Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Level 5 Garde Manger – Me and Shrimp… (Shrimp and I?)

Level 5 Garde Manger – Me and Shrimp… (Shrimp and I?)

So where are we…? Well, I’ll tell you. This may be a little spoiler, but we’re 3 days after I have graduated the FCI. I’ll leave that comment at that, and when I finally get to this point in the story, I’ll give you my insight.

So then, where were we? We were done with pastry, Level 5, and about to begin Garde Manger. On the menu was seafood ravioli for level 5 and consommé for level 6. I don’t remember what exactly was in the consommé (I think it had some star anise flavor, but there was a baked custard in the middle – placed on the plate and the consommé was poured over it - that was absolutely delicious). The seafood ravioli was also a big hit, considering it has mussels, jumbo lump crab meat and shrimp in it, but the true beauty of the dish was the pasta.

Chef Justin was our main garde manger chef, and Chef Wanda subbed in one of the 3 days of the week. I found both of their styles interesting, and have drawn my own conclusions on which I thought had better techniques.

I’ll touch upon all of this. The pasta takes about an hour to prepare. That is, after measuring out the amounts, incorporating, kneading, and finally resting in the fridge for a while, it will be at LEAST an hour before you can begin to roll it out. Further it wasn’t simply rolling it out and making raviolis. The dish was an open faced ravioli, so we had to cut squares and just layer them like a sandwich. However, the pasta was unique because we pressed fresh herbs into the pasta! We would roll out a sheet of pasta. Layer fresh parley and tarragon in it, fold the pasta over, and re-roll it. As we rolled it out again, the herbs would flatten and spread out within the pasta, leaving a blown up image of the herbs within the dough. It looked so friggin cool, and added a nice touch to the pasta. Preparing the pasta, from start to finish took one person almost all of the time before service to finish. In the meantime, the other person would have to work on the seafood and the sauce. The seafood was no walk in the park either. You had to sift through a tub of crab meat for shells and other hard pieces, peel, de-vein, and cook the shrimp. Cook the mussels and remove the meat from the shells, and prepare the sauce, which was usually prepared ahead of time. There was also some cutting of fennel and onions and other veggies as well. So there was quite a lot for this one dish.

Remind me to tell you guys a little something about peeling and de-veining shrimp that I didn’t learn until my last class in the kitchen. And perhaps one of my fundamental gripes with the FCI (it’s not that bad at all).

Anyhow, at service time, we would cook up a couple of pasta squares, reheat some of the seafood mix in some butter and broth, and then sandwich them, froth up some sauce and send it out. It was a really beautiful appetizer, and quite tasty (lord knows is met the minimum butter requirement that makes everything tasty). What I loved about this station was that once you were ready for service, if you received one order, or 12 orders, it was a simple bam bam bam operation. Cook the pasta, reheat the mixture, froth the sauce and serve. If your mis en place was set up nicely, it was a walk in the park (after the initial set up, of course).

So, on to the differences between Chef Justin and Chef Wanda. Chef Justin had the pasta pre-made by one if his earlier classes. That was cool because quite frankly, we did know how to make pasta, and with the right ingredient amounts, we should be able to produce the same results. However, it detracts a little from the experience because we did not have to make it, let it rest, and so forth. But it was a nice break for us. With Chef Wanda, we made it ourselves, which, again, is also cool.

Now the real difference was the setting up of the mis en place. With Chef Justin, when it came time to reheating the seafood mixture, we would take a few spoonfuls of cold mixture, sitting on ice, and reheat it with a touch of butter, a touch of broth, S&P and reheat it until it was warm. This was an a la minute preparation, which I thought worked well. Chef Wanda’s setup was a hot bain-marie, with all of the seafood mixed with about a pound of butter resting inside, over a low flame. So basically, the seafood was drenched in butter and continuously cooking, or should I say, over-cooking. I felt like this made the seafood so much more touch and chewy, and took away from the meal. This was the primary difference, and I felt that it was enough of a difference to really hurt the dish. I did not like that method, but of course, I appreciated being able to learn and choose which I preferred. Oh, she also put a lot of butter in the pasta water, which I felt was unnecessary. But again, I drew my own conclusions after experiencing both styles.

