|One of the best-worst horror movies ever: "leprechaun"|
Two weeks ago I tossed up a hail marry pass to Eleven Madison Park (EMP from here on out) hoping to get a chance to do a stage (pronounced "staj") with them; and maybe land an externship. Well long story short they caught my resume & cover letter in the endzone to win the game. I would be doing a stage the following weekend....
The whole week leading up to EMP I was numb to the world. I shut everything off. I did fine in fish class, and played basketball most nights to keep my wondering mind occupied. One night while ballin' my friend Brad had mentioned he knew someone who had externed at EMP a few weekends back. "That's it!?!" I said. "You can't leave me hangin' like that! Did she say anything about it??" Brad's face switched from a laughing demeanor to one of the "your so screwed" type. He leans in almost in a whisper and says, "they made her cook for the chefs..." My heart sunk to the floor and bounced around like the basketball I was holding.
"What do you mean they made her cook for the chefs?" "Well they had her cook a French Omelette with a filling, and gave her a half hour to do it" Brad explained. "Whats crazy though" he continued, keeping me on edge every second of the way. "Whats crazy is that they didn't let her use a nonstick pan...she had to use a regular metal skillet" Immediately I thought to myself "OH F_ _K!" As if my anxiety couldn't get any greater, Brad drops a bomb on me. I'm glad he told me, though, because otherwise I would have been totally unaware I would have to do the same thing.
That night, a Thursday if my memory serves me correctly (and it usually does), I raced back to my room after the gym and started reading up on the French Omelette we had to make in our very first Skills class with Chef Speckamp. I read over my notes, recalled any mistakes I made that day (we got to use nonstick pans though!!), and read over the egg chapter in our comprehensive Pro Chef monster-sized textbook. I recalled watching a Jacques Pepin video on YouTube where he demonstrated the proper technique for making a French Omelette back when we were in skills so I brought up YouTube, found the video and watched it over and over and over again. Video seen below if your curious (Chef Pepin does two in this video, the first is the American-style omlette and the second is the French omlette)
Friday afternoon I packed an entire dufflebag with everything I might need for just that one day in the kitchen. I wasn't leaving anything to chance. If I was going to fail I would at least be well equipped...I watched dozens of EMP videos and noticed they were doing a lot of plating with tweezers in the videos so I ran to the bookstore before it closed and bought a pair. On my way out of town I grabbed a bunch of produce to practice knife cuts with at my grandma's apartment. I thought of everything, and I was losing my mind.
Finally Saturday rolled around and it was time to commute into the city. I arrived at the restaurant an hour and a half yearly, scanned the directions one of the Sous Chefs gave me and walked to the back entrace to have it down pat. While I waited, I sat in the park adjacent to the restaurant and reviewed my notes on French omlettes. I even watched the Pepin video a few more times from my phone. "This is it, no turning back" I remembered McCulley Culkin say in Home Alone before fending off the robbers. That day, for whatever reason, I was not nervous, but rather incredibly calm. Then I entered the kitchen....
Meandering through the lobby of the building and the back porter area I found myself in the kitchen chalk full of over 30 cooks and chefs. One of the Sous Chefs pointed me in the direction of the office. The door was open and I could see the face of James kent--Chef de Cuisine at EMP and Bocuse d'or competitor a few years back. He asked me my name and where I was from. Like a robot I responded "Peter, from the CIA". I froze up. I couldn't speak! Another Sous Chef brought me upstairs to change and told me to "get ready quickly, it was time to move!" Changing into whites it suddenly dawned on me; I was doing my very first stage at one of the best restaurants in the world. I was going to get eaten alive. Making my way back into the kitchen I found Tim, the Sous Chef I would primarily be doing prep for. He brought me into one of their 3 walk-ins and showed me a giant bin of wild watercress. "See these heads? I need you to pluck 200 of them for me. I'll come back in ten minutes to see if your done" "TEN MINUTES???" I thought. Time to move. When he came back in he noticed the 50 sprigs I plucked were too small so he had me start over. Already I was in the weeds.... After that Tim had me pick more herbs before telling me to grab a branch of pine needles. Yes the very same pine needles you would find on a tree outside. I brought the branch to him and he showed me how to pluck the sprigs of needles and finely (and I mean finely) chop them into almost nothing before walking away to take care of something else. I picked up a few micro-morsels Tim had chopped and noticed they were almost the size of sand crystals. Holy...crap...I remembered Tim telling me it was extremely important that every spec was exactly the same size as the rest of them. Uniformity was ultra important here. So I begin finely dicing the pine needles, taking my time to ensure COMPLETE AND UTTER UNIFORMITY until a Chef comes over to tell me to "pick my speed up". I was moving as fast as I could while maintaining uniform specs but was constantly reminded that I was slow. Tim sifted through my pile of needle specs and said in a very stern voice, "if your going to take this long I expect EVERY piece to be the same". One or two were a hair longer so it gives you the idea of their level of expectation. I was losing my friggin mind at this point.
Next I had to pick 1,000 grams of garlic for Tim's fish station and it was a really labor intensive job since each clove had to be deshelled by hand. Periodically a Sous Chef would come over and remind me that I needed to pick it up. Eventually Chef Kent (who was running the kitchen that night) came over and noticed my struggle. "Have you thought of pouring hot water over the garlic, chef?" Chef Kent asked me. "No chef, I was never taught how to do that, chef" I responded in a timid manner. He showed me what to do and I did it. I couldn't help but feel completely stupid. Here I was, getting a lesson from the head of the kitchen on HOW TO PEEL GARLIC. This was not looking good for me...
Since this post is getting long, and I still have so much to talk about, I will post a second part of this post so look to read the rest in the next post.