Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Exhaustion

I have limited time right now, because I am headed to The Restaurant at 1:00. I have decided to get the full experience, and instead of my hours being the whimpy 2:00pm-10:00pm, I am keeping the hours that the other chefs keep. They work from 1:00pm-1:00am.

Yes. That is 12 hours. Prepping, chopping, creating, cooking, cleaning, and planning the menu for the next day. Repeat.

And the other 12 hours away from the kitchen? They are spent eating, socializing, drinking, and sleeping.

You literally live and breathe cooking. I am exhausted, and I love it.

I have so many more stories. Some good, some bad. I was definitely not on my game yesterday. I had stayed out too late the night before, and the adrenaline high I was riding on ran out of gas. I struggled yesterday to keep up the energy and enthusiasm.

I also cut my left thumb. Really bad. Which was not only embarrassing, but painful. It was bound to happen, I just didn't realize it would be so soon.

I had to wear a little blue condom-like cover over my thumb the whole night. It was a proclamation of my worthlessness that said, "Look at me! Look at me! I am the doofus that cut my thumb!" It was also a reminder that I am in a world that I totally do not feel comfortable in.

But, today is a new day. After my amazing 10 hours of sleep, I feel refreshed and ready to learn.

Now, off to The Restaurant. On the agenda today: knife skills, braising the "right" way, and handmade tortellini pasta.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mrs. Staaaauge

I don't even know how to describe the day that I had yesterday. I am blown away. My mind is racing. I need to take notes of my notes. I learned more in one day than the five years I have been teaching myself to cook. All morning, I have been kicking myself thinking, "Why have I not done this sooner?"

I have been holding my pan with the wrong hand, chopping my chives (and red onions, apparently) the wrong way, not salting my food from above so that it gets evenly coated, scooping sorbet poorly, and don't even get me started on my mise en place.

At around 1:45, I sauntered into the restaurant after getting off of Seattle Metro bus number 1420. I first see a rather attractive, young looking guy in the kitchen and I introduce myself. He hears me say my name is Kelly, I don't correct him, and he shows to me to The Chef.

The Chef, quiet and burly, says a quick hello, and shows me right back to the guy who I first met who I find out is actually the Sous Chef.

The cute one.

Flustered, I quickly get out my polka dot knife bag, which all the guys laughed at hysterically, and found my place at a rather large station to begin the tasks for the day. Already, I was embarrased.

The Sous asked me if I could cut cauliflower. Well, yeah. So, my first task was cutting and blanching cauliflower. What I didn't realize was how specific cutting cauliflower could be. The Sous kept showing me the first piece that he cut for me as my guide, and watched me at a distance, as he also completed his tasks of creating handmade pasta, making a parsley pesto sauce, and mincing anchovies. To name a few.

I blanched the chopped cauliflower and plunged them into an ice bath with a large metal spider. I did the same for the fresh shelled peas. These tasks, although seemingly easy, are harder in mass quantities. I assure you. I burnt my left hand picking up a boiling pot of water. It was a smart choice at the beginning of the shift. Geez, Kari.

Then, I was told to chop chives, finely. After about three swishes of my knife on the cutting board, The Sous stopped me, gave me a quick knife lesson, and told me I was doing it all wrong; I would cut myself; And, it wasn't as efficient. He taught me how to curl my fingers underneath, tuck my thumb in, and rest my knife on my hand so that it gently touched my knuckles. That way, I would never cut myself.

After filling a 1/9 pan with chopped chives, I was then given the task of slicing calamari, scraping the slimy stuff out the center, and cutting them into triangles so that they curl when they are coated in olive oil, and hit the saute pan. This I could do.

Then I was naturally migrated to work with Chef B. Also cute. Also young. Is this like a requirement of being a chef at The Restaurant?

He made a Caesar like dressing, sweated the red onions that I so poorly butchered, and tossed them with a white balsamic, rosemary, and freshly roasted red peppers. He showed me the vacuum sealer for future reference, taught me how to finely mince ice in a food processor, and advised me on how to keep my station clean.

All chefs, I have noticed, are the cleanest cooks I know. It helps them keep order in a world that can so quickly become chaotic.

Chef B and I made small talk. We joked around a bit, and overall, I was feeling incredibly comfortable with him. I listened to him tell me about his history in "the business", what restaurants he liked to eat at, and where he lives.

