Archive for the ‘Industry’ Category

Behind the scenes of a newspaper article

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Earlier this year, a couple of friends and I gathered to make soup. Not just any soup, but “smoking soup”.

You see, while my friends are varied and many, these two friends are a chef and a food writer. This soup was an early summer version of a dish my friend Becky Selengut collaborated on for an underground dinner. The theme for the dinner was, “Autumn Smoke”, each course featuring an element of this late season quality. The soup was rich creamy parsnip served with apple butter and crisp parsnip ribbons. The “smoke” in this dish was really a fog, rolling from under the soup itself, and carrying with it the aroma of cinnamon.

The soup bowl was set inside a larger bowl that was partially filled with a warm cinnamon “tea”, and just before serving, dry ice was dropped in. The steam, or fog, caused by the ultra cold frozen carbon dioxide boiling rapidly in the warm cinnamon tea enveloped you with the spicy scent while you ate the soup. A dramatic presentation with a functional role that impressed a friend dining with us, Matthew.

Matthew, a food writer, was so impressed not only with the dish, but with the complete accessibility of the reactionary ingredient. Dry ice is available readily at any grocery store fish counter, for a minimal cost.

The article here, Aroma Therapy, hit the stands this past Sunday, prompting me to share my own side of the creative process.

It was a day like most spent with friends. I was detained by Matthew’s darling daughter Iris, who introduced me to all her toy figures, many of whom live aboard a pirate ship. I spent time catching up with Laurie, Matthew’s wife. I joked with Becky, who’s pace quickens in the kitchen, along with her wit. And we sat at the table together, sharing the same meal, and chatting until we had polished off the block of cheese bought for the garnish.

The article features a spring adapted recipe including peas and panchetta, and envelopes you in the fresh aroma of mint. I urge everyone to use this impressive technique, and be creative. The liquid underneath can carry any water soluble aroma, corresponding with the soup, which can be chilled or hot.

WD 50; Day one

Monday, July 9th, 2007

June 26th, 2007

For nearly 12 hours today, I was in pastry heaven.

I have no pictures to share with you, and I don’t want to muck up the entire experience by putting it into long paragraphs full of words that can’t possibly describe what I saw, tasted, and learned.

But here is a little bit about what I found particularly remarkable.

5 minutes into my first day, I tasted something that elicited a reaction I have had very few times. My thoughts stopped, every bit of me took pause to enjoy the flavor entirely. This reaction came from a tiny unassuming brown puck, the mignardise. It contained the combination of the flavors raspberry, hazelnut, cocoa, and caraway. Yup, Caraway.

A flavor most often associated with light rye bread, I was stunned to find it fit so well in this one bite dessert. It was caraway alright, and it was clearly unusual. But it was absolutely right in every way. A streusel of hazelnuts, cocoa, and caraway were bound with an isomalt caramel (a sugar with a lower “sweet” factor) encasing a raspberry pate de fruites (a small jellied confection, like a very tender gum drop). I wonder if the inspiration was raspberry jam on rye toast, and I wonder if the pastry chef is just so smart that he can come up with things like this without stumbling upon them. Either way, the result was remarkable.

That evening I tasted popcorn sorbet. It was another shock. I looked at Justin, the pastry cook I was working with and said with much enthusiasm, “This is good.”

He laughed and said, “Yeah, we don’t make crappy food here.”


Now stop, and immediately shake that thought of the buttered popcorn jelly belly from your head. This sorbet is as far from that atrocious confection as I am from ever eating one again. Imagine the flavor of kettle corn, but the texture of a smooth icy sorbet. You’re conflicted, I can tell. But if only I could send little tastes through the computer screen, you’d believe. A sorbet that tastes exactly like freshly popped kettle corn.

Finally, I got a peek at something I was desperate to get a taste of. deep fried butterscotch pudding. I know the original recipe for this old fashioned flavor has nothing to do with Scotland’s namesake spirit, although I still insist that the flavor can be deepened in a very satisfactory manner by a shot of the stuff (or Rum, or Whisky) This presentation of the flavor butterscotch takes on an entirely different tie to the country of Scotland by embracing their love for deep frying all manner of desserts, case in point the deep fried mars bar. The pudding is set to the point of stiffness when cold, but when the panko breaded cubes hit the 350 degree oil, they are softened to the texture of a pudding, and oh so melty and delicious. I finally got my hands on a nugget, and upon consumption managed but two words, “Mmmmmm, butterscotchy.”

