Creativity Experiments No. 2 – Day 18

Chef lets me create if I want to. If I really want to experiment, I can. I’m usually too tired to really come up with something and I don’t have to make a special dessert each week or pizza. He has to, but I don’t unless inclined.

I was inclined a few weeks ago when my GM had some gin soaked blackberries. I think she was trying to impart the blackberry into the gin. It didn’t work and she was so over and done with it. “I’m over it.” she said, handing off the fair amount of liquid and berries.

I started plotting. I asked Coffeeman if I could make a panna cotta. “Don’t ask, do,” he replied.

So into the kitchen with agar agar and a recipe and a hope. The lemon vanilla panna cotta turned out smooth and creamy, but needed more lemon.

The blackberry gin gel… well it was interesting topping the panna cotta. It needed more of a blackberry taste. Not great experiments, though he ran them as a special…. Very cool. Not horrible to eat and lessons learned.

So now I’m thinking up different ideas. I wanted to try a lime mousse, but I think I need to get away from citrus for now.  I had mentioned trying something else out too, but I can’t remember what it was now.

But I’m over and done with summery things. I’m thinking rich, dark, autumn things. I just flashed to a vampire-esque room….. meaning rich reds, oranges, browns, blacks…. Autumn spice. A pumpkin spice rolled cake with a ginger whipped cream. Carmelized ginger sprinkled on a plate with a spiced fruit coulis…

Clearly I’ve been thinking food.

So, next experiments down. I would like to find something that actually works……

Kate

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Produce Delivery – Day 17

Every Tuesday I am responsible for the produce delivery. Checking it in and putting it away. It’s a rather cool responsibility, both in doing it and it’s kind of cool because I’m in the walk-in… brrrrr. First in first out is applied as older produce is brought to the front. THe new herbs go to the back the older herbs to the front….

Mushrooms go into bins, stacked bell peppers, napa cabbages, broccolini,  lettuce piled high, berries stacked, leeks, fennel, potatoes in the back door, corn, all the good stuff. Boxes of lemons and limes, tubs of garlic and fresh ginger.

Out of boxes it comes and into bins and tubs, small hotel pans and large ones, into water, out of bags. It’s rather an honor that Coffeeman trusts me to put the order away by myself and get the walk-in to rights. I have always liked putting away deliveries since the first chef trusted me to put it away. Course that was a super large everything order. This is just produce, but I love produce. I wouldn’t mind even more time to trim up things, but with baking, well, I don’t have time. This all falls back on the produce business my family had.  Even though I hated the growing part, I loved the produce and seeing all fresh ingredients. Granted, the things coming in this order are not like the fresh from the farm, but it’s still fun.

While I’m never ready for Tuesday to begin, I do like the produce and seeing all the fun things come in is a delight. I think Coffeeman always tries to scare me with ‘It’s a big order’, but I always just think, cool, more to put away. Right on. Bring it on, Chef, bring it on…. it never scares me.  You don’t see the inward delight…. Or maybe you do.

Kate

 

Embrace the Blue Tape – Day 16

Mark everything. Date everything. Everything needs a label.

Marked Cambros. Gotta have the dates!

This is pretty much a code in the kitchen. And by code I don’t mean ‘guideline.’ It’s a rule that must be upheld. You can’t get away with shoving something in the walk-in and not label and dating it. How are you ever going to know what it is days from now? And will you honestly remember the date? How many yolks did you separate into a deli? What is that mysterious brown substance in the 2 quart cambro? Chocolate ganache or demi glace?

First in first out… FIFO is the rule. So dated things are critical to health standards.  Two weeks is the limit on a lot of things. Personally, I would prefer a lot of things get used up before that.

