Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere: Week Fourteen

I'm really late posting this one. I actually ended up missing last week's stint because of money transfer issues re: my new mortgage. Here's some of what happened the week before (which would be July 17).

When I first started at Lumiere they had a whole slew of menus going. There was a five course menu, a seven course menu, a nine course menu, a BC menu (three courses for $55) and a la carte. It's no wonder I never fully figured it all out. Now they're back to tasting menus (three of them). The way it was explained to me, this was supposed to make things easier on all the stations because there were fewer dishes to prepare.

However, the fish station was eliminated, shifting the prep from that station onto two others instead. When I first started I used to go from station to station waiting for someone to give me something to do. This week I ended up with people waiting for me to be done one thing so I could do another.

I ended up making a giant batch of sable dough. We put the tiny sable crackers under the morel and pea quiche for the amuse bouche. They've got a lovely crumbly sandy texture. When the garde manger pulled out his notebook for the recipe, he warned me "it's going to take you half an hour to measure this out". I thought, there's no way. There's like, six ingredients on that list. Of course he was right.

At home you end up measuring everything using volume. Teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, litres, etc. In the kitchen everything is measured by weight. Because of that, I now know that an egg yolk weighs about 20 to 25 grams. Flour, butter, salt, yolks and something called inverted sugar. Wikipedia tells me that it's a "is a sucrose-based syrup, produced by splitting each sucrose disaccharide molecule into its component monomers, glucose and fructose. The splitting is achieved through the action of invertase (a glycoside hydrolase enzyme), or an acid. Comparing solutions with the same dissolved weight of sugar, inverted syrups are sweeter than sucrose solutions; at equal molar concentrations, inverted sugar syrup has only 85% the sweetness of sucrose solution but complete inversion of a solution of a disaccharide (such as sucrose) doubles the concentration of sugar molecules - this makes the resulting, inverted, syrup sweeter than the original sucrose solution." All you really need to know is it's a very very dense sugar syrup.

There's also ground up Szechuan peppercorns in them too. When I first got to the spice shelf I had no clue what to look for. There are at least five different kinds of peppercorns, none of which are labelled. When I asked I was told they were the ones "that smell soapy". Sure enough, they have a spicy soapy smell that is very distinctive from the other ones.

Anyway, I finally had all my ingredients together. Everything had to be blended in this industrial sized mixer.

To make the actual crackers, you take some of the dough, roll it out until it's a few millimetres thin and then cut them using a dough cutter set to about an inch and a half. You bake the squares on a Silpat until they're just golden. Too long and they get a funky darker brown, which is still fine but not that perfect golden colour.

The more I learn about what goes into each item, the more I weep (inwardly) when I see someone send it back.

While I wasn't actually in the kitchen last week, I have spent the past two weeks filling in for the reporter on the morning show. She gets to do the food column every Wednesday and this week I got to do it. I finally got to tackle some food stories! I got to make THE quintessential Brazilian dish of feijoada (pork with beans) with the "Queen of Samba" Lucia Azevedo. I can't believe there aren't any authentic Brazilian restaurants in Vancouver. The one that existed apparently shut down some time ago, which is sad because I'd actually eaten there and enjoyed it a lot. Anyway, Lucia and I (mostly Lucia) made enough food for a small army. From Lucia I also learned that chefs are the same everywhere, whether in a restaurant or at home. They all want things done their own way, so the best thing to do is just stay the hell out of the way. Her way works though. Her feijoada is delicious, as is all the side dishes she made as well.

This week I took a tour of the UBC Farms with chef Andrea Carlson from Bishop's Restaurant. Bishop's is all about utilizing fresh food from local producers and sustainable growing. It was great meeting chef Carlson and talking to her about the industry, women in the industry and the kind of people who get into it. Apparently they've had a stagiere in their kitchen for some time. He's a lawyer who isn't changing careers. He just wants to keep a hand in. I'm happy to learn I'm not the only one in this limbo. And it was great to make just a salad, but not just a salad. Pea tips, baby kale, mizuna, etc. with turnips and raspberries and a fresh raspberry vinaigrette. Exploring different kinds of greens is something we rarely do nowadays because what you find in the supermarket is about as diverse as the gene pool in the Ozarks.

Andrea also told me about her most vivid food memory, involving a shipment of turnips from a local producer. Her description of the crisp, sweet taste was the one thing I had really wanted to hear out of everything else. I find that people who love food have the best food memories and it usually involves something simple, like turnips. I love hearing those stories because everyone's face changes when they tell them. It's like they're remembering their first loves. It's a reminder that the simplest things can bring you the most joy.

No comments: