The last twelve weeks of the associates program here at the CIA is spent in what is called "Restaurant Row", and/or "death row". Your first six weeks are spent between the kitchen and dining room of one of the semi-formal restaurants, and the last six weeks are spent in the formal restaurant on campus. The school places you in the restaurants, and you are supposed to get one of the two restaurants you pick. Which is not always the case. But luckily I was happy with where I was placed.
So Friday was my first day cooking in Caterina de Medici. Who is Caterina de Medici you ask? Well She was born in Italy and was then married to King Henry II and became the queen of France. In 1533, Caterina brought forks from Italy to France and changed the dining world forever. As you can guess this restaurant is all Italian, and so is the chef. First of all you have to understand that besides externship, the previous fourteen months of our education has been spent in learning style kitchens, which this kitchen is definitely not. It is probably the biggest kitchen I have ever worked in which makes it very difficult to communicate with the other 19 students in the classroom. But it is beautiful.
The chef did not really open with a greeting at all and just dove right into what we were preparing that day. Luckily the class before us prepped a lot out so that we would not be overwhelmed. We were all shaking in our whites as the chef scolded us for not having the correct paperwork and for not being perfectly prepared. I got nervous because between Chris and I, we had only printed out one "kitchen manual" and he was checking that everyone had their own. But luckily we did the old switcheroo fast enough that the chef didn't notice.
There are six stations: Garde Manger- responsible for all of the salads and cold appetizers. Pasta- liable for the first course of pasta, Risotto/Fry Station- accountable for risotto, gnocchi, and fried hot appetizers, Fish- in charge of all fish dishes, Meat- obligated to prepare the meat entrees, and Dessert- I am being redundant. So I am on the pasta station for the entire three weeks and I luckily have some great partners. There are five dishes that we are responsible for (one of which is soup) and it is intense. You would think that the entree stations would be harder, but they either get fish or meat...everyone can get pasta, plus fish or meat.
When we entered the kitchen, we scrambled to our stations and began prepping until we were able to get our demonstration from Chef on how to make and plate our dishes. As Chef came over to start our plate, we stood up tall and grabbed for our notebooks. You see the problem I found is that I do not speak Italian. And while Chef didn't speak in Italian, he had a pretty heavy accent. And he spoke so swiftly that I almost wrote right off my notebook page. He was very pleasant however, which was surprising. He then asked our team to replicate the plates he had just made, and each of us took on one of the pastas. I was in charge of the Ceci pasta, and I started how Chef had; I dropped my pre portioned pasta into the pasta water, and spooned some of the sauce into a small saute pan. I added some chic peas and crushed half of them, just as the chef had demonstrated. I placed the pan over the heat and it began to sizzle immediately. I moved the mixture around with my spoon and checked the pasta for texture. I decided to leave it in for another second and checked my notebook to make sure I had the last few steps down. I then strained the pasta and transported it to the saute pan. I started to stir and Chef appeared out of nowhere, "you flip, you flip!" and.. I well, flipped. It took me a little bit to get it down, it was no omelette, and sauce speckled all over my jacket and the stove top. I added some oil and a little bit of oil to the pasta, and tore up some basil and asked my teammates what they thought about it. We tasted and agreed that it was like Chef's and so I asked him how he wanted it to be plated. He looked at me like I had two heads and said, "Is there not something wrong with this? Anyone?" We exchanged glances. "Maybe not enough basil?" A friend spoke up. "No, no, no, you see, de pasta et too dryyyy" He caught the discouraged look on my face and quickly exclaimed, "but you see et iz an eazy fixx, just adda more vatter. Now you see! This iz better." A deep sigh.
After he left we cleaned up our station and were able to breathe a little. During family meal we decided who would be completing which jobs during service and I would be on prep during service, because there is not enough space for all four of us to be on the line at all. We got pretty busy during service, and my group members did really well under the pressure. At one point Chef penalized me for cutting vegetables that would not last over the weekend. Each time he speaks at you with his stern voice, you really lose all of your words in the bottom of your stomach and no words come off of your tongue. You feel dumb and your eyes get real wide and you end up just staring, like you don't know what he is saying. This happened to me a couple of times during the night. At one point the dessert team needed help segmenting grapefruit and blood oranges. I was trying so hard to peel the fruits perfectly and I was super delicate with my knife in order to shape the segments. But the Chef found my segments square and flawed. He threatened to send me back to skills class, and I again stared up at him, dumbfounded. He strode away, and my palm hit my face. He also called me quickly to plate a vegetarian option, and I followed him around the kitchen, almost running to catch up with him. "take zis from zis station, and a little of zis and zis, then you heat it togezzer, a little oil, and tosstoss, then take zis mold, pack it down, and zen you grab zis and toss some cheese on top."
Seventy five covers later and we were all ready to go home. Clean up took a while, but I think many hands make light work, some people are just a little lazy though, so that frustrates me. The MIT (Chef's assistant) told us that he was pretty happy with our day and that Chef was pretty calm. He said it was the second best day one he had ever had. Finally at eleven o'clock, we headed back to our dorms. We had to go in the front door of our building because it was so late that the side doors were locked. My entire body ached. I had not been on my feet that long or running around that much since externship. I collapsed on my bed and slept very good that night.