Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Toshiba, Radiology and Peking Duck

I had yesterday off but decided to go in last night from 6-8:30 for a banquet party for 1000 guests. Yes, that's one thousand. Although it didn't seem like there were that many guests there but I'm a bad judge of that kind of stuff.

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

Black Friday

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

The Calm Before the Storm

It's about 11 AM on Thanksgiving morning and I just put some hot water on the stove for some ramen noodles. A disgusting breakfast/lunch to start off this day. This morning I woke up and drove my husband to the train station at 6 AM. He landed safely in Boston and is there until Sunday visiting with family and friends. I wish I was there. My family headed down to Houston, Texas. My aunt recently had brain surgery so my mother and brother made plans to go there. Last minute, my father jumped on the band wagon, so the three of them are in the Lonestar State. I wish I was there.

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

Disappointing Brunch and Thanksgiving Begins

A fun Sunday in the kitchen. It's all about who I'm surrounded by and yesterday I was with the team members who seems to get along the best and have a good time while being pretty productive and efficient. Although, another disappointing menu:

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
Salmon Tartar

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

Missed Holidays

Thanksgiving is, hands down, one of my favorite holidays. One reason is that the food is the spotlight and the other main reason is that fall is my favorite time of year. Another reason, of course, is being around family. However, it snowed in Chicago already and its been around 19 degrees at night here the past few days. So fall has passed, and I cancelled my Thanksgiving flights to Texas to visit family because of work. I found out yesterday I'm working on Thanksgiving from noon until 9 P.M.

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

Another Sunday Brunch

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

      Still Beat

      Hmmm...Another day has ended. Most of the day was spent prepping for the brunch tomorrow. Nothing too exciting. The menu itself is very Italian...will share it with you tomorrow probably. So Sunday is my Friday but I have to go in on Monday for training...ugh...Although I'll be sitting down and getting paid, so it can't be all that bad.

      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

      I'm beat

      I'm pretty tired today...Worked an extra hour and a half. Wednesday and Thursday for me were fine, but today I hit a wall. Today is my Wednesday so two more to go for this week. We're starting to prep for the Sunday Brunch now. Today, I was able to put together six massive cheese displays. Two of blues, two softs, and two hards...was nice to learn so different presentation styles and also the variety that's out there.
      Brillat Savarin

      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

      What's the matter with Rachel Ray?

      I really don't understand this woman. Her joker-like face is everywhere and I'm so tired of it! Someone needs to put a muzzle on her...I don't understand her, I don't understand the people who follow her, and I definitely don't understand the guy who married her! She is so exhausting.

      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!

      Julie Powell: A Sellout?

      I just finished reading the December Bon Appetit. I was in the middle of reading an article on new holiday books coming out when I read, "And a savory blueberry risotto, though unnervingly purple, is delicious." The "though unnervingly purple" comment struck me and it was then that I looked up to see who wrote the article. It was none other than Julie Powell.

      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?

      The Julie/Julia Project

      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

      My First Sunday Brunch

      For some bizzare reason, my husband volunteered to drive me down to work at 6:45 AM. The hotel was expecting over 200 guests for brunch this morning and the Garde Manger contribution was significant. This week's brunch also seemed to kick off the holiday season. The numbers will probably grow from 200 until January. In my opinion, it's such an insane day because when we put out our dishes, each one only serves about 20-25 guests. So the waitstaff is constantly rushing back to our department to refill the dishes. On the one hand, its a lot more work for them, but on the other hand, the food looks so much more attractive when its displayed for such a small amount. It's thought to make 200 Chicken breasts on one platter look appealing.

      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

      Slippery Little Suckers

      I started my day just as I'd ended it yesterday- upclose and personal with smoked salmon. I was so frustrated that it was taking me so long! But on the other hand, I had no idea what I was doing and no one really showed me what to do. Joelle mentioned that I would be teamed up with James for the day and we would be tackling the potato pancakes.

      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. 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

      Day 1: Spinach

      So of course I was awake at about 5:15 this morning. Whenever I have to get up early the next morning, I judiciously set my alarm and somehow convince myself that the alarm won’t go off. So I finally rolled out of bed at 6:30ish and dragged myself in the shower, out of the shower, down my stairs, up the street and onto the “El.” Once I hopped on the train, I noticed that pretty much everyone around me had white ear phones plugged in to their ears with their respective Ipods at the other end. I joined in and scrolled down to Led Zeppelin III to help shake me of my morning grog.

      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

      Ritz-Carlton, here I come!

      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).