Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Another One Bites The Dust

*All names used in this story are made up.

“You will call me Dr. Older, you will call my wife Mrs. Older, and you will call our son, Dan, Dan,” says my new master.

So the Private Chef thing was a total bust. Made it in and out of that gig pretty quick! There were most certainly perks. I got to get out of the city and hang out in an actual house, I traveled on the Metro North train (a vast improvement from the Subway), and my hours were pretty incredible. Now this seems to craft a good argument as to why this was an OK job, however, if you add in the demands for dog walking, babysitting, and general slave driving, the perks don’t seem so bright anymore. This job was definitely not a descriptor of Private Chef. This was the role of hired help. Let me paint a little picture for ya. These people were freakin’ crazy.

• I was scolded for not personally delivering the 2-3 snacks per evening that I had made their 13-year-old son.
• I was called into his office for a chat about how I had completely overstepped my boundaries by asking his brother-in-law for directions home one night. He called me “horrendous” for doing that.
• I was paid hourly. I staid an extra hour one night to DOG SIT while they went to temple. I charged them for the extra hour. He accused me the following week for “nickel and diming” them.
• They had me enter through the back door. Sheesh.

In the end, I made the decision not to return the night of the unbuttered bread. It was an interesting evening in that Dr. Older was coming home late after picking his oldest son up from college. They had requested linguini with clams, steak au poivre, wilted greens, glazed carrots, and a big salad for this special homecoming. I was totally up to the task and had made all of these things before. In the middle of all this cooking, I also made Dan two snacks. As I was beginning to plate everything, Dan came into the kitchen and pulled of a piece of baguette. He walked over to me, held the bread in my face and asked, “Can you butter this for me?” My natural self was saying inside, “Boy, you GOT to be kidding me. Butter it your damn self!” However, I was in a circus funhouse of overly entitled moderately wealthy weirdos, so I held my tongue and simply said, “I can’t right now Dan. I’m just in the middle of something. It would be a huge help if you could butter it for me. Thanks so much!” Weeeelllll, lets just say this didn’t go over well. Twenty minutes later I got a call from Dr. Older asking me to explain to him the “Bread Incident.” I told him that for fear of overcooking the clams or flambĂ©ing the entire kitchen, that yes, I asked Dan to please butter his own bread. He began to raise his voice and said, “YOU DON’T HAVE THE OPTION TO SAY NO.” I tried a little more to plead a fair case, but he was not hearing a peep I was saying. He demanded that I “go into Dan’s room and apologize to him.” He suggested that I do this and then call him back on his cell after I made things right and I could have my job back tomorrow.

I hung up the phone, finished cooking and plating everything, cleaned up to the best of my ability, called a cab, grabbed my knives and caught the next train home, never to return.

The following day I went to his office to pick up what he called my “remuneration” for the week. Naturally, he was not present, but had left an envelope with his assistant. I opened the envelope to find that he had failed to pay for my travel expenses as he had promised. I thought this unacceptable and decided to wait for him to return to discuss the envelope contents. Bad idea? Probably.

I won’t go into the whole scene, but here is an excerpt:

“I told you that you could have kept your job if you had apologized to Dan and then called my cell phone.”

“Apologize for what, exactly?”

“For not helping him with his food.”

“I fixed him two snacks that evening. You mean you wanted me to apologize to him for not buttering his bread.”

“Well, yes!”

“You wanted me to apologize for not buttering a your teenagers bread? For not buttering his bread? Do you realize what that sounds like? Do you actually hear those words being uttered?”

I suppose the entitled thing to do in a conversation such as this would be to just exit stage left. So he did just that. He got up and walked out of his own office while I sat there alone a little befuddled but content. I waited for a few more minutes and he never returned to his post, so I left with my envelope and a tiny bit of pride.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'm On A Bus!

I've traveled quite a bit the past few weeks and with that have found the best possible way to make myself the most unattractive bus seat partner in the history of the world. I would like to share with you some of my findings.

1. sit in the isle seat; no one wants to climb over you
2. eat something! loud, crackly, greasy, and wafting with many smells
3. act like your sleeping; preferably with your mouth open and cue the drool
4. have all of your stuff strewn about the two seats in a frenzied mess (not a problem for me)
5. the more stuff the merrier
6. read the paper and open it up to an annoying wing spread
7. find a spot in the very front or the very back. The middle is a dangerous and popular place.
If it doesn't work out for you, always be polite and welcoming to your new riding buddy, as it is sometimes you who has to pick your poison.