Either way, Chef Wanda is awesome, but perhaps crazier than she leads us to believe. What I loved most about her was she liked to cook with flavor. She was, after all, Puerto Rican. When she would make family meal, and add the Latin flare to the dishes, everyone ate and enjoyed, especially the dish washers, who were primarily Hispanic. But I loved her arroz con gandules, and other sofrito laden dishes.

Chef Justin is a relatively young guy, ex-college baseball player who at some point took a turn to the chef life. I think he went to the CIA, but I don’t recall. I also think he has a lot more stories than he shared with us, but I guess that’s for other students to drag out of him. It was a good station, without the stress of Chef X breathing down our backs, but still a high quality product.

Oh yeah, and one more thing which was what I mentioned previously. We had to peel a box of shrimp each time we were in the Garde Manger station. I also had to peel boxes of shrimp for other stations. Chef Justin gave me the basis of peeling the shrimp. Pinch off the legs, and the pull it out of the shell. Chef X took it a step further, after pinching off the legs and peeling the shell, lay out all the shrimp on the cutting board and slice them all, really quickly, down the back, depositing them into a bowl. Then you wash them in the sink to remove the veins. However, Chef Janet took the cake with her method. She simply took a pair of scissors and cut down the back portion of the shell. This not only made removing the shell a cinch, but it also cut the back and often times removed the vein, all in one shot!

WHY WAS I NOT TAUGHT THIS FROM DAY ONE?! Things like these, short-cuts, efficient shortcuts that save time and effort (perhaps the definition of efficiency), should be taught in classes, in the restaurant, etc. Why don’t the chefs communicate this with each other? Even after Chef X showed me his way, and seemed very confident that his way was perhaps the best, he seemed mesmerized by Chef Janet’s way, and said “do it her way.”

I learned this on my last day of level 6, after de-veining 8 boxes of shrimp at school by myself, and lots of shrimp at home. Seriously, why?

So, if Chefs are reading this at the school, I think its something to consider. Perhaps you should have conferences to discuss simple menial tasks that are carried out regularly, and then share your thoughts and decide upon a best way. An FCI way. So when we go to a kitchen, and they give us 20 lbs of shrimp to peel and de-vein, we have the FCI agreed upon best way. Yes, all chefs will do things differently, and some ways are better than others, but at least we’ll have in the bank what a collective group of great chefs determine to be the best method(s).
With that said, I can’t imagine what other ways there are to do the things that I’ve learned and have gotten good at. I wish I had more learning experiences like those.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pastry in one sitting…

Somewhere between playing and practicing rugby (, working for the man, and trying to lead a pseudo-normal life, I’ve been making my way to the pastry kitchen for the past week, making linzer tortes and crème brulees. Crème brulees are practically fat and eggs with some sugar on top… but they looked amazing. To be perfectly honest, I violated a major rule of tasting everything before you serve it to your customers, but the crème brulees are in high demand, and there may not be enough to taste. Also, if you follow the recipe of cream, milk, eggs and sugar, it should pretty much be the same every time.

However, the more intricate of the two desserts is the linzer torte. It calls for a lot more work, and more importantly, more measuring out of ingredients. That must be my least favorite part of pastry, measuring out amounts of this and that. But perhaps my favorite part was the fact that it used BOILED egg yolks in the dough, instead of raw egg yolks. It boggled my mind… and perhaps still boggles my mind. But for whatever reason it is, it works (I believe Chef Alain said it didn’t add extra moisture… though I don’t really recall).

Anyhow, there are many steps involved with making this torte, especially when you make EVERYTHING from scratch, which is what we did, and is really impressive. (With the exception of one thing which I will explain)

Let’s start from the bottom up. The shell of the pastry, or the dough, I guess is what normal people call it, is made of sifted flour, almond flour, sugar, some cinnamon, butter and boiled egg yolks. (I may be omitting an ingredient or so, but that’s the bulk of it). It actually took very little time to make once you gathered all of the ingredients. You get the butter going in the mixer with a paddle attachment then get the sugar in there, followed by the egg yolks (which you press through a drum sieve). Then after those are incorporated, you throw in all of the flour, almond flour and cinnamon at once (with the mixer off), turn on the mixer for probably 20-30 seconds and cut it off when everything is incorporated. It was actually very simple, and super delicious.

