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From Short Order Cook to Chef and back…III

11 Mar

During an interview at the Waldorf Astoria I was asked by the Executive Chef who my influences were? I told him I was influenced by the people I worked for and trained under, they where the Chefs I admired and that had put there mark on me. He didn’t like my answer. Maybe he wanted to here me say David Bouley or Charlie Trotter or Emeril or even  himself…I’m not sure, but I didn’t get the job. I truly believed in what I said. I was never a believer in the Ego of the Superstar Chef. It is, in my mind, a team effort. But there is no denying the influence one person can have on a kitchen.

III…Introducing the Superstar Chef and their Demons!

Lets start cooking some real food

After 2 months at Christopher’s working with 2 different Chefs, serving half-ass versions of high end food and making an utter mess; the place was teeter tottering on closing it’s doors. It was that bad. That’s when Davey was enticed to come back and take over as Chef. I was excited, because I knew his reputation. He was a star. He would fix all the ills of the place, he would teach me how to cook, I couldn’t wait, I was just hanging on….I was the one positive in a kitchen in the murk of mire. I was forewarned though, as great as a chef as Davey was, he was also a real prick. I knew him a bit, and when we met up he let me know that I was his partner in this, part of his team. He was smart, because he knew he needed me as much as I needed him…it was on!

The day Davey started everything changed. To this day I use his blueprint when taking over a kitchen. First of all, we embarked on cleaning and organizing the kitchen. I mean, deep cleaning…we scrubbed out reach-in refrigerators, pulled apart ovens, cleaned fry-olators, etc etc etc….We also organized all the products we used into small plastic containers, labeled and dated everything and completed a full standing inventory. Once the place was up to snuff we were ready to get on to the fun part…cooking!

Davey carried around a copy of Le guide Culinaire, often quoting Escoffier himself; and of course we where cooking from it. In no time we were making huge vats of veal stock from scratch, filleting whole salmons, whipping up fresh hollandaise sauce, ricing potatoes to creamy puree perfection. It was culinary bliss, and I was loving it. I was Davey’s right hand man…his loyal partner…sometimes in crime.

Our Mentor

As we grew more comfortable with our situation Davey became the dictator of the kitchen, and I his willing henchman. Davey started doing shots of whiskey towards the end of the shift. This was my signal that the line was all mine. Davey would end up out at the bar…shit faced…while I mopped up. Later I would be cornered for one of his many speeches on the meaning of life. Never the less we became friends.

It was at this point that I achieved what I call Kitchen Independence. It was a Tuesday night, Davey’s day off, and I was covering the shift alone. This usually was not a problem. Weeknights were not that busy, and I had the support of 2 teenagers, one a prep cook, and the other a busboy/dishwasher. What I wasn’t aware of was that there was some sort of Spring Break keg party going on…and my teenage help called out sick…together!

I found myself alone…I had to cook, bus tables and wash all the dishes; not to mention sweep and mop and take out the trash at the end of the shift. See, in a restaurant, if dishes are not cleaned and trash isn’t discarded, the place grinds to a halt: no silverware, no plates = no business! After a short period of panic, I stepped outback and had a smoke….I told myself I was ready for this…

The night wasn’t slow; it was downright busy….but I hustled. I was so organized that I could do 6 things at once. Whipping out gourmet meals, lugging full clanking bus pans, scrubbing greasy dishes…all the while washing my hands in between and air jamming to hard rock radio. When the night was over the bartender gave me a few on the house. I was beat, but happy. I did it! I overcame one of the biggest fears of any cook. I didn’t fail!

The next day Davey took me out to the old Clam Bar that had been converted into our prep room. A huge pot of veal stock was slowly simmering on the stove to jellied perfection. He rolled a huge (bleep) and smoked it with me under the protection of that wonderful aroma of the veal stock….”Congratulations!” he said. “Welcome to my world!”


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Posted by on March 11, 2011 in Food & Culture

 

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