Slow go

Starting a new job was once a fun exciting venture in my eyes.  I thrilled at meeting new people and learning new things.  Lately, however, I have come to realize how much I dislike starting new jobs.  Call me a homebody, but I like the familiarity of a kitchen I have worked in for an extended period of time.

The first week is bad, but it’s the second and third week that are the worst for me.  In week one you are run through everything at least once, forgiving yourself if it takes an hour to complete a task.  But week two and three I really start to struggle.  Each task still involves hurdles, takes way too long, and I stop giving myself so much room for failure.

Just weighing out a recipe seems to be painful.  Each ingredient must be found, and can sometimes involve quite a hunt.  I knew where the sugar was last week, but I used all of it and don’t know where we store the back up, if there is a back up, and all the while scold myself for not having enough forethought to check on this to get a bag on the next delivery.  Then I go through the same process looking for butter.  And do we even have pine nuts?  Should I bother looking or just run to the store?

These past few weeks I have been spending most of my time doing research and development.  There is not a big need for my presence in the kitchen during service yet, so I have been coming in early in the morning with the kitchen all to myself, and testing ideas.  Honestly, it’s not something I have really done before.  Sure, I’d bake a test cake or two at Eva if putting a late summer fruit coffee cake on the menu.  But the humility and simplicity of the dishes I served there didn’t need anything close to research and development.  I just knew that serving that coffee cake with caramelized cinnamon ice cream would work, and a simple fruit sauce would easily dot the plate.

These days, however, the dishes on the menu are a big step away from the my first tries.  The concepts stay true in my head, but finding a starting point is a bit more difficult.  We are playing with a peanut butter and jelly tart that started out as a dish for a trial at a different restaurant.  I made the same dish, which had undergone a few adjustments, and the chef and I tasted it.  Then we tore it apart.

The dish originally began as a sandy crumb crust with a strawberry pate de fruit strip set over the top.  It was garnished with peanut butter powder, peanut butter ice cream, fresh strawberries, and a brown sugar anglaise.  In it’s 4th incarnation, the dish is now based around a concord grape curd, set over a peanut sablee ground with peanut oil and frozen to set.  The peanut butter powder remains, but the ice cream was forced to stay in it’s original place on the menu, sitting atop a chocolate sauce and some crunchy peanut butter fuilletine crumble.  The new plate is dotted with concord grape poached sour cherries and muscavado gel.

I tested a few different ice creams, like brown bread ice cream made with honey and toasted bran, puffed wheat sorbet which tasted exactly like honey smacks, and toast ice cream, which tasted like toast.  A generous amount of time went into balancing each of these frozen components, extracting the flavor the title described in a tasty manner.  Each of them was pushed off the plate after tasting, not being found to enhance the dish as much as we wanted.  Finally, we agreed that the plate didn’t really need an ice cream at all.  We would let the concord grape curd be the center of the plate, and rather than make an obvious tie to the peanut butter and jelly concept, we would list the components and let the diner make the conclusion.

This dish should appear on the menu soon.  Right now I am still working on the texture of the concord grape curd so it is stable enough to handle.  No simple curd would work here, I want to be able to slice the curd and transfer the entire piece to the strip of sablee.  I watched Alex do this at WD-50, and I know what he used to stablize it.  However, the company told me that I would have to order a 50 pound bag if I wanted a sample.  So I am working on something that will work for us.

So the 3 weeks I have been hard at work haven’t amounted to much that you can see on the menu.  Working for what feels like failure after failure can be daunting.  I am sure I’ll feel differently when these dishes are on the menu, and I can smile and put all my effort into recreating them, knowing they are exactly what I want them to be.

8 Responses to “Slow go”

  1. Best of Luck on your R&D. Hope it doesn’t drain your spirit a bit too much.

    The PB&J desserts sounds yummmm…

    Take care.

  2. Kate says:

    It is so interesting to hear the story behind a menu item. The dessert sounds awesome.

  3. Traca says:

    When all is said & done…you can borrow from this quote:

    “If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.” ~Michelangelo

    I can’t wait to sample your new menu. Thanks for sharing a peek into the process of it’s development.

  4. Dang, toast ice cream! I’m a little sad that didn’t make the cut, I really really want to taste that. Hmm, want some flavor inspiration from Jerusalem, where we are right now? How about harissa ice cream with a tahini gelee and falafel brittle? Just kidding ;). Anyway, it is actually inspiring to hear about your daily effort to perfect the desserts, and we know they are going to be awesome – they already are!

  5. Yvonne says:

    Hi Dana! I am so glad to hear you are at Veil. I went there a while back and the dessert was the only blemish on a wonderful meal. I swear I chipped a tooth on a cookie, but I liked the pb ice cream.

    Starting a new job is a pain and is even worse when you’re tough on yourself, but finding your groove is sublime. I can’t wait to read more about what you’re working on!

    One quick question for you, would you be willing to meet with some pastry students? I suspect I am not the only one who would enjoy meeting you and having a chance to pick your brain.

    :-)

  6. Ken Jackson says:

    Hi! Dana,
    I can sympathise. When I was a chef starting a new job was most daunting, especially if the head chef was a bit of pain in the backside. Stamping your mark on a menu can have great rewards. As head patissiere at one Restaurant, I was able to introduce some novel dishes and twists on old favourites. Like my Egg Custard Rice Pudding and novel pastries and cakes for the front window, to draw the customers in.
    I wish you well and I hope you settle in and produce some more wonderfull creations.

    Ken Jackson. UK.

  7. David says:

    Howdy.

    Glad you ended up back in Seattle and at Veil. I have to say it was probably the best meal i’ve had in seattle. Either way, starting a new job sucks sucks and more or less sucks. Take it from me, i’ve started 5 jobs since walking out. But don’t let it get you down, with skill and passion you can find The Job for you anywhere, like food, you just have to experiment and try new things before sticking with something. Anyways i’m at Opal now and had the fortune to work with your friend Tyler (very smart man and a creative vagabond). Take care and i love the glasses. See you around.

  8. Sabrina says:

    The PBJ dessert sounds delicious already! I’m really glad that you decided to leave out the ice-cream. Much as I love ice-cream, I think many restaurants automatically add ice-cream to any dessert whether or not it is suitable. Seems to be an American thing?

    It takes time to settle into a new job. You will look back favorably at the challenges along the way because they’re part of the reason why you took the new job in the first place. Good luck for the new job!

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