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Last weekend was very dramatic for some 40 millions of Poles; not only those who live in Poland, but also for the rest of us scattered all around the world. Life goes on, however, and we must do, too. I’m lucky to have found an optimal way to keep my focus on being productive, whilst learning at the same time.
Remember Da Vinci restaurant I wrote about a few weeks ago? Remember the chef, Jason Fullilove, who had asked me to write a review of his fine dine venue in Beverly Hills? I hesitated for a few days whether I should do it. Boy, am I glad I gave in to my tickled with flattery ego, for I have officially begun my apprenticeship at the restaurant as of last Friday.
How did that come about, you wonder. Well, it’s all about the food with me these days. After my Jason and I were fed the feast of our lives at Da Vinci, I approached the chef himself and threw myself down on to the impeccably clean floor begging to be granted an unlimited access to his kitchen. I needed to see him cook, as I saw there a big opportunity for me to learn from a master. OK, maybe I wasn’t THAT dramatic …on the outside, but in my head I was serenading the chef and sending him fruit baskets and belly dancers straight from the Rio de Janeiro carnival (picture the feathers and nipple tassels!) in order to get my foot in the door. Worked like magic!
I’m all itching to tell you about my experience thus far. Let me begin with stating that I have never worked in a professional kitchen before, or a restaurant in general. As soon as I walked in, I was given a chef’s jacket and an apron, none of which accentuated my svelte figure, dammit. With latex gloves on and my short hair I looked like a 16-year old boy working on his science project for school. Wait, 16 may be a few years too old for that kid to be still sweating over science homework, so I’ll let this photo serve as a cane for your imagination:
You see me here prepping a TUNA TARTAR, an assembly of perfectly diced tuna meat later served with lemon saffron emulsion and rye tuile. I may look professional, but don’t let that fool you. I have no idea what’s happening around me. It’s as if I had pushed the door open expecting to enter the kitchen, while I landed in a different galaxy, far, far away from the Milky Way. I heard people talking to me and telling me things I was supposed to be doing and all I could extract in response was QUE? The chef said PEEL AND BLANCH ASPARAGUS to which I was trying to remember what name my mother gave me at birth.
I experienced one of the most severe brain farts in the history of the humankind.
That wasn’t even the hardest part yet. As I soon realized, working in a professional kitchen is all about sweat control. I’ve mentioned the uniform before. Now I’ll walk you through all my layers from the bottom up: *satin thong * leather garter * lace-up bustier * cotton t-shirt * chef’s jacket * steal apron * latex gloves * dull facial expression. Need I say more?
I was first put in charge of chopping an onion and chives, which out of the blue escaladed into cooking the so-called Family Meal (lunch for the entire staff of the restaurant). The chef gave me the ultimate freedom to use anything from the WALK-IN (the refrigerator) and the pantry, and I was on my own. Thus the sweat-fest began.
That whole first day was utterly intimidating, mind-wringing, back-breaking, and absofookinglutely exhilarating. I couldn’t wait for more. And more I got, big time. On day two I entered Da Vinci’s kitchen and froze when faced the door of the WALK-IN. Right there, in front of my green-and-blue eyes framed by a mustache of thick black eyebrows was a list with my name at its top taped to the refrigerator door. The note had a litany of tasks I was entrusted with for the day. I scrolled down the roster:
- make mango and avocado sorbet
- make fennel pureé
- clean and organize the containers in the WALK-IN (there are millions of them in that, that… COLD fridge!)
- make the Family Meal
- make a soup for TODAY’S SPECIAL for the restaurant
- make watermelon consommé
- scrape salmon.
Come again??? Does it say that I am to cook a soup that will be served to the guests of this fine dining locale?
The pressure and the level of expectation I was bequeathed terrorized my guts. The chef, once again, offered me total independence in the kitchen and I could concoct whatever my shaken soul desired.
In normal circumstances, I consider myself pretty confident in a kitchen, particularly when it comes to making soup. I have it down. By normal circumstances I understand a familiar kitchen supplied with ingredients I have previously chosen and purchased myself, or at least approved. None of which was true at that very moment at Da Vinci. I wandered back and forth between the fridge and the pantry looking for my regular suspects: celery root, carrots, parsnips, leeks, and chicken or veggie stock. I found carrots, onions and celery stalks. There were also two heads of a cauliflower.
Over the next 6 hours I ran amok looking for missing ingredients, chopping, sautéing, simmering, blending, pureeing, cleaning, re-labeling, chopping some more, juicing, freezing, and sweating like a wild hog in a Swedish sauna. One by one I crossed off my tasks from the list on the refrigerator door.
Five o’clock ding-dong announced my CAULIFLOWER SOUP ready to be served. Minutes later the first guests arrived. Orders came in: TODAY’S SPECIAL. Three bowls of the soup went out. Exhausted, but still riding off the leftover adrenaline rush, I kept myself busy impatiently awaiting the waiters to return with empty plates. I needed to know how my soup was received, but I didn’t dare asking. Luckily, I did not need to. Alina rolled in through the swinging doors and delivered with a comforting smile: THEY LOVED THE SOUP!
Swoooossh! A giant stone fell off my chest and banged on the floor. That one sentence at that very moment made it all worth the sweat and sheer terror that accompanied me throughout the day. That’s the best validation any cook or chef can ask for, aside from every penny a client happily pays for our services.
I shall return with more insider’s stories and tips straight from Da Vinci’s kitchen. Right now, however, the water is rapidly filling the bathtub, blue bubbles are bursting violently under the current, and I can hear my name called from the bathroom. I’m going to soak my aching limbs.
