Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Geoff and Laura Show

On Saturday we had the Geoff and Laura show for dinner service. Chef said he is kicking us out of the nest, clipping our wings or some such thing. I figure it would be hard to fly with clipped wings but maybe that's not what he meant. And so I cooked Saturday's dinner service all by myself. Apparently I did an outstanding job and should be proud of myself. The food looked amazing he said -- I'd hope so, he was plating it for me -- and it tasted great. Can't take credit for the food, it is his menu and his ingredients, however it was my execution. It was not as busy as Friday and I was able to keep up. For a while there we didn't think there would be a dinner service at all because of the Santa Clause parade up here seems to draw half the town but we were steady.

The compliment at the end of the night felt good. So good, in fact, that having closed the kitchen I stuck around for a few drinks. There was one last table having drinks after I closed the kitchen and since my former Sous-Chef and her partner were at the table I joined them and had my drink. Then, around 11:20 pm I called Jen and asked her to come out and the six of us continued drinking until 2 am when the server was legally required to close and we all left. I really hope she won't get in trouble for keeping the restaurant open for that one table. Although we weren't eating, much liquor was consumed. Not really sure how much but my head this morning and well into the afternoon says it was a lot. I seem to forget to tell the bartender to just get me water instead of booze. As I sit there, with an empty glass, and feel the need for a drink, it's much easier to nod absentmindedly when asked if I want another drink instead of focusing on the question, remembering I've had way too much and saying "actually, would you mind getting me a bottle of Perrier?". I'll have to remember that tonight after my shift downtown because my head is still pounding after last night and it's 1:34 pm.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Until Next Friday

Friday's dreaded dinner service came and went and I have to say that although the kitchen did go in the weeds at one point it was not as terrible as I thought. This because Chef ended up doing most of the cooking and I plated for him. The pizza boy could not keep up, there were many pizzas in the oven and he just couldn't keep up with the orders. The hot side was putting up food that was supposed to go with pizzas but the pizzas weren't ready thus causing everything to backlog.

At one point the servers had run out of menus which means that every single table in the restaurant was looking at their menu at the same time. That, of course, also means that ALL the orders came in at once. One need not be a cook to understand that is not good news. Some of the patrons had a bit of a wait for their food but -- and this is my opinion, however biased -- you cannot get upset for waiting if you come in and you see a packed restaurant, you have clear view of the kitchen and the cooks slinging pots and food and hopefully an understanding of how quickly food can get cooked. No matter how many cooks or burners you have back there, there are still 40 other people ahead of you or being fed at the same time as you. But hey, that's just me.

We made it through and, as I said, although it wasn't pretty, it was not bad. Nobody came undone, nobody had a meltdown, we didn't run out of any food and by 8 pm all was right with the world and it will continue to be, until next Friday.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hand Cream Needed

Since I spend more time with my hands in the water than a rubber ducky in a bathtub, hand cream is a must have, especially with the hard water that can be found in parts of York Region. The backs of my hands get so dry from all the repeated hand washing, dish washing, toweling dry and all the other cookery duties that I no longer leave the house without hand cream in my pocket. There's even a tube of Nivea that I keep at work so that I always have access to hand lotion.

Problem with all the hand creaming is that you can easily transfer it to the food. I'm in a pickle. Without hand cream I am in discomfort. My hands get so itchy and visibly dry to the point that I can't work with them. Hand cream can get onto the food. What to do? I can start wearing gloves when I run the dishes but the dishes are only part of the problem. I am washing my hands constantly after touching doors (including oven door and fridge door), garbage cans, the floor (to pick up something I dropped), the broom and so on. I am not a germophobe but the thought of my grubby hands touching food that someone else will eat is unacceptable to me. I've seen others with different standards of hygiene but I cringe at the thought. Some days I think to myself "I am never eating out again, regardless of the restaurant." But then the love of food and the spiffy-ness of a clean dining room and clean kitchen staff gets me to reconsider.

Let's talk dinner service though. Tonight's dinner service was nice, steady, with a good spread between pizza, salads and pastas. No one station got clobbered and the kitchen was given to me around 8 pm when Chef left. Sous Chef is gone for the week so I was it. I had one table after Chef left. It ordered meat loaf and mash, something I had only plated once before but I remembered everything. I grilled the meatloaf and put it in the oven. I got my relish ready as well as the side, remembered to get my garnishes in the oven so they heat up and it all went a-ok. It was one of the boys and myself for closing and we got out of there only three minutes after the schedule said we needed to. We completed nearly everything, swept, mopped, took out the garbage, closed the dish pit (with the exception of two almost clean pots we forgot in the big sink!)

Tomorrow will be what I call "the shit storm of all time." If today was nice and steady instead of boring and slow, which Thursdays have been so far, tomorrow we're getting hit. I'm ready in the sense that I know the menu, but I am not ready for an eight-top to come in and order everything off my station. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sole fillet in butter sauce

Even though I know it won't keep all that well until the time that Jen will be reheating her dinner I am making sole meuniere today. I have sole in the fridge, butter aplenty and no time to make anything more elaborate. Sole meuniere is quite simple to make, it's seasoned sole sauteed in a butter sauce. Should be served immediately after it's cooked but Jen will never cook this for herself and I have to leave at 2 pm so we shall see how the sole behaves when reheated in the most awful of ways -- the microwave. I'll serve her sole with some lemon rice on the side that way she can share it with Charlie.

