Archive for April, 2011

Where The Weird Ones Are

Hope you guys had a happy Easter, and if you don’t celebrate, but got the day off anyway, hope you had a nice day off. I sure did. Last week was a string of days off for me, which disappointed me at first, but worked out in the end because I’m a lazy mofo anyway.

Of course, it set me up for the slaughter that was to come yesterday. Yep, slaughter. Because it was Monday, I assumed it would be an easy peasy day. But we ended up getting our asses kicked around by 190 covers. I… don’t know how I survived it, really. Most likely through the good work of station 2 (KO worked it that night) calling out orders and through the benevolent force that willed people NOT to order chicken during the push. They sure did order a lot of sausage, though, dammit, but I am thankful for that. For all my griping about my own station, I’m sure stations 2 and 3 (Katie) had the brunt of the push. My main consternation was with my wood supply which was damp. I struggled to dry it pretty much all night and had to impose on KO more than once >_.>;; John was also our expo that night… not that it meant much cos I didn’t see much of him. And that night, our dishwasher was not dishwashing to his full potential. It was a lot of little problems that just snowballed into a storm of trouble (yep, I know I’m mixing my metaphors).

We FINALLY closed the kitchen at midnight, but my brain had checked out long since. I made some crappy salumi sandwiches for the dishwasher and night cleaner (long live Crappy Comida *weep weep*), wrapped things up, and went downstairs to find that we still had to set up pork shoulder. KO was already cutting up mirepoix, but it’s disappointing to find out that after busting your ass upstairs, you’ve still got another thing to do downstairs. Especially when your expo who wasn’t around most of the night could’ve done it… or at least pulled the bread starter for the baker hours earlier.

The title of this post refers to my ride home on the train. Late at night is when the weirdos come out from hiding, and when the homeless ride the trains for a warm place to sleep. I don’t mind the homeless. I’m wary of the questionable characters I might encounter (which is fewer than you think, but makes the interaction all the more memorable). They’re always pretty harmless, or maybe I’m so naive and good natured, it’s what I tend to believe of people.

I was reading a book when a man came up to me to ask me what I was reading. We had a conversation about books which then somehow segued into him expounding his love for leopards, especially the panther. Totally harmless, but being the nerd I am, I wanted to get back to my book. He talked for what seemed like 20 minutes, with his friends scattered around him on the train, and after he left, his friends asked me if he’d asked for my number. “I had no idea that was his intention,” I replied honestly. I guess if a guy approaches me, I’d think for a split second that he wanted to hit on me, but then when he talks about panthers, that idea seems to fly out the window.
They did say I was pretty though, which gave me a bit of a boost, even if I do take those comments with a grain of salt.

Tonight, Elliot’s on 2. I wonder who’s on 3… Armanzo? To be continued.
(Though I hope tonight is an easy day, dammit.)


Like A Rock

I was scheduled to work Wednesday at 6pm; I’ve got two days off after, and then back to work on Saturday to prep. And we’re closed to Easter on Sunday. Sigh… My tiny paycheck will probably be depressingly tinier. Not that I do this solely for the money (though money does help pay back my students loans and bills), but in a conversation with Elliot today he said working a line cook position is like working for pennies. Looking at my work schedule this week, I’m inclined to agree.

Still, I really do love my job. I’ve been happily brainwashed. I think I work in one of the greatest restaurants in the city, if not the country (we might have some stiff competition if we took on the world lol), and I’m proud of tiny role in it. I’m proud of my humble profession. (However glamorous it looks on the outside, is it ironic if I label myself a skilled laborer?)
And I’m just a teensy-weensy bit happier, now that it’s been confirmed that Elliot and Armanzo will be Avec’s sous-chefs when John leaves us. Yay! Elliot’s NOT leaving us to follow John! Still, it was a close call though. I asked him if he’d have followed John and he said it might’ve been really fun to do so. It seems that even Armanzo considered leaving ;_;
Me: Why didn’t you go?
Elliot: Cos there’d be no one left. It would just be you, Katie, and KO…
Me: Oh ._. I’m sorry I’m such a burden >_<

