19 October 2011

Cored, Scored, & Chopped

The tips of my fingers are still sore. It's that weird hypersensitive numbness, when putting pressure hurts, yet brings a strange relief at the same time. I also have scabs underneath my fingernails, which is not something that's ever happened to me before.

I volunteered at a DineLA event last Friday, my first real professional experience as someone who knows both how to pronounce and actually do a brunoise. The event featured some real heavy hitting chefs – I almost plowed an ice cart into Sang Yoon – that I ogled from afar but didn't interact with. Le Cordon Bleu student volunteers were divvied up among the various chefs at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, and I ended up in the kitchen at Scarpetta, which might be the most beautiful kitchen I've ever seen. Expansive, organized, and just plain pretty. My stuck-in-a-corner phone camera photo doesn't do it justice...
...although the JJ Abrams-esque lens flare does provide some whimsy, no?

My first task was coring and scoring tomatoes, then blanching and peeling them. Of course I cut my thumb and middle finger inside of ten minutes trying to quickly slice the 'X' into each tomato. And then I didn't blanch them long enough. And on top of that, some of them were slightly underripe, which meant no amount of blanching short of full on destruction was going to loosen the skins. So, for about three hours, I was clawing at tomato skins, hence the scabs in places where I didn't think you could get scabs.

The prolonged, single task did give me the opportunity to observe the general flow of things. Scarpetta executive chef Scott Conant – yes, the Chopped guy! – was in the house. At one point he walked by as I was blanching tomatoes, pointed at them, and walked on. I'd like to think this was the Finger Point of Approval, but I figured he was checking a mental checklist.

The running gag of the event was the various line cooks asking me "So, how long are you here?" We were told we'd work until dismissed, which is what I told them, which they thought was hilarious in a you're-never-going-home-sucker kind of way.

Which was fine by me. I eventually moved on to other tasks and even got to sample some really fantastic food. A fried cheese appetizer on a bed of cherry tomatoes – I halved some of those, thank you very much – and a cavatelli pasta with braised and smoked chicken, mushrooms, and green beans. 
My general takeaway from the experience is that I'm still not fast enough in the kitchen. One of the cooks told me it comes with time, and watching them, I can tell it's as much about efficiency as quick movement. For example, cutting around the base of tomato isn't nearly as fast as a sharp stab and twist with the knife.

Not cutting yourself and having to deal with constant bandaid changes will also speed things along.

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