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...