Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Stouffers at the Ritz?

Today was my laziest day yet at the Ritz. I was the most unproductive waste of life. It was a wonderful feelings coming off of a month of insanity, but when I left today at 4 pm, I was already sick of the slowness.

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

It's Finally Over! Hallelujah!

It's the day after Christmas and all through the city,
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:

Smoked duck breats with charred melons with a salad of jicama,
cucumbers, and bok choy with Thai dressing
Toasted Israeli cous cous salad with chestnuts, assorted heirloom squash and
Creamy Red Wine vinaigrette
Warm sweet and savory potato salad, with Black Truffle Vinaigrette
Chanterelle Mushroom Tart
Red and Green Endive Salad with candied pistachios, pleasant ridge reserve
cheese and apple cider vinaigrette
Homemade Venison sausage with candied quince and red cabbage confit
Caramelized root vegetable salad with bressola of beef with
horseradish vinaigrette.
In addition, we also prepared:
Seasonal oysters with mignonette sauce
Shrimp and crab claws with cocktail and cognac sauce
Smoked Seafood Display of Maple glazed salmon, gravlax, smoked sturgeon,
scallops, smoked mussels and salt cod brindade
Display of Imported and Domestic artisan cheeses
Roquefort and fig tart
Dried fruit, quince paste, and mustarde fruits
Basket of crusty breads, flatbreads, and brioche muffins
Country and Duck pate en croute, chicken liver mousse with orange muscat jelly
Selection of cured meats served with Mustards and Cornichons

To start with, we ran out of the Chanterelle Mushroom tarts half way through the second seatings and ended up sauteeing white mushrooms for the third seating. The venison sausage tasted 100% like lamb and had no seasonings or flavor. It was embarrassing. The roquefort and fig tart was repulsive. Apparently, Joelle decided to try making it a different way and she felt that Christmas was the perfect time to try it out. She never made it once before. The cheese mixture was such a wet consistency that by the time the filling cooked, the tops of the tarts were dark and tasted burnt (cooked at 125). We only made six tarts for the 600 guests and about 3 were remaining at the end of the night.

By the end of the night, I was delirious. Definitely ready for two days off. Work in the Garde Manger kitchen slows down significantly after the New Year. Turns out because I'm the newbie, that I'm being transferred downstairs to the cafeteria. (UGH!). On the one hand, at least I'm maintaining the hours, but the cafeteria? A few weeks ago, Joelle mentioned that I could basically take the month of January off. So I was thinking of working down at my husbands school (where they actually pay more than the Ritz) for the month. I would rather do that than cafeteria work. And then I would also have weekends off.

There is a lot up in the air right now with my scheduling for the next three months. I'm not going to think about all that right now. I'm just going to enjoy this time right now off my feet.

I'll be working the New Year's Day brunch next Sunday. I am completely dredging that one. We are having 40 people for a New Years party and I'm due at work at 7 am the next morning. Oh lord! That will be interesting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Week Before Christmas

So it's started. The prep work for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Brunch, that is. I was so excited to go in today and have a slow day and watch the minutes tick away on the clock. James was in charge, as Joelle had another day off. And seriously, no matter what time of day or what time of year we're in, James is convinced that we're always in the weeds.

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:
Chix Liver
Plated Salmon
Help James

"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

It's the Holiday Season, So Whoop De Do!

A wonderful Monday off and I actually get to spend it with my husband! He was away last week in Palm Springs with his parents. Now that he's back in town, he has two more weeks to sloth around and catch up on life outside of business school.

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

Thursday Already?

I can't believe I have to go back already. I feel like another day is due to me. We were told that two weeks ago would be the busiest and after last week, I'm pretty beat. So I hope things ease up.

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

Walk-In Break Down and Body Fatigue

I'm caught between watching the Giants in OT against the Eagles and writing a brief blog post. I know its been a while, but I haven't had time to even check my email. My body feels like it ran a marathon without the massage at the end of the line.

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

Carnivale: My Restaurant Review

Despite having been in the Windy City since the beginning of September, my husband and I have yet to crack into the epicurean world. It is a shame, but we just cannot afford to do that right now and we also just don't have the time or the energy.

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.