Top Three Things I Learned This Week
1.Which Came First, the Egg or the Chicken?– despite my Facebook announcements to my friends that they should come into the restaurant during my brief tenure and I would “VIP” them, despite not knowing what this would mean, it wasn’t until this week that someone took me up on the offer. This was a high school classmate, who, like me, had moved all the way from Long Island to live in the Bay Area. He also was my brother’s fraternity brother, so I wanted to make sure the Front and Back of House knew he was coming in. I brought it up casually at morning family meal, and like wildfire, both the Hostess and the Chef knew of my friend’s arrivals within minutes. The service is always stellar at the restaurant, of course, but it was nice knowing that my friend was being looked after, with a few gifts from the kitchen, including the deviled egg I plated specially for him. Despite the busy lunch service, I was allowed to go out three times for a brief chat, including at the end, when I was asked to deliver his dessert to him. A treat for us both! As for the egg, it’s plated upon and topped with chicken skin, which I think is really very clever, and tongue-in-cheek.
2.My Own Station– by midweek, my supervising Chef decided I should, as part of my experience of externship, be responsible for my own station. I have been working the garde manger, or cold starters, station, which at lunch it is actually two separate stations. I was working mainly at one of them, helping out at the other, but suddenly I was responsible for the other, which I was not 100% familiar with. Being reponsible means managing inventory, replenishing inventory, setting up, plating and cleaning up (and preparing for the next day) for the station. For this particular station, this presented a particular challenge– the fact that oysters were part of this station, and until the sudden announcement that I would be responsible, I had only shucked oysters twice: a total of two oysters, to be specific. I was scared. But, while it may have taken me the entire morning, that first day I shucked 30.
3.Be Careful What You Wish For– This week, we also had a check-in meeting back at the culinary school. I had had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t cooking enough (it’s common in restaurants of this caliber that most of the sauces, etc, are made by higher ups), but I didn’t have the vocabulary to amend the situation, nor was I sure it was appropriate. My chef instructors at school reassured me that as an extern, not an employee, my role was not to do what the line cooks I worked alongside do, but to learn as much as I could. So, armed with this advice and my new vocabulary word “production,” which is what I hadn’t realized I was itching to do more of, I made the request. The next day, I did most of my usual tasks but also an additional one, to make the taro chips which garnish one of the courses of the tasting menu. I love packaged taro chips, but always wondered why they were so expensive, since the root itself is not. I think I know why now– it’s called labor. Making taro chips, at least our handcrafted way, involves, peeling, mandolining, and then deep frying ONE BY ONE those little chips, which like to stick to each other, by the way. It took me a good hour in front of a very hot vat of bubbling oil to make a mere 3 cups of chips, which looks like nothing. While I was melting away in front of the bubbling fat, I kept thinking, wow, this is just like making fries at McDonald’s, except I am at a Michelin-starred restaurant, doing the PRODUCTION I asked for.
Thanks for coming along on this journey through culinary school! If you’re curious to see what I learned in school, please scroll back to see my weekly posts over the last four months. And come back for more highlights from my externship– just 2 weeks left to go!