Friday, June 19, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere -- Week Eleven

Whenever you take someone out of a kitchen equation, there's a noticeable difference. After what sounded like a great staff outing at the beach (which of course included some great food) it turns out the sous chef broke his arm during a touch football game. His absence was particularly missed during Thursday when apparently the number of diners hit a peak. I think he was supposed to be out for two weeks. Yikes.

Which meant, as usual, prep time was that much more precious and scarce. I know the drill by now: pick chervil tips, shaving turnip carpaccio, prepping shimiji mushrooms...

Lately I've also been making beet juice. I've mentioned this before, but not what the process is. The beet juice is used to give the hamachi a beautiful colour and flavour after it's been cured in salt. When you cut into the hamachi, there's a beautiful ring of beet juice on the outside with the pale flesh inside. It's gorgeous.

For the juice, you just peel, trim and cut up the beets and then use a juicer to get out all the blood red goodness, then strain to get the foam and solids out. The fun part is seeing the awesome red colour. The annoying part is the fact that this juice will stain ANYTHING. I wear gloves for every step of that process, including cleaning up the machine afterwards. I pray every week that I don't accidentally spill it all over myself. This hasn't happened yet. Knock on wood.

I got to tackle foie gras for the first time. If you've never seen a lobe of foie (and why would you have unless you worked at a restaurant) it's the size of a smaller papaya fruit, which is to say pretty damn large for a duck's liver. I had to devein it, the first step in making it palatable. Having never handled foie before, it was surprising to see how soft it is. It's just pure fat, basically, and it handles much the same way. You have to spread it out with your fingers, layer by layer, as you remove the stiff large main veins. Honestly, it was kind of disgusting. Fascinating -- but didn't really make me want to eat it. I think foie gras is one of those things that is less pleasant the more you know about it. But it is damned delicious. Why else would we eat it when there's not a single nutritional redeeming factor?

I will reiterate that I love learning new stuff. I mean, that's why I'm there and I think they know that. Sometimes I think they give me new tasks just to give me something to write about. Either way, keep it coming!

After weeks of hearing about it, Fernando finally came in to visit the kitchen. I could see the pride that Dale felt hosting someone, showing him his brigade, his food. Fernando was impressed by the professionalism of everyone there, and I'm glad that what I do with my Fridays is no longer an intangible mystery to him. Yet another example of how food brings people together.

I have to address something that keeps coming up. My radio coworkers keep asking me if I'm switching careers. Here's the thing. I have been working as a journalist for the past ten years. Working at the CBC was always my goal. I still love my job, even when I'm ready to throw myself out a window. As much as I love being in the kitchen, there are many, many reasons why making a switch would be almost impossible. The main reason being that I'm just that into my current career track.

But I will say that I frequently think about working at Lumiere when I'm not there. I can totally see the pull of working with food. Despite the long hours, usually terrible pay, verbal abuse and stress, clearly there's a love that many people feel that transcends all that. It sounds idealistic but it's true: why would so many people still do it if they didn't have to? It's because they want to be. That's something you only really figure out by being there, working, talking to the people who've chosen this as a career. This is precisely the kind of insight I was hoping to get by working in a kitchen and an eyeopening one to, on some level, understand.

I'm lucky to be able to do this in addition to my first love. In a perfect world, there would be some way for me to do both without having to work all the time, and for a long period of time. Obviously I can't be a stagiere forever (although I'm sure my chef wouldn't mind!) I'm just taking what I can get for as long as I can get it. Nothing lasts forever.


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