Thursday, July 29, 2010

I'm A Wanted Man

Today is my day off... sort of...

While at work yesterday, I was thinking about how I was gonna be able to catch up on sleep, find a new apartment, and just sit around and be lazy... I was excited. I was changing out of my whites in the locker room after work when Sous Chef Pete asked me if I had any "big plans" for my day off. I told him I had to find a new apartment, and he said "Great, so I can pencil you in for a morning shift then right?" I nodded my head and smiled. Like a good intern.

I got home at 1 30 in the morning, and my usual after work rush had kicked in, so I laid in bed until 3... knowing I was in for fun in the morning. I woke up at 6 45, jumped in the shower and set off for work... my 7 30 start time a non negotiable even on my "day off". I walked downstairs to the L'Etoile kitchen, where the bakers were still baking pies and kneading dough, and cleaned a bus tub of shrimp, and then finished all the veg prep for the guys at Graze, our sister restaurant. 12 o'clock, the end of my shift, rolled around and I darted out of the building.

I'm always busy these days... always. The guys at L'Etoile are screaming for me that they're out of this or out of that and that they need me to prep more, on the fly. And at the same time, the understaffed new restaurant upstairs started service and they have none of their veg prep finished. Or they're not gonna have any chicken in the morning and they need me to break down 30 and brine them so that they can be breaded first thing in the morning for the chicken and waffles. Or, they have to start smoking kielbasa by ten in order to get out of the kitchen before 1 am and they dont have any cased, and it's 9 15. I'm not complaining... I love making sausage, and I love butchering chickens, but most importantly, I feel like I'm absolutely needed at the restaurant at this point in time. I feel like if I weren't there, everything would come crashing down, and I like that feeling. All the cooks have a day off, but the fact that of all people, they need me to come in on my day off just to help make sure BOTH restaurants are open on time... its a bit of a confidence booster.

Chef Chris, the guy at Graze, keeps trying to lure me away from L'Etoile. He says things like, "Mikey you know you'd be working the line full time if you were up here, just come work for me." He's partly joking but at the same time, he is always trying to bribe me to come work for him. If I case 30 pounds of kielbasa for him, he slips me a pulled pork sandwich when I come upstairs to grab something from the walk in. If I break down chickens for him hell slip me a piece of fried chicken and a basket of fries right before I head to the locker room to change.

The guys at L'Etoile, know that whatever I'm doing upstairs is simply orders from my boss, and owner of both restaurants, Chef Tory, but they don't necessarily like it. This is what the first hour of service was like for me on Wednesday, Bryan used all of the gallon and a half of freshly cut corn niblets I gave him this morning for his corn chowder, but still needs a quart more for garnish, and Ed is running low because the Halibut is selling like crazy and Ryan needs Lions Mane Mushrooms cleaned and sauteed on the fly because he has orders to fill. All at the same time, I'm working upstairs trying my hardest to clean and cut and blanch carrots, green beans, baby summer squash, radishes, cucumbers, and collard greens in fifteen minutes before the restaurant opens and my water hasn't even come to a boil. I got it all done in time, but I gained a few gray hairs in the process.

They appreciate me, but with time my responsibilities will grow in both restaurants, I have to pick up more speed otherwise something I can't control is going to happen and the shits gonna hit the fan and I'll only be able to sit and watch as everything crashes around me. I can see it coming, these are basically two brand new restaurants, and I am kind of the glue that holds this ship together. At least thats the way I like to see it.

Now off to nap and get ready for the full blitz on Friday and Saturday... I'm ready.



Sunday, July 25, 2010


This week was eventful to sat the least. I've worked for ten straight days, with little sleep, and I'm exhausted. Last Saturday, as you all know, was the last night at the old location. I was up bright and early Sunday morning moving furniture from the old site to the new site. And I worked at least 10 hours each day. Monday was a moving day as well, I came in at 1 and moved furniture, cleaned out all of our chest freezers, and moved TONS of stuff in to the new site.

Tuesday was setting all the equipment, organizing all the stations, and we started prep for the reopening on Wednesday. We started from scratch. Set fresh stocks, butchered all new proteins, it was an eventful day to say the least.

