I don’t look my age.
At least I didn’t think I looked my age until I caught my reflection in the bathroom on my only ‘sit down’ break during the day. There it was, staring back at me in the mirror, an unrecognizable face and an emerging small shock of white hair.
You know what I did? I literally turned around to see if some one was behind me. As if I wouldn’t notice some one else in the bathroom with me staring into the mirror.
On closer examination I leaned into the mirror and brought my fingers to my white hairs pulling apart my cowlic to count them. The more I searched, the more I found, the more I lost count.
When did I turn this old? How did I not notice this before?
I put my little paper cook’s hat back on making sure to cover the intrusion of white and walked back to the kitchen in a state of denial.
“Look, look at this!” removing my hat slightly so only my girlfriend could see, I pointed to the spot .
“What? What am I looking at?!?!”
“My white, hair, do you see it? Do you see it?!?!”
“Oooooo that’s kinda sexy, that little streak there.”
“Hmmmm, that’s one way of looking at it.” I said and pulled the hat half way down my forehead again.
I flung myself back into mise en place in the hopes that total concentration would take my mind off my new discovery. Besides, I work in a kitchen where nobody really cares what you look like as long as you look clean cut. What matters most of all is your skills and your speed and your effeciency and your ability to organize.
Not whether or not you have white hairs sprouting up all over your head.
Then it hit me. I looked down at what I was making. And I blamed it full heartedly: “You, you have given me white hairs.”
This is what new dishes do to cooks my age. I suppose it’s what unruly teenagers do to parents. They stress them out completely until their hair turns white.
And new dishes are a little like children. They are so beautiful and exciting at first, then they are rebellious and obstinate as you try to include them in the grander scheme of things, and finally they come into their own.
All that frustration and pain just a beautiful memory. (Which is why cooks then create more dishes and, I suppose, parents more children.)
But rolling thinly sliced zucchini around tube shaped curry crab panacotta is a little like threading a very small needle with a vary large piece of yarn. If my fingers were long and thin and not short, swollen, and burned this sushi-like exercise might be enjoyable – even easy, who knows?
In theory the idea of rolling zucchini slices around any stable tube filling should be simple. However, if you want perfect spacing between the green skin and the white flesh of the zucchini with 5 lines of green showing, then this is another feet all together.
In order to achieve this perfection a range in size of zucchini slices must be used. Let me backtrack a little here…
First I slice zucchini very thin on a madolin and salt it heavily to draw out the water. I rinse the salt off and begin laying out a series of slices on my cutting board. The first slice I choose is small, so the two edges of green skin are only an inch apart and no seeds are showing.
Next I sort through the slices to find one that is a little bigger and layer this half way on top of the first slice checking that the green skin edges are all equidistant. This is repeated 4 more times.
After achieving the right spacing I gently place my curry crab panacotta at one end and roll it up. Then I repeat this whole process about 50-60 times.
Now you understand the white hairs?!?!
But making the zucchini rolls is not the only stressful part of the dish, finding a way too cook it so the curry panacotta doesn’t melt on the plate before the zucchini has a chance to get hot is another dilemma.
The curry powder we make is yellow in color. And If the curry crab panacotta melts all over the plate, the color of the plate is……?????????
Hmmmmm, I think i just felt another white hair popping up.
Trying to figure out the production of this dish from start to finish so that the only two entremet cooks (myself on the dinner shift, and Marino on the lunch service) can also finish our other mise en place for our new poached egg caviar dish, our beautiful poached tuna (escolar) dish, our pastas, and our vegetable plates in time for service and have enough of everything to serve to two hundred people a day is, well, challenging.
Thankfully all that figuring out is left to the chefs and sous chefs. I am merely a worker bee. I’m just the one who is supposed to “make it happen” as we say in the kitchen.
By the way, I haven’t even started in on the process of making the panacotta, and I won’t for my own sanity’s sake and yours. But let’s just say it’s also a bit temperamental.
Two hours after plunging myself into zucchini roll maddness, service started. The enormous white erase board we use to diagram tables and chart the courses our guests are presently eating started filling up like crazy.
Two people on table 10, four on table 12, six on table 18….
Thirty people seated, judging from the board. None have ordered yet. All have received their amuse bouches. Now it’s just a waiting game…
As always the back waiters come in and announce the first tickets with gusto: “orrrrrrrrrrrrder in…….”
They hand the ticket to the chef and fill out one of the boxes on the white erase board which diagrams the menu to come so all the cooks can see and plan accordingly.
The chef calls out the first courses and I scramble up to the passe to check out the mid courses and see if I have anything ordered on the entrée side.
No crab yet.
But why? I spent so much time on that crab dish. All those white hairs in vain? Hmmph!!!
The chef calls in the maître D and some of the waiters to try the new crab dish. I cook two off for him, dot the plate with a spicy Southern Indian oil, and place two micro chives elegantly across each of the green and white spiral panacotta rolls.
The chef pours the crab consommé sauce around the plate. They taste it. They like it. (of course, it’s beautiful and delicious why wouldn’t they?)
And the orders start coming back to the kitchen with crab panacotta mid courses. Bien sûr.
The evening is in full swing and I’m popping crab rolls into the oven, slicing white tuna, sauteing vegetables, and running poached eggs with caviar to the passe. It’s a workout. My thighs are grateful for the exercise but my knees are making an ominous crunching sound every time I squat to heat a plate in the oven.
The second and busiest seating winds down. I bring one last crab panacotta to the passe. The chef looks down at the plate as he takes his white napkin, dips it in hot water, and cleans my finger prints from the edges erasing all evidence of a busy kitchen. With a half smile and a half glance at my weathered state he asks, “How’s this new dish workin’ out for you?”
“Look!” I say, taking off my hat and pointing to my white hairs, “Look! This is what that new dish is doing to me!” He laughs hard and playfully boxes the top of my head like a coach to a teammate.
I feel like I have just made a touch down until I realize, while replacing my hat and walking back to my station, that there is still one last seating to go before I can truly celebrate getting through the evening with new dishes on the menu.
The third seating begins and it’s much slower than the first two. An hour passes and we are waiting for our last reservations to show up. Time is ticking slowly by. I bring another crab panacotta to the passe and the chef says to me:
“You know Glaze, that dish is going to be on the menu for at least a year, better get yourself a bottle of L’Oreal”
“Very funny, Chef.”
I can see now I set myself up a plethora of old age jokes. Nothing goes unprovoked in the kitchen. Nothing. I laugh anyway.
The Maître D comes back and announces that the last reservation is not showing up. The chef calls out “Kitchen closed!”
I put my tools away and begin to scrub my corner of the piano all the while thinking about the crab panacotta dish and my white hairs… just a memory now until tomorrow… or until I catch some one else staring back at me in the mirror.