Saturday, April 30, 2005

saturday

Jocky told me to write this on my blog.

"Saturday is not a good day for Dana. Today she can't be bothered."

This day, I couldn't be asked.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Elderflowers

It is said that the English summer is not fully here untill the Elderflowers are inbloom and it ends when the Elderberries are ripe.

Elderflower is a flavor I have just discovered here and fallen deeply for. I first had it on my birthday as a cordial mixed with sparkling water. The flavor is remnicent of lychee fruit for me. I don't know that I have seen it in the states, but then again, I didn't know to look.

The flowers have a very short season, as small as 2 to 3 weeks in the later part of june. While the Elder is most often sighted for it's medicinal uses it's flower and fruit have a home in the kitchen. The flowers are used for the cordial I have tasted, granite and sorbet, and I suppose anything you want to flavor. The berries are ripe late in the year and are used for a very traditional winter wine. And if a sheep eats the bark, it will cure itself of foot rot!!!

Michel Bras has a recipe on his website for Elderflower syrup and another for Elderflower lemonade. El Bulli has dipped small sprigs of the fresh flowers in a tempura like batter and deep fried them. The pastry chef at The Fat Duck said there was a tree that blooms just around the corner from the restaurant and that he too was excited for the season.

I am very excited to see them in bloom and taste my first flower. I can't imagine that they don't grow in the pacific northwest somewhere. Oh, wouldn't I just love to plate a dessert with those tiny white flowers? They are just too cute!!

Improvement

One of the first things you learn as an athlete is how to improve yourself. And one of the best ways to improve on anything is to watch someone who is better than you. This is one of the biggest advantages of my stage. Daily I have the advantage of watching cooks who are better than me, seeing chef's who are better and calmer than most, and observe food start to finish that is innovative, refined, and considered some of the best in the world right now.

Another way to gain this advantage is to eat in the restaurants that house other leading chefs. Each chef's cuisine is a personal interpretation of the aesthetics of food. Seeing how different people interpret these aesthetics and what they create from it is a great way to inspire yourself. I don't have the financial means to do this very often, so I have to gather what I can about these people from magazines, the internet, book stores, and word of mouth. My favorite website for this is www.tastingmenu.com. Hillel and company travel, eat, and document an amazing amount each year. Their section of photographs is extensive, and their written interpretations of the meal are intelligent, insightful, and refreshing.

I heard a story along these lines in The Fat Duck a few days ago. When the restaurant was young Heston made a large effort to eat in all the 3 star restaurants, and many of the 2 star. One year a trip was planned but the money was too tight. He and his wife decided that rather than cancel the culinary vacation they had planned, they would sell their car and take the trip. They would worry about the car later and go gain the experience instead. He thought it was not only important for his own growth, but it was important to know what his customers were experiencing also. You can better reach your dining public if you understand their past experiences and their mind set at your table. Plus, it was probably really fun to eat in all those places!!!

I have seen the direct influence of one chef to another a few times. There is one dish in the El Bulli book whose title credits Michel Bras. At Lampreia the chef serves the Palio Egg with credit to The Palio, a restaurant he worked in while young.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The El Bulli book

Now that I am surrounded by passionate cooks it seems if I hear constantly, "have you seen the El Bulli book yet?" El Bulli book this, El Bulli book that. Allright allready, I'll look at the book!!!

And I did. And all i have to ask is, have you seen the el bulli book?

Because if you haven't, do.

Priced at nearly 300 dollars (225 at Walmart.com) you think that it's over priced and how could a cook book possibly be that valuable. It is. I will walk the 2 miles into Maidenhead and back to save myself the 2 quid for the bus, but I would drop the cash for this. And then buy the next one.

I sat in Books for Cooks transfixed wiht the volume for nearly an hour. It's beyond what I ever expected to see on those pages. The fluid creativity oozing from the pictures is one thing. The stunning aesthetics of the cuisine is another. Then instead of printing recipes, they list by picture the flavors instead. Like, pineapple + vanilla + cola + shrimp. Well, not that exactly but you get the idea. Instead of presenting you with rediculously impossible instructions, you get the pure base of the dish, it's flavor.

Then, it's in chronological order. So you see the evolution of the cuisine through the years.

The food is beyond anything I have seen.
The pictures are out of this world.
The format of the book is perfect.

While I know I won't pick up and open an El Bulli twin in the future, it is none the less inspiring. As I sat there I'd find myself staring off into space, my thoughts racing from possibility to possibility. My heart beating faster, my inspiration growing.

I think one of the greatest things a chef can do is let those around influence you. Otherwise your kitchen becomes a vaccuum and your cuisine grows stale. Look, listen, taste, sponge up and experience as much as you can. Know the names, know what they do, look at their food. You begin your career like that, at no point should you fix and lock up.

Keep it real!!

Announcement

I have a huge announcement. My baby sister has found her path in life. She has chosen her major. It was a back up incase she didn't get into architecture, but it was such a great fit that it's now her top choice. It's called Community and Environmental planning.

It involves watching movies, being oppinionated, and is controlled by the students in the class. I can't think of anything more fitting for my little sister.

She will get to specifically design her acedemic requirements to accomplish her own acedemic goals. Ha ha, she practically did that with highschool anyways. she is the only person I know who got into a major university without a highschool diploma. She checked with pride the box marked, "not planning to graduate highschool." (she earned an AA instead) "No college is going to tell me that I have to have a meaningless highschool diploma when I have an AA instead."

She is even waking up early to voulenteer in CEP!!! What? Something has motivated her to give up her saturday morning sleeping in to weed a marsh of invasive grass!!! It can only be the same thing that motivated me to work 15 hours a day in a foreign country for no money....the sound of your calling, calling you.

I am so happy for you Sarah. It's an amazing thing to finally be able to channel yourself in a direction. It will surprise you how much energy you can put into something when you have a direction to point it in.

