Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Because I'm "at the bottom of the ladder," I've been bumped down to the cafeteria while there is no work up in Garde Manger. At least I'm getting hours, I suppose, but wow...I did a lot of pacing and staring outside at the holiday traffic today.
When I got to work this morning at 7:30, I made myself a cup of tea and Annie (a sweet black woman in her 50's who is 'training' me) suggested that I sit and relax for 45 minutes or so and finish my Lipton drink. I did not question as I grabbed my book and slid into a chair.
From 8:15ish until a little after 10 am, I prepped the salad bar for lunch and dinner. This was silly and involved filling 26 canisters with various items, such as cucumbers, spinach, hard boiled eggs, and assorted dressings. I also chopped up some scary looking green leaf, which turned out to be the only time I touched a knife the whole day. Then Annie suggested that I take another break until 11. I did as instructed.
You could imagine how the rest of the day progressed. Work for a bit and then long break. I was able to read about 100 of my book and stay off my feet for most of the day. It was a nice break from upstairs, although the pacing got tiresome and boredom slipped in quickly.
For lunch we served over salted and over cooked chicken. When the thermometer was placed into the chicken breasts, they read "200." Yikes. We also served frozen spinach was started out green but turned more and more morbid looking as the day went on until specs of brown appeared from foil that covered it. Stouffer's Macaroni and Cheese and cardboard veggie burgers rounded out the menu.
Tomorrow will be more of the same, I am sure. I am on the schedule to work there through Saturday even though Annie said today I was only really needed today. (Not sure how or where I was needed). So this should be a painfully slow week. Not sure what is happening beyond New Years.
One more funny thing: In the kitchen of the cafeteria, there was a big cambro of flour labeled "Flower."
Monday, December 26, 2005
Shoppers begin returning gifts and it's such a pity.
We joined the crowds down on North Avenue,
To restock our closets with shopping that was overdue.
Our car was towed from the lot of Old Navy,
And we schlepped the streets of Chicago to a lot that was quite shady.
But now we're home and safe and sound,
To enjoy some days off and slothing abound.
Tonight we'll tune in to the Jets and Pats,
Looking forward to another day of this and that.
Yesterday, on Christmas Day, I worked down at the Ritz-Carlton from 12:30 until 9pm....the same shift I worked for Thanksgiving. From the beginning of the shift until around 6:30, the time flew by. I was loving it and could feel myself home on the couch and off my feet in no time. Then, the clock stopped. The last few hours dragged on. It was painful. James, Oscar and I were working for our department. Oscar wasn't working at all, actually. He was walking in circles throughout the whole kitchen and talking with people. He was pretty much just taking up space and it was really irritating. When we would ask him to help us, he mouthed off one way or another and walked out of the room again. He is extremely talented but has some serious attitude issues that will one day catch up with him.
Therefore, by the time of the third and final seating at 5:30, James and I took the reins of the Garde Manger kitchen. We plated at least two back ups of each dish and started cleaning out our two walk-ins. We didn't want that to hold us up at the end of the night.
Our departments menu for Christmas was really embarrassing. $90 buffet for the guests and my lord, it was not worth it! Three of our dishes had the exact same colors to them and were placed right next to each other on the buffet. In addition, it seemed like there was an absurd amount of overlap between the ingredients. I have no idea who made up the menu, but the food was horrendous. Nothing even really tasted that great. Here is what we presented:
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
I walked in and first off, there was no prep list. He was still writing one up and when he looked up and saw me, he said,
"You won't believe it. We're already in the shitter."
"James. You say that all the time. How can we be in the shitter when there was one party for 12 at 7:30 this morning and one party for 12 tomorrow morning?"
"We just are," he responded.
I laughed and walked away to grab a cutting board and some nappy rags. It was a quiet day in the whole kitchen today; most people were off. I'm sure they were home either resting their feet and backs for the upcoming days or cramming in their holiday shopping because they couldn't get off time before.
When I returned to our kitchen, the prep list was done and I glanced over it quickly:
"Gifts" refers to fruit plates or fruit bowls that VIPs receive in their room once they check in. They don't take much time so I got that out of the way pretty quickly. Today I only had four to do.
Next was Pico. I chopped up a case of Beefsteaks, tossed in some red onions, cilantro, jalenapenos, and lime juice. The Guac was even easier as I snagged some of the Pico and mixed it in with about half a case of mashed Haas Avocados.
Chicken Livers and Plated Salmon were already taken care of. I just had to check our walk in and make sure the Cafe line was fully stocked for the night. That meant at least 10 plates of smoked salmon had to be plated and ready for service as well as eight servings of chicken liver. The exact amount of each were in the walk-in so I moved on to the entertaining task of "Help James."
James is maybe in his late 40's or early 50's and is the type of guy who knows the most random information in the entire world. He is extremely knowledgeable about food and has a twisted sense of humor. He's been with the hotel for 19 years now. I cannot imagine.
Our first task was to prep the lettuce for the day. We took two large "trucks" and headed downstairs four flights to the receiving area. ("Trucks" are simply large four wheeled plastic dollies type things that we use to transport food and dirty dishes).
Downstairs, we washed three cases of romaine, one case of Boston Lettuce, and gathered six boxes of field greens, as well as one case of spinach. The main idea was to have enough lettuce upstairs for the day and maybe the day after, as well as enough back up downstairs incase extra is needed. Today it was a quick process.
Next, salmon. 70 sides of salmon. That's right. 70 sides! We teamed up and actually finished in around two hours. With fourteen of the sides, we prepare a molasses gravalax. This involved creating a tequila and lime mixture as well as a seasoned salt solution. Each side is trimmed of its fat and then its skin is scored. After soaking in the tequila-lime mixture, it is placed on a bed of the seasoned salt mixture as well as completely being covered in the same mixture. We placed two side in a hotel pan, stacked two hotel pans on each other, place a clean hotel pan on top, and then added weight onto that.
