Halibut. And Foie. Separate.

I’m bad about putting up photos I’ve taken. So finally, a few from the last couple months.

First, not really relevant anymore, but we used to have halibut on the menu. These fish usually came out of the ocean and on the cutting board in the same day. Sometimes they were big. Other times they were huge. This one was 120 lbs, largest I’ve seen to date. You practically have to crawl inside it to carve off the fillets. You’re covered slime and fresh smelling fish juice by the end. I love breaking down halibut.

Yep, that’s three cutting boards. And a rope in its mouth.

Its face is on the other side. This is the bottom of the flat fish.

This past week, we had a lot of friends and family of the restaurant come in for dinner. Servers, the saucier, FOH managers. We like to make up new dishes just for them, sometimes with forethought, or sometimes on the fly. These two foie dishes are from last week. Kudos to the boys who pitched in with ideas and helped pick these up.

Foie gras terrine and barbecue eel napoleon

Thin slices of foie gras terrine, alternating with slices of unagi (barbecue eel). Served with a cabbage salad, fresno chili, pickled mustard seeds, and a smoked corn cake.

We had worked this one out ahead of time. But another guest, celebrating his birthday, didn’t like foie terrine, but preferred seared foie. So we put this one together on the fly.

Seared foie gras, lobster, corn, and popcorn.

Seared foie, corn puree, butter poached lobster, carmelized popcorn, and sprinkled with espellette. We have done similar preps in the past, but this managed to use what we had on hand in a pinch. Makes for a more exciting service.

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“I’ve never been worried a day in my life…”

I’ve been working in the kitchen of No 9 Park for nearly 3 years, spending the last year as sous chef. My responsibilities have changed, my focus has broadened, my stress transposed. I work the line less often, and when I do it is a different station each time, which frankly, is more fun than you can imagine. I split my time between cooking the line and expediting, where I manage the tickets, call the orders, the fires, and send food to the dining room. A conductor rather than a violinist.

“Do you ever get nervous working the line?” “Is working the line still difficult, or is expediting more challenging?” “Ever make mistakes on the line?”

Some people like to ask. First of all, I’ve never been worried a day in my life. Yes, working the line can still be difficult, but not like before; expediting offers novel challenges now that I am learning to overcome, and; yes, I make mistakes still. I just understand how to fix them before it is a problem.

Working the line requires a peace and calm of mind, not unlike that which is described during meditation. Quiet the mind waves. Let the noise and the chatter wash over you. Focus solely on that one idea. And a million ideas. And no ideas. All at once. Get distracted by the noise, focus too much or not enough, and that calm mind can get lost. It is often where “beginner’s luck” comes from. First day on a new station, don’t know enough to worry about details, and the terror jolts you into a state of focus that can be ideal.

More simply put, you have to be thinking 5 minutes ahead at all times. Once you’ve got muscle memory, cook your station. But in your head, you’re working 5 minutes in the future. For instance: Chef has just told you to fire a duck going with a hake. Billy calls 5 minutes. Other orders continue to come in, and you have 3 other ducks on the range in the process of cooking. 

0. Start flashing duck in the oven. Get veg for this plate in the pan. (As soon as this pick is done, fire another duck leg in the oven). 1. Baste the other ducks on the range. (Gets pans on for the next two picks). 2. Flash plates in the oven. (Check my drawer – I think I’m out of cabbage). 3. Continue basting other ducks. Slice the breast for this pick and let it bleed. (If I don’t get something to drink, I’ll die; Need to start flashing another duck in the oven in 2 mins). 4. Puree down, duck on the plate, veg on. (Change my spoon water, check temps on all three ducks I’m cooking). 5. Sauce plate and push to window. Flash duck for next pick. Fire duck leg. (After this pick, wipe down my station).

Distractions, not staying calm, and panicking lead to chaos.

Expediting has a different feel. The station is designed such that you aren’t thinking 5 minutes ahead, but 10 or 15. You can see how many menus are out, how many tickets are rolling in, how many tables are fired at the same time. But you can control the pace, and the tickets. They cannot control you. Or all is lost. While you manage the tickets, you field questions from servers, questions from the line, help plate. You wipe, salt, and garnish every plate. Call for runners. Some nights, you never stop talking.

