chezsci (chezsci) wrote,

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Love the appetizers, hate the tabbouleh...

Hickory Scented Apple Daikon Compote


Some folks paint,  some draw, some save lives and some just get by.  I like to cook and I do it for a living, which in a way is a bonus.  I thought about how long I've been doing this the other day after having yet another run in with my counterpart at the campus hotel.  His title says chef but he's barely qualified to fry a basket of chicken nuggets and yet...and yet he's in charge of a hotel kitchen with all that entails.  VIP banquets, room service, private dining, coffee bars, guest breaks, etc. etc.  The guy's a dangerous combination of self-deluded  cocksure, spaced out stupid and mule stubborn. I've covered his ass more times than I care to mention, but on this particular occasion I hadn't covered anything in his court.  This time I did a stupid thing and went ahead and relied on him to cover something for me.  He didn't and  I spent a bad morning backing and filling - and as nearly always is the case, the client never suspected a thing.   I fought off the nearly irresistible urge to walk over to the hotel and split the skid mark's abnormal brow ridge with a cleaver right between his stupidly blank, bowel-brown eyes.  Oh how I wanted to do this.  And God tested me in my rage by bestowing a phone call from this Bane of my Food Existence.  Apologies, cheerfully leaden with insincerity, flowed.  I nodded, said some perfunctory things, but pointedly didn't accept the apology.  He kept talking, digging deeper until I slammed the phone down like it was a sheet pan blazing hot from the oven and I had mistakenly grabbed it bare handed.  I do that once in a while when I get busy and I've been doing this so long that I barely notice the burns any more.  I channeled my anger in my usual way - by staking out a corner of the kitchen and working on some tedious, time consuming task.  On this day it was trimming out  $800 worth of beef tenderloin.  How much beef is that?   87 pounds that winds up being about 60 by the time its trimmed out.  Do the math.  Beef tenderloin is expensive.  Nothing like hacking away at really expensive  meat to help the rage subside and let other thoughts wander into the mind.
Sirache Roasted Shrimp with Blood Orange Aoli

 Soon I'm ruminating upon how long I've been doing this work and what I like about it.  The big thing is that it's always different - every day.  And the work is only limited by your imagination.  And it's the instant gratification of getting feedback right away.  Some days I'm like that little kid that acts up just to get attention - I literally don't care if they hated the food as long as they are talking about it and by extension, me.  Other times, I crave the problems and challenges every day brings.  As I trimmed silverskin and brown fat from these great maroon logs of beef, my catering coordinator, Michelle skips by behind me and drops a Post-It at my station.  She waves and tells me to let her know what I want to do later on when I'm done with my meat. She winks.  A sprightly blond, married and a delightful flirt.  I glance at the note - it says "Love the appetizers, not so much the Tabbouleh" and its signed by the university president's wife.  A woman with high culinary standards who I'm convinced would give Martha Stewart a run for her money as a hostess. A sweet, cheerful woman who knows what and how she wants things and will do most anything to help you get there.  I've always said I like working with people that I can learn from - people who will make me better.  This woman has done a lot in that respect.  So as I trim away the rest of the afternoon, I think about Tabbouleh and what she might not like about it.  I eventually I pack up and go home still thinking about Tabbouleh and by the next morning when I walk back into the kitchen I talk to the pantry guy - the guy in charge of making the Tabbouleh and tell him to undercook the bulghur a little so it doesn't get gummy.  I know our president's wife well enough to know that what she hates about the Tabbouleh salad is that it's probably too wet.  I know she likes her grains al dente.  After I talk to the pantry I give her a call and  confirm my suspicions.  I was right.  Its good being able to anticipate the client like that - makes you feel like Columbo solving a case. Only this isn't life or death sort of stuff, and oh, its not TV fiction either. Its just food.  But its important in its own way.

Red Olive Tapinade with Black Garlic

 The debacle of the previous day has been washed away by the conundrum of the Tabbouleh  and I start another day not knowing what fate will bring. I spend the morning working with my night shift lead cook who's come in early to help me with some prep.  He had four wisdom teeth pulled the day before and he's high on a combination of happiness at being free from pain he had been living with since Christmas and a fistful of pain killers he had for breakfast.  I set him to task on something not involving knives or fire and we spend the morning talking about how we'd go about producing YouTube videos depicting the History of Christianity using cats.  We discussed the need for subtitles, we discussed how we would show the torturing during the Inquisition while skirting animal cruelty laws.  We talked about casting and what types of cats would be best to depict particular characters.  We both agreed that Jesus should be a common American shorthair preferably grey striped. In fact, all the apostles would be American shorthairs. Except for Judas who would be a hairless Sphynx cat.  Buddah would naturally be portrayed by my overweight longhaired Siamese.    Satan would be an albino Sphynx cat.  The Pope would be a Persian.  We discussed what to make a little cat-miter out of and how we'd get the cat Pope to hold his staff of office.  We talked about cat Gregorian chants.  We talked about shaving a tonsure on a cat Martin Luther.  Cat Moses would be a Main Coon Then the conversation got weird and incomprehensible so I sent my  helper home to sleep it off.  I made some pizza at lunch for a building full of nuclear physics grad students then spent the rest of the day go over the coming week's events, doing inventory and ordering food.  More beef tenderloin...

Summer Salad with micro greens and antipasti

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