Gateau Victoire…

by danggoodfood

I realize no matter where you’re at in life, what’s most important is your ability to adapt.  In the kitchen I find it so important to do just that…adapt.  As I had mentioned before, every kitchen is different…the staff…both front and back…managers…the ideology…the ethos…the menu…the attitudes etc.  What’s important is that you find the right place that best suites you. I’ve come across so many kitchens within my college years as well as beyond.  I have met so many facets of the business, as well as personalities.  The clash, the warmth, the oh so many descriptions of what can go on as well as who you come across.   The good the bad and the ugly of it all.

Tonight was my second night at this particular restaurant.   Tonight I remembered why I continue to passionately pursue cooking.  The way a simple pomegranate was being handled seemed completely different from any other restaurant I’ve worked at.  ONE….just one fruit…is treated like a precious gem.  This gem was cultivated by a front of house employees’ father who owns a farm.  This gem was aesthetically unpleasing to the public eye but beneath that rough and beguiling exterior lay tiny morsels of juicy pops.  Pops that resembled large popcorn kernels.  Popcorn kernels that were bursting with a crimson red.  No juices were lost.

Ohhhh, that look of excitement and the tiny giggle that came out of my pastry chef’s mouth.   The bright childlike innocence from her eyes that shook with wonder as she described to me the marvel of this particular pomegranate.  I loveeed it.  I too giggled inside when I stood there picking through the seeds and membranes.  I thought of her glasses and her rosy cheeks and the time she so happily charmed me with her love for that pomegranate.

Profit, consistency, whatever it is, it’s clear that the ones that really succeed do it mainly because the food always will be the stand out piece.  Pleasing the palates of your customers.  Imagine inviting someone into your house only to burn the turkey.  There’s this beautiful satisfaction that one gets from watching their loved ones carefully and quickly savor each bite that you have so lovingly created.

But what makes something stand out?  I don’t know yet. I’ll maybe figure it out one day.  For right now my focus is on the now…with slight dreamy flickers of the future.   I have to focus.

Tonight I realized that there was a distinctly  different air when I walked into a kitchen filled with my own peers who spoke of their similar love and excitement for food, who have knowledge of much of the same experiences that  I have.  To be able to connect and converse with an open dialogue.  To prove yourself in a different way.  Not just with strength.

There is a bit of a brotherhood/sisterhood that is formed when one has that familiar work ethic.   The hard work the sweat the toils of the kitchen.  The smooth movements the terminology, the confidence that one gets when you enter that hustle mode.  The crackle and buzz of the ticket machine, “OVEN!!” “HOT!!” BEHIND YOU!! HOT!!!” “TWO ALL DAY”….etc etc…

What I love most?  Ordering anything off the menu…what customers would pay 28-32 dollars for?  I get it…soup with soft roasted and simmered stocks? You got it…salads still so crisp they can resemble crisps? You got it…fresh from the farm greens with Banyuls vinaigrette and sharp white cheddar and golden raisins, roasted squab with an apple compote, lovely well seasoned roasted chicken with a bread salad and chicory, Devil’s Gulch rabbit with a mustard potato puree and braised garlic, bread soup with delicious imported Olivio Nuovo.  It’s all there and it’s what I have for dinner.   Fresh sushi from the 3 main fish markets in Japan? Never frozen and meticulously prepped?  I got it.  Spaghetti and savory yummy meatballs as large as the size of your clenched fists, fresh pastas, raviolis and all the charcuterie that I can eat…I once ate so much house made charcuterie on my first week of work that I got fever chills from overindulgence.

Never take this for granted.  In the end food is an essential part of life and I realize how lucky I am to experience this.  Even though I have not experienced a restaurant to the likes of El Bulli, I realize that if I ever did I would treat it like the most decadent meal.  If I ever go to the French Laundry? I would tear up with enchantment.  It’s a luxury and so are most forms of art; like theatre, or being able to purchase that Yinke Shoninbare piece, the symphony.  The finer things in life.  To which I think everyone should be exposed to.  As integral as food is to many old world cultures, I can begin to promote it as marvelously as I can to my friends and loved ones.

Oh how wondrous would it be for one to be able to conjure up and cultivate your own larder, with exotic and mind boggling imported items, the freshest herbs, the freshest most delicate and full flavored stocks.

Flickers of my future…I can’t tell you.  It’s really because I don’t know.  Presently It’s a beautiful thing…its something that when you are deep in thought and concentration nothing can mess you up, unless it’s that time of the month, a nasty breakup etc…but in a kitchen when your gunnin’ whole heartedly at it, that bit of ADD that was there all your life has suddenly pushed a pause button.  Your catapulted into your own realm of thought.

Here I stand with those that have been with this establishment for 10+ years.  The newbies…2 years…7 months…9 months…every single person I spoke with had a similar story of why they stayed.  Some culinary school grads, some not.  Many came from a college past, and decided to forgo their B.A’s or MfA’s in order to be in a kitchen.  Most of the chefs that I have had the brilliant time to work with did not come from culinary school.  It was their patience that lead them to where they are now.

Patience and conscious decisions go a long way when it comes to developing a successful entrepreneurial establishment.  Patience for someone who tears up from talking about food, patience for someone who hasn’t had much of schooling for the culinary arts.  Patience for the newbie.  Not many places can have or afford to do so.  With that being said…this was the first time I ever heard this when asked about my job performance…

“It looks like you aren’t green behind the ear”

Is that just more kitchen speak?

Common sense and being able to work in an environment that isn’t micromanaged makes your mental challenge so much more fulfilling.   An establishment that has the craft honed to a crisp from the years of paying attention in various kitchens.  Seeing what could be improved.  Using 4 plastic bins to shell through garlic?  Why?  There is a reason to why a restaurant exists and has stood the test of time.  Ahhhh, but common sense also comes with experience.  I hope to gain more.

“Hey Tina can you plate an anchovy plate”

As I sliced through that vegetables on my tiny cutting board and cut the four slices of cheese, plated the particular number of anchovies, the delicious green olive oil the cracked pepper the 5 nuggets of olives…there was an utter sense of pride and pleasure…

“That looks beautiful”.

I felt so giddy.

I’ve learned that an establishment that allows for questions is a prosperous one.

And as I savored that gooey bite of that mountainous thick rich gateau that layed there along that fresh and soft whipped cream…my tongue tingled with delight.  It smoothly dissipated in my mouth and down throat.   Not too sweet, but definitely a very skilful chocolate indulgence.  Ohhh sighhhhh…

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