Thursday, April 15, 2010

Um, I'm pretty sure the plate shouldn't smile back

Stop me if you've heard this one...

I'm sitting at the pasta bar, reading a food mag while I'm waiting for my cheesecakes to bake.

Maria, one of the kitchen staff walks up to me and says, "Jenni. Pescado, en la cocina." For you gringos, that means Fish, in the kitchen.
YES! It's comida time! (This phrase, though incorrect, is one that I picked up in the kitchen I worked in back in Frisco.)

Never being one to turn down food and knowing that this is the only invite to family meal that I will get, I jumped off my bar stool and headed for the kitchen. (Let's face it, I didn't get this hot mess of a body by skipping meals.) There were fresh tortillas, homemade pico de gallo, avocados jalapenos and limes lining the prep tables in the back. I'm thinking to myself, "Sweet mother. Fish tacos with the fixins!"

As I helped myself to the tortillas and began to load up on all the tastiness, Maria brought out the covered plate of Pescado. I could tell by the smell that she had fried our gilled friends to GBD perfection. (For those who didn't go to culinary school or haven't heard me say it, GBD stands for Golden Brown and Delicious.) She rolled back the cover, and out from underneath the foil tent came my fried-finned brethren. To my horror, I noticed that fish were starring at me. Literally. "Oh. My."

At this point, I only had 2 options:
1. Swallow the vomit that had so quickly lept up in my throat.
2. Take the fish with eagerness and pray to God that Maria and the rest of the kitchen crew didn't see me freak out.

Have you ever had to pick at the carcass of a fried fish when you don't feel all that great to begin with? Nevermind the fact that I didn't know how I was going to be able to open my mouth to take a bite without barfing. I had to pick out the pin bones that I knew would still, somehow find their way into my mouth and I would ever so discretely have to spit out. I thought it was a joke at first. "Let's see what we can get Pastelita to eat today." (Pastelita is what some of the prep guys call me at work, since I make cake every week. Pastel - Spanish for cake. Silly as it may seem, I like it.) But when I turned to see all the prep cooks digging in, it was no joke and I was committed.

Maria gets so excited to cook for me and waits with eager anticipation for my culinary blessing, how was I supposed to be anything but excited for her and anxious to eat the family meal that she had so obviously put much effort and love into? So, with a guilty conscience but great determination, I dug in. And to give credit where credit is due, it was good. Really good actually. So good in fact, that by the time I was finished, my plate resembled that of a scene from a cartoon. An entire fish skeleton, fully intact and no meat or skin to be seen. Except for the head. You can say what you want, but I don't do eyeballs. Ever.

Had the circumstances been any different, I probably would not have been such a willing participant. However, this comes from the girl who, at 22, sat in the middle of the jungle in Belize and did shots of vipor rum with the natives. I didn't think anything about it until they brought out the bottle of rum with a vipor snake in the bottom. Apparently, when it drowns, it secretes its venom. This could all have been a bunch of hogwash, but for 2 days my throat was numb. But I was in like Flynn with the locals!

Oops! Sorry...I was chasing rabbits and forgot my original train of thought.
ANYWAYS... So, yes. My belly was full and Maria's ego had been all in all, it was a good day.

My game winning tip for your next meal...if you think it's going to freak out your guests, it probably will. Or, at least warn them if there is the potential for a staring match with the food. I'm just sayin...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful

I was feeling particularly confident in myself and the answers I had prepared for the interview until I began to sit down in a chair in the waiting room and noticed the ginormous run in my pantyhose. You know, the kind that runs heel to hip. Oh yeah, classy, let me tell you. Gah! Thankfully I made a last minute change and opted for the nude pair instead of the black pair like I had originally planned. But being that milk has a tan compared to me, the stark whiteness of my skin was sure to shine thru even the nudest of nudes. OH, and for the cherry on top? I woke up this morning to discover that a pimple had taken up residence on my face. Not just a slight blemish on the side of my face but a giant pimple on the bridge of my nose. Smack dab between my eyes. And by giant, I mean the size of a small child. I think I'm going to name her Bertha.

