This has been the most insane two weeks of my life.
Fourteen days ago I was unsure of how I was going to buy groceries. Now I still don't know how I'm going to buy groceries, but if I use the Enron mark to mark balance sheet module I might be able to bank on potential profits.
I'm re-opening a restaurant in San Francisco!
I came home to the Bay Area to find and apartment and found myself a job instead. Gina Milano, owner of several popular establishments in San Francisco called me last week and the conversation went something like this:
"Amy, Babe, where in the world are you right now? Are you still at Le Bernardin or are you in Paris, or where?!?"
"I'm flying back to SF this week. Why? What's up?"
"You want to cook a dinner party for 30 people on Wednesday at Le Club?"
"Sure! What's the menu? Or do you have one yet?"
"Yeah, it's easy. It's a salad with three choices of entrées: chicken, filet, or pumpkin risotto and chocolate pots de crème for dessert."
"No problem, I can make that happen..."
"Call me when you get in hon'."
I'm great at committing myself to things and then freaking out over how I'm going to accomplish them. So I call one of the sous chef's at Le Bernardin and ask for advice because he is the master of running private parties.
"How much filet do you think I'll need to order for a party of 30 texan doctors with 3 choices on the menu? I don't want to over order the filet because it will go to waste."
"Are you kidding me? You better expect all of them will order filet."
"Yeah, that's what I thought." I respond with calculator in hand adding up pound per pound.
"What are the other options?"
"Roasted chicken and pumpkin risotto"
"No one's gonna order the risotto."
"Yeah, not when there's filet on the menu. So I'm cooking this alone. I gotta pre-sear stuff or I'm going to get seriously crushed."
"Oh yeah, pre-sear everything. You really gotta take the bull by the horns, ya know? I mean you have to embrace it even if you don't want to embrace it or you're going to fail. Failure is not an option, remember? See, now you understand why I was such a control freak in the salon parties."
"Yeah, I understand a lot more now, that's for sure. I wish I had taken better notes."
"You'll be fine. Just don't leave anything up in the air and trust no one. If you mess up something in the cooking process then you can blame yourself, but it you let some one else f'ck it up then that's a different story. You'll be fine. Let me know how it goes, huh?"
It's not that preparing a meal for thirty people is so difficult. But picking up three different entrées simultaneously and getting food out hot and timed correctly for thirty people is challenging when you have limited help.
The evening was a total success. Knowing that it would be impossible to plate thirty dishes and pick up three different entrées alone, I brought in a new cook friend of mine to help out and we just had a blast in the kitchen.
It's been a long time since I actually had fun cooking. I forgot how much I loved it. Working in 3 Michelin star restaurants is exciting, but the pressure can be draining. And it's hard to find time to really talk to colleagues and get to know them. Crazy, considering we work side by side day in day out.
I blaze through most of the prep the day before and Eric comes in after his daytime shift at a different restaurant to help me finish up. We're ready to go. No rush. We're confident. We're swapping cooking stories, jokes, comparing burns injuries, talking about knives, gossiping about cooking schools and restaurants. We're having fun.
We wait and wait and still the tables haven't ordered and now we're getting bored and Eric, no doubt, is getting tired having already worked 10 hours or more. The servers bring the tickets back to us and sure enough each of the three tables has ordered a staggering amount of filet. I sell one risotto. What a waste of time and effort! But thank God I ordered enough filet to cover the board.
We pump out the orders table by table all the while loving the 12 burner stove from the 1940's that burns hotter than any stove top I've ever worked with. And then one of the ovens dies. The chicken is semi-done. Not good. I put my hand in the oven and realize it's gone kaputz.
But it's not a major catastrophe. I switch the proteins to the other oven and in minutes we're ready to plate. The first table is turned out a few minutes later than I would have liked, but the servers reassure me there is no rush. The party is giving speeches, drinking wine, and enjoying themselves.
I pick up three more last minute private parties in the same week. All the parties go smoothly and the regular customers happily eat up the extras I send out to the bar. Everyone agrees that it's time to bring the food back.
The last chef was fired a year ago for soaking the restaurant in outrageously high food and staff costs and Gina has kept the restaurant closed ever since keeping the three lounge rooms open for cocktails. She books the small restaurant with private parties and normally brings in a chef to cook. We've flirted off and on this year about re-opening it. But with the bad economy and my work commitment in New York, the timing was off.
Now the timing is perfect!
I am scared, nervous, and totally excited. It is rare that a cook can walk into a kitchen that has everything in place and do exactly what he or she wants to – with in limits of course, we are working on a tight budget. Which makes it even more of a creative challenge and will translate into an affordable menu that clearly everyone is looking for these days. We're bringing 'bistro' back. (As if it ever went out.)
I love the venue. I always have. It's one of San Francisco's last true historic gems. In fact the name, Le Club, dates back to the original restaurant/lounge in the 1920's. It has an old Paris bistro feel with a certain San Francisco speakeasy flare. And the kitchen is amazing. Small, but loaded with goodies.
And the piano! Oh my goodness I have never worked on a piano quite like this one. Twelve burners, two rows of six, with unusual flower shaped cast iron and btu's that are out of control. An energy saver's nightmare for sure. Now if I can just get that oven calibrated...
I will be heading back to NYC to pack up and move out. We hope open next month. In the meantime come by for a properly made cocktail or glass of champagne on the top of Nob Hill! Or, book a reservation for March...
I can't believe this is really happening!
1260 Jones Street, 94109 (top of Nob Hill)