The Sweeter Things In Life

Life sometimes is funny. Okay, that’s nothing new there. No wise bits of wisdom in this little post. Just life.  Like when you have two customers, regulars apparently, who ask if the reason there have been no new dessert specials was due to the pastry chef is now doing pizzas all the time.

That was an incredibly sweet part in my life recently. In all honesty, being sick four times since a week before Christmas put a serious damper on baking, thoughts of baking, and just getting through the day, never mind the week. I have to say that I love dabbling in all parts of the cooking industry. “Hey Chef, show me how to finish this dish so I don’t have to come get you next time there is only one of us in house.” This after it was literally only Chef and I in the kitchen one afternoon.  Do you know how irritating it is to have yourself on one dish, he’s on another and he can’t be found because he was off hunting down someone or something else?  I am not blaming Chef. Just the simple fact that he can take over for me up on the pizza, but I can’t take over for him. (sadly, the line still alludes me in comfort zone. I don’t like to be back there unless I have to…. Okay, that’s not quite true. I would love to learn aspects of it, or three quarters of it, but my heart isn’t in that area, at least, yet.)

But I digressed greatly there. What I was going to say was, while I like all parts of the cooking industry, the pastry and pizza end of things are more my forte. I’ve even had a few people I work with say I have a touch that others do not. It’s always lovely to have someone ooh and ahh over a dessert. Or pizza.

This last week I finally did run a dessert special. I call it a Chocolate Om cake because it had a little of our chocolate Zen liqueur in it. For a little om in life, you have to have a bit of zen….   No one quite got the juste of this turn of phrase, but I rolled with it anyhow. Who cares. I enjoyed this uber rich mocha chocolate cake, four layers, mind you, a rich cocoa frosting and three, yes three, toasted marshmallows on top. You think, marshmallows, how can that be special?  Well, I made them in house, that’s how!  Ooey gooey delishiousness (yes I know that’s not spelled right). I sold out the first cake in a day and a half. I feel I would have sold out on the other cake as well had it not been for the snowstorm that dropped 8 inches of snow and cancelled all of our weekend reservations. Drat!

See, Om and Zen go together, and think about a chocolate cake. You can zen your way through eating it and end up in an om state…. Just sayin’.

But I have ideas in my head a bit more now that I am feeling better.  Chef is working on his new menu for the spring. He has no desserts on it. I must see if I can brain storm with him. I even had my dishwasher ask me if now that I have made a dessert special if I am going to dabble in others. He mentioned coconut cream pie.  Pies are not my forte, but I might have to think about it. Coconut is a thing I love… mmmm, I’m thinking tropical items. The cold is getting to me.

I love the scenery. The peach snow when the street lights just come on at night. The cold, icy glow of snow and ice at night. The way it felt like a snowglobe moment the other afternoon looking out the windows as the snow fell. It’s all beautiful. but I could really go for somewhere tropical right now. Maybe I can play around with a tropical-esque dessert. Something with pineapple… oh that’s right, Astro D mentioned individual pineapple upside down cakes. Yum. Dollop of whipped cream.

Kate

 

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Being a Pastry Chef – Day 29

“Hey, T-Bear. Want some crack?” I ask tonight as service slows down a bit.

“Uh. Yes!” comes the expected response.

Out comes the six pan of lemon bar edges and such and the moans are heard around the kitchen.

When I say ‘crack,’ I don’t mean literal crack. Just like when I talk about cocaine clouds in my poetry. (which is just powdered sugar clouds from roulade cakes) I literally can blame all of this on Coffeeman.  Wednesday I was trimming down the edges of the lemon bars so they  were all pretty to plate and so of course I am not going to toss those edges. Into a pan they go and get passed around for anyone with a sweet tooth. (practically the entire kitchen)

Suddenly, an hour or two later, Chef is shoving the pan back at me and saying “get this crack away from me!”  Yes, it is that addictive and YES! I know I have done my job when Chef says this.  Let me blow on my nail and buff them on my jacket… Preen like a bird. Damn straight.

There are some serious perks to being able to call myself the pastry chef. Mind you, I am not classically trained. At all. Most of my baking has been rather haphazard over the years. The job was shoved at me because the first ‘chef’ decided he needed his wife to not be carting their 4 month old child around the kitchen. Don’t ask. Long story.

