Saturday, April 10, 2010

A day in the life

I started writing this last week, when I was actually still in the class. But I just finished it today, so here it is - only a bit late!


It's still mostly dark when I walk to Roth Hall at six in the morning. But a touch of pink shows behind the still bare trees to the east, and the air these past couple days has felt remarkably spring-like. The house sparrows and robins are especially talkative at this hour. Once inside Roth I get my daily bowl of plain yogurt (whole milk, with nuts and fresh fruit) and join the few classmates who have beat me there. (Two kitchens, K-16 and K-11, serve breakfast every morning starting at 5 am. These students come to class at 1 or 2 am.) Over the next half hour another dozen or so of my classmates trickle in, but the other half go straight to class. Besides, lunch is not far off. We then enter the Caterina kitchen, and the sluggishness is over. Knife bags are opened and the required tools brought out, and stations are set up. This usually means a cutting board, waste and compost buckets, tasting spoons, a bucket with sanitation solution, and paper towels, plus all the pots, pans, containers, tools, etc, that will be needed for the day. We have about 25 minutes to set up and gather ingredients, check in the day's food order and order in any ingredients we will need for the day that didn't come in. Then at 7:25 it's time to grab some coffee and head downstairs for lecture. This is Chef Scappin's time to shine. Normally he's very quiet, content to stand back and let the TA Danielle (who is like the sous-chef and basically runs the kitchen) be in charge. Each day he covers another important aspect of Italian cuisine: prosciutto, parmigiana reggiano, Aceto Balsamico di Modena, pasta. I begin to salivate as he rhapsodizes about the virtues of great olive oil and eating freshly sliced prosciutto di parma in Italy. Then we head back upstairs and start prepping in earnest - we have just under two hours to get everything ready for service. My station is Cold Appetizers, so I'll roll and form tart shells, make the filling for the warm onion tarts, wash lettuce and arugula, cook bacon, make salads for family meal, and many other various tasks. Pastry, fish, grill, pasta, hot appetizers, and amuse/cheese are the other stations, plus one team for family meal and banquets. At 10:30 it's time for family meal. Every station prepares three plates of each of their dishes, and family meal team makes additional food - there are about 35 people to feed (kitchen and front of house, plus the instructors). This is a great way for everyone to sample the various menu items - and especially beneficial for the front of house to learn the menu. Unfortunately we have to scarf our lunch and get back to work - just like in every other kitchen. After lunch I set up my station for service - all cold items go in an open reach-in fridge so they are easily accessible - and I organize all the plates, bowls, tools, etc, that I'll need.
At 11:30 the doors open for service, which lasts two hours. If it's a busy day - say 100 customers - I am kept occupied by tossing and plating salad after salad, but most days (50-60 people) allow time in between to work on prep for the next day. As soon as the last ticket of the afternoon comes in, I'm free to break down my station, wrap up everything and store it in the walk-in fridge, and scrub down the counters. And that's it! We usually walk out of there at 2:30.
I'll spend the rest of my afternoon going on a walk, making a timeline for the following day, eating dinner, and going to bed nice and early (plus hanging out with my friends, possibly watching a movie, normal things...).
And tomorrow, I'll do the whole thing over again.

In case you're wondering, we are assigned our stations. Sometimes you end up with an easier job, like mine, or get thrown on the hot line. But we switch from kitchen to kitchen, so it is all equal in the end.

P.S. Chef Scappin was the Italian cuisine consultant for the (great!) movie Big Night.

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