Brussel Sprouts, a side dish that will steal the show

 

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Brussel Sprouts have long been misunderstood, overlooked, and forgotten about. The last couple of years we have seen more and more people embracing brussel sprouts, and I happen to be really excited about it.
About a year and a half ago I put them on my menu in a restaurant, and it remains one of the most requested dishes there (I will include that recipe here if requested). Recently I had some brussel sprouts at home, and decided to have a little fun with them for a side dish. It was very well received, really fun to make and I can’t wait to make it again. Give this a try as a side dish the next time you’re having roasted chicken, pork chops, or pot roast for dinner.

What you will need:

1lb Brussel Sprouts, quartered

1/2 Medium onion, diced

2 Potatoes, diced

1 Tbsp Ancho chili powder

2 tsp Ground Cumin

3 Tbsp Bacon Grease (Yes I keep it when I cook bacon)

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Brussel Sprout “dressing” (optional, recipe included below)

 

Preheat your oven to 350 degree’s, break out your cast iron skillet, and put it on the stove over medium heat.  Once it is heated, add the bacon grease and allow it to melt.  Be careful with how high the heat is, as you do not want the grease to smoke.  Once the grease is melted, add the onions and potatoes to the skillet and let them cook for about two minutes, use a wooden spoon to stir so they cook evenly.  Now add the brussel sprouts, ancho chili powder, cumin, and season with salt and pepper.  Stir to combine everything and to make sure the seasoning is well distributed and allow to cook for another 3-5 minutes.  Give one last stir and place the skillet in the oven for 12-15 minutes to allow everything to roast together.  I do not cook this dish longer than 15 minutes in the oven because I want the brussel sprouts to still have a little bite to them.  I don’t want to cook them until they are cooked to the point of mushiness (is that a word?).  Transfer everything to a serving bowl, and toss with the “dressing” if you’re going to use it, then serve.  There will be more discussion about this dish than any other you serve that night, no matter how well the entree turns out. Enjoy

 

Brussel Sprout “Dressing”.

What you need:

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

1 Tbsp Honey

Kosher salt to taste

2 Tbsp Canola oil (you can also use extra virgin olive oil, or vegetable oil)

 

Combine all of the ingredients except for the oil in a bowl and whisk together.  Continue to whisk and slowly drizzle the oil in to the mixture to create a vinaigrette, or in this case a dressing for the dish.

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French Onion Soup

On a cool fall day, sometimes one of the most enjoyable things you can make is French Onion Soup. I decided to do that today, and also keep notes on how I make it here at home to share here. I hope you enjoy!

What you need:

1 Bag of onions (3lb)

½ Cup Red wine

4 Quarts of Beef Stock

1 Stick of butter

3 tsp of AP Flour

1 Bunch of Thyme

1 Bay leaf

Croutons (Preferably home made)

Provolone cheese (One slice per bowl)

Kosher Salt and Black pepper to taste

To start get all of the onions ready to slice, then slice them and place them aside in a large bowl. When I make this I use two different pots. The first is just used to cook down the onions, it has a thicker bottom and is a lot easier to control the temperature that the onions are cooking at. However, it isn’t large enough to hold the whole batch of soup, so once I cook down the onions I transfer them to a larger pot to simmer

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Let the first pot get warm on the stove top then add the butter, and let it melt completely. After that place all of the onions in to the pot, season with salt and pepper add the thyme and let them cook, make sure you stir them occasionally so that all of the onions get cooked through. I generally let them cook down for about 90 minutes. You don’t want the heat to be too high, but you do want them to simmer.

Once the onions have cooked down to where they are nice and soft I sprinkle the flour over the onions, stir everything well then add the bay leaf and red wine, then bring the pot back to a simmer, let this simmer for about 15 minutes. It is at this time that I put the beef stock in to the second pot and bring it to a boil. Pour the onions in to the larger pot and bring this pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow it to simmer. Let this simmer for at least two hours.

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When you’re ready to serve the soup make sure your broiler is on in your oven. Put a ladle of soup in to the bowl, and drop some croutons on top of of it, cover with the cheese and place it in the oven under the broiler. Once the cheese has melted and starts to bubble, remove from the oven and enjoy!

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What to make for our kids lunch, when we’re afraid of them eating at school!

