Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mise En Place

I returned to work today after three days off. Can't remember the last time I was off three days in a row. I know a lot of you have a long weekend coming up. For those in the hospitality industry the name Labour day is taken literally as that is exactly what we will be doing: labouring.

Labour day Monday, as well as the weekend preceding it, means an army of cooks (in our case the entire kitchen staff) will be in the kitchen prepping. There will be mountains of julienned vegetables, sliced cucumbers, diced peppers, onions and tomatoes. There will be bus bins full of washed and cut-up romaine, tubs of bruschetta mix and cases upon cases of grilled chicken breasts. There will be a cacophony of sounds, shouting, cooks walking about with a real sense of urgency, mentally preparing for the day-long rush. During holiday weekends we do not have a lunch rush and a dinner rush. Instead, the rush seems to last all day, beginning with breakfast and continuing on till after dinner. The reason all the cooks are needed is because some will be cooking and those not cooking will be runners, constantly stocking up the line fridges. It's a high energy environment and it's contagious and you can't help but like it.

I sometimes think of vegetarians, particularly those who have eliminated meat from their diet because they are making a stand against cruelty to animals. In the kitchen we cook chicken breasts by the hundreds. I won't even tell you about all the chicken wings. Up until I started working as a cook I didn't have a clear picture of just how many animals get slaughtered daily to end up on our plates. Similarly, when I was an insurance adjuster handling claims for vehicles that were total losses (write-offs) on a daily basis yet not fully grasping the big picture until I took a trip to a salvage yard (some would call it junk yard) and saw rows upon rows of damaged cars, stretching on for kilometers and kilometers. It was staggering.

But I digress...

Today we were sous-chef-less, which is why I was scheduled to go in earlier than I normally would on a Wednesday. I got there and after running some dishes I got to my favourite job, cleaning squid. The M.E.P board (Mise En Place) read:
chipotle mayo
blanch asparagus
slice onions, dice onions
egg salad, tuna salad
slice olives
roast beef
poach chicken*
cut squid**
beef ribs
batter fish
Note: * incorrectly named as the chicken is not poached but cooked in the oven; **cut squid was not really cut squid, it was clean out, cut and portion squid, a job that takes over an hour
(For those not in the know, Mise en Place, as defined by Wikipedia is: "a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as "everything in place", as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to the ingredients, such as cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components that a cook requires for the menu items that they expect to prepare during their shift)"

Once I finished dealing with the squid it was almost 4 pm (I was interrupted several times to cook food as there was nobody else to run my station). Did the chipotle mayo, egg salad and even got to slice some olives before I had to stop, we were starting to get orders. Chef did the beef ribs upstairs (thank goodness), and someone else did the blasted sandwiches. The roast beef, chicken and fish got carried over to tomorrow, to which I added at the end of the night: cook penne and wedge lemons. Fascinating, huh?

Cleanup today was done to reggae music for the most part, which I could do without. There was Depeche Mode in there too with Personal Jesus (not sure whose iPod it was, but there were some bizarre musical pairings). We were out by 10 pm (way early), wine in hand by 10:30. Booyah!

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