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Diary: October 13, 2002

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Thursday, October 10

I have continued to pursue possibilities for my externship over the past week. The research continued tonight when I trailed at Grapeseed, a bistro and wine bar in Bethesda, MD. I was familiar with Grapeseed before trailing there; I wrote up the desserts Steve Klc designed for them back in July, and both the chef and two of their line cooks are graduates of L’academie.

I showed up around 4:30pm to find chef Jeff Heineman was not in the restaurant. I spoke to a fellow named Steve, one of the saute cooks from L’academie, and he suggested I return after the chef came back around 5. I asked if I could wait at the bar overlooking the kitchen and watch him prep; he said that would be fine. I waited there until Chef Jeff called in and asked that Steve bring me into the kitchen to help him prep.

I was introduced to the other people in the kitchen. Steve started out by saying I’d be shadowing him, but I ended up spending most of my time talking and working with Tim. Tim is 19, has been working in kitchens for several years, and plans to attend Johnson and Wales next year. He’s very chatty, and it was easy to get him going on any subject I asked him about.

Tim and Steve set me up on cutting root vegetables for a hash. They seemed impressed that I’d brought my knives and had my own peeler (I don’t know if they are easily impressed or if they don’t see many people trailing there or what). I tried hard to keep everything evenly sized, and took my time about the job. Once I finished with that, Tim had me cut a brunoise of mango and pear. The mixture was for topping a panna cotta dessert. I was thinking about Steve Klc and his standards, and I used my paring knife like Robin had shown me at Café 15 last week to cut the fruit precisely. I then spooned it atop the panna cotta glasses and added vanilla syrup to the desserts. Later, I helped to get the family meal of fish, chips and tartar sauce together.

The restaurant was quite dead; there were only seven covers on the books, and between the rainy weather and the local skittishness with an unknown sniper picking off innocent people in the area, there wasn’t much of a walk-in clientele. Tim and Steve kept themselves occupied by doing advanced prep for the weekend, but there wasn’t much for me to do a lot of time. Chef Jeff showed up and talked to me briefly, but it was mostly just Tim and Steve around the kitchen.

Eventually people trickled into the restaurant, and I watched as orders came in, were cooked off, plated, and carried off by servers. The plating is not as elaborate or precise as in some restaurants, but the plates are attractive and the food quite good. I liked watching the guys move in the small open kitchen space. There’s a small “chef’s table” bar overlooking the open kitchen, and some regulars sat there. Chef Jeff talked to them for quite a while, and they recognized that I was new and asked me to introduce myself. Later, a former cook came by for a glass of wine and chatted with me for a while. His name is Chip and he just graduated from the French Culinary Institute. He showed me the documentation for his final project, a multi-course meal with chips of some form in each course that he prepared for his family.

Late in the evening, I asked Chef Jeff if we could have a discussion about the possibility of my externing at the restaurant. He said he didn’t think we should talk about it until I came by the restaurant while it was actually busy, and he suggested I call him next week to set up a time to have the discussion. I agreed to do so and left.

Friday, October 11

I got back my certification from National Restaurant Association today: I am now ServSafe certified as a safe foodhandler. What excitement! I scored a low 86% on the test, which happened because I didn’t crack a single book the whole time I was in the sanitation course. I have a certificate to prove my ServSafe status in case anybody needs evidence.

We gave presentations on our cheese papers yesterday and today. My presentation was this afternoon. My cheese was parmegiano-reggiano, so I prepared little canapes of baguette slices, shaved parmegiano, balsamic glaze, torn basil and strips of sun-dried tomatoes. The papers and presentations for this round of papers were much shorter and less involved than previous assignments, and if it hadn’t been for the widespread popularity of my cheese it may have been difficult to find enough information to cobble together a good paper. Our next papers are on the subject of a culinarian; I will be reporting on Jacques Pepin, so I am now reading his Complete Techniques book and I hope to interview him before my paper is due.

