Thursday, March 31, 2005

Mom and Dad

Hi mom and Dad-

This one is dedicated to you.

I am safe and sound, and settling in to my house here. I have a tiny room but it's in a house that feels like a home. So I have somewhere cozy to come home to each night. I have 3 roommates. Marta, Sarah, and Dan. The house is in a neighborhood called Holyport and is about 2 miles outside the town of Maidenhead. Bray, which is the tiny village, or neighborhood really, in which The Fat Duck is located, is just down the road. It's a picturesque British country village. I jogged down there this morning to look around. I said hi to the sheep as I shuffled past them and quacked at the ducks. I am glad this restaurant isn't in London. I much prefer this out of the way little town to the hustle and bustle of a large city.

The weather is much as Seattle is on it's greyest of days. There is a fine mist that hangs in the air and the clouds are unchanging. It's not too cold and not too wet. Just grey really. I have been told to expect April showers and a nicer May.

I'll be braving the grocery store tonight. I wandered in and out of a few yesterday in Maidenhead while I waited for my "flatmates" to get off of work and come home to let me in. Waitrose was by far the nicest, and the prices put whole foods in close second. I was told that all my predecessors, the other "Fatduckers", lived off pot noodles which are just cup-o-noodles.

There are quite a few American installments here like Subway, Burgerking, and many little fast food chains which is to be expected. But what surprised me was Curves for Women downtown. Libby will be amused by the store called Arty Farty that provides paint your own pottery services.

I am still dragging on a jet lagged schedule. I woke up at 10 last night, passed the time until at 7 this morning I put on my running shoes and went for a jog. After a nice hot bath I was finally ready for bed at 9 this morning.

As for the Digi-cam, Dad, it's an Olympus Stylus 410. It's allweather, quite compact, and came with the rechargable battery. Unfortunately I purchased the incorrect converter, a problem I will remedy this weekend. Not all is lost as the converter I did buy will work in Germany. My mistake was in thinking that the description "fits in all European sockets" included the UK. Not as such. I also packed along a larger memory card. I spent much of last night installing the software for the camera onto the computer. I even downloaded a patch to upgrade the software so it would have file-sharing capabilities. Now I just have to learn how to use it. It has 4.2 mega-pixels, a 3 x optical zoom, and a 8 x digital zoom. The user interface is fairly intuitive and I haven't had to consult the instruction manual yet.

As for a phone, Mom, there is a house phone but for what ever reason phones do what they do, it isn't working right now. Dan said that he has already called the phone company and they should have the problem fixed soon. Probably not soon enough for your liking, but I promise a call as soon as I am capable. Sorry I didn't call you on Monday, the service on my phone had been shut off on Saturday.

I love you Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

i'm here!!

After 22 hours of travel I am finally "home". By car from Bellevue to Seatac, by airplane to Gatwick via Cincinnati, by train to Maidenhead by way of Reading, and finally by taxi to 2 moors end, up the stairs to the end of the hall and into my tiny bedroom. Here i am, safe and sound.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Bon Voyage

This is the last posting I'll be making state-side as my flight leaves in 18 hours. The last few hours are now slipping through my fingers as I tie up the little loose ends. The proposed contents of my backpack are neatly covering half of the living room floor. My arsenal of tools has taken over the coffee table. The arsenal has grown thanks to great tips from Louisa of movable-Feast who's last posting was titled something like "Things for people named Dana to take on their summer stages to gastronomic restaurants in Europe". And I said, "Hey, my name IS Dana, and I AM leaving for a stage!!!!" And funny enough, I'm not the only one who can claim this.

The arsenal now consists of:
1 ten inch chef's knife
1 serated knife
1 boning knife
1 4 inch serated knife
1 paring knife
1 birds beak turning knife
3 small round tip offset spatula's (just in case)
1 tapered tip offset spatula
1 easy bake oven spatula
1 pair fiskars no. 5 non stick scissors
1 tiny stiff bowl scraper
3 sharpies, professional model (because I am like, so pro now)

I guess I have to line them back up for another photo shoot with the new recruits. I know, I'm a dork. But not as dorky as my sister Sarah who takes pictures of her lego men in constructed environments when she is bored.

This in-depth recommendation list went as far as to suggest what kind of underwear to wear. Modesty will take you a long way when using the unisex staff locker room. So I guess I'll have to leave the mesh thongs at home. Too bad, they are so comfortable to spend 14 hours in.

