Monday, March 07, 2011

The Hard Way

I've been contemplating this aspect of kitchen culture for a while. I really liked what Eric Ripert called it when I heard his NPR interview. He called it "the Hard Way." The Hard Way is where you have one tough-assed mother leading the kitchen. He screams as a way of motivating action as service fast approaches. This type of kitchen is not uncommon. It's probably the rule rather than the exception. Eric Ripert used to run his kitchen the Hard Way, but he says he has changed. I don't mind the Hard Way. I actually appreciate its usefulness as a unifying force - whether it be out of fear or hatred or both, the team pulls together.

In our breakfast class, there is the one Chef Instructor who is notorious for her yelling. And frankly I'm proud that it's a woman. I have never felt so happy to be a part of a team in school as I was in her class because everybody was so freakin' scared of her that they pulled together. Like Chef Ludo, she possesses the yin and yang of temper and charm that inspire people to want to be better. She is teaching her class in the Hard Way tradition so people shouldn't be surprised when they go out into the real world.

This semester, we are not learning the Hard Way, and frankly I miss it. I would like to see how a kitchen - like Eric Ripert's - might work without going the Hard Way. But what I'm finding right now is that without having a screaming chef to unify the team, each student is out for him or herself and I'm getting REALLY REALLY angry a lot of the time. Maybe my irrational anger comes from my education in the professional kitchen as the most recent of a long line of "Hard Way" Frenchie chefs. Maybe I know that in the real world, you have to work as a team to get through service. Maybe I just have anger issues.

Friday, October 29, 2010

LudoBites Episode 6.0: A New Hope

Call me crazy, call me an adrenaline junkie, but I signed up for another round of internship at LudoBites 6.0 while still going to culinary school in the morning (and some evenings). I missed the intensity of service, the speed of work. Though school is nice - I get to screw up product in practice without someone yelling at me - I don't quite like feeling I'm the fastest person (apart from the instructors) in the kitchen. I feel like the lackadaisical attitude carries over and dulls my skills (which already aren't even close to where I want to be when I'm in a professional kitchen).

It was nice to be back in the kitchen with the team the first week. I'm only there part time, because of my evening classes, but I came in to help out on one day of prep just to familiarize myself with the kitchen at Max in Sherman Oaks. It was smaller than Gram and Papa's, but at least we're not sharing it with someone else. This makes organizing your product a little easier in the walk-in.

Service was a little hectic at first - opening night, hit the ground running. The tickets weren't printing where they should go, so the expediter had to call them out. This was my first experience with this formal call-and-response. I kind of loved it. I smiled every time the expediter called out "runner-rrrr!" when food was ready to go out. It reminded me of being at a craps table in Vegas.

On the second night, the guys all got into a rhythm - especially when "foie gras" was called out. Without naming names, let's just say that pronouncing "foie gras" with a slight Korean accent is amusing in itself. Add to it an American imitating a Korean saying "foie gras," then a part Native-American/Mexican imitating an American imitating a Korean, then a Frenchman correcting an American on his imitation of a Korean saying "foie gras" and you really have a special kind of melting pot hijinks.

It was a good thing so much foie gras was being ordered because everybody got to practice their pronunciation a lot that night.

Speaking of practice...


These practice quenelles were from the last round of LudoBites when I was on the station with the pork belly confit and mustard ice cream. As you can see, the ones in the back are kind of sad. The ones in the front aren't bad.

I'm going to have to practice some more because there's a mango sorbet on the carrot cake plate at my station. Chef has already poked at me about not knowing how to do a quenelle.

So in the interest of possibly funding some of my practice this weekend, here's a plug for the ice cream I used at home. I bought it because it was the cheapest, but when I looked at the ingredients, I was pretty surprised that there were no crazy additives in it. Creamy and delicious. Thank you, store brand premium ice cream!

LudoBites 6.0: A New Hope (for quenelles).

Saturday, September 04, 2010

LudoBites leftovers

Woke up this morning feeling slightly depressed because I knew I didn't have the intense experience of LudoBites ahead of me in the week. So I slept most of the day away out of exhaustion and slight depression.

Luckily, I could ease my withdrawal with a simple chirashi I made from some of the raw tuna left over from the final night. The tuna is on the hot foie gras with dynamite (DY-NO-MITE!) sauce. Picture compliments of blogger:

I didn't have lychee to balance the rich tuna, so I grabbed a yellow oxheart tomato I'd plucked from my farm visit last weekend. Blanched, shocked, peeled, diced.

I really wanted a viola flower to top it.

Oh well, the husband just had to make do with a flowerless LudoBites leftover.

