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.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

I Dream of Shallots

Week 2 of the internship at LudoBites: More shallots! More shallots! Every night Chef wants more fried shallots in the charcroute. Every night, I literally dreamt of shallots: slicing them on the mandoline, frying them, drowning in a sea of shallots. Every day, I played chicken with a mandoline trying to get the best yield from the little buggers I could. (My husband said there were too many f-bombs in my last post, so I'm trying to keep it clean.) Most of the time, I won, but it only takes one loss to the mandoline to totally screw with my day. I'm investing in Band-Aid stock.

My goal on Friday was to NOT hear "More shallots!" from Chef. Success! And the shallots that haunted my dreams were gone that evening.

So what did I learn this week? I learned that during service, communication and coordination is absolutely key. When you get slammed with order after order in no particular order (pork belly! bass! belly! foie gras! duck! duck! belly!), you have to absolutely be aware of what proteins are going down on the plancha and you have to know what dishes are on deck to be plated. Wednesday was a total clusterfuck and I got my ass handed to me. After a sit-down meeting about coordination and communication with Chef and the sous, I started getting a handle on the movements of service and by Friday, it was starting to become more natural.

I still suck, though. It's easier, however, to spot the efficient movements that Chef and the sous are using to plate the dishes. I'm trying to mimic as best I can.

Quenelle update: the two-handed quenelles of cucumber relish go down on the plate pretty easily now. But now there's a one-handed quenelle of soft mustard ice cream that goes on my favorite pork belly dish. I practiced at home this weekend, but I have about a 1% success rate. And even that one ice cream quenelle looked so much like crap that I couldn't be bothered to take a picture of it to post.

On the plus side, my body has started getting used to standing all day. My feet weren't in any pain at the end of the week. Also, Chef yells at us if we don't take a break between prep and service. He sits in the dining room in front of the staff meal and knows who has come to take a plate and who hasn't. "I will be very angry if you don't come eat now!"

Yes, Chef. I was just coming to eat right now, Chef!

None of us really wants to stop because we all want to make sure our stations are set up properly, but he's right. Making us sit down for at least 5 minutes before service - and preferably 15-20 minutes - makes a huge difference for the rest of the evening.

Next week, the Chef has promised a couple changes in the menu. Just as I was getting the hang of the old one! Oh well... what dreams may come...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

From Foodie to Kitchen Bitch

I am privileged to have an internship position with the infamous Ludo Lefebvre at LudoBites 5.0. I have finished week one of this run from July 21 - September 3, and I got my freakin' ass kicked.

Day One wasn't really a "Day." We came in for an orientation, toured the kitchen at Gram and Papa's, met some of the staff, and went over the menu on paper. About halfway through Chef's descriptions of the menu items, he had to go back to the kitchen to answer a question from his staff who was prepping hard for the next day. I took the opportunity to hold my head in my hand because my head was about to explode. There were so many unique components on each dish! Here are my notes:

Day Two was easy in retrospect. We were just in prep for opening day on Wednesday. My first task was to segment grapefruit and dice the peel for grapefruit jam. Easy. So why was I sweating like a pig? And I'm talkin' full-on rivulets running down my neck. I chock it up to nervousness. It's different when you're prepping food for paying customers who expect the best instead of making a cozy dinner for kind family and friends. Other prep involved the vadouvan naan and the creme patisserie for the caramel souffle.

Day Three, opening day, was marshmallows, graham crackers, cheese cupcakes, naan, and souffles. Things seemed to be going okay until I started falling behind. I screwed up the graham crackers, salvageable, but I lost time because I thought I could do the math in my head instead of writing doubled quantities down. The problem is, when you're rushed for time and you're reading a recipe, you don't always remember to do the math! So I have a new rule: ALWAYS DO THE MATH ON PAPER.

On service, I made two souffles fall - which basically set each order back 15 minutes. The aggravated sous taught me how to get the souffles out of the oven correctly and my third souffle came out of the oven without falling... even if it was a slow and nervous process. With relief, I sent it out and the rest of the souffles that evening were cake. Still felt like shit, though, for those two fallen souffles - which was essentially 30 minutes of delay.

It's not even worth describing my poor piping skills with the chocolate ganache and my inability to torch a marshmallow for the s'mores.

Here are my oven burned left arm and my torch-burned right elbow. Pretty sure my hand-modeling days are over.

Oven burns

Torch burn

Day 4 and 5 plating main courses. I love pork belly. I love it as bacon. I love it as quivering cubes of fat and meat in Asian preparations. I even love touching the raw skin that feels eerily human-like. But I fuckin' hate plating it at LudoBites. No question, the dish is fabulous. The pork belly has been brined and pressed and cut precisely by the sous. The raw charcroute is dressed with lime, fried shallots, fried lotus, and a Thai vinaigrette. Delicious. But there are a thousand components in that charcroute and Chef knows every single time I forget one component. This ain't rocket science and I feel like a dunce. I know I lose focus I have to work on that.

On top of it all, Day 5 we ran low on fried shallots and lotus root. Crash course on how to use the fryer during service. Burned the first batch. Lucky me. Did okay on the second batch. Will need to learn how to change out that oil because I think part of the issue was that it was used up and I definitely had it too hot.

Fuckin' quenelles. The foie dish has a quenelle of cucumber relish on the plate. I've never done a quenelle in my life. I've seen it demonstrated. I know what they look like. The cook in charge of me does them very well. I let her do it and I just watch. I practice on one plate. I get the nice quenelle shape in my spoons, but when I go to put it on the plate, I hesitate because I have no idea how to get it off the spoon and on to the plate without ruining it. Chef yells that I must practice all weekend long! I know I'm over-thinking it because when we're slammed and the cook in charge of me is running around doing other stuff, I HAVE to get those quenelles on the plate. Three of them, right in a row, no overthinking.

So I practiced this weekend. Yay:


Oh, and just a random shot of an injury from prep this week. Good thing I heal quickly.

Mandolin cut

So what did I learn this week?

I learned that standing 12 hours a day hurts your feet, ankles, and legs. On the plus side, the pain in my legs completely distracted me from the pain in my left hip that has been there for over a month.

I learned that you have to really really love preparing food in a restaurant to be a chef, sous, line cook, etc. because it's fuckin' hard work.

I learned that there is a weird line I've crossed from being a foodie to sweating in the back with the sharp implements and the fire. After the first couple of nights, I took a look at some of the foodie blogs to see what they were saying after they had their first meals at LudoBites 5.0. Mostly everything was well-received. It was strange reading these reviews. In the past, when I have read them, I've read them with the thought, "Woah. I want to eat THAT." Now, when I read them, I think, "Who the fuck are you to write so much about this?" And when there's a questionable review about a dish, I think, "Fuck you! You have no idea how hard people worked for that!"

I'm not sure on which side I'll eventually come down, foodie or kitchen bitch. I still unconsciously begin hopping with joy when I taste something really really good. And I'm not sure I'm young enough to do this hard work anymore. But when a friend of mine asked me if I would work another LudoBites after this, without hesitation, I answered, "Yes. If they will have me!"

Monday, June 28, 2010

Roasted Bone Marrow Powder

When I blitzed all the bone marrow with tapioca maltodextrin, I thought it was nuts, but the result on hash browns was a keeper!

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Spicy garlicky leaf. Sweet stem/bulb.