I stand corrected....

In a previous entry that describes the pigs head terrine I wrote that it was the least scientific. I have since learned that statement is not true.

The most beautiful thing about the scientific research at The Fat Duck is how invisible it is on the plate. Yes, there is liquid nitrogen in the green tea, hot and cold tea, oak flavored strips resembling those listerine strips these are obvious.

But what about the green bean? You'd never guess the amount of time put into researching the use of de-ionized water at the molecular level. You just know that it's perfect.

And the pigs head terrine. It looked rustic, primal, simple, and tasted better than any pork i had tasted. I mistook these characteristics to mean it was developed free of the lab. Wrong. It's the 36 hours of controlled cooking that make the meat so fantastic. A 36 hour process that took months to develop.

The world is buzzing about snail porridge, and carrot lollies from Hestons atomic kitchen. But it's what you don't see that would blow your mind. That's part of the amazing humility that fills The Fat Duck. All the work going into something without needing public recognition for it. Well, at least your tounge knows that it's the best, even if you don't know why.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Like water for chocolate

Today, in a kitchen far far away from The Fat Duck, I made a chocolate mousse. Dense, bitter, rich, this mousse was made from Valhrona Manjari chocolate and just one other ingredient; water. "eek!! Gasp!! isn't water chocolates enemy?" you might be thinking. Well, yes. Any one who has done any work with chocolate will tell you that the entire batch will be ruined by just one drop of the stuff off the bottom of your bain marie bowl (or one tear because it's your 5th try and it still isn't in temper). The water will cause the chocolate to sieze up and stiffen.

Interestingly enough, it is for this reason that water is adventageous to turning mere chocolate into a mousse. You simply start whipping this stiffening chocolate just like a whipped cream. Because of this stiffness, the chocolate is now capable of holding the air. So simple really.

And for the flavor? It tastes exactly like the chocolate used. No cream to smother the pallate means a much cleaner reception on the tounge. We used a bitter chocolate of 70 % cocoa solids from madagascar. It was extremely fruity, a quality that might have been lost next to cream.

The recipe is credited to Dr. Herve This, and apears in a book titled "Family Food" written by Heston Blumenthal.

Off the top of my head, the recipe is
270 ml. water
350 grams chocolate.

Melt the chocolate and water in a pot on the stove.

Transter the chocolate to a bowl fitted inside an ice bath and whisk. It should start to thicken and whip like cream as the temperature drops below chocolates setting point.

I found it to be thick, stiff, and intensely chocolate. It might be a little less so with a milk chocolate or a white chocolate. While it feels stiff to the spoon, it disolves in your mouth like a cloud.

It was served along side a sweet orange syrup that had been used to candy orange peel. The orange peel was lost in the oven, but just the syrup was enough really.

Friday, April 22, 2005

De-ionized water

"Can you just run out back and grab the de-ionized water for me?" I was asked befor service the other night.

"Oh, yes. Of course. I saw it next to the liquid nitorgen, right?" I replied.

A conversation spoken in almost every kitchen across the globe, isn't it? hmmm....

I never did find the de-ionized water, but in the next few days, I did find a wealth of information regarding it.

De-ionized water is as close to perfect H2O as it comes. It is just H2o in pure form, nothing else. Water from the tap contains trace minerals. The water here is considered "hard" water meaning that it contains a bit of calcium. Water itself loves to hold minerals. Which means that de-ionized water will actually pull aluminum out of the pans or minerals out of of our bodies if we drink a lot of it.

It is also known here as battery water, for the batteries in old cars. Because it is free of any other molecules de-ionzed water doesn't conduct electricity. It is actually the minerals in the water that are the conductors.

To de-ionize water you first pass it through a membrane filter, then run it across a magnetic field.

The first thing the de-ionized water was used for at The Fat Duck was to cook green vegetables. It keeps them greener for a very calculated reason. The chlorophil in green vegatables has a magnesium molecule in its center. Calcuim, which is quite strong in the water here, would much rather be inside the chlorophil than in the water. So it will bully it's way in, push the magnesium out, and nest there. In the meantime, the transfer of molecules in the chlorphil breaks it down and creates the dull greyish color. It is possible that the minerals in the vegetables are being pulled out, but only on the surface. There are enough minerals throughout the entire vegetable to make eating it a healthy venture.

Lentils also benefit from being cooked in de-ionized water. It helps to break down the the structure of the lentil into a much better feel in your mouth. The explination given to me was very long and had a lot of scientific words like starch, and gelatinous, etc...

The biggest user of this water in the restaurant is the steam iron. It uses so much water that it will collect calcium deposits from the tap water. Also, if used to rinse glasses, no water spots will remain when dried.

two snails in a bucket, mother f**k it.

I started today with confidence. I strolled into work, changed, and headed into the kitchen. There I retrieved the stagiere mise-en-place list from the cooks, gathered the products and containers needed, helped organize the newer stagiere, and gathered any extra tasks or instructions from the chefs. By the time I got in the dinner line i felt light hearted. "I think I am finally getting the hang of this," I thought to myself. Then I heard my name from inside the kitchen. "That's me!" I said and looked for my caller.

"Did you pick the snails?" I heard. A simple question, but one glance at the face that was asking said to tread lightly.

"Um, yes?" I asked. Oh crap, I am in trouble. Here is comes.

"Why?" Again, a simple question, but so many answers could be wrong.

(Why because, the last time I was given a bucket of snails that's what I did. Because when I saw the bucket being handed to me I was so pleased with myself for knowing what to do with them that I forgot to listen.)

"I thought I asked you to freeze them."

"Well, yes, I guess I thought I was supposed to pick them first." I offered hoping to appease the clear signs of anger being directed at me.

"why?" such a dangerous question.

"I don't know, I guess I misunderstood my instructions." I gave as a plea really by this point.