So equipped with a Sharpie marker and blue painter’s tape in hand, we mark our cambros, delis, boxes, anything opened. Label and date everything. Wrap everything as well, but basically, it’s storage techniques. Bus tubs with towels over produce. What is that bus tub containing? Mark it. (Darn it, I forgot to mark the peaches today…hmmm)

I’ve rambled on about blue tape and dating things so much that even my family has embraced blue tape. Granted, it’s just for marking the tops of small jars with the various flavors of espresso coffee we’ve made in the moka pot, but still…. If we could start labeling everything in the fridge like I do at work, whew, life might be simpler.

all the flavors of coffee

I even remember reading it in Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook Appetites. He used tape to date and label everything in his fridge. I think I would do it in my own home. It’s not obsessive when you realize how easy it is to forget what you’ve put in a container and when you did.

Here’s a quick great article on tape.  KITCHEN TIP: PAINTER’S TAPE AND SHARPIE

Oh and I guess Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se uses green tape now…. I prefer blue, it sticks better, the green doesn’t always stick and hold on.

Granted, at home, if a little mold is on something, you scrape it off and go on about your daily life. Not so much in a restaurant. That doesn’t fly.  So, seriously, embrace the blue tape… Or red, green, tan, yellow. Whatever color you decide to use.

Kate

Lemon Curd and Swiss Meringue – Day 15

The halfway point. I’m already feeling it. Probably because I don’t have any backup posts now. Now I have to write every day because I’m not caught up and I’ve lost a little of what I should write about. This always happens.  I do have a few things I know of, but I like to see what inspiration strikes me at work.

Today it’s two areas that a few months ago I would have said no way and no how was I ever going to be able to make them. I definitely would have said it a year ago. I don’t know why I was so worried.

Whisking lemon curd away

I’ve always wanted to make lemon curd, but everyone warned me it was time consuming and you could really screw it up. And I would have never tried a different type of meringue.

Lemon curd has got to be one of the easiest things to make. Oh sure, it takes a bit of time, but it’s like super easy to make. Seriously, I will willingly make it for anyone that wants some, provided they spend the money on the ingredients. It does use a fair amount of eggs, butter and lemon juice/zest….. <—see, zest!  But in a double boiler, bain marie, it’s a breeze. I make it almost every week. And the exploding lemon flavor is heaven. Seriously, I love lemon tarts now. Not that I would have ever balked at it before. In fact, now that I know how to make it, I want to make it for my family.

Filling a piping bag

Swiss meringue

Swiss meringue came after my standard meringue fell quite quickly at work. I’m not an expert at it and it was causing trouble. You either have a touch for it or not. I can’t say as I have a touch. So research began and swiss meringue became the solution. The first trial was too sticky and gooey, but an improved recipe { Rethinking Swiss Meringue: Lighter, Fluffier, and More Stable} made this marvelous concoction that I want to spread and eat and just consume.

It worked every time I made it and lasted days, much to Lucifer saying, “no it won’t” and “see how much time it takes you to make!” Gasp and horrors, 15 minutes for three to four days of it lasting versus 5-10 minutes each day… Gee, I wonder which one was more functional?

A finished lemon tart with swiss meringue

That being said, my swiss meringue has been separating lately. Too much humidity? Too much beating? Not enough sugar? Something is off and it irks the heck out of me. It was decent for the weekend. And I sent out a couple luxurious desserts to guests late at night. I got to plate. I loved it.

Sometimes it’s the silly things I’m afraid of, but Chef seems to think I’m up to the challenge and in the scope of things, I’ve ruined very little. The roulade cake not cracking for weeks was an issue, but I have it solved. I should probably modify the kitchen bible.

I love that I have lemon curd and meringue in my head and I can whip them out without even questioning myself. I love that food becomes almost ordinary in fixing it. Someone says, “can you do —-?” and I can say, “Why yes I can!” Skills…..

“June, you’ve got skills…”   from Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz

I guess I have ’em.

Kate

A Day of Rest – Day 14

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Today is my day off, finally. Five days on last week, one day off, then five  more. I am wiped. My brain is fried, my body is sore, and I have zero oomph left in me. It was a long week. With being responsible while a coworker was still off till Friday and just a general already tiredness forming from late days. Restaurant life is hard. But it’s good. But it’s hard. You are constantly on your feet, on the go, on pitched floors, lifting heavy items, scrubbing every night, cleaning house so to speak, directing traffic….. People would ask why you would want to live the life. I honestly can’t tell you today. Not because I don’t like it, but I wonder why I like it. I even asked my dad today if I was crazy as I fell onto a blanket on the couch.

