Wednesday, May 25, 2005

It's tearing me apart...

Being stuck between two worlds would best describe my week here. On one hand is the life I left behind. Friends, loved ones, a boyfriend, time off, hiking, hobbies, cats, sisters to watch off beat movies with and talk untill we fall asleep. Moms and Dads to see on every holiday. Best friends to go to the farmers market with and over analyze our lives. Girls to have over for drinks and endless guacamole and gossip. Streets I know the names of. Where to go out at night in every neighborhood. Where to get out of the city durring the day. Childhood memories around every corner. Everything from my prom dress to my letterman jacket, and my camp fire uniform still hang in my closet in the house I grew up in. Bills, car payments, perhaps a mortgage soon. It's all there waiting for me.

But what's here is just the tip of the iceberg. Not necessarily here, at The Fat Duck. But it's the culinary world I knew was out there. Friends who are driven by the same thing.... being the best cook you can be. A world where doing what I was doing all alone for the past 3 years (isolation from life to drive your passion in the kitchen) is the norm. it's the life I was preparing myself for. It's also a disolving world, a transient place where people come for a temporary time. A life where sometimes the only thing marking your room is a bed, a suitcase full of clothes, and something cheesy like a Shania Twain callander. How can you cling to a life that doesnt' really exist when you have something so stable waiting for you?

Well, I suppose it's a bit of what we called "senioritis" in highschool. A longing for the part of life you have grown to love, but which will never exist again. There is no choice but to let go.

My sister in Germany took the second route. She chose to uproot and take on an uncertian life in a foreign country. I don't think anyone has any clue how brave that was for her to do. We all cheered back home and said good for you Libs, we'll write and call. But what it takes to actually seperate from the stability and familiarity of your home is a challenge not many are capable of. And something I will eternally admire in my sister.

One path is certian. I know what my life will look like back home, and it looks good. And one is totally blind, terribly lonely, but offers you the chance of never having to say, what if.....?

Do I want a life of love, comfort, and certianty? Yes, or course.

Or do I want a life of long, long, long hours in kitchens striving for my best, seeing as much as possible, and never knowing the stability of home again??? Yes. Can't I have both??

No, you can't be in two places at the same time.

Becca, this one is really for you...... "Argh, what is wrong with me?!? What do I do??!!??"

So what do I do???? I go home. The cooks will be wailing for a different stage to relieve some of the pressure of their job next week and my name will be forgotten. The relaxing schedule of not working and hanging out with my sister in Germany will wash my mind. Russell's adoring and waiting arms will find me at the airport in a month. And a new kitchen waits for my arrival the next day. (Oh man will I need a paycheck!)

So will begin my adventures at home. And home will allways be just that...... home.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The cats meow....

I recieved a greeting from an old friend yesterday!! Someone who I miss dearly, my cat Vito!!!! The little furball went to live with uncle Steve when I gave up my apartment, and the two are getting along great. Here is what Vito said to me.... (of course I would have such a smart cat that he can type. His pallate is so refined that he likes Nori as a snack too!)

"Hey,who in the hell is this China,what about me,what I'm I now just some stateside feline to you.Well thats alright I have some new friends too, a three legged racoon whom I love to chase from room to room as he saunters by each window,and my beloved kitchen sponge,"Soppy". Don't tell Uncle Steve though, because I'm not really suppossed to be up on the countertops. All in all life ain't to bad, I get to go outside on occassion, that's right, you heard me, outside! The two Steve's are pretty cool as far as roommates go. The big one has a pretty comfy bed even though he kicks his legs to damn much when he sleeps, and he's kind of anal about his crappy furniture. The little one doesn't like me to go in his room when he's gone but I do anyway. Well I gotta go and wake up Steven, I've never met anyone who sleeps more than me, jeez. I miss ya and can't wait to see youVito "

Well, little fella, I miss you too. I can't wait to see you again either and scratch your cute little cheeks. We may never live together again because of my newly aquired allergy (named Russell). But don't fret my pet, my love for you lives on. And I know that uncle steve can give you a life I never could. A propper cats life with a yard to play in, trees to climb and dirt to roll around in, and racoons to chase.

