Monday, February 28, 2011

Hello again, goodbye and congratulations

Since last I wrote, I've moved back to Toronto. It's for very ordinary reasons involving a promotion for my husband and a desire to be closer to family as we get closer to starting our own. It was also a very fast turnaround. We found out we were moving and a month later we were here. We had to sell our much beloved first home on the north side of False Creek (with a view of the concrete plant on Granville Island), not to mention saying goodbye to all the friends we'd made over the past nearly five years.

It doesn't help that we moved to Toronto just before winter. Stupid, stupid move.

But we bought a fantastic place smack in the heart of the core of downtown Toronto. I have work and I can walk to it. I'm with family and friends I've missed for almost five years.

So hello again to Toronto and goodbye to Vancouver.

I say goodbye not only to the city I have now come to -- dare I say it -- love for all its quirks, but also to a home within a home.

If you've read this blog before you've probably come across it because of my meanderings as a kitchen intern at Lumiere restaurant. I spent every Friday for half a year learning everything from deveining foie gras to where the ice machine is. It changed me, however cliche that sounds. I approach ingredients and cooking with more confidence than I ever did before, even after a lifetime of cooking with my mother. I got to meet people who were incredibly talented, fun and young. I felt like a part of the team and it became a kind of home for me.

I was incredibly saddened to learn that Lumiere and its sister restaurant, db Bistro, will be closing March 12th. I haven't spoken with anyone I used to work with, but from what I gather it has to do with a combination of factors including the HST, stricter drunk driving laws and location (the fact that it isn't downtown has always been a factor in foot traffic).

It's certainly not a total surprise for watchers. Rumours of closures have been around for ages. But that's all they were at the time. I didn't want to believe them. I was just falling in love and didn't want to hear a terminal diagnosis.

Yet here we are. And in my opinion Vancouver will be worse for it. It's a culinary institution and soon it will no longer be.

My first thought is for all the servers and cooks. I have no doubt they will find employment, and soon. Talented people in the culinary world are always in demand. I also have no doubt they will all go on to do something great. I've always known that. Nevertheless it's hard to think they may not be moving forward as a team, the way I've always known them.

I'm sad that I will not be able to dine there when I visit Vancouver. I didn't just love it because I knew the people there. They made EVERYONE feel at home. From the first time I went there in their new incarnation as a Daniel Boulud production I felt comfortable, well fed and happy. I have since discovered it's rare to be able to find this combination.

And yet I say congratulations because I also found out that my former chef at Lumiere is now a competitor for Top Chef Canada. They just announced it today. Dale Mackay will be the only chef representing Vancouver, which is a distinction for him and a shame for the show. In my opinion, Vancouver is the best food city in Canada.

I'll be watching the show proudly, knowing that Dale and his soon-to-be former co-workers are some of the best at what they do. Knock 'em dead.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Main Ingredient on CBC Radio One

It's finally...almost here.

CBC Radio's new national food show -- The Main Ingredient -- takes to the airwaves Monday June 28th. It's been years since CBC Radio had a national food show, so there's lots of anticipation.

Full disclosure: I'm one of the contributors to the show. I'll be doing on-air bits, bringing you food news from around the world.

On a personal level, I'm very excited to be doing this. Not only because this will be my national radio debut, but I will actually get to talk about food, combining my two career ambitions. I spent a lot of time in a lot of uncertainty as to where my career was going. As a non-staff member who's been working in the media machine for years, this is a very common but still very unpleasant place to be in. I'm trying to be a grownup, what with the marriage and mortgage and all...and I need a salary to keep these things going. Anyway, I digress. Very excited about not only being able to keep paying for stuff but also move my career along in a big way, in the ideal direction.

Having said all that, you probably want to know what The Main Ingredient is going to be about. It takes a look at the way people approach and perceive food...what it makes people do...and why. For example, one of the first episodes we're airing will be about "yucky" versus "yummy" food and how food frequently falls into both those categories.

There's also an episode on illegal and extreme dining. I brought Khalil to a dinner run by The Wandering Spoon folks. See my previous blog entry here.

It's NOT a cooking show. Repeat: NOT a cooking show. Not to say you can't cook to it while you're listening!