So job shoved at me, making boxed everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cakes and such and I am suddenly the  pastry chef.  But I digress way too far down that rabbithole.

So, perks to being pastry chef.

  1. Sugar.  I mean, come on, everything is sweet. How can you go wrong?
  2. Sliding sweet things over to your coworkers as you bake. It is seriously fun to be chopping a block of chocolate and shards get passed over to this person or that person.
  3. Seeing the look of ‘moaning’ delight on anyone’s face when they taste something good.
  4. Do you know how delightful it is to tell a guy you are the pastry chef and see this insta-perked up look of fascination? Um, yeah, there is serious power in that. I say that to a guy, not to mention pizza chef and whatnot, but serious interest is suddenly there. Why just a week and a half ago as the kitchen was filled with all of us on a off day to prep, here comes a very seriously cute/handsome/adorable new FedEx delivery guy and the look on his face as I went to sign his tablet but had to stop because I was chopping a big ole block of chocolate and had it on my hands. Power. There is serious power in being a pastry chef.
  5. Sending out good things to friends who come in……
  6. Handing out spoons for people to sample chocolate mousse, lemon bars, creme brulee, apple pear cranberry crisp (today I treated our hostess to a delightful bit) Ah yes, again it’s power… Good power. The power to create happiness.
  7. Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Come on, no one can be in a bad mood after desserts.
  8. Your hair, skin, clothes smell like vanilla and cinnamon and sugar cookie dough, and almond, and yumminess. I have taken showers after baking and the scent that wafts off of me as the hot water hits my hair is literally what I was baking and the essence of whatever was baking in the oven.
  9. Power.
  10. Did I mention power? It’s a really sexy power.

So, yeah, I stress a lot about screwing up desserts. I mean, my lemon bars were too wet this time around, needing to have baked them a hair longer, and that roulade cake through the summer, but there are some amazing perks to this job.

Kate

Behind the Scenes Prep – Day 28

Photo by Aaron Thomas on Unsplash

“If you don’t do your prep you don’t have a kitchen.” Wise words from Mrs. B tonight, as I discussed who was good on prep and who wasn’t.  We all do prep. Well, most of us do. There are a few that don’t do as much as others, and some who refused to do prep, and a few now who run around like a chicken with their heads cut off saying they have so much prep but not doing their prep……but we’ve all done some prep.

I got my start in this job as a prep chef. I worked the pantry (salads and such), but most of my day was prep work. Back prep work. I have done a lot of cutting, sous vide, sauces, baking, etc. All I did at the beginning was prep. And walkin duty.

You have to have your prep to have a fluid, well oiled kitchen. In my restaurant, just about everything is made in house. There are a few things here and there that are not, but these days, thanks to Coffeeman and his love of all things house made, we house make everything. The only thing right now we don’t do is bake our own bread (though the focaccia went through the summer just until the menu switch){and to do that we need a full time baker and another kitchen practically} .  Everything else we do.

Stocks, dressings, soups, sauces, dicing, slicing, cutting, grating, zesting, baking, rolling, forming, stuffing, shredding, and the list goes on. I come in every day and the first thing I do after I clock on is to check our white board for what needs doing. Our prep lists are usually pretty thin these days when I get in because the kitchen is so organized I don’t find myself bogged down with prep that wasn’t done in the day, because, shock of all shocks, Coffeeman is right in the thick of things with prep. He does so much prep work. He doesn’t stand around BS-ing  and saying “Oh I have so much to do!” but then not doing it. He actually does it! (unlike a few previous employees, and a few previous ‘chefs’) That man works so hard.  And we all do prep.

“We are all dishwashers, bakers, prep chefs, etc.” Coffeeman always says. He’s right. While I’m not the dishwasher, I do find myself doing dishes when we are busy, or now when I am alone in the kitchen on my days of baking. We all do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Tonight (this is several days after I started this post….[come on K, get your but in gear and finish these GD month of day posts!]) Chef sent our dishwasher home early so he could catch a break and the kitchen was left to William, T-Bear, and me. So while T-Bear went on lunch, I cleaned up the back prep area and found myself running silverware and dishes through the dishwasher. I don’t mind it. Why should I?  The job has to be done, be it mopping floors (which I did) to making a pizza (which I also did). It’s all about running a smooth kitchen.