In other news, I received my offer of training letter from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. I am offered a seat in the Jan 11 2010 class of Humber College of Applied Arts. My seat is reserved as soon as I pay the classroom fee, and so it dawns on me that January is right around the corner. Gulp!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's All Been Done

Being original these days is next to impossible. Whether you're a Chef, a big Hollywood film maker, an aspiring author or you hold any other job where creativity is key your biggest challenge will be coming up with something that nobody's done before. These days it seems that Hollywood has given up on original movie ideas and instead it started a trend of book adaptations. The Golden Compass, Narnia, Twilight, Harry Potter, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Inkheart and hundreds of other recent, box office winners have all been book adaptations. I am sure the same goes for kitchens although somewhat harder to spot. A dessert on Moxie's list, the Xanga (Ch'anga), a fried tortilla filled with banana cheese cake drizzled with caramel sauce and dusted in cinnamon -- and my favourite dessert ever so far -- is showing up in other restaurants (like IHOP in Myrtle Beach for instance) under different, yet slightly similar names. A grilled cheese sandwich with aged cheddar, caramelized onions and pears that was on today's "The Main" (with Anthony Sedlak) and which looked pretty damn good was spotted by a friend of mine, 10 minutes later, in a recent Food and Wine magazine she found on my shelf. The only difference between the two sandwiches was that one used thinly sliced pears while the other used apple. Both had the same aged cheddar and both used caramelized onions in their sandwich. I am sure if I were to research both sandwiches I would find several variations on the theme.

So, I ask you, how original then am I in my latest corned beef sandwich creation? When I decided to caramelize onions and sautee mushrooms to add atop the melted swiss on my corned beef sandwich, was I creative? Absolutely. Original? Remains to be seen. I haven't had time to sit down and search for corned beef sandwich recipes but I would bet money that someone's already thought of the same toppings I have.

How does one win the Golden Plates competition, or the Bocus D'Or where lack of originality immediately dismisses a plate, no matter how well executed the technique, no matter how tasty the dish? You don't know what I'm talking about? Watch the last "Top Chef" episode where the contestants had to compete in the Top Chef version of the Bocus D'or. It made my head spin. There's much to learn, that's for sure, and much to research before knowing, without a doubt, that your recipe is yours, that nobody's published it before. Talk about thinking outside the box. If we all have mentors and we learn from them, how do you stop thinking like them and therefore mimicking something they've already done?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rookie Goes Downtown

I've been a slacker, I know. It soon will become literal, sort of, as I'll be cooking at Slack's every now and then, so I'll be even more of a Slack-er. Get it?

Having house guests has a way of interfering with life as one knows it. Between work, demented dogs and house guests I've hardly had time to myself. I've found myself having to get dinner together in 20 minutes (before leaving for work) and as much as my job is about learning to quickly put food on the table, I don't like being rushed when I cook at home.

After getting home after midnight on Saturday and then staying up till 2 a.m it wasn't easy to get up Sunday morning. After making a herculean effort I managed to rouse around 9:30 as I had to feed my house guests breakfast. Everyone was up, starving and waiting for me. Jen informed me her parents were taking us out for brunch. Yay! Off we all went at the nearby "Tonia's" all day Breakfast and Lunch place. We returned after 1 pm and I had exactly an hour to come up with dinner for the troups and make it before going to work at 2 pm. Back home again at 11 pm and in bed at midnight to catch up on the sleep I missed the night before. Time to blog: Zero.

Not to mention that Sunday was so dead at work that I've hardly any material to blog about. If I don't count the venting session Chef had about how he "looked like a jackass" when a table ordered Nachos and he had no guacamole since I failed to pull some out of the freezer the night before, it was all very uneventful. Well, except for the part where he had three tables who ordered sandwiches and he had no root chips to serve because nobody told him we were out of root chips which also caused him to hyperventilate... Other than that, it all went smoothly. Until a pizza stuck to the oven and he had to make another. Thank goodness because by now I was getting hungry and when the destroyed pizza became staff pizza we all got fed. Out of there at 9 pm and into bed till next morning rounds up the weekend's activities.

See? You didn't miss much. I promise. I am going to Slack's on Wednesday, bring on the women!

Saturday, Nov 21

On Saturday Nov 21, my 113th blog entry was 30 minutes late so technically I failed my self-imposed deadline to update the blog daily. Quelle terror!