Our host, Khalil Akhtar (that's him right there), might be familiar to CBC listeners as he produces a nationally syndicated food column each week. Now he gets to take his appetite to the next level. But for those of you who don't know Khalil, I thought I'd ask him a few questions, since I have what you would call some sway with the show people.

1.What's this food show going to tell us about that we don't get from the onslaught being broadcast on the Food Network?

The Main Ingredient takes you beyond cooking lessons and lifestyle programming. Don't expect to tune in and hear about how to choose the best balsamic or pair wine with tuna. The Main Ingredient is more about food issues and food anthropology and food philosophy. We tell stories about how food impacts our lives. The other thing that I think is generally missing in places like The Food Network is the food industry stuff. The Main Ingredient will dive into stories about modern food marketing, the fast food industry and changes in agricultural practices.

2. In one of the episodes of the show, you ate mealworms. What was that like?

Mealworms are surpisingly delicious. In this case, they were quickly stirfried in butter and garlic. The texture was a bit odd. You know when you eat popcorn... and the outer husk of the kernel of corn is sort of tough and crisp? The husks get stuck in your teeth... well... that's what the outer shell of the mealworm is like. The idea behind eating mealworms was part of an exploration into why some people find certain foods distasteful. In other words why my yum is your yuck.

3.What have you eaten that you didn't think you would like...but ended up surprising you?

On the show or in general? In general... I'm open to eating anything. So I've never been surprised that I liked something... because I tend to embrace new eating experiences. I generally approach eating with a sense of cultural context. I figure if a food is part of someone's culinary culture and culinary vocabulary, then it would be offensive for me to express distaste for it.

4.What do you HATE eating?

I hate kraft dinner. Can't stand the stuff. I grew up in a punjabi household where the flavours were robust and in-your-face. When I first tried kraft dinner in university I was surprised at what all the fuss was about. I just thought... surely there must be more to this. That said... kraft dinner is vastly improved with lots of tabasco and ketchup. But at that point... why even bother. I make an amazing mac and cheese with nice aged cheddar and a bit of stilton.

5.What do you love to cook?

It changes every week, honestly. A standby, though, is something called yakhni pilau. Classic pakistani rice dish. I make it with dark meat chicken and chick peas. Make a little cucumber and tomato raita on the side... and I could eat for a week. It's a great dish because it takes a little precision to cook... which is fun. People ask for a 'recipe'... and I have to tell them it's not the kind of thing that's easily written down. There is a lot of 'look' and 'feel' in the process.

6.If you were stranded on a desert island and could only choose one meal, what would it be?

Sushi. Layers of flavour and texture. Plus the fish would be plentyful if I was on an island.

7. And if you got to pick a dessert to bring as well...what would it be?

I have a general ongoing debate with friends over the merits of cake vs pie. I'm a pie person in almost everyway. Give me a well-made double-crust apple pie with custard and I'd be in heaven.

So there you go. A little Khalil in a nutshell.

Here's the answer to your last question, which would be: "When is it on??" The Main Ingredient airs every Monday starting June 28th at 11:30 am/noon NT and Fridays at 7:30 pm/8 pm NT. We're also on Sirius Satellite 137 (you can check out that schedule here). Our website should be up shortly at and you can also follow us on Twitter at CBCIngredient.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Shellfish Paradise

This summer I'll be the "food news" reporter for a national CBC Radio summer food show called "The Main Ingredient". It's a dream come true because I get to talk about food and get paid for it. Lately the stars have been aligning for me in more ways than one.

For this show, the producers wanted to find an underground dining experience and do a piece on it. They wanted to devote an episode on secret dining, the whys and wheres and whats and whos.

Well, well, well...just so happens I know a group of talented cooks who run a little operation called The Wandering Spoon. I blogged about their delicious premiere meal where they roasted a whole suckling pig. Mmm.

I emailed them to see if they were interested in putting together one of their fabulous meals on the fly. When I say on the fly, they had two days to tell me whether they could put together a large dinner in less than a week. Most people probably would've told me to f@#$ off. They actually said yes.

And man...what a meal it was. They pulled off a spot prawn boil on an epic scale.