"Well, I had picked them as far as they needed to go. Heston decided that they needed to be bigger. You were just suposed to bag them and freeze them." And all I saw after that was the back of his head walking away from me as fast as possible.

Oh crap. There it is. The progress the dish is making was halted by a stage with her head in the clouds. A chef in violation of Hestons orders because of me.

The situation was remedied when I walked up to Heston and said like a child who just took a cookie, "I picked the snails, I'm sorry." After he grasped the situation in his astoundingly reasonable manner and talked about it with the snail cooker things were resolved and I ran back to the house for more work.

Anger in the work place is often a case of anger at the situation rather than really being mad at a person. Sometimes. A lot of times. It's hard to find a place where you can stop mistaking anger towards a situation for a personal attack. Being mad at a person is vastly different than being angry at the situation the person may have had a hand in creating. The situation can allways be resolved as long as no one gets hung up on the road blocks called anger and blame. Anger is just an emotion, and blame is a game for children. Recognizing responsibility is the grown up version of getting blamed.

Well, my lofty confidence was grounded today. I have added a bit of drama to a 30 second conversation said between two professionals in our indoor voices. But mistakes like these keep us in check. They ballance out the success we have and keep us from getting aloof and lazy. The sting of this will keep me alert to instruction for a while to come, some of which may be crucial.

Anyways, tomorow is another day, right?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Hi guys

Well, the cat's out of the bag. I guess once your diary is published in the newspaper it's only a matter of time before the people you work with figure it out. So I stripped out all the nasty things I said about you guys. Theis, don't worry, I didn't tell anyone about the Truck Stop restaurant you are opening. Dan, I didn't mention your freakishly hairy hands either. Michael, the photo shoot for captain spandex is set up for the first tuesday in may. I didn't delete a sentance telling the world that rice pudding takes Paul back to the days when he used to play with his sisters dolls. And I didn't let anyone in on the secret that I don't really hate you Rupert. So enjoy all the personal information about me. I guess you were going to find out soon enough that I am really a big nerd.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hey mom, click here!!

The link provided about is simply the little kid in me saying, "hey mom, look at me!!"

In the wake of Heston's glory my "diary" was republished in the London Newspaper, the guardian.

After work I walked with Paul to the only place open after 9 in this town, an Esso station the guys at work call "the garage". He ever so kindly let me buy the last copy of the paper for my own keeping, and congratulated me with a Galaxy bar. I thought, "oh, I'll just eat some of it and have the rest at work tomorow." But as walked home the bar got smaller and smaller. I'll be kicking myself tomorow when my 3 o'clock chocolate craving hits. But "what the heck" I thought, "tonight, I celebrate."

Take me back......

Last night while cleaning I came across the comment card each patron of The Fat Duck gets to fill out at the end of their meal. But instead of asking for input on how clean their waiters hair was or what kind of vegatable they'd like to see in lolly pops, it asks diners to share the flavors that take them back to childhood. Taste can unlock the nostalgic in a way like no other. Most often taste brings up memories from the innocence of your childhood. These are memmories that have faded with time like an old photograph and often capture an entire summer rather than one meal. I'll never forget the first time I tasted freshly shaved white truffles, but an orange popsicle takes me back to summers at the little brown house in the trees that we moved away from when I was 6.

Thomas Keller was the first that I saw to utilize nostalgia to deliver his cuisine. His pairings of peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, and coffee and donuts allowed him to give diners the feeling of knowing the food in an intimate manner. If he had titled his dessert "gelee of grape dusted in caster sugar with a truffle of ground turkish peanuts" the dessert would never reached diners on such a memorable level. But by using nostalgia he instead delivered the dish directly into a warm fuzzy place deep inside every Americans mind.

It's also a way to keep fine cuisine humble. It's not artsy fartsy, it's peas and carrots. I don't know what semi fredo of cappuchino with warm spiced fritters are, I think I'll have the coffee and donuts instead.

Well, The Fat Duck delivers nostalgia too. It is in many dishes, one being the snail porridge. The blatantly familiar texture of the oats allows Heston to present diners with snails without wrinkled noses. (And dont tell me that you are such a cultured diner that the little kid in you doesn't still wrinkle up their nose in memory of the wierd kid down the road who ate snails and slugs for a nickle. While your tounge is judging the (delicious) snails, the skeptisism is drowned by the recognition of porridge.

Also dwelling in the rhelm of the familiar is something called a pine sherbet fountian. To me, the yank, sherbet is like sorbet and comes in flavors like rainbow (or orange with vanilla ice cream that you have to eat with a little wooden spoon, I allways chewed up the little spoon afterwards, so I guess wood is another ellement of that!!). But to folks on this side, sherbet is a sweet (fizzy?) flavored powder. It's what we call pixy sticks. The Fat Duck uses this nostalgic delivery to present the flavor of pine on the 7 courses of dessert that come with the tasting menu. This pine pixy stick has a straw made of a vanilla pod and is used very strategically. Pine is actually a rather intrusive flavor at first, but once you get to know it, it is actually quite friendly. So to introduce your pallete to the pine flavor in the mango dessert that follows, the sherbet shocks your tounge with the flavor. All the while, you are having such a fantastic trip down memory lane remembering the wierd kid down the road who snorted pixy sticks for a nickle that you don't even notice that Heston is paving the way for the next course. By the time it arrives, your tounge is so familiar with the flavor of pine that it can be set along side more subtle flavors without stealing their thunder.

I tried a truffle flavored with tobacco. If you gave that to a certain someone back home with a whisky he'd exclaim, "mmm....smells like grandma!!!"

This leads into chapter two of this entry.

I started asking around about others nostalgic food memories. There are the obvious American choices; p.b. and j., apple pie, pumpkin pie, hot dogs,hamburgers, corndogs (or pronto pups if you come from a wierd state like oregon), grilled cheese and tomato soup. The list goes on.