The final countdown and a day at the pub

I am entering my last week here at The Fat Duck. It weems like it was just yeaterday that I walked into that kitchen, wide eyed and full of wonder. For the first 3 days Rupert asked me, or told me more like it, that I was a quiet one. I am not all that quiet in general, but I know I didn't talk for the first week. I finally just told him that I wasn't quiet, I just didn't like him. A joke, really, because I have managed to like everyone on staff here. It's a unique collection of cooks, and all of them command respect. If I could take anything back with me it would be the staff here and the comraderie shared. It's hard to start to like people so much all the time knowing that there is a chance you will never see them again. I guess it's like summer camp.

I worked last sunday across the road in the Hinds Head Pub. It was fantastic. The food is really nice, traditional english pub food. As it was sunday there was a special sunday roast. Something as traditional as family brunch is for america. The roast was a rib roast with the bone cut out and the fat wrapped back around for cooking.

The menu contains other traditional eats. A rabbit terrine was served cold with toast and little pickled cornichons. There were 6 oysters, shucked to order, served with a shallot relish. Also was potted shrimp. This is a moussey emulsion of shrimp stock, and shrimp butter with tiny bay shrimp folded in and set in a rammekin. A thin layer of clarrified butter is set over the top.

Also was pea and ham soup that sounds simple enough. But rather than pull a portion of soup out of a big pot of soup that has been sitting around all day, this soup was made to order. A ham stock is heated and a puree pea is mixed in with a hand blender then mounted with butter. This is brought to a boil and poured into crocks that hold pieces of ham, bacon, and green peas.

Then came a dish that took me back to Lampreia. The Hinds Head calls it Soused herring. It was two halves of herring, pickled, with the shiny skin preserved and displayed. It was served with cubed beets coated in a horseradish cream and pickled onions. At Lampreia I was first introduced to this fish in a dish we did each summer. The chef called it Sardelli. The fish were cleaned and picked in a mixture of olive oil, lemon, salt, garlic, shallots, and chopped herbs. from what I understand this is a traditional italian treatment of these fishies. It was plated with that beatiful shiny side up (can you blame a girl for liking shiny things??) and garnished with a collage of orange segments, tiny preserved zuchinni, Shaved fennel pickled in saffron, oven dried tomatoes, and small salads. So not really the same at all, huh. But that little fish took me for a nostalgic swim. But becaue the menu at Lampreia evolved on a weekly basis and I saw so many amazing plates there, everything reminds me of Lampreia.

Especially the next dish, a goat cheese tart. It was a tart with black olive tapenade, onion marmelade, and roasted red peppers with goat cheese on top. At Lampreia it was a long narrow rectangle of pizza dough run through the pasta machine for a super thin crust baked with the onion marmelade and roasted peppers. The peppers were cut to the same shape as the tart. The black olive tapenade was used under the dough to secure it to the plate, and instead of goat cheese a fresh creamy robiolina was served next to it. Later it was a quenelle of the cheese and a matching quenelle of tapenade paired next to the tortino, as it was called. So this one, is very similar. I remember not truly understanding the depth of this dish untill I tasted it. The chefs wife gave me a knowing look, and said, "you dont' know untill you taste this one, do you."

The side dishes of vegetables were interesting. Pease pudding tasted like my moms split pea soup (she allways liked it really thick). With a texture similar to that of mashed potatoes, this dish is made from dried split peas and flavored with ham. Brocolli was served with a traditional accompyment, anchovies. I personally like fishy fish, so tasting them next to this green vegetable made sense to me. Then there is Champers. This is a mashed potatoe made with spring onions that have been soaked in milk. The oniony milk is used as well. Fantastic for those of us that don't pass out at the thought of an onion entering out mouths.

The two dishes I shared with Tom (from Wales but raised in Denmar) were there. The Hot Pot which I didn't accurately describe before. It is lamb, not chicken inside,with carrots, potatoes, and oysters. It is fantastic. And of course, the oxtail and Kidney pudding. Which is steamed.