Although I got off work at 11 pm I was having so much fun sitting at the bar and chatting that I forgot all about having to make an entry by midnight. All you drinkers out there, you know how it goes. You have a drink, then you have another, and the next thing you know you forget all the things you were supposed to do or you remember them but talk yourself out of doing them. "Well, I was supposed to do laundry tonight but I suppose it could wait until tomorrow" or "I was supposed to wash my hair tonight because I have a party to go to and I wanted my hair to look just so but you know what... we can have just one more drink before I go." I wish I could say that was me tonight, I wish I could say that I thought about the midnight thing, at least in passing, but I'd be lying. I did look at the clock at 11:57 pm and even said to the server: "shoot, it's 11:57!" When she looked at me panicked I joked about me turning into a pumpkin at midnight but even then I wasn't thinking about my blog. I was mostly thinking that it was midnight and I should head home but had no desire to. I knew Jen would be asleep anyway so there was nothing to go home to. My Farm Town crops didn't need harvesting, my dishes in Cafe World didn't need to be served for another hour so really, there's no need to rush home. I'll just sit here and have another rum and coke. The complimentary rum and coke (my staff drink of choice) did nothing but give me a nice buzz so I had another, reminiscing with the grrls about old times.

And that, my friends, is why I missed making a blog entry by 30 minutes. We'll just have to consider this one to be for Saturday and the next one will get me back on track although you're still getting the shaft because I've just wasted an entry telling you why I didn't make an entry. Oh well... I'll buy you a rum and coke next time I see you and we can talk about it some more.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More Comfortable

I worked the hot side again yesterday as it is my job to do so when the Sous-Chef is not in. I am getting more comfortable with the pasta dishes as they are the most popular of the entrees, if we don't count pizza. I can now do spaghetti and meatballs without a worry and I can also do the Penne a la Vodka. There are two other pasta dishes on the menu but since I have only made them once, they would take a couple more tries before I find myself in the comfort zone. The salads are also slowly going on auto pilot, especially the Caesar Salad. I need a lot more practice with the entrees that require garnishes and sides having made only the meatloaf so far.

My Chef likes to hog the chits and just tell me what to cook instead of me looking at the damn chit. It prints in two copies and for the life of me I don't understand why he needs both... So yesterday he says to me: I'm going to need a caesar salad, and when you're done with that I need a spaghetti and meatballs. So I do the caesar, put it in the take-out container and then go to do the spaghetti. He sees the finished spaghetti in the takeout container and says: "No meatballs! Didn't you look at the order?" Errr... welll... no, you didn't give it to me, you only said "spaghetti and meatballs" forgetting to tell me about the "no meatballs" part. It drives me completely up the wall when an order gets effed up through no fault of my own. So I told him next time to stop hogging the chits and give me one while he keeps the other. He looked at me but I don't actually think he heard me. He didn't seem interested in what I had to say. Pet peeve #2: being dismissed like that, with just one look that says "oh really, you're going to tell me what to do? what do you know?" Well, Mr. Chef, I'd like to tell you what I know but judging from that look, what's the use?

Sous-Chef is in today so I don't have to worry too much about the hot side. I'll have to do my salads, my apps and paninis and help with plating but I'm slighly concerned about it being busy and someone having a freak-out over not finding the tomato relish or some other silly, small thing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Come Here, My Little Chickens!

Our roasted chickens are probably the juiciest birds you'll ever eat. The chickens are thoroughly dried before being trussed and roasted. I learned last week and got a refresher yesterday on how to properly dry and truss a chicken. Why do we dry the chicken, including its cavity? I learned that water in a hot oven makes steam (duh!) and we do not want steamed chicken, we want roast chicken. So you stuff the cavity with paper towel and then you proceed to thoroughly dry the outside. By the time you have a nice and dry chicken on the outside, chances are the paper towel inside it has done its job and absorbed quite a bit of the moisture so the inside is more or less dry also. Truss the bird -- don't forget to remove the paper towel! -- and stick it in the oven.

Trussing took a little bit of practice. The tucking of the wingtips behind and under the chicken, pressing down on the legs so they stay close to the body and crossed at the "ankles", slipping the string under the wings, crossing over the legs and under, double-tie and knot on top gets easier and easier the more you do it. I've done an entire tray of chicken (about ten) before they started to all look the same and be nice and tightly trussed up but I think I got it now, I'm ready for that 100-chicken banquet that I might have to do one day!

Once the chicken is trussed, it's roasted in the oven and then cut in half, back bone removed. That's also a messy job, one that I needed to learn. I found that the job is nearly impossible without a really sharp knife because the knife has to go through some bone and cartilage. You can't hack at the chicken like a savage because the halves you're left with have to look good when they go on the plate along with a garnish and sides. Taking out the bone is a messy job, your hands get greasy and the knife's handle becomes slippery so by the third chicken I find I have to wipe down my hands, the cutting surface and the knife before I can go on. I don't want to lop off a finger because I've been too lazy to clean myself and the knife slipped as I was pressing it down through the chicken's back.

I plan to try this method of roasting at home but before I do, I need to learn what's in that brine that makes them so juicy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Roasted Corn and Chorizo

I think I am in love with chorizo. My favourite accompaniment for my mains over the last few days has been a simple combination of roasted corn and chorizo. Maybe it's not your thing to have meat with a side of ... well.. meat, but if you try it you'll understand. The smokiness and deliciousness of the chorizo sausage pairs so well with corn that your side dish may well end up trumping your entree. I could eat it just on its own and be happy.