Thursday, the new gastropub, Graze was opened for a VIP only night. The cooks at L'Etoile were invited. We finished up prep, and changed into our street clothes, and waltzed out into the dining room of the new bar. It me, Weinstein, Scott, Jed the Garde Manger free hand, Ed the fish cook, and sous chefs Ryan and Pete. We ordered drinks and discovered that our table was on the house... aka, we could order whatever the hell we wanted and the restaurant would pick up the tab. We started off with steamed pork buns with slabs of pork belly, white boy kim chi, and hoisin sauce (good, but completely incomparable to the ones I've had in New York. We then ordered the soft pretzel (I have dreams about this thing) it was a hot pretzel, fresh out of the oven, served with a trio of mustards and a dollop of garlic cheese spread. Then came the house pickles, the escabeche, or pickled cauliflower, was to die for. Then we got potato fondue, or fried balls of mashed potatoes with a warm doat cheese dipping sauce.

Then the fun started, we ordered the bone marrow toasts with braised beef cheeks and oxtails... I really cannot
explain how freakin good this dish is, along with the chopped chicken livers with coriander and golden raisins. Then came the oysters, followed by the house charcuterie plate, and onion rings with truffle popcorn. We ordered four main courses to share too, fried chicken and waffles... gahhhhh.... the graze burger (made with ground ribeye, beef deco, and short rib... the fattiest cuts on the cow... best burger I've ever had, and the fries with garlic aoli that accompany them are to die for). We got the disappointing moules frites, (mussels and fries), that tasted of only tarragon and nothing else, but the Pork cubed was incredible. Picture, the most amazing mac n cheese youve ever had, (it is Wisconsin) served along side braised ribs, pulled pork, house made kielbasa, collards, and a cheddar biscuit... to die for.

Then came dessert... Nisa, the former meat cook at L'Etoile, has taken the burden of being pastry line cook for both restaurants. She churns out desserts for both joints from her tiny station... It's incredible how she does it. When our waitress came and asked us about dessert... Ryan the sous chef said, "Bring us whatever will put Nisa in the weeds." So, naturally, we got one of everything. There are sno-cones with fresh fruit syrups, (unimpressive), an assortment of pies baked daily, (the hickory nut pie is absolutely the best pie I've ever had), a chocolate sundae, and the most amazing cookies. The cookies are par baked before service, then flash finished on sizzle pans to order. Three chocolate chip cookies to an order. Crispy on the outside, molten on the inside... and the accompanying glass of sassy cow milk on the side is the perfect touch.

Friday was our time to shine. We revamped the whole menu design of the restaurant. Instead of offering three courses, we now offer four. The two Garde Manger, or app stations, combined into one. Weinstein, who was responsible for desserts along with hot apps is now on a station with Scott, the cold side guy who does salads and cheese plates. They are now responsible for a combined 10 dishes instead of the original five. They have first and mid courses. The two hilights, in my opinion, from their station on the new menu, are the sweet corn chowder with smoked jonah crab and chili oil, and the incredible open faced foie sandwich. The Foie gras is in a torchon, served on top of a piece of toasted brioche, with a blueberry gastrique and maple syrup. It really is a sexy take on a pb&j... I was lucky enough to have been given a piece by Scott... he likes to take care of me.

Finally, the time has come... sweet corn season in the midwest. Probably the single sexiest dish I've ever seen is now on the menu... on the fish side... it appeals to my past and my present, it is perfect. I start off my day every day by cleaning lots of corn, removing the husks, brushing off the silks, and cutting the corn off the cob. I was bitter the first time I was told to do this, because in my pinion, the ONLY way to eat fresh sweet corn is off the cob... my braces years were the worst years of my life. This prep of sweet corn convinced me otherwise. The minute I saw Ed walk out of the walk in with those small wooden boxes, I was on red alert. I know those boxes. UNI, sea urchian roe. My Dad gets nauseous just thinking about the stuff, but its my crack. Its so rich and salty, it tastes like the deep ocean. I watched Ed take two pounds of butter, and 12 boxes, 180 dollars worth of Uni, and make what appeared to be a compound butter. I ran over stuck my finger in it, and pure heaven ensued. I asked him what it was for... sure enough, God Damn UNI creamed corn. The compound butter is cooked down to order with double cream and fresh sweet corn and bacon lardons, served with corn meal crusted halibut, collards, and potato puree. Tonight, when I was helping the entree line, Ed had fired an order of the dish, but when the ticket was pushed back fifteen minutes, he had to start over... he finished the dish, and said, "Here ya go kiddo," and handed me the plate. I could have cried, I could have fainted, I could have screamed like a ten year old girl... but instead, when I took my first bite, I closed my eyes and my whole body started shaking. I literally lapsed into a food seizure for about five seconds.

