Well hello there. I'm afraid my blog has been dormant for a while—kind of like the sourdough starter that's been sitting in my fridge for months. It's about time to wake it up and tell you all about my post-culinary school transition.
Let me emphasize TRANSITION.
Toward the tail-end of school, I did a few "stages" (internships) at the restaurants of my chef instructors. I worked full shifts at 51 Lincoln, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Lumiere. I helped chef Dante of Il Casale serve calzone samples at the Best Buddies fundraising event. I don't necessarily have aspirations to work in a restaurant, but I was curious to experience the heat of the kitchen. I looked at it as an extension of the classroom—a place where the planning and organization skills could be put to the test in real time.
At 51 Lincoln I helped chef Jeff make fresh gnocchi for the nightly special. Together we seared wild boar then braised it with warm spices and sherry to make a ragu for the potato dumplings. During service, I worked alongside Cara, the garde manger (who just graduated from the BU program) to plate salads and desserts. I fried bread in clarified butter for croutons. I scooped sorbet and ice cream and arranged cheese and charcuterie on little wooden boards. Business was brisk and I could certainly feel the heat—literal and figurative—from the neighboring cook stations. I was in my element. "I could do this," I thought.
Working at Island Creek was a very different, yet equally engaging experience. Here I worked with chef Lauren who is in charge of pastry for ICOB, Eastern Standard, Hotel Commonwealth, The Hawthorne, and Row 34. Despite the breadth of responsibility, the all-female pastry department worked with a quiet ease. In a separate upstairs kitchen, 3 of us rolled, filled and fluted 90 miniature, lattice-top blueberry pies. I made a flourless chocolate cake while Lauren deftly frosted a birthday cake for a private party. Downstairs in the ICOB main kitchen, bins were filled with measured dry ingredients for the signature biscuits. Then we mixed and cut about a hundred perfect squares for the night's service. I mixed dough for mustard crackers. I simmered pastry cream. And I plated a few desserts once the tickets started coming in.
Working in pastry seemed to have less of a sense of urgency than working on a line. There was more repetitive motion, more standing in one spot, and less heat. Again, I felt right at home.
At Lumiere I stood between a French Laundry-bound chef on one side and a 19-year-old former Shake Shack employee on the other. It was a tight, hot, all-male kitchen. I started out with what I gathered was the official intern initiation task—making gremolata. Chef Leviton's version requires you to precisely mince lemon peel, parsley, and garlic for the signature aromatic garnish. There would be no hashing over with a chef's knife. I learned his method in class, so I was confident.
Beyond the gremolata and a few other prep tasks, it was here that I got the most experience working on a busy line. I wasn't just there to observe, they put me to work! My official duty during service was searing scallops. At first I thought "they're actually going to trust me with this?!" There was the single scallop for the tasting menu, trios for the appetizer portion, and 5 or 6 for the entree. Lumiere is known for the scallops, so the tickets came in at a steady pace. The black steel pans remained over heat for the entire night, and so did I. The heat was relentless, but I pulled it off.
Getting a taste of restaurant life was fun. What I learned from being in the kitchen is that I am happiest when I'm working with my hands. I enjoy being a maker. So as I transition into a new career, my goal is to incorporate "making" into whatever I do. I've been continuing to write stories and recipes for The Boston Globe. Developing recipes gives me time in the kitchen without committing to the chef lifestyle. I think a perfect fit for me would be to collaborate with chefs who want to write cookbooks, but don't have the time. I could help to translate their ideas into feasible recipes for home cooks. Getting insight into their creative process, testing recipes, and clearly explaining their techniques is something I could get into.
Part of my transition into a culinary professional will also incorporate more time in the BU kitchen. Beginning in September I will working as the teaching assistant for the new crop of culinary certificate students! I am trilled to return and relive the program from a different perspective. Until then, I'll be posting recipe ideas, things I'm working on for The Globe, and whatever other culinary goings-on I can think of. Oh yeah, maybe I should make some sourdough bread.