While this was technically my third time trailing in a professional kitchen, my second night there was long enough ago that I’ll write about my third experience at Le Barricou instead. For those of you who missed the first chapter in this saga, you can read about it here. As a quick recap, my long time friend and college roommate, Andy, works at a French spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn called Le Barricou.
The few friends that were with me this past weekend can attest to the fact that it was no ordinary weekend. With more college friends in from out of town, it was a late night of fun and wandering around Manhattan. It seemed only fitting to work in the kitchen after a late night, the way most cooks probably do.
After the journey from Morningside Heights to Williamsburg, I was ready to work. When I was getting ready to prep for dinner, I was lucky enough to don a chef’s coat, making me feel a bit more professional. One of the things that makes me want to subject myself to a super hot kitchen with pots and pans filled with hot sauces and liquid is the fact that the head Chef, Chef Sotto, and the Sous Chef Brady (as well as everyone else who works at Le Barricou) always make me feel welcome. I’ve learned a lot and tried to soak up as much as I can.
This past shift I learned the importance of careful knife work when preparing tomatoes, mushrooms, and other vegetables (some right when it is ordered). Cutting a golden beet or a piece of green apple into shapes and julienning the rest may be easy for a seasoned cook, but it is not as easy when an order is fired (needs to be prepared to be served) and you only have a couple minutes. Everything in a kitchen has an order, a way of doing things, and timing is everything. If you thought having your home-cooked dinner of roasted chicken, vegetables, and rice finished at the same was hard, just imagine a table of 11 coming in and ordering multiple courses while other tables fill at random. One of the hardest things to understand and be able to do well is taking your time, paying attention to every single detail, while also going as fast you can.
The previous two times I worked with Andy at the grill station where burgers, chicken sandwiches, and coq au vin was the norm. As I mentioned, this night was the night for prepping salads, vegetables, and a few other odds and ends (usually dropping the fries into the fryer). In a crowded hot kitchen, when I was instructed or shown something by the Chef I knew I had to pay attention and remember exactly how do it because there might not be a second time. Knowing how many beets were needed for the golden beet salad, how much mint chiffonade, oil, crushed candied walnuts, and the order of plating, all come in to play. It amazing how quickly you learn and how naturally it comes by the third or fourth one you prepare. Imagine doing this for 5 years, you could probably do it blindfolded.
It seems as though I’ve gone a bit off track, sort of putting together my experience in a piece-meal fashion, but sometimes that is how I felt in the kitchen – racing into the walk-in fridge looking for an ingredient I was sent to pick out. Aside from the salads that I prepared, I also made the vegetarian risotto which was to be used the following night. When I make risotto at home, it’s a very slow, gentle process, often times very relaxing. That all goes out the window in a hot kitchen. Start with a huge pot filled with oil and onions that have to stir constantly to prevent them from getting brown. Then you add your arborio rice which you want to mix in the same fashion for another ten minutes or so. After that you can add your water, stirring of course, to keep anything from sticking or getting brown. I successfully achieved super al dente (you finish cooking it again the next day) without any browning, burning, and very minimal sticking. I was proud of that.
The salads that I prepared were mostly simple and didn’t require too much prep other than dressing them when the order was fired and plating them properly. Two of the salads did have a bit more work – the first was the aforementioned Le Baricou Salad and the second was the golden beet salad. The former required using a mandolin to slice various beets, pears, apples and other vegetables for each order, and julienning parts while cutting others in various shapes. The beet salad required some mixing of cooked beets with its proper dressing, which was then plated over a yogurt sauce and topped with candied walnuts. These were both fun to make, and lucky for me, no cuts from the giant sharp knives I used the entire time.
While sometimes the facts, tips, and tricks I learn in the kitchen are obvious, other times, the information just seems to go in one ear and chill there. I’m sure when I roast beets again, I’ll think to the marinade from that night or when I have a dinner party, I may pull out my mandolin and slice up veggies to mirror their salad. And aside from the tips on actually cooking, the things you learn in a kitchen can be helpful in other facets of life. I said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ll definitely find myself back in this kitchen trying new things and learning what it takes to be a chef.