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!"


William said...

Sounds like surgical internship with all the stress, yelling, fear and physical exhaustion... except as a surgical intern, you hardly ever actually get to hold a knife!

My chief resident on the first day of internship told me, "better busy than bored." I think if you don't kinda get off on the stress, you probably should be in another line of work.

Keep it up, hopefully we can come watch you bust your ass and taste everything soon!

Daniel B. said...

Holy crap!

I feel like I missed something. You know, something in between point A and point C.

Very cool. Just a bit jealous. Now both you and my cousin have exciting things going on in the food biz.

My newest pipe dream is espresso. That World Barista Challenge thing got me really fired up. We'll have to see if that passion is still there when the little one starts school... or maybe by then I'll be doing something more with the writing.

All the best.

gracefullee said...

Very funny, Will!

Daniel, I don't really have a goal, just a direction. I'm just following my passion and seeing where it'll lead.

Daniel B. said...

I know the feeling

The Alleged Ringleader said...

I just found your blog today and I'm loving it! I love hearing the stories behind the glory that is Ludo Bites! I dined there last night as well as back in July (3rd night of 5.0) and both times were phenomenal! Interesting perspective going from Foodie to chef! Thank you for the wonderful insight and please keep it up! You do a great job!

gracefullee said...

Thanks, Ringleader. But I'm not anywhere near "chef" status! Just a hustler in the kitchen willing to do whatever needs to be done.