Sunday, August 29, 2010

Into the Fire

I am officially a line cook at one of the best restaurants in the country, working for one of the best chefs in the country, with a crew made up of some badass cooks who all really want to help turn me into a badass line cook too. This place is freaking awesome.

Let me start off by describing my station... cold side garde manger. I am responsible for seven... count em... seven dishes, plus cheese plates. The most any other cook is responsible for is three. With the new tasting menu option, which most diners choose, means that for each guest, I am responsible for two or even some times 3 dishes per person. You can see how crazy it would be to be me on a night like tonight when we serve 130 people and my station puts up around 300 plates.

I come in at 1, and prep my station. My dishes include the house salad with a sherry vinaigrette; Beef carpaccio with a salad of arugala, peavine, and radish in a sherry truffle vinaigrette; Pan seared pork belly with a musk melon carpaccio, quick pickled watermelon, and soy glazed cantelope balls; Heirloom tomatoes with toasted bread, lobster and corn salad, chili oil, and a tomato seed vinaigrette; foie gras torchon on top of a maple brioche round with frisee and blueberry gastrique; salad of grilled octopus with fennel, olives, parsley, and a chili lime vinaigrette; and finally warm beets served over sheeps milk cheese craime fraiche topped with arugala and garnished with candied hickory nut.

The tickets come in by the course, and have a ten minute fire window. At any given time I can have up to eight or nine tickets in the window, and each ticket can have any number of guests on it. For example, in a window of ten minutes tonight, I had a ten top, (a table with ten guests), a five top, and a deuce. thats seventeen dishes that require a lot of personal touch, in under ten minutes. It gets crazy, but when I lose control, one of the other guys jumps in and helps me clear my board and get all the plates out on time.

Here is a play by play of one twenty minute window at my station. It's the start of the night, the first diners have been sat. Nate the expo guy comes over and hands me a pair of tickets. "You're in the game Mikey, apps in." I put the two tickets up on the board and read them. The first ticket reads "2 Carpaccio (T) 1 Soup (T) 2 Beet (T) on the four o" I call out Fire one soup taster (thats that the (T) stands for) to let the hot side garde manger guy know that he has a soup up in ten minutes at 5 40... thats that the "40" on the ticket stands for. Get a sautee pan and place two portions of beets drizzle it with oil and season them. place them in the salamander to heat them up. Then I set two carpaccio plates down, and two salad plates. I spoon and spread a round of the creme fraiche on the plate then I set two pre wrapped carpaccio's down on the plates and season them with sea salt and pepper. "Apps in." Ive got another pair of tickets. First courses. "Fire one belly reggay, one soup reggay on the four five" reggay means regular portions. I hand a piece of braised pork belly to Weinstein the hot side guy and he sears it off in a pan. I make a salad of peavine and arugala and radish and plate it on top of each carpaccio, set those in the window. "Weinstein, let me get those beets" weinstein hands me the hot pan of beets as i set a plate of thinly sliced muskmelon. The beets go on top of the creme fraiche. I make a salad of arugala, olive oil, salt. Tasts. Plate the salad, sprinkle a few candied hickory nuts on top of each salad. "Weinstein comin up on a soup Taster on the four o". He responds, "soup being plated" when I hear him say, "hot bowl" I know that he has put up a soup so I send out the beets and I sell the ticket. Now I Mix some diced watermelon with a salty brine and some red onion, place that down on the center of the melon plate. Take the melon balls and dress them with a soy based vinaigrette, plate those and drizzle a little of the vinaigrette around the plate. "Weinstien, I'll take that belly, coming up on one soup reggay." He places the sautee pan on my line with the crispy pork belly still sizzling away. I drain it on a paper towel, set it on top of the pickled watermelon, garnish it with microgreens. I hear Weinstein call, "soups up in thirty seconds." I place my plate in the window and sell that ticket. The second courses for my first table are ten minutes out now. Its time t fire that ticket. "Fire Gnocchi Taster, agnolotti Taster". The other dishes on the ticket require no work from Weinstein so I dont call out anything. I fire toast a brioche round for the torchon, I fire a sizzle pan of octopus and a pan blanc crouton all in the salamander. I set out a small blue plate, and two salad plates. I slice three different varieties of heirloom tomatoes and season each with sea salt and pepper. Those go on a plate. I pull the foie gras torchon from my low boy, (the small fridge under neath my line). I slice it, I mix a salad of fennel, olives, parsley leaves, and chili lime vinaigrette. Season it, taste it. Its good. I mix a little bit of liquid from the blue berry gastrique with frisee and that goes on the blue plate. "Weinstein, I'll take the octo and croutons." He sets them on my line. I drizzle a little maple syrup on the brioche round, and set the foie on top of that. It goes on the plate with the frisee. I dump the octo in the bowl with the fennel and olive salad. I mix a salad of lime aoli, grilled corn, lobster, fines herbs, and shallot. That goes on the plate with the sliced tomatoes and the white bread crouton. I sprinkle sea salt on the foie gras, drizzle some of the blueberry liquid on the plate, that goes up. "Weinstein, coming up on an agnolotti taster and a gnocchi taster." He confirms. I finish the tomato plate with some chiffonade basil, sarvecchio cheese, drizzle some chili oil around the plate and do the same with some tomato seed vinaigrette. I mix the octopus in the salad, plate that and drizzle some chili lime vinaigrette around the plate. That goes up. Sell that ticket.

