Dusting off the keys

January 2, 2010

Wow, four months, how the time flies.

You know, I promised myself I wouldn’t update this until both my temper and my financial situations cleared them selves up and I just totally forgot about this blog. Granted, I don’t have the same industry followers as I did before but really this is more for my own amusement and learning than anyone else’s.

Primarily I wondered if I could still call this a “Chef” blog as my title is most certainly not a chef any longer. But I got to thinking, I know a few chefs from school and the local industry that hardly warrant the title and yet they pass out glossy business cards with that moniker on them. After a bit of research and my own soul searching chefdom is not something that can be awarded to you solely but a business or an award ceremony. It’s more a frame of mind that comes with those that tough it out in the industry.

But it is good to be at the keys again. I’ve missed this, truly I have. I wanted to post earlier and pen my tales but like I mentioned I wanted time to adjust and prudence has proven wise as more story has unfolded in the ensuing weeks than at the time I lost my job. Not fired, not quit, not outsourced, but laid off. It is a new and unfamiliar feeling, one I’ve still not grown comfortable with. Never have I been part of a company that was so financially unstable that we had to terminate folks to save money.

When I left I though AGA to be doomed, another casualty to the fickle depression driven clientele and my previous employers’ improbably pricing. But sure as the date I pen this there are events on the books and food still leaves those quiet halls. At first I was jealous, I’ll fully admit it, irked at the fact my own toil was insufficient enough to warrant retaining my services full time or even on call. But after hearing of the conga line of chefs waltzing through that place, each fairing worse than the last under the same conditions I worked under for over a year it warms my heart for her to learn that it’s no where near as easy as she thinks or I make it look. Both known individuals being previous chefs for the same company that didn’t work out! (That would be my first big warning that things would go south.)

One, an alcoholic fired for his addiction and the second a well placed Seattle chef with excellent skills and only one hand. I’ve had many a stiff drink and cynical chuckle over loosing my prestige to “the one armed man” and will remember it always. As events continue to go out late and equipment is broken I feel sorry for the network of on call staff we use for serving part time. Surely they did little to lose their jobs? Makes me glad that I have a complete compendium of all the recipes amassed when I was at the helm of that company. That way one small piece is preserved when the range stops producing the smell of delicious food and instead serves cobwebs and dust.

But I have moved on, quickly at that, all thanks to Steve my Sysco rep. who mentioned off hand about a position down town for an experienced line cook. I spent a whopping 17 hours unemployed from the time I handed in my keys to when I got the call I should report in the next day for orientation. And while it cost me a long time associate I actually like not being the head honcho. The previous three chef jobs I had have shown me that I am not a leader of my kin, at least not yet and serve our industry better in a support role than one in which I must contend with ignorant owners instead servers that can be educated or cowed or both.

The food is fresh, most of it fabricated in house and made to order. The staff have proven (for the most part) competent and well meaning. The management is distant enough to not tread on my shoes but close enough to give support when I’m getting ready to snap. The most interesting development being that I earn almost exactly what I did as a “chef” (due largely to the automatic tipping system all cooks are part of) only here I work LESS than 40 a week and plan to spent a long warm week in Florida here in less than a week. An actual VACATION!

I may not have the title.

I may not wear my whites everyday.

But by god, it’s good to be appreciated again!

Begining of the End (Again)

September 11, 2009

So here I am, a mojito next to my keyboard and Craigslist open in the other window. A year at last, has come and gone, and I sit no further along the Foodie Food Chain than when I started  (this is mostly my own damn fault.)

I kept meaning to get back into school and get that business degree I’ve been meaning to complete for the last five years but something always came up. Psychotic ex-girlfriends, best friends wedding which I catered (moar on that later) the great Jazzbones Adventure, and other pitfalls that leave me pretty much right where I began.

Come October I will be one more invalid seaching for work as I part ways from my current company. Though no one can say I haven’t mellowed some. No big fights this time, no blow ups, no walk outs, no call backs. Just a simple severing of ties as they go one way and I go mine. With few exceptions I can say I’ve never felt less about finishing my time with a company. Usually it was a money issue (which didn’t have time to crop up yet) or a management issue (which I rarely saw), or a professional issue ( was left to my own devices for the most part and hence can only complain to myself). I won’t miss my fellow tennants in that building. The majority of whom are upstanding citizens that deserve a medal of courage for braving that elevator multiple times a day. But there are those few that ruin it for the rest.

I’ll definately miss the fact that the whole facility is on one level (minus junk storage on P2). That was a first for me and after working other down town spots this was a welcome respite to my calves and my tollerance for van loading. And while I won’t miss the plumbing in that place I will miss the beautiful new dishwasher I lobbied to get installed after the last one pretty much stopped working. Again, I had never encountered a machine younger than myself before and when Auto Chlor installs them babies they are a marvel. You’d think a Chef would ramble on and on about the appliances (some of which have seen better days that actually belong to me) or the stove or the tables but no, I love that dishmachine. My stainless steel water powered cleaning clock, ticking away load after load in perfect precision.

But it isn’t all longing. I have a few awards now to enjoy along with the memory of the fruits of my labors. I also have some rock solid recipes, some of which the clientel never even got a chance to try that I can hold on to and after a few years pass I can unleash them on the unsuspecting public once more. For few things are finer than a dish coming round again. I certainly appreciated my window view of the sound, another first. As all the other kitchens I toiled in were subteranian dungeons which while definately my style, also lack the boon of a breeze for those sweltering summer days at the grill.

All in all it was a pretty good run, and unlike in the past I’m not leaving on a depressing down note. I plan to go on to bigger and better things, instead of scraping by a living like I have in the past. I also plan to continue this little blog, as it has done wonders for my memory and my humility when it comes to past exploits.

Feeding Spartans

August 12, 2009

Greetings again fellow foodies, my apologies for the lack of updates as of late. August came in with a fury and it just now let up. I’ve done my start of the week celebratory drinking and with the customary hangover I start the new week. (I’m Irish, it’s practically required.) Any way, the last week was rather eventful, forgive the pun, with a mid sized plate up at Lake Washington Crew, followed by four the next day. (God bless competent Sous Chefs that I can leave on their own while I do the rest of the work.) But even before that we had a 300 person wedding out in the boonies of Gram. (Hence the movie reference in the title.) You know, that tucked far away spot where the richest of rich hide amongst the evergreens in houses that would give Robin Leach a heart attack. I’m not kidding. One side of a mansion down there was a waterfall that started on the roof, ran down the side of the home, culminating in a swimming pool as large as the entire ground floor of my home.

These people had bank and didn’t appear to be feeling the depression.

So it was with begrudging angst we wandered our way down into the Valley of the Rich and made it to our event site. A GIANT FIELD! Yes folks, that’s right. The doomsday scenario of all well prepared chefs. An open field with which to house and feed 300 people. And this wasn’t a padded event folks, they were young, hungry, and had few table spaces left when all was seated. Almost a 100% showing. So with an electric lamp and cold water hose at my disposal for accommodations my crew proceeded to erect a portable kitchen in the sweltering 100% heat. Now I have a bit of restaurant training so wearing a thick cotton coat didn’t bother me. But some of those servers were dying in their all black attire. It was the first, and hopefully last time I didn’t wish I was in something darker.

