Friday, July 23, 2010

"I would be lost without SC"

For those of you new to the blog, here are some important facts:
DCM = Dream Come True, the faux name for the company I work for
EC = Executive Chef
C = Also an exec chef, but the one I work with more
SC = Sous Chef

Notice the title. I take that from my last journal entry on here.

Well, I said it...not realizing it would be a "jinx" on myself.

SC has moved on...not with ill will or for unpleasant reasons. It was honestly the most economical move for her. I cried... C cried... The amigos dumped water all over her in an effort to let her know how very missed she would be.

Things at DCT have been a little funky ever since her departure. If nobody else ( besides C) knows it, I definitely know that her shoes cannot be adequately filled. She set the mood...the tone...the standard. She was the perfect role model, the ideal supervisor.

Though I had only been working with her for two months, they were two of the most instructive months of my life. I did not want to give her up. We connected inside and outside of work. "You, too?!" like high school girls, we would frequently ask each other, amazed that anybody shared such similar views about...nearly everything.

SC, I reiterate, we miss you. C is lost without you... Thank you for not forsaking friendship as you take this huge new step in life.

In other news: Time has flown by like lightening. If I were to just do my first internship at DCT, I would be finished in the next two weeks and that would break my heart. I intend to stay on (as an intern) with them through the fall - and indefinitely after (as a non-interning employee).

I got to work at the Birmingham Museum of Art last month, catering a wedding quite extraordinary. I begged to work that evening...and it was worth the begging. It was the last event for DCT to cater there for an indefinite amount of time. Contracts can be a brutal thing...

Yesterday I was given a recipe and told to make it my own. That basically meant making and tweaking it until I liked it more than the original recipe. I did this (with some assistance from EC)...for the company owner's birthday party that was held tonight.

That dish was my "baby." Briami, a Greek ratatouille. Yum. Hovering over the stove and by the ovens (though it was sweltering), standing over the cutting board and deli that recipe every ounce of energy I had within me, I prepared it for tonight's grand debut. I do not think that it was all as good as it could have been. This is a danger when producing for the masses: quality control. Additionally, what was intended to serve 60...sits in the cooler at work, capable of serving about 160 more. Haha - that was actually not my fault.

"Make a goat/cream cheese log roll using a terrine." "Why, EC?" "I don't know how to make a log without it." A special shout out to my garde manger chef from school: Thank you for teaching me how to do this with parchment paper and a ruler! I impressed EC. Hehe

With SC gone, more duties are now my own - loading parties being the least of them, yet possibly the most stressful. I am continuing to love my work...trying to balance work with rest. Believe it or not, I slack on the rest side and overdo it on the work side, many times. I know there is a balance... Now I must find it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Salt Scrub Exfoliation/ "Don't people pay big money for this?"

Ohhh today.

This morning, I pulled in to DCM's parking lot, got out of my car, grabbed my knives out of the backseat and heard one of my co-workers whistle at me. While today, such a gesture is considered improper and generally meant did make me giggle because I knew who did it and that she meant nothing except what we girls all think as we dress in our chef uniforms. The oh-so flattering baggy hounds-tooth chef pants and a large black t-shirt; that will surely win the men. ;-)

Side thought: After listening to C. J. Mahaney's sermon about modesty of the heart, soul, mind and clothing, the thoughts that trail the above paragraph are much greater than this little post can handle... I will say this, though - I hold no aesthetic qualms with my chef uniform, baggy pants and all.

Back to the primary thought -
Giggles: That's the way to start the work day.

I walked into the kitchen to see what I had to do. SC assured me I would have a to-do list within a short time. "Grab some coffee while you wait on C to get here."

There would just be four of us in the kitchen today, including C.

After a brief and easily solved debate about whether hot "sludge" could go in disposable plastic cups, I had already learned something new.

And then C arrived.

"Laura, do you know how to make southwest cheesecake? No? Ok. You will make that today." SC will prepped that for me before she left.

I would truly be lost without SC.

One pint honey mustard (not the way I make it at home) - Check
One pint remoulade - Check
150 corn on the cob prepped for steaming - Check
85 potatoes scrubbed, oiled, salted, peppered and foiled - Check
"Chef, my hands feel super soft...don't people pay big money to have their hands exfoliated?"
Southwest cheesecake baked - Check
Clean up.
My day was done before I knew it.

