Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

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

The Terrors of Brunch

June 3, 2009

Love them or hate them, America can’t live with out them.

I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to that late breakfast in the morn in that I will crawl out of bed, shower and shave, even *gasp* put on a dress shirt and tie to sit down with my old man or mother and gab about nothing at all until we’re stuffed. But I will fight tooth and nail, eye and claw to avoid making them myself. Doubly so in catering because it financially comes down to me coming in before the sun and finishing after happy hour in the bars is over. I realize this is conceited and lazy of me, but dollar for dollar brunch is just bloody annoying. I am a night person by stock and trade, years in the industry have conditioned me to work well into the wee hours of the night, multiple nights in a row, should my masters require it of me.

But the AM, that’s another beast all together. Part of it stems from the fact that I’ve never worked with anyone that actually toiled BETTER at 6AM than 6PM that was under the age of 50, but all in all it just doesn’t interest me.

American classics like scrambled eggs, Potatoes O’brian, and the plethora of pre-made danish and pastries hold no culinary interestfor me. (I have no qualms buying said danish and pastry because I suck at making them and hold true to my Foodie over Pastie heritage, go Chefs!) And you can’t really tinker with them too much or the GUM’s will turn their noses up at the violation of a classic. And on some levelsI agree with them, many breakfast foods have been taken to their final conclusion, there is no reason to tinker with em any more. Aside from the culinary elite, there is no room for white truffle oil infused Potatoes with golden pepper and caramelized Bermuda onions. And I would never offer something as across the board annoying as Quail Eggs Benedict for fear I would actually have to produce such a labor intensive item en mass, first thing in the morning, for 300 largely unappreciative clients.

For that is the other side of the argumentfor the brunch, people are LEAST picky when they’re least awake. (Case and point for Taco Hell and Jack in the Crack’s legendary sales reports after 2 AM when the bars close.) So you can get away with a lot more, in terms of quantity and presentation. The person that would scrutinize that the carved tomato rosettes have fallen out of the poached side of salmon’s mouth is just as content to load up on her 5th cup of hot coffee she didn’t have to brew or wait in line for herself.

There’s also travel to factor in folks, I dunno about you, but eggs aren’t exactly the most resilient of dishes in my repertoire. And having to drive all the way up to Issaquah from Tacoma wreaks havoc on my products quality and stability. Even if I had the fortune of going to a facility that had a professional kitchen that could handle my work load there’s still the other staff to worry about with their own foibles like coffee, tea, and what not that must be brewed in shop and hauled hot. Imagine tacking an hour wait time at the restaurant from the moment the chef finished your plate to the time the server dropped it on your table.

Soggy hashbrowns. Rubbery Eggs. Stale Danish. And Cold Coffee.

So while yes, breakfast is easier to cook with a lower food cost than lunch or dinner, it comes with many more obstacles that must be over come. And unlike with the other two, working harder and longer isn’t always a fitting solution. It’s why I always wince when ever some one chooses to do one for a momentous event like a wedding or a 50th birthday party. True, last week went with out a hitch. It was by far one of the smoothest events I’ve worked to date for AGA, but there are so many places where things can go wrong. And not just for us, but on the client’s behalf.

Say they didn’t get their liquor permit on Saturday? No liquor store, even if it was open on a Sunday would open before noon, and we had guests there already at 10.

Turn out is always less on a brunch because unless it’s part of a work function where they HAVE to be there people always loose the battle of wills to the pillow. Lord knows if I didn’t have to be in the kitchen heating things up at 6 in the morning I would be soundlessly oblivious to the realms of man.

Last is just common sense. It’s a sunny weekend in Washington. Would you rather A) Spend it wrapped in a thick tuxedo or dress, having gotten up 5 hours earlier than you intended to drive out to the middle of no where and sip memosas to ward off the impending hang over or. . .B) Sleep late, grab a bite at Micky D’s with their magical unicorn meat and lay in the sun while knock back a cold one to the sound of the water and the wind.

I’ll take a sunburn over a late tux returnany day.

Kitchen’s closed.

-KMCD

Seated Meals Vs. Buffet

May 26, 2009

Ah, the age old catering question.

I hear it A LOT and it never really gets answered. Both really have their ups and downs. Personally, I favor the buffet because I just have to garnish a tray or pan ( I personally hate garnishing things, waste of time and distracts from the food, so when I do garnish I KEEP IT SIMPLE!) in stead every single plate. Then there’s consistency to worry about. It’s far easier to make 6 fruit trays look alike by yourself than having 4 other guys always assemble the plate the same. Doesn’t matter if they have cream of the crop training or they’re a server pulled off the floor in a last ditch emergency. People eye ball things differently, have different hand sizes and strengths. Not to mention all no fabricated foods are always different in shape, size, and density. An absolute nightmare for the perfectionist that wants cookie cutter food!

On the other hand, financially, the seated meal has many boons the buffet can’t match. For instance, a good caterer will always have a definitive count before the event even takes place, some times days in advance. This cuts down on waste, loss, and unnecessary prep time. (And for those fools like myself that took Salary this can be a deal maker or breaker.) Not to mention when you’re done with the last plate that’s it! You can start cleaning up and get the hell outta there!

But then I waffle back again, with a buffet you get one gigantic pow of color, texture, and flavor. People can pick and choose what they want with out anything being sent back or changing their mind on the entree. A buffet also requires less servers to run (generally) and has far fewer demands of the chef once on-site.

But the seated meal counters with one thing done very will. Where everything on the plate compliments the next so you don’t get any funky tastes. (You know, like toothpaste and orange juice?) And unlike a buffet where you know people will clean you out of house and home with the crab legs in browned butter whilst leaving the veggie platter full and unscathed, a seated meal makes for even portioning on starch, veg, and entree.

So yeah, it boils down to garnish for me.

I mention all this because we had two last weekend, and they went remarkably well! Granted, they were for less than a hundred each and only had four different entrees between the two. (3 at mine, 1 at Nick’s) But I still felt at the end of the day like I’d been drug across the coals, if you know what I mean. I don’t know if it’s the timed pressure that’s so very restaurant-esque of the seated meal that drains my soul, or maybe it’s the ever prevalent fear that 10 more people will show up and I won’t have anything for the staff and myself to nosh on before the day rolls over into tomorrow?

But I know this much, seated meals are by far no walk in the park and a little bit of me always groans inside when ever I see them come up on the billing sheets. Ah well, it’s a living. I got out of restaurants, returning to my catering roots because of the ease of work and the timing but it’s nice to see how the other side lives every once in a while.

So long as I don’t have to do it all day, every day. Kitchen’s closed kiddies!

-KM CD

Greetings and Salutations!

April 9, 2009

 

Let me be the first to say thank you for taking time out of your valuable Solitare and Facebooking time to read my blog. In the weeks, months, and as long as I’ve access to the interwebz years, to come you’ll see my various exploits, bungles, and other culinary creations made at work, home, and abroad.

Check back each week and you’ll see something from yours truely in one form or another and with any luck some pictures. Because you’ve gotta have pics, or it didn’t happen.