Monday, March 23, 2015

Why I Didn't Debut A Spring Menu This Past Week and A Day In The Life Of A Pastry Chef

Why I didn't debut a Spring Menu this past week.

1 - It was snowing on the first day of Spring
2 - The ground is still frozen
3 - I live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5b, and our area farms are located mostly in  Zones 5a, 6b, or 6a (conversely, many are located in 4b and 4a...the lower the number the shorter the growing season - Napa, for example, is in Zone 9a - their average extreme low temperature is 20-25 F - 25 F was our high temperature today. Zone 9a's last frost date is typically in the beginning of March. Ours is typically in mid to late May)
4 - I cannot goto the farmers market and pick up a quart of strawberries
5 - We are still getting in some incredible winter produce
6 - At the restaurant, we cannot leave the side door - located at the end of our kitchen's line - open all day without being too cold.
7 - Even though our purveyors taunt me with their spring produce (from who knows where) availability, I am trying to have a spine and wait until it is actually in season locally. 

I arrive typically between 7 and 8:30 in the morning, depending on my work load and what kind of bread I am going to make that day. By the time I arrive at work I am about to finish my second cup of coffee.  When I walk in the door the first thing I do is turn the hoods, ovens, and dishwasher on - and I fill the first sink with hot soapy water, in anticipation of dishes I will make that need soaking. I head down to the basement and put my jacket and bag away. I wipe down my station and go grab my dough. I keep my dough bin (tightly wrapped) in a soffit below the stairwell to the second floor cocktail lounge. This seems to be a good temperature for slow fermentation. If I keep it at my station in the basement, often times it will not ferment enough by the second day (it stays pretty fucking cold in the basement). Today I am making focaccia - and I prepped some toppings for it last night. I turn the dough out on my bench and scale it for 1/2 sheet pans. I pat it out, load it up with toppings (I recognize that the focaccia I make is...unusual in its quantity of toppings, but I want to have a lot of everything on my slice when I get some it up!), and throw them in the one oven I have not yet turned on. The pilot light provides enough heat to proof the bread in an hour or so. In that time I clean up my station (this dough is WET and STICKY and makes quite a mess) and then go into the walk in to count my desserts to get an idea of what I will be doing today. 

I hear someone shout 'Hello' from the first floor - so I head on up. Adventures in Food is here with our order. I check it over and then quickly put it away. Back to the walk in. Seems like I have enough cheesecake to get through tonight, but definitely not tomorrow. Since the recipe I use takes about 24 hours start to finish, I will have to make more today. The same seems to apply to the olive oil cake that I am featuring this week. Enough for today, but not tomorrow. This particular cake is better on the second day than the first - so on the prep list it goes. 

Something went wrong the the sheet of brownies I made yesterday, they are thinner than usual - but also taste better than usual. Im a bit dumbfounded by it - but do not want to waste the product (I use very nice, very expensive chocolate, so tossing these is not an option - even though I cannot use them on my brownie dessert). We just bought a batch freezer (aka ice cream machine) and these brownies are appropriately thin to make sandwiches with - so I will portion them, freeze them and test an ice cream sandwich when I spin some vanilla ice cream later this afternoon. Now I also have to make another tray of brownies, and take care that I don't fuck them up as I need them for tonight. I baked off a batch of Stick Toffee Pudding yesterday, so I have an okay supply of them, but I have a small amount of left over batter and they sell well - so if I have the time today I will also bake them off. 

Next I check garnishes to see if anything needs to be prepped. Most of my garnishes are what I would call 'pantry items' - candied nuts, crumbs, dehydrated things - all things that are fairly shelf stable. Today I am in good stock, so I will not have to make any garnishes. Time to take a look at any projects that I have kicking around. We had a brunch that requested strawberries (Yes I fully realize that I was criticizing using strawberries this time of year earlier in this post) and we had leftovers so I macerated them with sugar, bitters, and lime and then put them in the dehydrator, where they are currently. They are still a bit more moist that I would like, so I decide to let them stay in there for a while longer. 