Some of the spot prawns put up quite a fight. One clung to the lid of the styrofoam cooler they came in until somebody finally pulled him off. Then another one (or perhaps the same one?) jumped right OUT of the cooler onto the floor. It's a good sign of freshness is what that is.

Spot prawn season being so short, it was such a treat. I also employed a lesson I learned recently from another prawn enthusiast. If you are taking advantage of spot prawn season, don't forget the head! Most people just throw the head away, but some of the best flavour comes from the innards in the head. Sometimes you can just suck it out, but sometimes you need the help of a utensil to get that buttery brain goodness out of there. Seriously. It's delicious. Why would I be doing that if it wasn't?

Here's what we got to eat...or at least what I remember through my wine-muddled haze.

-boiled spot prawns (obviously)
-mussels cooked with mustard greens and merguez sausage
-clams cooked in lots of butter with sauteed leeks
-"heart attack bread" -- which was bread slathered in a cream, butter and garlic mixture
-corn on the cob
-more bread
-caesar salad
-boiled potatoes with still more butter and garlic
-rhubarb and strawberry crumble with vanilla ice cream for dessert

TWENTY people showed up and apparently many more wanted to come. We got to see a number of familiar faces from the last dinner and some new ones who were clearly delighted to be a part of the shellfish free-for-all. I had tons of fun tackling my meal with my hands, as you can tell by the carnage I left behind in the top photo.

I am continually amazed at the lengths people who love food will go to indulge it. And I'm not talking about those of us pigging out at the table. Cooking 12+ hours a day apparently isn't enough for the Wandering Spoon folks. They still go out of their way to indulge a bunch of strangers -- not to mention the national broadcaster.

It was also a total steal. I saw what some other restaurants are charging for similar meals.

Thanks once again to the Wandering Spoon folks for a great meal and putting up with our microphone. Can't wait to see what you do next.

By the way, I'll keep you posted about when The Main Ingredient airs their episode across the country.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dine Out and C Restaurant

When it comes to Dine Out, there are a lot of mixed feelings.

Before I go any further, let me explain Dine Out briefly. It's where a list of restaurants across Vancouver have set menus for either $18, $28 or $38 dollars. You can find a list of them here .

Anyway, like I was saying. Mixed feelings. People working in restaurants generally dislike it because it usually means a TON more customers who aren't paying as much...which means you have to turn over a lot of volume to make up the extra money. Which means you really have to hustle. For fine dining restaurants in particular this can be very difficult, because of plating and standard of service and what have you. For the kitchen it's a massive pain too because you have to churn out so many extra meals, and with that comes a ton of extra mise en place.

However, customers love it because you can usually score a great deal, especially at some of the finer restaurants. It's an excuse to go someplace you've never tried before. And usually you can get a bigger group of people together and make it a party.

But even for diners it can be a mixed experience. I remember a couple years ago having dinner at the well-attended CinCin restaurant. Not knowing any better, I was drawn there by all the mentions I kept hearing about this celeb or that so-and-so eating there. Yeah, I really didn't know any better at the time. All I can remember is a very darkly lit dining room and this risotto that was gluey and nearly inedible. It was chalk white with some kind of cheese but it tasted a strange combination of sweet and cheesy. I didn't finish it. And I am NOT a picky eater.

Anyway, you take your misses with your hits. We headed out to C Restaurant tonight. It's renowned for maintaining ethical seafood standards and also generally being a great restaurant.

I like going to a new restaurant during Dine Out because it speaks to me about their level of service and food. If you can maintain a consistently great level on both those counts while trying to serve hundreds of people, you're really doing something right.

So here's what our dinner was like at C.

First up: seaweed bread. It had a soft, crumbly texture which I actually like. There were fresh ribbons of seaweed throughout. I don't know if I loved it, but it was an interesting concept.

First course:

Green Tea Cured Dr. Albright Trout
Origin Organic cucumber pickles, arugula, Granville island sake emulsion

You could faintly taste the green tea cure when you had the trout alone. Together, not at all, although the dish was delicious. Very acidic. Loved the pea greens in the salad. It would be a recurring theme throughout dinner.

