Category Archives: Bouchon

Day Two

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.

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Day Three

The next day I felt a lot more comfortable walking into the kitchen.  It was as though I had found my sea legs.  In the Bouchon kitchen chefs drink out of “deli containers” which are those round plastic containers that you get your potato salad in (if you don’t make it at home at least).  I grabbed a “half deli” and put some coffee in and was ready for the day.  My big task of the morning was turning a large quantity of foie gras into potted foie gras.  The “foie” was still warming up a bit though so Chef M gave me a different chore to bide my time with.  I broke down two huge containers (literally hundreds) of radishes into greens and the separate radishes.  The greens were bound for quiches and the radishes for a variety of things on the menu.  Then it was over to the “foie” which had to be forced through a mesh before being all mixed together and piped into the “pots.”  This seems like something that shouldn’t be that hard but I have to say I worked up a bit of a sweat working away.  In the middle of this I saw one of the chefs working with the kit I had made the night before for the “gnocchi.”  Somehow this made me quite happy.  I couldn’t resist shouting over that it looked like an amazing kit had been put together for him to which he smiled and agreed.  After piping the “foie” into the jars they have to be tapped to get any bubbles out and then they are set into the walk in to firm up.  Next I peeled fresh chick peas (never even seen these before!) and my final task was peeling pearl onions which, I have to say, is not very easy.  With that, my time in the main kitchen came to an end and I was off to bakery.

Chef J was busy helping with the baguettes when I got to the bakery.  Large pieces of dough are fed into this rather forboding machine and the baguettes come out the bottom.  These need to be gently lifted, stretched just the right amount and placed into a couche just the right way.  Let me tell you, they make it look easy but it sure isn’t easy the first time you do it.  When all the baguettes were proofing in their couches we started making a giant batch of strawberry rhubarb preserves.  First was had to slice up the rhubarb so we went about cutting it up and dropping it into a large bin.  I hadn’t cut too many things so far so I set about the task with a bit of zeal.  This of course was a bad idea because before long I had managed to cut myself.  The good news is my fingers had been curled under the right way so it could have been much, much worse.  The bad news was it sidelined me and embarrassed me a good bit.  But soon things were back under control and we were making short work of the job.  Interestingly enough Chef J recommends mixing the strawberry, rhubarb, and sugar together the day before and letting it sit.  She believes she gets a better result and who am I to disagree.  We loaded the Hobart up and stirred things up a bit and then with some mechanical aids I got the result sealed up in a container and in the walk in.  Next up was some chocolate pudding that she needed for a s’more pudding she was making.  Then it was on to a passion fruit curd.  It was interesting to measure out sugar in kilograms and crack 50 eggs into a huge metal bowl.  I mixed it all together and we put it over a simmering pot of water.  She then decided to tell me that it had to be whisked for 20 minutes.  Hah!  I whisked and whisked away for around 15 minutes.  I thought I was doing a nice job of things keeping it moving at a reasonable clip.  She said she would give me a spell and started whisking like mad.  She looked over at me and with a bit of a smile told me, “you whisk like a girl.”  I laughed heartily but did insist on taking the whisk back and improving my pace ;).  This went through a chinois in which was placed gelatin sheets and the whole hot brew went over a “small” quantity of butter.  Then a small outboard motor was brought out to mix it together.  Chef J even let me try it.  This was then placed in the walk in to cool off a bit.  Throughout the afternoon Chef J and I talked about all sorts of things since it was mostly just the two of us working together.  She turns out to be a natural teacher and just dropped so many tips that I was struggling to write them all down.  Did you know that you can remove the bubbles on the top of your chocolate pudding with a quick pass of the blow torch?!?  She was also incredibly open in sharing recipes I just need to divide by 100 or so and see what I can do with my home equipment.