Time passes, and my two assistants have the satellite kitchen (which is 300 yards away on 20 degree incline near the house proper. For the appetizers, which were fairly popular. The servers couldn’t get near the core of the far end because every time they’d try to walk through the food would be swarmed from their trays before they got ten steps. These people were ravenous! 350 crab cakes with apple chutney, gone in a flash! An entire case of bruschetta cut baguette, wiped out. And while the gorgonzola cream melted in the hot July sun Nick had the brilliant idea of using the back up baguette smearing on the cream and topping with pear and nuts. An excellent save and that to went the way of the dodo. I was idly wondering if the ravenous guests were going to start gnawing on my chefs next in their quest to slake their hunger but thankfully the cocktail hour ended shortly after we ran out and they guests made their procession to the main event.

Thirty six feet of buffets met their match as the Horde settled down in waves upon my artfully crafted food. It wasn’t a small amount of items either. The Summer Cherry Salad for instance, was so popular I had to devote one chef at all times to toss more and more 30 person salads. My Sous restocked and garnished the vegetable trays and assisted me with the hot food garnish. Every time we’d close a cambro another order would come back or the same order would come in for the other buffet. It was all Nick and I could do to keep up. A shocking 23 minutes later the constant hustle ended abruptly. Just like that the Horde was satiated and none too soon. The back of the house was left in tatters. In the end, I had a stack of empty two and four inch pans up to my chest. Throw in the sheets pans and I had a tower of food encrusted metal that could crush me.

All in all despite the conditions and ravenous nature of the guests the event was well received and quite successful. We went WAY over on labor, as we’re more used to the 150-200 range of events but it was deemed necessary so alls well that ends well.

Kitchen’s closed.

Crossing Boarders

July 21, 2009

Wow, I missed a whole week of updates, must’ve been busy! Or perhaps it was recouping from that 17 hour day last Friday? Eh, all I know is the week of 7/13 to 7/19 is a blur of prep, cleaning, and throwing orders out the door as quickly as I can send them. For while it took its sweet time getting here we are at last in the full swing of the busy season. (From the Chef end at least.)

My poor Sous Nick, torn in four different directions: Dish washer, Prep Cook, Onsite Chef, and Event Lead. He did it all and did it well but I don’t envy his multi-tasking one bit. The amount of 5-Hour Energy Drinks he pounded down through out that day was enough to make my kidneys hurt by proxy. So you can only imagine the shock his system went through. I like to think I held up well through the weekend. I was largely left the hell alone which helps. I don’t know about you folks but after hour 12 I’m worthless in the brain department, it’s just the body going through the motions it’s done a thousand times before. I’m taking a strong mental note of this time for two reasons.

1) To remind myself to be ready for the December Push.

2) To bring this time up during my review in two months.

I am just a stone’s throw away from my one year anniversary as Chef at AGA and it certainly shows in the kitchen. I think I’ve really got the system down as far as where to store the dry goods, the partially prepped items, and the finished product. I have a well oiled machine of Ordering, Prep, and Cleaning (Thank you once again Jason!) With out I would be a singular lost soul among a throng of hungry Seattleites.

The events went well, despite my on going paranoia that a major disaster is just around the bend. And thankfully I don’t get nearly as angry as I used to, I’ve just learned to cope and roll with the punches and remember what went wrong so I can crush it in the future. Zoobiliee in particular went well, though I haven’t seen any reports yet. The general consensus was positive, in spite of the complete lack of photography of our part, but it’s good to see that the event still draws a crown even in 90 degree humid weather.

We Washingtonians may bitch and moan about the rain but most of us can’t handle heat to save our souls. My pudgy self definitely included. Thankfully I don’t do onsite freebies anymore and the rest of the staff had fun with it. The event at the Burke Museum was a blast, largely a New Zealander wedding (or Kiwis if you’re familiar with such). Though I did almost get a beat down from the Father of the Bride for jokingly asking why they hadn’t played, “I come from a land down under” with their DJ mix. He then realized I was joking with him and he let it go, that jolly old soul.

The Saturday event was a little rocky, but next time I think we’ll change the drive time to Steilacoom to 45 minutes instead of half an hour with Saturday Summer traffic. Other than that, everything was salvaged, we were out on time and the event went well. Though we are in need of a new bartender now, so if you know anyone contact Moe in the office.

Kitchen’s closed.

-KM CD

Fourths and Fifths

July 9, 2009

Happy belated Fourth, for those of you that managed to con your respective bosses into getting the night off. I was no so lucky, but then again like my good buddy Nick. When given the option of money or freedom I almost always choose the cash. (This is funny because if I’m salaried the money is always the same. Cursed work ethic!) At any rate, I made plans to party hard on Tuesday to make up for my culinary exploits over the weekend. When who should call me after I had already gone home for the day on Monday, but the boss!

Apparently, some major snafu happened in Seattle and they needed a caterer, at the Chinese Room, for 80. . .on WEDNESDAY! And with the Sales Manager out of town that cut our full time resources down by 33%. Plans were thrown into action; I raced out to Cash and Carry and managed to pull the event off with little to no snags. (Both Dish Washer and Sous Chef were out of town on respective business.) Which really confuses the hell out of me. This is the first time in my profession where as a caterer I hear of people taking vacation time in the busy season, let alone July! I was always under the impression that you never take time off starting May to September, but here I sit in an empty office. Now I will fully admit to bitterness, I have no one to pass the buck off to while I relax on the sandy beaches of where ever. (Mind you, I couldn’t afford to go there anyway, but it’s the principal of thing.) Granted, I’ll be taking time off on a really busy day to be the best man at a friends wedding, but that’s a day, not a week. Ah well, most of them earned it, and if I had the ability I just might have done it myself. </rant>

Anywho, Tuesday was a blast, I highly suggest you check out Jazzbones on a Tuesday for their live comedy. A lot of comics come through there and they like to try out new material on us on their way up (or down). And Sean Culver picks some truly awesome talent, man’s got skills I’ll give’em that. I think I over did it though, as I was attending the night’s festivities with my new roommate I bought round after round of Mandarin Moon. Where you have your typical pint of Blue Moon Pale Ale with orange slice squeezed in, and you add a shot of Mandarin Absolute. Imagine a punch to the mouth but your opponent’s fist is made of oranges. Good stuff but 5 in two hours is over kill, even for a guy my size. Thank the gods I live with in stumbling distance eh? No DUI for me.

At any rate, the event Wednesday went swell, hang over and all. I did have to invent a wedding cake for them using bits of a fruit tray, chevre cheesecake, and sugar packets when the concierge forgot to order one for them. But they loved it, and even sent us home with their left over booze. Now that’s the kind of tip I can get behind! Time to get crackin’ for the weekend, lots more food to do, and with my Sous out of commission with a shredded right hand (sheet metal is apparently sharp, who knew?) I have some toil ahead of me.