It’s no secret at this point that here in the Charleston WV area that our water isn’t usable. With this post I’m not going to get in to what is safe, appropriate, or usable. I’m just going to state that my wife and myself are not using the water that is available from West Virginia American Water. We don’t feel that it is safe for our family to use, so we have chosen not to use it. All of my feelings on this matter would be best covered in a separate post.
This post will cover what we’re doing in order to make sure our twelve year old has something to eat each day when he goes to school. There are a few hurdles to cover with this, as we do not want him eating food that has been prepared by the local water, or eating off of the dishes that are being washed in the local water. He doesn’t have access to a microwave so warm food is out. And we want him to have something of substance so he isn’t setting in class hungry. These are a few of the items we have been preparing for him at home, and he seems to enjoy. There isn’t anything earth shattering, or on the cutting edge of the culinary world. However, if you would like to send food to school with your child, this is a great place to start.

Chicken Salad-
This is one of the recipes that I have used for years in several different restaurants, and it has always been received well. I believe that Chicken Salad gets a bad wrap because of the way it is prepared, so I made some adjustments to the texture of it during the preparation stages and I think it makes all the difference in the world.

Needed:
5lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
1/2 Red Onion, diced
3 Ribs Celery, split and diced
Herbs de Provence
Salt and Pepper to taste
Mayonnaise
Dijon Mustard
Canola Oil

Notice that on some of the ingredients I do not list amounts. This varies each time I make the recipe and there are a lot of factors as to how much you should use. Going through the explanation process I will explain this in detail so that you won’t run in to issues.

To begin with preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the Chicken Breast on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with a little non stick spray. It’s ok if the chicken breast are touching each other, but try to avoid any overlapping so that everything will cook evenly.
Season the chicken with Kosher Salt, and Black Pepper and then with the Herbs de Provence. This is a mixture of seasonings and it contains Lavender. Lavender can become very over powering if you use too much, so just sprinkle a small amount (Approximately 1/2 teaspoon) on each breast. Then drizzle some Canola (you can also use Extra Virgin Olive Oil) oil on to the breast and place them in the oven for about 28 minutes. The cook time will vary if the breast are really thick.

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While the chicken is cooking is a great time to cut the onions and celery. Once the chicken has cooked remove it from the oven and set it somewhere in the kitchen so that it can rest. There will be a lot of liquid in the baking pan so be careful while you’re moving it. Let the chicken rest for at least twenty minutes, however I recommend thirty five to forty minutes.
Once the chicken has rested you need to cut it up so that it will be the consistency that we want. I normally cut half of the chicken in to small square pieces, and the other half I cut very small to where it is basically minced. This gives the finished product some texture because there are actual pieces of meat to bite in to. Too many times I have had chicken salad that is pureed to the point that there is no texture to it at all, or the pieces are cut so large you would be better off placing them on a skewer and serving them that way. By cutting the chicken to two different textures you’re getting the best of both worlds!

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After cutting the chicken I place it in a large bowl and I add the celery and red onion. I normally do not use all that I have cut. To be honest I just add it until I feel that it is the right amount. This comes down to a personal preference, if you really like onions, add more. If you don’t care for celery, add less. There is no right or wrong.

Now it is time to add the mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. And in my opinion this is the most important step in making chicken salad. Chicken Salad is a mayonnaise based salad. However if you only use enough mayonnaise to hold the salad together you essentially can have a chicken based, chicken salad. I start with about 2 teaspoons of Dijon, and about 3/4 cup of Mayonnaise and fold everything together. You just want a slight coating on the chicken, you may need to add more and don’t hesitate because as it sets the chicken will absorb some of the liquid. I just try to avoid it becoming a bowl of mayonnaise that happens to have some chicken in it. Taste it and see if the level of Herbs de Provence are where you want them. If not then add a little more, just be careful as this seasoning can take over rather quickly and become too strong.

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Place in a air tight container and refrigerate. It will be better after it sets over night.

We made wraps out of this for our son with some lettuce and tomato. Another obvious choice would be bread and to be honest this is really good on a nice thick piece of wheat bread. It’s a good lunch, it’s filling and it isn’t bad for you like processed meat products or toxic water.

Egg Salad-

Not everyone likes Egg Salad, but at our house if I make it, it is usually gone within three hours. This is how I make it, and I hope you give it a try.