I’ll have to leave you with that.

I had a day off wednesday, which would have been a welcome chance to see some of the city. However, the scorching hot day was matched by over 90 percent humidity that made walking nearly intolerable, but what finally broke me was a power outage in Manhattan that stopped many of the subway trains, and the shift from 90 percent humidity to 100 percent. The skies opened, the rain hit fast and hard, and I ran to the nearest cab and ordered a ride home. I have been watching TV like it’s any old night in Seattle, two cats curled up on the couch with me, and the promise of a new episode of Top Chef making me very happy.

A Short Rant on Kitchen Ethics

Monday, June 11th, 2007

The differences between the restaurant industry and most 9 to 5 jobs people hold are obvious.  Begin with the simple fact that we work when most people play, nights, weekends, and holidays.  Add to that the type of person attracted to working opposite the rest of society, in harsh physical conditions where the stress and urgency of a deadline hangs over your head every 5 minutes.  To describe the restaurant industry with the phrase “counter culture” would not be a stretch.

Working in restaurants all my adult life, I am accustomed to industry standards I know go against everything you are taught about jobs.  For example, padding your resume with wordy descriptions of previous positions may push your resume to the top of the pile from 9 to 5, but it is a sure way to loose your chance at a restaurant interview.  There is no way to make a “pantry” position (the entry level position into a kitchen where one plates cold food like salads, and often desserts) more than it is.  Fluffing that up to sound like more than the entry level position it is, and the chef will see through it, knowing exactly what your position truly was, and reject you for not being strait-forward.  Worse, say your deceptive words do land you a job you are not quite qualified for.  Just one day in the new position will show exactly where your skills stop, and you will look like a fool.

I have let friends who hold office jobs look over my resume, and they always make the same comments and changes, using words to glamorize what it was that I did.  One friend, upon knowing I produced and plated the desserts at Lampreia, insisted I use the title “pastry manager.”  I can only imagine laughter when the chef I (hypothetically) handed that resume to a chef I was hoping to work for.

In our industry, you call it like it is, because the true interview is physical and you are given the job providing you can back everything you claimed to be with performance.   Overstating your experience will leave you hanging in the kitchen, and most likely without a job.  Admitting less experience but performing to everything you promise shows honesty, integrity, and the ability to grow in a kitchen.

Say you are interviewing for the meat/grill station at a new restaurant, and while you have cooked on the saute line for 2 years, you have only had a few days experience on the meat/grill station.  If you claim to have worked the line on the meat station, you will be placed on the meat station with every cook watching you, gauging your performance, measuring you by every mistake.  These mistakes will quickly add up and your lack of experience will be taken for lack of skill and talent.  If you claim to have had a few days working on the meat station, but are looking to learn that station next, then your first day will most likely be viewed differently, often with a few tips shared from other cooks who have held the position before, and a more forgiving judgement will be placed on you.

A local Seattle Pastry Chef’s bio often includes a story about lying her way into a kitchen job at a French ski resort to extend her vacation.  It makes good press, and sounds romantic, but the second part of the story the press often excludes is the first day, when it was clear she didn’t possess the skills she had claimed, the chef confronted her quickly about it.  Luckily, rather than loosing a job altogether, she was demoted to the dish pit.  I emphasize luckily, because most chef’s wouldn’t offer second chances like that.

No matter how much experience you have, if you are working for another chef you need to posses the capability to learn their cuisine and grow in their kitchen.  If you can’t own up to the amount of growth you need in your resume, then how can they trust you to grow and assume their style of cuisine?  It sounds selfish and egotistical, but in the end you are in the kitchen for one main reason, to help said chef make their statement, their way.  In trade you earn a paycheck, expose yourself to a different style of cooking, and earn skills that you want and need to continue your career.  Eventually it will be your turn to set the kitchens terms, decide the details, and call in the karma of your own years submitting to another chef’s will.