Urgh…. what a hit of bittersweet. More bitter than sweet, really. While I’ve always thought Elliot would be a great sous (he’s got a good head on his shoulders), I feel a little bad that I’m one of the reasons that’s holding him back. I’ve only just started, and I know practically nothing, and left to my own devices Avec would probably implode. Which means, I’ve got to put 2000% into making myself a really reliable, super-dee-duper line cook… BUT I HAVE TO MASTER STATION 1 FIRST >_<
Ugah… it feels like an uphill battle, but it's okay, it's all about tiny victories. I know I'm improving in little ways: I'm keeping up with dates (the other line cooks may go "pfft" but that's their prerogative), and earlier this week on Monday, I was actually bored on the line! A month ago, if you’d told me that, I probably would have exclaimed in amazement, “NO WAY!” because even now, it seems impossible.

Also heard via Elliot: we’ve hired Will (Dylan’s friend/Sixteen). Hmm, that shall be interesting. We also had a stage today. Elliot liked him, but Koren thought he was a little sloppy. My thoughts have no standing in the Avec Hierarchy, but I think we should continue our line cook search. Watching him work made me nervous and I kept thinking, “I can do better” but of course, I’m one to talk, because I don’t know nuthin’ and I’m sure when I staged others, WITHOUT A DOUBT felt the same way. Besides, I’m not a very good judge of character right off the bat, so what the hell do I know? I’m not going to rag on someone’s skills when I don’t know them. I mean, I thought Dylan was a monkey but put us in a Station 1 contest and I’d fail immediately. He’s built up more muscle memory than me. But I’m better at prep… so there? >.>

Katie’s staying on with us until May 13, which is reassuring, since she’s one of the saner line cooks we’ve got (might I remind you how Avec would implode in my care?), but then again, when she leaves, it’ll be that much harder to let her go. Will there ever be a day like that for me?

Outside Of My Realm

It was my day off so I’ve been alternately lolling around and doing bits of chores, so I didn’t post all day until now, when I SHOULD be sleeping but I wanted to post before I forgot.

Monday night was really easy, thanks to the Bulls Playoffs. So easy, in fact, that I was kind of bored. I expected a pre-game rush that never happened. During lulls I shelled a lot of peanuts. They’ve decided not to precook the peanuts anymore; instead opting to add them dry so they cook with the pork. That way, they reasoned, the peanut place (rhymes with moss) doesn’t come in contact with anything it doesn’t have to. When it was parcooked, I guess there was a risk of peanut broth spilling into other items if someone shoved the lowboy door closed too hard, or cross-contamination. I see their point.
Other changes I came across: the guys decided to do away with cutting boards, and using the little wooden boards for any miscellaneous cutting/chopping required on the line. It frees up quite a lot of space. Of course, we kept one board in the cupboard space under the oven for before-hours prepping on the line. I was a little hesitant at first, but the rearrangement seemed to make things easier and I adapted. (Now let’s see how I feel about it on a busier night…)

That Monday Elliot opened with the help of a stage. His name was Will, and he’s been here before. He’s a friend of Dylan’s, just out of the army, and he would have been working at Avec if not for the unfortunate timing of having been offered a job just after he accepted a position at Sixteen, in the Trump Tower. Well, he’s back again, and he might get the job. Will said he was tired of Sixteen. Apparently it was just like NoMi (his employer before Sixteen) all over again. The pay was great, but corporate restaurants, he said, are soul-crushing places. After he said that, I was reminded of something my friend, Tony, had said about hotel restaurants being where line cooks went to pasture. Will helped me shell peanuts on the line but then had to split. I wonder if the next time I see him, whether it will be a final stage or a starting day for him.

Anyway, there was pretty much no drama. I read a couple of tickets wrong and put out 2 shoulders before the course was even ready. Luckily they’re shoulders and can hang out and get better in flavor, so it wasn’t much of a big deal.

