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Wednesday, April 18, 2012


                                                                     SPARKY’S BLOG


My externship/internship is now over and I will take away with me a much better understanding of what it takes to run a kitchen as well as a restaurant.  Now, I’m not claiming to be an expert based upon 3 short months of being in a professional kitchen.  Let’s just say I appreciate the effort, experience and knowledge required for a culinary establishment to succeed.  The building blocks needed for this undertaking is staggering and necessitates total commitment!

Commitment means everything.  It’s a binder, as good as your word, a guarantee, a sense of duty, you have to be reliable and understand liability….you’re bound by obligation…you pledge and vow to persevere.  You see, commitment means everything.  When you strive to open a restaurant you are all in without regard to most of your personal needs like sleep, recreation, family time, peace of mind and cultivation of real relationships to mention a few.

Being a lifelong chef, cook, server, manager or owner is a calling.  A calling to the hospitality business which takes a passion that is determined by the type of person you are.  Do you embrace struggle?  Can you handle pressure?  Are you the life of the party?  Is problem-solving second-nature for you?  If you answered “YES” to all of these then you’re half-way there.

Volunteering at Trident Tech Culinary School

The other half of flourishing in the hospitality industry is having the “IT” factor.  If you don’t know what “IT” is then you’ll never know.  Those of us who do know are special folks who can endure more heartache, sorrow, low pay, long hours, sore feet and whatever else is involved and come away with a mile-wide smile on your face after each night wanting “more”. 

The more of serving guests, the more of interacting with the customer, the more of a kitchen’s camaraderie, the more of forged friendships, the more of satisfaction for a job well done, the more of supplying a quality product.  Yes, we want more because that’s just who we are.  We are hospitality and being hospitable warms the heart and satisfies the stomach.  That’s what every guest should come away with after visiting your restaurant.  Eliciting positive emotion is our job and we need to do our job well.

A Calling
I keep saying how lucky I am or was for being able to intern under Chef Craig Deihl and Co. - - It’s true, I’ve had a charmed internship at Cypress Restaurant and there are numerous reasons for this which those of you who actually read my blogs have learned.  I can summarize the poignancy of what I’m trying to say by describing one special morning……

……..Craig, myself, Quan and Sous Chef Johnathan Pabst all came in at 8:00am one day because a group of students from the Culinary Institute of Charleston was to arrive shortly thereafter for a tour and a lecture from Craig.  We were busied by minor cleaning and ensuring some prep items were done to free up Chef Deihl for the tour.

Craig speaking with students

Students from the Culinary Institute

Once the group of students arrived it seemed as though Chef transformed into an entirely different being.  He became an instructor as a chameleon changes color and identity.  He’s more than a one-trick pony.  Craig first started out by stressing the importance of hierarchy exclaiming that there can only be one captain on a ship.  Like a captain an executive chef is responsible for everything. 

Just in case the students didn’t understand; Craig elaborated that everything meant his responsibilities included: hiring, firing, sanitation, ordering, checking in product, quality, professionalism, cost reduction, number crunching, etc.  not to mention being creative when coming up with a fine dining menu.  This is when the kids started listening in earnest because they hadn’t really taken in the whole spectrum of what they were getting themselves into with this culinary arts thing.

Craig regaled them with stories of when he attended Johnson and Wales as a mere culinary student himself; this endeared him to the kids in attendance – a smart move on his part.  He also gave them a tour of the restaurant and the apprentices followed him like newly-hatched chicks chasing after their mother hanging on every word emanating from Craig’s mouth.

John and Craig Sharing a laugh before the Charleston Food + Wine Festival

He stressed the importance of commitment, experience and desire.  “You must have a commitment to your profession to come in early and strive to improve.”  “You must have experience to ensure continuity in your work.”  He shouted “You MUST have desire to be in a kitchen as kitchen work is hard and dirty but the rewards are priceless.”

The words seemed to float out of his mouth even though they carried significant substance due to his own commitment, experience and desire.  However, his words resonated like thunderous applause that ensued suggesting a positive learning experience.  You see, giving back to the community is only one of the many aspects needed to market your product to ensure success.  Craig has this marketing thing and salesman stuff in spades.

My first few weeks at Cypress were spent trying to catch up and fit in; I constantly doubted my skills and efficiency as I was always being told that I was “in the weeds” and “ya gotta pick it up man” and then there was Craig always yelling “Work harder! - Work faster!