Next up:

Octopus bacon wrapped scallops with peas cooked with bacon and leeks and a foie gras vinagrette

**This was an extra we ordered because it sounded delicious. And it was. They thinly sliced octopus and smoked it (I think) and wrapped it around these deliciously sweet scallops. In fact, both the octopus bacon and scallops were wonderfully sweet. The peas were also fantastic. I love peas.

Main course:

Pan Roasted Keta Salmon
Ragout of spring vegetables, smoked ham, lemon condiment
Parsley sauce

I really thought the salmon would be a standout given the restaurant's reputation. The dish was very good, but there was nothing particularly outstanding out the salmon. The peas (again, more peas) were FANTASTIC. Again, I love peas. And these peas were sweet and delicious. The parsley sauce didn't seem to add anything to the dish, but didn't detract from it. There was also a pile of pickled sea asparagus on the side. They tasted a lot like Chinese preserved prunes we always have for treats. They added nicely to the dish. Plus miniaturized vegetables always look so adorable.

Finally, dessert:

Chocolate brownie
Vanilla liquid marshmallow, orange Chantilly

I love chocolate cake for dessert. I'm not going to lie, I tend to order this kind of dessert at every restaurant. So I think I'm a pretty good judge of what a good chocolate cake dessert should be. The brownie was nice and dense and rich...but the combination of two kinds of cream was a bit redundant in texture. The liquid marshmallow contrast seems bourne of the molecular gastronomy trend but I don't know if it worked with this particular dessert.

Service wise, it was very efficient. However, and this is probably just for Dine Out, there seemed to be a LOT of servers. If you've ever eaten at C, there's a narrow corridor where the servers have to travel between the kitchen, the front door and the rest of the dining room. We were sitting RIGHT at the entrance of the dining room, which didn't help. I felt a bit claustrophobic. Luckily the wine helped.

All in all though, great meal. I came away happy and satisfied and that's all I ever ask of any meal. I count this among my more successful Dine Out experiences. If a restaurant like C can pull off Dine Out well, there's no excuse for any other restaurant to do any less.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Here, piggy piggy piggy...

The great thing about food is not only is it delicious, but you can shape it into anything you want it to be. Case in point, a new venture by three Vancouver cooks. They've started up The Wandering Spoon -- their take on "renegade" dinners where a lot of what happens is up in the air.

So what IS this "renegade" style meal I speak of? It's where you're told a date for the dinner and perhaps there are some details about what they'll serve. There's a fixed price, and the location changes. So basically you're agreeing to put yourself in the hands of the cooks...because you're at their mercy.

It's part of an underground dining movement that's been happening around the world for some time. It allows the cooks to bypass local bylaws and liquor laws (it's strictly BYOB) a dinner party but with mostly strangers. The appeal for the cooks is that they can serve whatever they like and let their imaginations run wild. The appeal for diners? In my case, having a completely different and new dining experience that turned out to be tremendously fun.

As you can see from the top photo, we ate our way through an entire suckling pig. Imagine walking through the door of someone's loft and seeing that face. But it wasn't merely roasted whole. The pig was butchered, its hind legs removed, ribs and tenderloin removed. The loin was wrapped in spinach and forcemeat, placed back in the pig, the whole thing to be roasted for four hours.

The ribs were cooked up with rosemary, garlic and butter. My personal favourite part, served with cabbage cooked with carrot and bacon. Everyone at the table loved it; it was the first item to go.

The legs , as you can see, were served on top of a dish of cauliflower.
I'd never had an entire suckling pig served to me before, so it was as much fascinating as it was delicious. And it really was good. To the best of my knowledge it was the first time any of the cooks had tackled a dish like this, which made it a great experience for them as well.

Besides the delicious food, most of the enjoyment of going to a dinner like this is the atmosphere. You sit with a bunch of people you don't know (yet). I met yet another Twitter follower who had seen my tweet about the dinner and thought, what the heck? He turned out to be a City of Vancouver planner who seemed to really enjoy himself. Everyone did. We all had at least one thing in common: we like to eat!

Everyone at the table was in great spirits. The wine and beer probably helped a lot. One diner even offered up her plate for this photo you see on your left.