There 2 high points of my day. The first one occurred just before we opened. KO and Elliot were recounting the highlight of Sunday night when Elliot had to run to 7-Eleven to buy Benadryl for Dylan, who was having an allergic reaction… after accidentally smearing Bengay on his nuts. Apparently he was suffering from some sore thigh muscles from a drinking binge, and thought he’d remedy that with the Bengay, except he applied it too liberally. Elliot and KO were doing Dylan impersonations, beginning with “Hey, this feels kinda good!” until he started freaking out on the line from the burning: “Omigod I’m gonna die!” I nearly died myself, laughing until I cried. I wish I could’ve recorded the story and uploaded it as a sound bite, it was so funny. Especially the part where Elliot was musing, “Really? Is this what my life has come to? Running out to buy Benadryl for a line cook’s burning balls?”
Second highlight was of a much tamer nature when I was making pizzas for a family meal and for the dishwashers at the end of the night. Making pizza is fun! I didn’t get to try the pizza myself but everyone said it was really good. I hope so! I put 3 different kinds of cheeses on it (mozzarella, whipped ricotta, and manchego), salami, and spinach. Dammit, I wish I had a working oven at home so I could make my own pizza >_<

I'm back at work on Wednesday. Not sure of the rest of my schedule, but I prep on Saturday, and the restaurant is closed on Sunday for Easter.

Making Up For Lost Time

I worked on Friday and Saturday but being tired/busy/lazy, I didn’t have the opportunity to talk about it. I would like to mention that I guess I painted my Wednesday night a little too rosily because a reality check came Friday when I came into work, and as I was getting together various items to take to my station (stocks, ice, bowls, etc), Koren asked me if I was going to do better that night than Wednesday =_=
Well, duh. No, Koren. I plan on doing worse, so you can splash more lemon juice on my wounds and possibly consider firing me or something.

I know I say that every night was “okay”, but it’s hard to use any other words to describe that I am comfortable with. I can’t say a night was busy because just because we go through a push doesn’t mean the night ends up being busy. And just because I have difficulties doesn’t mean the night was busy. It means I was having difficulties, or people wanted too much crap off my station. Or I’m just an inexperienced lunkhead who hasn’t got her muscle memory down yet.
A lot of different reasons that I’m not aware of could have contributed to my stumbling on Wednesday night that didn’t happen on Friday. Because Friday was pretty good for me. And I’m not being noncommittal or anything. I actually thought I did well, and we did 204 covers (as opposed to about 142 on Wednesday).
My biggest belief is that I work better with Elliot on 2 than when I work with John. Second suspicion: the trout dish, easy pickup that it was, ended up hindering me a little that Wednesday. Cooking that dish involved a double-handled little All-Clad that took up too much room in my oven when it started getting busy. Third possibility: my wood was giving a LOT of trouble on Wednesday. Fourth: it was Tax Day and Seder on Friday, making things a little easier on me. So all I’ve got are some conjectures, but nothing concrete.
All I definitely know is that I felt I did much better on Friday night than Wednesday.

Saturday was a prep day. It should’ve been an easy day for me but it ended up not going as I expected. I had to come in 30 minutes late because my fish tank in my livingroom sprung a leak and I had to buy a new tank that morning or my fish and my carpet (and my basement ceiling) would not survive the ordeal. Koren and Katie were away at an event in Delaware for Meals On Wheels and John was at a wedding, so even though Elliot opened, he had to expo that night too. And because he had to expo, I was left to finish the tasks. I won’t bore you with details but either that Saturday just happened to be a brutal prep day or I’ve become really rusty at prep work cos I left at 10pm and it wasn’t even that warm outside. As tired as I was (and TOTALLY looking forward to my day off on Sunday), I felt worse for Elliot who wouldn’t be able to leave that night for at least 4 more hours.

I’m back at work on Monday at 2pm. Hopefully I won’t be too tired to blog about it.

Kids In The Halls

are ninjas cooking noodles
the fastest robot cutting spinach
a tornado stirring eggs and flower
a book making dough
a stretch-o-matic stretching dough
a three-cooking-noodles team

those are
the top
Justin, Paul, and Betty

-poem written by The Second Graders of Disney II Magnet School

When I got into work yesterday, little did I know there was a surprise waiting for me in my locker. A packet of handmade cards and thank-you compositions from the second graders from when I helped Justin and Paul Kahan with their noodle demonstration! I pretty much had a squee attack when I saw them and flipped through a few. I wish I had a better camera (mine is currently out of commission) so you’ll have to make do with my cell phone camera ^_^;;;

Cards and Compositions

The packet of goodies I found in my locker.

