The executive chef pulls me into his office Friday before dinner service, tells me to get comfortable, and asks me to take off my hat.
I'm sitting there staring at him wondering if I'm going to get fired. My mind starts playing back the week trying to recall any unforgivable errors.
I take my hat off and rest it on his desk.
Normally, when pulled into his office I sit in a chair and he sits on his desk towering and totally intimidating the living daylights out of me. He's a big guy with football shoulders and sharp blue eyes that can change instantly from humor to hostility.
But this time he takes the only other chair in the office and we sit eye to eye.
Yikes, I'm really in trouble this time.
The office is incased in glass within the kitchen, so all other employees can see what's going on even if they can't hear what's going on. I'm quite aware that my body language is communicating what my colleagues can't hear.
So we're sitting eye to eye – merde – this is it and I don't even know what I did. Could it be that I told a cavalier employee to clean his station the other night with words perhaps stronger than recommended in the employee handbook? Did a customer find a crab shell in the new panacotta dish and choke? Am I too slow, too silly, too, too, too....?
"How do you think you're doing right now? Would you say that you have been successful here?"
"Yes chef, I think I really understand the cuisine on a deeper level and my skills have improved greatly. I'm more focused and I enjoy being here everyday – even though every day isn't easy..."
I'm babbling a mile a minute wishing something profound to come out of mouth, instead feeling like every sentence is canned and falling to the floor like bricks dropped from the top of the Empire State building.
"Yes, I would agree with you. You've done very well at veg station, your raviolis and your lobster plates were good at rav station, you know all the positions in garde manger inside and out, you've done fish pass and canape station well. I'd say you have been successful too."
In the ten months I've worked at this restaurant, this is the first time I've ever heard a serious compliment from the executive chef. Understand that in a 3-Michelin star restaurant 'good' is never 'good enough'.
"I'd like to start you on Morning Hot Apps this Monday."
Most cooks dread this position. It's a lot of work and a lot of responsibility. The position is titled 'Morning Hot Apps' (appetizers) because the cook comes in at the wee hours of the morning to prep mise en place for the day and night, cook family lunch for 50 people, and run the line during service for the veg station and garde manger.
Lunch service is fast and furious often serving one hundred clients in less than 3 hours.
"You know this station is a lot of responsibility. You must show up whether you are sick, injured, or otherwise."
"Yes, Chef, I know."
"However, I do not want you to get stuck at this station. I think you have more value in the evening during the longer service, but you will learn a lot about being a chef from this position and I know that is important to you. This position is no joke, huh?"
He calls in the executive sous Chef and asks him to join our conversation about the Morning Hot Apps position. The French executive sous chef in his thick accent sums it up:
"Amy, eets a laaaht ov wurk, hein? Eets naught uhn easee stahsion, tu sais?"
"Oui chef, je sais."
The Executive Chef excuses me from his office to go begin setting up the line and I'm positively glowing. I'm so happy I could burst. And although the compliments could have done that alone and the responsibility is over the top exciting and challenging, I'm also just flat out ready to have a normal life even if it is only for 6 weeks. I haven't seen the sun in God only knows how long.
The shift ends at 4 P.M in the afternoon and includes two days off in a row: Saturday and Sunday. My body could use a good a rest and my social life could use some improvement.
I joke with the executive chef as I'm wiping down the stainless steel on the line:
"Wow, now I'm going to be able to work out in the evening, maybe go on a date, write my blog..."
"Don't get too used it, huh? It's only for 6 weeks and it is hard work, and I want to see you on the entree line after that. This is your life Amy. Everything you want is here."
He smirks viciously and I laugh at the hard truth we all have committed our lives to.
"Really? I didn't know that husbands, babies, and toned abs came from here chef?"
He rolls his eyes, annoyed (or amused?) by my somewhat wry sense of humor.
I continue my scrubbing, and suddenly my heart skips a beat as I realize what I have to prove at this station. The reality settles and I start thinking about family meal and all the dishes we pick-up on the Hot Apps station. It is no joke.
I grab my little black moleskine note pad and start diagramming the 8 dishes that come off the station and all the garnishes and sauces that are included on each:
My jaw drops. I know how to pick- up all the dishes during service, but I've never prepped them before.
BACALAO (salted cod):
1. Salt cod with smoked salt over night. Grill. Flake
2. Sprinkle with brunoised chives and red onion, olive oil, sherry viniagre
3. Make arugula purée
4. Make lemon confit purée
5. Garnish with brunoised tomato confit, preserved lemon chiffonade, parsley, and almonds
6. Make garlic chips (slice garlic on mandoline very thin,blanch garlic slivers, gently fry in oil)
7. Make garlic oil
The dishes are beautiful and I've never had the opportunity to work with octopus from beginning to end, or make bacalao (salted cod), or prepare scallops that are so alive they are still quivering when sliced. And the sauces and garnishes are worldly drawing upon flavors from Japan, Spain, India, and France.
Now family meal is another kettle of fish.
You are up for scrutiny not only from all the chefs but all your colleagues as well. I enjoyed cooking family meal for the staff at Guy Savoy twice a day and I somehow managed to squeeze in all my mise en place and endure cooking through lunch and dinner service so I'm pretty sure I can manage it.
Although I doubt I'll be cooking veal liver, lamb's brains, tongue, or tripe for my friends here. Which is a big sigh of relief. There's only so much offal an American girl can stomach.
And even though I haven't posted a recipe on this blog for months (because I simply have no time to cook at home) I do enjoy coming up with my own dishes and using the creative side of my brain that often is on silent mode at work.
If my family meal really sucks, maybe I'll surprise everyone and just order pizza. I hear you can get anything delivered in NYC. Ha!
So all in all, I'm looking forward and cooking forward to the next 6 weeks of Morning Hot Apps. Wish me luck! And feel free to email any fabulous pasta and fish stew dishes that serve masses of people!