For me a big one was strawberry freezer jam. Every year my grandma Eva would take us out to the u-pick strawberry farm and pick all morning. She used to joke that they should weigh us before we went in and after and charge for what we ate too. Then we'd spend the afternoon cleaning the berries and making them into freezer jam. The beauty of freezer jam is that you don't cook the fruit so it tastes like a fresh berry forever. It is to this day my favorite jam ever and a taste that transports me to many cherrished days.

Paul gave two worthwhile answers. Rice pudding with jam was his nostalgic food of choice, but he gave this information hesitantly. "Music," he said, "is really what takes me to a time and place." With this I must agree. A song has the capability to take you back to a moment with just a few notes. The difference I see here is that music seems to take you back to memories you made as a grown person with a sense of awareness. Food takes you back to the hazy innocence of your earliest days.

Carl the stagiere from Boston talked fondly of sweet potatoes with mini marshmellows baked on top that so often accompany a thanksgiving meal. Sorry Carl, but my family was classier than that!! Just kidding.

My roommates Dan and Marta sat side by side and spoke excitedly of biscuits when the question was put to them. Not just any biscuits (cookies for us yanks) but dunking biscuits. They chattered on about the dipping technique of each different biscuit. One will bend over soggy like if you don't get enough wrist into it. Another leaves mush in the bottom of your tea if you aren't sharp enough. Another, the pink wafer, was sure to be served only at your grans house.

All it would take to bring the excitement I witnessed on the couch to a restaurant table is to create a dessert based on this nostalgia. Tea and dippers, or light mousse of darjeerling and bergamot with an assortment of petitfours.

Any input on your nostalgic flavors?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Number one

I have just returned from the celebration thrown by Heston Blumenthal for his team in honor of their most exciting award. Well to be accurate, two teams, two awards. First and formost on all of Britains minds is the Restaurant magazine awards number one ranked restaurant in the world, The Fat Duck. It came in above El Bulli at number 2, and the French Laundry at number 3. As I started work Paul teased me, "so how does it feel to be the number one stagiere in the world?" But in all seriousness, this is amazing. The top kitchen in the world and I have the best seat in the house to see this stellar team of cooks play their game. There is so much tallent and strenghth in that kitchen. Without shame i can look at each of these cooks and see how much stronger they are than me. It has definately set a precedent for me of what a cook can be as an individual and as part of a team.

And to put the icing on Hestons cake, the pub he owns across the street, The Hinds Head was named Decanter magazines best restaurant. Heston seems to be on top of the world. I congratulated him tonight and thanked him for letting me tag along for 2 months. He told me that the best part of all this is that it is that the recognition is coming at the begining of things. That they are still fine tuning everything, still striving to make things greater. He and his team are just getting warmed up.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Homesick

On my day off today I was battling some harsh feelings of missing home. Well, missing my home with Russell mostly. So to make myself feel better I thought I'd do something very american and make Russells favorite cookies, chocolate chip. My roommate walked in the door from work and exclaimed, "you yanks get a spare minute and your in the kitchen baking bloody cookies." Well, was it Descartes or popeye who said it best, "I am what I am"

The first step was finding the correct ingredients in the grocery store. Below is a picture of what I came up with. You can see that the chocoalte was opened and sampled long before it made it home, for quality controll purposes. I have had the recipe for chocolate chip cookies memorized since I was about 10. I can rememer when I had mastered the process well enough to do it with 8 dirty dishes and spoons, and had each step timed to the minute. At 14 I was already taking a profesional aproach to my work.



The brittish cast and crew of a chocolate chip cookie Posted by Hello

First is the butter. The butter in this country has a distinct flavor and odor. It is quite strong to me, not in a bad way. It just smells really buttery, very dairy. I made the assumption that this package of butter was the same as 2 sticks, the correct amount for my recipe.

Next we see the eggs that were laid by hens free to pay taxes and explore their sexuality.

I had my first try at baking with self rising flour. This solved the problem of not seeing any baking soda on the shelves.

Then I assumed that caster sugar was bakers sugar. The brown sugar I had to open in the store to check it's accuracy with my nose. Imagine being glared at in a brittish accent. I was told later that that hands-on-the-hip-angry-look is refered to as the "double teapot" here. I assured the woman that I would be purchasing the sugar. She wasn't even a Tesco employee.

While I did see chocolate chips for sale I had to choose against them. They were on off brand and the quantity was enough for about 10 cookies. Plus they were about 3 times the price of the 2 galaxy milk chocolate bars I bought. I am not usually a fan of milk chocolate but my tastes are changing. Can I dare say it!? I might actually prefer milk chocolate now?!

they are chocolate chips now!! Posted by Hello

my kitchen aid mixer powered by elbow grease Posted by Hello

the kitchen in the house I am renting a room in is fairly well stocked for anything other than baking. So here is my mixing bowl with the paddle attachment. The motor was powered by my right arm.

My accurate measuring cup Posted by Hello

After years of measuring I can say with confidence that this is probably, most likely half a cup.

Posted by Hello

For my conversion chart and my calculator i used the old noodle. Yes, this is a picture of me thinking.

No vanilla? This will do. Posted by Hello

When in doubt, use booze!!

looks promising Posted by Hello

I asked my roommate if he wanted a cookie. He said, "not if they came out of what ever is in that pan!!" But once he smelled the cookies baking his mind was quickly changed.

Just like mom used to make!! Posted by Hello

Well, this statement is not entirely true. My mom can't follow a recipe to save her life. She actually tried to make pork with plum sauce recipe with a can of fruit coctail once. She did an amazing job of home cooking every day of my life. She's just, well, flexible and intuitive. Two things that do not favor baking.