The coziness of seeing the people making the food was also a great treat. Cooks are some of the most passionate people I know, and are always at their best when they're in their element and talking about what they do. If you get a chance to engage a cook, do it. They don't realize how much they light up when they're talking about what they love.

Dessert was appropriately homey: apple tarte tatin with oatmeal ice cream. It was warm, delicious and comfortable, like the rest of the meal.

And like other fabulous dinner parties...we got to take home some of the leftovers. Believe me, even between 11 people there are a LOT of leftovers!

I'd never done any underground dining before this, but it won't be the last. The Wandering Spoon will be hosting dinners about once a month, so keep your eyes peeled to their blog. You're going to love it when this spoon wanders your way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My evening with Heston Blumenthal

There's a lot of overhyping of chefs these days. I used to be a Gordon Ramsay fan, and now all I want him to do is stop using that orange self-tanner and sit down and be quiet. All the overexposure about his multiple restaurants, his near bankruptcy and his alleged affair with a "professional mistress" have detracted so much from what made him famous in the first place: his food.

Being used to that...I expected something similar when I went to watch Heston Blumenthal recently. He's got multiple TV shows as well, many cookbooks (although I don't know anyone who actually cooks with them) and has generally become one of those hot shot chefs who's names are tossed around internationally.

I'll tell you one thing. From what I've seen, Heston is not a man who loves to talk about himself, or much at all. But when he talks about food, you can see why the man has earned three Michelin stars for his restaurant, The Fat Duck.

Heston was in town to promote a new home sous vide machine. That's right, you read correctly: HOME sous vide machine. As in, you can sous vide at home. For people who don't know, sous vide is when you vacuum seal food into plastic bags and cook them at very low, controlled temperatures in water. A lot of professional kitchens now have these things, which look like big plastic tubs of water with thermometers in them. They're quite expensive though, so American Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades invented this home sous vide machine called Sous Vide Supreme. It's just starting to get off the ground now so they're trying to build momentum and demand in the chef/foodie community. They say it all started with the search for the perfect pork chop...which can evidently be achieved via sous vide.

Who better to enlist as a promoter than one of the world's foremost chefs and proponents of sous vide? I mean, the minute I saw Heston's name I agreed to go. And I'm so glad I did.

It was a pretty small room of people, mostly local chefs and food writers. It was so intimate that Heston spent the first fifteen minutes just walking around and talking to people in the room. He did not, as I expected, spend any time checking his Blackberry (if he even has one) or stick with his entourage (which was only his sous chef). He was totally down to earth.

Listening to Heston Blumenthal talk about food is like taking a university course. He doesn't dumb down what he says and man...does he know his stuff. He doesn't pretend like sous vide is God's answer to food. He admits there are certain things, like langoustines, that actually become worse when you try to sous vide it. He described how the protein strands "snap" and the texture becomes "pappy", which I took to mean that the meat becomes cottony and unpleasant.

The true highlight of the evening was when he described his recreation of a Victorian era dish, mock turtle soup. It's a dish that was created when the British stopped drinking turtle soup. Mock turtle is different parts of a calf (tail, head, etc) boiled together. I suppose it's the gelatin from these parts that create a mock turtle texture. Heston showed us a slideshow of this. It started with him talking about Alice in Wonderland and describing a drawing of one of the characters, a mock turtle, that had the head of a calf. The whole "mock turtle" recipe explained the drawing of course. But I had no idea where he was going with this whole "Alice in Wonderland" thing.

I never should have doubted him.

AS the slideshow played on, you saw a video of the stock they prepared. They boiled the ingredients and vac packed it, froze it, then let it defrost over a piece of muslin. The cloth kept the solids while releasing the liquid. They further concentrated the flavour without boiling (heat decreases the flavour) by freezing it again and using a machine to shred the ice. The water is separated from the rest...somehow. After further concentration they add gelatin sheets to create an even stickier concentration.

Here's the genius bit that ties it all together.