I also find it really interesting to watch people during their search and try to understand their shopping behavior for the best bus partner. Are they looking for someone good looking? Are they looking for someone at a similar age? Are they looking for someone to engage in conversation with or someone that they are sure they won't have to speak with? In any case, its a two-way street for me. I love having my seat to myself, but I love meeting new people and figuring out why we are headed in the same direction.

Lastly, if I could find some capital, I would totally open a high-end bus line with the amazing genius of Mr. John Herbert. Who knows, maybe we could cook food on it? "Dine and Ride" "The Dining Car" "Culinary Tours," I really think I'm onto something here. Suggestions welcome. 

Since this blog is about food and not about buses, I'll get to the meat, as they say. (Do they say that??) Or in this case, the parsnip puree. A creamy, and sweeter sister option to a mashed potato, parsnip puree is a nice switch from the norm and tastes of the fall season. You could also call this a root vegetable puree, as I like to add rutabaga and two or three potatoes to achieve a certain viscosity. I've tried this puree a few different times, and the best way is to boil AND roast the vegetables. Boiling will help achieve a softness and the roasting will help to pull out all the natural sweetness. Easy, peasy.

5-7 medium sized parsnips
1 large or 2 small rutabagas
2-3 Yukon Gold potatoes
2 sprigs of sage
3 sprigs of thyme
1Tbls extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
1stick of unsalted butter, separated (a little more to taste if needed)
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Turn your oven on to 375 degrees and start boiling water in a large pot. Peel the parsnips and be sure to cut around the fibrous heart in the middle. You don't have to worry about it as much at the skinnier bottom of the parsnip, so cut it in half first and then cut around the heart of the thicker top of the parsnip. Discard the hearts. Cut the parsnips into large cubes. Peel potatoes and cut into cubes of similar size. Do the same with the rutabaga. Remember to salt the water liberally. Add the cubed vegetables to the boiling water. Boil for 3 minutes. Drain the veggies and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with the olive oil, 1/2 stick of butter cut into large pieces, and a little salt and pepper (use white pepper if the speckle of the black pepper bothers you). In a baking dish add the sprigs of herbs whole and top them with the root vegetables. Cover with foil and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the foil, stir and cook for 10 more minutes uncovered. Remove the herb sprigs and transfer veggies to a food processor. Add the cream and the nutmeg and another 1/2 stick of butter in pieces. Puree until very smooth. Add more cream and butter to taste if necessary. Adjust seasoning. Serve immediately. If you wanted to be fancy, a drizzle of chive oil on the top for color or some simple chervil garnish would be lovely. Note! I have a note! You can make this puree one day ahead and refrigerate. Heat up in the oven, stir and serve. Naturally, you can substitute the cream with milk, but lets face it: it won't be as good.

My search for a riding partner ended today with a lovely, sleepy older Asian man who talks on his cell phone in (Chinese?) to his family while I try to understand what he's saying. A good pick, if I do say so myself. :) I'm headed back to the city after a wonderful holiday with my family and friends to begin my new job as a Private Chef. I'm working for a nice family in Scarsdale about 30 minutes north of the city. They live in a suburb with grass and dogs and many other soccer moms. It's a good break from the restaurant life. Not sure what the future will bring, but I am sure that dinner tomorrow will be delicious.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Better late than never...

Hello again. It has only taken me 8 months to return to my blog, long enough for the title to longer apply. Since I'm not living in a convent anymore (thank you, Jesus), and am not overly religious (unless my religion is food and then it would totally work) it sort of implies that my food is better than yours (which also has some truth to it) but anyway. I'll think on that.

So, since my last entry, I have graduated culinary school, survived six excruciating months in a convent, gone to Costa Rica, gotten a crazy job, "parted ways" from said crazy job, and am currently unemployed an on a bus to our Nations Capital for the hell of it. Ta-da!

I would like to give a little recap on a few things.

Culinary School:
Expensive. I enjoyed my experience and learned quite a bit, but I'm still not convinced that it was worth the offensive amount of money that I will be paying back for the rest of my life.

Working in different teams is always a fun examination of the human psyche. I learned a lot about myself and others, and what it means to be on a team of people who all think they know what they're talking about when in fact no one really does (minus a few who were wonderful to learn from). Surprisingly, I took away quite a bit from my pastry courses because I knew so little going in and found an interest in the "sweeter side" I didn't know I had. Cooking in L'Ecole, the school's restaurant, for paying customers the last two months was as initially intense but something we all warmed up to quickly. And when I say warm, I mean hot! The kitchen is hot! Just FYI.