Kitchen’s closed.

-KMDC

Looking Back Part 2

July 1, 2009

I suppose in retrospect it was all worth it. Though it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time.

The early mornings, getting up before the sun to commute to Seattle from my home in University Place/ Tacoma. The theory classes filled with drivel I would never use again if I should cook for the rest of my days. The right evil European Chefs that dominated the schools instructors with iron fists and tall hats. The various unexplained instructions or directions, when asked for clarification you got was a dour look and a curt answer.

You can see why a sissy such as me would be more than a little apprehensive during my first week in culinary school. It was bloody scary! But I was resolute, bound and determined to carve a living out of the rock of culinary arts, even if it killed me! From a young age I’ve always loved food, and had shown aptitude in preparing. The knife felt right in my hand, the cutting board a natural stage with which to execute my edible opera. And thanks to my first real shot, given to me by the man I would work for almost 8 years. (Truly astounding in a day and age where turn over is a way of life not just a passing annoyance.) I was on my way to being what I wanted, a chef.

Like most immature prats, my biggest gripe was the outfits. White?! Really!? You would figure where one wrong move and you’re covered in any number of sauces, powders, or concoctions WHITE would be the last color our profession would choose as its standard color. And believe you me; I’ve retired many a chef coat that had slowly gone from pristine white to “not even all the bleach in the world can save it now” gray. Especially in the beginning, when it seemed like the majority of what ever I was chopping had been done by me bashing my chest on the board instead of my knives. (And as my pantry instructor will attest, my knife skills were on par with such an exaggeration the first time I took his station.)

But I made it through my first week, and I made a list of the thirteen things every culinary student at SSCC should know to survive that first quarter to see if you’ve got what it takes to survive the two years it takes to get that degree.

1)      Hats equal power: It took me two days to realize why the first quarter theory instructor had such a hard on for me. I kept wearing a hat to class. The syllabus we got before enrolling said all men must have short hair, girls can have hair above the collar. So I chopped off about a food of hair and showed up Winter Quarter with what little head protection my wardrobe offered at the time. I later came to find that rule isn’t enforced and spent the next two years growing back my tail from a buzz cut. But the point is, the taller the hat, the more power you have in the kitchen. This also means you’re more likely to be bothered with stupid questions or blamed if something went wrong near you. This is why the few times I did lead a station, I always kept a back up short hat that all the less quarter students wore. Besides, it made’em work for their info.

2)      Always do your theory homework: The instructors have an unnatural ability to call on you for the one question that day, for the one page you didn’t read because you went to bed 20 minutes early. It is through this same form of suffering telepathy that they will have you present your report/findings/test scores on the day you pulled a double at work and had just enough time to crawl into your whites and not call in sick that morning.

3)      He who controls the stock room, controls the kitchen: I fondly remember having Inventory, Operations, and Ordering at the start of all my quarters. And it served as a staunch reminder that if you don’t plan ahead you will get screwed. The cooks in charge of the stock room have nothing better to do than count off things and clean so watching your suffering take place is a welcome respite. It’s also a good lesson for “real life” cookery. “If you don’t order it, you can’t make it, and can’t sell it.” Besides, I hate giving those bastards the satisfaction of filling my requisition in their own sweet time.

4)      We are all suckers for a “free meal”: We wake up hours earlier than usual, often skipping breakfast and work with food all day. So when we get our lunch break we often go overboard and chow down everything in sight. And despite Preps best attempt at keeping up, the last 10% of students often had to settle for the stale pastries from Baking and the extra melon bits from Pantry. So it always pays to be extra nice to the Prep lead and have him give your team a high sign when they’re about to open the trough for the pigs. Not only will your team like you for it, you might actually get to eat something other than wilted spinach and that failed potatoes O’Brian experiment.

5)      Label everything: Chef Hawley, god bless is fat encrusted heart, taught me this lesson well my first quarter. You see, he would go through the four reachins Prep had to it’s self and pull out anything that wasn’t labeled and obvious in terms of what food it was, hand out the tasting spoons, and make us sample the mystery food. Mostly sauces mind you, but a burnt beef reduction meant for Sauce the next day was gawd awful cold. And he never failed to get us at least once a rotation, at least until it was my turn to lead that station. It wasn’t until I caught him tearing off a label that I had put on some salmon fume the day before that morning on my way to change in the locker rooms did I understand the extent to which the man was dedicated to learning, and suffering. Needless to say I didn’t squeal, but I didn’t have to dig in with a spoon either. Some lessons have to be learned.

6)      The first quarter is the hardest: For many reasons, but primarily because their job is to weed out all the people that can’t or won’t hack it in the field. We’re trained from day one to go straight from their kitchen to one where we get paid. And we had lots of folks from high schools and worker retraining grants that were just dabbling in the field and had no intention of using the knowledge wasted on them. So of course the instructors don’t know if you mean it or not, and some times you don’t know either. So they pressure you again and again until you finally snap and they watch your response. If you didn’t break down into tears, quit, or hit them, you earned their approval. That first quarter is a crucible, and if you can survive it you can build the skills in later quarters to survive anywhere on earth. (Provided you have the meanest grasp of the local lingo and have the tools necessary to do the job anyway.)

7)      UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU BUY TOP OF THE LINE KNIVES WHILST IN CULINARY SCHOOL: I can’t stress this enough. If you go to the CIA or Cordon Bleu and they force you fine, you’re stuck. But if you went to a smaller school like me buy them sharp and keep them sharp, but don’t break the bank. You will MANGLE those knives learning how to use them, and often times not care for them properly while juggling other projects and learning. Save the expensive Germane Steel or Japanese Terra Cotta until after you have the skills to wield them competently. You pocket book will love you for it.

8)      Pay attention to everything: Just because you think you’ll never be a baker take your Baking and Pastry rotations seriously. I didn’t and regret it to this day. Just because you don’t want to make cookies for a living doesn’t mean the skills learned there couldn’t be applied elsewhere. The same goes for all the fancy old school stuff you learn in Pantry and Garde Manage. Retro is always in style and you‘ll never know when making Pate en croute might come in handy. I took away skills that would help me in catering, because that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Two years later, I end up working in restaurants for three years. Having to remaster a lot of stuff that was up for grabs the first time. Also, hang on to all your old packets, notes, and diagrams. That’s more valuable than any cook book because it gives the same knowledge written in your own words, hence easier to understand.

9)      Age means nothing: They could look 12 and have already been in the industry for five years, taking these courses to get their degree for resume purposes. Or they could look 60 have never wielded anything more complicated than a knife and fork at Thanksgiving because they got laid off from Boeing and need a new profession. I was constantly underestimated by my peers because I looked like I was in my teens but carried myself like a well learned individual. (Though it was annoying to get invited to bars again and again when I didn’t turn 21 until AFTER I graduated.) Some of those old farts especially, who had lived the high life up until they couldn’t oversee the riveting of wings anymore and had to work for a living again. When I tell you to cut the fucking carrots a certain way I mean it for a reason, not because I have some sick power fantasy. (Though it does feel good.)

