I hardly know where to start. You recall the last episode with the Kitchen Rules related to yelling and cursing- well – here is the next chapter.
We were Team B, led by the infamous Benzie, who was a lightning rod for Chef’s wrath. (much deserved I might add). Team A prepared a 7 course lunch; we prepared a 7 course dinner, all on the same day. We had several days to plan, prep and then prepare on the day and 2 hours for the meal service. We served the opposite team and the chefs and they critiqued each course. Lunch went very well. It was pretty quick and they were done in under an hour and half, and of course no item was perfect, but most were pretty darn good and all were lovely. Here are some photos, unfortunately, the dessert was the absolute best and I dove right in and forgot all about taking a photo.
Then it was our turn. For some background- on day one we elected Benzie as Team Leader because he has so much experience, as he keeps telling us, but we were a team. So, Benzie and clashed a lot in the first day. I think I covered that. The second day we lost our assistant, she swapped with the assistant on Team A. We got Andreas, who is just as great, and he laid out how it all works. Team Leader (TL)makes all the decisions, we can make suggestions, but it is the leader who decides – everything. OK, I know how to be a soldier, so I am. I still make suggestions, but just say it and then drop it. They don’t get adopted, of course. By then the menu has changed considerably (without permission from the chefs) as TL seems to have not taken his Ritalin today. First, it is a tri colored cannelloni, then it is 3 ravioli with one type of filling, then 3 ravioli with three different fillings, then three ravioli with the same filling and three different sauces. In the meantime, one member is absent half the morning because she is taking her boyfriend to the hospital with a pulled ACL tendon. Then Chef pulls our assistant for 2 hours, just to make things a bit tougher. The assistants are assistants to the chef and have a deeper background in food prep so they are good to have around.
Next we actually get in the kitchen and we ordered 5 quail and received 4, we ordered cream, it didn’t come, we ordered cuttlefish and there was none in the market. OK, that’s real life. We change our prep schedule and prepare what we can. We make polenta, they add the cheese too soon, it gets gummy, we make it again, there is a dispute over how much water to add, I say that when I am going to fry it, I make it thicker, then I go back to my bread prep. They add more stock. They make 9 molded units. I suggest we make 12 in case something happens to one. “What’s going to happen, we don’t need it!” says Benzie. I say, “We could burn one, or drop one, or drop a plate or, or, or. There is leftover polenta after the 9 molds, I wrap it up in saran and put it in the fridge. TL says we don’t need it. I ignore him and put it in the fridge.
The story about how my Tuscan saltless bread got sabotaged, is too fresh to tell. It managed to survive, but I WAS PISSED!!!
I make tiramisu filing and prep the savoyardi and fill the shot glasses along with Jason and Romona. We put them in the fridge. We make one extra. I put the rest of the cream in the fridge to use for topping an espresso we will serve with the dessert. I save all the extra flavored coffee, just in case. TL finds it in the fridge and takes it out, says we don’ need it, throw it out. After he walks away, I rewrap it, re-label it, and put it back in the fridge.
We make the zucca filling, TL decides instead of the filling recipe we have he wants to put gorgonzola in them, we remind him gorgonzola should not be in the first course because it kills your taste buds. He says, it is the third course. He puts in gorgonzola. Chef says it’s disgusting. We throw it out. We don’t have very much left to make the ravioli. Jason make a beautiful batch of pasta dough, TL rolls the pasta and makes them production style. They are not beautiful the way chef makes them. TL says,”F-ck Chef” We make and serve dinner. After dinner Jason goes to the kitchen and starts making the pasta again. We ask Jason if he has lost his mind, we are done for the day. He says, Chef weighed all the ravioli and they were not the same weight, we cannot use them. We make more pasta, roll it out, beseech TL to be careful and let us make them all individually as we were taught. He doesn’t.
Day three, we test a raviolo, it cooks in 1 minute 45 seconds, we put them in the freezer. We test the polenta, it disintegrates in the butter. TL throws them out. We are not allowed to make another batch. We only have what I stashed in the fridge. TL won’t say how he intends to plate it, even though several of us ask. We get cauliflower for our vegetable, which was on our menu, but not what TL decided to cook. We debone and prep the quail. We make the stuffing. They stuff them. We are not going to eat them for two days. Chef has a fit. We have to precook them and freeze them. TL hasn’t let us select our three cheeses yet for the final course and we don’t know how we are going to present them. We hear that in previous years they have thrown a curve to the team at the last minute, like a vegetarian or an extra person. I ask TL if we should throw around some ideas to be prepared. He says no, we don’t know what it will be, so there is no point in thinking about it.
Test Day. Chris takes out the ravioli to thaw, later TL puts them back in the freezer. We finally start to work with our cheeses. TL says, you figure it out, whatever you want to do. Then when Ramona and Chris start to work on it, he takes over. He wants to make glazed hazelnuts. He doesn’t heat the hazelnuts, he burns the caramel, then he dumps ALL the hazelnuts in at once. I did that once, when I was rookie too, but he tells us he was a pastry chef. They look like sh-t. We use them anyway. The gorgonzola lollipops look nice but I worry they are going to stick to the plate as they warm up. I try to lift one, it sticks. I ask TL if we can chop the extra caramelized hazelnuts very fine and use it as a buffer between the plate and the lollipop. HE LETS ME DO IT! I can’t believe it. Jason chops the 3 leftover nuts like the Chinese Champion that he is and it works perfectly.