I hung around the dessert station quite a bit. I tasted the amazing treacle pudding. This is made with something called golden syrup which is a very very light mollasses like sugary syrup. It is mixed with some stuff, lemon zest, and bread crumbs. The effect durring the baking proceess is the bread crubms bake at the top leaving the tart in two thin layers. One of gooey goodness, one with gooey texture. And yes, those are professional terms. It was served with an icecream I have only seen over here, milk flavored icecream. Imagine a vanilla icecream, without the vanilla. For me as a kid vanilla icecream was a non flavor for me.

Also was a quaking pudding. this is a steamed pudding flavored with nutmeg and cinnamon and served with poached rhubarb. it was hot and spicy and rich. and the rhubarb ballanced it out nicely with a bit of tart and a bit of texture. Plus I am allways a sucker for that pretty pink!!


Monday, May 16, 2005

Brittish food, Danish company

After being here for just on two months, I have finally experienced The Hinds Head. This is an old pub kitty corner from the Fat Duck, and is also owned by Heston. The menu is very traditionally english pub food, but done impecabbly. And I must say I was very impressed. I had kidney and oxtail pudding, and a Lancashire hot pot. The oxtail and kidney pudding was fantastic. It is a rich filling of oxtail, kidney, and a dark oxtail sauce and is wrapped in a dough of suet and flour. The hot pot was oyster and I think chicken with thinly sliced potatoes baked on top. My mouth was too busy savoring each bite to be bothered to ask what was inside. It's amazing how beautiful rustic simple food can be when done well. Often the simplicity of these dishes translates into an appathetic approach to them. But they can often be more satisfying than a 3 hour fine dining experience and when done well, be just as memorable.

It was my first taste of kidney. I quite liked it.

I shared the meal with Tom, the new Danish fellow who has come to work in the pastry department. By the time we got to the pub we had spend almost 2 hours walking around in the rain, a little lost. This initial state of cold and damp might have added to the comfort of these two dishes when they finally arrived.

We also ate triple cooked chips. This is a very "Heston" touch to this traditional menu, and something that is also on a plate at the Fat Duck. This super refined technique involves cooking the chips and using a vac pack machine to change the density of the surface area for a lower boiling point. The chips come out crispy and perfect. Part of the enjoyment of foods that are ment to be crunchy come from the sound of the food breaking between your teeth. So by increasing the crispness of the outer layer you can hear yourself eating the chip, thus the enjoyment of it is heightened. There were even some experimental dinners in which the sound of this crunch was played over a set of headphones while diners ate the chips. This noise from an external source was also playing with your interpretation of the experience. Because taste is the sense most assosiated with food, we often disregard the role of our other senses in food. But texture, aroma, sound, and the visual aspect of food all contribute to how much we enjoy a meal. Heston is toying with us by isolating these secondary senses and exagerating them. And I must say, they are an extremely enjoyable french fry.

Spell check

I have bin geting alot of greef about my spelling latly. i guess i dont use spell check offen enuf.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Will work for food...

In England they call them C.V.'s, and in America they are resume's. Both are your entire career reduced to one sheet of paper.

In sending out my resume recently, I have had the hardest time reducing my years of kitchen experience into a handfull of words. How do you show a hopeful employer your capabilities with words.

The real interview for most kitchens is a physical trial. At The Fat Duck these trials are often a week long. But to get a trial you need a resume.

So lets start with the first line. My name. Confident there.

Line two. My address, well, um, I work in seattle, my stuff lives in Bellevue with my boyfriend, and I physically live in England.

Objective....."to work for you"

Strenghths..... How do you tell someone how good you are while remaining humble at the same time. You have to show them that you are strong and capable so they want to hire you. But tooting your own horn often just sounds arrogant. It's a fine line.

Things like,
Capable of multitasking and correctly timing work in a highly productive manner
Able to mentally organize a dinner service for maximum efficency

All these statements mean is that you know how to work in a kitchen and do a good job at it. Taking a physical skill and restricting it to a few words seems to diminish it. Kitchen work doesn't really translate well. It's much better just to be able to show people.

Experience. Easy peasy. Just the names of the restaurants and bakeries you worked in.

