Thursday, September 30, 2010

Time Flies

I'm currently sitting on my couch, watching Arrested Development on my roommate's netflix account, eating luke warm chinese food and savoring the hell out of my last few hours as a teenager. Its strange to think that I'm practically twenty. But when I put my life on a time line, it kind of makes sense. Twenty years ago tomorrow I was born. Fifteen years ago I started kindergarten. Twelve years ago I first put on a pair of goalie gloves. Ten years ago I got my Nintendo 64 and my Fifa love affair commenced. Seven years ago I first truly experienced the sensation that is Peyton Manning, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay. Five years ago I first set foot in the halls of Cathedral High School. Three years ago I had the game of my life, my moment in the spotlight. A year and a half ago I survived multiple attempted homicides by those damn mexican bartenders in Cancun. And three and a half months ago I came to a little restaurant in Wisconsin and my life was never the same. \

Send all gifts to:
1314 E Spaight Street
Madison, WI

Make sure to write, "Dan, keep your dirty hippy hands off of your roommate's shit" on any box or envelope you send.

I'll tell you what I'm not gonna miss about Madison, and it's Dan blabbering on and on about how I can't play too rowdy with Grizzman (the dog) because he'll scratch the floor or rip up one of his toys. That poor dog is locked in a cage all day while Dan is out doing hippy shit and I'm sorry if I just wanna help the dog release a little pent up energy.

Grizzman, I realized, is exactly like Dug from UP! They are one and the same. Grizzman is a good dog. He's funny, partially retarded, but at the same time he's pretty smart. And he likes me WAY more than Dan and it pisses Dan off. I don't care if you've had a dog for 10 years. You treat him like your prisoner, God forbid he walk into a room by himself or not roll over when you tell him to. Of course he likes the big smelly kid who acts like a dog more. I give him attention when he wants it, I let him wander around the apartment. I throw the ball when he brings it to me as opposed to saying "No Grizzman". I'm not surprised that the poor dog is always waiting at the top of the stairs come 12 30 when I make my way home. I just feel bad for the poor dog when I move out.

This reminds me, Dan left his ID out on the coffee table the other day. I was not aware but he is 31. He's 31 years old and he does nothing with his life. He has no job. He has no desire for a job. Where he gets his money is beyond me. I always just kind of assumed that he had just graduated school, but no... hes been done with school for ten years almost. Still no job. He's in West Virginia right now, paddling on some river with a bunch of his unemployed hippie friends. If I hadn't paid the security deposit myself I would totally take a massive dump right on the middle of the living room carpet the day I move out. But then either I'd never see my 550 bucks again or he'd blame it on Grizz and lock him in his cage for a week cuz he's a douche.

Yes, I am aware that I didn't write a blog on Sunday, because I was recovering. Last Friday and Saturday were absolute insanity. Friday We did 90 regular guests plus a party of thirty and a party of 16. Saturday we did 140 and a party of 30. Then after we broke down I was too jacked up on adrenaline to go home, so I sat at Graze with Chef Tory, and a few of the cooks until three in the morning. We talked football, we talked food, and we just basked in the glory of the fact that we had survived the night. Which was saying something, because at more than one moment during the night I thought my station was going to spontaneously combust... that kind of night.

I woke up at 9 on Saturday. Early I know, but I had a busy day ahead of me. I went to the Avenue Bar for breakfast. I went to the fieldhouse to see Mary play against Penn State. I got to play one of my favorite games ever with Nicola, Mary's sister. Its called "that's your (significant other)". My sister and I play it all the time. Here are the rules. You go back and forth, finding the ugliest person of the opposite sex and say, "Look... that's your girlfriend/boyfriend." Nicola won... Let's just say that the garbage woman dressed in some sort of African tribal gown with what looked like a bird's nest on her head and I are dating.

I had lunch with the whole Ording family, and watched the colts game. It was really nice. I watched football and passed out around 11 o'clock. Out of sheer exhaustion. On Monday I worked a day shift, fully prepared prepared for the biggest day of the year. I watched Monday night football at Graze and immediately after the game, I biked over to gamestop on State Street. Because at 12:01 Fifa 11 went on sale. I had preordered a copy, but HAD to be the first person in Wisconsin to get the game. I waited at the store for 1 hour and 45 minutes. In popped a five hour energy and sprinted home on my bike. I played until 4 in the morning then woke up at 10 and played for another hour before I had to go to work.

This weekend, my parents are coming to the Mad City to celebrate my birthday with me. I haven't the slightest idea where I want to go or what I want to do but hey... I'll come up with something. It'll be nice to be able to break my Sunday routine. It was really getting old.