“Ordering 3 tuna, 2 prune, followed by 2 duck, 1 hake, 2 lamb.” Make sure they all call it back. Get plates for cold apps. “Next entree pick, 3 lamb, 1 is medium and sauce on side, and a duck.” Get plates for entrees. “Order fire truffle gnocchi and a steak tartare.” Fire table 31 mains. Fire table 35 mains. Fire table 54 mid. “How long on entrees? Next entree pick, 2 more duck, 3 salmon, and 2 ribeye.” “Ordering in 2 greens, 2 prune, and a corzetti, followed by 5 ribeye, 2 are midwell, 1 is rare.” Garnish the apps. “Runners!” Entrees in the window at the same time. Garnish and wipe them all. Check the entrees, oh god d– “Which one of these lamb is medium? And do I have sauce on side? Can I PLEASE have one of these medium….now.” Send the apps first. Fire table 40 mains, Fire table 60 mains, Order in 2 tasting. “RUNNERS! Table 35, tuna 1, tuna 2, tuna 3, prunes to 4 and 5. Nice looking tunas cold apps….” And so on.

When the pace is perfect, there isn’t anything better. No matter how busy it is, controlling it perfectly so the line feels the rhythm, so you feel the pulse, nothing is better. Why be worried?

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Congrats to Team Wine at No 9 Park!

Despite the low production value and awkward ceremony of watching the James Beard Foundation Awards online, Ben and I sat down in front of the computer and were riveted for the first half hour. The JBFA – the ‘Oscars of the food world’ – are hugely prestigious, and No 9 Park was nominated for Outstanding Wine Program. This being a national award, we were up against other amazing restaurants across the country. 

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The Outstanding Wine Program award was early in the program. They read the list of nominees. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we won?” “It’s unlikely.” “I guess, it’ll probably be A16 from San Francisco.” “You might win.” “Nah, we’re definitely going to win.” And then No 9 Park won. Cat Silirie, Kate Gilarde, and Melodie Reynolds came up on stage. Cat made a short speech thanking everyone, accpeting the award that has been 15 years in the making. 

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Feeling the excitement, I dragged Ben to the bar at No 9 immediately. Everyone was excited, drinking champagne, so many friends and family had come in. Ted poured us many glasses of Outstanding wine. We ate an Outstanding meal.

Ben and I both had Outstanding hangovers this morning. 

Much love and congratulations to all those at No 9 Park. 

For more info on JBFA winners, go here

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Cake for Breakfast: Perfect Pancakes

“We don’t have any milk.” I had promised pancakes for breakfast. “I can go get some,” I offered, the store being only across the street. But I was still in pyjamas. “No, I’ll go get it,” Ben claimed, sporting a head-cold, and no pants. Neither of us were going to get milk. “I also forgot the copy the recipe from work.” There is a pancake recipe we use at No 9 for breakfasts that produce the fluffiest, crispiest cakes.

“I’ll just make it up.”

I sifted through my notecards of recipes in the box my grandmother had given me years ago. I had several pancake recipes, none of which I remembered liking, and all calling for milk. We never have milk in the house – I don’t believe in drinking milk, and Ben drinks soy milk. But we always have yogurt (whole-milk Stonyfield). I’d used thinned-out yogurt in place of milk before. For a cup of milk, I used 3/4 cup yogurt + 1/4 cup water.

The only relevant detail from the No 9 recipe was separating the eggs. I love thick fluffy pancakes, and whipping the egg whites adds structure and air to the batter. I also increased the sugar, to help yield the crispy edges, and increased the flour, so they wouldn’t be thin and eggy. I opted for cooking them in butter, which can only make them more delicious. The result: the best pancakes I’ve made in this house, yet.

