Returning to Restaurant Daniel...
As I worked at The Passe I wrote notes to myself on various things that I saw, heard, felt, expected, questioned, etc. These are those notes & observations:
I watched Chef de Cuisine Chef Eddy Leroux working at The Passe. His afternoon was spent between telephone conversations to purveyors, visits from foragers to the kitchen bringing local, seasonal product (some rejected and some packed away quickly), preparing mise en place for service and writing copious notes in his notebooks... Yes, notebooks. A stack of them on the top shelf of The Passe with neat, cursive notes to himself, telephone numbers for salespeople, ideas for plating, diagrams of ideas, lists of lists.... I don't know exactly what was on the those pages so I'm elaborating. That's what I have in my notebooks, though....
I loved the little garnishes of diakon barrels with herbs stuck in them like 'pots of flowers in Granny's front window' (that's an actual note in my book).
When working in the kitchen, any kitchen, we all need to be aware - aware of what is going on around us. Aware of who is walking behind you or coming around the corner ('corner!'). Know your work space. Look before you make the move. Learn to dance. Make sure no one is there and for God's sake move fast!
Remember to work in grams (g). If English is the language of business and French the language of love and Spanish the language to 'speak to the gods', then metrics needs to be the language of precision in the kitchen. Gone, soon, will be avoirdupois, which is the traditional American and English system of weights based on a pound of 16 ounces. It is still the everyday system of weight used in the United States and is still widely used in everyday life in the UK, Canada and Australia. Fanny Farmer improved on the old-fashioned handful and thimbleful measurements of the 18th and early 19th century but nowadays we need metrics. So, remember, 1 ounce = 28.3495231 grams.
'Parlez-vous Francaise?' 'Je ne parle pas Francaise. Une petite peu.' 'C'est dommage'. From exacting French dialects to perfect coloquial English. Some whom I thought were French simply spoke perfect French and were entirely American... I;m a francophile and I need to be more bilingual!
The aforementioned forager came unannounced to the kitchen. He had apparently been integral to the success of Restauarnt Daniel in the past, yet had somehow been cast off or was away from the kitchen for some time. It seemed that his appearance was a surprise. He introduced himself to me, as I was standing at The Passe. The obligitory 'Bonjour, Ca va?' His produce that afternoon came from a New Jersey Farmer's Market: fresh camomile, cantaloupe (deemed 'not ready' - it wasn't), peanuts (chef wanted green), rambutan (went to the staff for snacks), cilantro from his home garden and purslane...
Ladle on the floor. It clanged from somewhere behind The Passe. Executive Chef Jean Francois Bruel never looked up but, just quietly said to whomever was listening, 'check that it is washed'. 'Oui, Chef'. Dropped. Washed. Confirmed. 2 seconds. Back to work. It's just so damned professional... :)
Mise en place. The folding of towels. Setting the station. It's 5:00 p.m. Making last minute adjustments. As I worked at The Passe I was treated to a tasting of dishes that simply appeared in front of me. Chef would say to me 'that is for you', then look down and get back to work. Really? Unbelieveable hospitality. I fell in love with the kitchen and their demeanor... First, a lovely bowl of cucumber veloute (as previously mentioned in the first Daniel blog), then a beautiful, tiny poreclin canape bowl prepared with carrot puree, roasted carrot, split peas & pickled mushrooms. The tasting continued with sauces, soupes & salades. The adjectives of freshness and flavor embodied the tastes afforded me.
As I ruminated on the tasting, The Passe began to be transformed from prep to service. The service areas are wiped down and then washed and dried. The linen on The Passe stretches tight as the clear packing tape anchors it to the marble and stainless steel work spaces. I love it when floors are cleaned...the cleaning staff appears, takes care of business and vanishes. Efficiency rules. The menus are taped to The Passe shelves and the 'sauce sheet' (a place for goose necks of sauce to be set in a particlar column labled 'squab, duck, veal and beef') is set on the shelf and taped over. I am provided with all the a la carte and tasting menus, including dessert so that I may keep up during the 6 1/2 hour service window.
Plates are wiped with paper napkins cut by the service staff, into small squares. Stacks of them are in boxes at every station. I looked around the kitchen and noted the glass-fronted cases on the walls holding pictures of chefs, pictures of Chef Boulud, small little tin and silver molds, tiny glass bowls, gold-rimmed plates, silver services, glass cloches and copper everywhere... On the line the prep continued as the clock ticked toward 5:30, the appointed service time. Uber-sharp knives clicked on cutting boards, ducks were being scored and seared, plastic bottles are filled with flavored oils and veal roasts seared and cooked... Water bottles are filled in hopes that the contents will last throught the first seating (5:30 to 7-ish - 2 1/2 hours). I wrote that 'it's like getting ready for surgery'... Funny that cooks, chefs, doctors and nurses all wear clogs during their time on the tile or in the O.R..
Canard a la Presse was served thrice to private parties. One party was served in the PDR - the guests walked through the kitchen and up the back stairs (gawking and snapping pics the whole way) - which overlooked the kitchen. Great spot to wine and dine. Whole ducks were scored on the breasts, seared, roasted to MR and sent to the table on silver platters atop a diagonaly cut loaf of brioche and garnished with singed pine needles on the bough. The breasts and legs are carved tableside, the meat returned to the kitchen to be trimmed and plated while the sauce is prepared in the DR. Bones and duck jus are pressed and cooked tableside with cherry liqueur and dijon mustard. 'C'est mervilleux'...
I have a note about a conversation I had with a Johnson & Wales graduate from the Providence Campus. He was the p.m. Expeditor and did a fine job with all the pressure, chefs, maitre d's and service staff clammoring for his attention with particular guest needs and wants. He mentioned that he wished his instructors pushed him more. He seemed very competent - he had set his standards high and needed more, always more. He wanted to know why we (Chef/Instructors) spend so much time with the needy students who 'obviously' wouldn't get anywhere... Everyone pays for their education. I teach, but cannot make anyone learn...
The long-term chefs de parties in the Daniel kitchen, who are devoted to their Chef and the kitchen, spend three years rotating through all the stations. At that time they must decide if they are truly long-time Daniel employees or on their way to learn and apprentice somewhere else in the fine-dining fraternity.
The next Restaurant Daniel blog will be about the food. Remembering that there are no pictures allowed in the kitchen I'll deliver my best attempt at describing the cuisine at one of the finest restaurants in the world. Peace.