Also on the recommended packing list is a digital camera. I have been resisting the urge to use this trip as an excuse to buy myself a digital camera. But after I was practically told not to go without one I can't possibly resist any longer. My last minute shopping should have been for a 5 dollar umbrella but will now include a pricy digi-cam. Maybe I'll even be clever enough to figure out how to get the pictures on this blog. Then you can see for yourself what I am up to!!

My worries about internet access are over. The tiny room I am renting is equipped with a PC and broadband. Which makes the fact that the room is more expensive than my one bedroom apartment down town Seattle tolerable. It may be tiny but it comes with a window to the rest of the world, and most importantly, home.

Now my biggest worry is that the beef jerky I am packing for my sister will make everything else in my backpack smell like beef jerky! The last thing I need while finding my way around is to be followed by a pack of dogs.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I'm too sexy for my pants

They're back. Those aweful houndstooth checked trousers are once again a part of my professional wardrobe. I thought after culinary school I had seen the last of them but alas, I purchased 2 pairs as a part of my uniform. At least I had a choice this time. In school I was given the "baggy" american style. We more appropriately named them "hammer pants".

They had a 3 inch band of elastic that left a mark around your stomach for hours and ankles so tapered it took a good push to get your foot in, and there was enough room in the hips for Rosanne Barr. This time I chose ones fitted like a mans slacks. The inseam runs up to my armpits, there is a pleat sewn in the front, and they give me a classic case of "mom butt".

I modeled them for Russell. He said that there was no worry that he was going to lose me to some brit as long as I was in those pants. But after I put on the full armor, coat, apron, clogs, the look became professional. I caught myself with my posture becoming rigid, my hands folding behind my back, and my weight shifting from foot to foot in anticipation. You start to feel the part when you dress for it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Encore performance

My grand finalle saturday night, my swan song, ended much as I thought. Champagne sipped in the kitchen while finishing the cleaning. Only a tiny glass for me, "just a little bubble for the little mouse" Scott said. But alas the crowd gave a standing ovation and I returned last night for my encore performance.

It turned out to be a busy night and I got a nice fix of Lampreia befor I run off.

I have often joked in the past to my married girlfriends that I am married to Lampreia. While it was often a humorous excuse for missing thier weddings and every saturday party for the past 2 and a half years, it was a statement representitive to the commitment I had made. I wasn't missing those events because big mean Chef says no time off ever. It was because big nice chef gave me an opportunity. I was chosing to be a part of the passion that drives Lampreia. I gave up what ever I needed to. I was a little blind in my ambition to grow as a skilled culinary professional, and more so, an artist. While I don't plan on looking towards the future with such tunnel vision, it was a time of growth invaluable to me.

Well, I'll save you the sentimental journey i could take here. I am using my last days to spent a few final moments with those I love, pack, and shop for american things my sister in germany is growing desperate for. She has requested the Costco bottle of Advil. She said that not only is it not readily available, but that germans think that advil is a really heavy duty pain killer and only to be used for broken bones and surgery. She is going to have to hide the 2000 count bottle to avoid her friends thinking she is a drug addict.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Last supper

My last night at Lampreia is just a few short hours away. Scott called and told me it was dead, to stay home. I don't know if I just sounded pitiful enough at the thought of not working, or if he really mistook today for friday. But none the less, he called back in a matter of 30 seconds to say I could work. Tonight is the culmination of two and a half years of my life. And I say that because I poured my entire being into Lampreia.

So looking back (hindsight is 20-20) i can share with you a few of my favorite memories.

1. The reason I got the job. Not because I went to both culinary and baking and pastry school. Not because I came around 4 times befor I got the interview. Not because when I was allowed a half an hour in his kitchen as an observer i stayed for 5. Not because I was so blown away by his food that I knew there was nothing else for me at the time. And not because I wanted it with all my being. It was when he sat down with me and just started asking me about myself. When the conversation turned to my competitive athletic youth I stated, "It's been said about me that I am a very coachable person" That line, that was it. All that work and it came down to a statement about my ability to get yelled at and not cry.

2. My first tastes of many things....truffles, white and black, foie gras, more italian cured meats and sausages I can name, chessnuts, oysters, sweetbreads, tounge, tail, the list goes on and on. And for many of the flavors I had tasted befor, at Lampreia I learned what they were really supposed to taste like. Often you think you don't like a food when in reality you just don't like that food prepared incorrectly.