10)  Culinary school is not the be all end all of learning: In fact, once in the field proper you may learn that some of the things you’re doing are inefficient and out dated. Or perhaps the chef there has a specific way of doing things and your way isn’t welcome. I found out the hard way that there is a stigma that if you have a culinary degree those that did OJT (On the Job Training) will think you a pompous, condescending ass. (Which I find unfair because I was a pompous condescending ass long before enrolling at SSCC). So be prepared to change, adapt, and learn until you roll up your knives for the last time and close that kitchen down forever.

11)  Never ask when something will be done: You will never get a straight answer, its part of the learning process. You can receive estimates now and again but they don’t want you holding to them like doctrine. There are always variables, and they’re trying to teach you (in their ass backwards and infuriating way) to watch the food and learn the signs of peak doneness and flavor. Though I would be lying my ass off if I didn’t relish it as much as my instructors to give that answer to some one that hasn’t learned this rule yet.

12)  Watch your fellow chef: Often times they have field experience that not even those aged and well learned instructors have. Being out of the active field or retired in some of their cases makes some of their knowledge stale. We are always inventing new ways and methods of doing things. Even in an age where you can get just about any food product year round there are only so many ways you can combine them all. So methodology and application take up the creative slack. I’ve learned countless tips and tricks from my subordinates and incorporated them into my own style to make a more efficient whole. Heed the old adage, “Even a fool knows something you do not.”

13)   Never refer to a chef as “sir”: It took me years to figure out why this is so. I was always raised with the practice that if you are to show some one respect you refer to them as Ma’am or Sir. But our years of murky history and skullduggery origins make us leery of authority, even when we ARE that authority. So we choose the title Chef, like Doctor. This is why even though this blog is Chef Dudley, and that’s what my business card says, I do not consider myself a true Chef. I don’t have all the skills and abilities to be considered as such in my mind and feel that the title is thrown about FAR too easily these days. Just because you’re in charge of food in a place doesn’t make you a chef. Just as such, if you own a place that serves food you are not a chef. A chef is more a state of mind and a life style than a title, and it seems many of us in the field have forgotten that and pretend to greatness neither warranted or earned. So if there is a 14th rule it would be to be humble. There’s always some one out there that knows more and has more, just don’t live in fear of the bastard. He could be your dishwasher for all you know!

So that’s it, the culmination of my first quarter there at SSCC. Fond memories earned through hard work, and a general loathing of unemployment. If you asked me to do it all again I probably would go for it. Who know what I would learn on a second round or what they’ve incorporated into the curriculum since leaving their halls for the wild. I may even go back some day to compliment some business training to own my own business down the road, but that’s still a few years away. I know a lot of folks that did other programs in the area and if you’re reading this, add your own experiences. I’m just one guy with one view.

Kitchen’s closed.

-KM CD

Summer Grind and Mellon Rinds

June 30, 2009

I’m so tired.

And happy.

But really tired.

And really happy.

Ever since I can recall I’ve been a nose to the grind stone kind of guy. I’m always happiest whilst toiling away on some project or another in the kitchen, knocking out prep list item after item. Looking up and pondering where the sun went while I wasn’t looking or exclaiming my surprise to my worn out cohorts that I can’t believe it’s NO WAY o’clock. It’s been a while since I’ve done 6 events in three days and I definitely gave my shoes a run for their money with all the running around. That familiar ache that one gets after standing for 24 of 48 hours in the lower calf and Achilles’ heel. I can find few greater joys than reestablishing the calluses on the pads of my hands or the light twinge one feels holding the tools of your trade all day. Makes that beer at the end of the shift extra tasty as well as earned. (Calorie wise any how)

Granted, most of the work was comprised of Party Platters. Those ingenious orders comprised almost solely of trays of food. No servers. No buffet clouding. No chaffing dishes. No onsite work other than setting it up, wishing the client good luck, and getting the hell out of there in a timely fashion. To me, it is the greatest exhibition of a Chef’s food when it’s the star of the show and there’s no pomp and circumstance to cloud the vision of your dish. Décor and ambiance are nice and all, and definitely have their place in more sophisticated events. But if it’s grandpa’s 76th, or junior graduated from high school why waste the money when all you really want is a quick and high quality meal with out slaving the day away in your dinky kitchen when there’s a perfectly willing and able professional out there just waiting to make your event really pop.

I’ve tried doing the same thing at home I do at work and it’s always messier, more expensive, and time intensive than in a professional setting. And I do this kind of thing for a living! And it’s not like I’m trying to sell anybody on this catering thing, it generally does that for its self, (With the ample marketing and not-so-subtle nudges in the right direction.) any money you save doing it yourself is lost on labor and clean up. And WE bring it right to your table, not even Dominos can make that claim. Though depending on your delivery driver I could understand wanting to keep them on the porch.

At any rate, the wedding last weekend was phenomenal, and I don’t use that word lightly. The menu was excellently balanced and left no hole unfilled. (That one’s for you Caroline, like back in the day.) The appetizers were simple, clean, and authentically tasty. The well used and always appreciated Italian Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms complete with fresh thyme, oregano, and parsley combined with the sweet and salty pork really complimented the chewy earth flavor of the fungus. I don’t normally care for stuffed mushrooms but I felt no qualms at all that they didn’t go through all we made. Myself and Nick demolished those things and left no survivors. The other baguette laden app was our blushing pear bruschetta. A tropical treat consisting of freshly roasted macadamia nuts, merlot blanched pear reduced down so dark you’d swear you’re eating an odd textured plum, and a brie spread that leaves nothing to the imagination as to what it is.

 My only gripe there was the baguette it’s self, my usually supply bit the dust when it got wet in the walk-in. The condenser that drips water into the catch pan that drains outside the building got backed up and made some rather unique but culinarily useless science experiments. So settling for the local items a hop, skip, and jump away from the shop were both expensive and lower quality. But needs be as the devil drives and we made it work. The trick turned out to be that we pre-made the items and let the moisture from the brie spread soak into the baguette. The mouth feel was a little off but it was passable and I heard not a complaint so I must be doing something right?

The buffet it’s self is where things really get interesting. You see, on one side of the wedding party or another there was some islander blood and it shown through in their food choices. So off the beaten path of traditional Franco-American cuisine we trekked into the dark depths of quasi-tropical eats. The first item was a torte I’d never made before consisting of grilled run soaked pineapple, macadamia nuts, and perfectly toasted coconut. I had folks poking their head in all afternoon when I was handling that coconut. I swear, I should get a stipend from all the local eateries for making the residents above me in my building hungry all the time! Next came the Moroccan Fruit and Nut salad, comprised of more macadamia nuts (I love them things!), blood oranges, mint, cinnamon, spring mix (which has finally reached its seasonal peak), and sliced candied dates. I used blood orange concentrate to make vinaigrette that really sang. Not too sweet or too tangy, nor cloying like some of the citrus vinaigrettes can get at times. I also liked the mint in there, kinda threw the pallet for a loop with all the other flavors.

