Saturday, August 23, 2008

Exit wounds.

I read something somewhere that when it comes to kitchen injuries, burns are sexy, cuts are when something stupid goes wrong. It was probably Tony Bourdain.

I was sitting in front of an endless pot of chocolate pastry cream one day (guest chef insisted that the recipe could not be increased and so to feed the event I had to make the same batch 16 times). Event cook of reasonable aptitude totally gets me with the oil he's using to pan sear his tuna. I flinch (I've named the scar after him) and keep stirring. "Oh did I get you?" he inquires. I flash the blistered skin. "Yeah, you pastry cooks don't know about burns."

Ahem, what?

When I interviewed for this job, as things were winding down we noticed that all three of us - owner, manager, and me, had identical marks. I told them of the wisdom of hot side event cooks. There was laughter. Sheet pans are hot. Pastry cream is hot. Water baths suck and I hate them. Anyone who suggests that pastry cooks don't know from injuries can go suck an egg. Just not the farm ones because those are expensive and better for the custards and Oh you don't know how to tell them apart? Snort.

I have a knife cut on my hand. Our butter comes in beautiful 44 pound blocks and my croissant detrempe does not need quite that much. So in cutting it down with the machete my hand slipped across the top edge the wrong way. Yes that is right I cut myself cutting butter, and I did it with the non-sharp side of a machete.

Tony Bourdain may have been right.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Epic Battle between Man and Machine

A new home kitchen is a living beast. Relationships are often established quickly, and can only be reshaped through constant, repeated effort. You do your best to set up familiar territory, to make sure your arsenal is ready when the unexpected strikes, but the fact remains the place is different. Outlets on different walls. Cabinets in different configurations. Worse still, in the case of the rental, different appliances.

A pizza box does not fit in my new oven, but thankfully, the half sheet pans do. There are only two outlets in the whole kitchen, and in order to plug in the mixer, I have to unplug and move the toaster oven. It has tiny, narrow cabinets and a single sink rather than the double I used to have.

There is a window, looking out into our patio and the hill with the hazelnut tree and the murder of crows that our landlord feeds. An open set of shelves gives me easy access to pantry items, and the general setup feels airy even though I know with absolute certainty the space is small.

I've made lovely cookies so far. That torte and a cherry clafoutis. Some terrific, farmer's market inspired dinners. Chili cheeseburgers. Udon. Eggs. Chocolate Marionberry jam.

I think we'll be ok together.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Rustic or refined?

I'm in the honeymoon phase. I'm feeling slightly awkward, slightly off kilter... the order of things is just different enough to keep me on my toes. My confidence level is weird, and I find myself asking for assurances in such a way that I find it annoying.

I'm working on that.

But the work itself is fun, interesting, the atmosphere a gazillion times better from what I left. (Sometimes I think that is part of the problem. I'm waiting for abuse that doesn't happen so I'm all confused. Human beings can be so ridiculous.)

The product we put out is lovely - small batch, artisan care, and serious commitment to the local. Our flour is locally milled. That is just crazy, and couldn't happen just anywhere. The style of the work is rustic.

Rustic is interesting. It doesn't mean careless, sloppy. There is a level of concern over the quality of our goods that I haven't seen in a long time. Indeed, sometimes the concern is a bit mystifying, given what I've been doing. What I have been doing, professionally, would not be called rustic. It would be considered a more finished style, more artful and stylized. Indeed, that's the kind of thing I tend to do at home as well, maybe even more so.

Now, I'm being asked to forget that. But still, there is finely detailed piping on those plain cut cakes. Deliberately placed currants among rough curled chocolate. Carefully cut and scaled laminated doughs filled with a local seasonal fruit mix. So I'm looking at a different style at home, too, for practice. The most perfect fresh prunes I have ever seen (The farmer told me they would be best baked, and then smiled and said considering where I worked, I would know what to do with them) become a rough torte. Monsieur le chef would have approved of this one.

Even if it is rustic.