3. The first glass of champagne. As the lowest man in the kitchen the nights ended for me first with the panic of the service subsiding, then with a big clean of the whole kitchen, inventory done 3 times so I didn't miss a thing, prep lists gone over and over, and a hand shake with the chef before i left. For everyone else it ended with a nice glass of wine, sometimes champagne, and light conversation. So the first time this was offered to me was a big treat. It was 6 months after I started, and 6 months untill it was offered again. It was not what the cup held, but what the gesture held that was so important to me.

4. The first white truffle season. Once a year for those lucky enough to get some, white truffles come in. The aroma fills the kitchen for a week and it was like nothing I had ever smelled. The smell will allways take me back to that time and place, when I was still discovering everything.

5. Bill Gates's red pepper terrine. After only being there for 8 months Bill Gates shows up for dinner. While Lampreia is used to seeing people of his public and professional standing, the man himself had never been in befor. So impress him we would. But I took the hot knife and mangled the entire terrine so not a single plate could be finished. I know the chef was yelling, but I couldn't hear him over the pounding in my ears and adreneline coursing through me at the horrendous mistake I had made at the most inopportune of times.

6. All about apples. This was a cookbook created from a menu we served in the fall. It was my first taste of a project like that. Seeing how it happens start to finish. And the photo shoots were exciting.

7. Dinner for James Turrell and Lunch for Santiago Callatrava. These are the celebrated figures that we bend over backwards for. The other artists creating without the push of the public's desires. Turrell's use of light as a changing meduim and Calatrava's bridges and buildings that defy words inspire us to be better artists. These artists are who we elate in creating for.

8. My broken Elbow. One tuesday morning scott arrived to a message from me saying, "chef, I broke my elbow. I need surgery. I'll be in today to work no matter what." I hired a student to do the hands on stuff and verbally guided her through 4 weeks. Not only did I feel super tough only missing 3 days for surgery and saying stuff like "I can do more with one hand that you can do with two" but it was my first taste of leadership. I couldn't show her how to do anything. I had to teach her the skills I had spent the first year perfecting with only words. It was an amazing excercise that I will draw on through the years.

9. The night my parents came in. When I started at Lampreia my dad was very eager to get a table. I told them they had to wait untill their 25th wedding anniversary. "But that's a year and a half away!" protested my father. "Exactly" I said. But in doing that I was able to be in a position of security and give them a perfect experience. Not only did they get to sit at a table next to Rob Morrow, the doctor from Northern Exposure, but they had a special menu created just for them by the chef and I. I have never seen my mother smile that much and my father was just beaming. My mom who loves her little smokie sausages in BBQ sauce said she thought she was going to have to pretend she liked the food. But she told everyone she knew for 2 months following that it was the best meal of her life and why.

10. The Fat Duck. Not only is it great to get to go to the Fat Duck. But reaching a level of respect that the Chef would use his reputation and connections to help advance me is the real accopmlishment. And I get to go work at the Fat Duck!!!

11. I suppose this should be first instead of last. The meal I ate at Lampreia. While in baking and pastry school and working at a no-matter seattle restaurant I was invited to have dinner with a friend of my cousin at his favorite restaurant. The food was more beautiful, flavorful, alive, true than I could have ever imagined. It was an awakening for me. I can still tell you every detail of what I myself and my dining companions ate. I didn't know how, or why, I just knew that this was it and I had to be a part of it. And 2 and a half years later here I am. Going to one of the top restaurants in the world, and remembering why Lampreia is in the same class.

culinary constructivism

I was surfing the web today and found out that Molecular Gastronomy is like, so last week.

Seriously though, Dr. Herve This has more acuaretly described it as "Culinary Constructivism." His argument is that the scientific description leaves out the spirit of every meal ever made, the creative expresion behind it's existance. The heart of cuisine is given through the construction of it by a creator, an artist really. It's the perfection of grandma in her worn kitchen making your favorite birthday cake, the first, imperfect meal your girlfriend tried to impress you with, and the multi course menu at The Fat Duck. Each is a construction of beauty made with the love of a creator. It is in the transformation of the food that the truth lies, in the construction of the dish.

Here he is quoted on the subject.

"It is to act first from the artistic idea, then to place technique at the service of this idea. Some have named that "molecular cuisine", or molecular gastronomy, that is not right, because molecular gastronomy is a science, and not one technology, and not one technique, nor an art.

