Posts tagged ‘Big Star’

Big Love

Just wanted to throw in a little update that Sunday night, my old sous chef/Big Star chef de cuisine Justin Large showed up to eat with his friends. His dinner was fine, they liked everything. Armanzo went out to talk with him a bit and then called me over to say hi and stuff. I’m super bashful when this happens, but I’m grateful when Armanzo throws the spotlight on you. If he knows credit goes to you, he’ll make sure that it’s known, that’s for sure.

Large told me something that really made me happy. He said that I was his favorite person to work with. Whoa! Really?! *fist pump* YEAH! I didn’t get to work with him for very long after I was hired, but when I worked under him during his openers, they were special times, that’s for sure. And it’s funny how whenever he’d announce that it looked like we’d be getting out early, it never happened. Like the time the basement flooded… >_>;;;;

Anyway, I’m just putting down this memory for posterity. Cos when the shit goes down and I’m feeling like everyone hates me, I can just look back and read/remember that at least TWO people have said that they liked working with me.

Also, how did I not know about this little gem? Did he give up blogging? I scrolled down and I saw the entry about Lollapalooza, which I worked, HA. It’d be nice if there were more entries, but seeing as how the last entry was in 2010, I think he’s given up. Sad ;_;

The Last Huzzah

Today is like the last time I’ll ever have a set off-day, like I did when I was just a prep cook. I start tomorrow at 4PM. Whooooaaaaa…. O_O

Actually, I guess officially my last set off day was Sunday, but today I was helping old sous chef/current chef de cuisine of Big Star Justin in an event. It was a school presentation that tied in with their school lunches. Justin, Paul Kahan (the ruler of us all), Koren, and a bunch of other chefs are in a program called Pilot Light that aims to improve school lunches. So while Team Paul & Justin (plus Helper Betty) were teaching second graders about noodles and its ties to the Chinese and Chinatown (the kids had learned about neighborhoods last week), they were also teaching the kids on a deeper level to think about where this food (and in a sense, ANY food) comes from. In the noodle’s case, wheat: where it comes from, how it gets made, what becomes of it. And then as a reinforcement, they got to eat it (along with other chefs’ educational contributions) in an optional school lunch. It was pretty amazing. Or should I say, it is freakin’ awesomely amazing. Not only are Paul Kahan and Justin Large really good speakers (they were warm, personable, engaging and funny) they gave a really good lesson from which even I learned a few new things. And they brought it back to the school lunch improvement agenda, getting the children excited about noodles and vegetables.

Today’s menu was (comprised of the chefs’ educationally edible contributions): pork stew with polenta (though everyone was calling them grits since I guess the third graders had been learning about corn or something), cooked carrots, buckwheat noodle salad, and apple strudel. YUM! Versus regular school lunch of “taco”, steamed corn, and some fresh fruit. I have no qualms about steamed corn and fruit but until I took a closer look at the wrapper, I had no idea it was even a taco. I actually thought it was a honey bun or a doughnut. Actually it was some quasi-taco pocket that was actually just warmed up in a huge warming contraption. Yeah, warmed.
If you’re like me, you’re probably vaguely aware but not totally knowledgeable on present day school lunches. You could say Lunch Lady Doris is still there, but she doesn’t cook anything she serves anymore. She just warms up what state contracted caterers made and hands them out. They’re already portioned and sealed in plastic and you just rip it open and eat it. It’s basically airline food. But this makes airline food look gourmet. At least I knew what I was eating all those years ago on that Air Korea flight. Cos I sure didn’t recognize that taco even if someone had smacked me in the face with it. As Justin had said, “It may as well be Soylent Green.”
And that also reminds me, the school kitchen was TINY O_O;;; Since schools don’t cook lunch anymore in the conventional sense, they’ve shrunk the kitchen down to the size of a large classroom. When I walked in, I just kept looking around expecting there to be more. There wasn’t a fridge anymore to hold food, but a freezer for all the pre-cooked, pre-portioned stuff that they’d load onto a tray and put in the warmer O_O;;

But other than that, the in-school demonstration and lunchtime was FUN! I played my part during Paul’s and Justin’s lesson by showing the kids how to hand make pasta dough, rolling and cutting noodles, and talking a little about my Chinese heritage. And the kids were really smart. Not only were there huge signs hung up about composition writing (I sure as hell don’t remember writing compositions when I was a second grader. In fact, I think I was continuing through a phonics workbook >_>;;;), Justin once showed me their lesson plan and they were learning economics. Not “social studies”, but ECONOMICS. I don’t think I even knew that word when I was their age. So when one little girl raised her hand and asked if wheat grew in Libya, we were all pretty stunned. The US and European air strikes were still fresh in my mind since I saw the front page of the New York Times, but where does a 7-year-old learn about Libya?!?! (And yes, Libya does grow wheat as well as barley plus dates, olives, peanuts and soybeans. Thanks Wikipedia!)