What is needed:

30 Eggs
1 Tablespoon Herbs de Provence
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
1 Cup Mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard

Egg Salad is one of the easiest salads to make, and if you do it right, it can be down right delicious. I start by placing the eggs in to a large pot that will hold all of the eggs, as well as allow them to be covered by about an inch of cold water. Place this on the stove over high heat until the water comes to a boil. As soon as you have a full boil turn the heat off, and note the time. Let the pot set as is for 18 minutes. When the 18 minutes have elapsed pour the hot water from the pot, and put cold water on top of the eggs while shaking the pot. This will crack the eggs and allow some of the cold water to get between the hard cooked egg, and the shell. This will make peeling the eggs a lot easier.

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There are several different ways to peel a hard cooked egg, some people roll them on the counter, others use a spoon, and some just pick them up and start peeling them with their fingers. However it is that you chose to do it, peel all of the eggs and place them in a large bowl. After you have peeled them all, use a mash potato utensil to “mash” the eggs. This will allow larger pieces of egg to remain, but will mash the eggs so that it has the right consistency. If you happen to have a “pan rack” at home that is used for cooling foods on a baking sheet you can also just press the eggs through one of these racks for a quick and easy method of breaking them up for the salad.

Once you have mashed all of the eggs, season them with Kosher Salt, Pepper and the Herbs de Provence. Add the mustard and mayonnaise and mix together. If you don’t feel it is enough mayonnaise then add more. I try to do the same with this as I do the chicken salad. I just want there to be enough to coat the eggs and hold them together. Once you’re finished place in an air tight container and refrigerate. As with the Chicken Salad it will be better after it sets in the refrigerator overnight.

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We made Egg Salad sandwiches for our child on a hamburger bun. You could also use an English Muffin, a wrap, or just regular bread. Also some people like to add pickles, or pickle juice to their egg salad, if this is your preference you would do so at the same time you add the mustard and mayonnaise.

So there are two things that you can make sandwiches or wraps from, but what should you serve with it? What follows are two salads that I have made that pass the kids test over and over and are also very simple to make.

Pasta Salad-

What you need:

1 16oz box Tri Color Rotini
1 Cucumber, diced
1 Tomato, diced
1 Red Onion, diced
1 Green Pepper, diced
1 Bottle Bacon Ranch Salad Dressing
Kosher Salt

Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. As you’re waiting for the water to come to a boil you can cut the vegetables up to add to the salad. Once the water has came to a boil, add some Kosher Salt to the water to season the pasta as it cooks, then add the pasta to the pot. Stir the pasta occasionally so that it doesn’t stick together and cook for as long as it says to do so on the package. Drain the hot water from the pasta and place the pasta in a large bowl that will hold all of the ingredients, and allow room for mixing. You will want to allow the pasta to cool for a few minutes before you introduce the other ingredients.

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Once the pasta has cooled, add the diced vegetables, and the bacon ranch dressing, mix well and place in an air tight container and refrigerate. After the salad has set for about an hour I give it another stir just to make sure everything is coated well.

Other things that you can add to this depending on you and your child’s taste is olives, pickles, capers and even shredded cheese.

Broccoli Salad-

This is one of my favorites to eat without question.

What is needed:

2 Heads Fresh Broccoli
12 oz Bacon (Or bacon bits)
1/2 Red Onion, diced
8oz Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Cole Slaw Dressing

Before we talk about putting the salad together lets go over a couple of the ingredients. With the price of bacon as it is right now, it could be more cost effective to simply buy bacon bits, however if you can find bacon at a good price it is probably better to cook it yourself, then crumble it after it cools. Obviously if you’re using bacon bits you don’t want to use 12 ounces you would just want to sprinkle some in when it comes time to mix everything together.
As for the Cole Slaw Dressing, I prefer to make my own however there are some really good pre-made items available out there. If you chose to make your own and you’re not sure how to go about it, I keep mine very simple by just using Mayonnaise, White Balsamic Vinegar, Kosher Salt, Black Pepper, and Sugar. I do not follow a recipe, I simply just taste as I mix until it taste the way I like Cole Slaw to taste.

