Day two started much as day one with an early rise and Bouchon Bakery pastry but changed quickly. I found my white jacket and apron and figured out how to put them on and stepped into my first professional kitchen. Walking into a professional kitchen is a bit hard to describe. It is alive with energy and a place of incredible teamwork and productivity with hours of work culminating into a plate heading out the door. The Bouchon kitchen has this energy and what appears to be chaos soon reveals itself as a group of people intent on getting things done. In the back are two dish stations which go almost non-stop the entire day. In front of one of the dish stations (and a wall) is the line which wraps around a corner. There are several stoves and a large oven which seems capable of doing anything the chefs require and, of course, two sous vide machines. One line chef does cold apps. One does hot apps. One does fish. And one does meat. And they all seem like they can do whatever needs to be done. In front of the line is a large counter which gets converted from prep to the pass when service begins. Reaching back behind the other dish station are two more prep areas and then cold storage and wine storage. These areas are a blur of prep activity all day long.
Chef S’s idea was for me to learn the different pieces of one of the dishes served at the restaurant. The dish he picked was the roasted chicken dish which this time of year was being served with some asparagus and mushrooms. I was shown to an area just off the pass which would be where I would set up shop for most of the time I was there. Kinda out of the way and also under the Chef’s nose. The first thing that confronted me in the kitchen was a large container of asparagus. Chef M handed me a peeler and and plastic container to peel upon and I eagerly set about the task.
Something about getting a task I understood settled me down quite a bit which was nice. “Hey”, I thought to myself “I can do this!” I worked diligently for quite a while and had the spears peeled in the way I thought was correct only to have Chef M stop by and explain that they all had to be the same diameter. Well duh! that made sense. I soon had things pretty close to right and he showed me how to cut them all to the same length, save the extra bits for something else, and then tie them into bunches for cooking. And then I had completed my first professional cooking job! Everything gets marked with tape marked with the contents, the date, and the initials of who worked on it. Soon my asparagus was relaxing in the walk-in proudly displaying ‘JF’ and ready for whenever they were needed. This victory was quickly followed by my next task. Cut King Trumpet mushrooms just so and score them on the diagonal to make them pretty when cooked.
It is sooo interesting to get something like this to do that seems so straightforward and yet when you go about doing it many questions come to mind. What do you do when the halves are really big? Is it ok that I knocked some of the cap off? How perfect do the scores need to be? And yet I was left to myself to figure these things out throughout my stay and in a way this was a great teaching tool. When I figured incorrectly the right way stayed with me a lot better. Next was spring onions that got a similar treatment to the asparagus. Cleaned and bundled ready for cooking. Not long after (correctly) finishing that task I was trussing chickens and then, under the watchful eye f a chef, cutting up chickens cooked part way in the oven. Pretty cool concept. The chickens are brined and then dried in the fridge for a day. They are then cooked most of the way and butchered. The rest of the chicken is used to make stock and the parts are fired to finish when an order comes through. Only tricky part is that I am used to cutting up fully cooked chickens which are much more compliant so I felt like a klutz cutting these up. The good news is that these were relegated for the salad! 🙂
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the paper being taped down as the staff prepared for service. After I finished my last task I was shuffled to a place where I could watch as the dishes were finished and plated. Service is like a ballet. Orders come in and are called out. Somehow the different line cooks repeat their part of the puzzle in a way that queues things up for them. They all, however work together. If one cook has to start doing something else a different cook will take up what they were doing without so much as a nod. All the plates for a table come together on the pass at the same time somehow. Wait staff call out as tables are cleared so that the next course can be fired. All happening at once, or so it would seem. Everybody taking care and pride in how the plates come together and go out the door. Marvelous!
At some point lunch service calmed down and I was back to work. The rest of the day blurred together a bit. As the day wore on I started to feel more comfortable and started looking around more and asking more questions. I had made the Bouchon quiche just a few weeks before and wondered why the spinach had floated to the top. Chef S laughed when he saw that the days batch had also had the greens float to the top. I asked how things were cooked ahead of time then held and fired. I asked about the duck in the sous vide and how they would finish it. They were exceptionally welcoming and answered all my crazy questions and I felt like I learned a great deal just from osmosis of seeing things happening around me. Later in the afternoon the second shift started coming in and prepping for dinner. I helped Chef S with some tiny pasta he was making for a pork consomme special. He was twisting tiny pieces to float with vegetables in a pork belly reduction. We talked as we twisted and in the background staff dinner came out. Throughout the day we had talked about quite a few things and I had asked a bunch of questions. I learned quite a bit about how the kitchen was run and how the different chefs worked. He kept telling me I could be done but having been the one to finish pasta at my house I know that two pairs of hands make shorter work of things than one so it wasn’t until he insisted that I stopped. I found a plate one of the front of the house staff had made for me and ate some of the best pork tacos I’d ever eaten. Pretty cool.
After dinner I checked in with the Pastry Chef I would be working with the next day. I was just starting to feel a bit comfortable in the main kitchen and after the morning would be thrown in to a completely new environment. The good news was I was very interested in working pastry and it looked like there was some interesting things in store! I arranged my schedule for the morning and they kicked me out. The last thing I did was to make a kit for the morning’s gnocchi. This is a great time saving idea that I vowed to figure out how to use at home. Essentially I just measured everything out that went into the recipe so the chef in the morning would be able to quickly mix everything together. The gnocchi and Bouchon are actually pate a choux based instead of potato based so I just had to measure out eggs, flour, butter, water, and cheese. Of course I am so used to working at home scale that I made a few mistakes at first measuring things out. I just don’t usually use 24 eggs at a time! I labeled my kit and put it all into the walk in for the next day. My first day in a real kitchen was now under my belt.