Why do I get such satisfaction with putting in the long hours and the constant feeling of crazy? Why do I enjoy even the cleaning? What is it about this life that is so good? I honestly don’t know. Maybe Coffeeman knows the answer. He’s been doing it for 18 years. He knows a thing or two as he’s seen a thing or two…… cue farmers insurance music…

I am happy. I tell people all the time how happy I am even when I am wiped. One of my lovely ladies said I looked more relaxed in writing yesterday. “But I’m exhausted!” I complained.

“You still look more relaxed,” she replied.  I am. Much more, despite getting early morning texts that the kitchen didn’t get closed properly after I clocked off. That irked me to no end. I literally came home in tears to my father saying I have to stop being so emotional about work, or to at least turn the tears to pissed off anger. That I can do. It’s nice to know my boss has my back. All of my bosses. It’s nice to know that we all get the same frustrations and try to work through them to create a more cohesive environment.

It was good to have the day off, and tomorrow off. That being said, I’m still thinking about work and the week ahead.  I’d like to come up with some interesting desserts though I feel a little tired to even do that.  I have ideas floating around in my head. Pumpkin cakes with a cream cheese buttercream frosting….. lime mousse with a raspberry coulis….. something to use the banana sorbet up with. I think it would go with a nice fall spiced something. Or coconut…. I want elegant and delectable. Something that can be plated beautifully.

But I have one more day off. Maybe I should take that day and just not think so much.

Kate

 

Spreading the Coals – Day 12

The oven with the coals spread

As one of the pizza chefs, I have the responsibility of closing down my station and making sure all is back to rights at the end of the night. Wiping pans, cleaning boards and wrapping things. Another thing I have to do is spread the hot coals in the pizza oven. At 10pm the station is closed down and finally no one can order anything else. The andirons get pulled out of the coals, shoved to the other side, then the coals get spread.

The oven, when up to it’s best temp, is around 700 degrees on the right hand side, and ranging from 600-680 on the left. So even though the fire has died down, it’s still pretty darn hot.

Long pole in hand I shove the andirons over and sweep the coals across the bottom of the oven to keep the stones hot over night before being started up again the next morning. It’s hot and hard. Actually, it’s not as hard as tossing the almond wood into the fire, considering I’m short, the opening of the oven is at chest level and I don’t have upper body strength. I feel very unequipped to toss the wood in, and more often than not, I miss and have to readjust the wood with one of the poles. It’s not my idea of fun. It’s actually quite exhausting.

burning…

But seeing the coals burning bright red, crackling and swept across the stone is rather lovely. Plus it also means my night is almost over.

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

Language – Day 10

For the most part, I have a pretty clean mouth. That is, until I started working in a kitchen. Who knew that a kitchen’s general vernacular is various forms of swear words. Okay, I might exaggerate as it’s not all bad language. Just various applications at different times and different rearrangements of the words.

  • Kitchen Slang 101: you can learn a lot here, and yes, we kind of do swear like sailors at times. Wildflower is an expert of it.

Again, I kid, but only to a point. I have to say that my mouth isn’t quite as clean as it was prior to working with my former chef, sous chef, and various line chefs. Coffeeman refrains from spewing it at all times, leaving it to well placed moments where it’s really  needed. Lucifer, Micha, and previous chef were fairly notorious for it always spewing out. I got a little numb to it over time, but at first it was like being dunked into cold water. It was actually one of the reasons I ‘quit’ back in January. I couldn’t handle the chef just constantly swearing up a storm. His bad attitude didn’t help, but throw that in with a mouth, and me being a fairly conservative, straitlaced woman, it was hard.

The kitchen life has led me to be a little less sheltered and more inclined to try a few new things that I was kind of afraid to try beforehand. Do I think having a mouth is a good thing? No, but at times, it really is the only way to get the point across.

Years ago, a man I knew who was from Scotland, explained all the ways the Brits use the word ‘fuck’. How it can be charming, an expletive, just a generalization, and it made sense. It was all about how it was said. Tone. It’s really true, the word can have so many applications.