So to begin the recipe cut the broccoli down to bite size pieces and place them in a large bowl. Add the Red Onion, Bacon, Shredded Cheese to the bowl, top with the cole slaw dressing and mix together. Once again I just put enough dressing on this to coat the items in the bowl, so start with a small amount of dressing and then add more as needed. Season with Kosher Salt if you like, place in an air tight container and store in the refrigerator.

I realize that none of these recipes are going to win any awards, however as we found at our house you can only fix ham or bologna sandwiches for so long before your child becomes bored with lunch. And to keep a child from eating junk you can buy from a machine, this is what we have done the past couple of weeks. I will add to this as we do new things and share what we’re doing. I hope this helps someone out!

Life in and out of a Professional Kitchen

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The following is two different views of one profession.  These are not stories of specific people, however they are no doubt played out by millions each and every day.  An Executive Chef and a Line Cook in a professional kitchen are two different people, bound by one common goal.  And each day when they put their uniform on they embark on a journey that will take two completely different courses but they cross paths several times.

I truly believe that the food business is less about food than it is about people.  What follows is what I see day to day, and what I feel all the time.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Chef-

The alarm clock goes off, and it’s another day.  Another chance to be a Chef, and you would rather be nothing else.  You fix some coffee for your wife, and maybe get to fix breakfast for one or all of your children.  Some days you will have an hour before you have to put the uniform on, some days you will have more time than that.  You know as soon as you open your eye’s that the clock is ticking.  Each moment of enjoyment you get to spend with your family will be ran through your mind on and off for the rest of the day, and most of the night.  Once you get dressed, once you put the uniform on the mental aspect of your duties as a Chef are there, and they won’t go away until you return from work and you’re able to set them aside for a few hours again.  You know in your mind what you have in front of you for the day, however when your Son or Daughter ask you if you have to go to work in your heart you want to say “not today”.  You hop in the shower and you really start to transform from Dad, or Husband into Chef.  The issues you have to take care of during the upcoming work day appear each time your hold your head below the water to rinse the shampoo from your head.  You get dressed and head to work hoping that during the ride to work the radio will keep you occupied mentally so that your brain doesn’t get too tired, too fast.  Before you know it you’re there, and it’s time for your day to begin.

You start your day getting on the computer to check hours and find out who is going to be close to overtime, try to figure out why they stayed until 1:00am on Tuesday night, and why you weren’t informed of it.  As you scroll through the names and numbers your phone is continually making different sounds from the incoming text, emails, phone calls, etc.  Each one of them has someone on the other end that hopefully understands that you may get back to them immediately, or it may take a few hours.  Deciding what is pressing is something of a balancing act that changes from day to day.  You finish looking at the names and times, and write a few notes so that you don’t forget to mention to the Chef De Cuisine that he may be working the salad station on Saturday evening since he hasn’t regulated his hours properly.

As you make your way through the first kitchen you notice a plate with a new dessert and a small piece of beef with some sauce on it.  This is obviously meant for you to taste and approve of make suggestions to.  Upon tasting the dessert you immediately think of the upcoming reception on Saturday night, and you hope that the baker also had the same thing in mind.  Either way, that is what is going to be served.  The beef on the other hand is tough, the sauce is great but the meat wasn’t cooked properly at all.  Hopefully this was just a small piece that was cut off before the product was finished cooking, optimism is a valuable trait to acquire.  The kitchen is silent and empty, you will  come back through here before too much time passes to make sure the beef is treated properly, but for now its time to go across the building.

As you reach to next kitchen you have had a six minute walk to switch gears mentally and reset your brain to think of food in a different way.  The skill set in this kitchen is higher, the expectations are higher, and so are the prices.  The people who work in this kitchen don’t work any harder than anyone else, they just have a better understanding of how to get food to perfection more consistently than the others.  As you go into the kitchen you grab a stack of spoons and immediately head toward the sauce pots that are simmering in the back of the kitchen.  A few taste, and a couple of questions or comments later and you’re on your way to the next person.  This kitchen is in full swing for this time of day.  Service is still five hours away, but the buzz in the room is already evident.  You stop by and address everyone, ask how they are, if there is anything you can do for them.  “How was the concert you went to”, “How is that new baby”, “Let me see that burn you got Saturday”.

