Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As Simple as a Shallot

The Head Chef, quiet and innovative, finally taught me something at The Restaurant over the weekend. Usually, I don't ever get to work with him. His skills are far beyond anything I am able to do right now, or ever, and I know I would just get in his way. I watch him often though, desperate to see his artistic statements on stark white plates. He is always relaxed, and subtle, yet produces the most immaculate dishes. I know that in years to come, I will wish I knew how talented he really is right now. I don't even have the knowledge base to admire all of his gifts, and I am unaware that I am taking him for granted.

But, on Saturday, he asked me if I would help him out, for the first time. His task for me: finely mince shallots. My eyes grew wide.

Although a simple task for most cooks, mincing a shallot is rather difficult if you do not know the correct technique. And, I am
just assuming that I don't. He asked me if I knew how to do it, and I said, I know how I would do it, but teach me how you would do it.

He says that everyone knows how to cut a shallot, but he has a slightly different technique. He peels the shallot and
slices it in half so that it is more sturdy. (Never done that before). Then, like he was swooshing a wand, he slices the shallots horizontally upwards, making the cuts as close together as possible. (Hmm. Never thought about making them smaller or bigger that way). Then, he does the same vertically, rotates the shallot 45 degrees, then again vertically. Off of his shallot comes the smallest pieces of onion I have ever seen, all consistently minced. I could have stacked them one on top of each other, and it would have created a consistent tower of purple squares.

Then, he tells me
not to run my knife back over the shallot because they get watery and don't last as long. (Oh...I always do that. Eek!) I nod my head at him, ears and eyes wide open to his lesson, and he leaves me be.

I leave his half cut shallot on the right hand corner of board, like a trophy, and begin to delve into my task for The Head Chef. I am nervous, and want to do it right. I can't go back, and rock my knife all over the shallots like I would at home to make them smaller. He will know, because by the end of his night, they will be watery.

So, slowly, I begin to recreate the example he just showed me. I swipe my pairing knife down the length of the shallot five times horizontally, as close as I can get the knife, and eight times vertically. Then I rotate the purple bulb and with a bigger knife, begin pulling it down the shallot. A confetti of onion begins to fall off of my knife. While not as consistent, it looks
similar to The Head Chefs, which is far better than I thought for my first time trying his technique.

After about 4 shallots, and lots of onion tears, I have aquired a massive pile of minced purple and white confetti. I notice that some are bigger and some are smaller, but over all, the cuts are much more consistent that I have ever chopped a shallot before, and I didn't have to rock my knife back over it!

The Sous walks by, looks over at my cutting board, and says excitedly, "That's what I am talking about!" He obviously wasn't looking too closely, but I will take the compliment.

I put the shallots in 1/9 pans, sifting through the shallots with my finger tips to discover any long pieces I need to remove, and I quietly place them at The Head Chef's station.

I can't wait for the next lesson.

Monday, June 29, 2009

When The Doors Close

I have always wondered why I have never met a Chef before working at The Restaurant. When most people are wrapping up their nights of debauchery at around midnight, The Chefs are just taking off their coats and aprons and starting their wind down from the past 12 hours of intense work. 

At The Restaurant, closing servers, the hostess, and The Chefs all convene around the seven person bar. The bartender pours me a glass of an opened bottle of Prosecco that will not keep, or a well vodka shot from a bottle that is about to be done. The Sous and The Head Chef don't come right away. They stand, hunched and motionless over the giant Boos Block, intently fixing their eyes on the puzzle called the menu; deciding what to change and what to keep depending what produce Frank will bring in tomorrow. 

The music at the bar gets turned up a couple of notches. Last Thursday, it was Michael Jackson tunes over and over again, that turned into a rather mild dance party with some of the staff from a restaurant down the street. We all proceed to fill our empty bellies with distilled liquor, and laugh, or bitch, about the day, and get to know each other a little better than during the 12 hours that we just worked together. Some people subtly dance in their chairs, some go for a smoke, others are pensive and observe the room, The Head Chef crunches numbers from the day while drinking a Perroni, and I just soak it all up. 

I can't get enough. 

On Friday nights we get a pizza (that is not on the menu) from one of Chef M's best friends, or we meet with some other Chefs and continue drinking at their restaurants, depending on the amount we drank the night before. On Saturday, if you were awake, you would have found us at IHOP on Capitol Hill at 3:30am. 

We sat around the table- two Sous Chefs, a lead server, a hostess, and a Stage- at the chaotically busy restaurant, inhaling Sausage Gravy covered Chicken Fried Steaks and Strawberry Jam filled Crepes thinking how amazing it all tastes. The Sous convinces me to get the appetizer sampler. My stomach lining is screaming from the inside, asking me what the heck I am thinking mixing Dark and Stormy's, Vodka Gimlets, and Prosecco, and then eating processed ConAgra food. But, I was hungry. 

This is a huge lifestyle adjustment. I am a morning person who likes to go to bed early and get my solid 9 hours of sleep. I generally never eat late, unless I am performing, and certainly don't drink on a daily basis. Well, actually, the drinking part is a lie. 

Yet, for some reason, I yearn for this lifestyle and for these people. 

It's another family. One that understands your schedule, your mood, and your passion. It is a familiar feeling only known by people who are in intimate environments for many hours at a time. It is just another confirmation for me that ballet and Chefdom are similar worlds; A feeling that I am obviously attracted to, and seek out. 

I now sleep in past 10:00am, don't drink enough water for my kidneys, eat dinner at around 1:00am, and don't want to cook on my days off. I am a changed person.

I adore all of the people I work with, and all the new people I meet through them, I am so glad that I have finally stayed up late enough so we could finally meet.