Friday, June 10, 2011

Thursday: Sampling Lardo and Bacon Marmalade, and Hitting a Groove

Thursday night arrives like a blessing--another slow night, to learn as much as I can while the pressure's off. Thankfully there are 15 reservations on the books, which means at least a good number of orders to take and salads to finesse. We've got a wedding on Saturday that will require our full attention, and having no idea what that will demand of me, I'm happy that Wally's able to walk me through the steps of the kitchen today. He starts me on the big demand we'll have to fill during the wedding: for lots and lots of bread.
Wally walks me over to the giant mixer in the back room, where I load in 8 pounds of flour and 3 1/2 pounds of "starter"--a big batch of dough in which yeast is still reproducing. It's gloppy and smells powerfully sour, which makes for a great crusty loaf of sourdough bread. The recipe for the starter was passed down through Maryann's side of the family, carried with them all across their journey through the Willamette Valley over a century ago. "They used to sleep with the starter," Maryann tells me as we roll out loaves of dough for rising, "to keep it warm enough to keep growing." This starter makes the bread that's served every night in the restaurant, and every Sunday as pizza dough. It has had a permanent place at the Inn ever since it opened, and it's the perfect slice of table bread--a soft center and a crunchy crust. Wally's making 4 batches worth tonight, which should take us through the wedding and into pizza service the day after.
It's also a good night to take a closer look at the charcuterie--Geddes brings out a loaf of a thick marble-white substance. For a second I worry he wants to experiment with substituting Mangalitsa lard for table butter...not something that makes me too excited. But no, he wants to start including house-made lardo on the charcuterie plate. Wally slices off a piece, as thin and translucent as onion.
"Do you want a taste?" he asks, curling it off his knife. This is only the first in the many tasting moments I'll have all day, and I start to formulate a conspiracy: are these lovely island chefs plotting to fatten up the city girl before she returns home to the world where supermodels walk the streets and unrealistic expectations of beauty are endorsed everywhere? I consider the dangers of the kitchen diet--eating breakfast at 10 am, staff meal at 3:00pm, then family meal at 10pm. But then I also consider the daily walks I'm doing, the climbs to and from my bed, and the 8 hours of standing at attention behind the cold station. I place the slice of lardo on my tongue, and it melts instantly--buttery smooth and redolent of bacony goodness without any of the chewy burden. "It's delicious." I say, but I make Wally put it away before he can offer me another slice.

Still up for tasting, I let Chris beckon me over to take a taste of his Mangalitsa bacon marmalade, which will be coating the pork entree served on tonight's menu. He's cooked up the bacon until it's crisp, then sauteed onions in the bacon fat, and tossed both together with some red wine vinegar. One taste and I'm convinced that he could be selling this as a jarred commodity--it's perfect for spreading on thick slices of morning toast, gooey and delicious to eat with scrambled eggs.
As I'm tasting the marmalade, I start to think of all the individual items that would make great take-home items from the Inn's menu...including, perhaps, my own fixed-up version of the peanut butter cookies. Yesterday's lard-baking experiment didn't go so well, and I picked through various options for fixing the too-dry crumbly cookie dough. What did using lard take away that made the cookies so dry? I threw the question out to the audience at Foodpickle, and someone responded with this comment: "Lard is 100% fat while butter is 81% fat and 14-18% water. If the recipe you used called for butter, than you could try adding some moisture back into the recipe. I'd try adding some milk or water." I decide to try it, and drizzle a small portion of the dough with heavy cream. I work it into the dough and sample little bites until it tastes buttery enough, then scoop it out onto a Silpat sheet.

And it works--the cookies come out moist, buttery, and addictive. I'm practically crowing with pride. "I fixed the cookies, what what!" I say to Wally as I drop a plate of them on the station counter. Geddes grins with his first bite, and I'm dancing with self-satisfaction. Chris gets why I'm so excited. "You know you're becoming a chef not when you can make something, but when you can correct something." But the real validation is when he reaches for his third cookie.

I'm coasting on my triumph as Wally and I prepare family meal for the day--rolling out a few balls of pizza dough and topping them with the leftover bits from the kitchen.
Geddes decides to phase out the chicken pâté he's been serving all week so he can start on a fresh batch of duck pâté, and so we spread it out on one of the pizzas. I'm a huge fan of chicken liver, but a full slice of it on pizza, topped with diced cornichons and pickled onion, seems a little too much for me. But as with most staff meals, every slice is snapped up.
The dinner rush comes as predicted--the wedding couple has arrived, so we send especially pretty dishes their way--but remains relatively calm. Wally has enough time to make a face in his ball of dough.
I wash more greens in the middle of service, as we seem to be having a rush on salads tonight, and spot a little visitor on one of our leaves.
This is the price you pay for pulling ingredients direct from the garden...and even though we have to compensate with extra vigilance as we set up our station, it's nice to remember how closely we're sourcing things.

As the night wraps up, there seem to be few dark spots. The wide callus developing on my right index finger is a reminder that I've been chopping--correctly, it seems, for the first time--for almost three days straight. Holding the knife properly and preparing food for eight hours a day has left me sore, but more skillful than I've felt in a long time. And I'm emboldened by what I've done well: prepare salads, finish tickets on time, win invites from my coworkers for hikes and bike rides and tastings of great ingredients. I dig into my plate of tacos at staff meal with gusto--learning to get by in this kitchen tastes great.


  1. I'm glad you solved the cookie problem. Congratulations!

    I hope you now see that Mangalitsa meat and fat kicks ass.

    That said, please don't say that Mangalitsa lard makes you fat.

    In fact, if all you eat is meat and non-starchy veggies, you'll almost certainly lose fat, really fast. Because your insulin levels will drop like a rock.

    I've lost approximately 40# of fat by Mangalitsa, whey protein and pounds of Mangalitsa fat while reducing carbs (cyclically). I've been lifting weights too.

    See here for more info:


  2. she's eating pizza and cookies, as evidenced by the post. restaurant family and staff meals are almost always starch-based - saves money.

  3. Anonymous - If Mangalitsa takes off in the USA, it will be because people marry it to carbs to make the carbs taste good. Because that's what consumers want.

    E.g. pizza places like Domenica in NOLA and Serious Pie in Seattle that cured their own Mangalitsa and put it on pizza are very successful with it.

    Or like people making lard-based cookies/desserts with it.

    Of course that stuff will make you fat; that's what carbs do.

    But the problem isn't the Mangalitsa fat. The problem is that people want to eat carbs.

    If they wanted to save money, they'd staff meals would be some protein, low-carb veggies cooked in Mangalitsa fat. That'd save money and get them lean. If they were really cheap, they'd cut out the veggies. But most people don't want to eat that way, for obvious reasons.