Monday, June 28, 2010

Adventures of a kitchen slave, pt. 2

Day 2:
Any disappointment in not getting to employ my knife skills on my first day has been thoroughly obliterated. Asked to make 2 gallons of pico de gallo, I know just what to gather from the walk-in: ripe tomatoes, Serrano chilies, fresh cilantro, juicy limes and yellow onions. Only the amounts needed are laughable compared to the usual amounts needed in my home kitchen. I return with a crate (yes, a crate!) of Roma tomatoes. In the next hour, I grow to hate these tomatoes. All tomatoes, actually. They are notoriously hard to cut. Soft flesh covered by a waxy skin, tomatoes are a good test for any sharp knife. At some point during this project, I question sharing my ability to make kick-ass pico (a favorite in my house), for fear that they will deem me the official pico-de-gallo maker. The kitchen seems oddly quiet, so quietly hum to myself an anti-tomato tune.
Aiming to never be idle, I make a habit of asking the cooks on the line what prep I can help them with. Someone says they need salmon portioned out for that night's service. "How's your fish fabrication", someone asks. "Um, ok?", I think. Let the record show that I have portioned many-a salmon filet in my home kitchen, but the thought of doing it here instantly caused my cheeks to flush, my face pulsing with heat. Like a true rookie, I left my filet knife at home (hey, I didn't even get to use a knife on my last shift!), but luckily a sympathetic co-worker helped me out. I meticulously searched for bones...I will just DIE if someone sends their salmon back tonight after choking on a bone. I trim the fish (a little too much, in retrospect), and begin to attempt eye-balling 7oz. portions. The scale doesn't lie...some diners got lucky that night (8oz portions), some less fortunate (<7oz). Searching for approval, I ask one of the cook's how my filets look..."ok", he replies and shrugs. A lifelong perfectionist, this will not work for me. "No really", I say, "I don't want to F anything up, please tell me what I can do better!". He says he will help me, but I have to say fuck. Oh my, I'm not at Gymboree anymore! I oblige him. "Well, your cuts could be a little straighter."
Within a few hours, this quiet kitchen is transformed...via Ipod! Each playlist seems to bring a new flavor to the kitchen. These line cooks, while hustling, begin to sing and dance! The clatter of pots & pans, knives tapping on the cutting boards, the ticking of the printer tape spitting out new was like culinary STOMP! The restaurant manager tells me he can "moonwalk in kitchen clogs." I knew I liked these people.

Adventures of a kitchen slave

This is an adventure tale. After 2 semesters of culinary school, I finally found someone willing to let my inexperienced (but enthusiastic) booty into their kitchen. As of last Thursday, I am the newest intern at Hotel Laguna and their two food service operations. The Terrace is an oceanfront lounge serving classic California cuisine. Claes is their fine dining establishment, featuring panoramic ocean views from the dining room. "Be bold, and the mighty forces will come to your aid". This is the advice that my wonderful fiance offered me to calm the nerves of my first day. Hands trembling, I tried to put this advice into action. I'm not sure what I expected, but these rough-looking kitchen people turned out to be extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Before my shift, I sharpened my favorite Wustof chef's knife (aka: my baby) to a razor-sharp edge, ready to hone my cutting skills. I didn't get to cut a single thing. Instead, I spent the first 3 hours organizing the walk-in refrigerator, stacking and labeling shelves of ripe berries, an abundance of leafy green vegetables, and my favorite...a wall of assorted cheeses. I found the 35 degree temperature to be a refreshing change from the sweaty kitchen, until my shoe came untied and my frozen fingers were completely incapable of doing anything about it. One of the cooks entered, and through my broken spanish (and his proficient english), we exchanged introductions. He collected his necessary food items, and I'm pretty sure told me that I was the color of white asparagus. "Blanca" I said sarcastically, instantly picturing myself as Nancy Botwin from Weeds. "It's a beautiful color", he added, as he smiled and left. Later, I was offered a tutorial on the best way to sweep the floor. One of the cook's told me the head chef used to help out the custodial staff at the private school he attended. I could tell he was editing this story (aka leaving out the good stuff), but the advice was to sweep with 2 short strokes, followed by a sweeping motion. It left me doing a little shuffle around the kitchen, push-push-sweep. I can't wait until everyone is comfortable enough to tell me the good stuff...the full story. That night, I float home on a cloud of self-congratulation. At 30, I'm making steps to follow my passion.