Just when you think you’re done in this kitchen you hear “the” word for the first time of the day “Chef; can you come and take a look at this please”? Now the word has been said to you today already.  But there is a difference between “Good morning Chef”.  and “Chef; insert question here”.  You’re called this all day, by several different people all in different positions.  But when a cook, who is doing what they do best and they’re looking for your approval you can actually hear the meaning of it when it is said.  I personally do not require my employees to call me “Chef”.  Those who work in kitchens professionally understand the need, or lack thereof for it.  The people in kitchens who understand it, and respect you for how you do your job, instead of your job title, they are the ones that you can hear in their voice what the term means.

At this point your cell phone has made more noises than you’re comfortable with.  It’s time to get in the office and take care of some of these issues.  You have two text of people wanting reservations, and you know they expect some form of special treatment.  You have a voicemail from a vendor wanting to do business with you.  You put some thought into this and realize that you should call a Chef from another establishment and see if this is someone you can trust, and if their product is something you even want to consider.  At some point before the weekend is over you will be putting your name, and your reputation on the line by trusting a food provider, is this person worth the risk?  Or do you just stay the course inside your comfort zone?  Sometimes this decision can come down to something as silly as what you had for breakfast and how well it is setting on your stomach.  Perhaps if that piece of beef from earlier would have been better to where I wasn’t concerned about it I would be willing to roll the dice, but for now; not a chance.

You open your email to see seventeen unopened mails and unfortunately none of them are spam or junk mail which means that you will need to read them, more than likely respond to them and certainly make three or four phone calls to insure the rest of your day won’t be spent in dealing with these issues.  There will be more to deal with, and this will absolutely repeat itself tomorrow, but the goal is to get through today.  The mission if you will is to please everyone who orders something off of one of your menu’s today, so you need to get as many things off your mind as possible in order to be able to focus on the things that are important.  The tough beef is important, time to walk back across the building.

Your second time entering this kitchen is different than the first.  The kitchen is full now because the team smoke break is over and everyone is back to putting forth an effort to make sure things are right.  You pay attention to the look on everyone’s face knowing that whomever put the items on the plate is looking for approval, the dessert person is easy, the beef that is the question thats the person I’m looking for.  Sure enough my first initial guess is correct, and there is an hour of cooking left, the cook just wanted to make sure the sauce is what I had in mind.  Another problem averted, it’s time to take a walk with the line cook that was two hours late yesterday.  The fear in his eye’s is evident from the moment you say their name and ask them to come with you.  Your first goal is to put them at ease, and make sure all is well with them.  Cooks work best when they can control the things going through their mind.  What happens to them before and after work can control the quality of their work and someone working in fear is more likely to cook food poorly than someone who is focused and confident.  Your hope is that it is something that you can understand and relate to, because if that is the case you will be able to overlook it, comfort them, perhaps even help them.  If that happens to be the case, you will have given this person something to feel good about, something that will help them see that everything they do is important.  The food they cook today will be better, and tomorrow they will come in and give every effort they have to be better than they were today.  The worst case scenario is that he just stayed out drinking too late, and if this is the case there can be no sympathy or understanding.  If he is doing something in his time away from work that is going to affect they way your patrons experience unfolds then the items he is responsible for are going to dissolve to the point where he is better served to be washing dishes until he has his priorities straight and has proven that he can be trusted.  A basic understanding of someone wanting to have fun is easy, but you can’t put yourself in a position that will endanger you and your’s.  Fortunately for you, and him the bus he was on broke down and everything was beyond his control.  His fellow line cooks covered his station prep, and everything was normal at the opening of service.

Before you know it, it is time for dinner service.  There is a noise in a kitchen that can barely be heard from several different places within the room, however all of those walking around in the matching uniforms hear it no matter what their doing.  It’s the sound of the printer as it prints out a ticket telling you what has been ordered by the patrons in the dining room.  Some of these items take twice as long to cook as others, however they have to be placed in the window at the same time.  The expediter takes his ticket and does a visual check on the cooks working the stations, and then calls out to them what is on the ticket.  You as the Chef take a look at the stations and listen to the expediter at the same time.  You see the cooks placing skillets over fires, and steaks on to grills and realize that they’re ready for the day.  You still have time to call a vendor and place an order for the fresh fish you will need tomorrow.