You also get to surround yourself with a good amount of culinary genius. The chef instructor's at FCI are unmatched in their knowledge and experiences they have to share. Each one of them was drastically different from the next, but each one taught you a new way to learn and look at cooking. It also helps that they are pretty cool older French guys who love a good laugh and a little kiss on the cheek every once in a while. :)

One thing I will say about school is that it totally breaks you down. It strips away everything you thought you knew about cooking and throws it in the "wrong way" bin. The right way from here on out is the French way. Technique, technique, technique. My confidence in the kitchen was totally broken and I felt lost in the one place I have always felt comfortable. That was hard! Slowly you begin to build it back in a different way. I have started anew, a clean slate, a bambino in the business with tons to learn.

A highlight of my FCI education was my menu project. I would like to share some visuals of my journey schlepping a 100lb suitcase filled with food from the Upper West Side to Chelsea and back, avoiding "nun contact" and a revisit to the all-nighter.

This was pretty exciting and I was really proud of it after it was all over. The whole thing took me over 3 weeks to complete.

In the end I would sum culinary school up as such: I'm glad I did it, but I'm glad its over.

More coming soon* about convent living and the New York City Restaurant Kitchen Monster


Monday, January 25, 2010

Day ONE.

Day one, lesson one, sentence one of textbook:"Scrupulous cleanliness is required both personally and within the professional kitchen environment."

-Oh dear.

This blog is about my journey as a culinary student at the French Culinary Institute by day, and an Upper West Side Convent cook and tenant by night.

My class is well into our second level and we are running/cooking full speed ahead. I spend the day with 23 other culinarians from the hours of 8:30am to 3pm, Monday through Friday. My chef, Chef Pascal, is a burly French man who spent his childhood in Brittany, France but has lived in New York for the past 20 years. This gives him a harmonious accent I like to call EuroYankee. It’s actually endearing; but maybe that’s because he’s good looking and really knows how to handle a pig...Anyhow, we spend most of our days scrambling for ingredients, watching his demos, and praying direction doesn’t get lost in translation. A tuned ear, lots of coffee, and a little determination have produced some really amazing dishes from my stations. Oh, and the constant peek-and-ask to the adjacent station to make sure we know what the hell’s going on.

I would like to highlight a few of my days as an FCI student. The ever-decadent seafood day: lobster killing and cooking for breakfast, mussels a la mariniere for lunch with fresh oysters and clams (just to shuck after eating to bide the time), and sauteed scallops for an afternoon snack. Day of Duck, The Veal Surprise, and the famous Organ Day*. I'm an adventurous eater, but kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, and tongue in one sitting is a lot of animal. There are so, so many more...Quick, quick: feel sorry for me.
*All names coined by me. FCI is not affiliated or in approval or disapproval of these names.

The convent life is an interesting one. I am entering an environment that has kept the same schedule and regimen for thousands of years. As much as you might think that it effects me, its actually just the opposite. Sometimes, I am like a wrench in their every movement when I'm around. A break in their solitude, an interruption in their communication with God. However, now that I have gotten to know their schedule and have learned to stay out of the way, I think they have grown to appreciate me and my presence in their world. I cook for them around three to four days a week. Weekends are much more relaxed, but weekday cooking gets serious. I am cooking all day in school and then return to the convent at 4:00pm and need to have dinner on the table for 10-20 people by 6pm. By the time I've de-robed of my coat and scarf, gathered my recipes and made it to the kitchen, its 4:15 and GO time. There have been some great successes and equally as great are the failures. I learn something every single meal I cook. Portion control, a strong hate for olives, EVERYTHING IS BITE-SIZE CHUNKS: OR ELSE, simple, delicious, etc. Sometimes the info is helpful, sometimes its useless. I'll get into the specific delivery of feedback at a different time. Outside the walls of the kitchen, I am getting to know the sisters quite well, and some of them are extremely interesting humans. A Julliard graduate, a research scientist, an artist, a former Yale Professor, and more. These women were pioneers in the continuing education of females and extreme successes in my eyes. I think I love them.

As far as the move to the Big Red Fruit goes, it really hasn't phased me that much (other than being ill for over two weeks in the beginning; I seriously thought I was allergic to the city). Part of this is because I haven't really had an ounce of time to embrace it fully, but part of it is that I truly believe that I am in the place that I'm supposed to be right now. You could take me out of the city and put me on the same path to culinary know-how somewhere else, and I'd still be happy. It doesn't matter if my day might be long, hard, boring, busy, confusing or normal, I can still sit down and reflect back on it and say, "man, that was f-ing awesome."

Between me and the sisters, a convent and a culinary school, the next few months/years/forever are going to be a wild ride.