I copied the students’ writings verbatim, so all cute and crazy misspellings and grammar are courtesy of those second graders ^_^
The compositions were PRECIOUS. Not only did they thank me for my presentation and express hope in returning to the school, some students added things like:
“I liked the way you made noodle the old fashion way.”
“How do you make such loveley food?????”
“Do you have a sister or a brother?”
“Are you married?… Are your parents still alive? Do you like me?”
“I think your pretty!… I love your cooking! You should be famous!

One of my favorites that killed me:
“One time me and my dad and sister were making slime. My dad made a big blob of it and stretched it out like when you make noodles…. And do please come back. Please please, pleeeeease.”

The message in one of the cards. If a kid says so, it must be true!

The poem they wrote. I better make sure I can live up to their ideals.

Ahhh….so AWESOME!!!!! If I’m ever having a bad time of it (it might happen someday), I can look at these things and feel rejuvenated. I wanted to participate in Pilot Light again if I could, but now I REALLY want to be a part of it! Fingers crossed that Justin calls me in again!

In other news, another decent night on the line last night. They added the trout pick-up to my station (I inwardly groaned but got used to it) and it ended up being a popular night for bratwurst sausage. At one point, I had 6 total orders at the same time and John (who was on 2) helped me throw them all into a skillet to cook them. I have to start thinking like that; it never occurred to me that I could cook them all together and portion them out later. It saved me a lot of time and oven space. He also helped me out when I was swamped with date orders. Thanks, Johnny! I felt a smidgen bad that I couldn’t keep up at the time, but now I’m more grateful than anything.
Koren (expo) was on me for a good part of the night, telling me to hold back on spices (I guess I’m a little too heavy handed with chilies and black pepper >.>;;) and not to smush the pork shoulder too much.
One thing I feel bad about was that during a lull in service I forgot about a shoulder I was cooking on John’s side of the window and didn’t remember it until nearly 25 minutes had gone by and nearly all the liquid was gone from it. I quickly pulled the meat out, threw in more stock, peanuts and shrimp and threw it back under John’s fire where it came back to a boil just as the server asked for it. I felt so bad, but at least it was ready in under a minute. Urgh….STUPID >_<
Note to self: Do NOT put anything in John's oven when no one is there to mind it….

Little things like that are subtle but jarring reminders that just because I'm getting comfortable in the station doesn't mean I've mastered the station yet. And I see they've put the mackerel on the menu. And the trout is still on the menu too. Great… I've got two fish dishes in addition to other dishes I'm struggling to juggle. Urgh… I've still so much to learn.

Eat Your Heart Out

On Monday night Time Out Chicago held its annual Eat Out awards ceremony, and as a result, a bunch of food-industry professionals came afterward to eat at our humble establishment. COOL!!!!!
Ryan Poli (ex-Perrenial chef and soon-to-be Tavernita chef) came by with his associates and while I don’t know/remember his full order, he did have the foie gras and pork shoulder. He didn’t tweet about the pork shoulder though ._. Of course glamorous foie gras would get all the attention and love ;_;
Stephanie Izard (Girl & The Goat) came in around 11PM with Jared Rouben (Goose Island) and ordered a LOT of stuff: antipasto, dates, whole fish, brandade, crostini, and who knows what else, but barely ate all/any of it, and then they left, which kind of bums me out since we put in extra effort (well, I sure as hell did) to make the food look freaking fabulous/delicious. Is it kind of rude if while looking at her with her back towards me (she sat at seat 58, which is the table in front of my station) I thought, “Man, she sure has a big, pouffy head”?
Justin Large (Big Star) sat at the bar with his fiancée. Aside from dates and bratwurst I can’t remember what they had.
Minus professional chefs, a number of lesser industry folk (not connected to the awards ceremony) came by to eat too. An ex-hostess who’s currently working at Big Star came in to eat. (But didn’t come by to say hi to us… rude?) Two line cooks from The Publican (I knew one of them) came in after the kitchen closed to sit at the bar and chat.