So did it work? Did I loose all my worries in a cookie? Well, just like a voice on the other end of the phone can't really replace the love of your life, a cookie can't replace home. But when it's all you've got, it'll do.

it all comes crashing down

Well, the title is a bit dramatic. Infact, the only things that came crashing down were my confidence and a stack of china. While helping on the amuse busche station with Michael on one side working and Heston on the other side watching, a stack of the tiny bowls with huge rims that hold the cabbage gazpacho toppled towards me. Imaging them falling in the same manner as a slinky, each one pulling the one behind it. I put both arms out to stop them from shattering on the counter, but in effect they shattered on my bare arms instead. I stood frozen in desbelief that I had somehow just broken all the plates, in front of the chef no less. His reaction was to first and foremost ask if I was cut or hurt at all. Then to help me get the shards off my arm and say, "it's ok. If you're not hurt it's ok." I can imagine how frustrating it must be to watch your dishes shatter all over food that needs to be moving out of the kitchen and onto peoples tables at that moment, but if it angered Heston, I'll never know. He simply helped us move the situation forward and fix it as fast as possible in as calm a manner as I have ever seen. While coming up in kitchens you often think of the kind of chef and leader you want to be for your own cooks one day. It is amazing for me to see that in the chefs at The Fat Duck.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Time to grow up?

I guess it's a sign of aging when you meet those amazing few who are doing amazing things with their lives and are in high power positions (like chef of a 3 star restaurant), and you come to find that they are the same age as you. Holy crap. Ashley Watts is my age, 26 ( I am 8 days shy for the record). I would have thought him to be older because of the position he holds. I wonder when I'll stop separating myself from grown-ups. I do very grown up things like pay bills ontime, have a vaccuuming schedule, have a savings account with money in it (not for much longer!), have a career, take responsibility for myself. I have lived free of the support of my parents for years. So when do I start calling myself an adult?

Well, on to more interesting things. I drank a cup of tea today. How very brittish of me. But as this tea was from The Fat Duck, it was both hot and cold at the same time. The flavor was incredible, darjeerling, i think either bergamot or uzu, and a hint of sweet. The tea is made in a way that diminishes the tanins that usually mark tea with their bitter flavor and the effect of making your tongue feel rough. The tanins are a result of the hot infusion tea is usually made with. Then through the miricle of Heston's atomic kitchen, the temperature is both hot and cold at the same time. Do you want to know how it's done? Well, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Michael, the nice nice canadian I help on the amuse busche station cut his hand with an oyster knife and had to go get stitches. It's really his own fault. He had the "it's been years since I have cut myself badly" conversation last night. He brought it on himself. And to show him how much I appreciate his guidance, I cut myself too. Just a little one, for sympathy. In his absence I got the opportunity to do some of his prep, most exciting of all, shucking oyters. It was a skill I haven't practiced much at all. I watched Theis (rhymes with rice) shucking scallops. They will actually continue to pulse and move for a minute or two in your hand after being removed. I helped to pick cockles today too. They have a shell like a clam, and they inside they look quite a bit different. I think they are cousins. So it was a day of new and exciting bi-valve experiences.

There is a new guy in the pastry section. It's funny to watch someone work and be able to say to yourself with no qualms, "you are so much better than me." He has been working as a confectioner in Denmark for 5 years and is clearly very tallented, skilled, developed, and knowlegable. The pastry chef and he talk so much about the food that I am hearing about everything. The others who work in pastry seem to be cooks instead of bakers. So the pastry chef does more instructing with them than discussing. It has left me with some fantastic eaves dropping opportunities.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

What's for dinner?


This aint wilbur Posted by Hello

I don't know if I can explain my facination with these pig heads. I don't know if you can see, but their ears actually have cartalige ribs in them that look like bats wings. Libby can probably tell us why they only look like what we think bats wings look like and not what bats wings do look like. I do love the wildlife biologists comments on my food blog. I did see bats wings once. I'll bet you didn't know that bat's are cute!! Well, they are.

So here you can see the face that comes in with out the skull. I guess the terrine should more accurately be called a pigs face terrine. The two flaps to the side of the snout have quite a chunk of meat under each, as does the forhead. These are usuable parts. In italian the cut is called Guanchalle. I have seen it in lampreia for years cured in the italian style. Now I have seen it Fat Duck style.

There is a group field trip coming up soon. It is advertised to be a day of fun, frolic, and pigs. We are either going to the farm that raises our pigs, or the butcher. Either way, I am so there. There is also a field trip to the oyster farm.

I also peeled about 15 lambs tounges. There were about 50, but I was helping Paul and he is much faster that I am . Their little toungs are almost exactly the same size as ours. It's funny, but the tounge we can stick out at people we don't like is such a small part of the whole muscle. It's rather big.

Hmmm... any other wierd meats? Just snails. Are they meat?

For whom the bell tolls...

"Worked a half day did you?" asked my roommate Dan as I strolled in at 9 tonight. It was a lovely early evening for me. I was stationed across the street for prep all day. I had a lovely stroll through the village while the church bells rang and made it home just as dusk fell to night.

I learned today that the reason bitter almonds, peach pits, apricot pits, and cherry pits all smell like ammaretto is Benzaldahyde. It is the isolated flavor molecule that gives each of those things their distinct "almond" taste and smell. It can be naturally produced with those items themselves, or can be synthesized using saw dust. I was told that there is no way to differentiate between the natural and synthetic molecules; not with your tounge, not with your nose, and not with a science lab. "But with saw dust?" you ask, "I don't want to eat saw dust, thats unnatural and gross." Well, not really, and you almost cirtainly have already. Immitation vanilla is also synthesized using the same paper industry by product. Vanilla was the first synthesized flavor all the way back in the 1800's and has been used extensively ever since. You might even have some in your cupboard if you are a cheap-skate.

