Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere: Week Fifteen

Last Friday was my first time back in two weeks. I really did miss being at Lumiere last week.

Although I haven't worked in any other restaurants, I know the kitchen at Lumiere totally kicks ass. All the counters, cabinet doors and drawers are stainless steel. Refrigerated areas are built into the back part of each counter for butter and other refrigeratables during prep and service. All the drawers are refrigerated. It's large enough to accomodate the six to eight people who work in there a day. It's beautifully streamlined. It's even air conditioned (at least, the area that's close to the front of house is). I'm guessing this is necessary for the pastry station with all their meltable chocolate creations.

It's gorgeous. And because I generally don't spend much time near the stove areas, I never really get that hot.

I got a nice dose of heat last Friday though. The temperature outside was over 30 degrees Celsius, which is about as hot as it ever gets in Vancouver. No amount of air conditioning was going to keep things cool in there. The poor cook working the meat section had to change his jacket halfway through the day after sweating so profusely it had pretty much turned into a transluscent sheet.

I should mention that I'm far from the only stage working at Lumiere. Although I seem to be the only one that comes in consistently, there are a number of people that come in during the week for a day at a time. This week there was Jennifer, a student from the Pacific Culinary Institute on Granville Island. She was there at the same time I was. She came fully prepared (as one is supposed to) complete with all her tools. I continue to show up wearing my camo canvas sneakers and NO tools.

I'm continually amazed by the people drawn to food. I've been getting to do a lot of food stories as a result of my work for The Early Edition. One of my favourite pieces of all time was one I did last Thursday. It's about a Vancouver chef named Don Guthro who's started a culinary school of sorts at a North Vancouver homeless shelter. His students are mostly residents at the shelter -- either homeless, formerly drug addicted or disadvantaged in some other way. These students work all day long learning to make food, which they in turn serve to the residents at the shelter. They do a lunch AND dinner service every weekday. After sixteen weeks, they go on to an apprenticeship and then hopefully onto paid work and a career in the culinary world.

When I got there, they were just finishing up lunch service. They had made Monte Cristo sandwiches. After a quick break it was onto mayonnaise. They were whisking it by hand. If you've never done this before, it takes FOREVER. I'm talking over an hour for a decent bowlful. It was a wonderful sight, seeing these people from various backgrounds in their whites, patiently measuring out Dijon mustard, separating egg whites from yolks and whisking away steadily. Everyone was concentrating hard. You could tell they really wanted to be there. It was incredibly heartwarming.

Contrast the above mentioned hour long whisking with my failure to properly whisk a chick pea mixture over the stove on Friday. It's supposed to be whisked over the stove until it's thickened up enough to form a cylinder that stands on its own. I don't exactly have strong arms. After a couple minutes trying to force my forearms to keep going in the tremendous heat I was melting. I will NOT be making mayonnaise by hand anytime soon.

I kind of redeemed myself by whipping some cream later on. I didn't have to stand over the stove for that. Plus the pastry chef showed me an uber easy way to do it. Just move a balloon whisk rapidly back and forth through the cream in a metal bowl rather than in a circular motion. Apparently my method of whisking in the traditional motion would've taken "a month" to finish.

While I was whisking I thought about those students at the shelter making mayonnaise. I thought about how much food can bring people together, not just eating, but creating. It's what keeps you going even when you're ready to burst into flames.

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