Thus, I propose to you that we name this new movement,

"CULINARY CONSTRUCTIVISM"

So construct on, fellow culinarians....

Saturday, March 12, 2005

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reunited at last

I saw Vito today. He is as cute as ever. It was a happy reunion for both of us. He is a little shy in his new environment. Uncle Steve had to fish him out of under his bed, a place he calls Vito's safe haven. But once he saw me he came right over and rubbed his head against me. I cuddled with him for a while and then taught Uncle Steve Vito's favorite game. You throw a rattle ball about 3 feet over Vito's head and he leaps strait up in the air, paws waving frantically. Uncle Steve burst into laughter when he saw Vito's display of acrobatics. Vito likes the game so much he will fetch the ball for you. It's cute to see him carry the little ball around in his mouth. I feel better having seen him again, and I have a standing invitation to visit. I only hope he doesn't forget me.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Stir crazy

I am finding myself awake, at home, and restless, at 10:00 pm There is nothing left to clean short of vacuuming. On any given night around this time you would find me finishing up the cleaning in the kitchen at Lampreia, starting the inventory list preparing the chef for his orders, and organizing the prep for the next day. What am I saying...it's Friday. You would find me knee deep in dessert and cheese orders, looking at the clock thinking, "It looks like I might be able to leave before 11 tonight!" But since I am now on call and not being called the nights are looking very different.

I feel a little like a fish out of water. One gets used to having a solid purpose for each day. And the day having a purpose for you. I have to relax a little and legitamize for myself that jogging for an extra mile and taking all the time I want at as many grocery stores as I want is all the purpose I need. It's ok not to have anything urgent in front of me for a day. Heck, for a week.

I shouldn't complain too much. A Friday night off is like gold for those of us in the restaurant industry. And I have just had 3 in a row. Granted the first one was due to the flu. Last Friday I even found myself in a cute restaurant at a table for 2 enjoying an intimate dinner. A rare experience that meant more to me than my dining partner knows.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

adventures at home

With my grand adventure drawing closer the days are passing without much circumstance. The adventure I am living here has more to do with playing housewife for Russell. Which I must admit is deeply satisfying, but you all know I have a maternal/homemaker side that could choke Martha Stewart on occasion. I have heard Amanda exclaim, "Good God woman, you're an old lady waiting to happen." I don't know if that had to do with the grandma that lives within me or the lace doily I was trying to decorate with at the time. It would seem as if I was the next in line for family matriarch. But for the Bickfords the only requisite for this position is your ability to make large quantities of pie.

In preparation for my absence from the kitchen, Lampreia has decided to cut my hours to acclimate the other two cooks to working without me. "It's time to pull them off the tit" would be how the chef put it. This has left me with time off I have never experienced while at Lampreia. I did take 3 days off in a row once. Yes, 3 days to have my elbow pinned together after a nasty spill off my bike.

So in turn I am finding myself with 8 hours of intensely productive and creative energy each day and no outlet. The closest thing to me is Russell so I am focusing much of it on him. He is just lucky that I don't have access to an oven. Otherwise he'd be up to his ears in baked goods.

I am starting to miss my little Vito. I managed a week without feeling too sad but last night I shed a few tears for his absence in my life. I just can't forget that tiny black and white kitten that came into my life 2 years ago and slept next to me every night. When he was still small enough to sit in my hand, his kitten fur was a little coarse and sparse. Libby and I took to calling him the felt pelt. Oh, he has the cutest little white socks on his back feet, a little French manicure on his front, and a dashing white ascot on his chest. And what a little cuddler. I know he's just a cat, but he was my loving companion for 2 years. He was the warm body that greeted me each night as I returned from work, and the face I woke up to every morning. It's funny how attached we get to those little fur balls. But I spoke with Uncle Steve and he said that he and Vito are doing well. He said that Vito is very loving and "the rolling-ist cat I've ever seen." I guess Vito likes the carpet and has taken to rolling over and over. Vito and Uncle Steve are off to a lifelong loving relationship. I suppose this is the ache of the heart that only comes with having once loved. And yes, I know, it's just a cat.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Entering England for your stage from America

So you have just recieved confirmation that you have been chosen for a coveted stage at The Fat Duck. Yippee, woo hoo, and all that jazz. I am sure I did cartwheels when I got my letter.

Now you tell all your friends, family, and begin to prepare for the trip. What do you bring with you?