With another fourteen we did a standard gravalax. It was a similar process to the molasses cured salmon except we used a vodka-lemon solution, sweated the salmon with some salt after the fat was removed, and then rubbed some dried dill into each side. We placed each side on a bed of sugar and salt (equal parts by weight) and covered them completely with the same mixture. Same stacking and weight applied.
With the remaining sides, we prepared the salmon for smoking in a solution of salt, sugar, and oil. That is what we do every week. We usually do about 20-25 sides per week. But today it was 42.
By 1:30, we finished. We helped Ron garnish his tea sandwiches and headed down to break.
The rest of the afternoon was a breeze, but when I sat down on the train on my way home, I was beat.
I have work tomorrow and then Thursday off. My husband and I are headed to the Museum of Science and Industry and we're also hoping to drag our friends Golden Retriever to a park and run him wild. I'm really looking forward to that....
Still haven't snagged the menu for the weekend. Will keep my eye out.
Monday, December 19, 2005
I'm in full swing with the holiday season, both at home and work. My husband and I are hosting a New Year's Party in our loft and thinking about 40-50 people will show up. We spent this morning at Costco stocking up on too many handles of liquor. We searched for a good 15 minutes for the best hors d'oeuvres ever created(little hot dogs), but we unsuccessful in finding them. That has now become a top priority.
Holiday cards have all been written and mailed while our mailbox fills with friends and family's well-wishes for the New Year. The baking of Christmas cookies from the bakery below seeps up to our apartment, while the faint holiday music is heard in the distance. Our fire place is now more often lit than not, and fellow bearers of the frigid season are bundled up with hats, gloves, and mittens outside our windows. We joined Netflix and are eagerly awaiting the start of "24."
Downtown at the hotel, I'm still due to snag a copy of both the Christmas and New Years menus and will share those next week sometime. I am off again on Thursday and then working through Sunday with Sunday hours being noon until 9. I assume it will be similar to Thanksgiving, but a little less busy.
I spoke to Joelle about scheduling after December and she pretty much said I am welcome to take the month of January off. Unpaid, obviously, but they try to cut back significantly on hours. Those who have been with the hotel the longest are the first to be offered work during the slow time.
It actually may work out well for me as I may have another job for the months of January and February though the University of Chicago's GSB. They are just about to start their recruiting season and the department looks to spouses of students first to see if they would like to help. The pay is actually a little more than what I'm earning at the Ritz. So sad.
But if I could worked at school until the hotel picks up again, at least we wouldn't have a loss in income. We will see how it all pans out.
This upcoming week of work will be exciting and probably fly by. I'm really not looking forward to New Year's Day Brunch, though. Ugh...I was originally thinking of cutting out of our party early and staying at a friends place or something so I could sleep that night. But I've decided I'm just going to suck it up and be tired. My social life is pathetic and there is no reason I can't go into work one day a bit hung over.
My husband said he wants to start training me on how to stay out late on a work night and just deal with being tired at work. So that's what I'm trying to do now. I know it sucks just as much for him for me not to be going out.
Well, we're off to enjoy a double feature on our couch with a big cup of Ghiradelli's hot cocoa. Yum.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I also REALLY REALLY hope that our walk-in is fixed and everything is back in it so I don't have to move everything again. I'm going to predict that it's not fixed yet, but it will be fixed during the day tomorrow and it will be my job to move endless amounts of vinaigrette and multiple sheet pans of cured salmon back into it. Oh well. I am the newbie. I will be so excited when I stop hearing that line.
apparition we were suppose to get a big snow storm that was due to start at 6 am and end tonight at 10 pm. Looking outside, right now, at 7:30 pm, it has not started snowing yet. That probably means that it will tomorrow, which is fine with me. I think falling snow is such a beautiful thing to walk in.
So another week is upon me. December is almost over and hopefully after New Year's, my social life will pick up a bit. I don't get why people don't want to go to the bars on a random Tuesday night?? But seriously, I met some great people while job searching before this whole thing started and I haven't really seen any of them.
We have a holiday party on Saturday at 8 pm, so I'm definitely hoping to be out of work by then. I could use a few holiday drinks. I'm comfortable enough with Sunday mornings that I think I can go in a little groggy. And besides, we're hosting a New Year's Eve party, which is on a Saturday night. So I need some practice on waking up early after a few drinks considering New Year's Day I'm due at work at 7 AM!!!!!! ARGH!
Sunday, December 11, 2005
This week was tough; the toughest yet. Not hard in what we were preparing, but hard on the body and long long hours. I have one more day tomorrow, which should be a little more relaxed and then a gloriously welcomed two days off.
This was my week:
Thursday: 8 am- 5:15 pm
Friday: 7 am- 6:30 pm
Saturday 8 am- 9 pm
Sunday 7 am - 3:30 pm
After anticipating last weekend to be the busiest yet at the hotel, I think our prep list for this past week shocked us and kicked us in the ass, really.
Besides getting ready for brunch (that had a first seating of 285), there was a party for 400 guests on Saturday night. We didn't finish prepping for that until maybe one hour before the start of the party.
I was determined to crank out my list and help others. As Joelle stated, "Because your new here, your list gets moved around the most."
That means if others need help, I stop what I'm doing to help them. I don't mind at all. It gives me a chance to see what else is going on. The only issue is that my list has to get done in the same amount of time that everyone else's does, so it puts me in a bit of a pickle.
