I got to the pub around 4:30, because even though I wasn’t officially on the schedule until 5:00, I had stuff to do. I got some t-shirts, I took my time getting ready, and I just watched for a few minutes before I took Rachel out of her sheath. Then, it was business time. However, I did not get to use her as much as I wanted, because there was too much to do in other stations. I used her more with prep for the next day than I did during my actual shift, where I watched with trepidation as my kitchen partner used her for tomatoes. She made short work of them, but as I’ve said before, skins are death to a blade, but being only hours old, I reasoned it was okay and went to my happy place.
As I predicted, it was literally walking into a hurricane, as you are wont to do in a pub kitchen at Happy Hour on a Friday. I introduced myself to my kitchen partner. It was his third day. Luckily, we had an experienced cook coming to join us, because my kitchen partner only knew two days more than I did. There were orders coming through that no one had shown either of us how to make, but having been cooks before, we pulled it out of the fire, as it were. Once she got there, relief was palpable. We were “in the weeds,” and when it’s that busy, it took us hours to pull ourselves back out…. and I’m not sure that we actually did. Eventually, it just slowed down. At one point, we were up to an hour wait, not for the food, but the number of people waiting for tables. As I’ve said before, this particular pub is quite popular.
At one point, I was moved to the back kitchen for the sole purpose of making one batch of fries after another, which I deemed the most important job of all of us, because pubs get judged on their fries more than any other thing…. especially at Happy Hour, when they become an entrée.
We serve ours tossed in salt and Parmesan. It was awe-inspiring watching the lead cook toss the very largest bowl in the kitchen, because she’s maybe five feet tall, and about my body build. Once I’ve been there long enough to make suggestions, I want to add garlic fries to the menu if its welcome, because the fries at The Laurelwood are some of the best I’ve ever put in my mouth. But my job is not to do anything but watch right now…. and some kitchen managers are open to menu suggestions, and some aren’t. For reasons I will not disclose, Jorgé does not work there anymore, so it remains to be seen what the new kitchen manager will allow. We’re hoping to get the position filled by next week.
As the fry cook, I was also in charge of salads and Brussels sprouts, which we deep fry until they’re crispy and toss in Ponzu sauce. Because the prep cooks had taken care of most everything, I didn’t get to use Rachel much at all, but my kitchen partner freaked out because my knife was also his favorite brand, and he has a Global. Here’s the thing about Globals, Wusthofs, Henkels, etc. They’re all amazing, and you can pass them on to your grandchildren’s grandchildren if you take care of them. But Chicago Cutlery is the absolute best for the price point, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could be passed down with the proper care and feeding, as well. The handle is just so comfortable, and truth be told, seems to need less babying to achieve awesome. All our lettuce for burgers has to be shaved so thinly you can read a newspaper through it, and for Rachel, it was the easiest task ever. Before I had her, I was using a dull knife that just couldn’t achieve perfection. She also took down some spring onions like they were butter.
Also, a true achievement for me, I did not cut or burn myself during the entire evening, even though I was working with very, very hot oil. I just tried to work as clean as I could, as fast as I could, and it worked. I tried not to leave a mess by cleaning as I went so that the end of the night was easier to shut down…. although there were times when it just wasn’t possible due to the speed with which everything had to be done. With that amount of people, I would get a little messy, wait for the inevitable break, and do it to it.
It was a godsend to have three people in the kitchen, because there are two complete sets of fryers and ranges. That way, I could keep fries going at an alarming rate, the color and crispiness perfect. Towards the end of the night, the ticket machine became calm enough that two people could handle it, so I got out a medium-sized bain marie (the bottom pan for a double boiler), and filled it with a few drops of dish soap and lots of water, just like Kinkaid taught me, and went after every surface that still had oil on it. The dish soap wasn’t Dawn brand, but it was serviceable. While every blue dish soap contains a degreaser, there really isn’t a substitute for the real thing. You just need it in proportions that won’t leave bubbles on whatever you’re wiping down so that you don’t have to go over it again with more water.
Because I was cut before the heavy cleaning began (disappointed, truly), I didn’t get to clean the griddle. It’s my favorite chore, because few people can do it better. If you’re not in the know, you need to pour a little lemon juice or white vinegar and club soda on it while the griddle is very, very hot to basically deglaze before you start scraping and scrubbing. You don’t need much- otherwise all the liquid will fill up the grease traps and possibly overflow them so that everything runs onto the floor…. always a good day, and I’ve done it many times (dumbass attack). But the basic point is that you should let the heat do most of the work. By the time I’m done, it will look brand new. It was John Fot who taught me the soda water trick- the carbonation is invaluable, as is the acid. If the pub ever starts a brunch program, it is an even better method, because bacon and beef grease stuck on is les worst.
We do our burgers on an open flame, but when I’m making my own, I prefer a griddle to let the meat confit (cook in its own fat). An open flame makes all the fat drip off- probably healthier, but to my palate, doesn’t taste quite as good. However, it is a matter of personal taste. Some like grilled better, some don’t. With both methods, you have to respect first contact. If you put something on a grill or griddle, leave it alone. Keeping the meat flipping will rip it to shreds, because you are essentially removing the meat’s ability to sear on the outside so that it will lift on its own, also taking off the outside layer of crispy goodness. In a kitchen, you just don’t have time to do this, but the best way to cook any meat is low and slow. My favorite is turkey Spam (bet you’re singing the Monty Python song right now), sliced thinly so that it’s brown and crispy like thick-cut bacon, with a tiny, tiny bit of mealiness in the middle. It takes 15-20 minutes to achieve that kind of perfection, but it’s worth it. For those who say, Spam…. ew…. you’ve never tried it the way I make it, so get the fuck out of here with your judgment. There’s a reason it’s insanely popular in Hawai’i. Just trust me on this one. If you hate the taste of Spam, it’s probably because you’ve just warmed it up, perhaps in the microwave, or taken it out of the pan before it’s honestly and truly finished. Again, respect first contact. Low and slow, completely browned on the outside, strips thin enough that you won’t even recognize it as Spam in the first place. If you really want to fool someone, cut off the rounded edges and feed them to the dog….. 😛
Now I’m getting hungry. I think it’s time for breakfast. I go back to the pub at 5:00, so I need some sustenance and a nap to restore at least a bit of lactic acid in my muscles and myelin on my nerves. I need it, because I am again, walking into a hurricane.