Thats only two tables. I'm usually working four or five tables at a time. It gets hectic and I usually have to call over someone to help me out.

Im really tired because I volunteered to make sausages for graze this morning on my own time because Pete is worried about my hours. I work over seventy hours and I guess my overtime is becoming a problem budget wise for the restaurant. If he were really worried about my hours he'd give me a day off instead of letting me get out of an extra twenty minutes of cleaning after service one night a week.

They really are holding me to a high standard too. I have to move as fast as everyone else and I don't get thrown an extra escape line when I'm in the weeds. They even expect me to do more shit than the other guys who have worked my station before me.

Pete the sous chef would take care of all of the big things for Jed and Guapo. He would simmer the octopus and clean it and grill it. He would devein the foie gras. They had me to clean corn and portion cheeses for them while I was the day cook. But when I'm on the station they expect me to be able to take care of all of it. Because they want me to learn how to do it all and they don;t want me to cut any corners. I am learning more about food than I ever thought Imaginable. I am getting me ass kicked in the process and every night when I get home I feel like I got hit by a truck, but it feels good.

I've lost a lot of weight since I've been here. I eat one meal a day because I'm too tired to cook for myself when I'm home now and I ride my bike every where.

Today, my day off, I slept in until 2. I've descovered something about the restaurant biz in this week. Each week is like training for a marathon. You work up Monday through Thursday preparing for an ass kicking on Friday and Saturday. Then (if you are of age) go and get belligerently drunk and take Sunday as a hangover day. Then Monday through Thursday you regain your rhythm and get your ass kicked for forty eight hours. On Friday night you might wake up in a cold sweat remembering that you only have a quart of Octopus grilled off and you need at least three times that much to get through a Saturday service, (yes this happened to me).

This week was a bad week to be a Colts fan in Wisconsin. The pre-season whalloping at the hands of Green Bay meant that every single person at my work had to bring up that pick Peyton threw, or that bulldozing that Addai got. I simply tell them that the colts have lost 4 preseason games almost every year, and theyre always a Super Bowl contender. Aaron Rodgers my ass. I don't talk a lot at work, but the cooks saw what a fireball I can be, during prep on Friday. Aaron the new meat cook was talking about how Jermichael Findley was going to be the best tight end the league has ever seen. I turned around and pointed my steel at him. I got legitimately angry and yelled at the top of my lungs, "FUCKING DALLAS CLARK ASS HOLE!" I turned back around and returned to steeling my knife. Everyone in the kitchen erupted in laughter.

