Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Great Day

Why was it a great day you might ask? Well, for the first time since I started working at this club I was scheduled the morning shift. Since I am a morning person, this is great. It would also give me another evening off and I don't think I need to tell you how great those are when you are in the hospitality industry. But the main reason today turned out great is that it would be just Chef and I in the kitchen. Great opportunity for learning, especially since all the male golfers from our club went golfing elsewhere today so there would be very few food orders coming through.

At 9 am, after some standing around, Chef tells me that we'll all be doing a "black box" this week. "Black Box" is essentially a test where one is given random ingredients by the Chef, in a bus bin, and the cook has exactly three hours to come up with an app, a main and a dessert. Points are given for presentation and taste and one can also lose points for sanitation. For example, if your table is a mess and you have stuff all over the place, you WILL lose points.

Of course I am glad I have some advance warning so I can prepare instead of just showing up for work one day and being told "here's your black box, you have three hours starting now. Go!" The downside of having an advance warning is that I now have the anxiety of knowing I will be tested and am already agonizing over what I would make, given what ingredients. It's a great challenge and a great learning experience, sure, I just don't want to bomb. I can't just make a bruschetta or a pizza with arugula, leeks and cheese. Or a tomato stuffed with eggplant salad. We're talking fine dining, pile stuff up high presentation, lots of color (ideally).

Lauren got her black box test today. She had a pork tenderloin, a piece of salmon and one of sea bass. She had a tub of ricotta cheese, some berries, two pears and an apple. I think she was also given some scallions (translation: green onions), green, yellow and red peppers and two handfuls of rice. Turns out her rice was overcooked, she stacked two pieces of salmon for her app and apparently this is a no-no (I was eavesdropping), she plated way too much starch for the main course and she didn't cut her tenderloin in half to show the stuffing she'd made. I also heard Chef telling her the tenderloin looked boiled instead of pan seared --it lacked the colour you obtain through that high-heat sear. All in all I think she did ok given the ingredients. Not sure what the stuff tasted like, I didn't get to try it as my shift ended and I went home.

As I was leaving Chef tells me to show up early tomorrow so I can make the dessert for him and also to take advantage of the time he can spend with me now that the season is coming to a close. "It's hard to learn when you're working on the line. You should come early, on your own time, and I'll teach you." This makes sense to me so I am showing up at 2 pm tomorrow, instead of 5 pm. Of course I am fully prepared to be presented with my gray bin as soon as I come in the door.

Ah, but I got sidetracked. Before Lauren showed up at noon, Chef and I were alone in the kitchen. He was quizzing me about desserts, and what desserts do I make? When I answered honestly that I am not much of a baker and that generally my talent lies in savoury stuff instead of sweet he brought a note book and told me to copy his dessert recipe for a cold lemon souffle. After I copied down the ingredients I noticed there was no procedure written down. I looked up at Chef and said "Umm... there's no recipe here, only the ingredients". His response "Bella, you will write the procedures down after we do the dessert. Go ahead, gather your ingredients."

So I obediently collect three eggs, two lemons, sugar, heavy cream and some gelatin and measure them all. He zests the lemons and says to me "I want you to mince this. Mince it so much that if you so much as breathed on it, it would move." Of course I didn't take that last part literally but I start mincing. He leaves. After I minced the zest to bits I go find him in the dining room, watching the news. I am about to open my mouth to tell him I've minced it but as soon as he sees me he said "It's not fine enough. Go back." I thought he was kidding so I must have raised my eyebrows, or given him some look. "I'm serious," he says. "You need to mince for about 20 minutes." I'm thinking he is probably just making fun of me, like that one time he told me to measure 6 peppercorns for each of the 150 plates we were doing for a wedding because each plate would be getting 6 peppercorns, no more, no less. It turnes out they were jerking me around for shits and giggles. I guess it's better than when they sent the dishwasher girl to get the bacon stretcher, or they gave some guy a bucket and told him to return with a bucket of steam.

But I digress... I go back and mince some more until that zest is now finer than white sugar, you can't even tell it's lemon zest if not for the smell. We beat the egg yolks with the sugar and the lemon juice and zest, then we fold in the egg whites and cream which were also whipped until soft peaks were formed. Pour it into your mould of choice (we used little ramekins), refrigerate the sucker and you're done. An hour later we sampled it and it was indeed very good. Lemony, fluffy, not heavy at all. Chef told me he won the gold medal with that dessert a few years back in a culinary competition. It was not just the souffle, it was accompanied by something else, but I was so thrilled that he shared it with me.

I was instructed to make it again tonight, for practice, and I would make it again for him tomorrow. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if my black box will contain 2 lemons, some cream and sugar, as well as some gelatin among other things.

If you're into cooking, why not try cooking a black box dinner tonight? Just ask a roommate, friend, or significant other to randomly pick items from your fridge (assuming you have more than pizza and beer in there) and see what you can make. Oh and, do not use any blenders, food processors or any gadget. Everything must be done by hand.

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