We usually made this a class ahead of time because it requires a minimum of an hour or two in the fridge. So we could roll this out to about an eighth to a quarter of an inch thick. And fill the tart mold. A nifty little tidbit that I learned about making a round rolled out piece of dough was that rather than giving the dough 90 degree turns every time you needed to turn it, you only gave it about 30 degree turns, and rolled out a bit more. This gives it a rounder, more uniform shape rather than a square shape. Of course if you want a more square shape, you would do 90 degree turns, and it would flatten it to a more square shape (We did this for the lattice strips we placed on top).

Next we need to make the fraaaaangipane. Which is a combination of pastry cream and almond paste. The almond paste was the only component we did not make ourselves because we already had it prepared by a different class (or by the chef, I suppose), but it was made from scratch.

Next we need to make the raspberry preserves, which was super delicious. (We don’t necessarily do these tings in this order, but it is how the torte is layered) This was simply raspberries, sugar, lemon juice, some water, I think, and some pectin after its all said and done.

So you get the ingredients in the torte pan in that order, and top it off with the lattice made from the dough. Pop it in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes; turn it down to 325 for another 10 minutes, and then place it in what I suppose is a stone oven for 7-8 minutes to finish cooking the bottom.

This torte was out of this world, in my opinion. It was so delicious. I think it taste better than the chocolate lava cakes, which were also delicious. Which in fact, we also made these chocolate cakes this past Saturday, because the guy in level 6 who is supposed to do it was out of class. Chef Alain gave us the option of us doing it, or him doing it, and I was all about taking it on. How hard can it be to follow the recipe?

So between us, mostly Scott and I, we made the crème brulees, chocolate cakes, linzer torte, oh and the crème anglaise (vanilla ice cream) that goes with the linzer torte, and a coffee flavored crème anglaise (not frozen, just the cream), that went with the chocolate cakes. It was a very successful evening, and we did a pretty good job throughout service.

I had just played in a rugby tournament earlier that day and injured my shoulder, mixed with a bit of contempt for my partner, so I was focusing hard on what I was doing, and my attitude may have sent out waves of dissonance, though I was thoroughly enjoying my time in the pastry kitchen despite having no wit or character. Not to mention the scars on my face from the day’s activities (it looked like I got into a head on collision with a Mack truck).

Anyhow, on to the stuff you like to hear about. So I guess I have been more distant from my partner since his verbal lashing on me. The first day I was there, the Chef asked if my partner was “my friend.” I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but I said, I guess not, he’s just my partner in class (especially after the comments he made to me in the previous class). For the most part, I don’t know him outside of class. So I’m not exactly sure why he was asking this, but he asked me again the next time we were in class. “Are you guys friends?” And I said this time, sure. He put me on the spot. And he also said, that’s not what you said last time. I then said, yeah, he’s my partner. And this comment was a recurring theme in all of our classes. He would ask me if we were friends, and remind me that I didn’t say that the first time. And that friends usually communicate and talk more during class. I pretty much kept to myself, though I tried to chat a little but wasn’t feeling it. Yes, it’s an awkward situation, but it is what it is. I tell you this much, Chef Alain didn’t make it any less awkward.

I guess this is a watered down recount of my 4 days in pastry, thus far, but life has been too busy to really jot down too many details. I must say, I think it is extremely rewarding to make the kind of things that we made in such a short period of time, and the dessert is the last thing you will remember about the restaurant. So it has to look good and taste phenomenal. Come to think of it, when I used to go out to eat with my girlfriend, the dessert was what we discussed most (unless we didn’t eat dessert, and unless another portion of the meal stole the show), and then we would think about what we were having for dessert. In all I think we did a fine job in pastry. I also think Chef Alain’s methods of order, cleanliness and organization are going to help us benefit in any station of any kitchen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Secret's out

Soooooo... somehow I was discovered at school. I guess this is what I didn't want to happen, but I also suppose that by writing a blog on a public website it was pretty inevitable.