Service tonight came to a close, and Chef Tory walked into the kitchen, bourbon in hand. He poured every cook a shot, gathered us all together and made a toast. He said, "Four days later, and were still the best fucking restaurant in Wisconsin. Heres to you bitches for making it happen." Not until then did it hit me. In three days, we opened two brand new restaurants. I say this because on Thursday we did tons of prep for Graze because they were in the weeds, and wouldn't have opened for days if we hadn't stepped in. It was an incredible feat and something I am honestly really honored and blessed to have been a part of.

It was a successful week, and to top it off, at the end of service tonight, Chris, the chef de cuisine at Graze, asked me to come in and work the line at Graze on my days off. I've gotta run it by Chef Tory first, and if he OK's it, I'll get the chance to kick ass on the hot line upstairs at graze, while learning the finer points of cuisine downstairs at L'Etoile.

Tomorrow I finally get a day off. I plan on cleaning up the apartment, biking 40 minutes to see Inception in IMAX, and watching Man United take on the Kansas City Wizards in their third pre season warm up match. Only one and a half more weeks until my buddies come to visit. Can't wait to see them. and take them to Graze and L'Etoile.

Did I mention that Graze is open until 1 am... and I get half off... OH DEAR GOD... Mikey's gonna need a new wardrobe cuz if somebody doesn't intervene I'll double in size.

I should probably rename my blog to "Confessions of a Fat Kid."

Thanks for reading, hope you all get as much of a kick out of reading this as I do writing it.

It's 3 30 AM here, so I should probably think about hitting the hay.

Peace out...


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Like a Pig in Shit

As I sit in my apartment, air conditioner on 60 degrees, and an orange popsicle in hand, I still can't shake the heat. I con honestly say that today was the hardest I've ever worked in my life.

We were at maximum capacity for our last night in the old building. 137 guests i believe the final count was. We were still seating guests at 9 45 when the garde manger station is usually breaking down. I got to work this morning, expecting to get my ass kicked. I was the first one there, I got changed, grabbed my towels, walked upstairs to the kitchen at 12 15. I started my day doing the stuff that the other cooks dont have time to do. I picked and washed parsley. Our protien is so freaking fresh and local that our ducks aren't even plucked all the way, so I spend the better part of an hour and a half using my fish tweezers to pluck the remaining little bits of feathers out of 50 duck breasts. I butchered about 30 Artesian Farms Rainbow Trout. It is the best aquaculture site in the world, and it is only a few miles outside of Madison and the whole staff will be visiting the farm on our annual field trip. (The whole staff at L'Etoile visits a different farm every year to learn more about our producers.)

I finished up all the herb prep for all the stations and then got all my individual prep done for the amuse bouche, a "BLT". A brioche toast point with a basil aoli, my own house cured bacon, sun gold tomato, and a basil pluche. I had a little extra time to finish up prep for other guys before comida, or staff meal, so I ran downstairs to slice some carpaccio on the cafe slicer, and to check on the two hotel pans of duck confit I started that morning, from the ducks that I had butchered the day before. (I can butcher duck like crazy, I had never done it before but its just like a firmer, bigger chicken, so I mow through them.) I came upstairs after slicing 50 orders of Carpaccio, (which we served with kumomoto oysters, smoked oyster mushrooms that had been marinated in maple syrup and soy sauce, and a croissant "cracker". it was a beautiful dish.) When I turned the corner, thw whole staff had already left for the dining room. Tory, the chef, had bought a ton of pizzas for the whole staff, the pizza itself was pretty shitty, but I was hungry so I didn't care.