Our small part of the kitchen is a separate room, as well as some counter space in a larger kitchen space. I usually set up in our small room, but decided on Saturday that I needed a change of scenery and I wanted my own little corner so I could really focus and crank out what I could. Despite knowing that I would be called of my list frequently, I still wanted to finish my own prep.
And my 9 pm that night, I did. Actually, I was so completely in my own little world that when I finally decided to take a break, it was already 5 pm.
We all had a rough day and most of us were due to be back this morning at 7 am. When I got home last night, I took a wonderfully hot steaming shower and almost feel asleep with the hot water pounding my back. I was in a wonderful state and didn't want to deal with pajamas, teeth brushing, and setting the alarm.
When I awoke at 5:20 am this morning, I was ready for this Sunday to be the end of this rough week. My mind was enjoying the time, but my body was done. I exited my building into the bitter Chicago cold and headed to work. On my walk from the train station to the hotel, I passed small clusters of pigeons who pinned themselves to a wall with their heads shivering and nestled into their necks. They were ready for the summer and Christmas is still two weeks away.
The morning ran relatively smoothly. Turns out most of the food we prepper for thirteen hours yesterday was not eaten and was returned to our walk in. We were not pleased, however our brunch menu changed accordingly.
If I was paying 80 bucks a head for a brunch at the Ritz-Carlton on this Sunday, I would have asked for my money back; just based on what our department put out. It was embarrassing and I was very surprised that Joelle encouraged it. Apparently the food costs are a bit much in this holiday season, but still the end product should not suffer. Presenting day old Greek Salad where the feta is covered in God knows what and Caprese salads where the tomatoes are soggy is just wrong.
But you know what, it made our morning a little more simple. The day was almost done and James and I were keeping and eye on one of our walk ins. The temperature had risen to 53 degrees. He called engineering and after removing a piece of plastic from one of the fans, the temperature continued to rise. It had completely shut down.
We had to move everything out of it. The size of this walk in is maybe the size of a small college dorm room. There was a lot of food to move:
Three full rolling racks of smoked salmon, deli meats, thawed seafood, cured meats
20 or so 5 gallon vinaigrette cambros
12-15 20 gallon vinaigrette cambros
All of our dairy stock (cheeses, yogurts, sour creams, creme fraiche)
All prepped food for the rest of the day....The walk in is lined with 6 or so shelves on each wall. Each shelf is chalk full of prep.
So our simple Sunday turned into a bit of a mess. I took my break from 2:45 to 3:15 and left at 3:30.
I am a bit delirious. Had a fried egg and some toast for dinner. I soaked my body in a bubble bath when I got home and now I'm waiting for the hot water to return so I can take a shower and zonk out for the night.
Joelle is definitely still rubbing me the wrong way. We get along, but there is just something there that I don't like or don't get...I can't quite put my finger on it. I think she tries to be passively competitive or something...not even sure if that's it. But she has a tendency to make me feel incompetent and not knowledgeable.
She has her day off tomorrow so James is leading. I should be a relaxing Monday but today should have bed a relaxing Sunday.
Will try to write more on my days off....
Monday, December 05, 2005
However, it just so happened that while my husband was out of town last Friday night, I made plans with some friends and we decided to have dinner at Carnivale. It's a new restaurant with Latin flavors and its gotten wonderful reviews in its short existence.
When my girlfriend called for reservations on Tuesday, the hostess offered 6 or 9:30. I had to work early the next morning so she opted for six.
After the valet took the car, we headed inside to meet the rest of our party. The first room was a rather large bar, with low ceilings, and filled with some tables along the windows. The one thing that immediately struck me was that the bar was dark...very dark. I could hardly recognize our friend we were meeting. She was sitting at the bar talking with the bartender until she noticed us and said,
"Hi! You guys have to try these raspberry mojitos. They are wonderful! This is my second!"
She slid off the bar stool with a bit of a stumble and we were led to our table. There was a tall maroon curtain that divided the dining room from the bar. The room was a complete visual assault on the senses. Inside, there were over twenty foot ceilings from which eight light fixtures hung. They were the shape of enormous lamp shades paneled in red and yellow. My first reaction was that it looked like something an elephant would step on at the circus.
The walls were thick panels of bright colors including, purple, orange, lime, and pink. The room was bright; a complete contrast in every sense to the bar we recently left. The tables were scattered and dressed simply with white table clothes. Centered on the ceiling above was a jewel colored skylight.
Unfortunately, we landed at the table right next to the kitchen door. I ignored that and jumped to open the menu; eager to read the dishes that would reflect Peru, Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Latin America.
We settled on five appetizer:
Guacamole and Chips: The best of the five. Freshly made to order with amazingly ripe Avocados with a hint of lime and cilantro.
Beef Empanada: Another table favorite. The beef was layered with garlic and cumin and wrapped perfectly in corn flour. The perfect amount of beef to corn flour. We ended up ordering second helping.
Mini fish tacos: Nothing to write home to mom about. Simple whitefish tacos with a citrus tartar sauce. A bit bland and dull compared to the decor and my reaction to the first two items.
Crab cakes: At least they tasted like crab, but they lacked the consistency of a cake. When we attempted to split the two cakes for the table to share, they crumbled. The flavor wasn't bad, but they needed a binder.
Shrimp Ceviche: With roasted tomatoes and chilies. Not a table favorite and I think far from ceviche. I couldn't tell if the shrimp was raw or not because it was completely covered with the roasted tomatoes. I expected a little heat after the first bite and it never came; it was simply rubbery. Out of the three shrimp that were provided, two headed back to the kitchen.
Most of us took our friends suggestion and tried the raspberry mojito, which was delicious. Garnished with fresh mint, it welt down a little too smoothly as it lacked the overwhelming sourness of lime.