Position. Well, cook, (sometimes baker, and now stagiere). But comming out of a small kitchen presents a challenge. When you are one of 4 people in the kitchen, the term cook embodies so much. In my small kitchen I was a cook, but I also did all the pastry, managed the cheese tray, organized all the kitchens prep work, worked the pantry station, the garnish station, the amuse busche station, helped on all the other stations if needed, trained new employees, maintained all the inventory, etc, etc, etc... It's differnet from a large kitchen where your roll is clearly defined. You work garnish. You are a commis chef. You work meat prep. Your responsibility is written on a list. In no way should these statements hint at one being better than the other. They are both equally respectable, just very different.

Education.....this brings up an often asked question...culinary school, is it important? Well, that depends on the company hiring you. Some companies only want people with a culinary degree. But for the most part, I would say no. School doesn't matter. The real education that matters in the kitchen comes from working in kitchens. In fact, culinary school doesnt prepare you for working in a kitchen. If you are driven enough you will be on your way to the top no matter what. Most of the top chef's did not go to culinary school. Most people you meet in kitchens did not go to culinary school. Many of the people you will go to culinary school will not work in restaurants. But culinary school does give you a broad scope of the world of cooking, and should give you a sound base in methodology and basics like stocks and sauces. And i do like to be able to put culinary school, AND baking and pastry school on my resume. A double threat!!

Special projects I saw this in a resume format on my computer. I don't know if it actually something you need. But you get to put all the really fun things you do. Like I worked on a cookbook, had some writing published in the guardian (thanks Leo), did some special dinners for the people of tasting menu, and keep a food related blog. I suppose you could use any competitions, charity dinners, catering, cheese making classes, a cookie booth at the farmers market (a secret dream of mine).

Hobbies This section was suggested by both Paul from ireland, and Mary from manchester. They were emphatic that you need to show that you are not one dimentional. That employers need to see how well rounded you are. So lets see, Dana's hobbies....knitting, Scrabble, road trips, reading, bird watching, music, hiking, biking, jogging, spinning class, dinners with my friends, going to the farmers market with becca, making cookies with my sister, poetry with Russell..... All this starts to sound like a personal add. Is an employer going to say, "oh, thank god, we finally found a knitting cook. Our search is over!!! Bring the grandma in!!!"

So our resume is complete. We send it in and hope for the best. But what happens when it is in a stack with all the others. What makes one more desirable than the other???

What are chef's looking for when they read a resume. I can guarentee the first thing they look for is the amount of time you spent in your last job. They want to see 2 years minimum. They have to know that if they are going to invest in you, that you are capable of commitment.

They also want a very straitforward aproach to your presentation. Clean sentances that mean what they say. No filler. The last thing they want is to get to the end of a sentance and have to go back to the begining to understand it's meaning. They will likely just move on.

They are also getting a feel for the person. I have been told by a few chef's that humility is a quality that should be evident.

One chef I talked to a while ago had two resume's. One was in a black folder and put together beautifully like a portfolio. The other was a hand written piece of note book paper. He said that he was actually surprised, but he prefered the notebook paper. The content was right on. it was humble, concise, clear, and full of good experience. This cook was extremely lucky that this chef didn't take the presentation as an insult and throw it away with out looking.

While the moral of that story isn't that it's ok to send in sloppy resumes, but that the content of your resume is the most important part. You can package yourself up with bows and ribbons, but it's still you underneath, so make sure you represent yourself well.

I guess a resume is kinda just like a personal add. It just represents your professional life rather than your love like.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Death by Fat Duck

Yesterday I made very nice plans for myself. First I was going to go see Kingdon of Heaven at the cinema with two other Fat Duckers. Then i would come home, call my mother and say happy mothers day. Then I'd call Russell and have one of our two phone conversations this week, and go to bed a happy girl. Today I'd wake up around 7, and get ready for a field trip to Aubrey Allen, one of the purveyors for the Fat Duck that provides the pork. What a great weekend!


What I should have made plans for was nothing but sleeping. I should have planned on coming home, passing out, waking up at 10 realizing that i'd just slept through the fun movie I wanted to see. Then sleeping some more untill I called Russell, and my mom, barely keeping myself awake through the conversation with my mom. Then back to sleep, with the alarm set.

7 this morning I hit snooze for the first and last time. I woke up at 9 realizing that I had just slept through the trip I had been looking forward to for a month. I would have been more upset if I was able to keep myself awake. I slept untill noon, then took a nap untill 1:30. I made it to the grocery store in kinda a daze. And now I am sitting here with a headache, looking greedily at my bed, thinking, I'll just lie down for a minute.

