day one | knife skills
hamburgers & beef hot dogs
roasted portobella caps
roasted carrots & fennel
vegetable curry soup
lentils with rosemary, carrots, & onion
cucumber & onion with feta
magic hat cake with toffee sauce
"you know it's madness to do burger day on a monday."
I look around. what are you talking about? burgers and fries? seems like the simplest thing in the world, a natural choice for coming in on a monday with no prior prep done.
i couldn't have been more wrong. by 10.30, the kitchen was covered in pots and pans. some had been washed multiple times.
everything takes me longer than it should. i have learned now to value the precious early moments when i arrive and begin setting up my station. i have begun to develop a routine. sanitizer here, towels here. raw produce on the left and six and third pans on the right. in a professional kitchen, you learn to economize your movements. the vegetable moves from left (my free hand), pausing under the knife in my right, and then continuing to the finishing pan on my right.
i am still learning. refining. i grab three types of vegetables on my way to the refrigerator now. i am learning to plan my prep list. little victories, little things.
day two | fly me to the moon
ziti with asparagus and peas
broccoli with roasted garlic and parmesan
orange blossom & pimm's zabione with fresh berries
"on italian day, we listen to sinatra all day."
the chefs have gotten in a case of fresh burrata for a caprese salad. i feel a thrill run through me, my love for burrata is well-known and well-documented (anna's had to sit through a discussion of burrata's creation and merits more than once.)
i've never been much for sweets but i go weak in the knees for cheese. my absolute favorites are either a nutty, crystalline aged gouda or the freshest mozzarella (preferably paired with balsamic vinegar). my mother would scold me for stealing all of her cheese out of the refrigerator.
"if you're gonna eat all the cheese, you either have to buy more to replace it or start paying me a cheese tax."
so far, i have not yet had an injury in the kitchen. i know they're coming, scars waiting like battlemarks, badges of honor. i am careful with my knife, if a little uneasy. i learn to open the oven wide, so the hot door cannot close on you.
it is the cheese grater that gets me first.
the parmesan block comes to us in a giant wheel. today, the stock the chefs have already grated up is gone. it's italian day, we cannot go without parmesan. i grab a huge slice and set it on my chopping board with a 10-inch chef's knife. i begin to insert the knife. slowly it begins to dawn on me that this is quite literally the most physically difficult thing i have attempted in the kitchen. this block of parmesan is not going to go down without a fight. i slowly work my knife through, painstakingly breaking off large pieces until i have enough to grate. the mangled rind looks at me with amusement.
i grab a piece and begin to rub it across a box grater. the parmesan begins to crumble into a fine dust in my palms and i rapidly bring flesh to metal. i do not cut myself, but i catch my thumbnail hard on the grate. my glove is intact but i can feel the throb begin. later, i pull my glove off and see the bruise forming under my thumbnail.
god, i hope that nail stays on. i think.
day three | consistency
curry chicken stew
spicy lamb meatballs
curry onions & cauliflower
vegetable & potato samosas
cinnamon cumin apple pie
"can you make a salad using the melon? something refreshing for their palates?" chef shanna asked me. immediately, my mind thinks about the bottle of elderflower syrup located on the wire racks. i've been aching to find a use for this syrup since i started. i slice the melon and add concord grapes and elderflower syrup, agave nectar and chiffonaded basil. chef shanna pauses me halfway through. "like this." she says.
i've planned another salad for the day, using roasted beets and apples. chef and I roast the beets, i grab two clean towels and pull the pan, set a beet down on my board, and realize i don't actually know the first thing about chopping a beet.
measure twice, cut once. take your vegetable. make a small practice cut. refine. adjust. then attack the rest. aim for consistency, both so the vegetable will cook properly - but also for beauty.
day four | traditions
bacon-wrapped pork loin
spiced roasted chicken
roasted fingerling potatoes
balsamic & red onion green beans
basil vanilla ice cream
cranberry chocolate almond cookies
i grew up a removed scandinavian-midwestern girl. my father is from mainly norwegian and irish stock in des moines, iowa, corn-raised and turned soldier. my mother, mostly swedish, raised on lake michigan's western shore. things like apples and beets come to me, through culture and memory, through family recipes and passed plates.
we are making pork today. porkception. a bacon-wrapped pork loin.
when i was a child, my mother would make porkchops. seared to the point of where the heat left a hint of sweetness on the outside of the meat. my favorite was the applesauce she paired it with. homemade. hot and clear and with chunks of spiced apple. it was years before i realized the cold pureed applesauce was supposed to be the same thing. not even.
we are making pork today, so i want to use apples. on the wire shelves, there is a pile of granny smith apples, just starting to ripen into season. i pair butter and cider vinegar, honey and cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. i want the salad to taste like an apple pie, without the thickness or turning into pie filling. keeping the vinegar front and center accomplishes it and the salad is light and fresh.
i do another beet salad, pairing it this time with cucumbers and dill. i pay careful attention to slicing consistent, bite-sized pieces.
i am cooking from my roots today.
day five | vodka
chilis - beef tenderloin & chicken thigh
roasted brussels sprouts
cornbreads - jalapeno pepperjack & sweet cheddar
pistachio ice cream
cayenne espresso chocolate cookies
"can you do the avocados for me?" chef sets a case of avocados in front of me, ready to be halved and pitted, spooned out into a hotel pan for guacamole. extra people have been invited to lunch, so we're planning for somewhere in the ballpark of 130-140 people for lunch. that's a lot of avocados.
after service, chef is pouring dragonfruit vodka drinks. i change into a black the national t-shirt and stuff my nonslip kitchen shoes in a canvas bag.
"you want some?"
of course i do. it's not in my nature to turn down a drink, even if i am a whiskey gal over a vodka drinker. the smoothness of the vanilla stoli is deceptive, it goes down remarkably easily. i look out the window and i can see the brooklyn bridge, the tip of manhattan. part of me doesn't yet understand that this is real.
"would you like another?"
yes, chef. please.