Chef J had a two items she was experimenting with for Ad Hoc’s brunch.  We packed things up and walked down the street to deliver them.  In the two days I’d been wearing the chef white’s I hadn’t felt very conspicuous but I have to say walking down the main drag of Yountville in white draws more than a few looks!  We walked in the back door of Ad Hoc (their ovens are outside!) and into the kitchen.  Ad Hoc has what I will call an “intimate” kitchen, in other words tiny!  It is just one big open rectangle with not a lot of room and it was HOT.  We walked over to Chef C and shared the experiments with him.  He found some things promising and made a few comments.  Chef J made sure he knew that I was actually coming to dinner at Ad Hoc later that night and sure enough I could see my name in what I now knew to be the “special” column ;).  With that we headed back up to Bouchon and I was done with work.  Chef J gave me a bunch of nice treats including a Passion Fruit pudding and I said as many thank yous as I could because I had had a great time in the pastry kitchen.

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Day Four

I arrived at the bakery at 8:00.  Chef K was there along with a guy they affectionally call “dough boy.”  He had been there since 4.  The baking part of the bakery produces all of the breads sold in the bakery as well as a bunch of the bread used by a number of the local restaurants.  They also produce the rolls for the French Laundry.  In other words, they are incredibly busy.  I thought I knew about working hard as a cook but the interesting thing about baking is that all the dough is on a clock and virtually the entire day has been mapped out to the point where you really don’t have much time to come up for air.

The first real task of the day was prepping some small loaves for proofing.  The steps sound pretty easy.  Fold the bottom third up then the top third down.  Then fold the new top down to the bottom and seal with the heel of your hand in such a way that you create tension in the top of the bread.  If you watch a baker’s hands perform this task they are a blur of motion and it looks easy but if you apply your own clumsy hands to the process you soon learn you have a long way to go.

I didn’t really have time to write notes down during the day and a lot of it has now blurred together.  I know I worked on Brioche loaves that required a rather intricate braid which is not so easy to get the hang of.  We also worked on pretzels and, of course, hundreds of baguettes.  The nice thing about the baguettes is that I half knew what I was doing by this point!  There were also sour baguettes which required a special tapered end that should have been easy but wasn’t.  I learned an awful lot about how to work with dough and how to take care in all aspects of what I was doing.  A spilled tray of bread or rolls can turn the entire day into a tailspin.  Care is definitely called for.

At one point in the afternoon Chef K took me into the oven room.  The bakery has a massive four deck oven that has to be ten feet deep and two loads wide.  I tried to do everything I could to help by grabbing the next board of baguettes and moving things out of the way as best as I could figure but it was obvious that Chef K knew how to do it all by herself.  Wow.  The goal is to fill the entire oven before the first load is finished baking.  The loaves are placed on to a conveyor belt like apparatus, scored, and shoved into the oven something like twenty loaves at a time.  After she had me watch she let me try to score a few loaves.  Given the way the loaves come out you would expect large gashes but instead six surgical slashes mostly “vertical” and in the center third of the loaf are all that are called for.  Trust me, this is much easier said than done.  Later it was on to the epi loaf which I got to try as well.  This involves expert use of a pair of scissors and a soft touch of the fingers.  I had neither.  By the fifth time it wasn’t a tragedy anymore but my internal desires to exceed expectations were definitely put to the test!

One of the things I worked on throughout the day was one of the French Laundry rolls almost from start to finish.  Rolls start as large pieces of dough which are rolled out and put on these special plates that then go into this jukebox sized machine.  A large lever gets pulled down and cuts the dough into evenly sized pieces.  If you release the lever part way up the machine “jiggles” and if you have done your job correctly the pieces get rolled into nice balls.  They actually let me work this contraption which I was definitely intimated by but I had resolved to seize the day and try it all and by golly I did it!

Tiny cubes of butter are then pressed into the bottoms of the rolls and then they need to be rolled just right so the dough covers up the butter.  Next comes the scoring.  You confidently slice four scores horizontally in just the right places on each ball.  Then you spin the tray 180 degrees and repeat with the four new scores overlapping just right.  Then comes the first egg wash.  Where the wash is applied to just the top of the roll and isn’t allowed to flow into the cracks.

Three egg washes are applied in various states of the bun.  When you are doing something like this the uninitiated tends to try and be careful.  They need to be perfect after all!  Chef M watched me briefly and encouraged me to find a second gear which, it turns out, I have!  After the final wash comes a pinch of salt in the center.  The results are amazing.