One of the first lessons on kitchen ethics I learned was never be afraid of what you don’t know, and never hide it.  Chef Carsberg told me that if you hide from what you don’t know, then you will never get the opportunity to truly learn it.

Being in the restaurant industry, you will have the chance to repeat the interview process many times.  Unlike other industries, high turnover is the norm.  Two years in one place is a long term commitment by a cook.  It is in every cooks best interest to bounce around while they are young, flexible, healthy, and poor, and expose themselves to as many different styles of cooking as possible.  When it comes time for you to be the manager and creator, the broader a base of experience you have to draw from the stronger you will be.

Once you begin to seek management positions, you are looking at long term commitments.  Until then cooks, go sow your wild oats, bounce around, take unpaid internships in far off places sleeping on couches and living off staff dinners, and be honest with yourself about how much more you need (and get) to grow.

Club Holidays

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

Holidays at the club put a bit of my life into perspective. No longer does worry of making a couple of pies for thanksgiving seem valid. Even a few days of cooking, preparing for a large family of 15 or 20 pales in comparison, especially when the family holiday ends in my sitting to enjoy the meal. No, Holidays at the club are a week long event.

Lets take Easter, which technically is on Sunday, but the Rainier Clubs’ Easter brunch takes place on the preceding Saturday. The menu, this time a banquet for 300, is planned weeks in advance. Meetings involving the Exec. Chef, Bill Morris and his team of 3 sous chefs began 2 weeks prior to break the menu into it’s working parts. I am guessing at the order here, but this is roughly how it’s done.

First, the menu is broken down into each ingredient, and the estimated quantity needed to make the dishes. This is where experience and focus play a trump hand. Not only do you need to know roughly how much will be eaten, but you have to calculate in overages to ensure nothing runs out. Then, you have to adjust recipes to fit the quantity needed, and come to a figure estimating the amount of each individual ingredient needed. Not every ingredient is strait forward either. 12 dozen eggs, sure that’s a snap. But 250 portions of ham, at 4 ounces a portion, doesn’t add up. You need to factor in that the ham will loose weight during the cooking process. How much weight, you ask? It would take the experience I mentioned before to really know. Once the menu becomes a sum of it’s parts, it turns into a super-mega-shopping list.

The shopping list has to then be broken down between the many, many purveyors used to stock the Rainier Clubs stores. I was told that we have 3 different sources for fish, and 4 for meat. Add to that the various produce vendors and farms that deliver, the dry goods suppliers, pastry companies, dairy suppliers, and companies that specialize in various ingredients, like Ritrovo, or cheesemongers. Now it’s time to order. But wait, there’s more. Each purveyor has different delivery days, so you have to take into account when they can have the product to you, close enough to the date of the party to be fresh and tasty, but giving enough time for it to comply with the preparation schedule. Your master list becomes a time sheet as well.

Which brings us to the prep list. The menu is broken apart yet again to assess what needs to be prepped. Each dish is dissected, listing each individual task it will take to complete the dish. Simple sounding, but when you consider that each dish must feed the 300 members and their families, the concept grows. Now add to that the 40 or more various dishes made, (18 in pastry alone) to give the members the kind of variety that a special holiday at the club warrants. Needless to say, the list is very long. The list is also turned into a schedule, taking into account when you can get product in, how far ahead (or not) you can complete the task while keeping quality at it’s peak, and in what logical order tasks must be completed.

It takes a kitchen of 17 working cooks, 4 dishwashers, and 3 very hardworking interns a full week to complete a holiday menu. All the while, the kitchen is running it’s usual regime of breakfast, lunch, banquets, dinner, tasting menu’s, bar menu, and pastry.

As you can see, the key behind this endeavor is organization. And I’ll say again, the Rainier Club is the most functionally organized kitchen I have ever been a part of. They really have this down to an art. So much so, that when the events do finally come around, the kitchen hardly breaks a sweat. The sous chefs might, but only in their efforts to keep the well oiled machine rolling.

Easter is a buffet, which means that quite a bit of the food can be plattered ahead of time, salads are held in large bowls, and the desserts are all set up ahead of time. Come time for the guests to start moving through the buffet line, all the kitchen has left to do is slice the roasted meats, cook a few hot dishes like pasta in quantities to feed 30 at a time, and run food in and out of the kitchen.