At around 4:45, The Sous told me to get my Chef's coat on (which was basically still stark white at this point) and get ready for service.

It was slow at first. People popping in and out. Perusing the menu, or getting a drink. I watched Chef B at his station for about an hour. He plated his orders beautifully like an artist, tasting everything in between to make sure it was perfect, and taking his time. When he didn't have an order, he was cleaning his station, saying hello to customers that recognized him, or looking for work in the back kitchen. There is never a boring moment, even when The Restaurant is slow. Chef B is amazing.

Things started to pick up around the normal dinner time, and The Sous looked over at me, and said, "Hey Chef, wanna cook?" He was looking at me! What? I actually get to cook? Not just and chop and watch? Elation aside, the "calling me chef" part had to be taken care of VERY quickly. I told him I was not a chef, so calling me "Chef" had to go. He said, "Okay. I'll call you Staaaauge." It stuck.

This is now my name.

(A stage, pronounced staaaauge with a thick french accent, is basically a kitchen bitch/apprentice).

As I walked to his station, He told me that he is much more strict than Chef B. He expected perfection every time. He mentioned the red onion that I butchered earlier. I blushed.

He taught me one of the recipes on the menu. He talked me through, and gave me pointers along the way: get the oil hot enough so it smokes, then the food won't stick; when browning the butter, lemon juice will stop the browning; always taste the food before you send it out to the customer, etc.

I watched him as he took over the recipe, because I was "too slow", and as he cleaned the plate at the end with his damp rag. He asked me, "Did you get that?"

Shit. I didn't know it was a test?

The next order of that dish came in. The Sous said, "Okay Stage. It is all you". Gosh. I really hoped I was paying attention.

It started well. I added in the olive oil until smoking, tossed in the first ingredient making sure it did not stick, and went to go add what I thought was the next ingredient. The Sous was watching me like a hawk. As I went into the 1/9 pan for the Favas, he told me to stop. I looked at him, doe eyed, and he asked me what I was forgetting. Crap. The garlic and the shallots.

I finished the dish. He told me to plate it, and gave me pointers about tilting my pan, spooning the juice with an angled spoon, and using finishing oil to glaze the protein. I said, "Service, Table 4" and I cleaned my station. I had just cooked for the first time at The Restaurant. He took a picture on his iPhone to document.

Then he told me I had to pay attention, and WATCH. He should only have to teach me a recipe once, and I should get it, and be able to cook it. He is much stricter than Chef B.

I need to practice. Big Time.

But, he kept giving me chances to cook. Teaching me little tidbits of information on the fly. The chances didn't all go so smoothly. I burnt one customer's dish right at the beginning of the recipe. The oil I was working with was not hot enough, I turned it up to speed up the process, it quickly went from brown to char. I had to start again, fast this time, because a customer was waiting for his food. The Sous rolled his eyes with a smile.

After making many more dishes throughout the evening, The Sous as my teacher, Tecate in my belly, I started to feel more at home. When there was a slow moment, I would go over the directions of each dish in my head, like studying for an exam. The Head Chef was alone at his station, quiet and brilliant. When I got the chance, I would peek at what he was doing. I am fully intimidated by his presence.

As the crowd died down, I was taught how to clean up for the night, and told I could leave if I wanted to. It was 10:00 p.m., which was when I was scheduled to leave.

I stayed.

I wanted the FULL experience.

The talented men: The Chef, Chef B, and The Sous gathered in the kitchen and toasted my first day of work. They were astounded that I had never worked in a restaurant kitchen before. They told me I was welcome to come back.

They decided to call me Mrs. Stage. I can't wait to go back today.

And, my coat? Well, it is no longer stark white.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Restaurant

My wedding rings are off, my short brown hair is tied back from my face, my small Chef's coat is partially soiled, and my designer knife bag is purchased.

I am officially off to The Restaurant.

Wish me luck! I have no idea what to expect. I fear being on my feet all day.

Or, getting a back spasm. Yeah, I get those pretty frequently when I am cooking all day. It is mostly the upper back, requiring a big back crack and an hour to let it calm down.

I have a feeling The Chef would not want me laying down on his kitchen floor after he has cracked my back.

Just a hunch.

Now, only time will tell. I will keep you all posted. I am on the edge of my seat as much as you are.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Therapy and A Saffron Lesson

Today started out like any other day. I woke up tired, I drank chugged my grande Americano from a corporate coffee shop, and drove Erik to work. I had no idea it would end with such a sense of satisfaction, inspiration, and accomplishment.

