Previously on …

July 17, 2008

It amazes me how little the black/white issue is an issue in the kitchen. Oh, it always signifies, but in diminished ways. Perhaps it is the great diversity … the two French girls, the Belgian, the Africans (including my friend Kumba, from Sierra Leone), the Vietnamese hive in housekeeping, the Islanders, my Portugese Exec Chef, the Italians we just hired.

Then there is the other diversity … the retarded guys in Dish and Maintenance who like really friendly designations: Bobby, Tommy, Jerry. Tommy always talks about the weather. “Hi, Pat. Hot one today.” Yeah, Tommy, I say, thinking about 93 degrees and the Patio Grille adding another hundred degrees or two. Hot. “Hot one today, Pat.”

Where black spills over is in designations: Miss Pat, Miss Kumba, Miss Blanche, Miss Cheiko … my Japanese friend. Miss Cheiko thought she was old until I told her I was 60. “You not,” she said. All women over the age of mademoiselle are Mama, all men are Papa. Miss Pat will say to me when I am pulling chicken, “Save de wings, Papa,” and I do.

How could I not?

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No fear
July 13, 2008

Tomorrow I start my fourth week on Patio Grille, fine dining outdoors and in. By now i know it takes abundant prep, excellent mise and a low level of anxiety. In both golf and zen there is the same advice: Try less hard. When i have been in the weeds, I do what Chef Joe says. I push food. I look at the tickets and see what is doable immediately. Plus I grill future salmon, since they take the longest. Duck and steak and chicken are pretty much doable within 10 minutes. Salmon the way we do it takes 17 or 20, removing all the pink. It’s not the way I cook at home, I like medium or medium rare salmon. At the grill, I like anyone who orders rare salmon or tuna. It’s so tasty. And pretty.

So I suppose the fear leaves with repetition. Being faced with 10 tickets including six carpese, 2 caesar with shrimp, multiple pulled BBQ chicken and some tuna tacos is not Hell, or even Hell’s Waiting Room. It is, to be frank, shit i can do. Even at 80 degrees and sunny, or what we know as another MFn beautiful day.

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Got my
July 2, 2008

ass kicked today. Big time. Ran out of tuna, shrimp and burger sets, and had a whole tub of tuna 16/20s that went bad, and Chef Joe threw the pan across the tent into the trash. Better next time. What a service. Awesome ticket count. I wasn’t ready.

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With Joe
July 1, 2008

Pushed out beaucoup de food with Chef Joe yelling “Fire this!” and “Start that!” and “I’m just going to keep yelling.” And he did until we made it through the crunch. Okay by me, because it is constructive directional yelling, which is so much better in a crunch than muttering. From time to time, people have described me as having an authority problem. I don’t think so. I think i have an incompetence problem, as in I don’t like people in charge who don’t know WTF they are doing.

People in charge who do are a pleasure to work for. When Joe brings me up short, it is because I’ve been going for safety, not efficiency. He stopped everything at one point and said to me, “When you have a long ticket with a lot of orders, always go first to the ones that take a long time. Always.” This came up because we caught an order with two salmon, three steaks and three elaborate salads, and I started on the salads because … I was comfortable with them. It felt safe.

Seneca said this about that: “The one hope of the doomed is not to hope for safety.”

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Oh well.
June 30, 2008

Turns out there are some things I forgot to ask Bilal before he went on vacation. Now he’s gone and I’m doing prep almost from scratch, it being Monday and weekends tending to deplete all things prepared.

Somewhere in my head as I carmelize onions, grill pineapple slices and make salsa all at the same time are thoughts about anxiety. I don’t feel anxious about the service coming up or getting slammed or being in the weeds or the three or four entrees I’ve never cooked before. Being in the situation will be bad enough, and there is no reason to waste energy on imagining just how bad. For that I thank Brad Warner and Shunryu Suzuki for the philosophy of action called zen, and their practical guides.

(Watched Caddy Shack last night. Yeah it’s stupid SNL Geezer material, but it has so many bad zen jokes that I love.)

I roasted a case of chickens and identified pesto drizzle, tomato cream sauce, charred pepper sauce and pesto shrimp on the speed rack I use. At work, I am an absolute freak for labeling. I use masking tape to note what the hell it is and when it was made, cooked or opened. Bilal does not, so I have very little idea what is in the many squeeze bottles flanking our four main dressing pitchers.

