Monday, May 25, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere -- Week Eight

Things are picking up speed at Lumiere. Lots of diners this week. I guess closing on Mondays and Tuesdays has brought out the diners. Whew. And just when I thought I had brought some bad CBC layoff karma into the kitchen.

This week's lesson: consomme.

I remember in my last year of high school talking to a guy going into culinary school. We somehow got on the topic of consomme and he was like, "do you know what that is?" And I was all like, "yeah...duh...soup cleared with egg whites". He seemed impressed but if he had actually asked me how HOW the egg whites were used I probably wouldn't have given him a great answer.

I know now because the ever helpful meat cook showed me how he clears his pheasant consomme. You mix egg whites with a combination of mire poix (carrots, celery, onion) and pheasant meat. At this point the mixture is apparently called a "clean meat". The proper way to clear your stock is to let it cool down, mix in the clean meat and bring it back up to the boil. However, there is a very effective cheat method where you keep the stock boiling, stir it up ("like egg drop soup") and pour in the clean meat. The egg white boils, and the meat and veg flavours the stock further because the cleaning process takes some of the flavour out. What floats on top (the egg white, meat, scum, etc) is called a "raft". I'm specifically to note that a clean meat and a raft are NOT the same thing. They use this stock in their pheasant, foie gras and prune terrine by dissolving some gelatin in it and putting it between the layers. This is why the cheat method is allowed. Believe me, this terrine is amazing.

**Correction: the meat cook tells me that it's a "clear meat" NOT a "clean meat" as I have written above. Thanks Brad!

Over the weeks, however, I have developed an adversarial relationship. With a vegetable nemesis known as the turnip.

Here's how turnips come into this. Part of the aforementioned terrine dish is a carpaccio of turnip. You peel them, thinly slice them using a mandolin, stack them and cut them into small circles with a ring mold. These get vacuum packed, frozen and then defrosted and put into a pickling liquid.

Here's the thing. Turnips are out of season now, so a lot of them are mealy on the inside and therefore unsuitable. But you don't know how much of it is usable until you have peeled and sliced them and are staring at a useless pile of holey, frustration inducing turnip slices. I can go through a whole pan of these things and come out with just a couple handfuls of useable pieces. I have never felt enraged towards any vegetable, but these turnips can push me right to the edge.

Think about that the next time you eat out and notice a garnish on your plate. Believe me, somebody worked on that thing. Possibly a lot. Please enjoy it.

Being in the kitchen means you're on the receiving end of a diner's comments. I have sent back a dish only once because it tasted rancid. I think that's a pretty legitimate reason. When you're working in a kitchen where quality control is so important, you don't get those kinds of returns.

What you WILL get, however, are people who a) want to seem like they know a lot about food by sending food back unnecessarily or b) are just super uber picky and don't like your food no matter what it tastes like. This was evinced when a diner sent back a half a lamb dish. They had eaten one piece of lamb, took a bite out of the other and sent it back saying it was too tough. In reality, it was perfectly cooked. The kitchen recooked and plated half a lamb dish for the diner (who did finish it to the best of my knowledge). But really...behaviour like this doesn't make you seem cultured. It makes you seem like an ass.

Here's the thing. If there is something legitimately wrong with a dish (too cold, unseasoned, overseasoned, incomplete, etc) believe you me, the kitchen WILL take it very, very seriously. They will hop to it and get you your food ASAP. There's no need to resort to unncessary nitpicking.

Most of all: eat those garnishes. I assure you someone took the time to make sure none of your carpaccio is whole and unsullied.

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