Archive for the ‘In other news’ Category

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.



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.


Longest Day of the Year

June 22, 2009


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.


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.


Hail to the King

May 12, 2009

I have never been what you would call a winner.

I’m pretty big, but not strong enough to be good at any sport. Some have said I have a decent head on my shoulders, but I’m a far cry from a genius. I have skills yes, but there are plenty others in my field that have just the same or better that are also my close competitors. And while I’m still considered “young” I’m certainly not getting any younger if this last week is any indication.

So when I DO win at something it’s first met with disbelief, then shock, and finally the smug sense of victory I’m sure the turtle felt as it crossed the finish line in that childhood fable we all know so well. Case in point, the Herban Horsederve challenge that happened last Friday in Seattle. I had completely forgotten our meeting when we discussed what we’d be doing for it until I peeled back my stack of notes and other paper dietrous to find that it was Veggie Cakes with a new Lemon Thyme Parmesan Creme Friache.

My first thought was that we’d get stomped by a chicken skewer or a spring roll. A vegetarian dish couldn’t win against Seattle’s best and brightest with a much larger budget and time allowance, right? We’ll sure as I’m sitting here now, staring at my Brussel Sprout Crown presented to the Boss and myself by the local plant guru himself, Cisco. We sure did win it.

Admittedly, there was only four companies competing (I was led to believe there would be more like 8 ) but all the same. It’s a nice feeling to know that some one from T-Town was still able to clean up in the Emerald City. Two of the competitors brought Ahi dishes, which really surprised me that we won, because Ahi is the new mango or avocado. It’s the IN food of the moment. The last dish was a personal potato salad that I’m told was a bit too much potato and not enough of the good stuff as far as the flavor department.

Moments like this really put it all into perspective for me. I had put in a ton of hours this week and am glad to see it paid off more than just a paycheck and the knowledge of a days work done well. This is our second victory in a row and I personally look forward to making it third time’s the charm!

Kitchen’s closed.


Traveling thru Time

April 28, 2009

All of us can: shy of a drinking binge, blow to the head or both, remember our firsts as adults.

First date, first kiss, first car, ETC.

I recall my first open house with AGA. Much as I wish there were parts that I didn’t.

Oddly enough the photographer that night didn’t take a single photo of the food. Which not only boggles my mind but kinda pisses me off. It was my first open house, a momentous occasion. And I would have liked to have had some sort of proof that the event happened, even if it didn’t go according to plan. Granted, this was a freebie to get their name out there but all the same. We’re in the FOOD business and there were more photos of the venue, which we’ll never do business with again, than of our presentation or food. Live and learn I suppose.

The theme this time was an eternal one, ten years in business and much like marriage, you’re supposed to make that gift a diamond. And much like the to-be-wed young gentleman that musters up his courage and bank account to obtain said stone I bit off way more than I or my immediate staff could chew. Thankfully, none of this showed on the floor. I was sweating blood and gargling stomach acid, but the guests never knew a thing was wrong. Which I’ve come to understand is an industry standard. You can fly by the seat of your pants for every event, but so long as they don’t know how close them come to utter disaster everything is easy peasy.

I actually had to go into the archives to look up the menu for this event. I had blocked out, and rightfully so, many of the details that went utterly wrong with this one. But on a second glance I also saw there were some gems there amongst the shrapnel that I could use again, so let it be said that I can indeed learn from my mistakes, even traumatizing ones. If the theme was diamond I certainly choose a rock hard menu, one that I definitely don’t look forward to doing again.

The appetizers were seemingly innocuous:
Bacon Wrapped Scallops, Black and Gold Caviar Potatoes, and Gorgonzola Phyllo Puffs.

My first problem being that I still wasn’t familiar with what was ordered from where or how much is in each case. My food reps, bless their dollar wrapped souls, were kind enough to endure my steady steam of mistakes, corrections, and questions through the transition process. But the phyllo cups and caviar proved the hardest to acquire. It’s not mentioned but I gave the scallops a twist, grilled pineapple was coupled with it and then dredged in flour before frying. It then was drizzled with a white balsamic sage sauce. Beautiful, delicious and very hard to assemble!

You try getting two slick and slimy things to stay next to each other under pressure when you wrap them in another greased thing and try to stab it with a bit of wood. I almost gave up they were that much of a pain. The Gorgonzola cups tasted great but apparently they were meant to be a cold item, and the name puff to me elicits a baked good. So there goes my truth in menu out the window.

Next came the autonomous appetizer station, the “award” winning Lobster Tarragon Bisque. This was another inherited recipe that I didn’t quite nail. For service in a champagne flute it needed to be MUCH thinner in consistency and making my own biscotti instead of buying it would improve the quality leaps and bounds.

The salad, sushi, and veg tray, and carne asada came off with out a hitch but the real gem that shown in my mind was the cheese ball display. It featured four different type, an Italian: pesto, pine nut and parm. A French: shallow, red wine, and brie with pecan. An American: cheddar, bacon, and ranch! And not to be understated Asian: tofu, Chinese five spice, and black sesame. Folks just couldn’t believe that last one was tofu cheese, they went back for more even after I broke the news to them!

The last station was a carving one with some added hot starch. This time: turkey breast and tricolor potato pirouettes. The turkey was a little dry, but the gravy more than made up for it.

The potatoes how ever, they were a whole other beast. You see, I had had little experience in having to make my food travel for an extra hour from my kitchen to your plate. Add in bad Seattle traffic and what started as a towering tuber ended up as multi-colored mush. They tasted great, and we even had some folks switch from a roasted potato to this dish but it just didn’t hold up under the pressure. They were also VERY hard to make, each tier requiring a lot of attention to detail piping a very thick potato through a small opening.

The only other mention of note was the pasta. Originally it was to be my signature dish. Patrick’s Pesto Penne Pasta. What can I say, I’ve always had a love for alliteration. And again, my inexperience with long distance travel let to some very flat, dry, and under flavored pasta. Pesto, and prosciutto in a pasta dish can be very good or very bad and this was definitely on the darker side of that spectrum. I have hence changed brands of pasta, and learned to barely cook the stuff so it’ll hold up that extra two hours necessary.

But the night left it’s mark, and I haven’t done a signature dish since. The following open houses went far more smoothly, as earlier and following posts will confirm.

That’s it, the kitchen is closed.