However, not all holidays are buffets. Valentines day, my first holiday at the RC was a 5 course sit down dinner. The dining room was set with tables for 150, a dance floor in the middle, and a full service staff. Each cook was teamed up and became responsible for a single dish.

While the kitchen isn’t pumping out food in volume, each dish involves so many high maintenance components, that it takes two cooks just to put out a single dish all night. Food is cooked to order rather than in batches, and the focus is on perfection.

To have to say that perfection isn’t the focus of every last thing that comes out of the kitchen may sound lazy. But don’t scoff, every thing done in the kitchen sits somewhere balanced between speed and perfection. The faster you need to go means the less attention to detail you are capable of. The more you focus on details, perfecting everything, the more time you need. So everything we do must consider both speed and quantity vs. quality and strike the right balance for the dish at hand. It’s hard to keep the balance leaning towards quality when you are pushed for quantity and speed, which is easy to see in so much food that is sold in the industry. Too often the easy road is taken.

Never the less, on Valentines Day the balance is tipped as far as possible towards perfection and refinement. The menu takes as much time to prep, but by cutting the quantity and speed at which the dishes must fly out the kitchen doors, the dishes are inspired.

Below is a slide show of Valentine’s day, including all the plates that were designed for the menu. For a more detailed description, the menu is posted here, on Ex. Chef Bill Morris’s own blog, which is a small peek into the artistry he brings into the kitchen each day.

Big task, bigger lesson

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

I have had a hard time translating my days in the kitchen into words to share with you. It’s not that I don’t like my work, or am feeling uninspired. It’s, well, I have had a hard time making it feel exciting.  My work is challenging in it’s own right, but it’s the large scale that makes it difficult, not the individual steps.

For instance, last Wednesday I made potato salad. For 6 hours. Save the half an hour I used to plate up a banquet with the rest of the team, and the hour I rolled 50 dozen spring rolls with Ellpedio and Tom, the morning banquet guys who couldn’t leave until the spring rolls were finished, my day was devoted to prepping potato salad. This enormous amount of potato salad was part of a banquet for last Friday that was to feed 500 people attending the Single Malt Scotch regional tasting.

The hours added up like this. Quarter 150 pounds of baby red potatoes; 2 1/2 hours. Boil and peel 50 eggs; half an hour. Pickle 10 pounds of tiny tiny radishes after cutting each into eight tiny wedges; 3 hours. 10 pounds doesn’t seem like much, but when you start taking the time to cut each grape sized radish into little wedges, the uncut pile looks bigger and bigger each time you look at it.

Large tasks like this also have a hypnotizing effect. Like staring at the road for too long, repeating the same motion and staring into the abyss of what seemes to be an endless task sends you into a coma.

Working with a partner is valuable not only in cutting the task in half, but in keeping your mind from entering this hypnotic state. A little conversation keeps your mind in the present. And lets face it, a little competition keeps your speed and efficiency up. It’s not that you are racing them, but the competitive drive that brings most cooks into the kitchen keeps us acutely aware how many potatoes we have cut compared to the guy standing next to us, if our potatoes look better or worse, and if our particular method is more efficient.

Large banquettes like these don’t come every day. Last week was unique in that we held a plattered hours d’ourve reception for 500 on Thursday. The event was the wake for Mr. Diamond, who’s name has been seen for half a century across Seattle above the parking lots he owned. This banquet was back to back with the Single Malt Scotch dinner, making it a very full week.

The full buffet style dinner featured 24 roasted turkeys, 150 pounds of tri-tip beef, roasted, sliced, and covered with bourdelaise sauce and crumble blue cheese.  150 pounds of potato salad.  50 pounds of Greek salad with house prepared artichokes.  100 pounds of penne pasta with red sauce.  50 pounds of orrichette in pesto cream sauce.  Endless bowls of caesar salad.  6 different breads.  And endless platters of desserts featuring lemon bars, chocolate raspberry bars, rhubarb bavarians, hazelnut financiers, spicy molasses cookies, and itty bitty trifles of poppy seed cake, blueberries, and mascarpone mousse.