The whole staff was wearing sweater vests, still not sure why, but it is some sort of inside joke they all have. Chef gave a toast, and we had our last meal together in the old dining room. I never really understood until now how much of a family this whole place is. And I'm the kid who everyone likes, but feel like they have to give shit all the time. Ed the fish cook, possibly the best cook I've ever met, asks me to clean his ice bins every night after service and fill the bins with fresh ice that I carry up from the basement. On Friday he pulled me out of the back of the kitchen and told me that he really liked me, because I do whatever anyone asks me, no matter how boring, difficult, or unnecessary it may be, and I do it with a smile on my face.It made me feel good that people have noticed how hard I've been working.

After service the fun started, the cooks realized how much of a fat genius I was when Chef presented a massive second staff meal. I plated up all the cheeses we had in the walk in, 30 varieties, and I filled three sheet trays, Chef fried up a massive sheet tray of fries, cheese curds, and onion rings. A light went off in my head. I ran over to Neesa, the meat cooks station, and grabbed a bain marie of a brown liquid. I grabbed a plate heaping with fries, drizzled with the basil aoli from my amuse, topped it with a handful of cheese curds, and then, the madness ensued. I took a heaping ladle of the brown liquid, whose identity is to be disclosed later... and voila, possibly one of my favorite snacks ever, the montreal classic, poutine. French fries, topped with cheese curds soaked in gravy, but instead of gravy, I had taken the sauce for the duck, which was Duck demi glace, flavored with cognac, and finished with a foie gras compound butter. Easily the most incredible thing I've ever eaten.

Then the fun ended, and we had to basically tear apart the entire kitchen. We cleaned and scrubbed and I didnt get off until 1 15. Then, I sat in th dining room with the rest of the crew eating leftover pizza and smoking cigars, because we could! until 2 15, when the entire crew, minus me for obvious reasons, left for the bars. I headed home and here I am, drenched in sweat, covered in grime, hands smelling of duck fat, and I can't sleep. This adrenaline is killing me. Cooks go out after service, not because were alcoholics, or because we love the nightlife, but because we have to build up adrenaline to survive the rush, and we just cant stop it. It is almost 3 oclock here, and I have to be up at 8 30 to go help move. I want to sleep, and I should sleep, but I can't. My heart is still pounding and my hands are still twitching, just like they were at 5 when that first ticket came in, and the saturday night rush kicked off.

But this is the life for me. I sit in my apartment, like I do every night after work, waiting for sleep to finally take its hold so that tomorrow will come and I'll be back in the heat, busting my ass to make sure that people get fed. Cooks don't last long. The life of a cook takes its toll. All work, and no rest, for years on end, in the roughest working conditions imaginable. We're crazy. But anyone who has known me for extended periods of time would agree with that.

Tomorrow is a new day. and Monday brings a whole new restaurant. We'll see what is in store.

As summer in Indy is coming to a close, I issue one final plea. Get all your asses up here to Madison to visit me. It would mean a lot, because I miss you all and it'd be nice having someone in the apartment other than myself to talk to.

Also, today I saw a dog that looked just like Mia and got really excited, like some homeward bound shit had happened and she had come to find me. But it wasn't her, so I'm starting a petition to gain full custody of her for at least a month when I move to a new apartment/ house. Please sign.

You stay classy,


Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's Still Just a Game

Today was honestly one of the best I can ever remember. It was full of emotion. This morning, as I hopped out of bed, I couldn't help but smile and laugh, because the excitement was more than I could bear. I was going to drive to Chicago, see my sister, and watch Manchester United train up close and in person with some old friends who I haven't seen in over a year. I took off around 9 30, in Chad, my friend Mary's white Toyota covered in Wisconsin Volleyball stickers. It was a little over 2 hours to make it to Anna's office, it still sounds weird saying that. We went to Portillo's for lunch, sooo good, and I was on my way.

I arrived at the stadium around 2, to find my friends Tyler White, Corey Fundenberger, Brandon Kim, and Kris Dolinsky waiting for me in the VIP lot. They had been there since 12 30... they were bored to say the least. We patiently waited outside the stadium, I was giddy and could hardly sit still for the better part of two and a half hours. The team pulled up in two buses around 4 45, and I was ready to ambush. They pulled into the parking lot and I sprinted after them, but was yelled at by a security guard to stop when they went behind an authorized access only gate. We quickly got into the stadium and got settled behind the rowdiest bunch of fans we could find. Just as we sat in the second row, it hit me. I was seriously going to get to watch my heroes, the guys who I've spent the better part of the last 6 years watching from afar, pretending like I was in the stadium with the team all along.

