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Diary: November 10, 2002


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#1 Malawry

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Posted 10 November 2002 - 08:43 PM

Wednesday evening, November 6

I trailed at Corduroy tonight in my continuing externship explorations. Corduroy is located in a hotel, and by the terms of their lease with the hotel they must be open 7 days a week, from something like 6:30am to midnight. They serve three meals a day, do all the banquet service for the hotel, and prepare all room service items. This means that while I was at the restaurant, there were people on the line preparing salmon with baby bok choy and an anise-scented fish broth reduction mounted with butter right next to a steak sandwich. There were several people, including myself, doing plenty of prep for upcoming banquet events even as service was going on.

I spent most of my evening cutting vegetables. I started off with a fine brunoise of parsnips and carrots; my first test vegetables were too large but after that I straightened them up and produced some of the better-looking knife cuts I’ve done. This was the only item I prepared for the Corduroy menu, and it was a serious contrast with the other things I cut: sous chef Paul kept a close eye on my cuts for the carrots and parsnips, but then he had me cut up 8 or 9 large onions and said he didn’t care much how big they were as long as they were close to ¼” cubes. He barely glanced at them when I finished, and he didn’t look too closely at the 10 or so red bell peppers I cut up for him either.

There’s a clear contrast in expectation between food for the restaurant and food for the banquets, to the extent that I found myself revising expectations for the banquet service food. I have eaten at Corduroy and I really enjoyed the food, and when I discovered that the same chef oversees banquet service I assumed the banquets were at a similar level to the food in the restaurant. I have not sampled finished banquet dishes, but they definitely don’t engender the same care as the finer cuisine at Corduroy…at least, not the particular banquets I was preparing for. This is not meant to say that the banquet service is slipshod; it’s just at a different level than the restaurant.

I did have one major mishap. I was asked to defrost two solid blocks of shrimp for use in a banquet pasta dish. The shrimp were fairly small and the blocks were quite large. It took me a while to get them defrosted; I used a combination of running and still water, figuring this was the best approach for speed and food safety, and I constantly worked the edges of the bricks with my fingers to loosen up the shellfish. (This is a very cold, cold-fingered job. After a while, my bones ached.) At one point the water level in the sink got rather high, so I released the drain and lowered the level. Like most restaurant sinks I’ve seen, this sink had a gap between the drainpipe and the drain to prevent pressure backflow. I did not realize that the sheer volume of water coming out of the drainpipe and splashing over the drain would be too much for the drain to handle, and I didn’t notice that there was water all over the floor as a result. It hadn’t occurred to me to look until several minutes later, when an employee walked by and picked his way around the puddles. Before I could react, Chef Tom came by and did the exact same thing. I was quite embarrassed and asked the whereabouts of a mop; Chef Tom brought me a squeegee and I cleared the floor up. Still, it didn’t look too good.

I have to have my externship sewed up by the end of next week. I liked Corduroy quite a bit. We’ll see what happens with Chef Tom over the next week or so.

Thursday, November 7

Another market basket day. I was assigned to a team with Melanie and Brett. Melanie had also trailed in a restaurant last night, so we were both a little brain-dead and took a while to get moving mentally. The basket list was lengthier and less limited than previous baskets, except the animal proteins. We could use unlimited bacon and duck confit, up to 1 chicken, and either 6oz of tuna or 6oz of squid. We had to feed five people (the three of us plus two guests) and one chicken is not quite enough for that many people. Duck confit is more of an appetizer type treat than a good entrée in my book, plus I wanted to use it in a salad. And chicken doesn’t really go with tuna or squid, so they couldn’t be combined easily. After much discussion, here is the menu we came up with:

A demitasse of butternut squash soup with pecan cream and a spiced candied pecan on top
Salad of mixed greens with duck confit, roasted yellow peppers, dried cherries, and hazelnut-sherry vinaigrette
Chicken-filled tortellini with sauteed mushrooms, artichoke hearts and asparagus in a rosemary-garlic cream sauce
Caramel-phyllo ice cream napoleon with bitter chocolate sauce and sugared berries

I really wanted to make the dessert this time, and I was emphatic about making caramel ice cream and using it as the focus of our dessert. I also came up with most of the salad idea, and said I’d make the salad myself. I went into pastry almost immediately to get started on the napoleon.

I’m rather proud of my little napoleons. I had a thin caramel sauce on hand (cooked caramel + enough cream that the mixture is a little runny at room temperature) and I added it to a plain ice cream base immediately before packing it into the school ice cream freezer. I made some vanilla sugar and used it with clarified butter in between sheets of phyllo, and then I cut the stacked phyllo sheets into identical rectangles and baked them until crisp. I removed the ice cream from the freezer while it was still somewhat soft, spread it evenly in a half-sheet pan, and froze it in the walk-in near the compressor where I hoped it would harden quickly. An hour before service, I removed the ice cream from the pan, cut it into rectangles sized identically to the phyllo, and refroze it. I was nervous because the ice cream was a little tacky when I pulled it out of the freezer to cut it, and by the time I finished cutting it was starting to weep quite a bit. There wasn’t much I could do about it except plan to plate at the last possible minute.

I went and made all the components for the salad, plus I put together the rosemary-garlic cream sauce for the pasta. I also made the chocolate sauce (73% chocolate ganache, thinned down with enough cream to make a thick smooth sauce) and sugared strawberries for the dessert garnish. I felt like I worked efficiently and quickly.

