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.



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