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...

"No You Ahh!" EMP Edition, Part I

One of the best-worst horror movies ever: "leprechaun"
    Today is St. Patty's Day and instead of enjoying the nice weather and "celebrating" my very small fraction of Irish heritage with friends I am confined to my room due to illness. A few days ago I came down with some sort of bug--hot/cold chills, sweating, headache, lack of appetite, etc. There were times where I would be freezing so I would burrow under my blanket then I would start burning up so I would have to kick the blanket off in the middle of the night.
     I am feeling  better minus the no appetite so I hope this is my last day of recoperation. Last weekend I did a culinary "stage" or trail/shadow at Eleven Madison Park and in the spirit of St. Patty's I will recount the events using pictures and GIF's from The Departed and other heavily Irish-influenced movies...
     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)
    "If I had to judge how good technically a chef is, I probably would ask him to do an omlette" Those are the first words Chef Pepin says in this video. I had no idea if I would have to do the same dish or not so along with researching French Omlettes, I also bruched up on Hollandaise and Bearnaise sauces and other classic French techniques to be safe. Out of sheer nervousness I watched this video probably close to 30 times before I left for the city.
    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....

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pleased to "Meat" You, Part X: Last Day

Originally this was supposed to be a 14-part series but due to budget cuts, a recent staff strike, pressures from upper management and declining viewer ratings I had to cut this segment short and end with part X...That's all made up of course, but since I had no pictures or much to talk about for the previous 4 days I decided to do one final post for this segment, give the highlights and be done with it before I move on to a new segment for my fish fabrication class. That's right, you now have a new series called Somethings Fishy (working title) to look forward to, so be prepared to laugh, cry, and be amazed by all the things I post in the coming weeks. Now, without further adieu, my final meat fabrication post....

The band is back together
    I keep posting these pictures and somehow sneaky Van Damme manages to photo-bomb almost every single one...Anyway, I've set up shop here on my bed because The Rundown with The Rock is on TV and when you have The Rock AND Christopher Walken in one movie you don't not watch it, ammirite? I'm definitely right. Ok, so my last week of meat fabrication was coming down to the wire. We had to fabricate lamb, chicken, have our fabrication practical (how practical), take a butcher's yield test final (basically shows you how much to pay for meat post fabrication and whatnot), and have our product ID final with written exam, all in 4 days or 12 hours of class time. I got a 100 on my yield test and my fabrication went extremely well the last few days. For our fabrication practical we were given a boneless pork loin which we had to split with our group partner before tying into a roast and slicing cutlets. "This is an individual assignment" Chef Elia explained before we started. "You won't have a partner to count on this time, so this is where you can show what you are made of. Now begin." Personally I thought the practical was well...practical. All we had to do was trim the fat, remove the silver skin, tie a roast, show chef, then remove the string, slice 3oz cutlets and bring everything up to chef one more time. He also wanted to see the silver skin we removed (to evaluate if we cut into the meat), along with our usable and unusable trim. We had to do those minor things, and we had an hour and twenty minutes to do it. It was sooo much time. Since it was so little to do in so much time I had to expect he was going to grade HARD so it was important to do everything perfectly.
    From the pork loin you have the loin end and the rib end. I got the rib end which has very little fat or silver skin to trim; making my job even easier. I took the time to tie my roast uniform and tight as hell (that's a good thing), and used my ruler to measure the spacing between each tie to ensure uniform spacing before showing chef. The roast was tied so tight you might as well call me the "Hyde Park strangler"...When I brought my roast up to show chef he just smiled and nodded his head in approval. At one point I thought he was gonna start laughing he liked it so much. There were no words, just an unspoken understanding that I did a great job. Phase one, DOMINATED!
For the sake of sticking with the whole The Rock theme I found the  perfect Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson GIF that accurately sums up Chef Elia's reaction to my roast tying abilities...
    My next task was to cut off the kitchen string and carefully slice cutlets into 3oz portions. This part is harder than it looks and chef was going to be a stickler on the weight. I sliced my cutlets (only 1 or 2 were off and not by much), assembled my tray for grading and took a deep breath because I absolutely bombed my cutlets the last time he saw them. This was my redemption baby! When I brought up my tray chef asked me why I had so little silver skin before picking through my unusable trim to see if I was hiding anything. I explained to him that I received the rib end of the boneless loin and there wasn't much fat or silver skin to trim. "That's ok, that happens", he said while feeling my cutlets with his hands. He weighed one or two and felt the rest. "This looks good, great job". *Channels inner Shooter McGavin* *fires finger guns into the air*
Secret of the pros...

    Practical was done and in the books. Now it was time to watch chef break down chickens before duplicating it for a grade. I took two chickens back to my work station and starting removing the legs, wings, and breasts. My swagger from the practical was carrying over into my chicken production because I was killing it (that's a good thing for all your older folk out there). Once I was done I arranged everything he was looking for neatly in rows and wiped down my station so everything looked SHARP. Chef Elia came over and was very pleased. "This is some of the best work I've seen in the class all day, Peter". It was music to my ears especially since I stumbled out of the gate when the class started 3 weeks ago. 
    As I said a few posts ago, one of the most important things many students here neglect to think about is momentum. You have to hit you stride at the right moment when your team is entering the playoffs. These last few days of class were some of the best days I have had here at the CIA from a production standpoint. This post was not meant for me to boast or be cocky but rather to share with you my excitement for having a few kick ass days in class.