I guess for starters, I can just put a little disclaimer and kind of explain what you've stumbled upon. I am providing an entirely biased, one sided view of this experience I have paid 30+ G's to experience in order to switch careers from a business/legal field to working in a kitchen. Yes, these views are entirely biased because they are all mine and mine alone. However, as I read and re-read my posts (believe me, the first thing I did last night when I got home at 11:45 was re-read some recent posts to make sure there was no slander or defamation of character), I think I can honestly say that my writing, in reflecting my views, are pretty straight-forward and honest. Until this point, the only people that read this blog were a few friends and family members, one guy who told me that I helped encourage him to sign up for the FCI, and most importantly ME! This has mostly been a personal journal, with personal things about class-mates and teacher-chefs which if I had a choice I would be happy knowing both of these groups did not see it, but I knew that by making this stuff public it was bound to happen.

Anyhow, I don't intend on changing my writing style or the subject matter (it tends to be less about the food and more about the interactions between students, chefs, and so forth, you know, the interesting stuff. If you read most of these posts, and find that you were a party to the situation, you would probably realize that its pretty much all true, albeit, my side of the truth.

Anyways, I'm done explaining myself, and if I don't bore you to death, I hope you enjoy reading. I'm sure the chef's will get a kick out of my inexperience and my blabbering as if I know what I'm talking about, meanwhile, my friends and family are amused.

So for the record, here's how I found out I was discovered. I'm in pastry for the restaurant right now, and that is a separate room from where our Level 5 and 6 chef, Chef Xavier, stations himself. After attendance, and a few minutes into getting ready for the class ahead of us, Chef Xavier walks through and says, "So, Edwin, I didn't know you were a writer." I played the dumb card. Threw it flat out on the table with a semi-straight face. "I don't know what you're talking about." I was hoping it was in reference to my phenomenal paper on Corsica and stufatu. But I had a feeling it wasn't. After catching up with him moments later, he confirmed my suspicions that it was indeed in reference to writing on the internet. I was most definitely curious about how he found out. Was it a student? Was it a chef, a random person. He said another chef had found it and sent him the link and printed out posts. I wonder if I had this chef already, or not. I wonder if this chef knew me and/or I knew them. And I wonder, most of all, if I said anything not nice about them. I have a feeling that I didn't, especially considering I have the utmost respect and appreciation for pretty much all of the chef's that I have had, and that I have seen in action.

(This isn't me kissing ass, its just my one sided honest view that I was talking about previously) And if any of you non-FCI people are reading this, I assure you the chef's here are top-notch, and I think you've realized this from my 69 previous posts (I can't believe I wrote 70 of these. You can see why I want to switch careers).

Speaking of which, I will get on to a post on Pastry soon. For now I need to keep earning that dollar to pay for my loans. I hope this doesn't cause any controversy, and if I find out that anyone is offended, I suppose I can stop.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Edwin is to Partner as Shit is to fan

I’ve been a busy cat lately. Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Its ok (I can answer myself). So where were we? Well, I’m finished with the fish station. That was a piece of cake, and quite easy to do! I’m also confident that I can make a delicious Mediterranean broth for it. The lamb, however, is a little different. And by a little, I mean a lot. And by a lot, I mean a world of difference. I guess for starters, I can describe the dish.

By the recipe, we are simply serving 2 bones of a rack of lamb over some chick peas mixed with a tomato fondue, with some coriander and cumin seasoning. It’s actually quite delicious. Chef Xavier added a few components, including using some of the chick peas to make a puree mixed with tahini sauce, then layering it into a ring mold on the plate and filling the rest of the ring mold with the whole chick peas on top. We also take eggplants, peel and slice them, and wrap a mixture of onion and eggplant in the sliced eggplants and place that little molded eggplant next to the chick peas.

We have a white board for the two stations that do fish, and a white board for the two stations that do meat. For the fish, we put a star up on the board when an appetizer goes out. The star lets us know we should get our fish in the broth and cooking. Once we’re ready to fire the dish, we put it all together and bam bam bam, it’s all ready in a matter of minutes.