I'll be trying chorizo in a variety of dishes in the next few weeks because I'd like to see if it can transform my already tasty dishes into something utterly delicious. I have a feeling chorizo can make my jambalaya unforgettable and that it can also turn an otherwise boring pasta dish into a thing that even someone on a carb diet will fantasize about for days before finally giving in. Although chorizo is not cheaper in comparison to other sausages, it is not outrageously expensive. You might even be able to find it on sale at times. Put chorizo in your grocery cart next time you're out and cook it with mashed potato, with pasta instead of meat or combine it with meat, or just try it my way, with a little bit of corn. If you only have frozen corn that's ok too. Throw in a knob of butter and you'll be on your way to a delicious meal. Wash it down with some of your favourite wine and it'll be an evening you'll want to repeat without delay. Go buy chorizo. Go now.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Restorative Powers of Soup (and Rum)

Monday morning Jen woke up feeling achy, like she was coming down with either a cold, flu, or the dreaded H1N1. I wasn't feeling all that great myself but seeing how I am fine today I chalk all that up to sympathy pains.

Yesterday did fill me with enough fear to run out and buy plenty chicken bones and veggies so I can make a big pot of chicken stock from which to make a big pot of chicken soup. My plan was that if I were to become incapacitated by anything, H1N1 included, I would survive on chicken soup and a big pot of Romanian paprikash which I am also cooking today. I bought fresh pineapple and other fruit on which I could munch on without having to spend any energy on preparation. To also make absolutely sure we weren't getting sick I spent some money on liquor, including rum. I made hot tea and laced it with rum. Jen also opted for rum but she went for coke instead of tea. I don't know if it was the rum, the french onion soup I made for us, the sleeping or the warmth or all of the above but we woke up feeling better this morning. I'd dare say "good" but don't want to jinx it. Jen even felt good enough to go back to work. I still have the day off which is good, I now have all this food I have to cook!

So today, curled up near the fireplace, Food Tv on the background, old Romanian cookbook nearby I decided to read up on some Romanian recipes. After perusing for a few minutes I found most recipes are terrible. For example, there's a recipe for lettuce soup. Great. What kind of lettuce? Or, there are these dumplings Romanians can put in soups and stews. One recipe is made with egg, butter and flour and another recipe appears to be identical to the previous one except it asks for 1/2 cup of milk or water. They might both work but which is better? I am in no mood to experiment today, I already have my hands full. I'll go for the milk-less one and hope for the best.

I'm off as my chicken stock needs skimming and my pork loin needs its garlic stuffing, not to mention my fingers are getting stiff here by the window in the study. There must be something wrong with the heat, I'm not getting any in this room and we don't have the know how to fix it. DiYers we are not.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Exciting Times

First off I'd like to share what I am excited about, before I start talking about food. For the first time since I've started working in kitchens, not knowing my schedule from one week to the next, I now am guaranteed to have at least one of my days off be the same all the time. The new restaurant is closed on Mondays. This means I can finally plan some time with friends without fear that I might have to cancel my plans because of my work schedule.

And now we re turn to our regularly scheduled program, thanks for your patience!

The large oven looks very attractive from outside and I think it will look even more inviting on cold blustery nights. We all love looking at a fire and although the restaurant does not have a fireplace, the big flame in the oven replaces one quite well. The fact that it gives off 700F worth of heat will also come in handy when we're all in the strong grip of the long, cold Canadian winter.

Despite the fact we've been open for only one week we are beginning to have repeat customers according to our server tonight who noticed the couple in a booth. Not that I had any doubts about the food but I think it might become something to talk about.

I also had the pleasure today to cook for another Chef -- although when I was cooking I didn't know who it was I was cooking for -- and the food was the best they've had in Aurora in many years. "My wife and I never eat at the same place twice but we will be coming back here."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Late Nights

Although I've only been at this bistro for a week I am beginning to see a glimpse into the life of a restaurant cook. The golf club was different as we rarely got any orders after 9 pm unless it was in the middle of the summer and daylight lasted till almost 10 pm. This meant that the latest I ever got home was 11 pm and even that happened rarely. Here, we don't even start closing procedures until close to 11 pm which means I could still be cooking at 10 pm and don't get home until close to midnight. The hour between 11 pm to midnight is a pizza only menu so that the staff can start closing the kitchen. One guy (the pizza boy or Chef) stays behind until midnight to do pizza but the rest of us clean up and are gone by 11 pm. I'll have you know though, before you start feeling sorry for the pizza boy, that this only happens on weekends. During the week we have an 11 pm close for the entire restaurant so it's not like someone is there till midnight each and every night. Not to mention that with us cleaning everything else, all he has to do is wrap up his station, drain the dishwasher and go home. Not a bad deal.

I look forward to the end of the night though when I sometimes take off the white jacket and sit at the bar for 30 minutes having a drink, watching Tv and shooting the breeze with whoever is still there: the bartender, one of the grrls or Chef himself. This was also something I never experienced at the golf club because by the time the kitchen closed, the dining room and bar were already closed and the front of house supervisor was dressed, bag and key in hand, waiting for the kitchen staff to finish cleaning up and leave so the place can be locked up for the night. It just all has a different, nicer vibe here.