This next week should be a fun one. I hope I can keep the pace improving. It is my goal for this week to be able to finish a service without someone jumping on my line and bailing me out. We'll see how that goes. For now I'm going to lunch at the Avenue bar to watch some sports and for dinner I think I'll order chinese. It's been months since I've had chinese. I just hope this place is as good as or better than Yeung Ho's in Poughkeepsie.



Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Actual Conversations Between My Boss and I... Today

Today, as I walked out of my house to go to work, at 7 35, I unchained my bike, and took a solid five petals. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice yell ,"Yo! Mikey! Better not be fuckin late or you're fired!" followed by that familiar cackle that I've grown to know all too well... I looked over my shoulder to see my boss, Tory, walking to his car. Turns out the house I now live in is on the same street as my boss' house. Did he offer me a ride? Of course not. Cuz I'm the intern.

For those of you who haven't seen me in three months or so, or haven't seen me at all, I've been growing somewhat of a beard for the past few weeks. Except its really only a neck beard... as seen above. I don't necessarily like it, I'm just way too lazy to shave it, and part of me really wants to have a beard like my idol, Zach Galifianakis. And yes, it does make me look somewhat Amish.

Today, I had a busy prep list waiting for me when I got to work. Graze needed me to shuck two bus tubs of oysters because they're running an oyster po boy, and they needed 40 trout filleted and pin boned. L'Etoile needed me to set my usual stocks, roast beef bones, along with roasting beets, curing bacon, cleaning shrimp, peeling potatoes, portioning cheese for cheese plates, and last but not least, making a 5x batch of fresh pasta, a la well method, and making at LEAST 100 orders of the sheeps milk agnolotti for a wedding party were doing on Saturday. I was in the weeds before I started... THEN Chef Tory, the guy who can tell me to do anything no matter how ridiculous it may seem, and I have to do it, came into the kitchen and told me he needed me to come to the farmers market with him today. I of course, dropped everything I was doing, asked the bakers to keep an eye on my roasting bones and beets, and followed him out to the market.

We stopped by a few stalls and bought various produce items, watermelons, cantelope, salad greens, zucchini, peaches, plums, tomatoes, radishes, green beans, and some new potatoes. We had so much food that we couldn't fit it all in our wagons, we had two, so I was sent back to make two more trips to collect everything that we had purchased.

As we were walking from stall to stall Chef and I were talking. He said, "Mikey, how in the hell do you pronounce your name." I told him the correct pronunciation, "Kolazay". And he responded, "And thats gotta be some kind of Polish." I told him it was Czech, and he said ,"OK I can dig it, you ever had any Czech pork products. They kill more fuckin pigs than the Italians." I responded with, "No, but that fact makes me very proud of my heritage." Chef stopped and looked at me and said, "Is there a large Czech Amish population in Indiana?" He winked and followed it up with that cackle... Chef's got jokes.

My days are getting longer. Im in around 7 45 every morning and dont leave before 8 pm. I don't get that extra day off like the other cooks yet, so my next pay check is gonna be fat. Pete, the sous chef, thinks I'm working to much. I tell him I really don't care, I tell him that I'd rather be at work than at my apartment with no AC, a strange unemployed roommate and no cable.

Sad thing is thats the truth.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Big Changes Ahead

Well... It is officially my favorite time of the year. The unbearable heat in the midwest is slowly dying down, across the pond English Premier League Soccer is kicking off, and the Colts resume what I assume to be another successful campaign.