At the end of my day Chef M called over to me.  He had a large tower of rolls on a cart and was headed to the ovens.  “It’s time to bake the rolls for The French Laundry, one of the ten best restaurants in the world, no pressure!”  No pressure indeed as he handed me a razor blade to help score the rolls as they head into the oven!  Scoring the rolls not only makes them beautiful but can influence their final shape as they expand in the oven.  Chef M explained how he was working on different kinds of rolls for TFL and we talked about the upcoming Bouchon Bakery cookbook and my own home endeavors to make bread.  I have never gotten quite the “oven spring” I have hoped for and he recommended a Super Soaker for flooding the oven with steam in the overly dry home oven.  Of course the deck oven has a button for it!

Would you believe these are the rejects?  I can assure you, they still taste amazing!  That time, crafting the perfect rolls with a master baker, was definitely a highlight of my week.  I will not soon forget it.  After that I started to pack up.  I needed to get back to the hotel to wash up before my family arrived for dinner.  Chef M pointed to a large bag on the bench and said don’t forget your stuff.  “Oh, that’s not mine I said naively, the baguette is but I don’t know who the bag belongs to.”  “No, that’s yours too” was his reply…

The family ate like kings and queens for a week from this bag.  Wow, I’ve never sampled so many treats from the bakery.  Each one better than the last!

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The Last Supper

The family arrived and it was so good to see everybody after four days!  We got ready and walked over the restaurant.  Everybody wanted to sit outside given the unseasonably warm day so we settled into a comfortable table at the front of the restaurant.  Connor loves raw oysters so we opted to start off with eight of those in addition to half a dozen shrimp.  This was accompanied by one of the epi loaves that I at least saw go into the oven a little earlier in the day if not cut myself.

The kids were famished and the food had soon disappeared seemingly before I turned back around!  We asked the wait staff if we were going to be able to order or if the kitchen had their own plans.  They said we could order if we wanted to but that yes the kitchen had some thoughts…  We surrendered into their capable hands and boy did they ever deliver!

I had oohed and ahhed over the idea of the idea of arancini earlier in the week and sure enough that was next on deck.  The good news is the kids skipped this one :).  They were just unreal.   Then came a full on appetizer assault fries, kids mac and cheese, escargot in mushroom sauce, a plate of charcuterie (pork rillettes, pate, and salami with pickled vegetables).  Then came the consomme with vegetables and pasta that I worked with Chef S on the previous day though likely a new batch.  It was around this time that the kids started complaining of being full.  They had foolishly consumed far too much bread and fries despite our warnings.  Next was the main course or should I saw four main courses.  Emily got the pan roasted trout, Annabelle got a croque-monsieur that was practically bigger than her head, Connor got the roast chicken with asparagus and I got the lamb with chick peas.  Everything was just out of this world and I ate far too much because the kids had already hit the wall.  The staff graciously asked if we wanted dessert or whether we might want to take it home instead.  Everybody cheered that we were in fact up to the challenge and they kitchen answered with a lemon tart, chocolate bouchons with ice cream, the silkiest creme caramel I’ve ever had, and for me profiteroles with coffee ice cream and chocolate sauce ready to pour.  Pure heaven all around and I have to say not much was left.

After we were done we asked if we could visit the kitchen to thank them.  The kids were getting tired but I was anxious to show everybody where Daddy had been.  We walked through the doors and Connor cried out “look they have sous vide.”  The entire kitchen erupted into laughter at this.  Definitely proof he is my son after all.  Chef B was just an amazing host!!  He took the entire family through an extensive tour of not just the Bouchon kitchen but then over to the Bouchon Bakery!  Wow, thank you Chef B!!  The family got a taste of what it was like in the heart of a busy kitchen and everybody in the bakery was just tickled by the kids.  Somehow after all that food they found a way to down a fresh macaroon courtesy of Chef M.

I sent the family on their way and approached the Maitre D about the bill.  “Your money is no good here” was all he said with a smile.  Wow!  What a night!  What a week!  The entire staff was just so warm and welcoming to not just me but my entire family.  I learned so much and gained a lot of confidence by rising to this challenge.  I definitely felt that a new chapter to my life had begun.  What a difference a week makes.  I walked back to the hotel without touching the ground.

Photo Credit: My Handler

 

 

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