Wednesday, March 16, 2005

In The Weeds

I hate, hate hate being in the weeds. For one thing, I loathe disorganization. For another thing, I hate that feeling of waiting to get into trouble when someone in charge finds out how much you're trying to get accomplished at once. And third, I hate having to ask for help - even if it is just from Nathan, my neighbor on the hot side. But as much as I hate it, every now and then it happens to me. Nathan and I refer to it as "throwing a weeds party." I've been on a roll for the past couple months and have successfully avoided the weeds, but yesterday the good ship Fish Station ran aground.

On my prep list: candy grapefruit zest, tourne and braise a case of kohlrabi, parsley coulis, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, pan-roasted asparagus, carrot juice reduction, saute thumbalina carrots, blanch spinach and mustard greens, slice pineapple and cook tomato sauce. What did my station partner do yesterday?? Looks like he just blanched and seeded about half a case of beefstake tomatoes for the tomato sauce. Gee, thanks Kevin. But I felt up to it. I drank almost a whole pot of coffee before coming to work.

I go downstairs and shop. I pull all the fish out of ice and put it into containers. I drag two carts full of fish and veg into the elevator and take it back up to the kitchen. When I'm pulling them off, one of the sous chefs runs up to me and tells me that we have a guest in the kitchen who will be working with Nathan and I today. "She's a real nice lady. Talk to her about Chef's Garden and about Honolulu and about where we get some of our product, just show her what you're doing." Okay. Every now and then the restaurant sells a day in our kitchen as a guest cook at a charity auction. The winner gets to come into the kitchen, gets a uniform, gets to spend the day helping out the cooks, then gets to go out and eat dinner with their family at the end of their shift. I like when these people come in; they're generally extremely nice and very interested in what we do. It reminds me how lucky I am to work in a restaurant with such a great reputation that people actually pay money to spend a day behind the scenes. I'm introduced to her and after exchanging welcomes and thank yous, I go about my business. Before she can help me do anything, I have to get everything put away and the major projects started.

I chop two onions and smash twelve cloves of garlic and start sweating them in a large pot for the tomato sauce. I pour two containers of beurre blanc base that Kevin had so helpfully labeled "Reduce More" into a sauce pot and throw it on a burner. (Why Kevin had the time to write that but not the time to get it done is beyond me.) I throw another pot of water with six potatoes on the stove, then grab the juicer from pantry and juice 15 carrots into a pot and then throw that on the stove, too. Now I can deal with the guest while I've got all this stuff rolling. I show her our baby kohlrabi. She's never seen one, so I tell her that "kohlrabi" is German for "cabbage turnip" and cut one open so that she can smell the inside. It smells dead on a cabbage. I show her how we tourne them and she eagerly grabs a paring knife and helps. I watch her progress. Chef comes down the line and says hello to me, asks Lynn (our guest) how she's doing. "She can tourne better than Nathan," I tell him, teasing two people at once. Chef laughs. "I have to leave you here because I have a flight to California very early in the morning," he says. "I will see you Saturday." He shakes my hand. "Be safe, I'll miss you," I tell him. "I won't miss you," he replies, and breezes off.

Now it's after 5. Service starts at 6. The tomato sauce is cooling in the walk-in along with the carrots and kohlrabi. All projects are finished and everything is put away except for the parsley coulis and the sliced pineapple. I'm trying to show Lynn how we make our butter sauces here. She knows what a beurre blanc is but she's never made one. Nathan's asking me questions, and then my whisk turns up missing. This is where I feel like I'm about ready to slide down the disorganization vortex. All I need to do is find the whisk. This poor woman is watching me dig through my station with a barely concealed hysteria. Okay, whisk is found. Beurre blanc is explained, then demonstrated. Nathan said that having this woman trailing him was putting him behind...well, maybe that is so, but they always say that you don't really understand something until you can teach it. Whenever I have the opportunity to explain and demonstrate things, I'm always surprised at the stuff I knew but didn't know I knew - does that make sense? I look on it as a good test of my cooking knowledge, not as a nuisance.

So somehow everything gets done on time. Lynn is super happy with everything. I'm feeling pretty okay about everything. Service starts and I'm finally out of the weeds. Life returns to it's normal pace. And another day goes by.