Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tuesday dinner: What it is to Own a Night

At closing staff meal Tuesday, I can say that the red glow in my cheeks is no longer solely due to the wine I've imbibed. (I'm on my second excellent glass, thanks to Chris and his ever-growing sommelier skills.) I can say, even with my sore neck and slightly irritated hands, that I have finally rocked a dinner at the Inn. My breakfast this morning was a heralding of the good day to come--I poached one of my farm fresh eggs and set it atop a salad of fresh tomatoes and croutons (made from the stale bread of the kitchen.) A perfect way to start what turned out to be a surprisingly triumphant day.
Tonight was a full house for the dining room, but also a special celebration in our reception room--a 75th anniversary attended by 50 of the Inn's most loyal and hungry guests. Geddes sets me to work prepping ingredients for the appetizer course, the crab salad specially requested by the birthday girl. I dice cucumber, then tomato, into small chunks. This is the first dish that I've made from beginning to end since I've arrived, and its assembly feels like a real triumph. As I'm laying out the components of the hors d'oeuvres--we're doing the smoked salmon, chicken pate, and cucumber-avocado again, but also a cracker layered with stone-ground mustard, a rolled-up slice of Mangalitsa salami, and a few slivers of pickled ramps--I'm feeling a real level of mastery over what I'm doing. When Geddes tells me to grab some herbs from the garden, I know exactly where to look (though he shows me the proper way to pull it from the plant--only from those branches with multiple offshoots). When he sends me in search of cornichons, mustard, and cucumbers, I know my way around the walk-in cooler. I lay out the platters of appetizers, garnished with springs of flowering catnip, and lay them out for the servers to grab.

I then team up with Geddes in layering each ingredient for the crab salads into metal rounds, so they can be quickly unmolded and plated with little mess. First, a layer of diced avocado, then a layer of tomato, then a layer of cucumber, and finally a layer of shredded crab meat. We transport all of this to the reception hall prep room next door, with a little mobile station set up to finish our plating. It's an ad hoc cold station, but it works for this size dinner.
The waitstaff for the dinner lay out plates all around the room so we can easily move around with each elements--there are molds to remove, piles of salad greens to heap on, two different tomato dressings to pour, and little rounds of cherry tomato and hunks of crab to add for a final garnish. Luke grabs one bucket of dressing, I grab the other, and we make our way around the room.
It's a sweet, tangy salad all the way through to its creamy avocado base, and the presentation is gorgeous...It's one of the first things I've made here from start to finish, and I'm beaming with pride as the servers pick them up and run them out to the waiting guests. Luke takes a final photo before they leave the room.
Then we plate the entrees--Luke and I set up plates, assembly-line style once more, to shuttle starches and vegetables down to Geddes. While he plates the steak, slicing it and fanning it over the mashed potatoes and dressing it with shaved leeks, I slide my spatula under the seared halibut and place it on the bed of black rice. This feels tremendously important--this is the first time I'm handling the major protein ingredients of the dish myself, and as I gently press the piece of fish into the bed of rice, I'm aware just how much attention will be paid to its presentation. It gets a little nest of fennel and citrus salad on top, a dash of buttery sauce and dollops of herbal reduction, and we send it on its way. Even when dishes get backed up and Geddes has to tell the waitstaff to hurry it along, he's hardly losing his cool. There's a zen workmanship in place as we pass the plates down, having just enough time to wipe renegade sauce and herbs from the rims. I'm feeling busy and very much on a deadline, but not remotely stressed out.

And finally, dessert comes around. Annie has whipped up glorious little rhubarb tarts topped with meringue, and we lay them out on plates around the room, ready for a dash of citrusy-herbal emulsion and a scattering of cookie crumbs. Annie hands me the scoop and a bucket of lemon ice cream...I'm put to the test, and the ice cream is melting fast, but I'm whipping it up against the sides of the container into neat, creamy egg-shaped scoops, and we plate about 50 desserts in 5 minutes. Despite having a large dollop of meringue on my shoulder, I'm feeling wildly accomplished.

Things feel like they're starting to fall into place--even if Annie chides me for moving to prepare a few plates too early, it's done with more jest and more knowing humor than last week. As we're wrapping up for the night, Wally hands me a few containers of leftover tomato and cucumber to make something for family meal...a huge honor and challenge all at once. I reach for the grab-bag of compost-rescued produce in the walk-in, and for the Tabasco sauce and red wine vinegar, and whip up a quick batch of gazpacho. The waitstaff and chefs ladle it onto their plates and devour it--even after feeding 50+ people tonight, the greatest validation is seeing my fellow kitchen mates eating my food with gusto.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my gosh, this is making me hungry!