They pour the liquid into molds of little watches (ala the Mad Hatter tea party in Alice in Wonderland, get it?) and they COVER THE STOCK WATCHES WITH GOLD LEAF. They're suspended on little strings. They're served in big teacup bowls. You pour boiling water over the watches and it becomes the mock turtle soup with gold flecks in it. It's all poured over an intricate arrangement of vegetable garnishes.

I was amazed and delighted. And Heston just loves talking about food. He gets really excited explaining it all. He can barely keep up with the video, there's so much detail he wants to tell us about. If only he could explain every dish he made to his customers, he could probably charge double what he charges already.

Of course, we were there to see what these home sous vide machines could do. We ended up trying scrambled eggs (Heston topped it with some beurre blanc and shaved white truffles), brined salmon, steak, eggplant, chicken and poached pears. The best tasting parts for me were the salmon, steak and eggplant. However, the steak and eggplant were both seared off in hot pans after they were removed from the bags.

My one criticism would be that people are not going to love the texture sous vide creates in everything. The chicken in particular had a very soft, almost mushy texture. However well cooked, the texture took some getting used to.

I still have my doubts about whether or not this home sous vide thing will take off. Not because the machine doesn't work or anything. It seems to work the same as an industrial one...but more compact and less expensive. Still, it's going to retail at just under $500 US, so it's not an impulse buy. Plus, cooking for hours at a low temperature when you can't exactly combine foods (cooking chicken and celery in the same bag probably won't work unless you want them cooked for the same length of time) isn't going to be helpful to someone pressed for time. Sous vide is also a relatively new concept in the culinary world and even chefs are still figuring out what they can do with this. I guess time will tell if the home cook is ready and willing to sous vide.

But I am a bigger fan of Heston's after meeting him. I went up to him after the demonstration and he was unfailingly polite and surprisingly humble. I mean, the man doesn't expect applause when he walks into the room. He flinches when people mention his Michelin stars. But he loves food. He is NOT a natural public speaker. Half the time he pretty much forgot about the talking and went to plating, tasting...basically what he does best. I hope he doesn't lose sight of the food. We need him to help the culinary world get a grip and get back to cooking.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere -- Week Twenty

I have missed a couple of entries here, and I figured it's better to be accurate about what week I'm talking about rather than having them all sequential.

This week was my last week at Lumiere -- at least, my last week going consistently. I've had an incredible six month run. When I first started I was working just to become familiar with my surroundings. In the last few weeks, I finally nailed down the art of forming a quenelle of cream with one spoon.

I've been referring to my final day at Lumiere as my "final exam". It's very appropriate. The minute I walked into the kitchen the meat cook says, "you know today's the Steve Nash dinner right"?

The Steve Nash dinner he is referring to is the fundraiser for Steve Nash's foundation. A $1500 a plate dinner. I had gotten multiple emails about this through work via press releases, but for some reason it hadn't sunk in that if I showed up that day, I would in fact be working for the dinner.

It also hadn't sunk in that executive chef and restaurateur extraordinaire Daniel Boulud was also going to be there.

"I assumed that's why you were here".

Noooooo, no no no. I had been so glad I wasn't there on another weekend Daniel had come to town because I specifically wanted to avoid having anything I was doing scrutinized by this legendary chef.

So the dinner involved prepping for a yet unspecified number of guests ("thirty to sixty people" is what I heard). The dinner was happening at db Bistro -- they closed down the restaurant for the event. The only dishes coming out of the Lumiere side was the crab dish from the garde manger section. Keeping in mind that when I say "only" I mean we ended up prepping enough crab for about 100 dishes...on top of the regular prep for dinner service.

That's ten pounds of crab that needs to be picked over, then mixed with half a litre of chopped herbs among other things. I don't even know how many mangoes they went through, slicing them with a mandoline and cutting strips to wrap the crab with. Then preparing half a litre of mango bruinoise and piquillo peppers. Then forming and wrapping all the crab. Then wrapping over eighty crab rolls with rice paper wrappers.

It was go time.

In the midst of all this, as I'm squeezing a dozen grapefruits into juice, I hear a deep rich voice calling out behind me. I know it's Daniel. The Vancouver Sun was there to film Daniel and Dale making the scallop dish with corn succotash. I didn't dare turn around to watch, but listening to Daniel direct the action was amazing. He's a producer's dream. He knows what angles are the best, what to shoot, when to shoot it, what to say, how long to talk...considering he does this kind of thing all the time I'm not surprised. But I am in awe.