I pull the cream cheese and chevre, for my cheesecakes, to temper a bit before I make the batter. I go upstairs because I hear a delivery coming in. Dole & Bailey are here - this is typically our largest order. I spend a bit of time checking it in and decide that because I don't have a huge prep day ahead of me I will put it away. I notice all the flours I ordered are in, so I can potentially make my gluten free flour blend today, also I have about 45 pounds more tapioca starch than I planned on - so I have to figure out what to do with the excess.

Once the order is put away my timer is going off - the bread is proofed. I season it and throw it in the hot oven - and then turn the oven it was proofing in on. My next task is to start my dough for tomorrow. The recipe I use requires 18-24 hours of fermentation (for it taste good, anyway) so its important that I start the dough early in the day. Once the dough is done I decide to take on a task that doesn't require the oven - as the bread is in the one that is hot, and it'll be a little while before the second oven is up to temperature. I also do not like baking in this oven as it is...not good at holding a steady temperature and often runs way too hot. So I pull the case of oranges out and start pressing them because I will need a quart or so of juice for the olive oil cake. By the time I am done with this, it is time to pull the focaccia out of the oven, transfer it to cooling racks, and put it out of the way in our garden patio (which is where I have taken to cooling the bread).

Back to my station to make the olive oil cake batter. The recipe I use always has some extra batter (its not formulated for the tiny molds I use, but rather a few cake pans) so I use the extra batter to bake some cakes in 8 oz mason jars, which I will sell as a dessert in the wine bar next door. My dishes are starting to pile up a bit so I take a few minutes to wash some of them. Once I am done, I load up the second oven with the last of my stick toffee pudding batter. Nick and Matt (Chef and Sous) are in now, so I spend a bit catching up with them. Timers going off for both the olive oil cakes and stick toffee pudding - so I pull all of them and go downstairs to finish the sticky toffee pudding. While it is hot I stab it a bunch of times with some skewers and then pour Port wine toffee sauce over them, which they soak up like sponges. This is why this dessert is so good. It is completely saturated with a sauce made with port wine, molasses, brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream. 

I make the cheesecake batter quickly - because it requires that I use the robot coup (food processor) for it - and it can be a fight to get my hands on it one the hot side guys are in production. I put the cheesecake batter in molds and then into the oven to bake. This takes two hours - during which the oven door cannot be opened. 

Jake (who has trickled in at some point) and Matt are now rearranging the units on our line. The kitchen seems like it was built around these units, so there is very little room to maneuver - and it requires some real Tetris-ing to do. I help them for a few minutes and then head back to my station in the basement, where I put together some brownie batter and then I bake them off. 

Now its time to start thinking about ice creams. I mentioned earlier that we have just bought a batch freezer - but I didn't mention that it hasn't arrived yet. Currently I am using a machine that is somewhere between a home ice cream machine and a batch freezer (what they use at real ice cream shops). So it takes about 20 minutes to spin a quart of ice cream - and currently I spin between 3 and 6 quarts a day just for the dessert menu (we do not sell it by the scoop or as an option on the menu - something that will change soon). So anyway, ice cream usually accounts for a good chunk of my afternoon, as it has to be in deep freeze for a bit before it is stable enough to use for service (if it is not in deep freeze long enough, it will be too warm and become too soft to scoop after pulling it out of the freezer a couple times). I turn on the ice cream machine and then I start adjust the consistency of the orange sorbet base that I am using with the olive oil cake feature. It seemed too thick before, and as best as I can tell this was causing the machine to work in too much air (or overrun, if you want to sound fancy) so my goal was to thin the base a little with fresh orange juice. Typically this is not how I would fiddle with ice cream or sorbet, to me it is a very meticulous thing that require precise formulation and just 'adding a little bit of this or that' to a base will pretty much always fuck it up big time. But this base was already fucked up so...what there to lose. Next I strain the mint and cocoa nibs from the base I made yesterday. I then scale 2 quarts of vanilla, 2 quarts of mint and 1 quart of orange sorbet - with 700 g of base in each quart - this is the maximum I like to spin at one time in this machine. 