 

This last Saturday, or maybe it was Friday, (I’m a little lost as the two days were whirwinds) one of our servers was standing right there as a ticket started printing out and I was helping her get something to go. We are watching at it just prints this uber long ticket that wouldn’t stop, both of us saying ‘stop, stop, STOP!’ and right as it finishes, another starts right up. I looked at her and let out a very quiet ‘eff’.  Then another, and she totally agreed with me. It was just an “oh crap” moment. We both knew what it meant and there was nothing else that would make the point quite as much. I was ‘in the weeds’ a lot that night and swearing was the only way in my head to deal. Granted, most of the swearing was in my head. Burns, bangs, exhausted arms, tickets that didn’t seem to end, yeah, sometime letting out a long, sighing “eff” is the only thing that helps you deal.

Sometimes I need to use language. Other times, no. I need to refrain when not at work, and I try to keep it more clean, but honestly, the terms are just so much a part of my life nowadays.

Kate

The Zest of Life – Day 9

I use a lot of citrus zest in my life. From lemon curd to chocolate orange mousse, I’m always zesting things. Even before the menu change back in summer, I was zesting all the time. Every menu has had something with lemon, orange, or lime zest used. Needless to say, I finally asked my father to find me a microplane online so I wouldn’t always have to borrow the previous chef’s and so I could get to work.

Recently, the lemon curd wasn’t quite lemon-y to a few people’s standards and my just lemon juice recipe went to zesting almost 20 lemons for a triple batch of lemon curd. That’s a lot of lemons to zest. Mounds of the yellow flakes. But trust me, it makes for a marvelously lemony lemon curd.

The other day I zested a couple of oranges for the mousse and that’s what I got the picture of the zest below.

About 4 tablespoons of orange zest…

There is nothing better than the smell of citrus zest. I really mean that. I love citrus to no end. I have ideas of a lime mousse. I live for zesting things. I actually really like it. I may bemoan it to coworkers, but in all seriousness, I love to zest. The bright sunshine smell is so so good to me.

Kate

Deep Cleaning – Day 7

Sunday, yesterday, I wasn’t able to post. I was just too gosh darn tired after a full week and I wanted to sit down when I finally got home and just veg on a good movie. Reason I was so tired was Sunday is deep cleaning day.  The grime has built up for the week and it’s time to do unfun jobs such as boiling out a fryer, or taking down the grates over the stove and degreasing them.

Spotless kitchen, wet floors, the smell of cleaners, the silence at the end of night…

For me, I avoid most deep cleaning days. Haha, but it’s only because I’m not on the schedule. However, I have deep cleaned a lot especially because back in the late spring and early summer, it was required every night. Well, maybe not the fryer or hood, but definitely all the floors and drains and such. The floors get swept really well then degreaser gets poured on the floor and finally they get sprayed down with a hose and very hot water.

The grime gets powerwashed off the floors and the spots in the corners. The weekly grime is lifted off and the kitchen suddenly doesn’t smell like a kitchen, but a very humid clean environment.

more wet floors and clean stainless

All the stainless shelves are wiped clean, and spots that get left during the week are suddenly back to rights. Granted, after I finished yesterday and was showing off the perfect space to my GM Sassy Girl, I found spots that weren’t quite up to par…. oops. And of course she would see them. But the general grime was off the floor. The kitchen actually looks a heck of a lot better than I have seen it in weeks.

Back when Micha and I were closing together, it looked like it does now, every night. I sometimes miss the spraying down of the floors every time we close; the steam billowing up and feeling damp and like you are in the tropics. Just picture steam billowing out of a door with the lights back lit into the cold night air. The sharp but pleasant smell of cleaners and knowing that everything is spotless.

Ick, the floors before!

I can’t say as I miss the back breaking work. I am so exhausted today with only one day off before it all begins again. And I will say that the walkin did not get wiped down to its full potential, but since I will be in and out of it putting produce away tomorrow…. well then, I’ll make sure it’s more clean when I’m done.

Kate