Prep may be boring to some, but without it, you cannot have a functioning restaurant. Astro D has moved to days and is in the thick of prep, and he loves it. I love coming in and hearing what he did during the day. He’s getting to make soup! And he’s thrilled. And I’m thrilled because I come in to work and I don’t have prep waiting to be done. It’s done so I can tackle things that are for what I do. Like making sure my station is all set up. Now if only I could remember to actually finish…. I forgot to check some things tonight. Whoops.

It’s this giant clockwork of a machine. And prep work is one of the largest cogs in this wheel of a clock of a restaurant. (hey, that would be a cool start to a poem)

Kate

Drowned Mussels – Day 23

I just wrote about icing your mussels the other day. Sad day today, as 3 pounds of mussels drowned over the weekend and didn’t make it.  Such a bummer to open up the reach in and find shellfish sitting in water.  So there I was this late afternoon sorting through good mussels (closed up) and drowned mussels (open and not trying to close when you squeeze them shut, in fact, springing back open)

I found myself thinking of Alice and Wonderland with the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter. I’m rather fond of anything Alice and Wonderland, excluding the books, (I have to read them now that I’m older and can handle more classics) and the part about the oysters, while sad, is incredibly catchy. So okay, we’re not dealing with oysters, but still….

Carpenter:
Little Oysters? Little Oysters?

Tweedle Dee:
But answer, there came none

Tweedle Dum:
And this was scarcely odd because

Both:
They’d been eaten
Every one!

So of course, these poor dears were eaten, but still, dead is dead.  It’s a shame the mussels and clams are not good anymore because of improper care.

A few open clams, gotta be tossed too.

It actually irks me. I know it irked Coffeeman with his texts back and forth with me today. In fact, I sort of laughed because he literally phrased things how I would have had I been saying them. Yep, I just looked again. Clearly the two of us think alike. Weird. Cool. Eh, what am I saying, we both listen to Backstreet Boys and like it… And I know, weirdly off topic….You all know I am apt to digress easily. It’s the ‘Squirrel!’ in me…

I like things done properly. I have made mistakes in the kitchen. I get that. We will all make mistakes, but when it comes to a product being wasted because of ineptitude or lack of care, or for whatever other reason it might be, it irks me even more. Le sigh. Let’s hope that it doesn’t happen again.  And a side note, dead mussels or clams do not smell good. Bleh.

Kate

Just Let Me Ramble About My Chef Days – Day 21

Late at night counting tickets, drinking a last cup of coffee and a glass of Pendleton

As of yesterday,  I have only one month left till I have been with my restaurant a year. One year. Wow.  Back in winter I thought I would be lucky if I made it that long, much less any longer. Miserable wasn’t even the word to describe how unhappy I was with my former bosses. Literally every day I went to work I was crying a half hour before leaving, trying desperately to fix smudged makeup and look professional, then crying at night when I got home. Exhausted, unhappy, afraid of my own shadow, it was a nightmare job. I quit when it was just a ridiculous amount of stress and my parents were aghast at what my boss was doing to my mental state, much less physical with all the long and hard hours. I was hard pressed to say I even liked any aspect of my job. It was just a job.

Failed work relationships/romantic included, coworkers coming and going, more going than staying, forever feeling like I was on the chopping block, players pitted against each other….. It was not a pretty picture. Lucifer and Tom Cat were disasters in the making. I should have listened to family right off the bat, but noooo, I had to do it my way. I know a lot of it was the misery surrounding my pure and utter exhaustion. Bad relationships kill your mental state.

Today, I am in a good place. Today, I am in a really great place. Last night I sat with AstroD after work discussing our new specials this week. The appetizer he is making, the dessert I’m doing. The freezer that is supposedly fair game for us to experiment with what’s inside… Oh the possibilities are looming! The happiness of our current positions. I am first and foremost on my time card, a prep chef. But currently my job is pastry chef, pizza chef, closer, and prep.  AstroD was pizza chef, line chef, and fill in. Today he is line chef and prep chef and occasional fill in on pizza. Both of us are extremely happy. We are getting to learn new things, sucking up as much as Coffeeman wants to throw at us. He wants a sous chef. Hey, whoever he wants to make one, go for it. If he wants me, fine, I will learn as much as he wants to dump on me. I will take it all. I might groan about working certain days, but that’s my still being tired from last week talking.