Knives, check.

Checked pants, check.

Kitchen shoes, check.

A Work Visa...... what???? What would I need that for. I am American, I can do anything I want, right?

Wrong. It is innocent and naieve to think you can travel and work on our young american part. But the rest of the world will think it is this american arrogance to think you can do what ever you want, where ever you want. We are so blessed with innumerable rights and freedoms in our own country, that we often don't realize they don't exist everywhere.

You need to get one thing through your head, if you haven't already. You are entering a foreign country and you have no rights to work. And if you are going with knives, a working uniform, and the intention to enter The Fat Duck kitchen to work, you are going to work. It doesn't matter that you aren't earning a paycheck. It doesn't matter that you aren't hired by the restaurant. The only thing the customs official will see is that you are entering the country with intentions to work and no visa to allow it. You will be denied access to the country, held in airport jail for up to 2 days, and deported back to the united states.

So after you quit your job, buy an expensive airplane ticket, give up your apartment, and what ever else you did to make this stage possible, don't blow it at Hethrow.

Don't get there and say, "I am here to work at The Fat Duck. What? That's not allowed? Oh, it's ok, because I am going to work for free!"

Or, "Yes, I am traveling with sharp objects, kitchen knives, but they are safe, I rolled them up in a pair of checkered work pants."

If you aren't going to seek and apply for a visa, they are expensive after all, then you are going to be sneeking into the country. Lie through your teeth. Describe a whirlwind backpacking tour through england and ireland. Pack in a big Kelty back pack. Say your sister, brother, college room mate lives in Germany and you will be heading over there after a couple of weeks. Why did you fly into England rather than Germany? The flight was cheaper and you have always wanted to see London.

Don't bring an excessive amount of knives. You will only need three, really. A turning knife, a paring knife, and a chef's knife. Wrap the knives up like a gift and say your parents are sending them to your sister. She was just married and has taken an interest in cooking. I am not kidding. Think of something.

I have just recieved word that 5 american stagieres were turned away at the boarder this year. All for not trying to hide the fact that they were entering the country illegally to work, illegally. Many of them proudly announcing they were there to work at The Fat Duck. Some getting caught with work uniforms and knives.

You earned the right to stage at The Fat Duck. It's your responsibility to get yourself there. Get a visa, or know that you are entering the country without any rights to work, and plan accordingly.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

gastro-intestinal alchemy

In taking a 3 month trip abroad one must break with ones life for a while. I however decided to completely diminish and collapse mine. So that what I am returning to is a clean slate, a chance to build a life to look exactly how I want it to. This, you can immagine takes a lot more effort and mental stress than just hitting the pause button. And this stress can cause one to be a little short sighted at times. One could, for example, pack ones passport in the bottom of a large box and store it at their parents house. Or get so focused on what's going on state-side, they loose track of the reason behind this trip.

Luckily, when we are following our true path in life, the universe works to help us succeed. And I was sent inspiration this week in three forms.

First, was the letter from the editor published in Gourmet this month. I had incorrectly stated that the magazine printed a piece about London. In fact, the entire magazine cover to cover is devoted to London. It's a true handbook for the trip I am planning. And to crown it is the letter from the Editor which talks about the Fat Duck. She writes "the experience that really made me understand what was going on (with the gastronomic revolution that is London right now.) is an hour west, in the little town of Bray, where a deceptively unnasuming restaurant called the Fat Duck is turning gastronomy on its head." After flattering the reader with descriptions of the food, she continues by flattering the chef with descriptions of the modesty that permiates through the entire experience. Most of all, she says, is how much fun it is to eat there.

Second was a CD I was given by the man I worked on the cookbook with. On this disk is a photographic journal of the meal he ate at the Fat Duck. It's incredible. Course 13 or 14 is a little blue box with the name The Fat Duck printed on it, served in a bowl. Inside the box is a little package of cereal. They look like cornflakes, but they are parsnip flakes. So you pour your little cereal into the bowl and pour on the liquid. I didn't quite see what it was. Milk? Something more flavorful and exotic? I'll get back to you on that one.

And third was an e-mail telling me that a roommate was found for me!! So now I have a place to live when I get there. It looks like things are working.

So I have cleaned up my life here, purchased the airfare, and arranged for a place to stay when I get there. Now it's on to the easy stuff. A little shopping, and a lot of packing and re-packing. And planning the going away party!