For the previous three days you have had constant thoughts about what you want to run as your special on Saturday night.  You know this is the night that all of the serious diners show up, this is the crowd that expects your best.  These are the people who are coming here because of what you have provided them with in the past, or to test you to see if you’re as good as they have heard.  You’re either trying to make sure someone doesn’t feel like the last dinner you served them wasn’t dumb luck, or attempting to win over someone who no question has a level of doubt in what you can place in front of them.  The fresh trout you have had on your mind is the correct answer to both of these scenarios.  The potato corn hash you have in mind will go perfect with it, and the butter braised leeks will send it over the edge.  The only problem is that the fish didn’t come in to the vendor in a manner than he is comfortable with.  He isn’t willing to sell it to you because it isn’t up to the quality standards that he knows you expect.  You’re thankful that he is open and honest with you, and the decision you made earlier to not call that new vendor makes all the sense in the world now there is no need to risk the relationship you have with the person you have on the phone.  But what about the special?  What does he have that would compare, or do you have to go a completely different direction? The flounder he has on sale sounds great, I will come up with something special with this as the day goes on, perhaps run it by the Chef De Cuisine and no doubt come up with something better than the trout dish I had planned.

You finish up your phone calls and decide to see how the flow of dinner is going in both kitchens.  As you walk through the first kitchen you notice that the salad station cook is busy flirting with one of the wait staff, meanwhile he has two tickets hanging that he hasn’t even looked at yet.  You ask him to step aside so that you can take care of the people that are paying his paycheck and make the salads yourself.  You make them look exactly as you have shown him how to do them in half the time that it takes him to do it.  If you look at him and he isn’t visibly disturbed by this, you know in your heart he will be replaced within a week.  If he understands the nature of his mistake, what just happened won’t ever be an issue again.  You just demonstrated why you’re there to the newest person working a station.  It’s a lesson that all of the other cooks have seen before, they may have let this happen on purpose, or maybe they were just too busy with their own work to notice. But they all know that this member of their team needs to be watched, and from this point forward they will police him for you.  You can put your trust in them with confidence and just make sure that each time you come in this kitchen to pay attention to this station first.

Time to move on to the other kitchen.  This walk across the building is a nice one, you meet a nice couple who have just finished having dinner and they notice you and want to thank you for the special treatment they received.  You have a sense of accomplishment run through you that can’t be described.  And you make mental notes of who you need to thank for this.  The people who physically made this happen always need to be rewarded when something like this happens, a thank you and a pat on the back can go a long way.  You think back to what you felt, and what helped you get through your day to day when you were in their shoes.  And you hope that you can give them the same feeling that you just had.  As you continue your walk you hear a laugh, or a voice that reminds you of home.  Your daughter, son, or wife comes to mind and you remember why you’re here.  The balance of what you do, and why you do it is a constant battle.  Being a Chef isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle; you do what you do for selfish reasons.  In simplest terms you’re a servant and you enjoy it.  You like to pleasure people and you have a passion for taking food from one state to another in order for someone to enjoy it as a meal.  But within that means that you spend too much time away from your family and those that love you the most.  It’s not fair to anyone involved, and the reason you’re home two hours later than what you expected can’t, and shouldn’t be explainable.  When you’re on your day off and at the store and your mind starts wandering off because of the amazing looking plums you saw in the produce department, it isn’t fair.  When you get out of bed at two in the morning because you just realized you need to add two ounces of white balsamic vinegar the next time you make the sauce you made three days ago and it will be perfect and you want to write yourself a note, it isn’t fair.  When you miss a tooth being pulled, a scraped knee, or a time when your wife needs a hug and you know you won’t be home for three more hours; it hurts.  And you just hope that you can make the most of the time that you do have, and be the person you need to be when you are home because that is more important.  The family of a Chef makes a sacrifice every day in order to let the one that they love chase the passion that they have.  There isn’t anything balanced about it, and this is something that makes a Chef as selfish of a person as there can be.  Walking through kitchens and dining rooms you’re looked up to, and respected, the only reason this is possible is because of those who are waiting on you at home.  When you can’t keep that in perspective, you’re not doing your job as a Father or Husband.  Those things can never take a backseat to the pleasure you get from providing the best scallops someone has ever tasted in their life.  There is no comparison, and there never will be.