All in all, a good night, if just a tad bit slow (I can’t believe I just said that). I was steady and chugging along, but I got the feeling that I could’ve been a bit busier. Katie (on 3, which seemed to be slammed that night) wants to put a mackerel dish on station 1 so that not all fish is coming off station 3. Hmm….
Aside from some tiny blips to my self esteem (I knocked over a pan of oil during service and it took about 3 boxes of salt to clean it up =_=), I think I’ve been doing well! Johnny said I really came into my own ever since that Friday night I worked for Katie, to which I have no words except, “Yay?” Praise really catches me off guard. It’s nice to hear and bolsters my self esteem, but it’s hard to take seriously. I think I’ve still got quite a ways to go until I can be at the point where it’s a busy night and I can stay focused and collected AND confident. Hah, it’s only been a month. I’ve got plenty of time to get comfortable ^_^

In other news, Dylan, my Station 1 counterpart, has decided to go back to school. I guess he thought long and hard and came to the conclusion that he wanted to explore new prospects in his life, and that staying a line cook forever wouldn’t necessarily pan out. He’s still a young guy so I’m happy for him. It takes courage to decide for yourself when something isn’t working out and to break away from it. It’s scary too. I think Dylan told me he’s worked as a line cook since he was a teen, so it would be safe to assume it’s pretty much all he knows. I felt the same way deciding midway through university that I’d rather go to culinary school. Scary.
Until more developments of any kind pop up, I’ll be heading off to get corndogs thanks to this review by Ms. Nao. Cheers!

Just Another Manic Sunday

Mlurf…. It’s so late…and yet, I must post for posterity….

I was scheduled to work on Sunday with Armanzo (2), Katie (3), and Elliot (expo). Whoa! My first working Sunday! Of course, I commemorated the occasion by missing my bus (and subsequently, my train) and being nearly 30 minutes late =__=;;; *cue ironic music*

Sunday feels like any other day, and yet it’s also not. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just this weird vibe I felt (though it might also have been my nerves acting up); this strange pressure that I only had three hours to prep until we opened for business so I better make it count. The feeling was similar to when I first started out as an intern at Avec; I would look at the prep list and pick whatever looked important enough and made me look busy enough, but still easy enough where no one could call me out on it if I was fucking shit up.
After that, it was pretty much like any day where we open for service, though, with the weather being so nice (I think it was 79°F), we filled up pretty quickly right after we opened. The volume level in the dining room went from really quiet to increasingly loud in about half an hour. Tonight was fine, though I hit a rough patch some time in the late evening where it seemed I was just behind on my items (not dates though! How sad is it that I’m always really proud of that?). It was mildly frustrating for awhile. Armanzo also would help me a couple of times, helping me cut up chicken while I plated potatoes, or plate sausage while I got the salad for it. Not that I’m paranoid or anything but I wonder if he did it cos I was slow or cos he wanted to help. He’s the kind of person that would lend a hand cos he wanted to, but I feel like I’m so dense that I wouldn’t even know how slow I was, no matter how fast I was trying to move/get food out.

Another frustrating episode was my wood situation. Our wood supply has been pretty damp lately so it doesn’t light really well. Usually when you throw dry wood in the oven and light it, it should go “PWOOF” and burst into flame, but unless you gave it ample time to dry out, the wood would smolder and then die. NOT FUN. Especially if it’s 3:34PM and you’ve got two pans of dates that should’ve finished parcooking 34 minutes ago. And then you have orders coming in, and no amount of praying to the kitchen gods and cajoling the logs into behaving will do. This exchange with Eric I had earlier that day pretty much sums up my Sunday:
Eric: Are you ready for today?
Me: I am, but my fire’s not.
I’m going to have to ponder this situation for possible remedies.

The night’s not as bad I make it. I just happen to be highlighting all the significantly bad details. I’m kind of secretly proud that my chicken platings all looked really nice tonight. Not that they don’t always look nice, but they were a bright spot in my exasperating wood woes.

Later that night, Katie’s sister came to eat and even later that night her boyfriend came to visit/pick her up from work. Mikie’s (our server) husband came in to pick her up/have a drink. Seeing them made me wish I had friends/family/a boyfriend who could come in to see me but also get a nice reception from my coworkers. (Sadly, the Boyfriend lives in Seattle, and even if he wanted to eat at Avec, it’d be impossible. Dammit!) Hey, Friends & Family of Betty! I’d love it if you could come have dinner at Avec! You’d get a nice meal, and I’d love to see you! That is, if you can stand the volume level and the (slightly uncomfortable) wooden chairs!

But, let’s wait a little longer, when I’ve been on the station a while and have a little more pull ^_^;;