I’m not sure what will actually happen after I graduate in June, but I think I should try to make the most out of the externship period in case it is the only time period I end up working in a restaurant fulltime. The big question about the externship has become: do I work in a more prestigious restaurant where I won’t be able to do as much but everything I do will have to be exact, or do I work in a lesser restaurant where I get to do more things but I don’t learn as much precision? There are some kitchens that combine both qualities. I am leaning towards having the chance to do more in less time by going with a smaller, more casual kitchen. Grapeseed seems like a good candidate so far.

I spoke to several of my classmates about this question during the day, and everybody I talked to about it said they considered that same question to be the important one they were grappling with. A few students have found externships already (at Persimmon in Bethesda: Chris; at Yannick Cam’s new restaurant: Ivelisse; at Restaurant Seven: Drew) which makes the rest of us more anxious.

Sauce Tartare

Make mayonnaise:

Egg yolk

Dijon mustard


Lemon juice

Sea salt and white pepper

Whisk yolk and add mustard. Whisk while drizzling in oil. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper while incorporating oil.

Add finely brunoised capers, cornichons, shallot, chives, parsley, sea salt and white pepper to mayonnaise to make sauce tartare. Serve with fish and chips.

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The big question about the externship has become: do I work in a more prestigious restaurant where I won’t be able to do as much but everything I do will have to be exact, or do I work in a lesser restaurant where I get to do more things but I don’t learn as much precision? There are some kitchens that combine both qualities. I am leaning towards having the chance to do more in less time by going with a smaller, more casual kitchen.

I think the 'do more with less precision' option makes sense, since your goal is writing, not perfection in cooking. Having a wider range of experiences is more likely to provide fodder and a reference point for future writing than is developing mastery over a more limited range of activities. (Unless, of course, you think that simply being around and observing the workings of a more prestigious restaurant would be more valuable, which would also make sense.)

Anyway, longtime lurker, de-lurking to join the chorus of thanks for the wonderful job you're doing narrating your experiences.

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Kiz, thanks for chiming in.

Malawry, thanks again.

Did you photograph your parmesan canapes, by any chance?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Hi, Kiz! You need to get that Aussie of yours onto the Australian forum.

Malawy, hope your Pepin report goes well; I'd be interested to hear who other people choose. Do you pick from a list, or are you given free rein?

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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As usual, a great read. I'm looking forward to more Grapeseed trailing stories, and eventually reports from externing.

I've seen the kitchen at Grapeseed and can't imagine not being in the way there. It seems small enough to be crowded with two people, much less three or four.


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Another lurker comes forward. :rolleyes:

I have one suggestion for your interview with Chef Pepin: Prepare a few surprising questions. He's been through this with so many interviewers that he must have heard all the questions by now.

I was lucky enough to talk to him on behalf of a now defunct web site. Throughout the interview, he was very polite but I think he was bored. Now I wish I'd thought of a few outrageous questions, just to catch him off-guard.

Good luck . And thanks so much for your posts. They're fascinating.


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Sorry, no pics of the canapes. They weren't as pretty as they sounded; they looked okay but not outstanding. I plated them with big pieces of parmegiano-reggiano so my classmates could see the pattern in the cheese and the pin labeling on the rind, plus some chunks of the cheese for plain sampling.

Welcome, Kiz. You should consider posting a bio in the member bios section.

KateW, my plan is to ask Chef Francois for assistance. He probably knows Chef Jacques personally, after all.

Mamster, there was a list of approved topics to choose from, as there has been for each paper assignment. Chef Peter used the class cards to determine the order in which we chose our topics. I wanted to do my paper on Escoffier, but he was the first topic to be chosen. My name was called third, so I selected Jacques Pepin, thinking that if I couldn't do Escoffier I wanted to do somebody who was alive and try to actually talk to them for my paper. Right after I picked him there was a chorus of sighs from the women in my class; apparently he was a hot commodity as topics went. :raz:

Slarochelle, I went back by Grapeseed with my partner Erin on Saturday to see the kitchen in full swing. I saw four and sometimes five people moving through that tiny space. Pretty amazing stuff.

LainaAS, what did you ask him about? Do you have a copy of your article? And welcome to eGullet.

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Hi, Kiz!  You need to get that Aussie of yours onto the Australian forum.

Sadly, the Aussie's only food interest is in eating it. But he did get me his mum's pavlova recipe, so for now, his food karma is in check.

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