Another buffet oddity was our Pomegranate Chicken, something I’ve only made once before and apparently not correctly the first time around. The walnut flour coated chicken tenders were golden brown grilled and then glazed in a pomegranate white balsamic reduction. It was sweet, and early, and very very nice on top of the next dish, which was Lemon Grass Coconut Risotto. I haven’t made that stuff since culinary school back in ‘0 bloody 4! But like a duck to water I started that lemon grass coconut infusion hours ahead of time, which turned out to be a good thing. Because with all the other events going on that week I had left this one last, as it was in house at Suite 100, and it was my event. I was literally pulling the risotto out of the oven to place into a chaffing dish pan to go out on the buffet. We’re talking seconds from done to on the run here folks.

But all in all it was a pleasant event. There was bread, and a veggie platter to round out the menu for those less adventurous in their culinary exploits. As well as a live action crepe station, complete with three fillings and sauces instead of wedding cake. Very original, and more welcoming than another generic slice of butter cream laden white sheet cake. (You’d figure a group that goes to school as long as the Foodies do would have come up with some more main stream originality?)

Now to enjoy that faux-hito in the sun on my deck.

Kitchen’s closed.

-KMCD

Longest Day of the Year

June 22, 2009

Solstice.

The ancient observance denoting the fact that the heavenly spheres are moving towards one of their respective extremes. In this case, Summer Solstice, and what better excuse do you need to put on your Sunday’s finest (which for me is still a chef coat) and drink the day away in sunny Tacoma. The longest day of the year has been a long time nemesis of mine, favoring the dark night as I do, the Day Star’s wrath has been a thorn in my side since I learned what a sun burn was. I have had to since abandon my gothic pale roots in favor of the farmer’s tan I now sport due to my morning commute. After years in the restaurant industry, lightless and windowless dungeons they were, the concept of a window is a largely enviable accoutrement to any chef’s domain. Even if it is a tad annoying for those “up with the sun” brunches.

The dinner was planned months in advance, after our earlier idea of a St. Patties’ day event got scrapped in lieu of guaranteed cash flow. The concept was sound: good food, great booze, a decent band, and an okay locale. For what we charge the waiter at El Gaucho would sneer at you and they don’t even have a view. But despite Tacoma’s slow and inexorable march towards class, (if the $180 bucks a night at the Marriot Courtyard is indicative of), our turn out was less than desirable. The room was festive, wild flowers from the local markets everywhere. Brilliantly colored linens with intricate center pieces, and not a bug in sight. The cocktail hour went smashingly, the plated salad a tad less enthusiastic, and the buffet it’s self followed by dessert station was a hit. But alas, despite the best attempts of Monica, Moe, and Heather our count was low and thus a wash. Sometimes being the chef just isn’t enough, and I know my cohorts did their best. So where did we go wrong? True, it is the first event of its kind (and had this one made money the first of many) and the word was definitely spread out digitally and IRL. I suppose its back to the drawing board, after all, there’s Christmas Parties to shoot for.

But if you were here to listen to me whine about failure I’d just link you to my livejournal. On to the food!

The appetizer portion was split into two attacks: a station and passed varietals. The stationary ones were Green Gazpacho Martini Glasses with Crab and Fruit Skewers with Passion Fruit Dipping Sauce. The Gazpacho was still too thick to slurp from the glass it’s self. I’ve either got to come up with a veggie stock recipe that doesn’t taste bad chilled or just dump a lot of good wine in because you shouldn’t need a fork to eat soup. And don’t tell Monica but I had this interesting idea (that follows along the lines of stupidly labor intensive and annoying) where we stuffed the crab into one of those over sized cocktail olives you see at Tacoma Boys or other upper end olive bars. The fruit skewers looked pretty with their pineapple, honeydew, fig, and strawberry but as always no one ever eats them. I shoulda just put it on the buffet for some color so they could be usefully annoyed instead of breaking them all down Monday morning for staff fruit salads.

The passed ones were more successful but just as lopsided. The veggie cakes with the new Lemon Thyme Topper were very popular amongst carnivores and sissies alike. (Hey, I may be an ass but I hold no love for those that deny themselves the sultry goodness that comes from animal sacrifice.) I’m always pleased when a staff member that hasn’t tried it yet gets swayed from the onion relish that used to top those suckers. Better living through condiment superiority. The new item, grilled fig gorgonzola toasts with thyme honey was hit and miss. The fig was flavorful, and the gorgonzola a creamy foil for the oily fruit. But drizzle of honey (which I was quite frankly surprised at how well it took to the thyme) was too sporadic in concentration. On guest said it was too much and cloyingly sweet, another too little and the balance with gorg was out of whack. I have hence proposed to make a walnut gorgonzola spread to put down on the baguette and candy the fig slices in the honey. Adding a much needed crunch and giving the honey a water proof platform to stand out on instead of making soggy bread.

Next the salad, a composed number on plates borrowed from Jonz Catering in a trade off for other services rendered. They have some really neat avant garde china ware that I would be willing to beg, plead, and generally swindle for. Gone are the days when the round gothic or oval espree patterned plates cut the mustard. Now we have bowls, squares, trapezoids, and many other shapes that mangle the eye and physics. But these petite plates were a touch small for my original intent. Despite my misgivings they were well received and I look forward to acquiring my own in the not so distant future. (If for no other reason than my own nefarious purposes.) The salad it’s self was a composed on consisting of chopped spinach, crumbled feta, white balsamic pickled red onion, and minted mandarin oranges. Though next time I think I’ll forgo the pretty arrangement for a tossed version as all the vibrant colors of the ingredients stand out on their own.

The buffet was ironically simple, as this crew generally favors the large and lavish type. Poor planning on my part held a buffet that held no hot items, the only cold ones present in the apps and the plated salad. We start off with an Orzo Primavera Orzo, composed of grilled artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olives, and a roasted shallot olive oil and a heaping helping of parm to keep the natives from getting restless. We do so love our cheese at AGA. Next came the vegetable dish, stuffed tomatoes. Yes, I reached deep into my culinary school past for this time honored tidbit but it has always served me well and it did so again this last weekend. The carved beef steaks were a little under stuffed but the roasted corn, smoked Gouda, and vegetable medley bound with panko even sung for me a staunch tomato nay-sayer. I like them in sauces or a salad, but whole and hot generally don’t hack it for me. Needless to say I cleaned my plate of it despite many of the guests only eating the cores. Can’t blame them, all the flavor was there.