I was emotional to say the least.

And of course, to set it all off, the first two players to emerge from the tunnel across the field were the two I was most excited to see, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Both of these guys are living legends. Giggs, aged 38, is the most decorated soccer player of all time having won 11 English League Titles and a multitude of trophies and personal accolades. While Scholes, a graduate of the same class as David Beckham, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt etc., is the only one to still be paying world class ball, and will probably retire at the end of this season.

The guys around me, a particularly rambunctious group of British guys from Milwaukee began singing songs of "He'll win it twelve times." and "He scores goals galore," and I jumped in instantaneously. The two began the way every kid across the world does, they snagged a ball, and began just passing back and forth. They looked just like two little kids having fun like the good old days. I was amazed that after 30 plus years of playing soccer literally every day of their lives that they looked like they were enjoying it. It wasn't just another day at the office, it was a chance to play, just like they did when they were kids.

The rest of the team slowly meandered out onto the pitch after a while, van der Sar, Berbatov, John O'Shea, all my idols came out, and especially waved at my section. Our rendition of "When Johnny goes marching down the wing" gave the big Irishman an ear to ear grin as he stopped to thank us.

I was on cloud nine. The goalkeepers jogged right past our seats a few times as they were warming up. Edwin van der Sar, the 6 foot 5 Dutchman laughed and waved as I screamed his name like a little girl at an N'sync concert.

The team completed their warm ups right in front of our seats and their stretching too, with Scholes repeatedly pinging balls around the field trying to peg unsuspecting coaches as they set up cones for drills, and hitting his target more often than not.

They completed drills as I chatted up the British guys around me and just sat there in awe that this was all really happening. Then they played a full-sided 10 on 10 match amongst themselves. The way they played and the enthusiasm they played with was incredible.

Then came the icing on the cake. After the session was over, All of the players started slowly migrating to the walls of the stadium to meet their adoring fans. Not surprisingly, most players started with my section, because we were obviously the most excited. John O'Shea came first, then Wesley Brown, then Chris Smalling. I shook all their hands and thanked them for coming. I screamed "KIKO!" from the stands to get Federico Macheda ,the Italian 19 year old's, attention. He walked over to me and shook my hand and smiled. I told him I cried when he scored his goal against Aston Villa in 09 and he laughed and thanked me.

Then, I almost lost it. Edwin Van Der Sar, the 40 year old keeper who I spent the last 8 years of my playing career doing my damn best to emulate, walked past. He looked up at me and saw my mouth kind of hanging open and my eyes wide open, and he reached up to shake my hand. The only words I could muster as i grabbed his massive hand, was "Sooooo freakin' cool." He laughed and walked away. Why I didn't ask him to take a picture with me I have no idea.

And finally, the legend, Ryan Giggs walked up to our section. We burst out in applause and another round of "Ryan Giggs Runnin Down the Wing," which is currently my ringtone. I shook his hand like I shook all the others, and told him to stick around for four more years. He responded with a "We'll see", and he made his way back to the tunnel.

Just like that it was over. Who knows how long it will be before I see the Red Devils playing live again, but one things for sure, I have to go to Manchester, if it kills me. Since my soccer career of about 14 years is officially over, there's been a hole in my life. I miss the game I grew up with. I miss the camaraderie that I always associated with it. I miss celebrating after a hard fought win, and I've been using this team to help ease the pain. I for whatever reason, felt like a member of the team today. Six British guys from Milwaukee and myself seemed to lift the players spirits, play harder, smile wider. Thats 7 guys, and it felt amazing. Today I pictured myself as a member of the 78,000 faithful that pack the stands at Old Trafford every matchday, and it only fueled the fire.

"Oh how I want to be in that number... when the reds go marching in..." The voices of 80,000 pissed off englishmen echoed in my head, the whole 2.5 hour drive home.

And until that day, I have a seat at the bar at the Highbury in Milwaukee. Not sure if I'll be allowed in, but I'm sure gonna try. My friends in Milwaukee assured me that I'd be welcome with open arms on matchday. (Don't worry Mom and Dad, no funny business.) That'll have to do at least until I move back to NY.