Unfortunately, despite my efforts, we ended up being rather behind on lunch service. It was mostly the entrée that held us up; there wasn’t enough water set up for pasta-boiling, and our pasta was thick enough that it didn’t cook through before the chicken mousse filling was completely done. We ended up serving the pasta a little too hard, and the mousse had already turned a little rubbery from overcooking. We hadn’t realized that the balance could be so delicate between cooking the mousse and the pasta together. By the time we had our turn in the inadequate amount of pasta water and plated up, it had been almost an hour already. I scurried into the pastry kitchen with Melanie to plate up my desserts, but we barely had ten seconds to eat it before Chef Peter kicked us out of the kitchen. It’s really too bad, my desserts looked and tasted wonderful and nobody got a chance to enjoy them. Hopefully next week we’ll plan better.

Friday, November 8

A short day for me; I left early to head to New York to assist the chefs doing demonstrations at the International Hotel/Motel/Restaurant show. I did have an opportunity to play with the cold smoker for the first time today, though: Em and I smoked some salmon. The salmon had been cured already, so we soaked some wood chips in water to give a woodsy flavor to the fish. Chef Peter instructed us to get three charcoal briquets out and put them directly on the gas flame of the stove until they were totally white. And then he showed us how to set up the smoker box and get the fire going. He added an ounce or so of brandy to the soaked, drained wood chips to help get the fire moving and to add some more flavor to the fish.

We checked on the fish periodically (at one point the fire went out, so we had to reignite it with the use of the butane torch). Em left with Chef Somchet to run some errands, so I kept an eye on the smoker. When I thought the fish was done, I pulled it out and walked away from the smoke and smelled it. It smelled delicious: softly smoky and rich, like a good smoked salmon. I presented the fish to Chef Peter, and he pronounced it perfect. I then put out the fire and cleaned down the box.

Smoking makes food so delicious, I’m having fantasies of doing Col Klink-style experiments with the cold smoker. Perhaps next Thursday’s market basket will have something nice and smoke-able among the options.

#2 mamster

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Posted 10 November 2002 - 09:48 PM

We could use unlimited bacon and duck confit

Well, that pretty much describes the Garden of Eden, doesn't it?
Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"
Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

#3 sandra

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 09:21 AM

One of the best lunches I ever had was in Perpignan, France and it consisted of a duck leg confit sitting on a bed of crunchy, garlicky, sauteed potatoes and a side salad of rocket - so simple, but could easily be ruined if not made properly...

Also, duck confit inside a cassoulet is another favourite... I would consider it a main course item...

I'm really starting to miss the cuisine classes by reading your posts! I'm halfway into my patisserie at LCB and so far so good, but I do miss the pace of the kitchen!
www.nutropical.com
~Borojo~

#4 WednesdayGirl

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Posted 11 November 2002 - 01:52 PM

Good job on the trailing. Don't worry about the flood; I'm sure you've noticed by now that restaurants are breeding grounds for those types of accidents. If I had a nickel for every mess I made in the kitchen, the dining area, or even on a customer while I was in food service, I wouldn't have had to go to law school. :wink:

If you had your choice right now of where you'd do your externship, where would you choose? Upon what kinds of criteria would you base your decision?

Amy

#5 Malawry

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Posted 12 November 2002 - 03:09 PM

Sandra, your lunch sounds terrific.

WednesdayGirl, I sat on your questions overnight because I didn't have an easy answer for them. I'm having trouble deciding on an externship location partly because of my criteria. The single biggest one rules out many of the restaurants I'd be most interested in working at: The restaurant must be in a location that is relatively workable for transit. This rules out all restaurants in Northern Virginia, plus all of those in the DC neighborhoods of Dupont Circle, Adams-Morgan and Georgetown. I can't take being yelled at on an ongoing basis, drunken chefs who dump my mise en place five minutes before service, or other serious insanity from my superiors. (A certain degree of insanity is to be expected, in this industry.)
I want a place where I won't be lost in a huge kitchen, yet I get a chance to prepare several kinds of food for different services. I want a place where the chef is on-site and accessible. Ideally, I'd like to not only learn something about working in a restaurant kitchen, but also something new about food.

I am attracted to chefs known for mentoring women, like Ann Cashion of Cashion's Eat Plate, Susan McCreight Lindenborg of Majestic Cafe, and Ris Lacoste of 1789. But all of these are out of the question from a transit standpoint. I am attracted to the higher-end bigger-name dining in DC, but they have huge kitchens and don't take people without experience (for good reason, honestly). And besides, I haven't been much inspired by meals at restaurants like Galileo and Kinkead's (and Michel Richard Citronelle does not take externs, not even George-type ones).

There's not a lot of "clear winner" choices left. My criteria have wavered over time, and the only ones I'm still adamant about are the transit and the yelling issues. I can't subject myself to a trying trip to and/or from work every day. I didn't do it when I was working as an editor and there are enough decent restaurants out there that I shouldn't have to consider it now. And there are enough somewhat sane chefs out there that I don't need to subject myself to being kicked around for sport daily, either.

If I could go anywhere, without worrying about transit? I'd probably head for Cashion's or (if Jonathan hadn't already taken it) maybe Elysium. Considering transit and which restaurants are already taken and what I think I can stand? Stay tuned.