Last weekend I was so exhausted that I fell sick. I missed out on another great weekend that had a soccer game planned and a bike ride and picknick on the river. Man, this is getting frustrating. I have stood the guys up enough that I am going to stop getting invited along soon.

I hope that I don't end up sleeping through my week long trip with Libby and Auntie Ellen!

This schedule will be the death of me.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy mothers day

Hi mom, happy mothers day! I am sorry I can't be there to cook dinner for you this year. I am over here thinking about you though. And when I come home I can cook snail poridge and pigs face terrine for you with carrot lollipops and bacon and egg ice cream for dessert!

I actually just tried the bacon and egg icecream tonight for the first time. Sure enough, it tastes like bacon and eggs. And I can honestly say, it tasted really good. I am very impressed with The Fat Ducks use of icecream to deliver flavors. Ice cream is very familiar to every pallate. It's very interesting and exciting to have something familiar like icecream deliver a flavor that is also familiar, but unexpected in this form. Because it is done so well and used in balance with another dish, it hardly feels out of place or absurd. In fact when you spend each day with it, you forget the shock value that it has. But the shock value only exists in words, because it feels fun and natural when you actually experience it in context.

As a child I never would have dreamed that I would one day be tasting icecream in flavors like sardines on toast, mustard, bacon and egg, and butternut squash. Tasting them, and liking them!!!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Durian Durian

What on earth???? Posted by Hello

Last week I walked past the shed that holds the vegetables and caught an unusual aroma in the air. And upon investigation I found one of the most overwhelming, overpowering, nose wrinkling stink ever. Ooh, something has turned, I thought first. I made mention of this to James as he walked past and he laughed, and said, "look inside and see if you can find the offending agent." He stood behind me and snickered as I opened the door.

The smell that hit me is comparable to opening up a cryovac bag of chicken that has been sitting in the trunk of your car, parked in the Arizona summer for a few days. No, that's wrong. Tha the trunk of a car in an arizona summer would probably cook the meat, but you get the idea. Offensive to say the least. And then I saw it, a hedgehog of a fruit sitting on the shelf. Only something that looks this strange could possibly be giving off that kind of offensive odor.

So what is it? It's a Durian fruit. This fruit is considered the king of fruits in malasyia and thiland. It consists of this thorned shell with 5 pods of fleshy fruit and large seeds that resebmle the segments of an orange. the flesh is white in the same manner a banana is white. And the fleshy fruit has a firm creamy quality when pulled out of the pod.

The mace like quality of this fruit is actually responsible for more than a few deaths a year as the trees grow to be over 40 meters high. It is even advised that when checking for ripeness, you stand with your feet shoulder width apart to avoid any foot injury. A ripe durian is checked by holding the stem as a handle, and looking closely for holes. There are 3 holes that indicate it's desirability.

First is a worm hole. this will indicate the presense of worms and should warm you to put the fruit down and move on.

Second is a man made conical hole. This should also let you know to reject the fruit. The previous durian lover has taken a peek inside and deemed this fruit inedible, so take the lead and move on.

Third is a squirrel hole. This means that a squirrels sharp nose has found a good fruit and the creature has had a little snack allready. So if it's good enough for a squirrel, then it's good enough for you. You don't mind sharing with the cute little bushy tails do you? Just make sure you don't have to pay full price.

Then you are meant to shake the fruit. This is where the danger of a foot injury is large. And finally, take a big whiff.... if you don't pass out, it's not over ripe. If you can handle the smell, it's not ripe at all.

There are even parts of the world that have outlawed public sales and eating of this fruit as it offends everyone within a 100 yard radius. Restaurants that use this fruit often have to prep it at night after all the customers have left and the kitchen has time to air out before they come back.

But the odor is all in the skin I was told. The fruit is sweet and pleasant, like a banana. So i tried it, this alien banana.

First reaction.....gagging.

Second reaction......invoulintary ejection of the fruit from my mouth into the cup of water I had ready.

Third reaction......try again. This time I forced myself to controll the first impulses. I defined what I didn't like, moved on, and yes, somewhere in there was the same sweet quality of a banana. It was just mixed in with this rotting onion flavor. Sound good???