Reality check in order, you’re now walking in the next kitchen.  Dinner service is in full swing and you stand back a little to check on the line cooks.  The first one you notice is the grill cook turned around to gather a mental checklist from the tickets hanging in front of him.  Sweat is running down his face and into his eye’s.  He has no idea who is walking in or out of the kitchen.  He only hears the expediters voice asking how much time is left on the ticket for table twelve. You can almost feel what his brain is processing, and it almost isn’t fair that you have a clear enough head to realize that the mid-rare filet is ten seconds from being the perfect temp.  In his mind the mid-rare is done.  No more effort from his brain is required for it to be perfect for the patron.  You’re getting anxious for him to turn around and put it in the resting area.  He is trying to get an “all day” count on the ribeyes for the table of twenty who want everything right now and they want it to be perfect.  What they will never realize is that in order to make the perfect medium ribeye it takes more than four minutes, that and that there is no such thing as a medium “no pink”. Just before you say something to him he turns and picks up the mid-rare filet and places it in the resting area.  He knows what he’s doing and he is four steaks ahead of where anyone else would be.  The first three tickets aren’t worth his attention anymore, getting the steaks from the grill to the resting area will be an reflex more than an action.  You call down the line and offer encouragement to all four of the cooks that appear to be performing some special dance that they have choreographed.  They speak in a language that only those who work in kitchens would understand, and all of the food comes to the window when it should.  Having a team work this well together is a thing of beauty and they do this every night, and each night they get better.  The paycheck they get each week could sometimes be considered a slap in the face compared to the amount of effort they give each day.  But they show up every day, and do it again and again and always are able to get a smile from each other from their inside jokes and from talking about the food in their language.

The Chef De Cuisine, comes over to ask how your day is, and to see if the trout we had talked about the day before would be delivered the next day.  When you inform him that it will be flounder instead a huge smile comes across his face as he tells you that he would love to do a proscuitto wrapped flounder over a creamy sweet corn polenta with some of the beautiful asparagus that came in this morning on the side.  You grab a mental picture of it, and tell him to come in early tomorrow so that you can make one just to make sure all of the components work properly.  He will be there, and have everything ready to cook, it’s not something you even need to let enter your mind because he wouldn’t pass up the chance to put this dish together due to the mental effort he has already used on it.

Before you realize it, you have been at work for ten hours.  All of the paperwork you needed to do is turned in, the orders have been placed and dinner service is running smooth everywhere.  You start your journey to the car and get stopped by a server.  No problems this time, he just wants to let you know that the customers raved about the beef dish they had, it was fork tender and the sauce was out of this world, this provokes a smile and a mental note to pass this along to the appropriate cook tomorrow, but for now it’s on to the car.

Should you stop at the store on your way home, is there something one of your kids need you to bring home with you?  No need in wasting time thinking about that because the twenty extra minutes you spend stopping at any store is twenty more minutes you can be there, at home, with them. Your day as the person in charge, the one with all of the answers is over.  Now you’re a Father, and Husband and your feet hurting, and headaches seem to go away.  Bed time for the kids is not far away, and you hope to have a conversation with your wife that will last more than ten minutes, and be about a subject other than food.  By the time your head hits the pillow you have a feeling you will not be able to go to sleep, but before you even get comfortable you’re asleep.

There is that alarm clock again…

The Line Cook-

You wake up and realize that you probably should have went to bed two hours earlier.  The alarm clock says that it is time to get started, but you know you could easily sleep for three more hours.  It’s not that you feel bad, but when you go to set up you realize how tight the muscles in your back are, and you hope the hot water from the shower relaxes them a little.  When your feet hit the floor, you remember that this time yesterday you decided to get to bed earlier the next day so that you could get new shoes before you started your work day today.  Too late for that, you can make it another day on the aching bases that you stand on all day.  Perhaps two pair of socks will help?  No that just makes it that much more painful to try and take them off at the end of the night.  A cigarette and a hot shower follow and you try to figure out if your stomach can handle an energy drink now, or if it should wait until you’re on your way to work.  There is a moment while taking a shower where everything is ok.  The hot water has made your back feel a little better, and you just happened to figure out a way to stand that doesn’t hurt your feet; you enjoy that for a moment, and then lift your head up to let the water hit your face and all the pain comes back.  At some point in the day the true reason you put yourself through this will show itself, it may come about easy, or you may have to really search for it.  But you know that it will be there, so you keep pushing yourself through your routine in hopes that it comes earlier rather than later.  Now it’s time to climb in the car and make your way to work, when you hit the seat new pains reintroduce themselves to you.  It’s time to put the insignificant things aside and start your day, enough is enough, lets get to work.