For dinner, I ordered the beef short ribs served with corn and peanut salsa and mashed potatoes. Seemed like an odd combination and I wasn't quite sure why mashed potatoes were on the menu at all. Now that I think of it, there were a few dishes that I questioned when looking over the menu. What is Latin American about a New York strip steak with roasted potatoes, blue cheese-bacon salsa, and port sauce? Or a mixed green salad with cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, and almonds?
Despite my confusion, I ordered a second raspberry mojito and soon enough my entree arrived. The short ribs were absolutely wonderful. Not completely falling apart but just tough enough so I had to use my fork to peel of the delicate strands of perfectly moist beef. They were truly delicious. However, the rest of the dish cannot receive similar praise. The mashed potatoes tasted ordinary and the corn and peanut salsa was non-existent. They were some stray peanuts and kernels scattered on my plate, but by no means did they resemble a salsa.
Three desserts were ordered. Let's just say pastry is not their strong suit. For some reason, strawberry shortcake was on their dessert menu and for another reason, one was ordered at our table. My friend said it tasted like it had been sitting in a refrigerator for days. Another item ordered was a chocolate tres leche, described as "chocolate cake soaked in three milks with white chocolate sabayon and coffee ice cream." The only thing I could taste was rum with a slight hint of chocolate. The third and final dessert was a trio or sorbet, of which only one past our taste test.
Although the passion and energy of the Latin American culture shine through the decor of Carnivale, the food was a less impressive. Even though it seemed that there was an attempt to stream the creativity into the kitchen, the presentation and overall flavor of the dishes were simply flat.
Overall, I'll give Carnivale a B-. I forgot to mention that we ordered five sides that never arrived. Turns out that was a blessing in disguise. But my friend had the waiter read back those items to make sure he understood what we ordered. Apparently, he misunderstood.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
This was not a holiday party. Toshiba apparently gives this cocktail party to radiologists as a fancy schmancy sell job to encourage the doctors to use their radiology products. Quite a spread for these guys (and few gals). I think the revenue generated from the party was around $120,000 for the hotel (based on what the Executive Sous Chef told us). Absurd for one nights work.
Considering that one months paycheck from the Ritz-Carlton does not even cover my rent, I figure the extra money couldn't hurt. I need to pay for the pitchers of beer we would be enjoying later than evening, right?
The second I arrived, the manager of the event showed me where my station was. I was in a corner next to another Garde Manger member who would be preparing the same dish. A chafing dish with a steamer of tortillas was to our right, with a small bowl of green onions, another small bowl of hoisin sauce below. Right in from of us was a cutting board with heat lamps and to the left of us was a larger chafing dish with peking duck. I really wanted to try one, but the instant I was prepped and ready to go, the guests started flowing in.
I had a server assigned to me to maintain my ingredients and he warned me that last year, peking duck was the most popular item. He suggested that I start making some finished product as soon as possible. I listened and started spreading, plopping, and rolling to get myself a small pile for the initial rush. The initial rush finished at 8:30 when I ran clear out of absolutely everything. The tortillas were the first to go but people were not deterred. They would settle for a pile of duck with scallions and hoisin on their plate or napkin. Once the scallions and hoisin disappeared, people kept eyeing the crispy duck skin sitting in the chafing dish. Not at all embarrassed by their request, the crispy skin quickly vanished as well.
I didn't even know what else was being served to these vultures of doctors. The other team member were working a risotto station and beyond that, whenever I tried to look up and see what else was around, the long peking duck line blocked my view and resumed to spreading, plopping, and rolling.
The time flew by and soon enough, a few of us were in a bar enjoying some pitchers by the train stations.
Another day off today and then at least four days work.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Thanksgiving morning, I woke up at 6 AM to take my husband to the train station. He was headed to O’Hare International Airport to go back to Boston until Sunday. It was bitter cold outside; the kind of cold where you are instantly chilled right down to the bone only after minutes of being outside. Although it was a magnificent day; bright baby blue sky with a few delicate puffy clouds dispersed. People were disguised in ski masks and wrapped up like tightly like Christmas presents.
After I got home, I ran back into bed and shivered myself back to sleep for another four hours. Once it was time for me to emerge from my cocoon of comfort, I bundled up and headed for the train. On my brief walk, my Thanksgiving spirits were nudged awake. A couple dressed like they were out of a J.Crew catalog stepped out of the liquor store with some pumpkin ale, cars that were passing by me were filled with fathers, mothers and children, and once I hit the entrance to the train station, a dozen people scampered out with rolling luggage and carry-on bags.
I couldn’t help but think about the past Thanksgivings I shared with my family. Each year, my mother provided small chocolate turkeys as a favor by everyone’s place setting. She sent my husband and me our pair just yesterday. Our menu was always traditional and simple, staying away from the modernizing of the holidays that’s popular today. We had sweet potatoes with crushed pineapple and brown sugar topped with marshmallows, of course. My mother and I would snip the ends of the green beans the day before while planning out our schedule for the next day. She would make her incredible chopped liver with schmaltz, hard boiled egg, and onions. We polished silver, cleaned the china, and dressed the dining room table with a freshly dry-cleaned linen lace tablecloth. Spending time in the kitchen with my mother the day before and the day of Thanksgiving was the best part of the holiday. The actual meal always went by too quickly and I ended by watching football in the den with my father. A few hours after we finished the meal, round two came and we piled our plates high again.
But today was obviously different and I shook the memories away and headed up the stairs to the “El” platform. I waited a brief five minutes or so trying to warm in the sunlight, but it was not giving off any heat today.
