Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spring Rolls

I got bored last night (no school, no work, and no wife at home) so I grabbed a few things at the store and rolled up some spring rolls while drinking beer and listening to music.

The beer I drank.

The music I listened to.

The finished product.
The pictures are of the cold spring rolls but I actually like them better after frying them in a bit of canola oil. Inside there is Napa cabbage, carrot, celery leaf, mango, and crab meat. I need to tweak the sauce a bit though, it was too acidic.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Garde Manger

It’s Saturday night. You’re in the cusp of the night’s dinner rush. You’re mise en place is locked and loaded but it’s early, you still have a long way to go. On top of 25 or so reservations on the books, there’s a 70 top at $85 a head coming in at 6pm. Earlier, during your prep, the chef and sous got into a bit of an argument and the tension in the air is still palpable. Everyone is setting into a good pace and everything is moving smoothly so far, but every person in the kitchen can tell that one mishap could throw the whole service into a tailspin. It seems more like a recipe for disaster rather than success. The dishwasher isn’t bringing you plates quickly enough to keep you comfortable so you mention something to her. It’s no big deal yet, just a slight annoyance. You word it tactfully and say it with a smile because, after all, she’s an 18 year old girl and one of the managers’ daughters.

Apps have gone out to the 70 top everything still moving like a fragile ballet, pirouettes on the edge of a knife.. You clear some counter space and get ready to plate salads for the party. Greens, dressing, parm, sliced tomatoes, and plates at the ready – it’s all there, just waiting for your willing and able hands. You dunk your head in the cooler to double check what you already know is there: backups of everything. You nod to yourself and turn back to the counter when…


The ballet freezes and everyone stands silent and motionless for a minute. There are broken dishes all around your feet and all over the counter where you were prepared to plate the salads. The dishwasher is standing next to you, eyes wide and starting to swim. She was bringing the plates you asked for but tried lifting too heavy a stack up to your overhead and dropped the lot. She dives for a broom and dustpan but everyone knows the real harm that’s been done: there are broken shards all over the place and who knows if any got into the salad mise en place, it can’t be used. You can’t risk serving something that might harm a customer, not to mention cause a law suit and shut the restaurant down.

The chef doesn’t blow his top, but he’s pissed and the atmosphere becomes severely uncomfortable. He doesn’t hesitate to order all the salad prep 86ed. He starts barking out for you to start from scratch. Luckily, there are a few extra people staffed tonight and they’re on top of taking care of the party. The next few hours are a whirlwind of intense focus mixed with anxiety and chaos. The printer is screaming orders for regular diners and walk-ins so you switch gears and try to find your pace again.

Fast forward… the night’s over. You only had to stay 30 minutes over your scheduled shift, which you spent joking around with the dishwasher while you help her finish up (she was buried, again). The GM gets you a beer and a few verbal pats on the back from the chef have you feeling pretty good.


Above is a description of what happened Saturday, my fourth night on the job. I have to say that I am absolutely loving every minute of it. I’ve never felt so alive or so focused, but I’m trying to keep myself grounded. I haven’t made any catastrophic mistakes yet so I’m trying to keep my skin thick for when it happens.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Late arrival

A native told me yesterday that this was the first time in 30 years that we didn't have snow on the ground during Halloween. Well, it came late but it's here. I actually love the gloom, I think it's beautiful. But oh the joys of icy roads...

From the credit union entrance

View from the corner office window

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Soup and Salad

I worked my first night at Plate last night. It was nothing less than great. I'm on pantry, handling soups and salads, but the great thing about working pantry at Plate seems to be that the chef encourages this station to daily come up with a new amuse bouche (The term is French, literally translated to "mouth amuser" [for bouche = mouth; amuser = to amuse, to please]. The plural form is amuse-bouche or amuse-bouches; a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre). This gives some room for creativity and is a way to show the chef something. It's a way to rotate product (while the ingredients are still good, mind you) and to keep the menu different and interesting for regulars. Saute and grill both come up with specials too, though I'm not sure if they do it daily or not.

Last night I was trained from 2 til about 4:30, then my trainer left and I ran my station with the help and instruction of the sous. It was great that I got to just jump in there, I kind of feared that they would just have me shadow someone for the first few nights and have me just watch. This station is easy though. I'm right on the end of the line so I can watch the saute and grill cooks. I'll be taking a lot of mental notes because if the opportunity to jump on one of those stations comes up I want to be ready to take it.

Okay, so here's what I'm responsible for on pantry:
Wedge Salad - bacon, blue cheese, red onion and a balsamic vinaigrette (entirely unexciting)
Spinach Salad - chevre (goat cheese), walnuts and a maple, bacon vinaigrette (entirely delicious)
Endive Salad - grilled endive, roasted beets, Roquefort cheese and truffle vinaigrette (awesome and beautiful plating)
Lobster Bisque with Cognac Scented Creme Fraiche
Insalata Caprese (which they simply call Tomato and Mozzarella Salad) - Slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella with basil, balsamic reduction, and olive oil (another really nice plating)
I also do an item on the Bar Menu: Ahi Poke - this is a Hawaiin dish with sashimi grade raw tuna, cucumber and daikon (asian radish) sprouts with a sweet and spicy chili sauce
Pantry also handles the desserts, which I won't attempt to list in detail from memory but there was a pecan pie/cheesecake, bread pudding, tiramisu, apple pie, sorbet, creme brulee... all very pretty and delicious looking.