There were film crews setting up as I arrived for work yesterday. I guess it happens a lot. I had a very interesting chat with the Chef, Ashley Watts about stuff. He started as a stagiere years ago and has worked his way up to the top. He said that the day they got their 3rd star was a complete surprise. No one expected it, heston wasn't even in town. It started as a normal day, the staff got over thier initial shock, and cellebrated a bit. Then the next day the tital wave hit. The phone started ringing off the hook, reservations flooded, and each night there would be up 3 tables with journalists, magazines, newspapers from across the world. I liked that story a lot. To me it says that what was happening inside this restaurant was simply Heston and his cooks trying to make the food the way they wanted it the best way they thought they could. Not a bunch of cooks striving to attain the merit of someone elses standards. They earned their 3rd star by working towards their own goals. This is the kind of creative process I want to be a part of. And honestly, in how many 3 star restaurants do the cooks address thier leader by first names? It's a thing of beauty, watching these cooks work together. It's like a well oiled machine and no one is ever yelled at, insulted, made to feel stupid. Each cook is respected and given controll over themselves, and I'll say, they use that to come together and rise above. It's amazing how much you can achieve when you just feel good.

Monday, April 11, 2005

A pat on the back

I'd like to offer congratulations to Scott Carsberg for his nomination in this years James Beard awards. 3 years in a row now, that's worth a pat on the back

Sunday: Can Dana come out and play?


Last men standing, Rupert on the left Theis next to me, and of course, me. Posted by Hello

First off, no I am NOT drunk.

After working shoulder to shoulder for as many hours a week as this crew does, a nice night out of drinking and bonding can do wonders.

At the Hand and Flower sunday night Posted by Hello

This was the last coherant moment for Dan the long haired hippie next to me. To his right is Theis from Denmark who thinks that Kalamath Falls oregon is the most beautiful place ever, then Paul from Ireland, who didn't believe me that oregon was beautiful untill Theis said it was, and Sam who is from New York and doing a 6 month stage.

Paul playing his tiny guitar to Irish Rover Posted by Hello

Here we have Paul, the guy who I spend many nice quiet hours with in the prep kitchen. He is not so quiet when you get a few beers and an air guitar in his hands. He asked me if this night was what I expected going out in England to be like. I have to say, it wasn't what I expected, but it was fun.

Saturday: It's a blur


a blurry end to a long week Posted by Hello

This is me standing in the back of the kitchen after service on Saturday. To the left is the amuse busche station which I was assisting on with Michael or "fez". Behind me is the pastry station which fits 3 more people. So you are looking at the work space for 5 people.

I was a bit disappointed to see that this picture had come out so distorted. But then I realized that this was exactly how I felt at that moment. My eyes and thoughts were a bit blurry after the long day in the kitchen. Not only had it been a long week full of long days and more information than I could possibly absorb, but it was my first full day working in the kitchen. At about 11 that night my brain shut off. You are looking at me at almost 1 in the morning.

The amuse busche station was where I spent most of the lunch and dinner service. The first course we send out from that station is a very nice red cabbage gazpacho poured over a rasche of grain mustard ice cream set in a nest of cucumber brunoise. The color of the gazpacho is deep purple and as striking as the flavor.

Next we send a rock oyster that has been pulled out of the shell. The shell is then filled with a horseradish cream, the oyster placed on top of that, then covered with a passion fruit gelee.

After that goes a tiny eggshell like dish that holds quail gelee. On the bottom of the gelee is a fresh green pea puree. On top of the gelee is a rasche of liver and foie gras mousse that is absolutely delicious.

The next plate is a slice of a whole sardine that has been gutted and glued back together. It is served on top of dikon radish marinated in sesame with a sesame sauce and a rasche of sardine on toast sorbet with a tuille of superthin bread and Gruyere cheese.

A ravioli that is next reminds me deeply of home, Lampreia. Radish shaved super thin is laid down in a ring, then a ball of cheese, herbs, shallot, and truffle is set in the center and covered with more radish to resemble a ravioli. (It is very remenicent of the outstanding canneloni we did by laying out the same radishes in a sheet and rolling a bright tuna tartar inside and the pineapple ravioli we do for dessert.) Along side the ravioli is the pigs head terrine which might possibly be my favorite thing I have seen so far. The simplicity of the terrine is it's real beauty. The primal nature of the cheeks and temple cooked and layered is truly beautiful.

And for the lamb course on the dinner menu this station sets up a lamb gelee. It is lamb consume set in what looks like a fish bowl tilted towards you. on top of the gelee is a tiny haystack of a salad with herbs and julliene of radish and a few other things that I can't remember.

I was also helping a little on the pastry station. And for as little as I did physically on that station I spent every spare moment trying to memorize what goes on there. They have 3, 5 and 7 course desserts. The first course is always a carrot lolli, a cube of jelly candy made with beets (which I am determined to learn how to make and take the method back with me), and a little tart shell with a round of blanc mange flavored with basil. Next is tiny ice cream cones made from something called brick paste. They are sooo very cute and filled with layers of rose granite and apple ice cream. This particular recipe of Apple ice cream is made by a woman with the last name Marshal who invented the ice cream cone in 1854 or close to it. It is the only ice cream in the restaurant that is made with cream. The others are made with milk and milk solids. The fat in the cream is said to coat your tongue and prohibit the flavors within the ice cream from reaching your tastebuds. I have yet to taste the ice creams so I'll have to get back to you on that one. I am not, however, an ice cream fan, as I don't often like the fatty tasting nature of them. I much prefer a nice sorbet.

At the end of each diners experience and along side their coffee a tiny tartelette filled with rose praline is served. Rose praline is a confection from France. A red candy shell of bumpy texture coats an almond. These candies are ground and made into a filling for a tiny tart. It's quite nice.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Friday: All work and no play


Michael in his new chef's hat Posted by Hello

Friday the crew from Morocco came home. The chef, Heston Blumenthal, the chef Ashley Watts, the pastry chef Jocky, and a handful of the staff had been in Morocco doing a lunch for Nokia's release of the new phone. Today they all returned. Jocky brought with him a fitting gift for jolly Michael here, a fez.