Tune in next week as I reminisce on my month at the Old L'Etoile, and probably still blabber on about my day with Manchester United.



Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week 3 Complete

Week 3 went by really fast. I had Monday off because the restaurant was closed, and my usual Thursday off. This coming week is the last week in the new place. I can honestly say that I am ready to get the heck out of the old kitchen and into a new one. The 30 trips up and down two flights of stairs carrying bus tubs of beef and pork, buckets of ice, and sheet trays of raspberries that need to be frozen, are getting old. But, I am the intern, as the crew call me, so I am expected to be be hunched over in pain and gasping for breath every day after work, other wise I haven't done something right.

No chickens this weekend. Sous Chef Pete didn't have access to a car so we had to hold off for at least a week. But, because of this, I did get a chance to watch the World Cup Final. I was largely disappointed with the dirtiness of the Dutch players. They tried to beat down the Spanish players, and failed. However, i was thrilled that half of my predictions as posted in my last update came true, and I did get to see the pride of Liverpool, pretty-boy Fernando Torres, crying in agony on the pitch before the end of the game. Hopefully it'll be another injury laden season for the Merseysider.

This week is an eventful week at L'Etoile, because were not running our traditional menu. Our last week in the old place and were going out with a bang. The restaurant has been in operation for over 30 years, so we're running a greatest hits menu of sorts, from all four decades of operation. 70's for amuse, 80's for first course, 90's for second, 00's for third, and a mash up of our favorite desserts from throughout. My main task for the week will be shucking about a hundred oysters every day for the amuse, a oyster topped with a slice of beef carpaccio. I'm probably gonna be sneaking a few oysters throughout the week... they are possibly some of my favorite snacks... and being in the midwest, I never get them.

Wednesday... my dream comes true. I'll be traveling to Chicago to meet up with some of the old soccer buddies and see Manchester United train, live in person. I consider it a victory if I can get to see them play on TV, considering ESPN would rather show bowling on a Sunday afternoon than show some of the most exciting sports action in the world... but I digress. Seeing them live is going to be awesome, and somewhat emotional, because it'll most likely be my last chance to see legends like Edwin Van Der Sar, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs play live. Who knows, maybe Fergie will no longer be at the helm when I do eventually make my pilgrimage to the promised land that is Old Trafford. But I'll be there Wednesday, Cantona jersey on my back, and possibly an anti-glazer poster in hand, taking it in.

Thank God I get paid tomorrow, becasue this could turn out to be an expensive week. Chicago Wednesday, the new Man United jersey is realeased on thursday (I can't decide between Darren Fletcher, Patrice Evra, or Antonio Valencia), and Sunday I'm taking a trip to Milwaukee to see a friend from New York who'll be in town for a few days.

With the change in Menu at the restaurant, I really dont know what to expect this week. But I'm excited.

The pork dish we ran this week lasted a day... that good, sold out completely in one day. It was a johnnycake (cornmeal pancake) with bacon fat, chive, jalapeno, and 10 year cheddar cooked in bacon fat... (double the fun), with the pork pan roasted to juicy perfection, (medium rare people... this is quality pork), topped with a ghost chili (hottest pepper in the world) and cherry (the ones I pitted) sauce and served with grilled bok choy. Im pissed it ran out so quickly, because what I would have done to get my hands on it...

All you people back in Indy, or anywhere in the country, (MR.WISE, get your redneck butt up here)... come here on a Thursday, stay for the weekend... I want somebody to take to the restaurant on my day off. My coworkers would look at me funny if I came in by myself. Once again this whole table for one stuff just makes people think I'm some sort of psycho schizophrenic hermit who talks to himself to make the voices in his head go away. But I kind of like it, lets me focus on the food!

My friend Mary's strict workout routine hasn't started yet, but even if/when they do, I'll remain a fat kid at heart. Its part of my charm.

Tune in next week to hear me go on an on about how I wish Sir Alex Ferguson were my grandfather, how rugged Ryan Giggs looks in person, and how no American matches my sheer undying fanaticism for Manchester United.