Pancakes

Serves 2-3 (about 8 large pancakes)

1.5 cups AP flour

3.5 tsps baking powder

2 tsps salt

2 Tbs sugar

3 Tbs melted butter, cooled, plus more butter to cook

2 eggs, separated

3/4 cup whole-milk yogurt

1/4 cup water

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks, melted butter, yogurt, and water. Mix well – the batter will be thick. Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold them into the batter until just mixed – do not over mix. Heat a pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Melt a Tb of butter in the pan, add 1/4 cup scoops of batter. Move pancakes around pan after a minute to brown evenly. Flip once bubbles appear. Continue cooking on medium heat until cooked through. Remove to a warm plate. Add more butter to pan and continue cooking pancakes. Serve with so much butter it makes your mouth hurt. Jam and maple syrup are also good.

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Sous Chefs

Five days after my last post – the mildly inappropriate tirade – Chef Patrick asked to speak to me after service. I was convinced it was to encourage me to calm down, take a moment to gain some perspective, and push myself to develop a higher degree of patience when it comes to training and managing the other cooks. And in part, we did discuss that. But we mainly discussed other issues:

I am the new sous chef of No 9 Park.

Surprise, excitement, pride, nervousness, humility all existed in that moment. But more than anything, I am overwhelmingly thankful to all those who first encouraged me to become a cook, and then those who trained me to become a chef. This was the single most successful moment of my professional career – of any career I’ve had so far. Becoming sous chef in under two years was well ahead of my goals, and I have several people to be grateful for, including my chefs Patrick, John, and Stef. While I am focused on growing into a great chef, I also hope to become as good a mentor as they are.

The new job has new responsibilities, and with those, required some time to adjust. Chef warned me that I would have less time to focus on the cutting board, and need to divide my time between cooking and managerial responsibilities. I’ve had the opportunity to expedite a few services, which is wildly fun, and has its own particular challenges, just like any station on the line. It is a rush to have all the orders coming in, grabbing plates, plating food, talking to servers, firing tickets, calling for runners, garnishing, sending out food, checking every plate to be sure it is perfect, watching every cook with one eye for excellence, and the other for mistakes. The pace feels different, the food can’t get into the window fast enough. I can’t push the food out, can’t grab pans from the cook next to me, fire the next pick to be ready for the come-back. I can only direct, request, order, beg, yell. But most important for the cooks, the expediter sets the tone. The expediter’s confidence becomes the cooks’ confidence, their calm calms the cooks, their excitement excites the cooks. It has a wonderful intensity.

In other news, my big sister, Rebecca, came in for dinner for the first time two nights ago with Benjamin. Always means a lot to have family in for dinner. Those of you who are around should come in soon for dinner. Fall has hit the menu hard, pumpkin, parsnips, elk, venison. The tasting menu this week is awesome. My favorite course: Duet of venison, grilled venison loin, venison jagerwurst (which is the most beautiful sausage I have ever made), chestnut puree, pickled cabbage and mustard seeds, and autumn berries.

Also, grab your mask and join No 9 Park for our Venetian Masquerade Ball on Monday, October 31. You already did the sexy kitten/nurse/pimp costume and drank gin out of the bottle with a straw, and got sick on Reese’s peanut butter cups. This year, try creative black tie, shellfish platters, milk-braised pork, and drink Italian wines out of real glasses.

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It’s after work…

This is my first, I do believe, after work posting. So forgive the drunkeness. It is 12:33 am, early by most standards. Would have been earlier, but a late 3-top showed up 10 minutes before close and ordered food at 11:05 pm. No matter, we love it, and it didn’t take long.

There are times when you feel demoralized. Usually it stems from an unfortunate performance during service, and your chefs are disappointed. Or you’ve pissed someone off, and shouldn’t have, and feel like a dickhead. Currently, I am feeling demoralized, but not for any of those reasons.

As the lead line cook, I am not anyone’s boss, not in charge, not in any position of authority. Which I acknowledge. The other line cooks are free to disagree with me. But frankly, they’d be wrong. I’m not being cocky (not overly, anyway), but 9 times out of 10, I’ll be right, and they’ll look like idiots. But nevermind that, I am offering my advice not because I love the sound of my own voice (though I do) but because I believe that they can do better. There are 4 cooks currently that I believe can be awesome. Truly talented chefs. And I offer all the advice I have. I have worked their prep stations, and spent months on their service stations. So I offer advice when necessary.