The team at DCM is incredible...
Everyone helps everyone, even when there are only three of us doing "kitchen stuff" in the kitchen.

Starting off with giggles, cooking through a peacefully quiet morning with just the three of us - most of the time - and ending with a homemade chicken salad sandwich and yogurt lunch with SC, discussing the fabulous world of catering...

Oh, yes. And getting my first paycheck.

Today was a wonderful day.

P.S. Food fights...happen all the time. *grins*
Knives are not something we joke with - ever.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hanging bird cages and brides without grooms...

Today was photo-shoot day!

Everyone arrived at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens between 6 and 7am for a frenzied morning filled with exciting foods.

The following pictures do not do the scene justice, nor do they cover half of the "stuff" that was to be seen. I hate I did not get a picture of the endive salad I made, but I will see it when these pictures are placed in the Alabama Weddings magazine.

DCT's team has always amazed me with their eye for elegance and decorum...

Underneath this pavilion are hanging bird cages...
Walking through the garden was like walking through a fairytale land.

She's got the dress and she's got the ring. What this Alabama bride (who is actually from Georgia) does not have is the groom. I had the pleasure of working with her. I thought she spoke well when she said: For $25,000, this dress had better be lovely.

Everything was edible...

The trio plate.

Watermelon, balsamic vinegar and sliced parm.

The design team had a lot of fun with the bird cages.

I also had the wonderful pleasure of working with Barb Sullivan, "the best cake decorator in the world," said the company owner.

The Marie Antoinette wedding cake. . .

Barb truly is great at what she does. And she does it from the heart.

We each filled in where we could, building endive salads and chicken canapes between all the other preparation.

There were definitely highlights to this morning, not the least of which was getting locked into the parking lot so I could not leave for school on time (but it was ok).

The quote of the day goes to EC - when he told C to julienne an apple and C did, EC said, "I didn't mean literally. I meant slice."
We all had to be up before the sun, so such hilariously illogical statements were all brushed under the rug.
Today was a lovely day...even if most of us woke up at 5:30am.

Need for Speed

This is to try to bring things all back up to speed before my next post -

Let me be undeniably clear in saying - I love my internship.

With coworkers and bosses who all treat me like family, an environment that is almost entirely free of drama (yay!) and food that will blow you away with its goodness in flavor and appearance, Dream Come True is indeed my dream come true.

After teaching me "the ropes," as the old saying goes, and testing my ability to keep up, I was given my first list! For the first few days, I was tacked onto someone else's to-do list.

When I walked in and said good morning last week to find C writing my name on the white board without any other name before it, I was tickled pink.
It was a wimpy list (blanch three cases of asparagus, prep five hotel pans of green beans and prep a dozen vegetarian plates), to be sure, was mine. I still had to ask questions... Heh. But(!) I had my list.

Blanching asparagus was a no-brainer.

I had to ensure I kept it perfectly organized for later counting. Salt, pepper, butter: finished.

I filled five pans with frozen green beans, salt, pepper, butter and was finished.

Then came the more difficult part: gut and stuff tomatoes with couscous. It was not terribly difficult, as it was only 12. With the tomatoes, I had to ensure they each had blanched carrots and asparagus on the side, to complete the vegetarian plates.

With much instruction and patience from A, my day was complete.

The following day, I had a real list! I still had all simplistic tasks, not making too many recipes, but working with some ready-made foods, but it was longer and required a little more labor on my part…

The brownies were already made. The most difficult part was in not eating the rest. The ruler was helpful when I needed to ensure proper measurements.

The muffins were from a frozen mix – thank goodness – I still don’t care for pastry…most of the time. Since I over-mixed my lemon-basil pound cake during my “foundations of baking” class final (losing five points), I know I have much room for improvement when it comes to mixing pastry. It is a science I will leave to those who truly love it.

The biscuits had been frozen as dough and stuck entirely together. I think my knife has forgiven me for using it as an ice pick… After setting them out on the pans, the real trial was in not overcooking. These and the muffins had to be watched closely.

BACON!!!! I love bacon. To those in this world who purposefully do not eat bacon (for whatever reason)…I am sorry. But more bacon for meeeee. So, keep on with your diet. My pity for you does not equal my generosity. ;-) I quickly get off course.