Bertha is to my face what the North Star is to sailors. Bright enough for all the world to see. A beacon in the night. I thought about wearing my glasses to cover her up but thought the disguise would be far too obvious. Concealer didn't help. Come to think of it, when does concealer actually conceal anything? I could have bedazzled her with a rhinestone or ruby, but I didn't want her to outdo me and I wasn't exactly sure what kind of message that would send. I finally just said to hell with it. If they can't handle me at my worst, they don't deserve me at my best. I'm pretty sure that Marilyn Monroe meant that to be directed towards men, but whatever. Men,'s all the same. I ended up rocking the interview. I think. Regardless, neither run nor blemish could ruin my day. Now, if you'll excuse me, Bertha and I are headed to Jamba Juice for a celebratory smoothie.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

He's back. Zut Alors!

So, the other day I was thumbing through the pages of My Table, a foodie magazine for Houstonians. It gives you a list of restaurant openings and closings, farmers markets, best place to find (insert item here), etc. for the Bayou City. Curious of the new chefs in town and what the next place "to be seen" at would be, I eagerly read the articles, absorbing any new tid bit that might be beneficial in my search for employment or just for general recreational hot spots. I was sadly disappointed that nothing new had really come about since last month's issue. I was about to close the mag and toss it atop the discarded pile of gastronomic literature, when something caught my eye... And there it was, in bold print, the name of the chef I had worked for back during my internship. Immediately, I felt my stomach seize and I could hear that wicked, French accent of his shouting my name...Zhenni! Ugh, my stomach is seizing even as I write this. Bleck. Oh, how I loathe that man. It seems as if he is opening up a new restaurant after two years of "research". Apparently, that must be french for unemployed. That restaurant is one place I WON'T be applying at or referring friends and family to. So, in the spirit of Chef Philippe, I am posting a blurb from one of my email updates that I sent out during my internship. It's two years old but so totally brand new after seeing his name in print. Enjoy.

Well, week one of eight is in the books.

I knew that it wouldn't be an easy week and I knew that it wouldn't be a hand-holding cooking lesson that I experienced at school, but I didn't think it would be as difficult as it was.

The first 2 days were spent shadowing some of the guys in the kitchen. Being that I have never been in a commercial kitchen until this week, I was not prepared for the speed and multi-tasking skills necessary to get the plates out. I knew I would be behind on the learning curve, but I didn't think that I would be so far behind the learning curve that I wouldn't be able to see it. My task this week, as well as the next two weeks, is the saute station. This includes expediting (reading the tickets off to the other stations) making the sauces necessary for my dishes, prepping the ingredients, pan-frying crab cakes and salmon, sauteing calamari, making spinach salads, preparing mussels, making stocks and soups, and whatever else Chef Philippe deems necessary. Monday thru Thursday were "teaching days" and Friday was my first "solo" performance.

I've been yelled at before but never in 3 languages. Chef Philippe (the executive chef) will start out his rant in English then switch to French then the sous chef will carry on the chef's rant in Spanish. You've heard of the people that tear you down to build you back up, right. Well, I would consider myself to be very much in the "tearing down" phase and I'm not sure if or when the "building" phase will begin. Apparently, I am on a need to know basis and at this point, I don't need to know.

I don't think it is fair to say that I hate it. There are parts of the job that I enjoy (pulling out of the parking garage and driving home being my most favorite). Seriously, I am learning a ton of stuff and have a much better appreciation for the men and women in the culinary industry, but I don't think fine dining is where I want to be. To me, food is meant to be enjoyed, regardless if you are the person buying, preparing or eating it. At this point, I'm too worried about whether or not I have the right equipment, if I remember what ingredients go into which dish and if Chef is going to tear into me for using the extra virgin olive oil instead of the blended variety. Every time the printer starts humming and spits out the ticket for the next order, my stomach immediately seizes, and this feeling of panic and fear radiates through my body.

The guy that has been training me the last several days told me on Thursday that there was a bet going on with all the kitchen staff about how long they thought I would last. Apparently the smell of fear precedes me wherever I go. If for nothing other than proving everyone wrong, I'm determined to make it through November 9 come hell or high water.

That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger...the stench of death however is starting to become unbearable.