The lamb is a lot different since the meat needs to be finished to the proper temperature upon the star. Chef Xavier gave us minute amounts, though the time does not take into account different temperatures in the oven, and the opening and closing of the oven. So basically, it comes down to cooking all of the lamb to medium rare, maybe a couple of racks to medium, and when the order come sin, you make sure you have enough, and when its starred you finish cooking the meat to where it belongs.

Basically it’s all trial and error and keeping an eye and touch on things. Let me go out and say right now, my partner is a disaster. Yes, he is pretty good in the kitchen, but he’s an awful partner/teammate/team player. Awful. He doesn’t communicate, and tries to run the show, so when I am getting involved I need to try to catch up with his processes. Now, maybe that works for him and for other people, but I don’t work that way, as his partner. Further, he thinks his ways are the only ways and always right. For instance… I know for a fact that if you put a cold piece of meat in a 450 degree oven for 2 minutes, you are NOT going to heat, or worse, overheat (over cook) the center. It just won’t happen. I do know however, that if you put a plate in the oven for 5 minutes, it WILL get TOO hot, and the sauce you put on after will crust on the plate.

So when we have an order for a table consisting of at least one duck and one lamb, they should pretty much be brought up simultaneously, maybe a minute of time in between. So we have to communicate with not only each other but the duck station. My partner insists that he knows what’s going on and we should just get going. And I would point out, dude, we should ask the duck station and make sure we’re on the same page. He’ll go ahead and pop a plate in the oven and when I confirm that we have 5 minutes, he will leave it there and make a stink when I take it out for a few minutes.

I also explained that maybe I cannot tell a medium from a medium rare as well as he can by just touch alone, but I do know that a if we put a cold/room temperature medium-rare slab of meat in the oven, 3 minutes will not over cook it. But he insisted that 1-2 minutes is enough. I am sure those meats were going out to the customers cold in the middle. Not warm, but cold. He didn’t seem to care. In fact, as I explained my point and tried to convince him that he is not necessarily always right, I received “Oh my god, dude, you are the worst partner, I can’t even work with you anymore. I don’t know how you’re gonna work in a real kitchen.” With that said, I didn’t mind so much what he said because I realize his type. He’s bossy and swears that he is absolutely right every time. I didn’t take what he said to heart because I knew that I wasn’t necessarily wrong. I have been tolerant of his ways so far, and I will continue to do so. I don’t want to point fingers or throw someone under the bus, like he will to me in a heartbeat. But I guess since this is my blog, I can say whatever I please. He’s a jackass. He will indeed be a good chef, and probably a dick of a chef, but good. But I won’t be working with or for him.

I have worked up a confidence in what I do and my skills in the kitchen. His analysis really has no significance, especially to me.

So we had 4 days of the lamb station. I haven’t posted a single post on it til now, which will cover all 4 days.

My first day I struggled a bit for a couple of reasons. We didn’t have the communication that we needed. He would throw a rack in the oven, and not tell me, and get started on a setting up a plate. So when I turned around to help there was nothing for me to do, so I looked like a chicken with my head cut off. Fine.

By the end of day one, chef noticed this and told me to do a plate all by myself. Without my partner doing a thing. I was confident I could do it. The very first thing that went wrong was chef told me to go ahead and plate. However, the order wasn’t ready to go up because we needed to wait on the duck station. So I get started, obviously not realizing this. I warm up the meat, which was to be a medium piece. I felt the piece and it felt medium. However, it was cut from the rack earlier and some of the blood started to exude from the cut side. I know what a medium piece looks like, and I also thought I had a feel for it. So by touch, it felt medium. Without a doubt in my mind. By looks, however, it was a little red, not dripping blood but red from the blood that was extracted previously. I went by touch. Chef Xavier was like “what is that cooked to?” And I responded, “Medium, chef.” “How do you know its medium?” “By touch, chef.” And he touches it. Sure enough, he agrees, it feels medium. But we both agreed it looked medium rare. What was I to do? So I finish garnishing, and bring it up, just to be greeted by the head chef, Chef Candy, telling me, you didn’t communicate with level 6, and you’re way to early, you have to replate. So I struck out. I just looked absolutely foolish. I know my partner was smiling inside. Again, this is after my chef told me to go ahead and plate it all by myself, and I didn’t think to coordinate with level 6.