My head is spinning just rattling this off. But that was not the case in the kitchen that day. The kitchen at the Rainier Club is beyond organized, and so prepared for the task, that big evenings go off without a hitch.

I suppose this is the real lesson in all this. Spending an entire day prepping potato salad is less than glamorous, and when I return to pastry, I may never make potato salad again. But learning how to prepare for events like this in such an organized manner is a lesson I’ll draw from every single day in my career to come, sweet or savory.

Mashed Potatoes

Friday, March 9th, 2007

People watching is a favorite pastime of mine. A true Seatellite, I am often found in a coffee shop, getting my daily (OK, twice daily) fix of caffeine (double tall americano, room for cream). The busy hub offers glimpses of people also going about their lives at varying paces, and when I have the time I pause for a moment, take a table, and watch.

One thing I always take notice of is shoes. I have often thought a person reveals a bit about themselves from the shoes on their feet. Clothes change daily, but shoes are a true commitment and often give better insight into true personality.

This said, the same can be estimated of a restaurant by it’s mashed potatoes. Not yet have I worked in a restaurant that didn’t serve mashed potatoes, and each revealed a bit of their soul through their preparation of the side dish, a constant component on ever changing seasonal menus.

My first job in the kitchen was at a growing Seattle restaurant group called the Bluwater Bistro. A upscale American bistro with a menu designed for mass appeal, their roast chicken, stuffed pork chops, and dry aged new york steaks all sat atop garlic mashed potatoes. Garlic cloves boiled with the potatoes presented the flavor subtly, adding mass appeal to the dish, and insight into the restaurants use of American standards to gain a large customer base.

Lampreia, a restaurant known for it’s pure, minimalistic cuisine prepared nightly by the savant chef served their potatoes in just that fashion. Potatoes hand chosen by Scott Carsberg at the market early in the week for their particular starch content, are peeled and boiled in salted water. Passed by hand through a fine mesh drum sieve to achieve the finest texture, the puree is then moistened with whole milk, mounted with butter, and seasoned to perfection. Before going to the table, each portion is individually rewarmed and lightly whipped with additional cream, placed in a miniature dutch oven to retain warmth, and served separate from the plate, to be enjoyed as the diner feels appropriate.

The Fat Duck’s potatoes were a true reflection on Heston Blumenthal’s intellectually grounded cuisine. Treated for service in a Michelin 3 star restaurant, a correctly chosen variety of potato was boiled, passed through the drum sieve, and mixed with an exacted and tested combination of milk, salt, and clarified butter. This recipe, treated for service in a Michelin 3 star restaurant appears as Pomme Puree in the cookbook Blumenthal wrote called Family Food. A reflection on his duality, Blumenthal is driving cuisine into the future yet puts the same attention to the simplest and most traditional of dishes, and places it on the simplest of tables, your home.

At Eva, a restaurant that is built on a solid foundation of locally sourced organics, seasonal ingredients, and close relationships with those that grow and produce the food they use, the potatoes were kept as close to their natural state as possible. Dug recently from local soil, skins sometimes left on, and occasionally studded with Neuske bacon, Chef Amy McCray calls them smashed potatoes, and leaves them earthy, lumpy, and hearty. Offering a flavorful and memorable experience, the meals at Eva are meant to be as comfortably satisfying as their smashed potatoes.

During my first week at the Rainier Club I was given a glimpse at the kitchens soul by learning their preparation of mashed potatoes. Peeled and weighed to the portion, the potatoes are cooked in large batches, held in single layer trays in a steamer. They are then milled through a ricer with the salt and pepper for proper distribution, and mounted with butter. Mixed by the aid of a large stand mixer, the potatoes are moistened with an aromatic cream. The cream, steeped with varying herbs and peppercorns, adds a hint of luxury and a sense of dignity to the potatoes. The recipe is calculated exactly, balancing everything a large kitchen like the Rainier Club needs to take into consideration; controlling cost through exacting portions, speed in preparing large quantities, and a consistently luxurious and high quality product.