Next weekend I fly home at 5 AM on Sunday, after getting off work at 12 30 PM on Saturday. I get to see the Colts play the Chiefs at Lucas Oil. The only game I can possibly see at Lucas Oil this year. I'm beyond excited. I however, am not excited about having to work on Monday after pulling virtually an all nighter on Saturday Night/ Sunday Morning and driving to Madison at the crack of dawn. Getting out of the car and working a 12 hr prep shift.

I've got a month left in Madison. Four weeks of cold side Garde Mo left. Then I go home for a few weeks. Theres a little dog waiting at the stairs for me. When the car pulls in, and that tail starts wagging, I don't think I'll miss L'Etoile TOO much. A few short weeks and I'll be back in the Big Apple. and 6 months later, I'll be done with school. For good. Who knows where I'll be ten years from now, heck I don't even know where I'll be one year from now. (Actually I have kind of an idea, but it's not PG). But I do know that I'm ready to get the next twenty years under way. If they're anything like the last twenty I think I'll be okay.

I'm not superstitious, but the fortune in my crappy chinese food said, "A sweet surprise awaits you." Let's hope the Chinese aren't fucking with me.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Cholula, Crazy Asian Lady Drivers, and Lots of Beef

I would like to apologize to my avid readers, Mr. Curt Hancock included, that I took a few days off from writing. There was no update on the last week, because I was just too tired to write. I worked 12 hours then drove three hours to chicago, and had a great two days with my sister. The hot dogs at Wrigley Field were unbelievable, all four of them, with relish and mustard, as all hot dogs should be enjoyed. Then, my day off on Tuesday was filled with lots of sleep and video games.

My week was once again a build up to the weekend. I progressively built up momentum until Friday and Saturday when the new menu changes took place. I had to reprep two whole dishes from scratch each day. The tomatoes and lobster dish is off, along with the octopus dish, the foie torchon, and the beet chevre salad. The new dishes included: braised baby leeks with spicy garlic blue prawns and sauce americaine; a pheasant galantine with plum wedges mascerated with soy; a new beet dish with shaved pleasant ridge reserve and crispy bread (PRR is the best cheese in America based on a recent competition); and finally, the most awesome dish on my side, and my Pride and Joy, the roasted delacata squash. We take delacata squash and slice it into rings, season it with clove, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and brown sugar, and roast it. That gets reheated to order, and separately I melt butter with tobasco, now Cholula, and smoked crab meat. I top it with popcorn seasoned with more pumpkin spice.

This dish is just me. When Tory was running through the dish I asked him, "Chef, how do you feel about Cholula?" He responded, "I fuckin love it." For those of you who do not know, Cholula is my heroine. It's the mexican hot sauce that I was introduced to at the roof ballroom by my amigos, and we ate it with everything. I bought twelve two ounce bottles online just so I could always carry some with me when I was at school. I introduced my buddies at school to it, and now that I'm back in middle America, everytime they use Cholula it's like I'm right there, in spirit. My friend/ future business partner Jon even sends me texts about all the stuff he eats with his cholula. Its kind of a big deal. And the popcorn with the dish, there's a pretty funny story about that. After I popped it I took it to Pete for him to taste, and he said to me, "Its good... Hey who's that creepy pedophile on the popcorn box?" Orville Redenbacher was my answer. "Oh yeah wasn't he from Indiana too, is that all you fuckers are good for, popping damn popcorn?" I smiled and laughed and said "Yes sir."

It was a bad sports weekend for me. Manchester United conceded 2 goals in stoppage time to blow a 3-1 lead and wound up tying Everton, and the Colts lost. But hey, I find silver lining in all sports. For Manchester United, no Rooney, and we still scored 3 goals. Berbatov, who has been a flop since he joined United, is playing out of his skin so far this season. And on to the colts. The one quarter of the game that I actually got to see was actually decent. I watched the second quarter at Bdubs after going to the avenue bar only to find out that the local CBS game was the pats and the bengals. Oh well. Its just one game any way. and Peyton plays better when hes pissed off anyways. I told all the annoying packers fans this, "The last time the colts gave up 250 yards on the ground in a loss, we went on to win the super bowl." The same defense that let Maurice Jones Drew run all over them, later shut the leagues leading rusher, Larry Johnson, down and held him to 15 yards in the playoffs. I am not worried about this season. Not one bit. Peyton Manning has proven to me that he can literally do anything. ANYTHING.

On another note, today was one of the best days of my internship. It was the day of the staff field trip to Fountain Prairie Farm, the farm that raises all of our beef. I met with Weinstein at Graze then Ed the former fish cook, now third man in charge, picked us up and drove us out to the farm along with his girlfriend. We got there and the whole staff was waiting for us. There was a massive set of bleachers on wheels being pulled behind a tractor. We jumped on, and the whole tour started.