Heston helped me to define what it was that I was reacting so poorly to. The Durian shares the same sulfer compounds that onions and garlic carry. Mixed with it's very ripe state, this sulfer totally overwhelmed me. But back there somewhere, was something nice and familiar, sweet and comforting. And I can see how this fruit could lend itself to various other foods.

Russell hates onions, and makes this squinty eyed, tight lipped, scrunched up face when he even has to think about one entering his mouth. I cleverly call it his onion face. Once I saw the onion face from across the grocery store. I had almost convinced him that a shallot was not an onion, but garlic. I even got one in the cart untill I saw that onion face looking at me with a finger pointing to the little price sign that said , "shallot onions, 99 cents". The shallot didn't stay in the cart needless to say. Well, the durian fruit caused me to make an onion face, and still do at the memory of that experience. If onions taste like that to him, I think I finally understand.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

My new friend China

Oh, I do love kitties Posted by Hello

On my birthday I was treated to a birthday snuggles!!! This is China, an american cat living in Kew gardens. The other cats think her accent is as cute as she is!!

the sunday pastry crew Posted by Hello

Sunday the pastry crew was shorthanded, so into the fire I was thrown. I was in charge of doing what ever Jocky (short hair) told me to do. This mostly involved sending out the small bits that go before and after the desserts. First I send out a plate with a beetroot jellie candy cube coated in caster sugar and a tiny tart shell with a round of blanc mange flavored with basil and crystalized ginger on top. Along with that is a carrot lolli. I also sent out the parsnip cereal with parsnip milk, the cup of tea jello, and a tartelette made wiht praline rose.

Praline rose is a confection from france. it consists of an almond coated in a bumpy red sugar coating. These candies are ground to a powder and made into the filling of this great little petit four. The color is rosy too, complimentary of the sweet flavor, but not indicitive of the flavor which has nothing to do with roses.

It was really great to feel the rush of the service coursing through me again. I started by helping Michael and jumped in to pastry when it was in full swing. It felt good to play again.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Long week

This was by far the longest week I have spent here. Not only was it creeping up to the midway point, a time that slows for any event, but I was in the kitchen for almost the entire week. While service is the real reason everything is done and a bit more interesting that 2 hours of peeling turnips, working service makes for a gaurenteed 16 hour day without commute. The pace is so near mind boggling that your mental energy is doubled, and your physical state depleted from lack of sleep and all the running around. I started to wonder how all the chef's do it. They are often there before me, and their workload also carries the burden of full responsibility over a station. Then it hit me. Caffine.

Needless to say that when i finally got of sunday at 6 I was exhausted, grumpy, and of course, falling sick. I am now in the throws of an aweful cold. Sore throat, achy body, heavy chest, stuffy nose, the works. I was so looking forward to the staff soccer game today. But no, I stayed in and healed myself with an all day marathon of my favorite magical drama, Charmed, and a few cups of tea.

It's hard giving up the first day off of an English summer. It's 75 degrees and sunny, and I am inside. But as I no longer have insurance I can't risk needing a doctors visit. So off to bed with a cup of tea for me. And hopefully a calmer week this week. There are 2 more stagieres arriving, so the work load should be distributed a bit more.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Mixing things up

There is a blender to top all blenders in the kitchen at The Fat Duck. It's called the thermo mix. It blends allright, like nothing you have ever seen. But that's not all. It also has a built in scale a heating ellement. So not only can you weigh your ingredients, but you can add heat while blending. This is useful for making things like creme brule, sabayon, and almost anything you'd need to whisk to cook over a double boiler. We used the same machine at Lampreia, but I never touched the other buttons. Infact, I didn't even know what they were for. The dial with the temperatures is in celcius so I didn't recognize them as degrees. Plus, after 100 degrees the next marking is not a sequencial number, but the word "Varoma". What ever that meant, I was certianly scared to "varoma" the strawberries for my sauce. Turns out it is a setting that us used with a steamer. Hmmm... a steamer, a spinning blade, and vahrona. What these three things used in unison can do to a vegetable is a good question. Cooking with a steaming hot vortex..... the possibilities are endless.