Oh, I forgot one very important piece of information. In the morning before service we have a meeting and TL says, “I am not a sexist or anything, but I think the women should serve, and Jason, you can be in between the kitchen and the dining room taking care of whatever comes up. TL wants a bell to call the wait staff into the kitchen when he is ready and doesn’t want us in there during the service. We can’t even contain ourselves over the thought of the bell. I AM PISSED. As you know, the reason I am in culinary school at age 60 is because I was shut out 18 BECAUSE I WAS A WOMAN! So here I am again, not allowed in the kitchen. I take a breath. There is value in not being in that kitchen that night. I trust and let it go.
The day of service, Kristine and I go for a walk to collect wild stuff for the table. We have a few candles. She makes a gorgeous arrangement of branches and berries and glasses and it is wonderful. I set the table really nicely with cute little folded napkins. We really make it look good, since we are banned from the kitchen. We do get some assignments – Kristine gets to squeeze the juice from half a lemon, and I get to cut the bread squares for under the prosciutto.
I ask if I can please describe the dishes as we serve them. I am not a nervous speaker. I get the job. I am grateful. An hour before dinner, which we prepared for 8, the 2 chefs come in. They say they are cousins of the Bride and are coming to the wedding reception as a “surprise”, we need two more plates, oh, and they are vegetarians. I quietly go make one more dessert, my one extra was not enough. I use the leftover coffee I saved from the garbage. Jason gives me a silent thumbs up. We had already set aside extra place settings, “just in case” as well as extra forks and knives all polished up and ready to go.
Dinner service eventually gets started. We pour water, we pour the Pro Secco. The appetizers come out. It is fried cubes of Baccala Mantecarro. If you know what baccala is, forget what you know, this stuff is great. Chef made it. We just fry it and stick an olive branch in it for a toothpick – only TL fried it at 5 PM and we are eating at 7 PM and it has been at room temperature all this time. Why? I don’t know why. There is no questioning the TL. We serve from the right, remove from the left, all is well. We pour more prosecco.
TL is in the kitchen twiddling his thumbs – he says we should not rush, then if something goes wrong in the kitchen and we have to slow down, no one is surprised. Eventually we serve the prosciutto. I labeled the three types in the order they should be presented, 1, 2 & 3. Wrote it right on the paper the prosciutto was sitting on. TL ignores all that. We serve it. There is discussion about the prosciutto. Chef Sabrina says the one I called Parma is not Parma. They were mixed up.
TL is twiddling his thumbs in the kitchen. We are not allowed in. Two pf the plates break in the heating oven. We go dig out 2 new ones, wash them and try to put them in the oven to warm. TL says no. The ravioli come out, they are cold. One minute and 45 seconds is for fresh pasta, we use it frozen. We open the red wine. Chef Sabrina says we are doing a lovely job, but why are we not in the kitchen. Ramona says that the TL said we were to serve and that we were not to go into the kitchen. Not does not set well with anyone at the table. TL is going to get his a-s kicked on Monday. I am smiling to myself.
The risotto is not ready, the plates that were decorated 3 hours ago with squid ink have smeared. TL is annoyed. Time is passing. 20 minutes later Chef calls for the next course. I go to the kitchen, TL tells me to tell Chef….. well…….something – but I tell him that the kitchen is working on it and it will be ready soon. We pour more wine. Chef goes in the Kitchen, I don’t know what he says. We pour more wine. Risotto finally comes out.
Long pause for next dish. We clear dishes, pour wine. Chef is ranting about the temperature of the food, one of the students is arguing with him. She drinks a lot. She is often argumentative and difficult. Something happened and Chef is yelling, a glass smashes on the table, I run into the dining room, another glass smashes. “Get out of my program!” “You’re a drunk!” “I’m leaving!”
I go somewhere else in the Universe but my body begins to clean up broken glass and blood droplets. Someone’s hand got cut. It is very distressing. Everyone helps clear the glasses, the wine, the dishes and the silverware; we put new tablecloths, new glasses, new silverware. I pour more water and a little more wine. The quail comes out. I describe what they are being served. We clear plates.
TL tells me it is time for me to pull 10 shots of coffee for the dessert. I bring them in the kitchen, get out the tiramisu shots and the dessert plates. TL decides he is not going to do it tableside as originally planned. Two of us start assembling the desserts. He starts cursing that we are going to mess everything up, make us late. I say in a stage whisper, “We’re going to f-ck it up?” Chef comes in and says, “Times up. You’re done.” We ask if we should serve dessert. He says yes, we do. Then we bring out the cheeses. Everyone says nice things.
TL comes out swirling a glass of wine and leans on the table and makes a little speech. He wants to thank his whole team for such wonderful work and reminds everyone that he had the least experienced team with only himself and one other person with culinary school experience. Romona, whose family has owned a restaurant for 12 years, and she is currently a co owner with her siblings of said restaurant, pipes up that she has been to culinary school. It is all so satisfying. TL doesn’t even get it.
We clean up, TL goes out for a smoke. Jason, Kristine and I are stacking dishes and rinsing plates. Chef comes in and says “Stop” and sends us home. We crash on our beds and process what happened for a while then sleep like the dead. Whew.