While the ice cream is spinning, I pull the brownies from the oven and put a sheet tray with 75 or so cookies in for tonights mignardises - or little gifts to be given with our checks. Once the orange sorbet is done, I scoop off a little bit to taste. The consistency is much better now. I have this extra sorbet so I decide to play a bit. I fold in a little bit of Sriracha and give it a taste. Its not bad at all, and may be worth exploring a little bit. Im starting to get hungry now and I am finding it difficult to stop myself from grazing on Matt's Broccoli Rabe that he just finished prepping. 

I make some chocolate cake batter and throw it in the oven - I am baking this off for the chocolate mousse cake that I make for the wine bar. This is a dessert that I cannot seem to keep in stock. While the cake is baking, I start to check off the last few tasks I need to get done before service. The cookies has cooled to room temperature, so transfer them to a small container and put them up at the servers station. I take the cooled focaccia and portion it all, wrap it up on 1/2 sheet trays, and put it at our expeditors station/pass. I then un-mold and pack up the olive oil cakes I made earlier in the day, and do the same with the sticky toffee pudding. The cheesecakes are ready to come out of the oven, so I pull them and put them on the speed rack in the cooler. I cut the cheesecakes that I already had into the correct portions for the plated dessert. The brownies are cool enough to portion, which I do, and then I pack them up into a fish tub (these are plastic tupperware like tubs that fish is typically packed in when it is ordered for a restaurant, hence the name). 

I give my counts/numbers to our front of the house manager, Charlotte - and then head back to my station to refill my sauces and start to set up for service. To set up the station I take all my garnishes and sauces and keep all of them in order so that everything for this dessert is all together, and everything for that dessert is all together. I gather my tools and put them in a bain marie with hot water in it and give the station a quick wipe down. I then make some whipped cream and prep some toppings for tomorrows focaccia. My last tasks are to wrap up the chocolate cake and olive oil cakes that I made for the wine bar and put them in the cooler. Its now 5:00, the restaurant is open, and I am winding down for the day. I check with Matt & Nick to see if they need anything done before I head out, which they don't - and because it is my last early day for the week I leave for the night. 


  1. I really enjoyed this post. That's a busy day.

    1. Thanks, Jon - Its a pretty typical short day at the restaurant. Lots of busy work!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Don't know why it posted the same thing twice.

  3. Great post, people don't realize what happens during the day at a restaurant. I was once deep into prep recently when a FOH person popped in about noon to pick up something up. She said "what are you doing here so early." I asked her who she thought made all the food we sell.

    1. Dominic, Ive definitely experienced that before! People are always shocked by how early I get in. Luckily at Pecks I do not have to work service every night! My favorite story along these lines was when I was at Sperrys and first starting out, we couldnt figure out why my time sheet was all fucked up. Weird clock ins & outs. It turns out I would get in before the system had reset for the day (which happens at 5 or 6 am, I cant remember which) so it would clock me in at the previous day, and then automatically clock me out when the system reset - then when I 'clocked out' at the end of my shift, it would actually clock me can see how this got out of control very quickly.

  4. From time to time I fantasize about working a kitchen, then I see how hard the work is and think better of it.

    1. Steve, Its definitely not for everyone. It can be exhausting, long hours, lots of physically demanding work...your hands are always covered in burns and cuts, your always exhausted (I remember years ago a chef I worked for screaming at a young dishwasher to never complain about being tired because no matter what everyone in a kitchen is always tired)...and its easy to feel unappreciated because not many people (including industry people - as Dominic pointed out above) realize the work and dedication required - but it can also be the best thing in the world, you form very strong bonds with your coworkers and experience a very unique form of creativity and have the opportunity to 'rise to the challenge' several times every day.... there is really nothing to compare it to. Its a strange thing, theres no doubt about it!

  5. I really appreciated that post. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.

  6. My fucking head is spinning now. I'm exhausted just reading this. I need some wine and...