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"Sous Chef for an hour" Advice...


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#1 Zeemanb

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 09:22 AM

Figured this was a good place to ask about the best preparation for an event in a couple of weeks where I’ve been asked to assist a local chef in an Iron Chef-style charity event. This is the first year that three top KC chefs are being partnered with one civilian-ish assistant (they are calling us their sous chefs, but I don’t want to soil that title, lol). Anyway, secret ingredient, one hour, three dishes for four judges, pantry will be stocked with secret ingredient-friendly items, and I believe all cooking equipment will be provided with the exception of specialty tools for sous vide, vacuum sealers, etc.


I’m a decent home cook…with lots of prep time and my cookbooks I’m very comfortable doing dinner parties or cooking for groups of 20 or 30. Momofuku, Joe Beef, Ad Hoc at Home cookbooks…I like doing “theme” dinners that venture outside my comfort zone. BUT I’ve never cooked in a professional kitchen, have erratic knife skills, and don’t have a wealth of recipes/ratios committed to memory at all.


I’ll be meeting with my chef over the next couple of weeks, but any sous chef preparation advice would be appreciated in regards to:


Equipment to bring with me (taking my knives, peeler, apron, towels, Japanese mandolin, Microplanes, things of that nature).


Realistic agenda for practicing veg prep…specific vegetable cuts to have down for sure (the chef is a butcher, so in that regard we’ll be covered).


Most versatile sauces or sides that can be committed to memory, grain to water ratios…just thinking out loud.


Also- a basic cake recipe, quick breads or dough recipes that are easy to memorize, or anything that could be handy when making a dessert (with the secret ingredient being the great unknown). I’m thinking I could be of value here as far as contributing AND staying out of his way, depending on the overall strategy.


Thanks for any input on these or any topics I didn't think of. As far as supporting the chef, I work clean, take direction well, learn/replicate quickly, and my feelings don’t get hurt. It’s for charity, it’s only one hour, it’s going to be a lot of fun, but the chefs are all talented and philanthropic people I respect very much and if I can prepare in advance to lighten my chef’s burden even a little I’m willing to spend some hours learning between now and then. And if I can outshine the other two chef’s assistants….BONUS!

#2 Ericpo

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 08:11 PM

LOVE IT.

Seriously Jerry, now that is a freaking challenge to the entire forum!

Knife skills:
I don't know how helpful this will be but as far as veg prep...I would break it down thusly: Potato-types, Globe-types, Celery-types, and hard vegetable/spice types. Practicing your knife techniques on one will tend to carry over to similar items.

Potato-types: any fruit or vegetable with a similar shape or consistency of a potato. These would include apples, potatoes, beets, jicama, etc. Practice on any of these the folowing: Dice, thin slice, chop, and of course peel.

Globe-types: any veg with similar shape or consistency of an onion. Including: Cabbage, Onion, Shallots, lettuce. Practice shredding(with a knife, grater is sooo easy though) dicing, chopping...in particular, learn to french cut an onion or shallot if you do not already know.

Celery-types: any veg that resembles celery. Raw fennel, Celery, Leeks, Asparagus...in short, if it is fiberous and in a shaft type form. Practice dicing, slicing, maybe even cleaning. Leeks in particular have a tendency to accumulate sand in their folds.

Hard vegetable/spice types: Carrots, fresh ginger, lemongrass, etc. Learn to peel, dice, chop, especially julienne.

Also I will not describe, but these are terms to make sure you are familiar with: French-cut, Cut on a bias, Julienne, Chiffonade, dice, chop, mince.

Most Versatile Sides:

I don't have a ton to say here, except to bone up on your pilaf knowledge. A rice pilaf can incorporate a wealth of flavors, virtually interchangably. instead of rice, carrots, and onions with garlic as the spice, you can add any similar ingredients....cabbage, celery, ginger, any dried spice, green beans...whatever you need to do to incorporate the secret ingredient.

One more thing before I fall asleep. If you've never cooked in a professional kitchen, the most important thing to remember is to be aware of others and stay out of the way. Growing up with a huge family and cooking mostly in a Galley kitchen, we called it "the kitchen dance". I don't know the space restrictions that you will be dealing with, but saying loudly "HOT PAN!", or "SHARP KNIFE", are generally considered explicit warnings rather like, "HEADS UP" on a football field.

Otherwise, congratulations on being sous chef, and you have especially my admiration for the philanthropic volunteer aspect.

Happy Cooking!
Do or do not. There is no try.
-Yoda

#3 ScoopKW

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 01:48 AM

Say "Behind" as you approach someone from behind. Do. It. Every. Single. Time. Never forget to say behind. Or you could cause an accident, potentially a serious accident. (As any pastry cook who works with hot sugar can attest.

Learn how to dice an onion/shallot quick. Do a lot of them. I'd also practice bias cuts on carrots/celery. And I'd Google the "how to peel garlic with two metal bowls" video, if you don't know that trick already.

