A Day in a Chef’s Life
November 14, 2014
The Taste of Tulalip is a high-profile 2 day food & wine extravaganza which is recognized as one of the best, if notTHE best, food & wine event on the entire West Coast. The first night is an exclusive dinner for 420 people which sold out several months before the event this year. The second day featured 120 different wineries and a slew of delicacies prepared by the Tulalip chef team. This post gives a little “back kitchen perspective” of the Friday night event.
Friday night. 7-course plated food & wine pairing dinner for 420 people. $195 per plate (ie…don’t fuck it up!!) 50 cooks/stewards in the kitchen to plate and man ovens. 4 plating lines. 30 servers to catch and deliver plates. Each course will be plated á la minute directly into the server’s hands (no hot holding of plates). Each course must be plated and served in less than 15 minutes.
Its nights like this that a Chef earns his/her stripes…which make or break us. These are the nights that we live for, which give us bragging rights, which drain our bodies & minds but ultimately leave us with a deep-seated and well-earned feeling of satisfaction. We love the intense challenge, the adrenaline, the hard work, the inevitable unexpected problems and our instantaneous successful solutions. We love the feeling of “the wind in our hair and a tiger at our back.”
Even though each culinary creation and its successful wine pairing is of eminent importance, it takes so much more than culinary talent to make it a successful evening when you’re dealing with 420 fine dining quality plates and 7 courses. That’s 2,940 plates! It requires intense concentration, impeccable mise en place, detailed planning, communication, training, juggling the plating timeline as course times shift, anticipating what that bastard “murphy’s law” will bring to the table, and bringing everything to perfection on the plate. Creating awesome food is one thing…actually being able to serve it to 420 people is quite another! It’s what separates good cooks from good chefs.
The planning for this event began many months ago as each chef planned a dish (there are 7 chefs at Tulalip Resort with 2 more coming soon.) In August each chef brought their dish to a tasting to determine the food & wine match, made minor tweaks or complete revisions to their concept based upon that tasting, finalized presentation ideas, and then began the implementation process of how to prep, plate, and serve their dish in under 15 minutes.
Plating is all about “touches”…how many times do you have to “touch” the plate? Ideally, for an event like this, you have one person for each touch, which makes for a fast, efficient assembly line style plate-up. For my dish there were 9 touches which went as follows:
• Pull plates
• Apply Blackberry Puree painted brush stroke
• Add Toasted Hazelnut Pesto
• Add center Salmon Lox Popsicle (this is done first so as to assure symmetry)
• Add 2 remaining Salmon Lox Popsicles
• Place Sous Vide Salmon over Pesto at about a 60° angle
• Add cracked Hazelnut garnish
• Add Borage Flower garnish
• Wipe plate edges
Its important to note that mise en place is everything. And it is so much more than simply prepping your food. Mise en place is also your mental preparations, your organization, your prep lists, prep timeline, ordering timeline, scaled recipes, plating diagram, communications to relevant team members and so on. A well organized Chef brings sanity to an inherently chaotic and stressful environment. An unorganized chef is his own worst enemy and by failing to plan correctly turns a stressful day into a living hell both for themselves and their staff.
Here is my organizational plan for this event. It is a downloadable Excel sheet (I love Excel for planning!) and it’s important to note that this workbook began with only two or three tabs. But as my planning progressed so did the scope of the worksheet (You will need Microsoft Excel to open it.)
Here is the day at a glance:
Ibuprofen along with my breakfast…I’m already sore from the week’s prep to get ready for this day, plus it is a “preemptive strike” to prevent a “stress headache”.
Day begins with going over all the details of the day on the drive to work.
Check event prep…make sure we are on target for tonight. Check restaurant prep for same reason. Do ordering and essential restaurant work.
2:00 – 5:00
Gather and organize all mise en place for the event. Verify everything! Do I have enough pans, pastry brushes, all serving utensils, are the ovens at the correct temp, are the plates counted, etc all.
Check mise en place for the last time and give final instructions to key players.
The grand ballroom begins to fill with guests, the Chefs & staff are ready to go…the tension in the kitchen is palpable. Like a cat waiting to pounce on its prey, we appear to be relaxed but inside our minds are tense, churning, going over all the minutia of what’s going to happen in the next 3 hours. Pop 3rd dose of ibuprofen (breakfast, lunch, dinner!) for the day.
We are supposed to be serving the first course right now! But the speakers are running a little late, so we stand patiently waiting…but inside we are screaming “let’s go!”
We finally get the word to start! The kitchen goes from a standstill to slamming into fourth gear as Chef Gerry takes control of his course and we get the first plates rolling. “Straighten that sauce line!” “No! The garnish goes like this! 45° angle, not a 30° angle! Let’s get this right people!” “Line 3…speed it up, but don’t fuck it up!” Within 2 minutes we shift from fourth gear into overdrive as 50 people on 4 lines dial in the plating of this course. 11 minutes later the first course is done, all 420 plates worth.
“Good job everyone, now clear those tables!” “Remove the mise from the first course!” “Come on people, get ready for the next course!” Refresh. Repeat seven times for three hours!
Pats on the back are shared all around, smiles, relief. Last dose of ibuprofen. 1 shot of Basil Hayden bourbon.
10:45 PM Double-check status of tomorrow’s event for 2,000 people, check restaurant.
Arrive at home. 2 doubles vodka and Sobe Cranberry. Tiger Balm applied liberally to very sore feet. Crash. Awaken sharply at 3:00 am from stress dream…”Dude! Friday’s over. Let it go. Relax. Relax. Sleep.”
Chef Gerry Schultz – Amuse Bouche
J. Schram Brut Rose, North Coast California 2004
Beet Carpaccio Ravioli
Smoked Chicken, Fennel Mustard Vinaigrette
Chef Brent Clarkson – Soup
Rasa Vineyards dream deferred Chardonnay, Washington 2012
Jerusalem Artichoke Puree
Pumpkin Seed Pesto, Cream Fraiche, Crispy Leek Straws
Chef JP – Salad Course
Alleromb Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley Washington 2012
Seared Scallop with Green Papaya Slaw
North Atlantic sea scallop with green papaya slaw, micro Asian mallow, golden edamame shoots
ginger lime vinaigrette and aged balsamic
Chef David Buchanan – Fish
Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, California 2011
To Sous Vide or not to Sous Vide?
Sockeye Salmon Lox & Blackberry “popsicle” – Salmon Sous Vide 110° over Toasted Hazelnut Pesto
The Blackberry is lightly tossed in Balsamic glaze, the pesto is features roasted Holmquist Hazelnuts, fresh Basil and Tarragon
Chef John Jadamec – Intermezzo
Pomegranate and Rose Granita
Chef Perry Mascitti – Entrée
Leonetti Family “Reserve” Red Blend, Walla Walla Washington 2011
A Study of Aging: A New York Duet
Older and Wiser
New York Strip Dry Aged 46 days, traditional tarragon beurre blanc
New York Strip 28 days, wild cranberry demi
Separated by a cambazola-mascarpone brioche “Twinkie”, buna shimeji and micro green sauté
Nikol Nakamura – Dessert
Valrhona caramelized white chocolate cremeux and cake, almond streusel, Osetra caviar
The Taste of Tulalip 58% Chocolate Lollipop