I often consider how I would prepare the humble potato for mashing had I a kitchen of my own. I would most likely combine a bit of everything I have learned, first and foremost keeping the earthy quality of the potato intact. I would hand choose the potatoes like Scott and perhaps even serve them in adorable little dishes on the side.  I might add clarified butter like Heston, leave the skins on like Amy, and aromatically steep the cream like the Rainier Club. If the mood strikes, I’ll know to boil cloves of garlic with the potatoes for a subtle addition of the flavor, or stud them with bacon, adding all the rendered fat for extra flavor. For my own touch, I would add sour cream. A rich acidic balance, the addition of sour cream, or perhaps thick Bulgarian buttermilk would make these potatoes my own, and offer you a hint at the balance I insist all my cuisine holds.

Gypsy, Seattle, Washington

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Thanks to growing numbers of food minded people around the country, underground dining has been gaining momentum. What was once spoken of with hushed tones in foodie circles, underground restaurants have of late been receiving local and national press. In cities with large restaurant scenes, a desire for an alternative to the restrictions of a restaurant have taken both chefs and diners off the radar.

In California a group called Outstanding in the field (out standing?) takes diners to amazing outdoor locations and boasts such names as Alice Waters. In San Fransisco a group called Ghetto Gourmet which began in a basement apartment, dinners prepared by a pair of brothers for a loyal following has swollen to include a national reputation, nightly performers, and guest chefs. Portland’s original underground restaurant, Ripe, dissolved recently and the creator has moved our way starting an underground movement called One Pot. Yup, you guessed it, the meal strips away all airs of dining humbly restricting the meal to be cooked in a single pot.

In Seattle the scattering of underground restaurants has long been dominated by Gypsy. Started in the living room of an in home culinary school, the restaurant gained momentum throughout the Seattle dining scene when food writer Nancy Leason featured it in her column for the Seattle Times, and the well read alternative newspaper The Stranger fawned over the alternative style dining experience. The mailing list grew, the guest chef roster added local chefs, myself in February 2006. Garnering a position in a lengthy Wall Street Journal piece, Gypsy began to attract national attention. In fall of 2006, Gypsy gave birth to a second restaurant, Vagabond. Housed in Portalis Wine Bar in Ballard, this Monday night supper club offers a humble 3 course meal priced moderately, and the opportunity to pull a bottle from the wine shops collection at retail price.

Thanks to the efforts of local P.R. agent Traca Savadago, Gypsy shared a July dinner with Anthony Bourdain. Tony, as I learned he likes to be called, sauntered in, camera’s in tow, and enjoyed an 11 course menu prepared by Gabriel Claycamp, desserts by myself. The dual menus running side by side offered dishes like tequila and strawberry “otter pops”, rosemary skewered chicken hearts, bone marrow “fries”, and an addictive white port marinated foie gras that was bruleed with vanilla sugar. The cheese course, an orange colored whipped epoisse called “cheese whiz” was served with a story of smuggling the cheese into the country in a place no french authority would dare go, a baby’s diaper bag, and was smartly paired with Boones Strawberry Hill.

For dessert a bittersweet chocolate terrine was served with a “cluttering” of garnishes. Made from scharffenberger’s 70 percent bar, the dish highlighted chocolates’ versatility by complimenting it with a myriad of flavors. Candied nuts, salty toasted sesame seeds, Madagascar vanilla cream, pastis preserved cherries, toasted marshmallows, Breton shortbread, fresh raspberries, candied ginger, all sat in a still life of garnishes before the proud wall of a chocolate terrine.

The second dessert was a lime cheesecake mousse set over the top of an “aural” crust. Strawberry pop rocks were implanted into the graham cracker crust for a surprising aural firework display with every bite. The dish was accompanied by strawberry sorbet over a salad of black pepper and strawberries, a strawberry sauce, and a fresh grating of lime zest.

Tony managed to polish off his chocolate terrine and a second helping of the lime cheesecake, and said between mouthfuls that I was “prodigiously talented”. A compliment that would have made me blush even more had I understood what “prodigiously” meant at the time. As it was, being surrounded by cameras was nerve racking enough to keep me singularly focused on the food at hand.

The dinner filmed for The Pacific Northwest episode of No Reservations reruns this Monday at 10pm on the Travel Channel. You can see a bit of me on the show, given the title “Evil Pastry Chef” in a montage casting the characters of this irreverent dinner, and describing the use of pop rocks to remind us that we use our sense of sound while eating more than we know.