Get in the habit of grabbing pan handles with a tea towel. Every. Single. Time. Just assume the pans have been in a 500f oven. They probably have. You won't be any help at all with blisters all over your hands.

Tongs. You can pick just about anything up with a pair of tongs -- a pan, the contents of the pan, the asparagus you're working with. Etc.

Equipment. I work at a very busy restaurant. 90% of my day, I need the following: Pairing knife, chef's knife, usuba, serrated knife, microplane, tweezers, tongs, fish spatula (aka turning spatula) -- having one of these is a must, plating/saucing spoons, peeler, multiple silicone spatulas, thermometer. The ceramic mandolin is nice to have, as well. I would also bring an oyster/clam knife, just in case.

Sauces. Have bechemel and hollandaise committed to memory. Four judges, so roughly a quart of sauce. Be able to make a mayonnaise with a bowl and a whisk. Learning to cheat a beurre blanc using a little cream would probably put a smile on the chef's face, as well.
Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#4 Tri2Cook

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 04:38 AM

With the disclaimer that I don't have that many different restaurants under my belt, I've yet to work in one where people actually yell "behind" or "hot" or any of that every time they move. Maybe in specific situations where it's obvious the other person isn't paying attention to what's going on around them but even those are usually followed with "wake up" (expletive enhancers omitted). I realize I'm not working in fine dining kitchens (they don't exist anywhere close to where I live) and I'm not suggesting it's not a safe approach... but it wouldn't be long where I work until the person yelling that stuff every time they moved around would be told to s.t.f.u. by somebody. So I guess my question is, is that really the commonly accepted practice outside of where I live?
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#5 Zeemanb

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 09:45 AM

Seriously, thanks for all of the advice so far! I was emailing w/the chef this morning and needless to say he does not have the performance anxiety that I do. His initial thoughts were to plan for a pasta course and maybe a fried dough based dessert...it's all about what can be done fast and can more than likely accomodate almost any secred ingredient (last year it was parsnips). The judges are not random people off the street, but they also won't be expecting some Jose Andres minibar action either. I'm going to start thinking in that direction, work on a couple of sauces, get my knives sharpened, chop through a few bags of onions, carrots and potatoes, maybe commit a basic cake recipe to memory in case something like a trifle would be a good option for dessert.

For a non-professional I've just had way too much good fortune when it comes to dining and making great friends, so whatever I can do to help get people with deep pockets more excited to help a children's charity is a pretty fun obligation.

#6 ScoopKW

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Posted 25 January 2013 - 12:33 PM

So I guess my question is, is that really the commonly accepted practice outside of where I live?


I've yet to work in a kitchen where "Behind!" isn't S.O.P. I don't know how many times I was about to swing around with a pan full of flaming-hot stuff to my plating area when I stopped myself because someone said "behind." Otherwise, someone -- perhaps both of us -- would end up splashed with scalding hot oil. And when I swing around with something hot, I say, "swinging around hot." I also find myself saying "corner," "corner out," and "timer," every day. Furthermore, we call back instructions to the expediter. Basically, our kitchen sounds like the dialog of a WWII submarine movie, except with kitchen lingo instead of "fire torpedoes."

If I found myself in a kitchen where "behind!" wasn't accepted practice, I'd quit and find another kitchen. It sounds like a great way for people to injure themselves to me.


As for Jerry's project, I would like to add "cut up a chicken 8 ways" and "truss a chicken" and "bone a chicken" to the list of things to practice. No matter what the mystery ingredient is, chicken probably compliments it. Even though the chef is a butcher, it's good to know anyway. And it will save you some money in the market.

EDIT -- The big, major, number-one difference between home cooking and cooking professionally is time management. This is a industry that measures time in minutes. Thirty unproductive seconds can throw off the whole rhythm and suddenly the cook is dans le merde. That's why your chef isn't concerned about making four dishes in an hour and you are. The absolute best thing you can do for yourself is have a clock at eye-level while you practice the stuff you're practicing. See how long it takes you to accomplish various tasks. (And of course, try improve your time.) Try to learn to multitask. Do the things that can mind themselves first, so that they're working while you do the things that require 100% attention.

Edited by ScoopKW, 25 January 2013 - 12:43 PM.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

#7 Twyst

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Posted 01 February 2013 - 06:40 PM

. So I guess my question is, is that really the commonly accepted practice outside of where I live?

Absolutely. You definitely dont want to be the guy who doesnt say "behind" anywhere that I have worked. Its actually one of the first things I notice about people who come to stage where I work. If they dont say behind, hot corner/ etc I assume they are brand new to kitchens.

#8 Tri2Cook

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 05:19 AM


. So I guess my question is, is that really the commonly accepted practice outside of where I live?