This is why I mentioned earlier the importance of coordinating with the duck station which I learned the hard way, and my partner seemed to be above.

The next 2 classes (which is a total span of 4 or 5 days) our chef was out sick. He therefore, missed my comeback, and the way I took charge of the lamb the second night and did a great job. The third night, we had another different chef, who want the lamb presented very differently than our chef, which was nice to get a touch of something different, knowing there are many ways to skin a cat.

So the last day on the lamb station is when my partner made those comments, despite the fact that we did a fine job during service. He also decided to not come in to class on Saturday, our first night of Pastry. I was running 10 minutes late, so that was difficult enough, but I texted him telling him I was running a little late. He didn’t bother getting back to me on the fact that he wasn’t even coming in. I realize he doesn’t like me. (I may have realized this long ago, which is part of the reason why I stopped hanging out with some of those cats). In fact it’s been months, and the one time I tried to hang out with them again, I realized I really hated it, so that was it. I also found out that the one girl of the group came to the same realization that hanging out with some of those people, particularly my partner, sucks.

I wonder who has been reading this blog? Apparently my grandma has been!!!! ;) I hope the people in my class haven’t found it yet. I’ve done some searches; it’s not the easiest thing to find, so I’m banking on that. Maybe they found it, and that’s why they dislike me.

I guess my next post will be on pastry. The chef is really nice but a hard ass. But really nice. And he helped me significantly my first night considering I was alone and late. I also picked up on his humor and adjusted accordingly, and also picked up on what it is he likes: cleanliness, order, methodical maneuvering and attention to the task on hand. So despite being late, AND not having a lot of my tools (which I loss since starting level 5), he warmed up a little to me.

Anyways, I’ve given up on my partner. I don’t care for him, and I will work as a good teammate because it is in my nature to do so, but I won’t let him get to me, and I won’t lose my cool like he lost his. That’s how we do. And I’m above his immaturity. Not a better person, but just above some of his antics.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tuesday Night Live?!

I know I wasn’t the only one who went to class expecting it be a nice quiet Tuesday at the restaurant. But we ran completely out of lamb and bass! We got slammed. Our dish is, fortunately, really easy to cook once the order comes in, so it wasn’t too bad.

Speaking of which, we prepared everything in record time! I also put together the poaching liquid by myself, and without really measuring anything out. It’s really easy to do once you get the hang of it. Unfortunately, just after we fell into our groove, we’re moving to the saucier station. I guess it’s good that I found this groove because I learned how to make this dish. In fact, I did make it a little spicy, however, I did get the thumbs up that it was delicious, despite being a touch spicy. It wasn’t unbearably spicy, and I didn’t even use that many pepper flakes, but I know to use less next time. But it was indeed good (both the head chef, Chef Candy and Chef Xavier agreed).

Anyhow, we had everything prepped and ready to go by 7:15! Chef asks that we’re ready by 7:45. We were sitting around doing extra little tidbits of things we didn’t really need to do. We really got our team work down as well. Hopefully we can keep it up through the next station. It looks like we’re going to be working together for the entire level.

At the end of class, we cleaned with a half hour to spare as well. So we talked to Chef Xavier about nothing. He started cooking since he was 9! He was the youngest to graduate the 2 year culinary program from the university in his home town of Corsica. That’s pretty impressive. Also, the culinary students worked from 8AM to 12 midnight. That’s a work day if I’ve ever heard of a work day.