I had my first real moment in the spotlight as a cook on Monday, and it was awesome. My dear friend Mary's mother and older sister (who I discovered is an avid reader of my blog... I have an actual audience!!!) were in town helping her move to her new apartment. I was working a late shift because three of the cooks were doing a private dinner at a VIP diner's home. I was in the walk in and Mia (the hostess who thinks I'm insane because I freaked out when she told mer her name because thats the name of my dog who I currently miss more than anything in the world and is probably in Indy, laying on my bottom bunk waiting for her boy to come home) came back and asked me if I had an African Mother. I didn't know what to think. Me being a sick perverted person thought immediately that she was commenting on my butt, which does look quite nice in checkered chef pants. I responded with a stifled "Uhhh... nooooo?" She proceeded to tell me that there was a woman in the dining room who said that she was my African mother and that she needed a table. It hit me, Mary's parents are from South Africa... and for the past year and a half, the Ording household has been like a second home to me. About a half hour later, there was a lull in the kitchen, no tickets, and I had nothing to do for a few minutes. Krys, the FOH manager looked at me and said, "Mikey, you busy?" I told him I wasn't. He told me to take off my apron and go out into the dining room.

Let me start by saying that NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE except for Chef is allowed out into the dining room during service. And the fact that they were letting me, the 19 year old intern, with a scruffy ass beard, and clogs that were covered in flour because I had earlier made an 8x batch of pasta dough by hand the old fashioned way, out into the brand new ritzy dining room full of guests was HUGE. The two ladies were seated at a table, both facing away from the kitchen, and WIlliam, their server was facing me, explaining the menu. They had no idea I was coming. William looked up and saw me, smiled and waited for me to tap them both on the shoulders. They both jumped a little and Mrs. O let out a little scream then madness ensued. I was greeted with the usual bear hug and barrage of kisses on the cheek that I always get from Mrs. O. Then I stood by their table for a few minutes and chatted with them while Mrs. O grabbed my hand and petted my arm. It was just a little akward because all of the servers and diners were watching me interact with my guests. I thanked them over and over for coming and suggested menu items for each of them, then eventually pried my arm away form Mrs. O's iron grip and made my way back to the kitchen, with a bug stupid grin on my face.

When I walked back into the kitchen there was a mixed reception from the staff. A few asked if that was my girlfriend who "molested" me in the dining room. And a few of them asked if they could get the other girl's number. I, of course, said no to both. (Nicola you're welcome, because I successfully diverted Steven, the creepy little bartender who already asked me to hook him up with your sister).

My sublet at 511 W Doty St has come to an end, and Craigslist came through in the clutch. On Thursday I signed a new sublet for three months in a house East of the capitol, in a 2 bedroom flat with another guy and a black lab named Grismond. Friday night I got off work and had dinner with my parents at Graze. Then the fun started. They cleaned my apartment like crazy while I pretended to pack, take out garbage, and move boxes to the Uhaul van (I was actually watching Whale Wars...) We Got to work around 8 30 and left around 11 30. We stayed the night in our hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express. The next morning we were at it again, tying up loose ends and getting my keys turned back in.

For those of you who aren't aware, Madison, for one weekend a year, turns into a hell hole. August 14 and 15 is the time when all the crazies come out, This weekend is the weekend when ALL leases are up on campus and mostly all around the city. That means that about 20 thousand students and thousands of other civilians, are all moving out of old apartments, and into new ones. Friday night, I left my sofa, a couple of bar stools, and my coffee table out on the curb for the hippies to come by and take back to their caves and hemp huts. The streets were packed with moving vans, pickup trucks, and dump trucks, and the sidewalks were littered with sofas, old crappy love seats, TV's, desks, etc.

This is my last week on the day shift... On friday I was informed that I start working the line in a week. They think I'm ready. I know I am. The only thing I am worried about is that I won't be the house butcher/ charcutier like I was while I worked the day shift. That is my true passion. Don't get me wrong, I really want to get on the line and kick some ass, but as I said in my blog last week, my heart is with meat.

At dinner on Friday night I explained to my parents my plan to become a butcher. My mom laughed and said that she knew this. Since I could talk my mom has said that ,"Mike will either grow up to be a stand up comedian, or an axe murderer." I'm not gonna lie, I could get used to this whole writing thing too. My friend Ryan says I need to use spell check a little more often, but most of the reviews I get from this little blog are pretty good. so she could be pretty damn well dead on.