The other starch present were our Rosemary Reds, and after many years of spud preparation I have found the golden ratio of fresh to dried to give that earthy yet sweet balance to that oft sought after tuber. Borrowing once more from my past, the addition of Worcestershire sauce (something you don’t often see in potatoes) really helps cut at the butter and gives a different mouth feel as far as saltiness goes. Next came the rolled flank steak roulades, I swear, I need someone sensible to beat me about the head and shoulders during our staff meetings when I suggest these bloody items. The concept was simple enough: combine the quick and tender skewer method of cooking with the moisture saving formation of a flank steak roulade. The result was mostly as planned.

The filling ended up being a bit bland, but it absorbed the balsamic vinaigrette well and did indeed keep the steak moist. How ever even whilst slicing it in the meat lollipop style I determined the meat filling would stick to the grill tines so I chose to 9/10ths cook them in the oven and give the grill a shot at some color and presentation. If I had to do it again (and knowing my own big mouth we will) I would flat top grill them to keep them disc like and give them some real golden color that comes from ample fat and a little finesse.

The last item was one so popular we actually ran out the last time I made it. A HUGE culinary taboo and one made fairly early in my career with AGA, and one I’ve yet to repeat, thank god. A cedar plank smoked salmon with pear cider glaze. Sophisticated, popular, and always a crowd pleaser this dish is. Until that day anyway. Some way, some how, the salt cure I used the night before was just too strong. (Like my criticism I laid it on too thick.) I also wanted to smoke the fish longer but we had guests showing up and the idea of carrying red hot metal through a crowed ballroom on my way to the kitchen smelled of pain and lawsuits. The flavor was there, but hidden under dryness and salt. We still went through 8 sides of it so it couldn’t have been all bad, but it definitely could have been better.

Dessert was something that changed from moment to moment for me. In the beginning I imagined a plated dessert akin to the salad, but as this wasn’t a scheduled event like a wedding or bar mitzvah that would have been impossible. We had a hard enough time getting the people to sit down for the salad, let alone wrangling them in for a final course. Then the concept would be one similar to an event we did for the TCC Alumni party we did a while back where there’d be three tiered trays of varying types and styles but that got scratched when we realized there’d be nothing on the table as far as a center piece goes until dessert came out and that would ruin the look. Lastly we settled for a station where the appetizers were, and that turned out to be the best. I really like the Plexiglas and glass block tower though I wish it were wider and not as deep. Makes it hard for some one with ham fists like me to reach into the back for the delicate morsels.

The items were numbered three, nor more, no less, and five was right out. (Points for the reference) The first was a Lemon Curd Tartlet with strawberry slice garnish. I wish I had the ability to swirl a strawberry compote into it instead by alas I lack the knowledge. Next came a chocolate mousse cup with white chocolate drizzle. This was widely popular and easy to make, a staple for Mini-Dessert Platters me thinks. Lastly came the big disappointment of the evening. The banana cream bouche with grilled plantain. For starters, I didn’t pay attention to my order when it came in and got dark chocolate mousse instead of white, so the color was off. The banana concentrate REALLY tasted like bananas, not that plasticy artificial banana flavor you get in kids drinks. And sadly the plantains were just too under ripe to sweeten up on the grill when I had a crack at them. I really should have ordered them earlier in the week and done them the day of instead of ordering the day of. I’d also shred them and bake them for better color and texture. Now that would be a banana cream pie to write home to mom about.

All in all the event went well. I dunno if we’ll do another of its type, so far the feeling is no. People are just too used to getting free food at our open houses that the concept of paying for an event (no matter what the quality is) is alien to them. But we’ve learned and we know what to do for next time. Either way I’ll have lemonade all week to drink and that’s worth the trouble alone.

Kitchen’s closed.

-KMCD

Looking Back Part 1

June 18, 2009

A recent critique of my work has given me pause, it was conflict less and innocent of any malicious intent. But all the same, when some one questions your way of doing things it all ways rouses that paranoid part of your mind that makes you ask yourself, “Have I erred?” And this thought always sends me back to the beginning. Did I do this right? Was this the path in which I should have traveled? And I walk through my logic, my reasoning, and as long as I’m firm in my resolution through the gaze of hindsight I know I can continue on in earnest confident that the road I walk is the correct one. Even if I fail to make friends along the way. Because no matter how constructive it is, criticism is still basically saying you’re wrong, and no one deep down wants to hear that no matter how removed from the situation they are. But I strive to see their point of view, because they are not me, and as we all know. There are of hell of a lot more of them than there are of us.

So whilst I walk down memory lane I recall my first event, as the KM (Kitchen Manager for those outside the industry, hence my signature.) and what went right and wrong.

I think we all like to start with the best intentions when taking on the onerous task of a new job. As long as you aren’t jaded and actually want the job I’d like to think we all try to do our best at the get go, put your best foot forward, and start as you mean to go on. I’m a fervent believer that if you don’t want to work where you are you shouldn’t because there’s almost certainly some one around who will that doesn’t need their arm twisted. But I’m rambling.

The event was a unique one on multiple levels for me. For starters, it was the wedding for our very own sales manager Moe, at long last tying the knot with her long time cohort Jeremy out in the Nisqually Valley at the very rustic Red Barn. I’ve only been there once and direly want to go back. The rural appeal is a breath of fresh air after spending far too much time cooped up in windowless hell that was Jazzbone’s kitchen. Best of all, the barn had been renovated with new electricity, and the kitchen was full stocked with a fridge, shelving, plenty of sink space, and stomping room. Vital things to any catering kitchen not often found in off site locals. It was also unique in that it was the previous Chef’s last day/event and she was off the moment we stepped foot on the grounds.

At first things were fine, I had everything organized and set up in record time, even asked the lead if there was anything I could help her with. This elicited a quirked eye brow; apparently the back of the house never meddled with the front or vice versa. For you see, I had only ever worked Part Time/ On Call before this night for AGA. And most of that spent in the shop its self helping Caroline crank out trays or bulk prep, never actual onsite cheffing. (Yes, that would be a culinary verb, to chef. And if it wasn’t before it is now!) I quickly learned, like many revisiting a field left to rust in their minds that it looks a great deal easier than it is. From the get go problems started to crop up. Small things like the sauce was flimsy, the apples had to be acquired from the site it’s self and instructing new or rather poorly trained servers on where to put what where.

I was ill prepared.

I was with out aid.

I was completely boned.

I had swore to myself after the last time I quit catering for the god forsaken restaurant field that I would be a milder man, a kinder man, and more understanding man. But when the pressure started to mount I found myself falling into old patterns of barely controlled rage and caustic comments that withered what little server courage there was to start with. New job, new role, same mistakes. Looking back now it was almost all my fault, not something I’d normally admit so readily but that’s what happens when you take the details that are oh so pivotal to our industry fom granted.

The menu unfurled before me and despite my best efforts things did not go according to plan. . . .

For the appetizers we had an overwhelming five for 100 people, two at a station and 3 passed. The stationary one held Veggie Cakes and the Tapenade trio. Having never seen either of these in action I didn’t know the veggie cakes absorbed the sauce quickly so pre-saucing them is a bad idea. And as for the pita that went with the trio of sauces, well, smaller triangles would have made them easier to eat.