Also, we have projects for this level. We’re assigned a French dish and we need to find a working recipe for it, and then do a bunch of research on the dish, the region and other things from the region including wine and cheeses (amongst a few other things). I was fortunate enough to draw the dish of the island of Corsica, Chef Xavier’s home town. Isn’t that great? I already came up with a concept of a cover page (as if that’s even important), and I asked my Photoshop expert buddy to bring my idea into fruition. He souffléd it! To be fair, I need to really get the contents of this report accurate and interesting, so he can appreciate it (especially considering he knows everything about Corsica). I figure I went to a decent college and I was able to write 20 page reports, so I can cram some interesting material into a 3 page report. We’ll see. I’m so booked that I need to find a good time to do it. I’ll get it done. I like the idea of the report, but I’m not liking the idea of homework.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Saturday Night Live!

First and foremost, we tweaked the dish a tiny bit tonight. We gave it another element, and we changed the aioli from an egg based aioli to a traditional potato based aioli. I didn’t know this either, but a garlic aioli was once just garlic, potato and olive oil, and salt and pepper, of course. Nothing more. Ours had a touch of saffron in it, which I think enhanced the color and presentation but barely affected the flavor.

Anyhow, we also added a base of braised fennel under the bass, to give it height, texture, and just another element to the dish. Quite frankly, I think it was great with the fennel, and a great idea on the part of the chef.

We took fennel, sliced it to about ½” and gave it a light salt and peppering. We then browned both sides in a sauté pan and placed it over a bed of sweated onions. We barely covered it with chicken stock, placed a piece of parchment paper over it, and baked it in the oven until it was tender.

When that was ready, that became the base of our fish dish. We then proceeded as we normally did, with the fish on top, the onions and red peppers on top, some of the poaching liquid, and topped it with the crouton with aioli. This time, we made a little herb mound on top, using the fennel tops, which is a beautiful almost dill looking herby green, and chervil and chives. The dish this time looked a lot more impressive than either of the times before. In fact I was bringing up two plates and Chef Xavier calls over to me “Edwin!” I look, thinking I just mucked something up. “Looks great,” while he threw up the international ok symbol (index and thumb together in a circle with remaining 3 fingers up in the air… yeah that one). That was nice.

SO, Saturday night is when it gets busy. In fact the level 6 fish team wasn’t quite a team. It was one guy doing it all by himself, and he was rocking it! We needed to wait a minute or two for him on sending out some dishes, but considering he was by himself, it was pretty impressive. We helped him out in any way we could, but he was pretty set.

Scott and I have been a little shaky on our teamwork until this class. He would tell me to relax a few times because the truth of the matter is I was pretty nervous and things were intense, considering this was my first time in the restaurant kitchen. He has been working in restaurants for a year or so by now, and has a lot more experience. He was right. Our dish doesn’t take long to make, so we had some time before we had to bring out our dish. And the fact of the matter is the bass is really simple. Once the accompaniments are prepared, which is before service time, the rest is simple. Put everything in a sautoir, and then cook the bass for a few minutes.

So the orders start coming in, and I just relaxed. Took it one by one, or 4 by 4, whatever the orders were, and we were smooth sailing. We would plate as a team, prepare the fish as a team (as in lay out the next amount of bass that we might need for the next order). I would place a slice of fennel on the plate, he would lay the fish, veggies and sauce, I would prepare the herbs and so forth.

At first he was the big shot because he’s been in this position, but as we got into our groove and realized this was a piece of cake, we were on the same level playing field. It was a team effort no matter how you look at it. If I went to get dinner, he manned the fish, and vice versa.

About 25-30 dishes later, we got our last order, and we started cleaning up. Out of no where, the order board is clean and down for the night, the executive chef screams out ONE BASS!! I’m thinking, are you serious? And he’s like, “really, one bass, I forgot to call it out.” And sure enough, I prepared one final bass. Thankfully we didn’t throw anything away. Scott gathered some of the things we put away and I took care of the dish. We worked well together.

Now, Chef Xavier. First off, he’s a brilliant chef. On top of his shit, and has a keen eye for details. He took note that there were peppercorns mixed in with our capers. I noticed something looked odd, but he was like, what is this? Why are there green peppercorns in the capers (FYI, they were mixed together in the jar, but labeled as just capers). He’s all over that shit like a Vietnamese whore at a rodeo. (I just used that analogy to respond to one of my bosses. I hope he enjoyed it).

