Monday, April 15, 2013

"Mama Butcher"

Recently I have been quite busy. I finished my time in the Catarina Restaurant on campus and the six week mark has passed. I am now a member of the Bocuse restaurant kitchen crew. 
There are four restaurants on the Hyde Park CIA campus; two contemporary and two fancypants formal restaurants. As part of the curriculum, we must work in two of the restaurants, first the contemporary and then a formal restaurant to finish our schooling here at the CIA. The formal restaurants are Bocuse and the American Bounty restaurants. Bocuse is brand new, and was just opened in February, when Paul Bocuse himself visited the restaurant for the grand opening and to celebrate his 87th birthday. The restaurant was transformed from the Escoffier into Bocuse between the time we left for externship last May and January of this year. It has been a pretty big deal for our school, and Chris and I have seen publicity everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Food Arts Magazine. Christopher was interested in the Bocuse restaurant because he is enthusiastic about the modern approach to food, and this kitchen has them all. Chef Remolina explained to us yesterday all of the costs that went in to opening the restaurant. The kitchen is equipt with an Irinox: a combi oven/ blast chiller. Which can freeze anything within 20 minutes and cook them with a push of a button the next. A pressure cooker tilt skillet: which "seals things in, cooks them at a higher pressure, at a lower boiling point, yadayadayada...yada.yada." in Chris' words. Two rational ovens, which are top notch combination ovens. We use sous vide cookery on all of the vegetables made in the kitchen and  liquid nitrogen is used in the dining room to create ice cream to order at each table. This new and exciting stuff has attracted many customers and the restaurant is booked for months. 

The kitchen is divided into many different stations in order to accommodate all of the needs and act as a realistic kitchen environment. There are specific people who create family meal for the "staff" each day, there is a saute station, a soup, roast, garde manger, fish, hot appetizers, canape, entremetier, and butcher station. When I was deciding on which station would suite me, I tried to picture myself in each position. Luckily the odds were in my favor because I found the perfect fit for me. I am the butcher. When you first think of a butcher, what pops into your head? blood, cows, smelly, fishy, beards, yuck. Well it's not all false, but it's actually really fun. 

The first day I arrived with lots on my plate. It was fish day. Whole lemon sole, skate wings, and real live lobsters had come in on the fish order, and Chef was adamant that it all be cut that day. I had my work cut out for me, and I started with the skate. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but when I was in fish fabrication class I enjoyed it so much and I would stay after class to help cut the extra fish for practice. One day while cutting skate, Chris decided to stay and help. This was before our relationship kicked off, and I taught him how to cut the skate which was pretty cool on my part. Anyway, skate is a ray from the shark family, and is a dangerous fish. It has spikes on its skin in order to ward off predators, and so when fileting the fish and removing it's skin, your hands tend to get a little beat up. After cutting around 40 pounds of skate, my fingertips were cut up and I had tape wrapped around four of my fingers. The skate had poked through my skin like thorns and released inconvenient trickles of blood which I had to cease with masking tape. Also I should mention that when cutting skate your hands may start to itch. Because the skate is so fresh, the uric acid is still present on the surface of the skin, which may cause a reaction with your skin. After cutting all of the skate, I then had to skin it and portion it. The really cool thing about this modern kitchen is that it enables us to be very efficient and use new tools. I am issued this ingredient called activa which is meat glue. Those filets of fish that are not the correct weight can be glued together with another under sized fish in order to make the right portion. Another example is that all of the edible waste that is trimmed from a tenderloin can be glued together to form a new tenderloin which we can cut filets from. This enables us to create portions that would have gone to waste. Utilization is key in the kitchen. 
Cutting the sole was quite easy, also I was expecting a small fish and instead was a ginormous flat fish probably two feet in length and one foot in width. It was near ten o'clock when I had finished the first two fish, and Chef said we would leave the lobster for the next day. Luckily the Manager In Training had helped me all day with the fish and it was impossible to get it all done even with the two of us. After cutting fish from 2:30 until ten o'clock, we were then told to clean for a couple of hours and were released to go home at 12:15am. Long day, and Chris and I were both exhausted. I think I slept eleven hours that night, got up and went to class the next day right away. My body was just physically drained. So. Many. Hours.

 The fun thing about these last six weeks of school is that we have class on Saturdays. So when we arrived to class on our normal weekend, we got right to work. Luckily there is no order that can come in on Saturday so I knew what I had to do already. The lobsters had been fabricated in the morning, so I will have to defeat my first live lobster another day. But I got to clean the lamb racks, and cut tenderloin, and cure some duck breasts. When all that was finished I started to clean and clean and clean and clean. So the first day was more exciting than the second, but I will say that I am happy to be cutting meat and fish for hours while service is going on. I'm not on the line, not in the heat, not being screamed at, or burning anything, not doing the same task every minute of every day, and not under too much pressure. Although, one thing I do like about my job, is that I contribute to all of the stations. If I wasn't there, a lot of people would be in trouble and I think I play a crucial role in the kitchen. I wish that other people saw it this way, but unfortunately some think that my job is unimportant, and they treat me as such. Everyone needs to be appreciated in a kitchen; if the man who washes the pots you use to cook in was not there, then everyone would have to wash their own pots, and if the family meal station was sick, then none of us would eat. I hope that as the block rolls on, people begin to understand that all the cogs in a wheel are important for the wheel to work to its full potential. 

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