I filled a few sheet pans with bacon and placed them in the oven. After it finished cooking, C (who is on a “no sugar or red meat” diet with A and EC) accused me of taunting him with the bacon. “She is trying to kill me here! I go on a diet and what do you know? I have 85 pieces of hot bacon shoved under my nose!” The poor man… If only he knew that pork was "the other white meat."

The butter merely needed softening, whipping and smushing into a bowl and topped with a piped star decoration.

The orange marmalade and strawberry jam were placed in separate bowls, covered and ready to go.

The quiches were pre-made and delicious. Usually, DCM makes their own quiches, but with their pastry chef of many years taking a fabulous opportunity, it was kind to help out the new chef with some assistance.

That day, after prepping food for the next day, I finished my tasks and then went to cater at Birmingham Children's Hospital for a pediatric graduation of sorts. Plated, seated dinner. Much work that will wear one out, but incredibly enjoyable.

Once we arrived on the scene, we rolled out plastic to protect the carpet underneath our tables then we lined a wall with several tables. SC and I set out and plated up each of the 160 Caesar salads while two others topped each of the 160 crème brulees.

(Actual torch that we use. It is at least 16 inches tall.)

I was supposed to be topping the crème brulees, but I am apparently very afraid of fire. We use a large torch to flame the tops of our ramekins while we rotate the ramekins in our hands. I use “we” loosely. I kept a safe 15 inch distance between my hand and the flame, and no matter how hard I tried to make them do it, my hands refused to bring the flame any closer. This made the whole concept pointless, so SC enjoyed her good laugh and swapped me out with someone else. That is how I ended up on salad construction.

Once they were topped, we all placed chocolate-dipped wafer rolls and strawberries on top of the desserts and carried those out to the tables for later eating.

Last, but definitely not least: the assembly line of plating the main course. My job: garnish and wipe any messy plate edges. I was slow… I will get faster with experience, I hope. After we served all the plates, we cleaned up our mess and left. The sun was still up – good day…

The next day, I worked at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens to help out with two wedding-related luncheons

and one UAB optometry dinner.

Luncheons - Chop lettuce for and serve 117 green salads. On that same plate: the amazing pasta salad, chicken salad and fruit salad. Plated, served, cleaned. Finished.

That kitchen was a bit smaller and more difficult to maneuver through.

When it was time to burn the tops of crème brulee, C asked me to do that. Immediately, SC laughed and said, “ No. She is terrified of that job. I will do it. Put her on something else.”

When it was time for our assembly of the plates, I was the placer of green beans. “Laura, if you could go about 20 million times faster, then you will be good.” C always knew the right thing to say… Haha. Sarcasm runs deep in his blood. I did speed up. “Well, that’s only about 10 thousand times faster, but it will do.” Such a goofy man. It was proper motivation and because I knew what he meant, I was able to take the criticism with laughter.

Speed. That’s what I need.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Rudolph the red-nosed cook.

Ohhh... Day three was a very special day - in a lot of ways.

I was asked to come in later because we would be leaving later than usual that day.

I walked in to the main kitchen and was greeted by the dear Spanish speaking co-workers.
"Hola, Lauwra! Como Estes?"
"Hola. Bien!"
"Hablo Espanol?"
"Noo...So sorry, guys..."
"Ahhh... Haha."
"Where is SC?"
"Oh, she outside, loading up."
"Thank you."

The Mexicans are a mess of trouble (in a light-hearted way, of course). Always calling A "gordo," the friendly use of the Spanish word for "fat." (A could stand to lose a few pounds and knows it) A is good-natured and loves that the Mexicans walk around blaming everything wrong on "that gordoooooo. Is his fault!" I do not envy their "love pats," where every time they pass by A, they smack him on the back or shoulder or...wherever is convenient at the time.

I digress.

I found SC unloading a cooler and going down a checklist to make sure everything for the purple event was together, everything for the yellow event was together, everything for the blue, the green, etc. This took a good long while, as some things could not be pulled out of the cooler until time for it to be loaded in the truck for the event.

When we finished pulling and checking, I went to help A make hot spinach dip and grits...
Small task? Not at all.

Seven gallons of dip... After rinsing and draining and squeeeeeeezing every last drop of water from seven large bags-worth of the formerly frozen spinach, my hands and arms were rather tired. No rest for the weary, though. Time to stir the cream, roux and cheese together for several minutes...

then add in the spinach.

