Thursday, May 7, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere -- Weeks Three and Four

I've combined two entries into one...from April 17th and 24th

This week I felt a nervous excited energy in the kitchen. Daniel Boulud was coming in a couple days. I mean, you'd be nervous if he was coming to visit in any case but if he's actually your boss...well...that's a whole other story. Apparently he's coming from Sunday to Thursday. I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing would make me more anxious than having to do anything around him in a kitchen setting. As amazing as it would be to watch him in action, I'm just not ready for that kind of scrutiny.

Because they all spend so much time together, the cooks know just about everything about each excrutiatingly minute and descriptive detail. I, however, remain monolithic enigma. So they've taken to asking me questions like, "what do you like to eat?" "where do you go to eat?" "what do you make at home?" etc. etc.

I keep giving these cryptic answers, stuff like, "oh, nothing really..." only because I don't know how to tell a room full of talented chefs that my favourite meal is a giant bowl of mashed potatoes, sitting on the couch, preferably with no pants on (the waistline gets in the way). My brain freezes up as I try to think of something more intelligent to say than "fried rice". It's these rare times I find myself at a loss for words. And it pains me because I feel like I come off as an incoherent moron. Which I'm not. I'm just a glutton who'll eat anything. I cook simple food because I usually eat alone anyway.

It doesn't help that their conversations about home cooking centre around their sour dough starters and litres and litres of stock that they apparently keep stashed away. Of course, this is all par for the course for them and they work on average about 14 to 16 hours a day.

I don't know a single non-chef who does these things. It could also be a Chinese thing where we don't tend to use stock in a ton of dishes. Whatever. The point is: no homemade stock or sour dough starter at my house. Which makes the whole mashed-potatoes-with-no-pants-on thing even more shameful on my part.

I'm also starting to get asked a lot of questions that I don't have answers for...but they are answers I'd like to have. "What's the best thing you learned today?" I spend so much of my time just trying to focus and learn the next task that I don't fully process anything until I go home and write it down. But if I had thought of it, here's what I would've said:

-how to avoid cutting yourself while peeling shrimp
-which way a piece of leek should be facing when you're trying to scrape off the membrane
-that you can control how you split a snap pea in half, but you can't control how many peas there are inside (damn you, nature)
-men gossip just as much as women do and they're just as bitchy about it too
-hazelnuts can burn really fast in butter

I'm also discovering some of my own talents. Apparently I'm pretty handy when it comes to forming ravioli. I guess a lifetime spent helping my mom make dumplings and folding origami shapes was useful after all.

Every cook has this rolled up arsenal of knives at their disposal. I do not. I used to be really concerned that I don't have any knives to bring in with me. I still kind of am. But I never realized how important it was going to be to have a spoon with me at all times. They look just like your regular spoons at home but ideally it's fairly flat, wide enough and a bit shallow. You use it to taste, plate, mix, etc. After a few weeks of never having one, the sous chef finally assigned me one of his spoons. There's actually an "x" on it. I now bring it in every week. It stays in my pocket. I just love the idea that the utensil I use the most when eating is also one of the best tools I can have for cooking as well.

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