I can’t believe I’m forced to consume the entire Brownie Pie I made last Wednesday! (By the time I’m done writing this article, it should be just a vague memory.)
After sifting and whipping, and then more mixing and scooping, I placed my baking pan full of chocolaty batter in the deepest depths of our oven with my hopeful heart stomping anxiously inside my chest. I was testing a new recipe while adding my own twist. The twist was of an orange shape, shave, fragrance, and flavor. What came out of the dark and hot chamber was this brilliant fudge brownie with a crisp top, cracking under the slightest pressure as the ice breaking on a river in spring (anywhere east and north from LA, one understands).
Oh, I was so proud and so in love with myself for having completed my bakery challenge. Not wasting any time, I scooped a generous portion out for our friend and her two daughters who stopped by to visit with us. They complimented the cake, mentioned its FRAGRANCE and how INTENSE it was, after which they politely left HALF of the brownie pie on the plate. Next in line was Jason. Taste it he did. The spoon vanished inside his mouth, wiggled its silver tail, and then instantly repelled backwards. I glanced at Jason’s face. His expression was puzzling for a moment. I watched his mouth stretch gently askance, and then mysteriously curve up and down into a zig zag (Yup, just like in a cartoon!) as he spitted “Hmmm…it’s too… orangy!”
I really wanted to stamp my shoeless footprint on that sour grimace of his.
But I didn’t. I took the goods back to the kitchen, wrapped it up neatly, and put away on the shelf. There will be people banging on the door begging for a slice of my famous fudge brownie one day, with Jason leading the crowd. I will make them pay! … a bag of colorful beads, a fan of feathers, and a golden tooth per each slice. That’s right, my cake will be worth as much as the White People paid for the entire Manhattan …or so. Dammit.
A lot of experimenting goes on in my kitchen, clearly. It’s almost like a science lab minus the science part. Just to end that Thanksgiving reminiscing, and in time to start prepping for Christmas (oh, boy), let me quickly walk you through my latest culinary trial – Mashed Rutabaga and Cauliflower.
You see I am not a big fan of mashed potatoes. Even as a kid, I would have my mom call me to the kitchen when the potatoes were ready, so I could put aside a few before my brother beat the crap out of the rest of the guys in the pot. I bet as an infant I was stealing whole carrots when nobody was watching, and fussed around when fed those purees from a jar. I bet I grew teeth overnight after that first tasting.
I should talk to my mother!
Back from talking to The One Who Brought Me To Life. Mama dismissed my theory on premature teething. Moreover, she informed me that whatever food they put in front of my face it would disappear within nanoseconds, apple and carrot purees included. “I don’t like the way this conversation is going. Good night, mother.”
Until this past Thanksgiving, I was a rutabaga virgin. Never before did I have an opportunity, nor desire to mess around with that oddly looking bulb. Since I love cauliflower, I thought I’d cook both together, with a parsnip for company, and to keep the Party in the same color theme. And so she did. (“She” being me. Don’t ask me why I sometimes refer to myself in the third person. It appears at times that I experience my life through narration, as if I was reading about my character. OK, I’ll stop talking before someone calls for the authorities.)
I know that now you just really WANT THAT EFFIN RECIPE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, HOW MUCH LONGER CAN WE LISTEN TO THAT NONSENSE you’re thinking. Ok, ok… Let’s do it. (I’m such a pushover!)
MASHED RUTABAGA WITH CAULIFLOWER
- 1 whole cauliflower, with leaves trimmed and cut into florets
- 1 rutabaga root, peeled and cut in large cubes
- 1-2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut in big cubes
- 1 tbsp organic butter
- 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
- 1/4 cup chives, roughly chopped
- kosher salt
- freshly ground WHITE pepper
- 2 bay leaves
The fun part begins when all your veggies are in a big pot, covered with water, bay leaves floating about, and seasoned generously with salt (say 1 tbsp or more). Turn off the heat and drain the veggies the minute they are cooked aldente. That’s right, you want them to still have a good bite. Why? Because all these vegetables tend to soak up a lot of water the longer they cook. You don’t want your dish soggy and beyond mushy, do you? When the water is all down the drain of your sink, put the pot back on the stove over a very low heat for a couple of minutes, thus allowing more moisture to evaporate from the potatoes and the gang. But watch not to burn their precious bottoms!
When all the dirty work is done, time for make up and hair. Add the butter and grated cheese into the pot along with another tablespoon of kosher salt and almost as much of pepper. The heat will melt all those goodies while you hit the pot with a potato masher. Bang it good, ensuring that all the gooey, cheesy and buttery goodness is distributed and incorporated among all the vegetables. Don’t bash it too much, though. It’s not supposed to be baby food, ok? Keep it rustic and chunky. Scoop the dish into a pretty bowl and sprinkle your chives all over, just as that green glitter you used to put on your cheeks on the way out to a discotheque… way, WAY back in the day.
The dish came out GOOD BEYOND MY WILDEST DREAMS. I know for a fact that Jason was secretly terrified by the idea of making that meal in the place of traditional mashed potatoes. He always claims he trusts me, and loves 99.8% (precisely) of all the food I make. That doesn’t change the fact that he experiences moments of sheer terror when sporadically I juggle some culinary ideas in front of his face. Let’s thank The Lord for helping me deliver those ideas happily and with no complications… in 99.8% cases.
A Brownie Pie? What Brownie Pie?