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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Externship II


(Cadence of the Kitchen) –
There is a certain rhythm to any kitchen whether it is a production kitchen, a church kitchen, a baking kitchen or a kitchen like the one I work in at Cypress restaurant in Charleston, SC.

The days I come in during the morning at 8:00am see a crescendo effect take place throughout the day.  It’s like a suspense novel with the eventual build to a climactic event except the climax in a kitchen is when everyone is present and working at full capacity.   My days usually begin with someone reminding me that I have to bring in the garbage cans for prepping scraps and I then start my tasks in earnest.  Speaking of earnest, I usually am always paired with John the second sous chef at Cypress.  John is built for speed and efficiency, his physique is sleek and extremely fit. He, seemingly, never tires and is always there to lend me a helping hand for instruction, he reminds me of a cheetah.

John appears hell-bent on performing all manners of work as quickly and thoroughly as possible.  This is a man that I will take my production cues from and I will endeavor to do my best to emulate his very particular style.  Yes, my mornings with John are turning out to be very fruitful ones immersed in the methodology of speed and precision….I have and will continue to learn a great deal from sous chef John Pabst.

I'm mincing beef for a nightly menu special of tartare

Upon my first task whether it be rolling salmon Wellington’s or layering potato gratins or butchering and fabricating beef  loins; I find myself listening to the ultimate white noise and that’s the buzz of nothing other than the pithy sounds of a knife on a cutting board.  One by one the staff rolls in at differing times…first the baking girls then Bob the evening sous chef then the upper hierarchy of the line chefs/cooks then the wait-staff and the rest of the cooks until the restaurant explodes with tingling glasses, pans caressing the stoves, wood being slid into an oven, the snap of towels being whipped prior to folding, tongs clanging like a crab snapping at its dinner and the most significant noise heard of all is the hectic and fierce foot traffic of all involved.

To a food service employee, these sounds are like a symphony ringing true in your ear.  The culmination is like music that should bring a smile to ones face as you are smack-dab in the middle of the cadence of the kitchen.

(Chef’s Creation) -
Craig Deihl is also a very particular man as I would hope all successful chefs to be.  One day he came in and was in a very fortuitous mood; he was upbeat but casual at the same time and I wouldn’t see him but sparingly for the next 2-3 hours.  The times I would see him would involve him walking by mumbling under his breath or whisking by shoving a piece of meat into my mouth resulting in a very favorable and tasty treat.  I don’t trust just anybody to shove any morsel of food into my mouth but Chef Deihl has earned my complete faith as I’m never disappointed when surprised by the opportunity to eat his food.

Chef Deihl sharpening one of his many knives

What was he up to?  What’s going on in his corner of the kitchen?  He’s not making much noise and I’m not sure what to make of this enigmatic occurrence.  I walked by out of curiosity and I needed to put something into the steamer and noticed small obelisk-like cuts of “mystery meat”.  This stuff looked like smooth meatloaf and I saw scraps surrounding the plate and snagged one for a taste and discovered a delightful pork product laced with flavor but what was this going to be?  

 I saw Chef dart to and fro over the next hour and observed him peripherally brood over what looked like dark and Cimmerian thoughts.  I eventually lost interest and turned back to my job of preparing kimchee when suddenly Chef appeared with a dish of a chicken thigh/leg Frenched tilted upon the obelisk of pork sitting atop what looked like a pilaf/potato mixture.  Whatever it was looked artfully constructed and extremely delicious and my mouth was beginning to water as I hadn’t eaten much that day.  Chef’s Bob and Craig scurried off talking and giggling like school kids doting over this newest creation and I pulled out a protein bar and had a late lunch.

Grilled Mountain Trout

Braised Short Ribs
(Working the Line) –
Upon this second week at Cypress, I was put on the schedule to work the cold line and was elated because it would be different in every regard.  First, I would be working nights and plating food for the customers working along-side other “like-minded” individuals; this is the next step of my training.  I would be told by Frank the shift leader that I need to master at least two dishes that night to get some confidence at that station.  Not knowing what to expect, I tried to learn as much as I could and just got confused and harkened back on what Frank said and kept to his teachings.

My second night was much of the same except that I had more confidence and expected to learn more than just two dishes.  I persevered through the “Starter” menu with the initial clumsy production and then overcame it all in a matter of minutes.  Nonetheless, this station is a very important one as this is the first impression of food that is thrust upon the customer.  We’re responsible for such items as: Sashimi Tuna and Oysters (yes, we open oysters manually on-the-spot), Tuna tartare, Charcuterie plates, Beef Spring rolls, flat-bread pizzas and more.  I’m really enjoying this new responsibility as I get to watch the patrons enjoy Chef Deihl’s creations. 

Cypress has two kitchens one in the back (preparation) and the other is the production line with garde manger (cold), grill, sauté, fry and pastry lines all adjacent to expo.  This front kitchen is in full view of the clientele and adds to the electricity of the evening as they can see us and we can see them.  I love the interaction between those being served and those of us doing the serving.  This is why I am involved in culinary as I can’t think of anything better than satisfying a patron with delicious food.

(My Young Cohorts) –
In addition to my learning a new station, I have the wonderful opportunity to learn new people as well.  Meet Christine and Ian my trainers for the garde manger (cold) area.  My first day was spent with Christine, she is a tiny little thing but beware of small things that come in small packages.  She ran circles around me like a water bug scooting across the water as though her life depended on reaching the other side at break-neck speed.  Her words of encouragement and training style were very comforting and helpful.  I truly enjoyed working with her and look forward to doing so again.


My next young cohort is Ian who’s about two or three years older than Christine and 180° her opposite.  He strikes me as a calm, cool and collected young man with confidence.  He went about his business with candor and focus.  He was stern in his teachings leaving no room for doubt regarding his subject matter…..I really like this as it makes me understand exactly where I stand and to what degree I’m progressing.  Ian is a bit of a go-getter as he’s a full time culinary student and holds down two jobs.  Crazy, crazy, crazy….but that’s youth for ya, he kinda reminds me of maybe how a young James Bond might have been.

(A New Mentor) -
This second week that I was enjoying is in the middle of what’s called “Restaurant Week” in Charleston.  This city is blanketed in the tourism industry and lives and breathes by sheer numbers of butts being in the seats.  However, when the weather turns a cold shoulder during the winter months is when those numbers begin to drop so Charleston developed a way to bridge the gap by drawing folks to area eatery’s with an all encompassing menu (prix fix) at reduced  rates ranging from $20-$40.  It’s a big hit but only for the 10 days of “Restaurant Week”.

Frank as I mentioned earlier is the shift leader on the night crew.  He is a graduate of the Art Institute’s culinary school nearby and fastly becoming my mentor.  He has taken me under his wing so-to-speak as his advice to me is very sound and given in a warm and welcoming way.  I think that we both being so close in age makes a big difference.  His first sage suggestion of learning two dishes was brilliant as he knew I wouldn’t be over-burdened on my first night and once mastered; I’d have some new-found confidence to carry me over into the next night.

Frank approaching the line

Every time we’re together on the same shift we find one another with a friendly greeting and thus the learning begins.  He always asks me; “want to learn something today?”  My response is an enthusiastic “Absolutely!”  Some folks just have “it” when it comes to interpersonal skills and interaction among our fellow colleagues.  Frank definitely has “it” when it comes to me and I look forward to his teachings any time and any way I can.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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