I showed up to work and needless to say, it was a bit insane. Everyone was hustling left and right, servers were coming in from the dining room with empty platters demanding full ones, and suits were swiftly slithering in and out of each department making sure the controlled chaos was maintained. I fought my way past dishes of candied yams, stuffing, rib roasts, and hams and finally made it to the Garde Manger kitchen. It wasn’t anymore restrained there. The tables were covered completely so not an inch of stainless steel could be seen anywhere. Stray herbs, chopped onions, hotels of quinoa and sautéed mushrooms, bowls of dressed spinach, and marbled cheese platters were everywhere. I noticed a speed rack sitting outside our kitchen with three pairs of pig eyes staring at me.
I was a little out of sorts and my team seemed a little busy to help me get settled. I decided to just watch a few of the dishes and see how they were being presented, looked over the menu, and found some space to work. It was 12:30 PM and the next seating was at 2:30 PM followed by the third and final seating at 5:30 PM. The first one was at 10:30 AM and around 200 guests came. The hotel was expecting 200 for the next two seatings, also.
Servers continued to flow into the kitchen and we continued to refill their arms with freshly plated dishes. Each person was completely in their own world so I sneaked outside to see the spread we were offering:
Charcuterie Platter wiht Dijon Mustard, Whole Grain, and Cornichons
Chicken liver pate with black truffles, Pistachio and turkey terrine and turkey roulade
Smoked fish platter: Molasses smoked salmon, Gravalax, and Smoked Salmon, Smoked Scallops and Mussels
Freshly Shucked Oysters, Shrimp Cocktail, and Empire Crab Claws
Seared Tuna with Jicama, Mango and Papaya with Lime Vinaigrette
Wild Rice Salad with Apple-wood Smoked Venison with Dried Cranberries
Seared Hanger Steak with Huasteco Pepper Sauce with Roasted Red Pepper, Red Onion, and Spinach Salad
Wild Mushrooms and Celery Root Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette
Citrus Pickled Beet Salad with Walnuts and Chives
Butter Lettuce with Maytag Blue Cheese and Quince Dressing
Pheasant Sausage with Quinoa and Candied Lemons
I think that’s everything. James and I were the only two to man our kitchen and maintain our dish offerings after 4:30. Setting up for the 5:30 seating was calm and we already had 2-3 back ups of each dish already prepared. Once the mass amounts of cooks started to head home for the day, things were running a lot more calmly. In between maintaining the brunch, we started some prep for the next day and cleaned out the walk-ins. All in all, the day went by very quickly and soon enough it was time to head home. I felt invigorated and not at all tired.
I decided, since it was close to 20 degrees outside and my body had not yet fully thawed from my walk home, I was going to treat myself to a hot bubble bath and a White Russian. I slithered in and reviewd my day. It was actually a really enjoyable day. I pretty much forgot that it was Thanksgiving and I didn't mind one bit.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
But despite my wishing of places I'd rather be, I'm still excited about seeing the spread today down at the hotel. My Thanksgiving glum will probably kick in tomorrow or when I get home this evening.
The hotel is expecting 600 guests; three seatings at 10:30, 2:30 and 5:30 of 200 each. I have my camera packed and will post some pictures tomorrow.
So overall, avoiding the Thanksgiving chuplah has been pretty easy. Everyone at work is in the same boat and its too busy there to feel sorry for ourselves. The key, I think, was not watching the Network. But now that the day has approached and my husband is gone and my mother sent our chocolate turkeys (our Thanksgiving tradition that each guest receives a small chocolate turkey), perhaps some other feelings will come over me. We shall see.
These ramen noodles are not what I remember. Although, still, the best way to have them is to drain out the liquid and just slurp the noodles....Happy Thanksgiving!
Monday, November 21, 2005
Juices: Coconut-Banana, Cocktail, ?
Ancho marinated Pork tenderloin with Braised Greens
Bibb Lettuce with Bacon, Goat Cheese, Croutons, and Mustard Vinaigrette
prosciutto and Parmesan Crostini with Fig and Port Compote
Seared Tuna with Soba Noodles
Roasted Sirloin with Citrus Fruit and Truffle Vinaigrette
No one ate anything. We prepped for 200 guests and I think less than 150 showed. So needless to say, there was plenty of leftovers that were disposed to the 1950's cafeteria for the staff of the hotel.
My sous chef seems to be panicking a bit over Thanksgiving. She is running around with menus and prep lists clinging to her chest as if they are the winning lotto ticket. Everyone else seems to be pretty calm so its a little entertaining. We started prepping after brunch. James and I were asked to pipe about 50 pounds of sausage.
One thing that I don't love is that if I'm piping sausage, I want to know how its going to be used in the dish when its finished. My prep list has various tasks but I have no reference about what the end product will be...its a bit annoying. I have to start asking more questions.
Piping the sausage took the rest of the after noon and we were all out of there with 45 minutes of OT. The casing was too small to fit around the nozzle so it was a bit of a struggle. But it was fun and the jokes, you could imagine, were endless.
I'm working Tuesday, Wed, Thursday, Sat and Sunday this week. Excited to find out about the Thanksgiving menu. There are three of on Thursday working from noonish until 9pm....I'm actually looking forward to it.
Friday, November 18, 2005
So, yes, the food is still the spotlight but because I'm not going to be involved in anyone's Thanksgiving (besides our hotel guests), I'm trying not get caught up what's going on around me. I haven't watched the Food Network for the past two weeks and I'm not going to watch it until Thanksgiving is over. (Although then, they'll probably have a few days about what to do about left overs, so maybe I'll wait until Thanksgiving weekend is over). The bakery downstairs is helping because although they have their Thanksgiving menu available for their customers, their Christmas decorations are already up.
