My Creations, Places I like

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"No You Ahh!" EMP Edition, Part II

Due to length I have decided to break up my St. Patty's Day themed recollection of my EMP stage into two parts. Read Part I if you have not already.

    After chef Kent gave me a schooling on how to steep garlic to loosen it from its papery shell, they had me watch service from a corner to see how plates were assembled before going out. I was also placed in the Garde Manger station to taste hors d'oeuvres and ask questions. I was able to taste a few things my friends and I were given when we came to eat at EMP in January. It was fascinating to see some of the things we ate being plated and understanding how they came together. After a while Chef James Kent motioned me over to speak with him. It was the first time I saw him since my whole garlic debacle. I was toast. He explained to me that every stage has to cook for the chefs (this was the moment I had prepared for, I knew it was coming). He told me I had a half hour to cook a perfect French Omelet for him and could stuff it with whatever I felt like. I thought I would be cooking the French Omelet for him first thing in the afternoon as sort of a "Hi, nice to meet you, this is the kitchen now go make me a French Omelet" kind of thing. No, I was making the omelet at 10:30 at night, in the middle of service.
    When he said "GO" I spent the first 5-10 minutes pacing back and forth in the walk-in thinking of what to put in it...but mostly freaking the hell out. I decided to keep it simple. Nothing crazy to try an wow Chef Kent, just simple. I wanted to focus on the omelet without getting too caught up in adding crazy ingredients. Making the omelet perfectly would wow him just enough I thought. I grabbed some fresh spinach from the 1st walk-in before heading into the 3rd to grab goat cheese. I asked one of the Sous Chefs if I could borrow 2 burners to saute my spinach and cook my omelet for Chef Kent. He told me I definitely could but had to move fast since the second dinner rush was coming in. This only added to the pressure.
     I got two skillets hot and beat my eggs. Sous chefs on the line were watching me and it made me sweat big time. I had my mis en place set up and ready to go. When I dropped some butter into my omelet pan it immediately turned brown. Crap. Start over. My second go around I sauted the spinach and started making my omelet just like the Pepin video. I was visualizing every step in my head as I went along. Chef Kent came over, arms folded and watched me attempt the omelet. When Sous Chefs saw Chef Kent approach me a few of them started watching as well. "This has to be a record. I've never seen this many chefs watch a stage make an omelet before" Chef Kent said, clearly trying to throw me off my game (and doing a good job of it I might add). I could here James Kent faintly whisper to one of his Sous Chefs that it was clear I had been watching the Pepin video. I couldn't help but smile to myself that I at least did one thing right. My first actual attempt at the omelet went down in flames. The egg stuck to the bottom of the pan so I couldn't fold the sides over. It looked like dog food, and Chef Kent was watching the whole time. He told me what I had done wrong and I paid close attention so I would not repeat the same mistake. The Sous Chef on the line was subtly helping me with small details mainly because I think he wanted me off his line so he could get ready for the inevitable second dinner rush. Regardless, his assistance was integral even if he was trying to intimidate me as well.
    My next attempt I got the omelet where I wanted it before I folded in the sides to make it look oval-shaped. I put in my sauted spinach and goat cheese and folded in the ends on the lip of the pan (the rounded part). To my dismay the second fold had a small section that had browned. In a classic French Omelet there should be 100% NO BROWNING what so ever. By now I was a few minutes over my 30 minute limit and was ready to quickly bang out my last attempt but the Sous Chef told me he needed the burners for service. I had to plate it regardless. I inverted the omelet onto the plate and was told to put it on the pass with the rest of the dinner plates for Chef Kent to evaluate. Here I am, putting a sub-par French Omelet on the pass right next to flawlessly executed EMP dishes. I was mortified. 
     I knew the whole time the French Omelet was coming. I mean, I read, reviewed my notes and watched the Pepin video 30 times. I couldn't be more prepared!! There's a sharp contrast, however, between practicing it and actually making it in the EMP kitchen in front of Chef Kent. 

This is how I felt about the Omelet going into it (swagger)
And this is how I felt about the Omelet after I had finished it...(swagger deflated)
    I couldn't bare to look as Chef Kent approached me with my plate. He told me that minus the slight browning in the corner I actually did a good job. "This is good. It's nice." Chef Kent stated, before eating a sliver. One of the Sous Chefs tasted a bite and told me they've seen much worse (which was slightly reassuring). I tried a bite myself before cleaning my area and preparing for my one-on-one talk with James Kent in his office.
For the sake of keeping with the Boston/Irish St. Patty's theme...The Town
    To be clear here, it was not an interrogation, but when you in a tiny office, face to face with Chef James Kent, arguably one of the best chefs in America right now (Chef Daniel Humm was out of town for the weekend for those who were wondering where he was this whole time) you cannot help but feel intimidated. We spoke for awhile, and I told him I was looking for an externship. When he asked me where else I had staged, I was hesitant to tell him this was my first one. He said something along the lines that I had balls for choosing EMP for my very first stage. In his office I froze up again. I couldn't speak, or be myself (something I struggled with the entirety of the day). I had planned to tell him how eating there changed my life. How even a dish a simple as the veloute (a basic soup made from chicken stock) intrigued me for months. I was going to go into immense detail about that night the six of use dined at EMP but I just couldn't. I was a brick wall. I gave short answers without elaboration, and looked noticeably tense. When our talk was over I stuck around until 1am or so cleaning, and helping chefs breakdown their stations.
Imagine the last word saying "cook" rather than "cop" and that's how I felt when I left...
   I thanked James Kent for the opportunity and told him we would speak again soon before making the rounds, thanking all the Sous Chefs who had helped me along the way; mainly Tim the Chef on the fish line who I worked with most of the day.
    I left EMP at 1:30am feeling slightly defeated. I planned the entire week prior my stage and still got my ass kicked. Right from the start I was knocked off kilter and struggled the entire evening to regain my footing. My French Omelet was not as good as the first one I made way back in Skills and I looked like a fool in the kitchen. I just got rocked. I don't know how else to describe it.

    At this point I should probably point out that these two posts were not intended to shit on the EMP staff in any way or whine about a bad day I had. I am merely recalling the events of my very first stage as I remember them. I know full well that most of the time chefs were trying to intimidate me while also reminding me that the restaurant has a level of perfection they must maintain. Obviously this post makes it seem all bad, but in actuality there were a few things I did manage to do well. I got rocked but I still come away with tons of valuable experience, and knowledge. I know that as a first stage, especially at a restaurant of EMP's caliber I am going to face these trials and tribulations. I got to see one of the finest kitchens in America, if not the world, in action, and I got to work alongside some of the finest chefs. I am forever grateful to the Eleven Madison Park staff for taking me under their giant wing and allowing me to stage with them. Learning from my mistakes and working to become faster and better are things I came away with after my stage. These are things I can carry with me for the duration of my culinary career. So it was not all bad, in fact I enjoyed it. Its strange you know? You have to be a certain type of person to enjoy this stuff. It takes a certain type of bread to actually enjoy getting knocked down like that. A good ass-kickin will tell you more about yourself than a narrow victory ever will in my opinion...