Have a good week,


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Makin' Bacon

Tomorrow is my day off... so that means all you lucky readers, all five of you, get a midweek update on life at L'Etoile.

Today was just one of those days, when you sit back and reflect on what in God's name brought me to say ,"Hey, I really wanna pit cherries for hours on end for the rest of my life." Then, after pitting a massive cambro, for all you non culinarians, a 2 gallon container. I came into work today, and since today was Farmer's Market day Chef Tory gets up early to pick up loads of goodies from the farmers. Today, after setting my station, I walked into the walk in, (non culinarians, a walk in is a fridge that is so big you walk into it), and sure enough... three heaping sheet trays of black cherries awaited me. I walked out of the walk in with a demoralized look on my face and Chef Tory was waiting, he says, "Bought a present for ya' this morning Intern!" and starts laughing hysterically at my misfortune. After I pitted all of them, with my trademarked ergonomic parer clip, I discovered that they were for the amuse bouche that we'll be running for possible weeks, maybe even until cherries stop coming in. Which means, that for up to a month, my daily jobs will include pitting cherries.

When God gives you lemons you find a new God, but when God gives you cherries, you macerate them in vinegar, honey, and oregano with shaved red onion, and top them with whipped moody blue creme fraiche and a prosciutto straw. The moody blue creme fraiche is genius. Moody Blue is a smoked raw milk blue cheese that we serve on our cheese plates. Its incredible, mellow yet pungent. Maybe my favorite cheese, and when crumbled into creme fraiche and whipped, Oh my god. I saw this dish's conception from start to finish. It really has changed the way I look at food.

So I guess I'm thankful for those godforsaken cherries...

I guess you could say that I'm beginning my stint as charcutier of the restaurant too. We buy nothing... NOTHING processed, except for cheese and vinegar and soysauce. Everything we use, including prosciutto, bacon, pancetta, guanciale, or even the aptly named "GIRTH" house made salami. Today, I learned the L'etoile way to make bacon. And these bellies are my baby... I cured them today, in brown sugar, salt, maple syrup, black pepper, and a pinch of TCM. We jiaccard the bellies, smear on the cure, and let them sit in the walk in for five days, rinse them, dry them overnight, and then smoke them.

When I left work, Madison was perfect. My walk to Qdoba for a late night snack was brisk. Then as I embarked on my ten block walk home, the skies opened. It poured down on me for the whole fifteen minutes home. I love the rain, and the kitchen was extra hot today at work so I walked slowly, plus I havent showered in two days, so I felt really grimy, and the rain was just what I needed.

My whole walk home I kind of reflected on how happy I am right now. I'm doing what I love, in an incredible learning environment, and getting paid to do it. I could do this for free for life, as long as I've got beer in the fridge and food on the table, and a bed to sleep in, and I would be completely happy. But I guess I can't turn down a few thousand bucks to spend on the new Man Utd. Jerseys (the new one is unveiled on the 15th), A few slices of Pizza after work, a tiny apartment, and some amazing dinners in NYC when I get back to school.

Thats right, I've already got my fat ass tours of the city planned out for when I go back. And unlike here in Madison, I know I wont be sitting at a table for one, (something that I do all too often, and dont mind apart from the "Oh I'm sorry you don't have any friends looks I get from everyone around.) Shoutout to all my buds cookin' their asses off all over the world, can't wait to hear all your awesome stories when we rendez-vous in good old Hyde Park.

Tune in Sunday, To listen to me rant about killing chickens, and hopefully laugh about Fernando Torres crying in agony in Johannesburg when the Dutch put the hurt on Spain.

Have a great weekend,


Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Whole New Ball Game

So, Tonight after I got off work, and after I wandered around madison for about an hour like I always do after work, because I'm too God Damn jacked up on adrenaline to just sit in my apartment, I sat on my couch, and popped in The Sandlot. Because It is the 4th of July and that is possibly the most American movie ever made. I started to pick up uncanny resemblances between myself right now, and Smalls. New kid in town and he gets made fun of for the shit he wears, (yes I still wear my tacky CIA issue checkered pants. They're comfortable and I dont have money to buy legit Chefware pants).