In addition, this Saturday (tomorrow) is the Festival of Lights. Tomorrow evening, Micky Mouse trots down Michigan Avenue to light all of the Christmas lights and kick off the season. There is an understood rule that the hotel's around Michigan Avenue will have their decorations up before the festival kicks off.
So to be honest, so far, it hasn't been that hard to forget Thanksgiving. People are rushing to Christmas before its even December.
I'm sure once Thursday comes around, I will feel a little differently, but right now I'm ok. My husband is leaving for Boston on Thursday and will be returning on Sunday. I am working that Thursday, have Friday off and working again Saturday and Sunday.
The two of us are having Thanksgiving dinner on Monday night. I will share my menu once I think about it. Because it's just two of us, it will be really simple and traditional. I'm not a big fan of modernizing the menu of this holiday. I think the main reason it's loved by so many is because you know what to expect to eat. Who wants Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Lime Syrup and Chives??? I want canned sweet potatoes with crushed pineapple and marshmallows!! So that's one dish we'll have.
Monday, November 14, 2005
I didn't love this weeks menu. It was Classic Italian but I think it tried to be too fancy and some of the items didn't come out all that well. Here's the menu:
- Roasted Veal with Tuna Mayonnaise
- Field Greens Salad of Duck Confit, Honey Crisp Apples with Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette
- Salad of Watermelon, Red Onion, and Watercress
- Marinated Flank Steak with Fingerlings and Asparagus with Romenesco Sauce
- Gratin of Braised Greens, Prosciutto, and Comte Cheese
- Salmon Rilettes Flavored with Lemon and Dill Served with a Brioche Toast
- Mediterranean Potato Salad with Steamed Mussels
- Three Juices: Tamarind, Barlett Pear, Tropical Mango
The salmon dish seemed a little too grainy on the tongue and the flavor was not all that impressive. The potato salad was phenomenol with the mediterranean vinaigrette, but adding the mussels scared some people away and it did not go over that well.
Honey Crisp apples are incredibly sweet and have a wonderful texture to them. The duck confit was amazing, as well as the roasted shallot vinaigrette. So those items all paired perfectly together.
It's Monday today and I went in for my first day of training. I'll write more about it tomorrow. Interesting learning the philosophy of the Four Seasons and how it started and where it's headed.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
I am still beat, but I feel better than I did yesterday. I'm starting to let myself go a little bit with the team members which is nice because I'm feeling a bit more comfortable. I think the Garde Manger Sous Chef is a very interesting character...sweet, but she has lots of little comments towards me that I tend to take personally when I know they aren't. I think she is still sort of testing me out, which is fine. On my prep sheet yesterday, she wrote "slice camebert for 110." It was for a plated salad that her and I jack stacked later that day. When gathering the plates and cheese, she asked how many pieces I'd sliced.
"112," I responded.
"112? We need 160," she said back. I was sure she was thinking"Why did we hire this girl??"
"The prep list said 110."
"No. It said 160."
We both went back to our kitchen and checked the list. Sure enough, it read "110."
"See? 160," she said. "You cut one more sheet pan and I'll start plating."
The other members of the team asked what happened and when they read the prep list, they read 110 also.
I cut some more camebert and went to meet with the additional cheese.
"You'll soon understand how to read my handwriting," she said.
Did that mean that all of her six's were zero's?
Anyway, I tend to read into things more than I should. But I think its interesting some of the comments that have been said.
That's about all...I'll share more later. I hope the brunch set up goes well tomorrow. Unlike last week where we had 6 people setting up, tomorrow we only have 4 and there is a lot to do. There are reservations for 200, which means final numbers will be around 250ish.
Will report more later...
Friday, November 11, 2005
Each morning when I go in, it seems like I'll all get out on time, if not early. Never happens. Oh well...
Off to make some dinner and soak my feet.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
While working for Sur La Table back in the Boston area, Rachel Ray came for a book signing. I tried to get out of working that day, but I couldn't escape it. She bounced into the store and eagerly waved until I thought her hand was going to fall off. Her perkiness needed to be suppressed. However, the instant she stepped out of the public eye and into the back office, she showed her true colors. She was rude, obnoxious, and demanding. That joker-like smile disappeared instantly.
While flipping through the channels tonight, I saw her face (of course, taking up the entire television screen), yelping, "Food is love and I love Africa!" ET did a brief story of her honeymoon to Africa...Can she not have a private moment? You would think out of all times in one's life, the honeymoon would be just between the newlyweds, but Rachel has to let the world know where she went, what she's eating there, and what bizarre furry creatures have befriended her. If this was my new spouse on the honeymoon, I would take that camera and feed it to the elephants along her safari.
This food celebrity chef stuff is so out of control. And now we have her absurd magazine that is filled with absolutely worthless information and did I hear correctly that she'll soon have a talk show? (What is Oprah thinking!) STOP THE MADNESS! This woman is milking her 15 minutes like no one else I've seen. Well, guess what Rachel? You're times up!
But that was the only true glimpse I got throughout that whole article of Julie's true voice! The voice that I read in her blog and in her book has disappeared. Bon Appetit has put a leash on her writing, but her unleashed unruly voice is what made her so attractive to so many.
So now that she's found apparent fame and fortune from her blog and book, will she always have someone looking over her shoulder while she writes? She explains towards the end of her book, "I get paid very well to sit around in my pajamas and type...Feel free to hate me--I certainly would."
Well, I do sort of hate her, but not because she's sitting in her PJs writing. It's more because she's a sellout. The "new JP" is reserved, polite, and dare I say, conservative. Her writing has been touched by too many editors and it's a big disappointment.
Despite the fact that she is probably not having any trouble paying her rent, should that have cost her what got her to where she is?
