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Diary: October 2, 2002

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Tuesday, October 1

I’ve been thinking over this upcoming externship, and I’ve mostly decided I should work in a restaurant downtown. I think I can handle the transit issues by carefully choosing the location of the restaurant where I work, and the restaurants downtown just seem more exciting.

Barbara Cullen, who serves as admissions director of L’academie and who helps us to arrange our externships, sat at my table for lunch yesterday. I asked her what she knew about Café 15, where I ate dinner with some eGullet folks on Sunday night. She said they weren’t as busy as they had hoped, but that she thought I might get along well with the chef there. She said that they would teach me a lot about French food if I externed there. After considering her remarks, I called the restaurant to see about maybe trailing for a night. I left a message yesterday, when the chef was out, and then managed to get him on the phone today.

I explained to chef Philippe Piel who I was and what I was looking for. He said he was fully staffed right now but that he might be able to take on a new employee closer to the holidays, and suggested he would speak to his owners and get back with me. Meanwhile he did say I could come trail on Thursday night.

Chef Piel is very much a Frenchman, as seem to be most of the people connected with Café 15. I’m glad I’ve been listening to Chef Francois for a few months, since I’m now somewhat acclimated to French accents. The chef asked me all kinds of questions about who I am, what my ultimate goals are, and what sort of restaurant experience I have. I was honest about my interest in writing, and explained that I had worked in an institutional type food service setting but not in a serious restaurant. He wanted to know what sort of station might interest me, a question I had not considered previously. After a moment’s thought, I told him that I didn’t know enough about the professional kitchen to think I belonged in a specific place. I suggested that if he wanted me to work on garde-manger, I’d be delighted and would enjoy the learning experience. I said I’d be happy to plate desserts. I said I wanted to learn about butchery, about the saute station, about preparing fish, and about a million other things. I said it didn’t matter where I worked as long as I was able to learn. He seemed pleased with my responses for the most part, and I’m eager to show up in uniform on Thursday evening and see what happens.

Wednesday, October 2

One of the people at L’academie who I have rarely discussed (if at all) is Maria. Maria is a woman who works hard to keep the school clean. She takes care of school laundry (we go through plenty of side towels, and faculty and staff uniforms are all washed and ironed by her) and she scrubs our bathrooms. English is her second language, but she’s more adept with English than I am with Spanish. She does not eat meat, at least not at the school, although she does sometimes eat shellfish. Occasionally she asks for a salad for lunch when we are eating a meat-y meal for all courses. She normally eats alone in the student lounge. Her teenaged daughter came in and hung out in there with her once in a while over the summer, but now that school has started we rarely see her.

Every day, a student asks faculty and staff what they would like from the meal we are producing for the day. (People often reject a course, or request more of one item or that a component which is easily removed like a side dish be omitted.) Sometimes, when a person cannot be found, we assign their meal choices based on prior experience and hope for the best.

Maria ended up assigned to my team today. I’ve made her shrimp before, which she liked, so I was surprised to see on the lunch order that she wanted only vegetables inside the summer rolls we made as starters. When she walked through the kitchen, I asked her about it in my broken Spanish: “Maria, recuerdo que te gustas camarones…?” She said she did like shrimp, and so I said we’d give her some for her lunch starter. She smiled and walked off. A few minutes later she came back and shyly admitted to me that she did not know how to cook shrimp properly. She said they were hard when she made them and wondered if I could show her how to cook them when I made hers.

I smiled and said I’d love to teach her how to fix shrimp. When it came time to sautee the shrimp for the rolls, I went and found her. I showed her how to devein them, and then I heated a pan with peanut oil. I seasoned the shrimp, explaining why we season before we cook, and talked about how to saute you use minimal fat and high heat. I told her that with shrimp the secret is to pull them off of the heat once they’re no longer translucent and the pink color has fully developed. I showed her how to test the heat of the pan, and then I cooked the three shrimp I’d deveined for her. All the while, I talked to her about aromatics and such that can be added to the pan to give the shrimp a different flavor. I plated the three simple shrimp with a chive garnish and sent her to enjoy the spoils of her lesson.

It made me quite happy to show her how to cook something. She always seems to avoid the kitchen for some reason. Granted, it’s not common for students to show staff how to prepare foods, and the kitchen is not exactly a safe place to be hanging about for the inexperienced. Still, I was flattered that she asked me to give her a lesson. A half hour later, she came back into the kitchen and shyly handed me a note. It read:

“Dear Rochelle: Thank you for teaching me how to cook shrimp. Do you know? The shrimps was soo good, delicious. Thank you! Maria.”

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That's a great story. As I said in a different thread, it's important to recognize the "lowly" people and how much they contribute. We often forget that and only recognize the chef of the moment.

What kind of shrimp were they? I've only used our little Maine shrimp and Gulf shrimp. Never tried the farm raised stuff.

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Lovely post. Isn't it great to share your love and knowledge of food with someone else? That's what it's all about!

Have a blast tonight!!!! If this is your first time in a restaurant kitchen during service, you will be astounded. Just remember, whatever they want you to do, ask that they show you once so that you can do it THEIR way. And work clean!!!! (But you know that already :smile: )

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Rochelle, how was it?

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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