I haven't been able to sample much yet but you better believe I'll be working on that; I love the menu. Mainly, I was very impressed with how calm, clean, and organized everything was. I understand that it was a relatively slow night, even for a Wednesday, but it was good first experience just the same. My station is a breeze and I'll have it down by the end of today so I can concentrate on impressing everyone with my amuse bouche creations. It was a great first night.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Big News - Plate

Who needs a week off??? I got a call from the Executive Chef, Todd Wells, at Plate World Cuisine yesterday out of the blue. Plate is a fine dining restaurant that I've been popping my head in to over the past few weeks at the advice of Chef Dave, my instructor at Paragon Culinary School. Chef Dave put in a good word for me with the souf chef and I got to talk to Chef Todd last week briefly. He told me that things were rough and that he'd be lucky if he didn't have to let someone go, let alone hire a new body. Well, as I said, I got a call from him out of the blue yesterday and he offered me a job. (YES!!) Man, I'm so excited to be working at this place. I'll be starting off in the pantry, but he said if I work hard that he'll move me up quickly. We'll see, hopefully I can start cooking on the line within a 2 or 3 months. That would be sick.

I'll try to get some pictures, but only if I can do it incognito. I don't want to look like the idiot new guy culinary student who is so happy to be working in a real kitchen, even though that's what I am. In the meantime, check out their website: http://www.platecolorado.com/

Monday, November 10, 2008

Final Final

I had my last of four finals, a practical exam, Saturday morning. It went very well but I'm kicking myself for the few things I could've done better. Before I go on complaining too much... I got a 99% on the final which left me with a 99% as my overall grade for the class. Okay, so I gotta be happy with that. But then I think about what I could've added or done differently. We were to create and execute a three course menu: soup course, appetizer/salad (our choice), and entree (protein, carb, and veg). Here are pictures of what I made -

Soup Course: Zuppa Pavese (poached egg soup)
We only had a brown chicken stock left to use. Ideally, a very clear chicken stock, or better yet, consomme, would be used so that you could see everything in the bowl. The Christmas wreath looking thing is a parmesan cheese touille made with some parsley. This soup is fairly simple in concept but is actually quite difficult to make and the result is absolutely delicious. Cracking that yolk just makes the soup so rich and creamy. It's a wonderful thing.

Appetizer: Antipasto Plate
Chef really loved this one. Three Prosciutto and mozzarella cheese crostinis, each with a different topping: artichoke heart bruschetta, kalamata olive tapenade, and fire roasted pepper tapenade. I garnished with a little more of each topping and some herb oil. I could eat a mountain of this stuff.
Entree: Pork Tenderloin alla Napoli (really, it's not alla Napoli - I decided to omit the green olives and use artichoke hearts instead, I'm just not a huge fan of green olives)
Here's where I really could've done things differently. First and foremost, I poured the sauce on top of dry pasta. Not only is that not Italian, but who the heck wants to eat plain pasta?? I should've tossed the pasta in some of the sauce to coat it, then plate it. Secondly, asperagus is great, but I don't think it was the best choice for this dish. Broccolini would've been nice but we didn't have and weren't getting any. Thirdly, the dish was just plain missing something. I'm thinking a secondary sauce would've really made it pop. Like a balsalmic or sweet red wine reduction of some kind. Hmm... will have to revisit this one, I'm not settled.

Well, like I said, I can't really complain. I'm happy with the way things turned out but it's almost a little bittersweet being so close to a perfect score. I imagine it's something like placing second in the World Series of Poker.
I won't find out my grade for World Cuisine until next week, but I know it's a solid A. This class is pretty much impossible to ace. There was just so much information that you are bound to overlook or forget some minute detail, especially when you are cooking food of a cuisine that you are completely ignorant to.
I have this week off from school then I start the next trimester. I know I will be taking Service and Wine and, if I decide to double up again, I will probably be taking Advanced Cookery as well. My plans for this week? Cook, eat, read, and play lots and lots of video games. My wife is so thrilled.

Friday, November 7, 2008

3 down, 1 to go

I've completed 3 of the 4 total finals for this trimester of school. Each class has a written and a practical exam (2 classes). I've taken both of the written tests and got a 98.5 on one of them and a solid A on the other. I studied my butt off for these tests so I'm glad that I did well. I also had my World Cuisine practical last night and got a solid A on that as well. I won't know the exact grade until Nov 17th. My last practical exam, for my Foundations class, is tomorrow morning at 8am. After I get off work tonight I'm going to buy a few groceries then go home and practice. I should be able to get some pictures so I'll try and post them this weekend. I'm really excited about my menu for the practical so I just need to think about plating and timing. (see previous post for the menu)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Late night ghetto dinner

What I cook for others: grilled NY strip marinated in herb oil served with pumpkin coulis, spicy fried potatoes and wilted greens.

What I cook for myself: ghetto breakfast tacos

I'm getting better... I'm not as lazy about what I cook for myself as I used to be, but I still have my moments. For me, a big part of cooking is to bring other people pleasure and enjoyment. When I'm just feeding myself, I do whatever is quick and easy. Last night I didn't eat dinner until after 10pm and was very hungry. I just fried some corn tortillas then topped them with cheese, potatoes, onion, an over-fried egg and some hot sauce. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but it was a kind of ghetto good. Haha, I just looked at my plate after I finished making them, laughed, then took a couple of pictures thinking, "you go, culinary student."