Posts tagged ‘pasta dough’

Tiny Steps, Huge Leaps, And Lots Of Progress

Holy crap, I just realized that this is the first anniversary of my becoming a line cook. Last year, March 3rd, I made a tiny announcement to the world… and now here I am. Damn, I’ve come a long way.

I’m glad I started this blog or else I would’ve forgotten this auspicious day entirely, but that in itself wouldn’t have been so bad either. To me, working is savoring each day, but also knowing that all the days blur into a collective. All same. All different. How zen. I told a stage today I’d been a line cook for “about 9 months” so the blurred days comment is quite apt. My sense of time is skewed!

I don’t want to get too maudlin but I’m just amazed at the changes in me and all around me in the year that’s gone by. I’m still timid and exasperatingly ultra-cautious (station 2, anyone?) but I can definitely tell that I’ve acquired a little moxie from working on the line. Is it too introspective to say that I am a reflection of the people who have and are working with me?

I have tried to imbue in myself:

  • Katie Furst’s vivaciousness
  • Dan Weiland’s friendliness
  • Justin Large’s wit and sagacity
  • John Anderes… uh, I try to do things opposite of him, but he had pretty sweet taste in music.

 
I want to be as awesome and reliable as Elliot, as fun and confident as Armanzo, a pillar like Jorge, and always try to lead by Koren’s example (though timid ultra-cautiousness tends to get in the way).

I opened today and I just had to take a picture of the pasta dough I was working. It’s one of the first things Justin Large taught me to make and I’ve had a special fondness for it ever since.

Cutting rolled dough into uniform sheets is always a thrill. It’s for that reason why I love to make pappardelle or pasta kerchiefs.


See those white speckles in the dough? Those are salt speckles. In my humble experience, a dough that’s rested long enough will develop those specks and is an indicator that it’s ready for rolling. It handled like a dream.

Thank you Justin Large for being my first (and so far only) kitchen Dad. Thank you kitchen brothers and sisters for enriching and educating me. Thank you Kitchen Gods for smiling on me more often than not.

I’m off Wednesday but back to work Thursday on Station 1. Fun times.

Advertisements

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.