It was also my first night in the kitchen watching service. The food is really spectacular, and the crew works like clockwork. I stood in the kitchen while each of the cooks gave me little tastes and told me what each and everything was. There is some really amazing things hapening here, and some flavors i have never experienced. There is a green oatmeal flavored with herbs and such. I liked the use of oatmeal as a starch. It is creamy and starchy and holds a lot of flavor. It was familiar yet suprising. Then there is a sauce of grapes set with gelling gum. This is heated and just before serving champagne is added. This leaves not only an amazing flavor, but the ubbles are held in the gel for an effervecient quality.

But being who I am I quickly found myself saddling up to the pastry station. Everything with the regular menu is amazing and i delight in learning it, but the pastry station makes my heart beat faster and my mind race with excitement. It is something I have never seen; what can happen when you have 3 people who's ony purpose is to create desserts. I hope to spend as much time there as possible as two months will barely be enough to absorb all that they are doing.

Thursday: the day all of Anjana's stories came true


The cutest morell in the world Posted by Hello

Not so cute anymore. Posted by Hello

Russell once said something that I often think of while working. He said that food is only good in small quantities, and in large quantities it becomes unappetizing. His words were, " bowl of macaroni and cheese, good. Garbage can full of macaroni and cheese, gross." I think of this often as I have to strain stocks with 400 chicken wings in them, or here with this box of about 4000 of the tiniest morrells I have ever seen. Who picks them? Elves? Mice? I can hardly fit them between my fingers. Well, anyways, as the pictures show, 1 tiny morell, cute. 4000 tiny morells, not so cute.

This day as I have stated in the title, is the day that all of Anjana's stories about Mary Elaine's come true. I had my arsenal of tiny knives and scissors and did tasks she told stories of. Cutting the stems off every one of these morells is a start. They are cooked in simple syrup and a fortified wine. They are served with a dessert called Purdue which has a thick piece of bread cooked like frenchtoast, then baked like bread pudding, then rolled in hot caramel. Along side this is a rasche (the real name for a pulled quenelle as a quenelle has sides.) of salted caramel and...... bacon and egg icecream. The salted caramel is amazing and something I have rolling around in my head to adapt later.

After the tiny morells, I began to peel turnips the size of cherries with my tiny turning knife. They are used to garnish many things on the menu and something that must be done every day.

After peeling the tiny turnips, I made tiny parsnip chips. These range in size from the tip of a pencil eraser to no bigger than an american penny. These are eaten like cereal with parsnip milk as a course on the dessert menu. So you can imagine that it takes an ongoing supply of about 1000 plus of these chips to be done each day.

Are you crying a tear of nostalgia yet Anjana? It's all here. The foams, the gelling gum set sauces that you drop on the plate with a spoon and then pull a streak, the tiny tiny lines of lime zest that have to be perfect, the chips and tuilles, the tiny vegetables and salads, the quenelles that are shaped and garnished ahead of time then slipped onto the plate, each station soley responsible for making every last thing it uses for service. I haven't seen the tiny fried quail eggs yet. That one is all your own.

Wednesday: Dead Animals


Dead birds Posted by Hello

One of the biggest differences between the American restaurant experiences I have had and this new one in England, is dead animals. In America, when we order meat, we get just that: meat. Here at The Fat Duck, you get a dead animal that you cut up into meat. These pidgeons are not in fact those dirty animals that we feed while sitting on a park bench. They are what we call squab. (On a side note, all the pidgeons that you would feed here, live in trees. I don't know that I have ever seen a pidgeon in a tree. Have I? Have you? Is that wierd? They look silly up there, fat and weiging the branches down. I cant remember then anywhere but on the ground pecking at things and fighting.) These birds arrive several times a week. You can see the breasts they are to be cut into sitting below. The breasts are stripped from the body with the wing bone intact, let to sit overnight in buttermilk, and then bones opposing, glued together with meat glue.

I have been spending all my time aross the street in the house doing prep. The only other person in the prep kitchen is Paul. Paul is a very nice Irish lad who's 12 hours a day is spend doing all the meat prep. This involves not only the butchering, but cooking many of the meats too. He makes a lovely pigs head terrine. I might have wrinkled my nose up at this, but after eating some of it I know that is is truly a beautiful thing. Once a week an order of pigs heads comes in. Not just the cheeks and temples stripped of skin and such, but heads, no skull. I got to hold one up and look into it's eyes. Then turn it over and understand the placement of the cheeks and temples that I have seen at lampreia. After the head comes in, the face and ears are cut away to leave the temple (the area of the forehead between the eyes) and the two large cheeks. A torch is used to burn off the hair before they are cooked. After they are slowly cooked for 36 hours at a very controlled low temperature, they are sliced on a slicer and layered as a terrine. The terrine is cut into squares, breaded, and deep fried. It is one of the most amazing things I have tasted here yet. And one of the least scientific.

I do have a deep rooted opinion that in order to eat meat one must understand where it comes from. In the average american life you really only see meat in little packages at the grocery store. It is easy to forget that an animal gave it's life for you to eat. It's a humbling experience to see meat still resembling the animal that was once alive, and one I wish more people were forced to have.

Tuesday: It begins

I walked in to the restaurant and strait to the changing shed. After putting on the coat and blue striped bib apron, I barely made it two feet out of the shed befor I heard , "hello, Dana right? I've got a job for you." and a box of Choux Pointu was shoved in my arms. It had begun.

The day was a bit of a blur. I kept my head down and worked hard while keeping my head up to observe as much as possible. Every task i was given opened up 10 questions to be answered before I could even begin. Where is it? What is it? What is a Vac-pac machine? What is Sous Vide? Where is Shed 3? Can I walk through the restaurant yet? Who is Rupert? Is this the right size? Is this the best way to approach this task? Does bruniose mean the same thing to The Fat Duck as it does to me? But after years of working for a chef with the highest of standards, I at least knew what to ask before I started to ensure success in completing the task correctly.

