Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fond Food Memories

      I have grown to like Chef Vanoli a lot, even though he is so particular about all of his dishes- it translates to passion. He has a under tone of humor, but I think many students are too nervous to catch it. I love to learn, it is one of my hobbies, and so I just absorb every single thing that Chef says and just try and ask questions a lot when I do something wrong. I learned that from my mom, she told me that every time the health inspector comes, she always asks a ton of questions which allows the inspector to give the knowledge he has instead of docking her for not having a spring on the bathroom door, or something stupid like that. Anyway, it's all about how you react when he addresses you. So yesterday we were busy; everyone showed up at the beginning of service and we were slammed. The ticket machine kept printing orders constantly for the first hour, and we were yelling around the kitchen to coordinate when we would plate each dish. On a couple of occasions other teams were not on track with their orders and threw off our pasta and we had to redo the dish. Pasta normally always takes twelve minutes to pick up so we usually call out twelve minutes so that the other teams know that we need to meet at the pass to put our dishes out in twelve minutes. The only dish that takes longer than that is risotto and that is where we had issues. Risotto takes 20 minutes, no more and no less. If it sits in the window under the heat lamp too long, it turns to a paste and is inedible.   The expeditor fires the risotto twelve minutes before he picks up the pasta so that they will be out at the same time, but the person making the risotto has to inform the expeditor when the risotto has twelve minutes left in the cooking process. Well a couple of times, the risotto guy forgot to call out the risotto time and gave me nine minutes to make pasta which takes twelve minutes. Another time, the risotto was not started on time, and when I called out that I was plating the pasta, risotto looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about. See it's all about coordination in an a la carte kitchen. In order for the customer to be satisfied with their meal, it has to be hot, tasty, visually pleasing, and aromatic. And in order for us to make all of those things happen at the same time, each team has to get their food out at the same time as every other team in the kitchen. It's harder than it sounds.

     Today was a low key day because the entire restaurant was bought out for a banquet, which meant that all twenty students had all day to prepare four courses for one hundred people. The first course was a radicchio salad. I'm not really a big fan of radicchio, which surprises me because I love cooked bitter greens, but radicchio is just ridiculous. The salad went with julienned artichoke which was served raw. Another surprise, artichokes are yummy, but I really enjoy them one way, and I think it's because of a food memory of mine. I fondly remember when my mother was pregnant with my little brother and she boiled the artichoke and just peeled the artichoke off leaf by leaf and dipped it in butter only to suck off the butter and scrape the underside of the choke off with her teeth.

     The second course was monkfish served on top of a broth with lentils and farro, garnished with olive oil and a crostini. Monk fish is the ugliest fish I have ever seen. It is a member of the angler fish family, which are those fish that have a light to entice smaller fish. Well a couple of years ago, my family and I were on vacation in Seattle for my father's business trip and we visited Pike's Place Market. (If you are in Seattle you cannot miss it and HAVE TO GO.) The fish market is really cool, they throw fish around for entertainment and Lansing, my brother, got to catch a fish that they threw to him which was pretty neat. Anyway, they had this monkfish there, and I was disgusted with it, so I went to take a picture, and it JUMPED. So did my heart. I screamed. Turns out, a million people look at that fish a day, and it's tail is connected to a rope that they pull behind the counter to make it jump.

    The third course was a flat pasta in a boar ragu. My team was in charge of the pasta; two people to toss the pasta in the ragu and perfect the sauce and one to cook the pasta constantly stirring it so that it would not stick together. I was in charge of the pasta. We practiced one batch and it took exactly four minutes to get the pasta to al dente, so I watched my watch closely. I thought I was taking the easy job because as I have mentioned, tossing the pasta takes a toll on your bicep, but my height was quite an issue. It was difficult to stir the pasta in the pasta cooker and then lift it into the pans because of the weight of the pasta and the water. Once when I was working at Cornell, I had an issue with my height (5 foot flat by the way) and tried to supplement it with a milk crate. This was a bad idea however because while I was whisking the sabayon over the stove, the milk crate slid out from underneath me and my face fell right into the cream.

   The final course was a sponge cake filled with an unusual fruit filling, the kind you might find in a fruit cake. It was topped with some chocolate rum cream. I was not as involved with the dessert round because I was busy cleaning up the pasta station after one hundred portions of pasta ragu was plated in 18 minutes. We had one gluten free person dining tonight, and I was in charge of precooking the gluten free pasta. It was not good. At all, I mentioned it to Chef, and his response was "If you can not be eating gluten you should not be eating pasta as far as I am concerned." And I agree. On the note of ragu, Chris has this wonderful recipe for ragu which has been in his family for generations. He received the recipe form his grandparents for his high school graduation. Maybe when I marry in I will be able to see the secrets of the Italian ragu :)

    Today I thought I would share a recipe for my favorite pasta on the menu, which is not ordered very often although I think it is the best. It is called Pizoccheri and it is made with buckwheat pasta. The pasta is so light and has a unique taste to it. We garnish the pasta with potatoes, cabbage, and brown butter but I'm it would be good with any light neutral flavored vegetables. You should always measure by weight in order to be most accurate. For the pasta, you need eggs, milk, buckwheat flour, and 00 flour (which is difficult to find at any old grocery store by the way.) By weight, you need twice the amount of eggs than milk. For instance; five ounces of milk to ten ounces of eggs. For that amount of liquid you would need eight ounces of buckwheat flour and 23.5 ounces of 00 flour. There are a couple of ways to make pasta; the "well" method for small batches, but easiest in a mixer or robot coup. I have had the most success when mixing dry ingredients in the food processor and then dropping eggs in one by one, then I would add the milk. Always have some olive oil on hand, just in case the pasta is too dry, this will help lubricate the dough. Let the balled dough rest for thirty minutes and then roll out the pasta and cut. This is possible with a rolling pin and I have done it that way. Although a pasta roller is ideal, but very expensive. I do not own one and on several occasions have been seen rolling pasta by hand. (A note to you smaller chefs- although the slick modern rolling pins are well...slick and modern, they require more muscle work and the good old two handled pins are easier on the arms.

    Some good news, I received a 100% on my costing practical that I took yesterday. I didn't believe it could be real life because I am so bad at math, but Chris really helped me study for this one, and I got some great results. Hopefully this means good things to come! Chris and I will head home to Lansing this weekend because it is St. Patrick's day which is a celebratory family tradition. We will be cooking corned beef and cabbage, and wearing green (head to toe) at my parent's family restaurant in King Ferry, NY- the King Ferry Hotel. If you are ever in the area of the Fingerlakes, stop by for some quality food at very reasonable prices. And come by this Sunday for some Irish soda bread!

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