Yay! After all was mixed, it was stirred several more minutes and put in two four-gallon thermoses and sealed very tightly.

Next? The grits. Ohhhhh the grits...

Grits and I have been best friends for years. I love a nice warm bowl of grits with a sprinkle of cheese and whatever other topping I desire.

A and I started boiling milk, butter and water in two different pots for 11 gallons of grits. Once the grits were poured in, my duty was to stir, stir, stir for 30 minutes solid. I began to stir with my giant whisk and quickly realized I needed a stool to stand upon so I could actually see over the rim of the pot. So, we made a makeshift stool.

(it is difficult to see, but I am standing on a stool made of cola crates)

A warned me that the grits would soon begin to pop and possibly attack my arms and scar me - if I did not put on oven mitts up to my elbows. I promptly wore the mitts. Stir…stir…stir… My hands were getting sweaty and hot inside the mitts, but I continued on, keeping as much of myself as I was able away from the mouth of the pot. After several minutes of stirring over heat, this mythical popping was no longer a myth to me. Bubbles furiously rose to the top of the pot and, in my carefulness to protect my arms, I was attacked right on the tip of my nose.

“Tssss.” I could hear the grits singe.

I did not pay close attention to it, as I had other business to attend to. The grits would not be burned.

One of the Mexicans came over after a while and took over for the final hoorah of stirring, and I touched my nose to see if it still burned. Cutting out the gruesome, my new nickname was “Rudolph.”

All the grits were poured into thermoses and sent to the vans.

With a little bit of clean up, my work at the kitchen was finished. As I was walking out the door with the chefs, one of the Mexicans grabbed my hand and lifted it high into the air, as one would a victory…raising. “Lauwra not burn pot! She numbah one! Gordo always burn bottom of pot. Gordo numbah two!”

Ego boost? Yes. But after burning my nose with grits, I didn’t mind the bit of encouragement.

After the food was all loaded up, A and I headed with C to his house for a break between shifts. Later, we were to go to a venue to cater a rehearsal dinner.

At C’s house, I met his lovely wife, his hyper puppies, and his babies (aka: dirt bikes and caving gear). [I am determined to find the link between chefs and extreme/ stupid/ dangerous sports. There seems to be one.]

After a quick rest at the house, we all left for the evening’s event.

Plated, seated dinners are the best. *smiles*

Between a mix of work and chatting, we set up the food, served it up and left.

My favorite thing is having a clean-up crew.

One thing I am incredibly thankful for is the staff that embraces me and is patient with my slowness. SC always lets me shadow her and teaches me the ways of the kitchen. Oh, what a vast world of knowledge and talent she holds…

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Johnny Angel and Those Eggs

Today started much more smoothly than did yesterday.

Now that my eyes have learned how to quickly skim an order sheet, I know what those Devilishly [Good] Deviled Eggs were for:

Johnny Angel and the Swingin' Demons
at one of Birmingham's more beautiful locations, where DCT exclusively caters.

Before the cooking and prepping began, SC apologized for and explained yesterday.

SC asked if I was much of a pastry person.
"No... I passed the required pastry class with an A, but I don't care so much for it."
"Well, we're going to dip our toes in it today."
So, we made Gougeres.

Cooking the flour, water and butter.

Once we mixed in the Parmesan, we piped 120 of them with a star tip. Wrap. Label. Color. Freezer.

The next task was to prepare all the fixings for a mashed potato bar for 375 guests and another mashed potato and grits bar for a total of 250 guests.

My job: slice the green onion.

1.5 (post-slice) gallons later, I was finished.
Cover. Label. Color. Cooler.

Mashed potato bars need mashed we peeled and cut up (estimating) 200lbs of potatoes.
Cover. Label. Color. Cooler.

PC was swamped, so we went to assist her where possible.
I cut 85 rounds of German chocolate cake out of a sheet pan for her to decorate.

Do not let this picture deceive you. This is not the final product. When they go to a wedding at the event house I wanted to "some day" get married at (until I saw the price tag), they will be decorated very elegantly.

Finally, we took the leftovers from the German chocolate cake and mixed those with buttercream frosting and rolled those into 90 gooey balls to be dipped chocolate and made to look even prettier and cuter than the ones below. (We followed the same method with white cake)

"Okay, this is going to get old for you," said SC.
"Would you like to help us cater a dinner Saturday night? See it all put together? Help with the art of it all?"