Absolutely. You definitely dont want to be the guy who doesnt say "behind" anywhere that I have worked. Its actually one of the first things I notice about people who come to stage where I work. If they dont say behind, hot corner/ etc I assume they are brand new to kitchens.

Interesting. I'm definitely not new to kitchens but I've also never worked outside of the general area where I live. I've never seen it done to the extent that appears to be common. I mean, we do it in obvious situations (when someone is new or obviously not aware of what's going on around them) but there's definitely not a never-ending chorus of "behind", "hot", etc. going on. With the layout and type of business where I work, somebody would be yelling literally almost every moment during the rushes. I guess if I ever move I'll have to adjust to relying on being yelled at instead of just being aware of what's going on around me.
It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

#9 Zeemanb

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Posted 14 February 2013 - 09:46 AM

Thought I’d do a quick followup here….WE WON!

The event was Monday night and benefited a local school for visually impaired children. They auctioned off the 4th judge’s spot as we were cooking, and I think that alone went for $1100, so this was a pretty significant fundraiser and event. The chef I assisted was Alex Pope who currently owns and operates the butcher shop Local Pig here in KC (got a recent mention in the New York Times), and the other chefs were Howard Hanna from The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange (my favorite restaurant in KC), and Michael Smith from Extra Virgin and Michael Smith restaurants.


The format was part Iron Chef and part Chopped…we had a cooler of items that had to be present in at least one dish (cod, skirt steak, walnuts, piquillo peppers, cheddar cheese, La Quercia salami), and then the secret ingredient that was revealed right before cooking began was sweet potato. All in all, the food items were ones the chefs could work with pretty easily, and the pantry was well stocked. I’d been in contact with my chef prior to the contest, and we agreed that if I could make pate a choux and work that into whatever dessert we were planning, pretty much any secret ingredient could be worked into that. So I basically just practiced until making choux dough was a reflex action, and we talked about frying it so I did that a few different ways as well.


We had at least an hour or so before the cooking began to look over the pantry and we also knew what was in the cooler…huge help. So Chef Pope ended up doing a steak tartare with sweet potato chips, an awesome cod dish that utilized the majority of the ingredients in the cooler as well as sautéed sweet potatoes and onions (a particularly insane piquillo pepper and saba sauce was included here...I think this dish is what locked in the win), and while he did most of the work I stuck with the choux and worked on cooking some sweet potatoes in piloncillo and water until they were breaking down and then we folded that into a bunch of cream cheese. “My” (and I use the term very loosely) dessert was a fried funnel cake dusted with citrus zest sugar, sitting on some Amarena cherry juice and sautéed pears with the sweet potato cream cheese mixture on the side. The thrill of the night (besides WINNING) was when two-time Top Chef Masters contestant Debbie Gold clapped her hands when the funnel cake arrived.

So anyway, a bit of a recap. Thanks again for all of the suggestions. It was one hell of an experience in many ways, a fantastic charity, and I still have absolutely no plans to ever step foot in a professional kitchen, lol.

#10 Shelby

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Posted 15 February 2013 - 10:00 AM

Congratulations! That's awesome!

Did you get to taste the other Chefs creations?

#11 kryptos1

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Posted 16 February 2013 - 06:57 AM

Congrats! You took out 2 fantastic chefs! I am doing the whole hog butchering in April there at Local Pig. I think I met you at a sausage making class there over a year ago. Funnel cakes are a family favorite.....congrats!

#12 rotuts

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Posted 16 February 2013 - 07:24 AM

congratulations. I bet that experience was quite something. I went to the Local Pig to see what they had, but their calkboard was empty!

#13 Zeemanb

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 07:35 AM

Congratulations! That's awesome!

Did you get to taste the other Chefs creations?

 

Honestly, I think all I ate was a couple of bites of funnel cake to make sure it was ok and half a meatball from one of the tasting stations.  It was one fast and furious evening, but Howard Hanna and Michael Smith put out some amazing looking plates of food.  Howard did some fried cod that in hindsight I really wish I'd eaten.

 

Thanks for the congrats!  Chef Pope is an incredibly nice guy and I know kryptos would agree that he is a patient and efficient teacher as well.

 

rotuts- I don't think they keep their webpage updated with any consistency.  There are a few local spots like that, social media and word of mouth seem to be more effective channels.  As far as their current selection, some favorites of mine are the goat chorizo, housemade scrapple, any and all headcheeses, and the miso honey bacon.  Alex Pope and team are all about huge flavor....I use the bar scene in It's Wonderful Life to illustrate my point, it's the meat version of "This bar serves HARD drinks for men who wanna get drunk FAST!"



#14 rotuts

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 07:44 AM

WoW:

 

goat chorizo, housemade scrapple, any and all headcheeses, and the miso honey bacon.

 

Im a Scapple Head.  probably could be a GoatChorizo Head too.   headcheeses speak for themselves!

 

this looks like one serious place!

 

lucky you!