I quarter strawberries, halve grape tomatoes, shave romaine and put way too much garlic in my salsa. Shit. I can’t think of a cure, and the clock is ticking. Tomorrow I’ll make salsa with no garlic and mix them. WTF.

I count duck breasts, flat iron steaks and chicken breasts. I cut some smoked pork loin for the pork stacks I’ll be making, and go to check the chicken. Chef Joe says he’ll watch it for me.

Chef Joe is a big John Candy kind of guy, smart and funny. He told me he’ll be there to help me the way I help Bilal. I don’t believe it. He means it in a Caddy Shack way … as in not, unless I melt down. He will let me attack prep and organize it and go out on the line by myself for as long as I can go. He wants me to succeed. He wants me to do it, bear it, figure it out, come through it. He asks me how I am organizing the service. I show him my flash cards, how to make everything. “You are my god for organizing,” he says. I know he means it. It’s something I do well, and on the line it’s a really important something to be organized. Clutter kills.

Several people tell me they are impressed that I’m cooking for the Patio Grille. Mike Hill, my friend the line cook, asks me if I have any help. “Joe,” I say. He laughs. Stephanie, the Irish dancer and culinary geek, says “Wow” as I take my cart out to the grill.

Behind me, the refrigeration in the Meat and Seafood walk-in just went down, and all the product is going over to the Production walk-in, just as I am leaving with my six-foot speed rack of food. Good omen.

Ahead of me, the Secret Service has shut down the gas to my grill because John McCain is coming in right beside the cook tent sometime today. Bad omen.

Oh well.

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Prep
June 24, 2008

For the past week, I’ve been out in Patio Grille. Working for Bilal during service is smooth and easy. Without discussing it, we’ve split the menu but can still move back and forth to turn out different items. The weather is perfect so lots of people are eating outdoors, and we are dealing with parties of 12s, 15s and 20s … trying to guess what they’ll order, doing a little eavesdropping through the Net of Invisibility that separates the grill from the guests.

What helps a lot is the tendency of people to hear someone order and say, “That sounds good, i’ll have that too.”

I took over the counter near the net and put down five bowls for the five main salads: Charred Romaine, Chicken Caprese, Curried Shrimp, Salmon and Salsa, and Pulled Chicken. Next to that is a hotel pan filled with ice that has the Balsamic Vinaigrette, Chile Lime, Chive Buttermilk and Caesar dressings.

When the ticket for the 20-top came in, it had 8 Curried Shrimp Salads: forty percent of the entree order. I had greens in lime dressing within five seconds, and four plates spread on the counter. Picture your hand held as you might grip a softball, but don’t curl your fingers. That’s a good portion size. After the greens are tossed in the dressing, put your hand in that way, pull it out and put that much on the plate, mounded up. We use 12-inch square white plates, and the greens fill it nicely. I take two plates in one hand and go to the far end of the mise for roasted tomatoes, one in each corner, then carmelized onions on top. Back to the other side of the mise for black beans and roasted sweet corn salsa, then the curried shrimps go on top. They’re little guys, maybe U-30s? (Under 30 to a pound.)

Mis en place is an Escoffier restaurant phrase for everything in its place. It is how good restaurant food lives or does not. Having everything in its place and knowing where that place is, that’s the difference between dishes turned out in good time and customers full of “WTF!! Where’s my dinner?!?!?!”

On Patio Grille, we have two cold banks of ingredients, with refrigerated space underneath for marinated chicken, duck, pork and steaks, along with a six-inch hotel pan of mixed greens, a half pan of spinach and beaucoup de romaine. And burger sets, for the insanely ordinary guests. Although our burgers are ground steak. And like $15.

There’s also a steam table of soups, and heat lamps for the veggie chips that I make, and the pita toast to go with hummus for our freebie app.

The left bank is rows of stuff three deep: Mango ketchup, tomato salsa, guacamole, sour cream, black beans, small-dice heirloom tomatoes, wilted spinach, endive marmalade, shredded parm, mozzarella balls, toasted almonds, roasted sweet corn salsa, grilled pineapple rings, quartered cuke slices, shaved romaine, roasted sweet potato salad and roasted veg. The right bank is more stuff.

Knowing where it all is … priceless.

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