The only few things that still have to happen is Chef needs to delegate more of his prepping duties; he still shows up at the restaurant bright and early to do all the daily prep and mise en place so by the time we get there, at 3 pm or later, it's all done for us and all we have to do is locate everything and conveniently place it at arm's reach. He does all the vegetable grilling, the potato roasting and mashing, all the desserts, all the sauces and dressings, and all the meat roasting. Essentially, he does all the hard, monotonous work and we come in for all the fun stuff -- the adrenaline-filled cooking that is the dinner service. The guy sets my nerves on edge but I also wouldn't want to be without him in the kitchen. As jittery as he gets me, I know he knows his food and can get it together. I don't have to worry about much when he's there, other than the things I am responsible for. He is the conductor, if you will. He watches the boys, calls ordering, firing and pick-up of dishes, all we have to do is execute. Without that, we'd be a little lost. Am I giving him too much credit? We'll see. He will have to take some time off eventually as he had none so far. His plan was, and still is, to be at the restaurant every day at least for the first three weeks. Once he's gone we'll all find out if the cows still get milked.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday The 13th

"I don't know, but I've been told
Eating my food will never get old"

Well, there's my attempt at rhyming for you. My Chef's rhyme involves something more vulgar about Eskimo something being mighty cold but since it's my rhyme and my blog I figured I should at least make it about food.

I'm learning a few tricks (not so much about cookery but about presenting plates) and we, as a team, are still learning what works best. Chef has given up his helm at the pizza oven and has trained one of the boys to make as well as monitor the pizzas while in the oven. It works better than Chef making the pizzas and having someone else monitor and rotate them through-out the oven as they're baking. After all, the person who made the pizzas and placed them in the oven is more likely to know where which one is in the cooking stage than anyone else in the kitchen. So that's done. It frees up Chef to teach me plating and to teach his Sous-Chef how each dish on the menu should be cooked.

My role? It depends on the day. When there's four of us, I make salads, run in the back for last minute things we need, and learn how to both plate and cook at the same time. Last night we had a few tables, thankfully not all ordered at the same time, and it all worked very well despite the fact that for half the night our printer didn't work and the servers had to hand us their order chits. When there's Chef, Sous Chef and I in the kitchen, Chef will go back to doing pizzas with Sous Chef doing the hot side and I look after salads, starters and plating the hot food the Sous hands to me. When the Sous Chef is off I take over cooking the hot side and have one of the boys do salads and plate for me. We figure with this system we can feed no matter how many people we get. It also helps if not all people at the table order from the same station -- if the order is spread out: some pizzas, some starters and some hot stuff, we're golden. Even if the orders are all pizzas we're still golden because Chef can always step in and help the pizza boy. The opposite is not true as one, and only one person can cook on the hot side due to limited space at the stove.

So we made it through our first Friday. Friday the 13th, at that. Don't look now, but this could all be coming together.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting A Heat Lamp?

Can a busy dining establishment survive without a warm window to put plated food on? The new bistro, which is housed into an old pizzeria place, has no kitchen window and therefore no heat lamp above, only a ledge where cooks will place the food to be picked up by servers. If the server is not quick to pick-up, the food will get cold. Also, if there are large tables to cook for and the cooks do not have all the food up at the same time (which is very difficult, if not impossible to do at times), the food will have to sit on the ledge and get cold. Can the lack of a heat source to place food under bury a fledgling bistro? Chef doesn't want to keep plated food in a warm oven so we'll have to do our best.

We expect to be busier next week as the girls start their advertising campaign. Any kinks we need to work out will need to be worked out by then.

Today was steady. We normally open for business at 4 pm but so far we haven't been getting tables until around 5:30. The next two hours we put out food and it slows down around 8 pm. For a Thursday, I'd say it's pretty good. Real test likely to come this weekend. I cooked the hot side today, not much action though. I learned a couple of pasta dishes, both cooking and presentation, as well as the shrimp plate. I should write this stuff down so I remember it. Now if I could only locate my notebook that was in my car before Jen cleaned it (the car, not the notebook!)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Regrouping and Reorganizing

When I popped in yesterday to watch Chef do his cheesecake and maybe learn to make it myself I found that I was not the only person to show up at work on their day off. The Sous Chef was there already and him and Chef were hard at work moving the shelves, tables and appliances around.

The three of us were trying to learn from Monday's experience whatever we could. Making sure you have stuff at your fingertips is crucial in making dinner service work smoothly. The less you have to move away from your line, the less you have bend down to the fridge and shove containers around looking for what you need, the quicker it will be for you to put out the food. A few seconds count because they add up and you bring everyone else down with you. If the guy putting out the starter is behind, that means the entree sits in the window for too long and it gets cold. The opposite is also true where the appetizer goes out too fast and the diners have too long a wait between the app and their main. Making it all work tickety-boo takes a lot of practice and communication between the cooks.

So there we were, organizing the salad station and the hot station, deciding what foods can be sped up in any way (for example, let's not put the flatbread on the grill, or in the oven to crisp it up, let's try the panini press); let's have a bain-marie going and have two of the sides in there so that whoever is working the hot side has two things off his plate so to speak. Also, let's portion out wings and keep them on line so we don't have to count wings when we get the order, they're already counted. Pasta -- let's start portioning that too and keep it on the line so you don't have to run around in the back fridge looking for it in containers and grabbing at it with your hands.

Two hours later the kitchen looks more organized and the two of them feel that they are ready to repeat Monday, with improved results. I am still not ready for another Monday but maybe in a week I'll feel differently about it.

As for dinner, turns out I wasn't needed so I stayed home. I'm also home today. Should probably try to stop thinking about work so much seeing how I'll be spending the next five evenings there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Wheels On The Bus...

The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round... until they come off, that is. If we needed a dose of reality after Sunday, boy, did we get it last night! The girls decided to more or less pack the house with friends and coworkers to give the kitchen a fire drill, for lack of a better word. They're of course hoping that by creating a pretend fire we'll learn and be ready for the real one. Everything that could go wrong last night, did. The pizzas -- which patrons ordered a lot of -- started to break when getting slid around the oven. Took a while for Chef to figure out that they were all going to break, not just "that one". Turns out the oven got too cold and the pizzas started sticking. Who know that 30 degrees Fahrenheit would make such a difference. The 700F the oven should be at became 667F just from having the door to it open for too long stretches. Uhhh... yeah, we were busy putting loads of stuff in the oven and moving it around, you have to have the door open!

Then the guy on the hot side got hammered with all sorts of stuff and he's doing the sides and the mains. I'm supposed to help him plate and watch the oven for him but I was not getting anything coming my way, I ended up running to the fridge for a lot of the mise en place we didn't have ready.

To make matters worse (if that could be possible), the chits were printing separate things, on two different printers. So Chef would get half a table on his chit and the printer on the hot side is printing the mains. That'll have to be fixed, we don't have time during service to play the "match the chits" game. I can't have half of table #19 print on one side and half on the other. Why? Because I'll have a server coming to me for a salad that I haven't even seen print. "What Caesar salad?" Turns out the said salad printed on one of the chits but Chef and hot side guy were so busy figuring out their own mess that nobody told me there's stuff I am supposed to be making.

Then -- oh yeah, there's a "then" -- there were only three of us. No dishwasher in the house, so one of the servers is back there doing dishes as we're running out of pans and plates to put food on. Uh-oh.

Sure, it was a drill, sort of. I say "sort of" because there were still people at tables who ended up waiting a long time for their meal. To me, that's not a drill. Someone's still hungry there and watching you fall apart in your nice open-concept kitchen! They're friends so they'll be more forgiving and, after all, that's what they're there for in the first place, to make you sink so that you'll hopefully swim next time. It's just that sinking is not a good feeling, it fills you with panic!

Although I am supposed to be off today I'll be going in around dinner time for a couple of hours. Chef gave me and the Sous Chef the night off which leaves him alone with the two "juniors." He was a little worried about it last night and asked me if I minded coming in. I said yes. So I'll go in for dinner but I can't go and prep nor will I stick around for the cleanup.

Here's to a better day!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Come Out And Play!

I suited up for my first real day at the new bistro. Opening Day. All the other stuff we did there before today felt almost like pretend cooking. You could say we were getting ready for the big event, as much as one could be ready. I was nervous, anxious, excited... you name it, I felt it. Breathing deeply, I exhaled and I walked the front door that wouldn't be open to the public for another couple of hours. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, I don't know what I am doing. I have been shown how to plate only one of the salads and I'm supposed to open today? I don't know where anything is, still, or what to do with it, still, and I'm supposed to put food out?

My buddy Jason comforted me this morning by saying: "It won't be that bad, you'll see. And you won't be alone. It's almost like introducing a new menu at any other restaurant: nobody will know it and you'll all be learning at the same time." Okay, I thought, if you say so.

Turns out Jason was right. Our first few tables were made up of friends. They asked us if there was anything in particular we wanted them to order, to which we, the cooks, answered that they should order whatever they felt like. It would give us a chance to practice so "you're not doing us any favours by asking us what we think you should order," we said. We also had a few tables of real patrons, walk-ins who saw our "open" sign and came in. We all, owners included, were surprised. They had deliberately done no advertising whatsoever so that we could work out the kinks first. Other than flipping over the "open" sign, we did nothing to attract business. Despite that, we had tables, so imagine what will happen next week when we start advertising!

I also heard that I am doing quite well. Hearing that definitely helps ease my nerves. I am the sous's right hand man, so to speak, and responsible for plating all of the dishes, with the exception of the pizzas. After I set them up and plate them, Chef gives the plates a once over to make sure they're right after which food leaves our window. When "the boys" are not working I am working the oven to make sure that whatever is placed inside it doesn't get forgotten and burn. The oven could fit me and five more people of my size inside it, it's that big, so it requires that I get really friendly with the big shovel-like tool that helps me place things in the oven as well as rotate them once they're in there and take stuff out when cooked.

