have the Chef's coat now, but too bad it isn't that simple. I have to learn how to cook. For real.

Now I know to expect the tears, the pain, the callouses. Like I said. I have done this before. But, the best part, is I also get to expect the passion.

And the coat. Well it is definitely shiny and new. Which means, this week I will be living in that thing. I am certainly not showing up on my first day (Thursday) at The Restaurant with a stark white chef's coat that has so much starch that you could make a coconut cream pie with it.

How freaking embarrassing.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Kitchen Bitch #2

Although it may seem untrue, this was not a "Devil Wears Prada" kind of experience, I assure you. But, within the first five minutes, I was rapidly told that my job title was Kitchen Bitch #2. Not even #1, but #2. I was the Kitchen Bitch to the Kitchen Bitch. The girl who was #1 had been through the ropes many times before, and taught me quietly along the way (as to not disturb the flow of the evening). I watched, learned as I went, and received all the information I could. I was losing my virginity to my first restaurant.

While watching The Teacher prep her 5-course dinner for 12, I swept, cleaned counters, and filled votives, realizing that cooking for people every night is really what I am meant to do. Like me (before ALL of my dinner parties), The Teacher was frazzled, and frantically preparing for her performance later that evening. Going through her mental check list out loud. Though, once she got in front of her audience, she stole the show. I envied her.

I watched her seamlessly remove the skin from a 5-lb. Halibut fillet and pair it with a rhubarb compote, and steamed asparagus. She handmade Creme Fraiche and created a cold potato salad with pancetta and ramps. She sauteed domestic lamb loin chops and composed an artichoke, caper, lemon and parsley "salsa" to garnish it. She made her "Taste of Washington" salad with the Apres Vin lime riesling grapeseed oil. Next came the cheese course of artisan cheeses she had picked up from the market, and to finish, she created a lavender short cake with homemade honey ricotta and fresh blackberries. All local. All right in front of my eyes. I knew I adored her.

I was not allowed to touch or help with the food, and for the most part, not even addressed by name. I was the second in command to Kitchen Bitch #1, but suprisingly this did not bother me. I do know what it is like to be the "lowest man" on the totem pole. I enjoyed the feeling of starting again from the ground up. Proving my worth to someone new. Being humbled.

The only time I was addressed was once, when Kitchen Bitch #1 was not around. She called me by Kitchen Bitch #1's name, and I was asked to slice the lavendar short cakes in half. I was elated! Of course, I was secretly hoping and praying that I wouldn't mess up and crack and crumble the delicate cakes in my hands. This could be my one and only chance.

I made sure I kept my cool, not to showing any sign of weakness or of pride. As my hands shook, I took the first shortcake in my hand (about the size of a half golf-ball) and cut it with her Wustoff serated knife. Phew. It didn't crumble. I was a kitchen genius! Then I took the next one, and sliced it a little more rapidly. Shit! Part of it crumbled in my palm. I cleverly pressed it back together, and plated it so it didn't show my mistake. Then, slower this time, I finished the rest of the shortcakes, plating each one as the one before.

I prayed to the gods of butter and flour that they would not break in my shaky hands. When I was done, I inconspicuously crept away, keeping my low-profile. This was my moment.

At the end of the night, when all the guests had gone on their way, she thanked her two Bitches for all of our hard work, and we sat around chatting and having a glass of a 2004 Cedergreen Thuje. I was in a blissful state after The Teacher let me observe her doing what she does best, for a few hours.

I absolutely adore The Teacher. Miss Anna Wintour could learn a thing (or two) from her.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Teacher

Yesterday, I met someone who I can already predict is going to inspire me right out of my comfort zone in cooking. Who knew this would happen before I even started at The Restaurant?

Right when I wasn't expecting it, I think I found The Teacher.

It started first when she taught me that to sweat vegetables for a soup, it should take 40 minutes. 40 minutes! I have NEVER taken that much time. Then, she introduced me to flavored Grapeseed oils from this company. I have a new love affair with the Lime Riesling!

She educated me on what local companies to look for when I go to Pike Place Market: sprouted almonds from Stackhouse Orchards for snacking, Chukar dried tart cherries, Holmquist orchards dry roasted hazelnuts, and Pipitone Farms Organic Shallots (that are so sweet, and have no bite what-so-ever!)

I learned that Napoleon Vinegars have been based in Seattle since 1903, and soaking Radicchio in a bowl of cold ice water for an hour to remove its bitterness. She also taught me that instead of flour and buttering a pan before baking, you should butter and sugar it.

People. This was all in 2 hours.

I can't wait for what comes next.

The fun part? More is already planned.

The Beginning

I never thought I would start another blog. I mean, why would I? My food blog Anticiplate, keeps me busy writing about my life, creating and trying new recipes, and an occasional sentence on ballet. But, I have exciting news planned for this summer which warrants even more of this thing I call a "blogging time suck": I am actually going to work in a professional restaurant kitchen, and learn the tricks of the trade of being a restaurant cook.

Yes. I told you I would do it.

I mean, how else am I supposed to figure out if I want to open a restaurant in the future? Or cater private dinner parties? Or teach cooking classes?

On my to do list:
1. Buy a chefs coat, a knife bag, and maybe even some orange Crocs like Mario Batali wears.
2. Get my food handler's license. Yuck.
3. Get my knives sharpened (and maybe buy a new one, don't tell Erik)

And, I was kidding about the orange Crocs. I promise you. I will NEVER do this.

Don't judge. But, I might get black.

I am excited for you to go on this journey with me. I will be posting daily, and to be honest, I am scared shitless. I know this is going to push me past my comfort zone, and hopefully teach me more than I ever knew about a whole new art form. One in which I am so eager to discover, yet will be sure to have my heart broken by at some time or another.