You pull into your parking area and realize once again that the walk you have to make is far too long.  The fact that you have to walk as far as you do just so the patrons that you will be cooking for can park right next to the door at this point seems abusive.  However for some reason once you enter the building every motion that you make will simply be to please them. This internal fight is something that never goes away, but each time their pleasure wins.  As you approach the back door the sights and smells start to take over and you become what you will be for the rest of the day.  Take one last look at the sunlight, and take your first smell of the grease trap setting beside the dumpsters that were emptied an hour ago.  You enter into a place where you’re comfortable, a place where you belong and a place where you will be the reason why someone will have a memorable experience, something that they will remember for a long time to come.  They will never know your name, but you will know what you did for them and for now that’s all you need to be able to do.

So when you finally make your way to the kitchen, and mentally absorb what all you need to accomplish before the magic hour arrives, there is a rush of emotions that run through your body.  Reality smacks you right in the face when you realize just exactly how much effort it is going to take to get ready more often than not.  The prep list you left for those that have already at work for six hours is complete, except for one thing that is marked as “station prep”.  That means it is your responsibility, and even though you tried to politely ask someone else to do it by putting it on the prep list, nobody has your back today as prep was way too heavy to do a solid for any line cook, only the essentials were done so that quality wouldn’t become an issue. You think back to that twenty minute stretch the night before and reassess your decision to set on a milk crate to keep some weight off your feet, and realize that you should have went ahead and did some prep to stay ahead.  That prep would be enough to get you through the night, but it isn’t done.  You’re feet do not feel any better than they did, they just haven’t taken enough abuse for the day.  And when the Chef walks by thirty minutes before the magic hour, the prep will be done.  It’s the first internal test of the day, you’re making promises to yourself that you have no intentions of keeping.  You haven’t broke a sweat yet, and your sense of pride has no chance of showing up at least until twenty minutes after you have gulped down family meal.

All of the proteins are cut and put in the lowboy, the asparagus is peeled and blanched perfectly, your stomach is somewhat full from family meal/breakfast and it’s 4:15pm.  Just enough time to smoke a cigarette, wash your hands, get you a drink and be back on the line.

You’re about to embark on a six hour dinner service that is going to make your feet hurt worse than they already do, your back will send pain to parts of your body that you normally don’t even think about.  But at some point during the night, you will put a steak in the window and you and the Chef will make eye contact and he will say “Beautiful, perfectly cooked… excellent job” and that makes it all worth it.  For that moment, there is no pain, no sweat, no heat.  That is the moment that makes you do what you do.

Now service is over and you’re starting your cleaning routine.  You know that you will be the person who has to come in the next day and you want everything to be right.  But the thought of a cold beer, or a warm bed starts to creep in your mind.  The fatigue that your body feels is over ran by the adrenaline that your mind has.  There is a certain type of rush, a sense of accomplishment that can’t truly be described.  You just spent perhaps ten hours pouring all that you have in you to please people in a dining room that you will never see or meet. You take the trash out and are reminded of the smell that you noticed earlier in the day, a moment when your clothes were still dry, not soaked in sweat a time when the sun was out and you still felt like a human being. It’s better just to put that memory out of your mind and keep working to put this day to an end. The thought of enjoying a few cold beers, and crawling into bed is what drives you at this point. The protein counts, and prep list being filled out are automatic at this point, the only challenge left for tonight is the walk to the car and that will be easy compared to what the last three hours have been.

When you wake up in the morning you will put your body and mind through the same punishment that you just got finished with. And for an unknown reason at some point between now and then the fact that you want to do better tomorrow than you did today will become a reality.  This is what separates a cook, from a good cook. A cook follows instructions and puts food in the window, a good cook cares about what he or she is putting in the window and takes pride in every action they take.  They don’t treat their bodies as well as they provide for others wants, in fact the wants of others outweighs their own personal needs.

Once you have passed out for the night, you will wake up, take a much needed shower, get dressed and everything will be ok.  Once you put the uniform on, who you are is defined and what you do for the next twelve to fourteen hours is what you live for.

You wake up and realize that you probably should have went to bed two hours earlier…