Friday, September 03, 2010

LudoBites 5.0: Last Night

Tonight is the final night of LudoBites 5.0 and I've learned so much I haven't had the chance to list them all these last few weeks because the days have gone by in a blur - a tired blur. This week, I had class in the morning and LudoBites at night. Operating on 4 hours of sleep a night hit me around 10pm every night just as service started slowing down. My brain was in an opium fog, and words came out of my mouth, but just not in an order that made coherent sentences.

Last night, I was stationed in the back where I learned a new dish - prawn cinnamon appetizer - I would have snuck a picture, but I felt the obligation to send the dish quickly while it was still hot. Just one of the many things I've learned.

Actually, I find myself subconsciously doing things because of LudoBites. I took away some left-over potato mousseline last night and had some time this morning to make my ghetto version of the LudoBites poached egg dish (covered with the potato). Some ordinary sausage found its way into a saute pan, then my hands started plating it in a straight line. I found peach that was rotting on one side, so I cut the peach in half and cooked the good half. All of a sudden, I looked down and realized I really wanted to put a flower on the potato mousseline. I wished I had some micro-marigolds, but a cucumber bud was the only thing in my garden. I decided chive and cilantro flowers, being white, would not look right with the white potato.

So this is what happens to someone who spends 5 nights out of the week trying to make things look pretty. Breakfast suddenly becomes more than just eggs and sausage.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Week 4: What Hurts

Below, I have shared some photos of blistered burns from Week 3. Chef saw my arms and said, "Now you look like a real cook!"

Oui, Chef. Thank you, Chef.

I am learning which parts my hands and arms actually contain sensitive nerves. That fat part of my hand? Not so much. The blister fascinated me in its perfect bulbous beauty, but didn't hurt at all. The burns on my arms itched more than they hurt.

The injuries that hurt are the little scrapes on my fingertips that don't make for dramatic pictures. They are scrapes like the one Friday night from the special yuzu grater - scrapes that are small like paper cuts at the tips of your fingers. Then add the squeezing of a lime, and you have the sharp biting pain of a thousand tiny needles stabbing into a millimeter area.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Week 4: Don't Forget your Veg!

The week started with A LOT of prep to do. But when don't we have a lot of prep to do? Chef always says that the most difficult thing to prepare are vegetables. People don't realize the amount of labor that goes into them - the cleaning, the cutting, the preparation. The protein on the plate looks sexy to people; the veg is the workhorse.

Insert usual bitching about the delicious pork belly dish here. As an illustration of this concept, I present my favorite (read sarcasm) dish to plate at LudoBites. Pictures can be found at this foodie blog. Oooh, pork belly. Such glistening goodness. Sexaaay. But what compliments all this fat and savory? Why an artfully and generously placed tumble of vegetables dressed with a tasty vinaigrette! Quick! Brush aside all that healthy stuff and get back to the money shot. Ooooh. Fatty belly yeah...

Take note, man, of the number of veg you just pushed aside to get to that pork belly:
  • fingerling potato
  • green papaya
  • jicama
  • savoy cabbage
  • pickled red onion
  • thai basil leaves
  • fried shallots
  • fried lotus root

How many ingredients is that? Count it. EIGHT. Eight veg! most of which are julienned in a mandoline at the risk of bodily injury. And four of those ingredients are processed by boiling, frying, or pickling - an extra step!

I went to a shabu shabu place the other day for lunch. As my raw beef was sitting there all bright and red and beautiful, the waitress brought out my plate of vegetables and I felt myself overwhelmed with appreciation and sympathy for the man behind the curtain. I turned to my friend and said, "Some poor schmuck had to do all this!"

I am that poor schmuck. Please think of me the next time you forget to eat your vegetables.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Week 3: Thank you, may I have another!?

So I have more wonderful photos of a recent burn that happened when I was lifting a heavy pot from the back burner over a giant pot on the front burner, but I don't have my camera with me. I've spent the weekend watching my grandmother while my parents are out of town. It's very quiet here, but it's stressful trying to keep her from scorching garlic in the sautee pan.

Also, I've realized that I never learned the Taiwanese word for "please." This is because growing up you were never asked to "please" do something, you were just told to do it. My grandmother just kept telling me to do things (put the pan here, put the vegetable in the fridge, get the bowl, etc.) and it was driving me crazy. I tried to ask her to use the "polite" words but wasn't able to communicate it.

But I'm okay with no "please" or "thank yous" in the kitchen. When Chef says something, you answer, "Yes, Chef! Oui, Chef!"

When I hear the ticket machine clicking away during service and the order is called, I answer, "Thank you!" And in my head, I'm thinking "Thank you, may I have another!?"

The professional kitchen is run like the military. Respect, hierarchy, chain of command. There's no time to question, just do it.

Not completely sure why this doesn't apply to my grandmother in the kitchen except that there is this complicated cultural component where you're supposed to be taking care of her, but she also wants to assert her independence and knowledge... knowledge you know is 50 years out of date.