Let me start by explaining. The beef that we get is Highland Beef, an heirloom breed of cattle from Scotland. It is grassfed then finished on hay and corn just before slaughter. It is some of the best beef I've ever had. The farm is 280 acres of beautiful pastures. They have just over 400 animals on premises. They really did their best to recreate a natural environment for the cows. Natural wetlands, lots of green pastures, and rolling hills of long grass that reminded me of the kind of stuff that I lose my balls in on golf courses. It is breath taking. The cows are extremely happy, and are free to roam around and eat whatever and whenever.

The tour led us to the top of a hill in a corner of the property that overlooked the whole farm. Had I not known that it was a farm, I would have sworn to god that I had just stumbled upon last wild herd of cattle in the world. Weinstein who was standing next to me at the top of the hill looked at me and said, "You know, this is where all beef should come from." And it makes sense. Why more people don't do it like this I don't know. All of the commercial beef in the U.S. is locked up and not allowed to move, fed hay shipped in from other pastures, and the manure produced is shipped out as hazardous waste. The cows at Fountain Prairie graze from the pastures on premises, they walk around so they are happy, and the manure they produce fertilizes the fields and keeps them green. It means less money spent by the farmers, less labor necessary from the farmers, and a happier animal which really does effect the quality of the beef.

Did I mention they have Mangalista pigs on premises... The finest pork known to man. I spent nearly an hour just sitting next to their pen, watching them. Pigs, for those of you don't know, are really entertaining animals. They're like big smelly dogs. We joke about it in my family because my parents say the reason my dog loves me so much is because I'm just like a bigger smellier dog. Which would, by the transitive property make me a pig, which also makes sense. I guess pigs have always just fascinated me. Brent one of the cooks at Graze took a picture of me, I didn't know it at the time, but he took a picture of me, kneeling down by the pigs, just kind of mesmerized by them. I'll see if I can get a copy of that picture and upload it later, but it reminded me of when I was a little kid. My first posession in this world was a stuffed pig. And it is still in my bed to this day. Pig, as he was aptly named, was my best friend as a kid. I remember my evil sister once tried to tell me that Pig was her's first then my dad stole him form her and gave him to me. I was little and just started crying and said, "I guess you can have him back." She for once in her young life, felt some sort of shame and pity, and let me keep what was rightfully mine. I would sleep with Pig under one arm, and with the other hand, I would rub his plastic eyeballs with my fingertips as I slept. It was strange, the thing I noticed most about these pigs was their eyes. They were massive, and so bright. It really made me realize what a beautiful animal the pig is, and how I have to spend my whole life making people realize that beauty.

Cows are smart animals too. They say cow can predict things, they have an extra sense. They can predict weather, natural disasters. They sensed something about me too. The finishing lot, the fenced in area where they fatten the cows up for slaughter when they're mature enough, is right by the barns. All the staff members lined the fences, and the cows seemed unbothered, but when I came to the fence, alone, the cows backed up, and formed a straight line, in exactly a twenty yard radius from me. Something about me unsettled them. I stood by that fence looking at them, and all of them were staring directly back at me. Not daring to move. They were terrified. They could see that as I looked at them, the only thing that passed through my mind was slicing their cheeks off of their faces for a sick braise and carving their ribs off of the rib loins and throwing them in a wood burning oven. As I looked at those cows, ready for slaughter, I smiled and whispered, "I'll see you in about twenty one days." (The standard aging period for all of our beef.)

(Pictured Above): Highland Beef skulls... stored behind the barn at Fountain Prairie Farm

After the farm Ed, his girlfriend Mayu, and Weinstein took me to their hidden gem in Madison. Saigon Noodle. Its a little Vietnamese noodle restaurant on the west side, but on the way, we were almost in serious trouble. Some crazy lady cut across three lanes of traffic and forced us to swerve out of our lane. Ed, who is Korean and whose japanese girl friend was in the car, caught up, flipped her the bird, then when he cooled down said, "Crazy fuckin asian lady drivers." I laughed uncontrollably for about ten minutes.

Saigon noodle was incredible. I had the #19. Its Pho Bo, beef noodle soup, with tripe and soft tendon. I added chili oil and lime juice like I always did at school. It was amazing. Some of the best stuff I've ever had, it put the CIA stuff to shame.

Well I've gotta work a morning shift and its getting late so I'd better go. I hope my extra writing made up for the weeklong absence of blogging... take it easy.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's official, Im the badass at L'Etoile.

Today was one of the longest of my days at L'Etoile. We only did 32 covers and I was smooth running all day, but when I explain what happened to me yesterday, hopefully it will all make sense.