The three passed items were smoked salmon scones, duck flautas, and Italian stuffed mushrooms. The salmon was dry, but then again I didn’t make it, I was just responsible for it. The duck dish wilted in the cambro on the hour long ride there, making for a greasy wanton wrapped bit of cream cheese and duck. The mushrooms faired the best in appearance, but we had the fewest of them prepped so they ran out too quickly. Though that in the end was my fault as well for not noticing how often the servers were taking them over the other two.

But it wasn’t all bad, chalked up to a learning experience the food has improved a thousand fold from that day as I learned how to adapt her menus to my style. The veggie cakes now have a bit of flour in them, making them denser and more cake like, keeping them moist and less absorbent. The Tapenade trio got a rework, and my thyme butter pita bread is eaten out of hand just as much as it is slathered with spread. The duck was removed from general service, its fragility making it unsuitable for general catering work where a fryer isn’t readily available. But if some one does order it, I can make it in the Rangoon style, so it won’t wilt, fall apart, or need cutting. The mushrooms are always worked in mass and we’ve yet to run out for them on an event.

Work. Learn. Rework. Succeed!

The buffet I found, was wrought will other kinds of traps and pitfalls previously unknown to me. For instance: our Melons, Berries, and More. The “More” bit was supposed to be dried fruit, nuts, and other sweet things to accent the platter. Previous to then, I had only really used the cut fruit with perhaps the pineapple top as garnish. (Though I was against the pineapple top even back then, strikes me as VERY 80’s) The salad, one of Moe’s favorites, was made too soon because the buffet open time got pushed back and it was foolishly the first thing I made. The Veradura Platter (A veggie tray with marinated, roasted and grilled items for those not familiar) had not been allowed to drain before assembly, and the juices made the bottom bits soggy. So now I use a different tray and always pat dry my purgables. (Gonna need my own dictionary if I keep this up.) The Rissoni Gusto, a bastardisation between risotto and orzo, had too much browned butter and not enough of the good stuff. The sundried tomatoes, the artichoke hearts and what not that really makes the dish, instead of just another hot pasta salad.

The Blackened Salmon Alfredo really struck a nerve with me. For starters, the sauce was separate to prevent the pasta from going mushy. But once cooked and held warm the pasta continues to break down regardless of how the sauce is on it. The salmon was of low quality, greasy, over cooked, and not nearly enough of it. And as I mentioned earlier, the cream sauce broke in transit. After much tinkering the sauce is now on the pasta, and has held as far south as Tibits Creek. We haven’t sold that dish again, but if we do, I have an awesome blackening rub stolen liberally from the Creole recipes I lifted from my predecessor from Jazzbone’s Kitchen. The carne asada was really the only thing I couldn’t gripe about. It was moist, flavorful, and had I remembered the bowls for the pico de gallo it would have been smashing. The Chicken Apple Riesling Roulades were a bit of a nightmare; apparently it was status quo to cut them on site. But that raises all kinds of problems as they’re messy, you can’t reheat them onsite generally. And it’s harder to get accurate portioning when you’re under the gun to get it out pronto. Now they’re par cooked, sliced, and baked the day of. Other than the odd complaint that they’re dry at the end of service of 45 minutes the problem is solved. (I think a little extra broth in the sauce will extend their buffet life to an hour.)

The Rosemary Reds (Potatoes) were cooked alright, but didn’t have enough sauce or rosemary in them to give them a definitive flavor. Now we use a mixture of dried and fresh in a butter sauce to bring out the full body that those spuds deserve. The bread situation was also new, Essential Breads out of Seattle, make some of the most awesome loaves I’ve ever had the privilege of sinking my teeth into. They need to be cut onsite when possible as they go stale fairly quickly, and the company standard is to artfully arrange them between two dishes on the buffet it’s self. I did not know this and was swearing up a blue streak when I couldn’t find the bread basket that was never meant to be there in the first place.

So there I was, fuming and practically foaming at the mouth when Moe and Jeremy came into the kitchen to thank me personally for making their event so wonderful and I was dumb struck. They either didn’t notice, or didn’t care that things had gone so rockily. They hadn’t seen me running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to put out one fire as another cropped up.

They were content.

They couldn’t be more pleased.

They looked forward to more of my work.

So I learned a few valuable lessons that day:

1)      I am on my own, because I’m the only one that knows what needed to be done as far as the back of the house goes.

2)      Don’t Panic. (Points if you get the reference.) Chances are the client will never know anything went wrong unless it’s blatantly obvious or you tell them. And if they don’t care, why ruin the evening?

3)      Mistakes will happen. There is no such thing as a perfect event. And while we should strive for it, something out of our control will always crop up.

4)     Never give up. You can always come back and do it again. And again. And again.

So it is with this thought of constant renewal that I journey down the road to Chefdom. It’s taken me to places I never expected to go and I’ve had to endure all kinds of odd situations. (Kinda like a trip to Mexico) But I’m determined to enjoy it, even if it kills me. Because despite all the trouble, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.

Kitchen’s Closed.

-KMCD

NACE with grace

June 17, 2009

In a field of entertainers we do so love to show off for one another. You’d think that after spending most of our cognicent waking hours toiling away for the parties of others we’d all just sit down in a bar and chat, complain, and trade war stories over cocktails and snacks. But if the National Association of Catering Executives has anything to say about it, we party on in the style of and some times better than, our clientele.

Case and point yesterday, at our very own Suite One Hundred (SOH for short), where the movers and shakers of the Tacoma Guild made their monthly meeting in the CTA building. Sadly, we drew the “Healthy” meeting package, an expose of how small changes in the diet can have tremendous results. This is some what regrettable as our general feel is something more upper class and extravagant. Our events are those times where you’re cheating this week because it’s so and so’s birthday, or wedding, or just cause it looks delicious. So we settle for a menu that nods at something healthy, but by and large it was our tag line: “A grand affaire, at a great value.” And being on the inside doing a good chunk of the purchasing I definitely think our group got it’s monies worth.

We had a stationary appetizer buffet which held a new version of the Gorgonzola Rose Petal, and a new item, Saltim Bocca bites. Monica had built a Plexiglas and clear block tower which hosted our new four compartment trays. Which I really want to use for a seated appetizer menu or wine tasting. A little something different in each one, with sauce and garnish. On the other hand, as my buddy Nick pointed out. Left to my own devices I have a nasty tendency to choose projects and ideas that are very labor intensive and annoying to the back of the house. Food items that I would be staunchly against if one of the ladies suggested them. Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment so long as I’m the one serving it, but I’ve gotten off track.

The Gorgonzola Rose Petals were very pretty, though the petals themselves were a bit large for our purposes. The Red Onion Relish with Pecan and Gorgonzola mousse had a pop of flavor but became flimsy if you had to take more than one bite. And if you have any sort of manners at all, you would for petals that size. I am happy to report after tinkering with the recipe I’ve finally learned how to candy nuts like Nick does. Before they always came out over done or bound together like peanut brittle. This only comes to mind because we’ve topped the dish with a candied pecan.