The big man, the Chef himself, will roll out dough and assemble the pizzas, as well as oversee their baking in the wood-burning pizza oven. He will also remind us all of the things in the oven and answer any questions we will have. Today's questions were: "Chef, is this done?"; "Chef, is there parm on both these sides?"; "Chef, is there a topping for the ratatouille?" "Chef, where did you put my tomato relish?"

There were two minor accidents today with Chef being the injured party both times. The first time he shoved his hand into the mini food processor -- no, don't worry, it was turned off -- and impaled his index finger into one of the blades resting inside the container there. The second injury was tequila chili lime sauce in the right eyeball. Chef was tossing the wings in a hurry and sauce splashed up from the bowl right into his eye. I had to finish plating the wings while he went to wash out his eye. Poor guy. It only occurs to me right now he might have been nervous himself!

All in all we did really well based on feedback we received from our friends. We asked if food took a long time to arrive -- to us, the cooks, seems that food takes longer than it actually does because there's a lot of stuff going on back there -- and we also asked if it was tasty. Really, tell us, was it good? The consensus was that women will throw themselves at us for that cheesecake we make. I'll have to get Chef to teach me it, I wouldn't say no to a little action on the side!

I'm back in the kitchen tomorrow at 3 pm. "The boys" will be away tomorrow so it'll be Chef, Sous-Chef and yours truly holding down the fort. That's fine, I feel a little more ready now. By next week, the place will be a well oiled machine.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Joys of Volunteering

The Chef at the club where I worked until this past week, and where I will be returning in April, has volunteered his entire kitchen staff's time today to a cause of his. He didn't ask us if we were willing to volunteer he merely told us he needs us on the 7th and not to make any plans. Only later on did I find out that my services were actually volunteered. A bad, manipulative move, no doubt. I wonder if it was intentional or if it was his organization and communication skills that made it appear so. Maybe he thought he told us we'd be volunteering? Maybe he meant to say as much, it just didn't come out that way? Maybe he thought some staff from previous years knew it would be volunteer work instead of paid work? Regardless of what he thought, I find it in poor taste.

This matter, however, brings me to ask myself a question, perhaps a moral one. A year ago, having no kitchen experience whatsoever, I would have given almost anything to be in a professional kitchen, even as a volunteer. In fact I was prepared to offer volunteering in one just so I can learn, and was ultimately surprised by my Chef who offered me a paying job in his kitchen. What happened then, during the course of the year, that made me harbour resentment towards that same Chef who dared volunteer me (and several members of his staff) to cook today for a fundraiser event? Was it the fact that he didn't ask me before putting my name down? Or is it that since I now work in a kitchen and having a weekend off is so rare I resent anything that takes me away from my partner, a good meal at home with her, some wine and my Saturday night movie premiere on The Movie Network?

I have yet to decide if I will show up for this event today. I am not obligated to but feel compelled to go only if to not disappoint Chef. Must be the desire to please that's so deep seated I don't even know it's in me. Or maybe it's that I have to work for this man next year and don't want the awkwardness, although I doubt that he'll remember any of it by next year.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I survived!

I am home after a 10-hour day. It wasn't even that long if you think about it, but I am beat. We didn't stop working, from 9 am till 7 pm. No break, no nothing. I finally grabbed some food at the very end of the day. I was tired, hungry and therefore getting crankier by the moment.

Some first impressions after today are that taking out the garbage at the end of the night at 20 below temperatures, through the snow, will be a b**ch. At the club we had maintenance folks who cleaned and took out the trash. Here, it's the job of the kitchen staff. So if at 10 o'clock at night you're driving on Bayview Ave. and you see a little girl plodding through the snow taking out cardboard boxes and yanking on a large garbage bin (you know, one of those gray ones on wheels), well, that's probably me.

Also, and this goes for all new jobs, regardless of industry, I find myself confused by my surroundings, don't know where anything is and it takes me a good minute to find such simple things as lemons or tomatoes among the many cases of produce in our walk-in fridge. There's containers everywhere and without taking the time to stand there and read labels to find what's in them I'm doomed to constant searching at least for the first week or so. The fact that it's a small kitchen, with small staff, should help as we'll likely all be putting things in the same place all the time. At the club, with a staff of about 20, the blue cheese dressing could be find anywhere from the dry storage to the stand-up fridge in the back, to the walk-in fridge of the lower level kitchen or, at times, even in the giant fridge built outside. I'm hoping I won't have that problem here.

The kitchen area is quite small and will likely give some logistic problems as we begin receiving patrons. I also fear a lot of time will be wasted walking back and forth from the dish-pit with few dishes at a time given the limited elbow room in there. We should try to put a cart there (the problem is there's no room to fit one in) so the person doing dishes could stack the clean ones on it, otherwise whoever is on "dish" duty will be forever taking clean dishes to the rack in the kitchen one load at a time. In the middle of a busy dinner service that could spell trouble with capital letters.