I just finished reading "Julie & Julia," the story of a young Long Islander who makes every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I didn't love her tone throughout the book, although I still found it hard to put down. I felt like Julie Powell was just a bite too cynical for my taste.
But I do appreciate the bigger message that she revealed. Her story was more about slaving in a kitchen struggling to complete recipes. Despite the fact that she claims she is still "living in our crappy Long Island City apartment" and seems to resent everything outside of her bubble, she has reached an personal epiphany and honestly exposes that. Of course, it's more about her character than about her culinary skills. She explains that:
"Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It's not what I thought it was. I thought it was all about-- I don't know, confidence or will or luck. Those are all some good things to have, no question. But there's something else, something that these things grows out of. It's joy."
It's those last two sentences that caught my eye and give perspective to the whole Julie/Julia Project.
But now I have to think about how all of that relates to me. Obviously, Julie Powell was struggling in her life to find meaning in what she did; to really see her contribution. I struggle with that also and I think that's partially why, despite they writing style, I enjoyed "Julie & Julia." On another level, I'm just jealous that she had the tenacity and perseverance to complete the project...I can't imagine how much stress was put on her marriage and on her bank account.
I just counted my cookbooks and I have around 70, including MAoFC. Taking her project one step further, imagine what could be accomplished and shared if I cooked through my 70 books. Not right now, but perhaps in baby steps as time goes on. Then maybe, I could start to understand Julie Powell's conclusions and discover some of my own along the way.
Monday, November 07, 2005
So I teamed up with another team member and basically shadowed him in the morning. I really want to feel more comfortable with what I'm doing and learn their style before I just do my own thing. So we were prepping the seafood display. This involved thawing shrimp, shucking oysters, making lemon garnishes, and some other things. Nothing too exciting. Next, we were on to finish the kids menu. We made some ham and cheese sandwiches on crossiants, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and and filled so "A-cups" with muesilix that were topped with a raspberry. Next up was dish of cous cous with curried chicken and yogurt mint sauce. The cous cous base was made so we just doctored it up with some currants, dried apricots, raisins almonds, and a chiffonade of basil. We tossed the pasta with a pear vinaigrette. The chicken breasts were cooked the day before so we just had to slice those on a bias. We plattered four chicken dishes and garnishes the dish with basil. Nice and simple. The rest of the menu included:
- Gazpacho Shots garnished with brunoise of Avocado and a jumbo shrimp
- Cauliflower Soup with American Caviar
- Chilled Slow-Roasted Salmon with Lemon Caper Aioli
- Garlic Glazed Sirloin with Grilled Asparagus and Beefsteak Tomatoes
- Spinach Salad with citrus Mandarin, pomegranate seeds, and Red onion
- Frisee Salad with haricot verte, prosciutto and Parmesan
- Field greens Salad with Candied Pecans and Slivered Honey Crisp Apples
- Three Juices: Tropical Blend, Granny Smith, Beet Celery
In addition to the changing menu each Sunday, there is also the seafood display and a monstrous cheese display.
The actual menu is made up by the sous chef the Wednesday before each brunch and each person on the team seems to be assigned to one or two dishes. Beyond that, its all up to the individuals for how to present it and how to make it more creative.
There is so much I can learn from my team and it really seems overwhelming. Their creativity comes so easily to them and I hope down the line, it will for me also.
After the brunch rush ended, we all thought it was time to go home. We started cleaning up and then we kept getting in orders for that day. I put together a cheese platter, make tea sandwiches, made a horseradish cream sauce, and ugh...more salmon canapies.
I forget when I took my lunch break and it turns out I stayed a half hour longer than I was scheduled for. But the day went by quickly because there was so much going on. I enjoyed this day the most so far and look forward to next Sunday for more great ideas.
I left work at 4:15ish and called my husband. Turns out he was at the Penninsula Hotel not far from the Ritz, having tea with his uncle who was in town for the day. Amazingly, I still had some energy left in me and I scurried over to the hotel that was only 4 blocks away. Ahhh...To sit down in a hotel as a guest was an absolutely phenomenal experience.
I got home and treated myself to a big bubble bath with an ever bigger bowl of cookies n'cream ice cream. I have Monday and Tuesday off. My schedule for next week is Wednesday through Saturday 8-4:30 and Sunday 7-3:30. See you on Wednesday!
Saturday, November 05, 2005
James has really taken me under his wing and I couldn't be more appreciative of his patience with me. He just lets me know little things that help along the way that I wouldn't know unless I've been there for 15 years (like he has). Anyway, one of the executive chefs request that we make our potato pancakes from a combination of frozen hash browns and pancake batter. The result seemed more appropriate for a brunch dish doused in syrup and butter. But its intended use was for later that night as a passed canope for a wedding. We topped the pancakes with creme fraiche, then the stubborn roses, a little more creme fraiche an then some chives.
Personally, I thought it looked a little sloppy (mainly because I couldn't cut the damn salmon thin enough). It did comfort me a bit when James said,
"It really takes about 6 months to learn how to slice that shit thin."
But then I didn't understand why I was asked to do so on my first day.
Anyway, by 1 pm, we finished!! Hooray! No more slimy salmon! No more rabbit ears with snippets of chives! I escaped for lunch down at DeGrassi High. Ahhh...my only access to a window. It was a rainy and cold icky day in Chicago this Saturday. I forgot what day it was until I looked down on Michigan Avenue and noticed the hoards of people.
After lunch, my next task was to make 185 rectangular cubes wrapped in prosciutto. More slimy work. Guess how long this took me? Three hours! And someone towards the end came to help me. To be honest, I think both slimy projects are just time consuming, and not personally out to make me feel bad about myself. From cutting and trimming the melon to all be uniform to fighting with the prosciutto to not tear or basically melt away once it hit the melon was a challenge.
