Monday, July 25, 2005

Second session at the French kitchen

Back from my second session at the restaurant tonight. It was a quiet night with only 3 reservations, but we ended up with a restaurant of 20 pax (quiet night even for a Monday apparently)
I walked in and received some smiles of recognition and to my horror - Celine Dion playing on the stereo! (if you recall, last week was hard rock and this week - song after song of weepy Celine! (i'm not a fan)
I was just about to think the kitchen staff had the temperament of schizophrenics when the souz chef started making faces at R, the french chef obviously responsible for the music, asking him to turn it off. (phew - there are some consistencies I can at least rely on). After much boisterous teasing about R feeling sentimental, going home alone every night, he finally changed his music choice to a 'cafe del mar' type CD. Still in extreme contrast to last week - but better nevertheless!

So let's see - what did I learn tonight?
1) That cold Japanese tomato with Fleur de Sel tastes like pure heaven
(Fleur De Sel is 'cream of the crop' salt that is harvested by hand off the village of Guerande in brittany in July and August, when the sea is calm and the weather conditions are right. It's super super expensive - a small little pack (that looked like 100 g costs apparently $14). I had a taste of it and found that it lacks the bite and 'saltiness' of normal salt. The souz chef puts a pinch of it in his aquarium every few days for his 1 beloved pirhanha!

Japanese Tomato (apparently imported from Tokyo) costs $3 per tomato. I was shocked! I had also tasted nothing like it. Billy Idol let me try a bite after i had asked one question after another about what it tasted like, he sliced me half a tomato, and sprinkled on some fleur de sel. It was mind blowing! It looked like such a plain little starter and something i would have HATED having just because it looked like such poor value for money, but i was so SO wrong.

2) Chives should be sliced in a fast slicing motion (instead of pressed on with a knife when cutting it) to retain their 'freshness'. If you press on them, they become mushy because you have crushed their structure.

3) A dash of Vinegar is drizzled on the sauce for fatty fish like cod and salmon because some acidity is needed to break up the 'fat' of the fish. Lean fish like Seabass don't require this acidity.

4) Basil Oil adds lovely colour to a dish (comes out as a flourescent green oil on the plate)

5) Herbs can be kept fresh after being cut in iced water.

6) Chervil is used as garnishing for almost all dishes.

7) Their amazing raisin walnut bread requires imported organic unbleached flour.

8) A simple 'tool' like a round metal ring (about 2 inches high) can be used for making a 'stack of salad', well contained in the centre of the plate.

9) Squeeze bottles with long thin nozzles are ESSENTIAL for the 'fine art' of plate decor.

10)Black cod with miso paste, chopped mango, onion and tomato makes for a lovely dish (oven baked)

11) So MUCH of fine dining is in the art of 'plating' and presentation. The essence here seems to be good ingredients, simplicity, and taking pains to 'present' it in the best way possible.

12) Balsamic glaze requires balsamic vinegar with some icing sugar (v handy for plate decor - a few fast streaks across the plate does wonders!)

I'm less nervous around the kitchen staff now. I ventured into the pastry section this time. This took a bit of courage because this domain belongs to the only other female in this kitchen who talks brash, blunt and someone you really don't want to get on the wrong side of. I suspect this is what is needed in the kitchen if female. A lady who can weather the most testerone charged of environments. Surprisingly, she was very welcoming, answered all my nosy questions in good humour. I noticed that she had large callouses and cuts on her hand, to which she said 'I'm allergic to flour'. Needless to say, I didn't think she was the sunniest of personalities and no wonder. A pastry / dessert / bread chef who's allerfic to flour!

I didn't do much tonight, but I am certainly learning. Slowly but surely. I wrapped up the night with my last task for the night- wrapping cling film over the steel containers of gravy.


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