Sunday, June 27, 2010

Week 1 Complete

Week 1 out of 18 is finished. I've gotten into a pretty nice routine over the last week. I wake up around 9 to watch the first world cup game of the day, make a sandwich or something for lunch, get changed and head to work around 12 30. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes for me to get there. I walk into the basement, get changed. (I've learned that in this kitchen it is a necessity to wear a dish washer's shirt instead of a chef jacket.) My first day I wore a chef jacket and sweated buckets, every day since its been the dishwasher shirts for me.

After I change I clock in, pick up my stack of towels, and head to the second floor of the restaurant to the kitchen. The kitchen itself is so small. All of the cooks hate it, because there is no space to work, move, or to store anything. They all walk around shaking their heads muttering thinkg like "Only three more damn weeks"... until we move to an incredible new kitchen a block away that will be about triple the size.

I set up my station, at a table just to the side of the Cold Garde Manger Station, and begin my day. You could call me a "tournant" for now. My sous chef said that I have to put in my time doin the dirty work until they can give me a spot on the line, just to be fair to the other cooks and to make sure that I am capable. Right now my focus is speed. I am a free hand, I help all the other cooks get whatever they need done in order to open on time. If the meat cook is running low on pheasants, I break down more. Usually I do about 30 pheasants a day, and I'm getting a lot better. I can do thirty in about an hour. I brine the breasts and boned out thighs in the house brine, and save the bones for stock. Separate the livers from the other offals and freeze them, because when we get enough we can use them to make pates and terrines.

I do other things to. I make the Amuse every day. For the past week it was strawberries, macerated in sparkling wine, chopped tarragon, honey and black pepper. After they sit for a few hours I crush them by hand and the resulting liquid is served with crumbled buttermilk blue cheese and a little brioche toast point.

One of the perks of being the tournant in a farm to table restaurant in the peak of summer, is that there is a ton of labor intensive produce that comes in, that has to be prepped by guess who... thats right... me.

Cherries are in season in Madison right now, Yesterday, I pitted about 4 heaping sheet trays using only a paper clip. If I see a cherry tomorrow I might cry. My fingers are still stained with cherry juice, and the little nicks I had on my fingers sting because of the acidity. But I digress...

Im getting a stage at a specialty pork butcher, so one day in the next few weeks I'll wake up, and instead of going to work at the restaurant, I'll be going to a shop that specializes in butchering local organic pork. I'll spend the day elbow deep in dead piggy and have probably one of the best days of my life.

My Chef and sous chef have picked up on my love of butchering, so Pete, the sous chef is taking me with him to slaughter some chickens a buddy of his needs killed and butchered. So... in a few weeks you'll get to hear my stories of snapping chickens necks with my bare hands, or watching them wriggle around several seconds after I lop their heads off. I'm more than excited.

Also, Fat Sandwich Company in Madison gets a shout out this week. Last night I had a sandwich with Chicken Fingers, marinara Sauce, and Fried cheese curds on it at like 1 30 in the morning while I was roaming around state street, still hyper from my first Saturday Service adrenaline rush. It was so good, though a few people... cough... Mary... cough have said that I'm not allowed to go there.

Well, I'm still tired from working 75 hours this week, so I'm gonna say goodbye for now.

Feel free to contact me any time I'm not at work, because I dont sleep a whole lot, and I'd love to talk. Skype me if I'm online.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

First Impressions

New kid in a strange town, and I'm loving it. Friday night I moved in to my apartment in Madison. Ive got a small, 1 room apartment, but its all i really need.

My parents helped me get settled, and we decided it would be cool to eat at L'Etoile, the restaurant where I'll be cooking for the next 5 months. The restaurant itself is on the second story of this incredibly charming building right on the capitol square in downtown madison. It seats about forty guests at the time, but the minute you walk in you feel like you're the only ones in the room. Its a special place and it makes me kind of sad that the restaurant is moving to a bigger location a block away. But a bigger kitchen and more customers will be nice.

We were seated and as we placed our orders, I decided to introduce myself to the waiter as "Mike, the kid who starts work in the kitchen on Monday." The waiter immediately smiled and said "Oh so YOU'RE the intern!" After I ordered my appetizer: "chevre and spring garlic agnolotti with cherry tomatoes and veal meatballs", and main course: "pan seared pheasant with aged sheepsmilk cheese and beet gratin and bok choy" I saw our waiter pointing me out to different members of the front of the house staff. Before I knew it several members of the staff were introducing themselves to me and welcoming me to the team.

The amuse bouche was incredible. Crushed strawberries macerated in some sort of liquor with buttermilk bleu cheese a toasted brioche. My starter was incredible, and the main course was even better. The skin on the pheasant was amazing. I dont usually like beets, but these were perfect.

Honestly, the best part of the meal was dessert... being in wisconsin we ordered a cheese plate comprised of five of the best local cheeses, the Bleu Mont Dairy raw milk bandaged cheddar and the billy's midget goat cheese were my favorites. We also shared two desserts. The first was a waffle topped with strawberries macerated in maple syrup with "Sassy Cow" ice cream. I love anything with maple syrup so this was a great choice. But the dish that stole the show was our "Sticky Toffee Pudding". It was sponge cake, soaked in bourbon and baked in a ramekin with butter and brown sugar, topped with Buttermilk Ice Cream. The single best dessert I've ever put in my mouth.

Then, Chef Tory came out of the kitchen, and walked to the table. I was in a seat somewhat pinned up against the wall, so in an akward attempt to stand up and shake his hand I almost knocked over the table... would have been a great way to start. He talked to my family and I and really seemed excited to have me back in the kitchen. I know this was the right place for me. I honestly couldn't picture myself anywhere but in Madison, Cooking at L'Etoile. So much soul coming out of that kitchen. First day tomorrow. More to come.