But, alas, we finished and got them out the door (to wherever they were going). Last but not least, I help plate 50 or so slivered poached pears on salad plates for a wedding that evening.
I left the Ritz-Carlton at about 6:30 and dragged myself on the train. I took a brief nap which caused me to miss my stop. Argh. Once I got home, my husband and I went out for dinner and when I got home, I immediately filled up my foot massager that he got me as a gift. That will be coming in tres handy.
Tomorrow is Sunday brunch...I'm going in at 7 am. Its almost 10 now, so I have to sign off. My body is aching; feet and back and legs. But at the end of the day, when I walk out of the hotel, I feel really good about myself. I'm picking up some great ideas on presentation, I'm working with people who can really teach me an endless amount. Although I am a bit delirious, at the end of the day, Amy happy!
Friday, November 04, 2005
Once the train reached the Chicago Avenue stop, my fellow white wired drones and I shuffled toward the exit. It was only 7:30 and my next mission was to find Starbucks. After downing my morning fix and feeling a bit ashamed that it cost more than my ride to and from work, I continued my walk towards the Ritz-Carlton.
After changing into my uniform, the woman who initially interviewed me escorted me upstairs to introduce me to the Garde Manger Sous Chef, Joelle. She gave me a quick tour of the massive kitchen, briefed me on scheduling and daily breaks, and then introduced me to 40 pounds of baby spinach. On a menu for tomorrow was a salad of baby spinach, red onions, artichokes, and some other goodies. Joelle asked me to stem the baby spinach. Now, you know the little bags of spinach and washed lettuce you get at the grocery store? Those are usually around 10 oz. Multiply that by 64 and you have the amount of baby spinach I had to sift through. I stemmed the good leaves and disposed of the broken and bruised ones. No joke, but around three hours later, I finished. I felt so lame for having taken so long, but there was just so much!
My fingertips had turned green and I was honestly seeing green spots when I looked up to take a break. Once I finished and labeled it and threw it in our walk-in, I took my lunch break. One flight down, the Ritz-Carlton provides a complimentary cafeteria for their employees. And it sucks! It was hilarious, though! I really felt like I was back in high school. On each table, there was “The Ritz Weekly,” a newsletter produced my people with too much time on their hands. On top of that, the the colors of the walls were painted a horrendous lime green and royal blue. Considering the excellence in food that this company represented, I was a little surprised by the quality they were providing to their staff. But, then again, it was free so I should shut up. I grabbed a salad and big bowl of white rice and relaxed, hoping that by the end of my 30 minute break, my feet would stop tingling.
Well, they didn’t and I was back to work. My next job was to make 360 roses out of slivers of smoked salmon. The Garde Manger department smokes their own salmon; about 35 sides twice a week. I was able to get about 60 slivers or so from each side and then struggled for a bit to achieve the “rose” they were looking for. Basically, I wrapped a sliver around my index finger with half of it hanging off and rolled that half onto itself. Eventually, they would be filled with crème fraiche and chives and placed atop potato pancakes. But from about 2:00 until 4:30, they fought with me to hold their shape.
Despite the fact that I only completed two tasks throughout my entire first day, I feel good about where I am. From the 1980's style cafeteria to me fighting with my locker at the end of the day, I had some entertaining run in's with high school again. But I'm working with 6 other men and women who made me feel really comfortable and I feel like once I get my feet wet, I'll really be able to contribute.
But, to be honest, by the end of my first day, I was beat. I schlepped my body back on the train and collapsed on my bed when I got home. My husbad eagery greeted me, curious to hear about everything. While he is innundated with classes taught by Nobel Proze winners and lectures on incidents of a tax, I think hearing me talk about stemming spinach was a welcome releif.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
After about three months of interviews, phone calls, resume rewrites, and follow ups, I'm finally starting a new job tomorrow. With an 8 AM start time, I am due to meet at the Human Resources office at the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Chicago. I am going to be working in the kitchen as a Cook 2 in the Garde Manger department. Garde Manger prepares pretty much anything cold, ranging from dressings and sandwiches to pates and salads. I have to say I really don't know a lot about what I'm getting into, which doesn't make me nervous, but defintiely curious and excited. I do know that I had to cancel my Thanksgiving plans for this year, as well as a highly anticipated vacation with my husband and in-laws to Palm Springs in December.
After I was offered the position, I mentioned that I had some trips already planned. The Director of HR, with a condescendingly polite tone mentioned, "Although we'd love to bring you on board, if you feel that you need to take that time off, we are unable to offer this position to you."
I did a little soul searching before accepting this job. From my understanding, the basic gist is that I'll be a work horse in a hotel kitchen, preparing food for the 435 guests rooms, along with the four restaurants and however many banquet and reception halls there are. I have to work all holidays and probably 5-6 days a week without a day off in quite some time.
But the positives of this opportunity definitely outweighed the negatives and I have eagerly accepted. So after I passed my drug test, background check, and stage (an exercise where I was asked to make a mayonnaise, a vinaigrete, and performs some other culinary tasks), I received a call this morning asking me to start tomorrow.
My husband and I recently moved to Chicago in September. He is studying for his MBA at the University of Chicago. Needless to say, he doesn't have much free time on his hands as he's resigned to being a book worm for the next two years. So, I figured this is the perfect time to be overworked (and of course, underpaid) myself!
So I'd like to invited you all along for the ride. I figure my experience will be more real than anything you can find on the Food Network these days and perhaps this 28 year old can give you some culinary tricks of the trade along the way (or at least some good stories about what really goes on in a luxury hotel's kitchen).