I walked 2 miles down to Internship #2 early this AM, not knowing what to expect. The Teacher immediately greeted me, picked up her reusable shopping bag, and walked me to Pike Place Market. Her other kitchen.

She was like a honey-bee, buzzing around the shops and stands, saying hello to everyone by first name, and picking up ingredients as she went. She knows the best places for each item she needed: DeLaurenti's for pine nuts and pancetta, Market Spice for Spanish Saffron, Frank's for a giant beefsteak tomato and lemons, and The Spanish Table for Jamon, 3-month old Manchego, and a Paella pan.

I am in awe.

While in Market Spice, she explained to me the intricate process of how saffron is harvested. A person, single-handedly picks each stigma from a saffron crocus. It takes about 225,000 single stigmas to make a pound. She also told me to buy ALL of my spices for Market Spice because they turn over their entire product weekly.

Now hold onto your keyboard for this one:
Disturbingly, grocery stores generally have their spices on the shelf for 15 years. And, to boot, they are filled with preservatives to make them last longer. Gross.

Actually, Disgusting. Buy local, and in bulk. I am.

On her menu today was a Spanish theme inspired from The Spanish Table Cookbook. Her simple masterpiece included: Portugese limonade made with piri piri peppers, lemons, San Pelligrino and local orange-blossom honey; Summer gazpacho with beefsteak tomatoes, English cucumber, red pepper, and stale bread; the simple but satisfying snack of jamon y melon; and lastly, my absolute favorite, an orange chocolate torta with a saffron simple syrup and saffron whipped cream.

Today, she taught a cooking class for twelve. And, as usual, her brilliance was captivating. After giving them a one-hour tour of the Market, she came back to teach them (and me!) about the menu, and how to cook all of her dishes.

After filling water glasses with Portugese limonade, doing dishes to keep up with the mess, and cutting Macrina potato bread to dip in olive oil, I got my second "chance" to cook. I got to make the second, unplanned, batch of the gazpacho!

Of course, mine was not as good as hers. But, I followed her recipe. I promise.

To a tee.

I let her taste my creation out of a small metal ramekin with a sterile spoon. She let the flavors hit her palate. Made an "mmm" sound, and promptly told me to add more Walla Walla's for bite and to use less bread next time because of color. I agreed with her.

I am learning.

I learned a little more about her kitchen, too. It is like a mantra for me. I whisper her directions in my head so that I do not forget them: Metal nesting bowls under the counter, short glasses double-stacked in dishwasher on the right.

When the class left, she smirkingly said, "I know you want to try that torta."

We stood at the counter: The Teacher and Kitchen Bitch #2. We ate with our fingers, sharing the last slice of chocolate deliciousness, while licking Saffron whipped cream from our upper lips. We cleaned up, making small talk, and hashing out the vibe of the cooking class. Then, as the cleaning was coming to an end, we started talking about jobs, passions, energies, and the universe. A normal Wednesday conversation at 1:00 in the afternoon. Don't ya think?

The Teacher explained to me that the best way to be happy and fulfilled in life is to always be doing what is your greatest love and passion. She said that what I put out into the world, will eventually come back to me, good or bad. And, she emphasized the importance of having a quiet place to go to. When I need to think.

Especially when you are an artist, as she is.

How did I find this woman? A cooking teacher and a therapist?!

Now, I sit at the end of this fulfilling Wednesday, belly full of brown-rice sushi, a green garden salad, a half-glass two glasses of Gruner Veltliner, and one-bite of (by mistake) raw carrot cake from PCC.

I have passed my Food Handler's test with a 100 percent score, I have the sharpest knives a girl could hope for, I have a newly purchased brown and blue polka-dot knife bag (that I was so trying to avoid getting), and I am anxiously awaiting a date with my pillow as I read "Tender at the Bone".

Life is truly good.

I am excited for what tomorrow will bring. The Teacher wants to me call her, as soon as I can, and give her the run-down of my first evening at The Restaurant.

I will definitely be taking her up on that, and maybe begging for some more "couch time".

Saffron Whipped Cream
1 c. heavy cream
2 tbsp. sifted confectioner's sugar
1/8 tsp. crumbled Spanish Saffron
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whip the heavy cream together in a cool metal bowl with a hand mixer or a standing mixer until it forms soft peaks.

