Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Behind the Scenes

The majority of the components that go into each dish are made ahead of time. I am not just talking about slicing up veggies for a salad. I am also talking about condiments, seasonings, and individual elements of the dish. The bad weather has been keeping customers away, making each of the chefs more prepared for today’s service due to the surplus of ingredients prepped in the past few days. But, of course there was still work to be done. After a week off for Thanksgiving break, I was back and ready to get started.

My first project was picking spinach leaves. Although a tedious task, removing the stems from this iron-packed veggie makes it easier to cook with and eat. Then I moved on to more exciting tasks like making polenta. The National uses Red Mule polenta. To make you combine a quart and a half of water with a quart and a half of whole milk. Once that simmers, mix in a quart of polenta. Then add butter and parmesan cheese until thick and creamy. The polenta was the bed for shrimp and chorizo, yummy!

Next, I made tomato jam. The jam is one of the condiments used on the lamb pita. To make, you combine slow roasted tomatoes, with red wine vinegar, sugar, minced garlic, mixed ginger, dried chilies, toasted mustard seed, and fish sauce. Let simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then you puree the mixture in the robot coupe until you get a uniformed consistency. The jam has a texture like tomato sauce, but the flavor is an interesting balance of sweet and spicy. I continued more prep for the lamb pita. Because not everything was ready for the dish (the meat was not completely thawed at the start of service) we did not put it on the lunch menu, but then we ran it as the special when everything was complete. To prepare the meat, I got as much thawed meat as possible, then seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander. I also mixed in some sautéed onions and peppers for extra flavoring and then rolled them into the small nuggets. Once all the components were ready, we were able to assemble them on order. Pitas are steamed on the French top and then smothered with horseradish cream and the tomato jam. Then layered with bibb lettuce, three lamb nuggets (that are sautéed on one side and then finished in a 600 ° oven until medium rare), then topped with more sautéed onions and peppers, and wrapped in aluminum foil to give the presentation a street-food type feel.

To finish off the day, I quarted up the marinated olives. Turns out there were 16 quarts of olives, that’s a lot! The orange flavor was pungent on my fingers the rest of the day, and I wore gloves! Then I cooked chicken two ways. First I grilled and then roasted off some breasts for the chicken salad. I also rubbed a few breasts in salt, pepper, and dried thyme and then roasted those for a chicken noodle soup. My final project was making sure everything in the walk-in was labeled because the health inspector is expected any day now. By the end of this project, I was freezing! But, I finished everything and ended my day with a warm, delicious ham and cheese sandwich.

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