Working the line at a fine dining restaurant is a great honor, especially the fact that they think I'm capable, but frankly, I'd rather be cranking out sausage, curing bacon, and hacking apart ducks. But there will be time for that later. I've gotta make these guys see that I've got what it takes. I've gotta impress, and I've gotta take advantage of an opportunity when it is presented.

I have come to the decision over the past few weeks, also, that I will only be completing the Associates Degree program at the CIA. I really don't have time or money to waste on a business education when all I really wanna do is... well... cut meat. I will probably stay in New York for a while after school to work also, because that is where all the coolest stuff is going down food wise in the US. I know I'm a Midwestern boy at heart, and have previously stated that I could never ever live in New York City, but my love of pork has driven me out of my small town mentality. And if riding the subway or paying 2800 a month for a one room apartment is what I've got to do to learn from the best, its what I'm going to do.

Tomorrow Manchester United opens their season at home against Newcastle. I'm predicting a 3-1 win with goals from Valencia, Chicharito, and Rooney.

I, start my life in my new apt. tomorrow night too. Wish me luck.

Tune in next week to hear me freak out about starting the line in the morning.



Sunday, August 8, 2010


This week was a bit different. With the staff upstairs desparate for help, my boss decided to switch my shift to a day shift. Basically, I come in at 8 every morning and help Graze prep, because their basic day staff cannot be trusted to prep a lot of things that they need for the day. At least thats how Nate, the sous chef, explained it to me as I butchered 50 trout on my first morning shift. I do things like prep and blanch veggies, make sausage, butcher fish, butcher chickens, and brine all items that need to be brined. Then, I work from 1 til around 6 for L'Etoile. and my duties remain the same.

This week was different in more than one way... I actually had guests.

On Sunday my mom came to visit, and we had Brunch at Graze. On Monday, my Aunt and Uncle came to dinner at L'Etoile, and because I dont work nights anymore, I got to go to dinner with them. We Got The HOOOOKUP! We placed our orders, and Ed, the fish cook, sent me a whole bowl of Uni creamed corn, and they continued to send out additional dishes with each course. I was amazed when they sent the bill. We had easily gotten 250 dollars worth of food and they charged 60. It was absolutely incredible.

On Tuesday night, I decided upon my future...

My good friend from CIA, Jon Petela, and I had a discussion about a proposal via facebook. He asked me if I'd go into business with him in ten or twenty years, and then proceded to tell me all about his plans to open up a specialty charcuterie and cheese shop and have a restaurant attached. I was hooked. It's seriously something that I've always wanted to do. Charcuterie, for those of you who don't know, is the art of butchering, and preserving meat through curing, fermenting, etc. It also includes things like sausage making and smoked meats. Jon told me he reads my blog all the time, and that he has seriously always wanted to do this, he just didn't know who would do it with him. Then one day it hit him, "Mike... He's my guy". I've been thinking about it a lot since I've been here, but really the things that I enjoy doing the most when I am at work is doing stuff like butchering chickens, ducks, pheasants, making bacon, making sausage, making duck confit, and the list goes on. I don't mind cleaning corn, peeling potatoes, making stocks, and other things I do on a daily basis, but I know what I want to do. I have a plan too. During school next year, Jon and myself will spend ALL of our available time in New York studying up. We are both going to talk to the Chefs in the Meat Room and ask for opportunities to work for free for their side businesses. Chef Elia owns a sausage shop. We'll go to farms around the area and learn the finer points of cheese making, dairy production, etc. Coach Farms is owned by the people who own the coach handbag company, and they produce some of the best goat cheese in the country. Did I mention that they are Mario Batali's parents in-law. The same Mario Batali whose father owns one of the greatest salumi (Italian meat curing/ specialty butcher) shops in the country. You can see a connection. I want to work for butchers in the city on weekends. I want to get connected with the best charcutiers in the city. And when I'm done with school, I want to search out the best butchers, sausage makers, and charcutiers in the country and work for them. I want to learn EVERYTHING I can, here and abroad in Europe, if the opportunity presents itself. And, when the time is right, Jon and I will open up our shop and restaurant. I'm excited to start this business venture when I roll into New York in November.