(Now before I start to get crap about not knowing how to candy nuts, ask yourself this: how bloody often does a standard dinner or catering chef need to candy nuts? Yes they covered it in school but I sucked at it then and to be honest I didn’t take full advantage of my two week pastry rotation. Down with Pasties, long live Foodies!)

Though with a throw back to last weeks post about food that induces a chef’s visual foodgasim response this would be it. If I had my way I’d serve that in a booth at Cater Source next year come winter. It looked THAT good. The Saltim Bocca bites were a bit of let down. To be honest, I left it to the end, and as I had to get the fish fresh off the truck (moar on that later) I was running out of time and told Nick to just deal with it. Something I’ve been burned on in the past, but to be fair, I can’t exactly expect perfect results when I don’t make it clear what those results should be.

Another odd habit of mine, when ever we put on an event for general populace consumption instead of say for a specific client’s family or organization we always choose things that are untested or worse experimental. I’m only now realizing the problem with this, as menus that have been unbroken and run wild are wont to throw you for unexpected loops. Case and point the Saltim Boccas. For starters, they were too dense. The mixture of egg and panko that made the for lack of a better term “meat ball” wasn’t in proper proportion to the chopped raw chicken. This also cut down on the chicken flavor that was really necessary to pull the dish off. I’ll definitely up the ration to 4 to 1 and mix some fresher cheeses like Gouda, brie, or even mozzarella to balance the dry sharpness of the parm.

But what the bites lacked in flavor they made up for in style. They had the shape of what would happen if you mixed a corn dog bit with a bacon wrapped scallop. The prosciutto wrap shrunk down in the fryer and hugged the meat ball tightly, whilst the fresh sage leaf between the two poked out from the sides still green and flavorful. They came out a little dark, but reducing the size and par frying them before finishing them in the oven will really perfect this dish.

The passed appetizer was a Green Gazpacho with Crab shooter. I was most leery of this dish because I had only made gazpacho once, eaten it thrice, and liked none of them. The mixture of raw ingredients just didn’t call out to me and while a tomato is a great food, I can find better applications for it elsewhere. But this green variety, partially altered for catering uses from the Herb farm book was perfect to round out the appetizer trio. It was cool, refreshing, had a good chomp too it with out being overly rich like the other two. And best of all, easy to serve and bright green. Call me juvenile but I’ve always had an appreciation for bright colors in my food.

The salad course was a new twist on an old favorite. I’ve been making Caprese salads for years, and they never piqued my interest one bit. To me a salad composed of three items is a sign insufficient ingredient, not avant garde cookery. And to be fair, this one had five, but the five impressed even Moe, our resident sales manager and avid salad consumer. The base was a series of heirloom tomato slices; I tried to make it so every one got a piece of each type. (Heirlooms being strange in that they come in different shapes, colors and sizes despite the singular name.) The rich purple almost brown mixed with the summery yellow. Paired with the smooth almost beef steak slices to rival the wavy odd ball ones that came from some long lost aberration of evolution. To which a faint sprinkling of CAPS (Colin’s All Purpose Seasoning, yes we have a bucket of it in the kitchen labeled as such and no you can’t have the recipe.) Followed by extra virgin olive oil, the pure and expensive stuff. Not that watered down pomace crap. The real deal. Cap that with a couple of breaded and pan fried goat cheese slices for flavor, texture, and FAT. To which we finish the dish with some chiffonade basil and balsamic reduction. (The tangy sweet sauce that the staff lovingly refer to as motor oil.)

Served with this was a house made Pesto Spiral Loaf with Smoked Shallot Butter. Sadly, the dish just didn’t come out how I wanted. If I were to do it again I would make a thinner pesto, almost a paste and wring all the moisture out of it. That way there’s less weight when the bread goes through its second rise. As it was, the final product was some what flat and the rings of bright green pesto not as prevalent as one would hope. By it’s self it was average at best. But slather on some of that “I will take the recipe with me to the grave” shallot butter and the dish came alive. I guess there is just no separating bread and butter.

The main course, served in the largest bowl I’ve ever seen on a plated meal, came the thyme infused cous cous with Romesco Halibut. It could be my upbringing, or my training, or perhaps my job experience but I’ve never really had a lot of call or use for cous cous. It’s certainly a cheap pasta, easy to cook and maintain. And it’s striking me more and more as an invaluable staple for the aspiring chef. (Not that I qualify, but all the same.) This held flavor and heat well with out getting tacky like rice or over cooked orzo. The halibut was perfect, could not complain in any way. And coming from the eternal pessimist that’s saying something. I literally watched them butcher the fish and back the sides in ice that morning when I picked it up from Northern Fish off of 56th. If you’re a lover of anything that swims or crawls in the sea stop on by and check out their retail outlet there or down on Ruston Way. They do fast, inexpensive and best of all, high quality work. Followed by a traditional Romesco style sauce, it was the perfect accompaniment to the fish and the cous cous. Mike from the Landmark was so impressed he poked his head in the kitchen and thanked me personally. And considering the size and volume they do DAILY over there, that’s a compliment.

This was all well and good so far, folks had enjoyed the informative speaker and were enjoying their second round of drinks when Monica and Monique made their way to the front and had a small stage show to explain the dessert. They had chosen a flambé, bravely enough, because if I had to stand in front of my peers wearing clothing that isn’t strictly flame retardant like my coat you’d have to herd me toward the stage with a whip in one hand an my paycheck in the other. Could be my paranoia, but the concept of lighting things on fire in a place not designed for it harbors all kinds of problems but the ladies went on ahead undaunted so far be it from me to hinder them. I went through it with them once and was fine, dusting off that old knowledge imparted into my by Professor Mac Cabe from SSCC (Now retired and living in France with his boyfriend I believe) as he was the front of the house instructor. I was surprised, I didn’t even light the airy lace overlay the table was decked out with on fire. Then Monique gave it a shot, a little clunky but not bad for some one who doesn’t sling pans for a living. The main stage show was only interrupted when it became evident that when Monica came back for the dishes base I didn’t give her the finishing sauce so they had to call back to the kitchen for it.

The dish it’s self, was triple berry stuffed crepes with Chambord sauce, white chocolate drizzle, and chocolate covered strawberry for garnish. They, like much of the meal, were a hit and the staff in particular was quite voracious when it came to devouring them. In the beginning I was worried the crepes wouldn’t hold up long enough in the oven with the macerated berries inside as they were purging their juices long before they made it to the plate but the crepes were of excellent quality and soaked it all up after the initial purge. The only thing I would have done differently is display it on a larger plate, but that had precious little to do with the food quality it’s self and after seeing how much stuff was on the table they needed all the space they could get.

So all in all, a job well done. Many thanks were given and I’d like to think I accepted them all graciously. I look forward to next year when we don’t just have health to worry about. Now give me something like cheese to work with and I can pull all kinds of tricks that would impress even the most jaded member of my industries heart.

Kitchen’s Closed.

-KMCD


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