What's Daniel like in the kitchen? A pro. He doesn't have time to waste, he knows what he needs to get done and gets it done. I got to see that first hand during "the" dinner service. We had set out 87 plates on tables in the narrow hallway that joins the two kitchens. I had been tasked with plating the bruinoise of mango and piquillo peppers onto all the plates. The staff at db were tasked with building the crab stacks, slicing the rolls and plating all the rest.

We were right in the middle of Lumiere's dinner service and I we've run out of the coriander sticks we're using in the crab stacks. The rest of them are all in the db kitchen. I go out into the hallway and everyone is right in the middle of trying to get these 87 plates of crab out of the hallway and to the tables. Because it's so narrow nobody can fit around each other. The servers are on one end, the chefs are at another, the chefs are yelling for people to take certain plates away. Not all the plates have the same design on them so a lot of juggling is involved. Add to this the fact that the crab stacks are plated on top of mango puree which is making the stacks slide around and you can imagine the pressure.

Of course, I know better than to actually try to get anything from the other kitchen during all this. I head back and wait for the rush to subside.

The dinner was supposed to run from 7 to 8 pm. That was going to work out perfectly because the Lumiere dinner reservations had a gap between 7 to 8. There would be free hands available. At least, that was the theory. The dinner got pushed back to 8:15...when a bunch of reservations would have just arrived. It's amazing what you can do when you have no other choice.

And that's what really divides people who work in kitchens and others who don't. There's a breed of people that thrive on adrenaline and stress. The thrill of getting it all done and knowing you can do it.

I got called over to the db kitchen for the main course plating. Picture two lines of cooks on either side of a massive stainless steel prep table. db's chef, Stephane, yells out instructions. I end up near the end of the line, plating the beef and adding a romaine garnish to the plate just before Stephane sauced them. We probably plated everything in five minutes or less. I loved being part of that.

In the middle of everything Dale comes over and asks me if I want to take a picture with Daniel Boulud. Note: you do NOT say no to a picture with Daniel. I'm pretty sure that's a law somewhere. I was thrust into a corridor with him. He has no idea who am I or why I'm there but takes the picture anyway, which you can see to the left. Yes, I'm planning to print that out and hang it somewhere in my house. I don't even have pictures of my family hanging in my house yet, but you can be damn sure there'll be one of Daniel.

So the dinner went off successfully, as did the dinner service we did. Lots of momentary panic but it all got done as it always does.

I've had a bizarrely circular relationship with Lumiere over the past year. When I ate there the first time it reopened last November I met Daniel, as a patron. I gushed about it profusely in this blog posting. Now I've met him as a pseudo-employee. I won a chance to eat and work in the restaurant and ended up staying for six months. I don't know how it all worked out so seamlessly, but I know this has all been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

People ask me what I've learned. Everyone thinks I'm hosting these incredible dinner parties now but the truth is that the most thrilling experience I've had is getting to be around people who genuinely love food. It's an egalitarian love. You can love ham and cheese sandwiches just as much as duck confit. I could talk about wanting baked Alaska and have a roomful of people talk about their awesome baked Alaska experiences with no hint of snootiness, just a pure love for food. I got to be a part of the monumental task of putting a fine dining meal together. I found out what lengths people will go to work with food just because they love it. Oh yeah, and I finally nailed one-spoon quenelle making!

My time at Lumiere has been absolutely incredible. I am so lucky that chef Dale Mackay and everyone in the kitchen not only allowed me to be there but took their time to work with a total novice. I used their tools, I made mistakes but I hauled ass as best I could. Thanks so much to those who've stayed and those who've moved on: Dale Mackay, Nathan Guggenheimer, Doug King, Alex Amos, Brad Hendrickson, Jesse Zuber, Rhys Jones, Suyin Wong, Celeste Mah, Tony Chang, Trevor Bird and all the people at db Bistro as well for making me part of the team. I'm going to miss working with you but I know I'll be seeing you all around.