I'm trying to not think about any of this too much because, as cruel as it sounds, it's not my problem. It's not my restaurant and I cannot change it's layout. I don't think the owners could either, without injecting some serious cash into it. Since the place is yet to open, such cash has not yet been generated, nor do the owners know whether investing it is warranted at this time.

And so we all anxiously await Sunday's opening which will give us a sense of what will work and what won't. I do like that the open concept kitchen allows me to see into the dining room and, more importantly, glance up at the hockey going on the big screen TVs suspended from the beautiful ceiling.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

You Ready To Cook?

I called Chef Ken today and he asked me: "You ready to cook?"

I am to prepare for a long day tomorrow, and since he's short on knives I am to bring my own. No problem! Knives, I have. A way to transport them safely to the resto, not so much. I guess I'll just wrap 'em in a towel and stuff them in a backpack or something. You see, I never got around to buying a knife kit, there was no need for one. At the club's kitchen I used the kitchen's knives which we have bought from Nella. I know I'll need knives for when I go to school but I always thought I'll deal with it then. So... this is why I have no way to take my home knives with me to the kitchen.

I asked Chef if I should wear "my stuffs" and he replied that typically he prefers no clothes whatsoever in the kitchen but since the safety board frowns upon the practice I should probably wear something. He'll be wearing a Chef jacket and jeans tomorrow. I'll do the same since we're not really open for business yet so I don't need to pull out the heavy duty kitchen pants. I can't wait. I could go there right now just to hang out and get more info on tomorrow but I don't want to seem too eager! I can't wait to cook with him all day. Real cooking, not just assembling plates. We'll be cooking and testing all day. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Shall We Call This?

A friend is taking me out for a drink and a bite tonight but I'll still be making dinner as I can't leave Jen to her own devices; she'd end up eating store-bought bread and butter. In the fridge there's the leftover broccoli and lentil soup I made yesterday but since it won't be filling enough I still need a main for Jen.

I have scallops I need to use and am personally craving spice so will throw together a Chinese inspired dish. I have a wok that my in-laws gifted me for Christmas last year which will help me whip up Jen's dinner in a jiffy. Oil, scallions, ginger, garlic and a few chili flakes will get me started. The scallops will follow. The sauce will be a combination of chicken stock, soy, oyster and hoisin sauce. Thinly sliced celery for crunch and some shredded red cabbage for colour. I have never done this dish before nor am I following anyone's recipe (not that I know, anyway!). I suppose I should write the recipe down so I can make it again and also give it to others if successful but I personally enjoy the freedom that comes from cooking without a recipe and just combining ingredients. (Note I didn't say: throw ingredients together; some basics are needed still)

Although it's Jen's dinner I am too excited about it not to sneak a bite. I'll go make it right now and have some of it for lunch.

Gotta dash!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day Two Of Unemployment

This is my second day of unemployment in a long time. I came to Canada 11 years ago and was fortunate enough to find work within six months of my arrival. Since I have a fair amount of stick-with-itness I have had only three jobs ever since, the third one being the current one, that of a cook. I have also been fortunate enough to never been fired or laid off. This is why the current situation, that of being in-between jobs, is unfamiliar to me. It's more than the fact that I am bored, although I am. I have been on holidays a week at a time in the past but this feels different. I don't feel on holidays. Instead, I feel useless, like I am not earning my keep.

My partner is very supportive of me being "in transition" as she calls it but I am very uncomfortable with being a kept woman for the time being. I keep myself busy cooking and cleaning as hundreds of thousands of women have done before me when keeping house but am counting down the days when I can be back at work. It'll be soon enough, I know that, and I am trying my damnedest to enjoy the spare time I have been given but the harder I try, the guiltier I feel. I have had dinner guests both last night and tonight and I felt entertained on both occasions. Tomorrow a friend is taking me out for a belated birthday dinner and Thursday I am going to the bistro for our first day of dry runs. Although I won't be earning wages for those days I will be there cooking, feeling like I make a difference.

Tomorrow morning I plan to take a "sick day", stay in my pyjamas, in bed, watching Food Tv and TMN. Maybe I'll be able to trick my brain into thinking it's not unemployment, it's just a good ol' sick day. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

See You Next Year!

When I got to work today and checked the schedule for the coming week I was delighted to see the cells across from my name say: Thanks Laura See You Next Year! Although I would have been available to work there for the beginning of this week, I was also more than willing to relinquish my shifts if anyone were to ask me. I am happy. I know I won't miss it because I am starting on another journey of which I am very excited about. Out with the old and in with the new I say!

I have only one week of unemployed freedom and I intend to savour it. As soon as I saw the schedule my fingers got busy dialing friends I haven't seen in a while and making dinner plans. I don't know how much time I'll have once I start working again, especially since my friends own two restaurants and I will be doing shifts at both places. I am sure January will be here before I know it and then school will be added to the mix leaving no time for social relations.

I just realized that by being laid off early I also escaped the second black box test. After the first round I was in the lead. No longer sure it means anything anymore but at least I have bragging rights. Give me 10 weeks of culinary training, try to give me a black box again and watch what happens! (Gosh, I hope I'm not putting too much stock on this culinary school thing and that it'll be all that I imagine it to be!)