Thursday, June 25, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere: Week Twelve

Quick thought before I start: Just reread my last post and I feel I should clarify my comment about low pay and verbal abuse in kitchens. I'm talking about the industry in general, not specifically about Lumiere. Although it's a safe assumption that all kitchens function on these general principles to some degree or another. Of course, it never stops new people from entering the industry because of all the other benefits, like the opportunity to work with food and some great colleagues.

Moving on. I had a breakthrough this week. For the first time, I felt like I hit my stride. During prep, in service, everything. I was moving with confidence. For the first time I felt like I belonged there. In fact, the entire service was one of those ideal services you always pray for but almost never get. Tables were staggered in such a way that we were just consistently busy but never crushed by demand. The last table sat down at 8:30, which meant an early exit.

They changed the terrine dish. There's a picture of what it used to be to the left courtesy of the garde manger Douglas King (in fact all the photo credits go to him -- he knows I stole them). The one pictured is a pheasant and foie gras terrine with prunes, with foie gras mi-cuit and prune gelee to the right. I just found out last week that Doug likes to take pictures of all the dishes. If I had known that sooner I would've started stealing from him earlier. This is the dish where my turnip carpaccio would be used (see them under the terrine)? Because we're no longer doing this dish, the turnip carpaccio has been nixed. Cue the sound of angels. However, the replacement terrine dish comes with its own bag of challenges.

The new terrine (I took the picture last week but he hasn't posted it on Facebook yet for me to steal) is something I actually don't know a lot about. From what I remember it's a foie gras terrine with tiny portions of plums, marinated in spices and wrapped with duck proscuitto. I figured out how to wrap them "naturally" as instructed, although I silently questioned where in nature plums would be ensconced in any kind of meat. You set these little bundles on a trap, standing up, so that when the order comes in you can insert a tiny sorrel leaf into the back. They look incredibly cute like that, little soldiers standing at attention. Unfortunately this is very time consuming and not something you can do ahead of time because the leaf will wilt. This becomes one of my main tasks, while the garde manger is sprinkling hazelnuts on half the foie terrine.

I actually had a bright idea when I was watching him do this. He was struggling to keep the nuts on just one half. I noticed that the pastry folks always use rulers to sprinkle their sprinkleables onto dessert plates and suggested the garde manger do the same. It worked beautifully.

People ask me what the difference is between regular dining and fine dining. You just read it. It might sound overly fussy, but there is a time and a place for food like this. It's not supposed to be food you eat every day. It's supposed to be a special experience, something you think about and dissect or just really, really enjoy.

On a completely different note, I am getting the benefits from working in the food industry. It's a small world and you run into people you know everywhere. I learned that last night while eating at Maenam, the latest incarnation of the late Gastropod on West 4th. It turns out one of the hostesses at Lumiere is a server at Maenam as well and we just happened to be at her table. Not only was she extra attentive, but also passed along a couple tasting glasses of wine for our main (David Thompson's three flavour fish, amazing). We also got a little taken off the bill. It was totally unexpected but so nice.


It's Friday morning right now. Every Friday I get up and feel exhausted, wondering how I'm going to get through today. But then I get into the kitchen and the energy picks me up. It's not just the food -- it's the energy of the team. At one point during service, Doug turns to me and asks "Can you feel the energy in the kitchen"? Oh yeah, I totally can. It's electric. Everyone's got their rhythm down, moving to the same beat and coming together for the service crescendo. It's a thing of beauty. It's addictive. And I'm going back in less than two hours for more.

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