Learning the way of the kitchen

Sous Chef Bob Cook once said “I’m impressed by someone’s ability to be efficient”.  His words rang true in my ears with purpose as I struggled to become the apprentice that I hoped would make a positive impression upon him.  Alas, I never heard the comforting words of approval from Bob but I knew that I did, indeed, get better.

I remember the first time I was asked to cut onions.  Bob said “do you know how to julienne onions?” I exclaimed of course I do thinking to myself how silly a question to be asking a culinary student.  He then proceeded to show me causing my ears to turn warm with anger due to his humiliating way of teaching me “the ropes”.  He made it look effortless and I had done this countless times in school but when I picked up the knife to continue this task….I, somehow, couldn’t duplicate his efficiency and/or uniformity of the sizing and style of onion he had just cut.  I became upset at myself for getting mad at him as he was 100% correct in showing me his method.

Cutting beef for tar-tare - Craig hated me using a cleaver

Later, I would get more informal instruction from John Pabst on how to cut downward on the onion with a staccato motion using your knuckles to guide the knife.  I shortened my onion cutting time by at least 75%.  Everything from chopping slabs of beef for tar-tare to shucking oysters or removing kernels of corn to breaking down hot lobsters by hand was shortened dramatically by the end of my time at Cypress. 

This is not to say that I was working at an acceptable level of efficiency according to Bob Cook’s specification (I’ll never know that) but I did improve and also achieve a certain amount of much needed confidence and for that I’m better off and am thankful to Craig, Bob and John.  Thanks guys I really appreciate all that you did for me!

Here’s what a typical couple of days in the kitchen looks like through an intern’s eye

•    Peeled and chopped a few bags of parsnips.
•    Peeled and chopped 1/3 bag onions.
•    Portioned out dough for hamburger buns (about a hundred).
•    Spread beef butter onto hamburger buns and set them to be proofed.

     o     Beef butter is an amazing concoction made up of a 50/50 mix between butter and rendered     beef fat.  Flavorings include sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme and sautéed garlic.  All this is thrown into a mixer and mixed with a paddle to incorporate, then a whisk attachment is switched in place of the paddle and whipped until air is imparted leaving you with a lighter mixture that tastes “Other-worldly”.  Its flavor is rich and decadent leaving one to wonder if chef isn’t some sort of foodie genius.

Lists of tasks to be completed and food to be ordered

Prepping for service


*   Cryo-vacked mortadella.
•    Fabricated and cleaned silver skin from beef tenderloins.

•    Chef gave me a lesson on cleaning silver skin as he noticed my product resembled that of a     mad-man happy-whacking his way through a forest.  He explained that there are two types of grains   in a muscle.  The first being the striations that everyone sees and the second being the feel of the   grain that when you run your finger over the meat it is smooth going one way and a bit rough running in the opposite direction.
•     He wanted me to understand that when you pull your knife under the silver skin in the same direction of the “smooth” grain that the cut looks much more appealing and it is much easier to clean the product.  Once I got the hang of this philosophy, I became much more proficient and started knocking out tenderloins much quicker.  I still need to get faster as chef said he expected to see me get 50% faster - then 25% faster - then 10% faster and so-on-and-so-forth.  He’s always pushing us to be better at what we do and that’s the whole purpose of why I’m in his kitchen.

Johnny Cheetah and Bob making sausage

•    Strained demi-glace.
•    Pulled pork – by hand (I loved this!)

o    A few days later John Pabst (AKA as Johnny Cheetah for his quickness and deft hand with a knife), who is the second sous chef in Craig Deihl’s kitchen, would show me an even faster way to do this.  He explained that first cutting the meat into manageable portions with a chef’s knife would hasten the “pulling” process as separating the meat into bite sized morsels are, indeed, very time consuming when done entirely by hand.

•    Made lobster bisque the old fashioned way by loading tons of lobster shells into an extremely large jacketed steam kettle and baked them off for about 35-40 minutes with a lot of tomato paste….”any longer and they would lose their sweetness” Chef would tell me.  He took care of the rest until the final seasoning in which he brought me back for some “quality control”.  I loved this as he, I and sous chef Bob Cook tasted and gave opinions on final flavoring.  Being a part of a process and feeling involved has great benefits to learning and I felt vested in this particular bisque.

•    Cleaned, mopped floors and washed dishes.

The end of a shift and ready to go home

So in closing…Love what you do and do what you love.  It’s not always sunshine and butterflies and you will encounter folks blowing wind up your skirt to further their personal agenda.  Keep your head, affirm your passion, and always be positive and professional – good things will come!

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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