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Whimsical Moods and Memories - My Restaurant Career
Baking Bread, making cake
Continuing thoughts about life in general - my restaurant career!
I tried to make this hub a little more exact by adding tags and assigning a category but, alas, HubPages does not 'break down' the categories enough to allow for intricacies and 'out of the box' subject matter. So, I hope I find an audience for my mental ramblings with the tools which are provided.
To continue with my stream of consciousness in Melancholy Mood, I'll try to re-enter the mental stage I often find myself inhabitating. The fantasy world which can be made to order; perfect for my needs and always accomodating.
Many lifetimes. I wonder what it would have been like to have lived in the same place most of my life. I can't imagine it though some of my very good friends have done just that. When I really think about it; their lives seem more "set," predictable *(not a bad thing) and, perhaps, they question things a little less than those of us who have chosen a different path. My new friends; those whom I've met during my 3 1/2 years here, have developed life long relationships and travel in circles "where everyone knows your name." This is the first thing I noticed when I began to socialize with my current circle of friends. Each and every step greeted by passers by, shop owners, store clerks, postal personnel and more. Big smiles, hand waving 'hellos;' abundant and welcoming. History is a big common interest with decades long friends 'remembering when.' The general feeling in mid America harkens back to earlier, easier times. Being a California West Coast native where everything is rapid, fluid and momentary, where people come and go where careers demand and neighbors are, oftentimes, renters who travel light; the steadfast nature of middle America; the "Heartland," is somewhat foreign. I've opted for change, even though I sometimes hate the idea ! I've been motivated by the unknown, the unseen; not yet experienced experience! Just as the move here was a 'self challenge,' so have I lived my life.
I once dated a man several years older who was the manager of a popular restaurant in 'the heart of the Napa Valley.' I fixed dinner for him; a menu I'd never tried before but (typical 'challenge') happened to turn out deliciously! Upon finishing our meal, sipping after dinner wine, he asked if I'd be interested in trying out for chef position in the restaurant he managed. Feeling self confident and up to the task, I agreed it would be a fabulous idea! Long story short, I cooked several meals for the owner who loved it and, voila!, I became the head chef. During the period before the opening of the fall season, I holed myself up in my mountain cabin with dozens of cook books by James Beard, San Francisco Ala Carte, Julia Child and other authors, teaching myself the delicate art of fine cuisine. I even turned down a chance to fly with a friend in his private plane on New Year's Eve because I wanted to be sure that I would be ready for my opening night.
Opening night! With my best friend, Al, sitting at a table closest to the kitchen, I was ready! Showtime! The fare was considered "boutique," in that the menu was small, offering 4 or 5 entrees, several soup and/or salad choices and 3 or 4 desserts. Traditionally, there would be a selection of fish, meat, foul with several options under one or more of those. Soups were usually a cream based and hot or cold style; gaspacho, etc. Desserts were one of my favorite items to prepare. Diners seemed to have several favorites; my own chocolate mousse torte, home made apple pie and classic bread pudding (with a twist!). Being executive chef of a boutique restaurant meant several things; one of which was....the EC created and prepared most of what the clientelle ate! Morning to late night, I was toiling in one (or both) of the upstairs kitchens, desserts baking away in kitchen #1 while main course preparation was happening in kitchen #2. Soups, breads and appetizers also came forth from these upstairs kitchens while the final steps before serving occured in the lower kitchen, just off the dining room. Wonderful smells eminated from above, wafting down to the first floor, stimulating guests and employees, alike. It was not unusual to send down a completed dessert to the serving area only to find that half was gone before the doors opened for service! Knowing this, I always had more hidden away, waiting for that moment when a waiter would, sheepishly, admit that - oh somehow - there just wasn't enough for the guests!
Flambe' was a regular part of our cuisine! Reducing wine sauces requires a touch of flame. To add to the effect, and to the delight of diners, just when the match hit the pan, the maitre'd would flick off the lights thus allowing those in the dining room to view the reduction in action. This always inspired 'oooohhs' and 'aahhhs' from the crowd. It never failed to entertain and always served to make our guests gush over their dining experience.
Opening night! It was scary and I learned a great deal in rapid sequence. First of all; one must pre-cook much of the food. Sauteed vegetables must first be quick steamed so that they are tender crisp and need just a turn or two in the pan. Main course items should be prepped so that minimal time is required during the final stages. There are secrets to this that no self respecting chef will reveal! The pasta, rice or potato should also be pre-cooked...just to the point of 'done' so that when the order comes in, the final heating takes place and the dish is fresh and crisp...not overly cooked and, certainly, not undercooked. This CAN be done, even when your room contains dozens of hungry, paying customers!
I knew some of this but, not all. Suffice it to say that opening night was a little slower than expected, with the room allowing 1 1/2 seatings rather than the usual 2. All worked out well, though, with a standing ovation the result of the collaborative effort from wait staff to sous chef to .... ME!
As the months and years passed, the venue grew, offering outdoor dining, summer concert series events which ran 6-8 weeks during the height of summer, brunch in the main house and, eventually, a delicatessen which supplied sustenance to the regular workers who were employed in the area. My responsibilities grew with each area. Soon, I was not only preparing the nightly fare, but also creating brunch sauce (Hollandaise for Eggs Benedict and asparagus) nut breads which were part of brunch, along with the menu creation.
To say that this stage in my cooking career was cause for trepidation would be an understatement. I had to appease the elite eaters visiting the Napa Valley. The bar was constantly being lifted as more and more dining establishments moved to Napa, feeding the increasingly refined appetites of the upper crust!
I will surely write more about this part of my life; particularly the time I was a Chinese Chef, but, in order to publicize this hub, I'll go ahead and do just that...publish it, with promises of more to come on this and other aspects of my thoughts about ... everything! And, just an idea of what's to come, here's a little example of that which is near and dear to me...
. There are so many things that matter greatly to me. Empathy being first and foremost because I feel the ability to empathize encompasses so many areas of our lives. To relate enough to care about others; our friends, family, and, most importantly to me, animals, is the ultimate gift one can give and receive. I've written about this before so, to avoid being redundant, I'll just say that I sincerely value those who possess empathy. They are special in this, sometimes, difficult life