When soldiers have been baptized in the fire of a battle-field, they have all one rank in my eyes.—Napoleon Bonaparte
We are going to battle this semester. Not with each other, or (hopefully) with the chef, but with ourselves.
Not to be overly dramatic, but those of us in Food Production 4 found out Thursday night just what we were in for.
This semester, the school is taking Food IV in a new direction: actual restaurant service. Rather than completing individual dishes, as in previous classes, we will be serving a seven-course fine dining menu to guests, restaurant-style, every week. Since there are great restaurants in cities like Washington you can find online in the takoda washington dc site.
This would be an appropriate time for me to remind you that I’ve NEVER actually worked in food. Never even waited tables. This is a challenge, but a welcome one.
We will rotate through stations found in a real restaurant, such as sauté, cold pantry and sauces. We’ll also rotate being servers in the “front of house,” serving guests (mostly donors) who have made reservations through the school.
Here’s the menu, which we’ll be serving every week to a new group of guests.
The chef is known for being demanding, passionate and meticulous, so we knew we’d have to have our game on.
I was paired with another non-traditional student who also has no restaurant experience. But, we both do pretty well in class, so I wasn’t too worried. We were to be on the pantry station, making salads and cold appetizers.
This doesn’t sound too hard until you realize just how many steps are involved in these dishes. The Caesar salad alone has croutons (from scratch, with several herbs that must be dusted), parmesan tuilles (also from scratch), and a dressing (yes, from scratch). We were totally buried in mise from the start, meaning a messy prep area and confusion as the night went on.
And then there was the tuna tataki.
The chef was (expectedly) really busy and didn’t have time to show us how he wanted the tuna seared and sliced until just before service. I had to finish julienning some pickled ginger, mix it with some green onion another student had “rabbit eared,” put on some dressing. Sear the sushi-grade tuna, slice thinly (I had issues, maybe bring a sharper knife next week), wrap tiny balls of the salad inside five of them, plate. Put a ball of microgreens on the plate, dress. Spoon some of the solids from the dressing on each tuna roll, then drizzle some of the liquids across the plate.
This is all happening while the chef is expediting, meaning he’s calling out the orders as they come in and making sure dishes get out on time. There’s a whole lingo to that I still need to learn. (What the heck does “all day” mean in the kitchen??) He occasionally got a little excited that things weren’t coming as quickly as he’d like, such as, er, my tuna dish.
At the end of the evening, after we cleaned the last dish and wiped down the last surface, the chef had us meet up for a debrief.
“All in all,” he said, “this was one of the best opening nights I’ve ever been a part of.”
Even with all our hiccups, apparently we did okay. He went through each station making suggestions and praises as appropriate. Our pantry station was messy and unprepared due to poor mise (we got too excited just trying to find things in that large kitchen). But, he said, we pulled it off and got good plates out.
The other stations did great, as well. As he read the comment cards, one stood out:
“I can’t believe this is only the third week of class,” it read.
Chef said, “That is the best compliment you can get. I’m so proud of you guys.”
Next week, I’m on pantry again, and I’m in charge this time. My other (fabulous) partner is rotating elsewhere, and I’ll have a new one to teach the ropes. I expect to have better mise and a better idea of how to pull things off.