But moreover, I expect the best from them. I shouldn’t have to tell them to clean something up, they should know that they should clean it up. I shouldn’t have to tell them twice to put something away, they should have done it the first time. I shouldn’t have to tell them to put something in a smaller container such that it won’t take up too much space in the walk-in, they should know it already. So when I do tell them, I seem angry. Cause I am. Cause they should have already known it. Cause I believe the best in them. And when I confront them about it, asking, why won’t you do these simple things I’ve told you to do time and time again, they say, “This is the best I can do,” or “Cause I’m forgetful,” or simply, “I’m sorry.”

What am I to do with that? Do I bother to keep trying? And it gets worse. In the more heated moments, when they are refusing to listen, or have not done the simple tasks you’ve assigned them, or shown some inatiative, and you’re yelling at them, asking them, “Why didn’t you clean this up/cut this correctly/put this away/come talk to me?,” they will just stare at the floor, or keep working on  something, or ignore you. They pretend as if you aren’t even in the room. Like you don’t exist. It can be too much to take. They throw all the advice back in your face, refusing to believe in themselves as much as you believe in them.

On the bus-ride home tonight, I listened to the saddest music on my iPod – I’m a sucker for that, shutup. This was the most frustrating experience I’ve had at work thus far. I thought about tomorrow – the prep day, service. And I thought, I should get there really early, have some time to prep, get ahead, do some awesome work.

Despite all the bullshit of these kids, I still love working there, love my job, love the work. Let the revolution continue.

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I get around. Seriously.

Sticking with one, staying committed for several months can be hard, but it has its advantages. Initially, it is fresh, exciting, you learn something new about them every day. There are a few difficulties, but you work together and learn how to acheive some synergy. As time goes on you get comfortable, ease into a routine. Days can be stressful, but when night falls, you know that you’re going someplace where you know every line, each curve, all the knobs. But then you might get bored. Same old shit. Occassionally you’ll still get surprised, but a bird is a bird, right? You look around, see something you’d like to try, like to get to know. But you can’t have it.

So wouldn’t it be better if you got to do something different every day?

Isn’t making jokes about cheating funny?

But seriously, I’m talking about work. Last I mentioned it, I worked Middle station. But I moved to Fish station in Februrary of this year (just before the last Restaurant Week). Cooking fish was (and is) awesome. Station is fast paced, fast plates, and you control the entrée line. You call the times, manage the pace, guide the other two (middle and meat) on timing. It is a thrill. And moving to fish was probably the smoothest transition I’ve ever had. Cold apps, hot apps, and middle, all took a little time before I was comfortable. And while I had been the most anxious about moving to fish, it couldn’t have been better.

Then a few months ago, our sous chef, Michele, announced that she was leaving No 9 and taking the post of chef de cuisine at The Butcher Shop. She left a week later. A few weeks later, Stef, the rounds cook, and my best friend, was offered the position of sous chef. The next day, Chef made me rounds cook. After a year and a half, I had become the lead line cook, and Stef was sous. Perfect.

The job of the rounds cook is to fill in for whoever has the day off and work that station. Every day something new. You may not have worked that station in weeks, cooked those dishes since the menu change, or know where all the mise en place is. Some people don’t label their mise properly, or put it in obvious places. They leave rotten food for you to find. They forget to order something they are out of, leaving you to figure it out at the last minute and fix it. A thrill every day.

Also, the rounds cook is the lead line cook. You can’t ever be in the weeds, since everyone else is sure to fall into them at times, and you should be there to pull them out. You have to be everywhere always, keeping an eye on each station, thereby giving the chefs more time to focus on plating, expediting, and running the line. You teach, give pointers, and also learn more from all the other cooks, so when your turn to cook that station comes around, you’re ready. It is a great job. I love it. I haven’t had this much fun yet. And currently, we don’t have a fish cook, so I still get to spend some decent time on fish.

In other news, Ben and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary in June. Being with him is even more exciting than being rounds cook.

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