And now I can check off one of my life goals: Become A Lunch Lady For a Day lol. Not that it was intense like standing in front of a 700° oven slinging dates, but it was a controlled wave of kids and we had to get out food fast for them since they don’t have too much time to eat it and then go out for recess. So we assembly-line portioned food and handed it out, and then got to reap the rewards by seeing their smiling faces while eating and some of them even wanted seconds. YESSS! I may not enjoy the idea of having kids of my own, but I can’t help but smile when after each lunch period was over, 100 kids would line up and just before they left to play, they yell “THANK YOU!!!!!” cos they really enjoyed their food.

There was a hairy moment when we found out we didn’t have much cooked carrot left, and what was a veggie side eventually became a carrot garnish for the pork stew +_+;;;
“What the-” I started to say when the plate was passed to me to portion, but Justin cut me off with a wry smile: “Don’t say it. We know.” I don’t know if Chef Erick thought kids wouldn’t like carrots, or he grossly underestimated how much kids would eat, or he left half the carrots in his car, but the fact is there were no more carrots, he’d left early, and he apparently didn’t want to take his 2-inch half hotel pan with him. Justin decided to take it with him back to Big Star. “Hell, I’m not gonna pass up free kitchen equipment.” Damn! I was just about to claim it for Avec but was just a heartbeat too late.

Anyway, I hope when Pilot Light does another school lunch installment, Chefs Paul and Justin (or even Koren) invite me back cos that was really enjoyable. It’s awesome seeing happy kids learn something. It’s fun to see professionals gab and pal around. It’s fun to hear Paul and Justin (and Koren and Publican-employee Sam) talk industry (or in Koren and Sam’s case, memories of Newport, Rhode Island).
And now, I need to take a much needed nap because I’ve been up since 6:30AM…. Nighty night.

Taking It On The Run

Whoa!!! Just heard the confirmation that our sous chef, John, will be leaving us May 1.
I’d heard the rumor about 2 days ago from our butcher Jorge, but I didn’t really think much of it since John’s always taking time off for something. Once it was a trip to China. Another time, it was Iowa State University’s Meat School (a meat class where you learn about sausage making). Other times: a farm dinner in Michigan, the SXSW music fest in Austin, a collaborative chef dinner in Ohio… you get the picture. He’s out and about so hearing news of “leaving” meant little to me.

Though I did wonder if it meant what I thought it meant.

I doubt anyone at work knows this (unless they’re reading this blog, then secret’s out) but I have an inner love/hate for John. I respect him and (sort of) admire him because he’s my senpai (bordering on sensei) and he’s worked a very long time to get to his current position. He can be funny and disarmingly charming. He has tons of food ideas that end up on the menu (way more than my current zero). He’s got pretty good taste in music. (If you’re wondering how music figures into my kitchen admiration, it does a little. If I’m working next to you and your iPod is blasting shitty music that does not fit the situation; for imaginary example, drone metal while I’m peeling carrots; I won’t tell you to turn it off, but I will dislike you for playing it in the first place.)

But you can take those same reasons and look at the flip side: he became sous chef when his predecessor stepped down to take the chef de cuisine position at Big Star. (At the time I wondered if he had what it takes, but I guess now I have no choice but to grudgingly concede.) That same charm can sometimes border on douchery; once one of our servers mentioned she couldn’t drive and he said laughingly, “That’s okay, because you’re a woman.” Sure, he as lots of food ideas, but sometimes it leads to larger food cost for the restaurant (toward which I sometimes wonder if he occasionally turns a blind eye). Well, despite all this, at least he still has pretty good taste in music! (Even if he does pay for it all on iTunes, and I’m just a pirate >_>)

Anyway, I heard it from his lips that he will indeed be leaving to help open a place in Logan Square. And with that piece of news, I wonder: who will be the new sous chef?
I’d imagined Elliot, since he’s worked here next longest, and has a good head on his shoulders to boot, but there’s unconfirmed speculation that he’s leaving to follow Johnny. I don’t know what to think about that, but I’ll definitely be blogging my 90 cents about it when news of it hits my ears.

Katie, my sister-in-arms, will also be leaving sometime in the week before Easter. Hers will be a temporary leave, as she will be participating in Outstanding In The Field, a cross-country event dinner that honors its farmers and local artisans…yeah I’m not going to copy the description word for word from the site itself. Anyway, Katie will be gone til December, whoopin’ it up outdoors preparing farm dinners and being all badass and cool, while I will be slaving away at Avec, trying my damnedest to be a line cook with even a tenth of her capabilities. Not that I’m lesser or nuthin’, but when all you’ve known for most of your professional culinary life is the equivalent of a military desk job and you suddenly get stationed on the front lines (in part cos you asked for that position), you’d be a little insecure from time to time, too.

My fellow blogger, Ms. Nao, kindly let me know that Avec will be participating in Chef Week. Hmm… not only will we probably be hella busy, I’ll probably see line time during that week.