I have been given a new nickname by the guys at Graze too, and I believe that it is fitting. On Saturday morning, I came in to work to find the Graze staff reeling to get set up for weekend Brunch service. They had no sausage. So, I ran downstairs and ground 15 pounds of pork shoulder, miked it in a hobart with some sage, ginger, garlic, maple syrup, salt, and a "shit house" of black pepper. Bam... fresh bulk breakfast sausage. I know because I saved about a quarter of a pound of it and fried it up for myself. One of the many perks of working in the L'Etoile kitchen before anyone arrives... you can practically do whatever the hell you want within reason. Then Chris, the chef de cuisine at Graze, ran downstairs to ask me to make a weeks worth of kielbasa for them. I ground belly and shoulder, mixed them with spices and herbs and a little bit of ice water, cased the force meat. Then I spent the better part of a half hour rolling my 9 sets of sausage, about 40 links each... 360 links of perfect little kielbasas. Then I read the note Ryan the meat cook left me... he had 8 orders of merguez, our lamb and red wine sausage that we run with the pheasant, left. So I cranked out 10 pounds of that. Before I knew it the guys at Graze were calling me sausage boy.

On Wednesday the day that I've been impatiently waiting for finally came. After about two months of talk, my buddies finally came to visit. Adam, Ryan and Dani came up from Indy... FINALLY. They got here on Wednesday night, right after I got off work. We went to dinner at Graze. They loved it. But the cookies for dessert stole the show.

On Thursday, we went to L'Etoile for dinner. I got so much shit from my bosses for coming twice in a week. They were just messing with me though. I have to say I was a little embarrassed when everyone at the table ordered the steak. I had already picked mine out earlier, I wrapped it in plastic and labeled it "for Mikey" just so my boss got the picture. There was no turning back. The steak, for all those who are wondering, is the safe pick. It's the option for everyone who doesn't know what branzino, uni, or merquez is, and is frankly too afraid to try something new. I got the steak because its the only thing on the menu I HAVENT had yet! My friends were out of their element. Ryan still had his sunglasses on his head and Nancy, our server, had to ask him to take them off. Dani and Adam had no idea what anything on the menu was, and Adam especially thought it was strange that we were serving "unicorn" on the menu. He couldn't understand that it was "uni-corn"... the single greatest thing on the menu.

I took care of the ordering for everyone though and I think they all enjoyed it. They had no idea what any of it was, but they liked it.

With the arrival of Ryan Kennedy... came the return of my addiction. I hadn't played Fifa in over a month, but it is a tradition that when Ryan Kennedy and Mike Kolodzej are in front of a TV with a video game console... we play Fifa... and I ALWAYS come out on top... ALWAYS. But not this time. We played upwards of 15 games and I won three. My rustiness showed and Fifa has become Ryan's life since I came to Madison. I'm determined to get the better of him again. I will play for 9 hours a day if I have to, but come November, I will reclaim my crown.

I can't remember the last time I was this tired. I'm still on my sleep schedule from my old shift where I got off at midnight, and stayed up til 3. This whole week, I didn't go to bed until at least 2 30, and was up at 7 AM to go to work. I don't know how I survived, but I did.

Ladies and Gentlemen... that time of year has again come. This morning, I had the pleasure of watching Manchester United plow through Chelsea 3-1 in the ceremonial exhibition season kick-off match that is the Community Shield. This game whetted my appetite. And tonight, the football season officially kicks off in Canton, Ohio.

This is my last week in my apartment, and I have no place to live yet. I can only afford a three month lease, and no place is offering them. I have to be out on Saturday by noon... If anyone who is reading this has any suggestions as to what I should do to get a place to stay, feel free to make them... I AM DESPERATE.

Thanks for reading.

Wish me luck in my quest to not be homeless.