Tuesday, I came in to work a day shift. Scott the pastry cook was covering my shift on the line because my bosses wanted me to inventory the whole restaurant, and Graze while I was at it. It is the end of the month and that is how things go. Usually, each cook inventories his/her own food and the sous chefs cover every thing else... but hey, they've got Mikey the intern who does anything they tell him to with a smile on his face and a pep in his step. "Mikey you're working like nine days next week. You might just wanna bring a sleeping bag and sleep in dry storage." When I laughed and responded "Ok I can do that." Not fully knowing whether Pete was joking or not, my bossestold me I'm no fun and they want me to seem like I'm suffering or something. So instead I got to count and weigh every single food item in house for two large restaurants. This task included shivering in our walk in freezer for ten minute intervals until I started to feel hypothermia set in and decided to start weighing the baking goods. Then I'd go back in the freezer and eventually, my socks were frozen to my feet and my fingers were completely numb. And when Pete came upstairs around 6 and said ,"Oh thanks Mikey, we were going to have the porter inventory the freezer, you can go whenever" I felt like ripping my own hair out.

I set out for my new favorite pizza joint, Pizza di Roma, for a quick slice, then started my bike ride home. I was five blocks away from home when it happened. I was riding my bike along East Washington in the designated bike lane, when some ass hole decided to cut in front of me and turn right while I was going through an intersection. It was still broad day light but I don't think he saw me and I swerved to try and avoid him, I skidded along my left side and he knicked my front tire in the process. I guess I didn't yell loud enough or make enough contact with his car, because he drove off like nothing happened. I quickly jumped up, pissed beyond belief, only to realize that he was out of sight. I looked down at my left leg and it was bleeding. A lady in a mini van pulled over and checked on me. I thanked her, and jumped on my bike. By the time I got home The blood from my knee was half way down my shin, and I realized then that my foot was scraped up and my right hand was scraped too. I wasn;t in any real pain so I just kind of shrugged it off. My bike was fine, and I had escaped with a few cuts and bruises, no biggy. No need to call the cops. It was pointless.

But after I rode across town to visit my friend Mary and I was on my way home, my knee started to hurt, and so did my hip a little. I knew this hip pain, as it has been my Achilles heel for about 4 years now. I call it goalkeeper's hip, because after all these years of diving and throwing myself in harms way, landing akwardly time after time after fully extending myself horizontally 5 feet off the ground, my pelvis has given up. It's rotated at like a 40 degree angle and any kind of sudden stress to either hip will cause it to pop, But I know how to deal with it, I do these little stretches that ease the muscle back into place and within a few days all is good. I went to bed hoping all would be well.

I woke up, however, feeling like I had been runover by a train. I had a headache, my hip was aching, my knee was slightly swolen, and my foot was pounding. I popped a tylenol extra strength, iced down my knee, did my stretches, and set out for work. I got to work and Chris the chef at Graze said "Holy shit Mikey you alright." I was noticeably limping. I told him what happened, he laughed and asked what kind of car it was. I said it was a silver camry. He said "Oh shit my brother in law drives a silver camry. Im gonna call my wife." Turns out it wasn't his brother in law. Pete saw me limping and asked the same question. He asked me if I needed to go home. I looked him in the eye and said, "No sir, I'm fine." He pulled me aside and said, "Mikey, don't be a fucking hero, if you need to go, go." I said I was good and went back to setting up my station. Pete yelled from across the kitchen. "Hey Mikey, Aaron's sick again with an upset stomach, I can't to tell his ass you came in after getting hit by a car. Intern's got balls!"

I hobbled my way around the kitchen, news of my exploits spread all over the building, and even Graze servers were coming up to check on me. I couldn;t really bend over to get into my low boy easily, and going up the stairs was rough, but I managed to get everything done with relative ease. Service was rough, after being on my feet for five hours, my left leg started to tighten up, and I did everything I could to keep it loose. I eventually developed more of a limp as the day went on, and the scab on my knee opened up towards the end of service. Weinstein noticed that I was bleeding through my chef pants. I did what a cook would do, as soon as my board was clear of tickets I ran upstairs to the changing room with a box of plastic wrap. I padded my knee with paper towels and wrapped it in plastic. Then changed into a new pair of pants.

I came back down and finished the night. I rode home, and sat down on the couch. My whole body aches. I don't even want to get up to turn a fan on.

Tomorrow will be rough too, but I've just got to make it through Saturday. Saturday night Anna is coming up from Chicago to pick me up. Were heading straight back to Chicago to her new apartment and I'll stay until Monday night. We're going to a cubs game. I really could care less about baseball or the cubs for that matter, but I have been craving a hot dog for about three months, and I know I'll get a damn good one or five at Wrigley. Only I would pay twenty bucks for a ticket to stand in line and pay 5 bucks for a hot dog and a coke, when I could buy twelve of each for the same price at home. Hey, it's all about the setting.

Tune in Monday when I rant about how no one should ever put ketchup on a hot dog. Hopefully I'll be walking straight by then.

P.S. this made me feel a hell of a lot better when I got home. Just watch it. You will probably only kind of regret it.