I am so happy these days.  “K, you are a f—-ing pastry chef!” Sassy Girl said to me last night. She bounces around as much as I do when we both think about it. I have the opportunity of a lifetime here. And I am going to absorb as much as I can.

I would have never thought this world would have been my calling. A lot of it is really hard, especially when you look at this list. Parts of it are starting to be my life. The one that irks me the most is finding a partner unless in the trade, unless they are just very compromising. This life is hard and good. I have late nights a lot. Sometimes because when I get off, I need to just hang back at work and wind down. The winding down takes at least two hours. Your are going at such high velocity for a short amount of time and it is cram packed. Service is really only 3 hours. But it is an intense three hours of crushing the dishes you fit into your time period. Sometimes it is longer and harder. It all depends, and it’s always changing from what happened prior to service, or during, and even after.

But last night, collaborating with AstroD was so amazing. We have ideas and hopes and plans. The excitement of trying something new and hopefully pleasing the public.  Oh yeah, that is a freaking amazing feeling. A tip last night, a comment earlier in the day, compliments for the enjoyment. Oh yeah, that is amazing too.  Hearing your GM say they are getting a lot of positive feedback from the bar where everyone there watches your every move. Whew, that’s heady.

Today I am glad I got to have my hair down, curled and pretty lady today. Not pinned up and slicked back to kingdom come. I loved sleeping in and having a more leisurely day.  Writing a post, reading up on chocolate ganaches and flourless cakes. Playing around with ideas.  Not stressing about coworkers doing their job. Yeah, it was nice to have the day off. This next week is bound to be busy with planning a new dessert, but it’s good work.

And I am happy. Thanks for listening, reading and letting me ramble this month.

Kate

Ice Your Mussels – Day 20

No, I don’t mean your body… Mussels not Muscles….

So, I have learned a lot about proper food storage working in a professional kitchen. Things we don’t do at our own homes, but are a must in a restaurant. Like how you ice and store fish properly.

Wrapped pans of fish over ice

Fish must be properly stored, in a perforated pan, and usually on ice. Fish arrives in ice most of the time and after it’s been cut up, it goes into a pan and that pan gets set on ice that is in another pan. Perforated bus tubs with ice in the top over a solid pan below, then various hotel pans of cut up fish, scallops, mussels, clams, etc. are set over the ice before being put into the right fridge.

Iced mussels

Fresh clams and mussels have ice poured directly on top of the shells that are in a perforated pan so that they don’t drown. I didn’t know they could drown, maybe because it isn’t salt water? I really should look this one up, or as Coffeeman.

Iced clams

That being said, flipping the pun around, if you have hurt muscles, ice them… So clearly any mussel/muscle, you ice.

And really, ice your fish… I followed behind my other closer tonight (thursday) and iced everything he didn’t ice, which was all of it. I’m glad I’ve learned to do this so that Coffeeman doesn’t find it un-iced. It’s not a huge amount of fish and such, but it does take time and it weighs a fair amount by the time you get to the end of the evening.

Good things to know. Good things.

Kate

 

My Whites – Day 11

I was given two chef’s coats when I started working and I wore them several times a week, washing them each time because I am apt to splatter on myself, getting massive sharpie stains on the sleeves (don’t ask, it left a large smudge of brown shades). I finally purchased some that actually fit me well and have become my mainstay uniform for work.

My pretty whites. Euro style, black piping, my favorite coat…

There is nothing quite like putting on my whites (a traditional set includes a toque or hat and hounds-tooth pants. My pants are black) and settling myself into work. And whites have nothing to do with being white. It’s just the term for the uniform. I love wearing my uniform. I love that it’s always clean and that I set myself aside from just wearing a t-shirt and apron. Don’t get me wrong, Coffeeman is frequently cooking in just a t-shirt and apron, but he gets hot up on the line. I don’t blame him. But he looks really nice in his different whites, which, now that I think about it, are not white. (I know you are reading this, sir… You do look nice in your shirts. I love the black with yellow piping…. just sayin’. ) He doesn’t wear white. He wears black, blue, gray, burgundy, green….. I love all the different ones he wears. I want one that’s like his blue gray one.