It's incredible how far I've come. n such a short time. I worked catering at a place that bought everything from sysco. We had no clue where our food was coming from and really didnt care. I had to beg my boss to let me use something other than artificial base in the stocks. We got prepackaged chicken breasts, a few canned sauces... there was no identity to our food. At my new job, I know some of the farmers who produce for us by name. They come in and talk to me, we had chickens delivered today. The guy who raises them is crazy, hes just a hippy who is doing it right. ACTUAL free range chickens, no fences, that are fed what they are meant to be fed. No hormones, and they are raised for up to 8 months as opposed to the average 3 weeks that industrial chickens are. Those 8 months mean incredible flavor, and the birds are incredibly clean, its okay to serve them a slight bit under cooked. In fact, its better that way. Then there's the apple lady, who I had the joy of meeting today. She stores apples all year long, no gas, and allows them to ripen properly, The orange cok pippin apples she delivered today were ridiculous. The best apple I've ever tasted hands down.

Sure I can be a damn good prep cook. but Having only worked for a large corporate catering company, this whole line cooking dinner service shit is still foreign to me. Every dish, from every station has to be in the window at the exact same moment, piping hot, or just plated, and not a second too soon, or god forbid late. The timing, the communication, the speed and efficiency that goes in to pullig off even 120 covers like we did tonight is mind boggling. Until late this week I really was lost, then one night, during service, Scott the cold side garde manger guy pulled me over ad said "Look, now I really hate seeing you not even breaking a sweat, shelling damn peas while I work my ass off here." He was giving himself a cushion, because every Friday and Saturday night he would screw something up and get reamed by chef. With an extra set of hands on the line hed be more likely to keep Chef off his ass. And he could tell that I was dying to learn what the hell was going on. So first, he showed me how to plate everything, and how the timing goes, etc. Im not ready by any means to run the station by myself, but I'm learning.

Then, Friday morning, Chef walked around and patted me on the shoulder... "Yo, Mikey (thats my nickname.... I'm trying to do everything in my power to make them not think of me as a little kid, but when you're too young to go to bars after service, and when your mommy shows up every week to check in on you, its kind of hard to drop the baby image) your workin the line tonight." It was like the time Benny the Jet Rodriguez threw scott the mitt and told him to show up the next day... that was me. My chest was pounding, I was moving up to the big leagues. I plated salads, I plated desserts, I prepped like a crazy mofo.

This past week I've worked my ass off. They are trying to break me. They're trying to see if I've got the drive to make it. They know how badly I want to get on the line, and theyre pushing me to the limits. As soon as the first tickets are in and I'm about to finish up prep and jump on the line, the sous chef, Pete, who is my version of the fat ginger catcher, throws random tasks at me, one after the other until by the time I'm done service is almost over. But today, I busted ass even harder and he ran out of crap for me to do, so I finally closed out service on saturday on the line. As I was breaking down my station, cryo-vaccing stuff for Tuesday when one of my bosses came up to me, handed me an ice cold bottle of PBR, and said, "Good work, now chug it so I don't lose my job!"

That was a big deal, it was like when the fat ginger kid gives Smalls his first smore with a freshy roasted mallow. I've had a few beers in my life, but this one tasted better than any I've ever had... because the kitchen was roasting hot, and because I had earned it.

Every night after work, as we all change out of our whites, the other cooks talk about their plans for the night, I dont say a word, walk upstairs, clock out, and walk home in silence. Tonight though, they were asking me when I was gonna turn 21 so I could go out and party with them, Telling me to come over for BBQ's on the 4th. (I can just see it now, like all the guys from The Sandlot walking off the tilt a whirl covered in puke... but I digress). Slowly but surely I'm becoming part of the team, another gear in the well oiled machine...

In the words of the great Scotty Smalls, "They never really stopped playing, It was like a never ending dream game."

I've just gotta keep on learning to play the game.

Happy Fourth of July.

Tune in next week to hear me talk about the new pork dish were gonna run... I know cuz I pulled the three inch thick chops off the brine today... sauteed one up to taste. Damn incredible. Arguably the best por ive ever tasted... I'm contemplating coming in on my day off next week, and ordering both the pork and trout, because the trout dish were running right now is just sexy. Potato crusted with a horseradish aoli.

Still just a fat kid at heart. As you can tell... Nothing has changed...