Thursday, October 26, 2006


This post is inspired by Barbara, a great lady lucky enough to be let loose in France with what seems to be a fairly well educated palate and a great group of comrades. The pictures she has sent back of various foods encountered are quite impressive. The "Haute Cuisine" from yesterday is no doubt First Rate and not wasted on she and her group. There was a picture of a plate of Osso Bucco a few days back that made the short hairs on the back of my neck stand up. While I always used Lemon Zest as a Garnish, this appeared to have 1/2 an Orange braised right in, a very robust alternative. I like it.
I can qualify all this by saying I was a Professional Chef for almost 25 years.

I found towards the last few years in the Kitchen that I excelled as the #2 Man; the “Executive Sous Chef “. At times I could be a little too edgy to be the Chef. I lacked a certain cool-headedness and tact that can benefit a manager. In other words, I was an asshole.

But I do real well when I am able to freewheel it. As Chef I tended to be too conservative in my thinking, playing everything down the middle, but was very creative as the Sous, and this allowed me to come up with hair-brained schemes,  and find the better practice most of the time.
I found it very satisfying to use my 20+ years of experience to mentor a relatively inexperienced up and coming Chef. One of the highest compliments is to have your boss tell you that you are taking care of things he never thought about when he was in your position.

At a high end city Club in Dallas, Dwight was my Chef. He was a real good guy, 3 years out of Chef School in his 1st job as Chef. He had worked with the likes of Stephen Pyle and Ken Rathburn, and another one of these celebrity type chefs that cooks and plays guitar and has lost all his knife skills.
I was his Executive Sous, his assistant.
My forte is production.
I do everyones thinking for them and make sure everything is ready ahead of time and in place for service. This requires a very thorough list and I can make a heeluva list and I know how much can be done in any given amount of time.

On the day before my day off I leave a list of what should be done when I am absent. And there were some days my list was not being completed. So I had to talk to Dwight about my list and what I expected. Told him that he had to set the pace, the more intense he was towards getting the list done the more intense the guys would be. And that I did allow for things that may come up during the day that might hamper completion. I can walk into our kitchen in the morning and have a pretty good idea about what went on the day before within about 10 minutes. I had this kind of conversation with Dwight several times and it would get better for a while, then start to slip again.

I came in one morning from my day off, took a look around, and was fairly disgusted with what I saw- not only was my list mostly incomplete but the Kitchen was in enough disarray that it could only mean business was not taken care of. It really looked like they may have had a "playday" where nothing got done. And to top it all off, centered on the Chefs desk, there was a most puzzling item- a bowl of Dried Navy Beans with the numbers 1-60 meticulously inscribed in fine felt tip marker. I wondered “What the Hell is this?”.

So the Chef comes in an hour later, and I jerk him into the office to explain, once again, what I expect from him, and to find out why my list is not complete. He tries to explain the time away, "something" came up, but I’ll have none of it. He thinks I’m being unreasonable and the issue is somewhat unresolved. In other words, I am ready to drop it in the ineterest of not going completely ballistic on his ass. I am about to leave the office and get to work when I spy the bowl of beans.
“Oh yeah. Chef, tell me what the hell is this bowl of beans on your desk with all the numbers on them?” I ask.

He gets the most sheepish look I have ever seen on a man and looks at the floor. He clears his throat and very softly says;
“Me and the guys were picking our lottery numbers yesterday.”
I slowly nod my head and look him right in the eye. Very softly I say;
"We aren't ever going to have this conversation again, are we?"

Who says I got no tact?

If anyone wonders why I am not a Chef anymore, please re-read this post!!!
Really, I do miss it so.


Barbara said...

It's always hard when you are working for someone less competent than you are! I didn't realize you were a chef when you made all those astute comments about the food pictures. I begged the girl at last night's restaurant to give us a class in how to make the fondant au chocolat that we have come to love. Do you have a good recipe?

Mother of Invention said...

Pretty impressive! So are you still working as a sous chef? Do you do all the cooking at home? Do you follow a pretty healthy diet? Do you make and eat a lot of dessert? Are you teaching your daughter to cook?
Wish my parents had taught us. We never helped because my dad did as much as my mom so they didn't ever ask for our help. They both did it and liked it.

steve said...

I won't pretend to know anything about the Pastry Shop besides how to get in and out of there without leaving a trace and beiong sure to not have any crumbs on your mouth. crumbs are a dead giveaway!
I do some cooking at home and am trying to teach my daughter a few things. What i really like to eat these days is ANYTHING I didn't make myself... I have had everything I make and really enjoy Other peoples Cooking...even if its not the best at least its different. The best thing I have had lately was a girls attempt to make Chiles Rellenos... it didn't work but I thought it was delicious. There will be other kitchen posts...

Mother of Invention said...

Your daughter will appreciate it some day!
I hate salads I make...there's no mystery like there is with someone else's.

Anonymous said...

a FOOD guy!!! gee, why didn't say so.......I think food and shoes go together perfectly a quirky sort of way.....BTW check out my poetry contains more of my own personal writing....great post, cowboy!

-red dirt girl
Oh, I have a great pair of short leopard print cowboy boots -- with your name on them! I'll have to post them soon......:)

Kilroy_60 said...

There are times competence can be a curse and excellence a death sentence.

steve said...

How about 'Shoe-Fly Pie" RDG? The Fantasy shoes I like are the Rocket Dogs...thats a hard scrabble shoe if I ever saw one.
Kil, one of my first bosses was a Black man that taught me "The more you know, the more you gotta do". I loved that man.