I wear white partly because that was the color I was designated with when I first started. But then it became a thing where I refused to wear black because several people in the kitchen of darker personalities thought I should wear black because they wore it. I work with flour. A lot of flour. From pastries to pizzas, I’d honestly like to know how I am supposed to look clean with a black shirt and white everywhere?  Besides, my whites are easily cleaned and seriously, you don’t see too many marks.

Ready to kick some serious kitchen butt

I get a very settled feeling, just like when I mentioned settling into my work with a knife in my hand, by putting on my chef’s jacket. The last thing of my uniform is usually a bandana to keep my hair slicked back to kingdom come. But that feeling of slipping on my semi stiff white jacket…. It’s actually kind of sexy as well. At least to me. I just feel very professional and, well, sexy, in my uniform. I really can’t explain it at all. Kind of like how you step out of the house with lipstick and earrings on. It’s just something that is.

Tonight ( the night of the 10th) I spent most of the night in and out of the kitchen. But there was this young man (my age-ish) at the bar that was watching me work all evening when I was out front. Literally, all evening till when I clocked off and the kitchens were clean and closed.  My job as of now puts me right out in front. I can’t hide, and there is this really amazing feeling of being semi in the spotlight. It’s a feeling I can’t explain, not exactly power, but maybe just this confidence thing that I’m learning to have a little more of it. I’m not usually one that really wants to be center stage. Oh sure, I like being important, everyone does, but I get nervous when I am in the spotlight. But tonight, being watched…. yeah, that was kind of cool. A lot of cool. I’m having more cool moments. And wearing my whites… yeah, that adds to it.

Kate

Mise En Place – Day 8

Mise en place is not just a word to throw around. It is serious business in the restaurant world. It might seem silly to have a bunch of bowls and items set up before service, but if your ‘mise’ isn’t ready, you are truly screwed up and always behind.

I got a shot of Coffeeman’s mise the other night when I walked by, including  a bit of him at work in the background.

Mise en place….

This isn’t all of Chef’s mise en place, but a part of it. Most of it is all behind him and in the pantry to the right. Or below.

Your mise en place is all of your ingredients for everything you make. Your back up prep, your garnishes, your everything so you don’t have to send a prep chef off running for something you are out of. For me up on pizza, my mise is huge. I have to have enough of everything so I’m not rushing back to the walkin at some random point where the tickets are piling up. My morning prep guy is terrible at getting enough mise en place ready for nightly service, so I am apt to just prep a bunch more when I walk in for my shift.

Mise en place is so important, Chef has it tattooed on his arms. And his arms came into play this summer when Lucifer was still doing saute and line work. Lucifer is never good at getting all his mise ready. He’s more inclined to have someone else do it for him and then rush around like a ninny right before service has started. It’s never good. It created a lot of havoc around the kitchen.

One time, Lucifer didn’t back up his white wine and vinegars and such before service, so right there after two or three tickets start coming in, he’s shouting for saffron broth and white wine to be filled in his bottles.  I was still basic prep at the time and him shouting meant for me to hustle and get it for him. I was flustered because Coffeeman had started moving things around and I couldn’t find what Lucifer wanted. At one point Lucifer yelled at me about what was taking so long and I went back with the bottle and slammed it down on the counter vibrating with frustration.

Coffeeman took one look at me and said, “fill the bottle, take it back and hand it to him then tell him “mise en place, mother-f**ker.'”

“I can’t do that, chef.” I protested. “He’ll come back at me.

“Yes you can. And no he won’t. Just say, “Chef said, “Mise en place, mother——“.

So I did. I walked over, presented the bottle with both hands and repeated the statement. Lucifer took one look at me, Wildflower was staring at me wide eyed, then Lucifer looked over my shoulder and said, “yes, Chef.”

Turns out Coffeeman had stood behind me and crossed his arms where his tattoos were visible  and made it clear he was backing me up.

I was shaking like a leave, mind you, but when I say your mise en place is important, it is.