The prep kitchen was being remodeled so I spent the day in the labrotory. Or, "Hestons Atomic Kitchen" as one article was titled. Here I picked Chris the scientist's brain. Here are the things I learned. Keep in mind, this is not text book, it is what I heard in conversation with an expert.

Brining. A brine is a mixture of salt and liquid in which meat is kept before it is cooked. This ensures the meat will be moist while cooking. The ratio needed is between 5 and 10 percent salt to water. Ok. This I knew. So what is so interesting about salt water? Well, it's the why. Why does salt, which logically should extract liquid, make meat moister while cooking? Well, meat is strings of protien fibers which are capable of holding a certian amount of water next to them. Salt will actually change the protien in the network and make it capable of holding more water molecules next to them. This reaction happens in a brine up to 10 percent salt. When you start to make the salt much higher you move in to hamming something. which actually breaks down the protiens ability to hold moisture and extracts it.

Meat glue. What? Meat glue is a natural enzyme we produce in our own bodies. When we work a muscle, we create microscopic tears which in turn heal and make our muscle stronger. This enzyme is the glue that holds the muscle tightly together while the tissue heals itself. The japanese developed this enzyme for comercial use in making their immitation crab meat. It is produced by crossing two yeasts. It comes in a powdered form and is mixed up with a little water, spread on the meat, and in two hours the bond is solid. Then you can do cool stuff with it like take out the bones and guts of a large sardine, and glue it back together so it is a solid fish again. Or wrap a pidgeon breast with panchetta which will stay perfectly in place while cooking.

Now it's on to dinner. The staff dinner is at 6 sharp. It was a little like being the new kid and trying to find a table to sit at in the lunchroom. Then back across the street to "the house" and more prep work untill 11 at night. A 20 minute walk home, up the stairs, and strait into bed. I don't think I blinked twice before I was fast asleep.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

My new neighbors


My new neighbors Posted by Hello

These are the sheepies I say hi to on my way into work. They are a bit shy and haven't returned the sentiment yet, but I have hope. Oh wouldn't I just die if they would nuzzle my hand!!!

2 Moor End


2 moor end, my humble abode Posted by Hello

Here is my new home. As this house is not owned by a family it looks a little shabbier than the rest. The top left window looks out of my tiny room. There is a nice yard out back with a brick wall surrounding it. Nature has started to reclaim much of the yard and the brick wall is bursting with plant life. Part of it actually has a small tree growing out of it. But as the tree is starting to flower it looks kind of nice. And there are quite a few daffodills in bloom right now.

sunday

I checked in at the Fat Duck yesterday. The restaurant is much more humble than I had anticipated. But I have tried not to have too many expectations as I am usually wrong when I guess. It is inside an old house whose cielings vary in height from 7 to 9 feet throughout the rooms. The waiters are all short frenchmen who look just right in the small rooms. The dining room is minimally decorated and feels very warm and cozy. The kitchen isn't much larger than Lampreia. In fact, the hot line is smaller, but shaped as a triangle so you can wedge 5 cooks in there. Then the back station fits another5. There are 7 storage sheds on the back patio that house everything from produce to pots and pans. This leaves the kitchen open for working. The butcher station, pastry station, and prep station are all housed across the street in another tiny house. They fill the downstairs along with a large walk in refrigerator. Upstairs is the labratory, which unfortunately I haven't seen yet.

The kitchen was in a buzz as they were not only preparing for lunch and dinner but also preping for a dinner in Morrocco. They are flying all the food and equipment out today. Tomorow the Chef, Pastry Chef, and a handfull of cooks fly out. I was told that there is a chance that the government will not allow the food into the country. In this case these lucky staff members will be having a 3 day holiday instead. I can't deny that this kind of jet setting cooking seems very exciting to me.

My adventures with food have not extended past the grocery store. I have been shopping at Tesco. Which I imagine to be much like Safeway. I passed up Waitrose, which is much like Wholefoods. I couldn't afford that kind of store when I was getting a paycheck. But as this is a foreign country even the most humble of grocery stores is full of new exciting food. I found cooked beets (beetroot) in cryovac which I am very fond of as a snack. My cereal is little granola like clusters with caramelized almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts, and milk chocolate bitsies. I bought eggs which are all stamped with the farms name, the house and cage in which they were laid, and the date. I guess in case i want to write a thank you note to the chicken. The package that I purchased advertises that my eggs were "laid by hens free to dustbathe and perch in barns." My roommates eggs were "laid by hens free to roam the yard by day." Here you choose your eggs based on the hens hobbies.

The cheese isle is beautifuly long and very well stocked. It's amazing how affordable the cheese is when it's not an import. I bought a mild farm cheddar and a nice stilton studded with apricots. My roommates who claim to know nothing about food have a wealth of knowlege about cheese. One even attended a wedding that featured 3 tiers of cheese rather than a cake.

I did purchase some Potnoodles strictly because of my roommates suggestions. they are large cup-o-noodles in crazy flavors. I bought spicy curry, sweet and sour, and my favorite, Seedy Sanchez fiesta flavor. The package even has a seedy mustache. While in Greece on my last grand adventure I came across hotdog flavored ramen. I'll get back to you with a flavor analysis after I have consumed them.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Jet lag


jet lag Posted by Hello

My body is stubornly holding to my seattle early morning awakenings. This same body that for years refused to get out of bed much before noon is now causing me severe jet lag. I have attempted to force myself to stay awake through the daylight here. But instead of falling into a heap of exhaustion at the end of the day my brain wakes up as though to say, "rise and shine Dana!! Seize the day, isn't that what we allways say? Woah, you look like crap Dana. You should be getting some sleep. Well, to late for that now, it's awake time. Where is the sun?"

Friday, April 01, 2005


me in my tiny room Posted by Hello

Well, here is a little smile for everyone. I'll get more pictures of the area up soon.