Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere -- Week Nine

When I tell people about working at Lumiere it feels like it's been a long time since I started. But if you put all the days I worked together, it's only been nine days. So really it hasn't been that long at all.

I definetely realized that last Friday. Now that business has picked right back up, stress during prep time is back up. And I got to learn a whole new bunch of things I didn't know.

Usually there are two people working the garde manger station. There's a lot of stuff to do. Here's an example: to make the pea and morel quiche that's part of the amuse bouche, you have to peel about a litre of peas. Like, individual peas, the kind you buy frozen in the store. Yeah. Ever done that before? The cook working garde manger does this at least once a week. It takes hours. In fact, he confessed to me that in the early days he would take these peas home and do it on his days off. It would take six hours, or "three movies" as he puts it.

Anyway, last Friday turned out to be my busiest day ever because when business was slow, they pulled a cook off of garde manger. Now that things have picked back up...staffing levels have remained the same. Not surprised. I mean, the exact same stuff happens in every industry.

There was no lack of things to do: making beet juice, peeling mangoes, prepping shimiji mushrooms...and then I got the most valuable lesson of all.

Vac packing stock is the worst, worst, worst thing ever.

Flash back to those terrible infomercials with the Food Saver. Remember, you put food in these thick plastic bags and it sucks out all the air, thereby allowing you to store food for like, forever? Just like that but industrial sized. Half our stuff gets vac packed -- cuts of meat, stock, my beloved turnip carpaccio, etc. I was vac packing a bunch of stuff for the meat cook. All I had to do was stick the bags in the machine, push down the lid and the machine did the rest. Easy.

Nobody warned me about the stock bags though. How they frequently dribble out. In huge globs. All over the inside of this expensive, industrial machine. That you then have to take apart and clean.

Which of course is exactly what happened. Twice.


So, in the middle of an already incredibly day, I had to take parts of this thing out and clean out the oily, thick lamb stock that now coated the bottom of the vac pack machine. A couple people walked by and remarked casually, "oh, did it explode?"

Thanks guys.

Last week I wrote about someone who -- for no discernable reason -- sent back half a lamb dish. Really uncalled for. This week -- a little lesson in making reservations.

It's ok to make a later reservation. I mean, ideally everyone would eat earlier so the kitchen could start clearing up and the hard working cooks could leave earlier, but hey, the restaurant is open later for a reason. Fair enough. But when you make a later reservation -- or any reservation -- for the love of god, BE ON TIME. Someone booked a late table and then proceeded to show up half an hour late and ordered a six course tasting menu. Please, please, please don't do this. It's unfair to the kitchen to have to stay extra late (and probably for just your one table) and unfair to YOU because well, who wants to be the only table at a restaurant? I like the atmosphere. It's a social contract: you make the reservation, you're on time. Don't be a douchebag.

On to more pertinent things.

It was the first day I got to serve someone on my own. One of the suppliers had forgotten a case of maitake mushrooms and had to make a delivery during service. It wasn't very busy at that time, so the chef asked the chef de partie to make up the spot prawn dish for him to try. While he was doing that the sous chef asked me if I'd like to make him up an amuse bouche.

I put it together and while I was walking over I heard the chef de partie describing in great detail the dish he was putting together. I realized I couldn't just drop off my plate without a word. I started off with "I'm not very good at explaining this kind of thing..." and explained every single thing in perfect detail. WOO! So I'm absorbing things after all. I guess you'd have to be brain dead working with this stuff week after week without putting it all together in the end. I felt a ridiculous swell of triumph and victory. Some part of my brain is accepting these new inputs. A mind shift.

Near the end of the night, the garde manger asked me, "so are you learning anything?" Yes, I replied, yes I am.

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