Every night when I walk in, I make damn sure I have my backups. I have as much as I can prep ready and lined up for when those 12+ tables with a ticket a mile long come in.

If I were apt to get a tattoo, I might consider one with mise en place along my hand or something. I’m not going to get one, but still, that is how important your mise is.

Kate

Creativity, Experiment 1 – Day 6

So, Coffeeman is all about being a chef. As in, we get to experiment. Try new things. Bounce ideas off of him. Instead of talking about it, we do it, as he said to me a couple weeks ago when I was thinking of panna cotta to make use of something odd in our walkin. It’s not about talking about it. It’s doing it. I love that. I love that I get to experiment with ideas. (the panna cotta turned out ok, but I’m not sure it was as popular as it could have been. bummer)

A cured yolk just after being in the salt a week. Now into the ovens.

One idea that I wanted to try was cured egg yolks. I use a fair amount of eggs in the baking process, fortunately the whole egg most of the time, but here and there, when I make meringue, I only need the whites.  Well, cured egg yolks are these really cool bundles of yellow Parmesan flavor. Trust me, they really do taste like Parmesan.

So to cure them, you carefully separate your egg yolks from the whites, then carefully place the yolks into a pan that has a layer of salt and sugar, into little divots you make in the salt/sugar. Cover the yolks in the same mixture and let chill/cool/take a break for a week before rinsing the salt off and drying in a warm oven overnight.

A couple a yolks just hanging out….

They can be micro-planed onto something as a garnish. This pretty yellow dust that is salty good.  I have a small collection of them at work and I haven’t found a use for them, but I love that Chef let me try them. I want to come up with a pizza that I can grate it on top of for a bit of color and flavor. I’m thinking a cool pasta primavera style alfredo thing might be cool. Something. I haven’t figured it all out yet. Still playing around with ideas.

I just love all the creativity that has graced our kitchen. The other day Coffeeman pulls me out to the back freezers, spoon in hand and has me take a sample of this chocolate sorbet/ice cream he’s made. It’s luxurious. I ask him why and he replies, “Because I can and I wanted to do something different with pink peppercorns.”  So it was a chocolate pink peppercorn frozen delight. It was delightful. So if he’s experimenting, so are we, in a way.

I don’t always have time to mentally come up with new things though a part of me feels like I should, except he is the chef. He’s supposed to come up with things. I’m still just trying to keep my body floating as I take in as much information as I can with everything he dumps on me. One of these days I might come up with something. I’m working on it.

Kate

Plating – Day 3

“You need some of that,” says Lucifer.  “No, don’t just run it across all of them, do one at a time.  And why do we do this?”

“Uh…” comes the reply from Tom Cat.

“Because it looks prettier that way,” I reply as I hunt through a fridge.

“Exactly!” Lucifer replies.

It’s all in presentation.  Plating. Sending out something that looks so elegant that your eyes feast on it first. I kind of have a knack for it. Even Lucifer, in all his inability to give compliments except on rare occasions, knew I knew how to plate.

I love plating. I love sending out a dish that is elegant, edges free of smudges, the garnish just so. I have been inclined to want to slap people’s hands, server’s hands, Chef’s hands, when they go to take a plate before I finish garnishing. I might be a bit insane, but what is the point of sending out a half finished plating?

I stop people and servers all the time. A pizza must go out with the right garnish. Granted, I am stopping them because I have forgotten something, but still, it must go out right. The best thing to plate, for me, are the desserts. It’s not a coincidence considering I am the pastry chef. I want plates to be pretty, and now, since Coffeeman has come into my life, I have had the opportunity to see things plated so beautifully.

Lemon Tart with a berry coulis design….. Dot, dot, dot..

The dots, swirls, spirals, squiggles. Currently, due to my hectic schedule, I don’t get to plate as much as I like, and I’m not fond of our restaurants name being squiggled onto plates instead of designs… I don’t find it elegant.  These are elegant to me.

Roasted Peach with champagne strawberries…. ooh la la

I hope that over time I get to still plate desserts. I love all the aspects of my job, but when you have a server go “ooh, that is the prettiest I’ve seen” or plates come back with designs scraped off with the dessert, I know I’ve done my job. Not to brag ,though I’m going to, but the servers love how I plate….

Kate