However, last night, the executive chef was yelling some orders to the meat station where Chef Xavier was helping out, and Chef Xavier was screaming back “NO WAY, you ordered only two, we have no more and we can’t make anymore.” Another French Chef was there, working the appetizers, and was like, whoa chez, relax, and said some stuff in French, probably about being in front of the students.

Chef Xavier works 7 days a week, and is one of the few Chefs that still works at a restaurant. He is pretty much the shit. He’s also very nice to us, and respects us, and treats us as cooks not kids. He keeps an eye out for us, and doesn’t let us fall under the bus. We’ll see how this station progresses. After just another class or two, we move right along to the next station. It’s really brief, and kind of scary. But its fun! And it’s not too bad. The 5 hours go by really quickly. Amazingly fast.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Today is the first day that we get to really feel the heat. Being in the restaurant kitchen is unlike any level so far. Well, I guess it’s closest to level 3, but still different. We were prepared for 2 dishes, as in we wrote up note cards for the two dishes that we were to be responsible for. There is the Mediterranean style braised bass with a garlic aioli crouton, and the Arctic Char, served with creamed spinach, pomme anna, and yuzu hollandaise sauce.

I am in quite a predicament. For level 3 I left work a little earlier than I should have to get to class. For level 4, this was usually not an issue since there wasn’t much of a rush except for buffet. Now for Level 5, if we are to do two dishes, we are most definitely going to need to get in earlier to prepare. I know just picking the stems off of the spinach takes FOREVER. However, for our first class, we only did the first dish, the bass. I got in at 5:45, and we were barely ready to cook the fish when service began. We needed to chop a bunch of onions, some peppers, gather the mise en place, peel tomatoes, Scott made a fish fumet earlier in the night, we needed to prepare the aioli, toast the croutons, then we had to cook all of the braising liquids, and once that was ready, we could prepare the fish. It took about two hours to do all this. I thought we’d have some time to spare, but a second dish is looking pretty impossible at the moment. Level 6 was also only doing 1 fish dish with just 2 people, as well. Their‘s was a barramundi, which had a few more accompaniments with it. I think they had pommes puree and something else. I wasn’t quite paying attention.

They had a bunch of tips for us, and most importantly, since our dishes went up simultaneously, we needed to communicate so the dishes came out hot and together. We did a great job though, I think. It was tight, and hectic at first, but we pulled it together. By the end, more people were ordering the barramundi, so it was easier on us. I think they ordered it because it was called barramundi. I know I would. In fact, our Mediterranean braising liquid was quite good! It had fennels seeds, bay leaves and crushed red pepper to flavor it. It also had green and black olives, potatoes, chopped tomatoes and red pepper tiles (in addition to a slew of onions) to add a nice contrast of tastes and texture.

Basically, once the braising liquid was complete, we ladled some into a sautoir, seasoned it with S&P, brought it to a simmer, then seasoned some bass and threw it in until it was cooked.

I guess I should go over the ordering method briefly. The dinner is prix fixe style, so everyone orders an appetizer, a fish, a meat and a dessert. They also have vegetable alternatives for the fish and meat, if necessary. So when they order they call out the order “2 BASS, 2 BARRAMUNDI!!” And we call back from our respective stations “2 BARRAMUNDI!” “2 BASS!” They also mark the orders on a board. When the appetizer goes out they star our fish dish to let us know we should fire it up because it’s going out soon. Then when they need the fish they say “FIRE 2 BASS!” We then communicate with the barramundi guys to make sure they’re ready when we’re ready and vice versa so the food and plates stay hot.

All in all, we did pretty darn well! Scott is a great partner. Sometimes he rushes and forgets to season or something like that, but we were under the gun, and we’ve all done it. Tonight should be better considering we still only have one dish, and we have leftover aioli, so we don’t have to prepare that, and we know exactly what needs to be done. Tonight, I would also like to prepare the tomatoes, as far as peeling them, and we can make sure we have a fish fumet, and so forth. Then again, I will get in earlier on Saturday and we’ll have more time to prep everything. We’ll see what happens tonight (Thursday).