During dinner, Bourdain asked his stock question, “What would you eat as your last meal if on death row?” The guests at the table added their own desired meals, mom’s spaghetti, potatoes in any form, foie, chocolate, and roasted marrow in the bone for Bourdain. When I offered my desire for a big fat hot dog on a toasty bun, ketchup, mustard, relish, and chopped onion a top, a bag of plain lays potato chips, and a coca cola so cold there were tiny shards of icy crystals, I was declared to be a cook, through and through. In his first book he highlights the fact that most cooks who put their life into the industry, making your dream meals, in the end are most satisfyed by the simplest of fare.

So set your TiVo, write a sticky note, or just remember, 10 pm, Monday the 26th, on the Travel Channel. Tony does the Pacific Northwest.


Sunday, February 11th, 2007

Starting a new job is hard. Once the after glow of gratifying verification received by landing the job is gone, the warm fuzzy goodbyes of previous coworkers are said, and the expectant tension is broken by walking into the new kitchen for the first time there is nothing to distract you from the fact that you might not have any idea what you got yourself into. It’s just you and the skills you promised, jumping in head first, and you’d better be able to swim.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt my ability to succeed in my new position in the banquet department at the Rainier Club. But the first week is always a blur.

It may have been an easier transition if I had continued climbing the pastry ladder I was on. It may have been calmer if I had entered another quiet 4 man kitchen in a casual neighborhood restaurant. But during the last part of my shift this Friday, wrapping up my first week, it was clear to me I had definitely chosen a challenge by stepping so far out of my comfort zone and into the uncharted territory of the banquet department.

The banquet department at the Rainier Club is their bread and butter, the driving force that allows the other kitchen outlets to work at such a high level. It does so by preparing massive amounts of high end food daily, which is no easy task. And the only way to keep such a high volume of food going 10 different places is a switch board.

The switch board at the Rainier club is a bulletin board covering an entire wall. An order for a banquet comes in triplicate, the front of the house, the banquet department, and the pastry department all receiving copies. After the banquet department receives their master copy, a second chart is prepared breaking down the requested menu into individual components. These components are then taken to the banquet chefs who make task lists of the steps needed to create each component.

If your head isn’t spinning yet, three simple initials which sat on the list yesterday, BPS, lost me. It started by Tim describing the creation of the BPS, or black pepper sauce. The only words I can pull out of the fog I was lodged in yesterday involve multiple staged reductions, timed additions that involve bottles of Madeira, white wine, roasted garlic cloves, and black pepper I assume. I thought I was up to speed when he described the introduction of Poultry Jus. “OK, what is that, just a reduced stock?” I innocently asked.  I should have kept my mouth shut, because when the reductions and additions started rolling off his tongue, my eyes lost focus, and his voice became distant. Plain and simple, I was lost.

It didn’t really get better from there, but I hung on for dear life.  At one point I caught myself scowling at the Art Institute culinary intern. I almost laughed out loud when I realized I was jealous of him. I was jealous because he was moving from task to task, he looked like he knew what he was doing. I was still taking 5 minutes to look for items I was sent to fetch, often coming back empty handed. I was being scolded by the chef to quiet my placement of pans in the dish pit as not to disturb the guests sitting at the chef’s table placed in the center of the kitchen (obviously), or walking in the middle of the busy dinner line to fetch something (duh). I was at times caught standing still, a true kitchen crime, because I didn’t know what else to do, or how to find something to do without someone telling me.  Me, who was just the confident pastry chef, was envious of the culinary student for the simple fact that he knew what to do with himself at all times.

It will get better, quickly I assume. Keeping pace seems to be the biggest challenge at the moment, and learning to interpret the switchboard. I need some serious brushing up on my culinary terms, so I don’t mistakenly bring out the remoulade when asked to find a remoulage. But I chose this kitchen for it’s emphasis on constant education and self improvement no matter what level you are on. I commiserated with Rudy, the sous chef who was recently put in charge of the pastry department, my old haunt. We likened our new positions to new toys as I slumped off, mentally exhausted, to change and go home for the day.

I’ll start the next week off fresh, and on better footing. Which means I can pay more attention to the food!! Once I can find it on the massive switchboard.