Makes 1 cup

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Butterflies and The Chef

Although the conversation I had with him was brief (and over the phone), I just talked to The Chef de cuisine at The Restaurant. He seems incredibly laid back, and excited to work with me. (Phew!) After Googling his picture, I wasn't quite sure. People can look different in pictures than in person.

People. I have done my research, and this is a serious matter.

The Chef is the REAL DEAL, and his resume runs deep in the food world. The intimidation factor is beyond high. I think I am up for the challenge, though. I am anxiously ready to learn something new.

But, I have to say that the curiosity of Thursday is killing me. I have myself wondering how much should I eat before I go to my first shift? How many knives should I bring? How comfortable do my shoes really have to be?

I have the nervousness I get before a really hard ballet. Anxiety. Excitement. Trepidation.

The butterflies have flooded my stomach, and at any time could come out of my mouth, eyes, ears, or nose.

I guess I will find out on Thursday, when the unknowns will be made clear, and I will be either regretting my decision to take on this project, or giving my self a big pat-on-the-back for making such a good use of my time off this summer.

Either way....

Can Thursday come already?!

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Weaponry

I decided to get my larger-than-normal ballerina butt out of the house today to get my knives sharpened before I start my internship at The Restaurant on Thursday. I packed them: the Santoku, the paring, and the 10-inch serrated, with their knife guards on, safely in my purse, put the leash on the dog, and started my 30 minute trek to the store. The walk I go on takes me through a verdant park in Seattle that I feel is my little hidden urban oasis. And it seems other peoples as well....

The sketchy part of this adventure, was of course, that you have the recluse teenage boys hiding out from high school who cattle call you, gothic girls smoking cigarettes on tree stumps while playing hooky and gossiping, and the occasional homeless person with their obedient stray dogs who love to sniff at Cashew's privates.

I was glad I had my three semi-sharp knives to ward off any predators. How often does a twenty-something woman have three forms of weaponry in her designer handbag?


Well, maybe mace.

This could also help me at The Restaurant kitchen, as well. Who knows what kind of predators I will have to deal with there!

On the way to the "knife-sharpening store" (it has a name, but it wasn't memorable enough to remember), I avoided Anthropolgie like a glazed donut, and stopped at this small, quaint bookstore to see if I could find another book (that was not Julie and Julia) to read. I picked up "Tender at the Bone" by Ms. Reichl and "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant". This should keep me busy until my weapons are sharp enough to be life-threatening.

At least to parsley.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

About Salad

As I was laying in bed, drudgingly trying to get through page 81 of the Julie & Julia, I remembered that I promised you a blog post today.

Yes. I promised I would blog here EVERY DAY.

But, the thing is, besides eating brunch (and peeking at the open kitchen) of the ever so elegant restaurant The Corson Building, I didn't do much in "internship-kitchen-bitch" department.

But, what I did do was remember some things that The Teacher had said to me about salad last week.

So, I thought it was appropriate to share a couple of tips with you:

Numero Uno: When using shallots in a salad, there is no need to season the salad with pepper. The shallots are the substitute for that peppery bite, and pepper just makes that taste become redundant. Who wants to be redundant. NOT I.

B: You know that dressing that is left in the bottom of your salad bowl when you are done tossing your greens? That is what you use to toss the nuts, dried cherries, and cheese in. Then you put all of those little elements ON TOP of the salad. Genius.

And trois: Always use the best quality of each ingredient that you use. Then, at least you know you are starting at a good place. And, if you can, buy LOCAL.

Taste of Washington Salad
Recipe courtesy of *The Teacher
Serves 4

4 c. organic baby greens, cleaned and dried
2 tbsp. Pipitone Farms organic shallots, finely minced
3 tbsp. Napolean Brand White Balsamic Vinegar
3 tbsp. Apres Vin Lime Riesling Grapeseed Oil
3 tbsp. Holmquist Orchards Dry Roasted Hazelnuts
3 tbsp. Chukar Dried Tart Cherries

In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the shallots and the vinegar and let sit for 10 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the grapeseed oil. Emulsify completely. Season to taste with salt, if needed. Add the greens and toss. Plate the salad in a big mound on a chilled plate. Dress the hazelnuts and the cherries with the dressing left in the bottom of the bowl and place on top of the greens.

This salad is simple, and clean. Just the right way to end a week, or start a new one.