Monday, August 23, 2010

Adventures of a kitchen slave pt. 5, Awareness of the cycle

We are all on a spiral path. No growth takes place in a straight line. There will be setbacks along the way... There will be shadows, but they will be balanced by patches of light and fountains of joy as we grow and progress. Awareness of the pattern is all you need to sustain you along the way.

I wanted to cry and go home. Last friday, I managed to screw up everything I touched. Feeling crappy, preoccupied with my upcoming move to a new house, run down from my hectic schedule, my head was not in the game. I tried unsuccessfully to institute some self-imposed attitude adjustments throughout my shift. My incompetence persisted. When searing some mahi mahi steaks for a banquet, I forgot to season them with salt & pepper?!?! What is wrong with me?? When flipping the sheet tray of fish onto the grill (la plancha), the tray hit a basket of blanching water, splashing water onto the grill & the fish. Result? No sear, more of a steaming method :( The tomato concasse that I spent all afternoon on burned in the oven. I had mistaken the a speck of dust for the dot on the temperature dial (these ovens are so old...the speck & the dot look almost identical) and the tomatoes burned within 30 minutes. I returned from my break to find my tomatoes crispy and charred. Just so you can share in my pain, let me recap the process of tomato concasse (french cooking 101). Start with a crate of tomatoes (large volumes of food are becoming common to me now). They are first cored, and small X shape slits are cut on the bottom...not piercing the meat of the tomato, just the skin. Next they are blanched in boiling water (just enough for the skin to peel away easily, but not cooking the tomato). After cooling in an ice bath, I peel each one. Then, they are quartered and seeded, leaving petal-shaped pieces. They are then lined up on sheet pans lined with parchment paper (this was enough for 4 large sheet trays) and sprinkled with chopped garlic, shallots, and thyme. Olive oil is drizzled lightly on top. They should roast at 250 F for about an hour. This whole process took up about 2.5 hours of my afternoon. In my frustration over my burned tomatoes, I burned my arm too (the burn resembles a cyclops smiley face). Instead of applying ice or burn cream, I decided to leave the burn as a reminder to double check the temperate (masochist streak?). Carrying the trays of tomatoes to the trash can, one of the cooks says "Crispy!", I grumble something in return. Did you just say "f@*ck you?" he says? No, but I thought it. That night, walking to my car, feeling defeated, I was reminded of the above quote from Ano Ano. On so many nights I have practically skipped back to my car on my cloud of self-congratulation. This is all part of the cycle. Awareness of the cycle will sustain me.

Fast forward a few days, my outlook is improving. I learn how to fabricate lamb...taking the rack down the bone (this is called "frenching"). The result is like a lamb lollipop. The sous chef says "I think you have a natural aptitude for this cooking stuff". My heart swells with pride from this one little, well-timed compliment. Later, I get the chance to practice my new skill. Sadly, the owner of the hotel passed away, losing his battle with cancer. His memorial and reception (at the hotel) means huge numbers of people to feed. I stay there until 1:30am the night before, hands aching, prepping rack after rack of lamb (enough to feed the expected 800 people). I never met the owner (heard he was quite the foodie), but I consider this hard work my simple tribute to him. The weekend, with the memorial service, the 2 restaurants still open for business, and a previously scheduled wedding at the hotel, was an incredible production. New faces filled the kitchen, chefs and former employees there to help for the day. It was an amazing thing to be a part of. This huge effort...loads of preparation, mountains of cheese and fruit, tray after tray of canapes, boatloads of food! The result was a sort of controlled chaos, but from outside the kitchen you would have never known. At the end of the night the chef gathers the few remaining employees around. "Are you guys proud of yourselves?", he asks. "Because I am proud of you!" The cycle has come full circle. Yep, I'm pretty proud of me too.


  1. You're a warrior LB! Next time you burn yourself, try to burn a toque for your cyclops smiley face. :)

  2. I continue to be impressed by your Super-Human abilities not only in the cooker but in the cooker of life. It gets hot in there, and awareness of the cycle is inspiring to remember! Love you sis