Sunday, February 22, 2015

Winter Doldrums

Its easy to lose yourself to day dreams of spring produce this time of year. By now, you're on autopilot with your winter menu.  You have been using the same 'as-seasonal-as-possible' products for the past 3 or 4 months, spring is close..but still a few months away. Its that 'annoying late night pop' of winter. That last push of shitty weather and (at this point) boring produce. 

One of the many things I love and admire about the chefs where I work is that nothing is ever 'untouchable'. Nothing is ever finished. They are always looking for a way to improve their dishes. Change the plating or presentation. Try a new cooking method, a new ingredient, etcetera. Theres no, 'It sells too well to fuck with or take off the menu'. 

I find complacency a very difficult thing to deal with. I often feel, as a Pastry Chef, that I go it alone. I do not have anyone working with or for me, producing the bread and desserts. Its very difficult to find that happy place where I am comfortable with my production, things are going smoothly, but I am not complacent. I do not want a signature dessert. I do not want to come in and bake bread for the week in one day. I do not want to rely on crutches. But when its just yourself doing everything,  it can be tempting. The only way to avoid it is with constant change - and without seeing other people with that push, that drive - it can be very difficult to find the motivation. There are days when I am scrambling to spin my ice creams or throwing away day old Panna Cotta because they wept too much (fun word for this: Syneresis ) and made their cake bottoms a little soggy... and I think to myself, 'Does anyone really notice the difference?' 

This Saturday - I had a breath of fresh air when I saw - literally one day after changing about 75% of our winter menu - our chefs put out several vegetarian features. This wasn't all just leftover stuff kicking around from a menu change, but rather inspired dishes. One that really struck me was a Broccoli Stalk - blanched and peeled - pan roasted - and served with aioli (not Hellman's with garlic powder, but actual - real - aioli) and breadcrumbs (also made with in house, with leftover bread that I make). Its the utilization of something (or rather, several things) that would otherwise be thrown away... on a whim, and making a very successful and beautifully simple dish with it. This is the sort of thing that I find incredibly inspiring. The trick, it seems, is to not fixate on what you don't have, or what is to come. But rather to always look at what you do have, and think - 'How can I make this something better or different?'

2 comments:

  1. One positive associated with my foot surgery and recovery is that I'm not cooking the winter menu any longer. When I return to work we will start getting the Spring menu rolled out. This is also the first time I've had the opportunity to write a menu without having much else to do. I hope the results are superior to other menus.
    Your thoughts on focusing on what you have, not on what you do not transcend the kitchen.
    Will anyone notice? Yes, Greg, they will. Even if it's just you, so keep those standards high.

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  2. Thanks, Dominic. I know that the reality is that what people notice is a high quality dessert, no the lengths required to achieve it. Either way, applying high standards to things and doing very small batch recipes keeps me busy and happy with my products. At Sperrys I cant even begin to quantify how many times I sold things I was ashamed of. At Pecks, I have been proud of everything so far - and the customer response has been great.

    Something great that I will write about and want to encourage you and whoever else with - is that we are cooking food that we are interested in, that we want to eat - and our customers not only respond to it, but expect it. We don't really have many dogs on the menu. We sold out of 3# of gooseneck barnacles in one (Wednesday) night! One of my best selling desserts so far was unsweetend yogurt mousse, spiced rum gelee, ginger oatmeal crumble, ginger beer sorbet, lime, and togarashi. And my entire menu is verbalized. Its crazy. Im starting to think people arent afraid any more.

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