New Roommate: Day 12

I know that I am behind on posts and I will be doing my best outside of work to catchup on lost content.

I am fortunate to now have a new roommate. He is a gentleman from the establishment in Florida where he worked as a prep cook and dishwasher. He came up here as a mercenary, someone that will fight for Chef and her team. That’s what they call me as well. Ella’s has been hunting for dishwashers for quite some time now. Although hard to believe, it really is a hard position to keep filled. You can read about the art of dishwashing here.

He goes by the name Woo, his childhood nickname. Woo started working at the The Perfect around the same year I did. He started as a dishwasher and was being trained on grill station. He also was taught a large amount of prep so he was a solid team player. He was the yes man; If you told him to do something he got it done.

Woo is quite the character. He likes to make noise and that can be anything. Sometimes its high pitched squeals other times his baritone voice booms down the line. Woo is a fairly well established rapper in his community. He has his own recording studio and was starting to collaborate with local artists. He is a very religious man and goes to church every Sunday. Every year he hosts an event just for kids, where he pours multiple paychecks into a day fair just for kids. This includes bounce houses , free food and entertainment. “I like kids because they are the future.” In the kitchen he is a “manimal”, his quote not mine. Half man half animal. Woo moves around getting tasks completed all while singing or rapping. He is never in a bad mood and is always eager to help.

When he’s not plowing through prep he works the dish pit. And he can sling pots and pans faster than anyone I’ve seen. The first day on, one of the novice dish washers came up to me and said “I’m getting rekt with dishes, I can’t keep up.”. Just on day one he was turning heads. He’s a great addition from team Florida.

I personally hold Woo in an extremely high regard. Every day I learn something new about him. He tells me the craziest stories about his past. Each day he would put a smile on my face. Woo definitely made work fun. Down at The Perfect Caper he would talk away telling me about his rough past or something new he saw. He is a sincere, genuine and nice person. I always have enjoyed working with him and I consider him an excellent friend. I honestly am extremely excited he is now playing for our team up here.

High Volume Production part II: Day 11

As I mentioned in a previous installment high volume production, HVP, is broken down into two sections. You can find the first part of this analysis here. The second portion of HVP was lunch class. Our kitchen fed over 100 students during our lunch service. Plates ranged from salads to sandwiches and we even prepared specials. At this point in the program we only had a week and a half remaining until we all departed for externship.

The chef instructor, Chef Dellarose, greeted my class with relaxed gentle tone. He gave us his expectations, which were simple. He wanted us to cook the right way. Each day we were expected to complete our responsibilities on time and to the best of our ability. Each class day commenced with a short lecture with a pre-game talk about the dish our station was preparing. Chef would frequently ask us questions to ensure we were both paying attention and prepared.

Our menu was preplanned and each dish was composed of a protein or entrée item, two vegetables, a starch and a sauce. This is the class where we used the techniques we had been taught in fundies and practiced during the program on a much larger scale. Rather than making 1 gallon of soup we were expected to produce 5.

Chef was very relaxed. He treated us more like responsible employees rather than students. Chef would patrol the class looking for students making mistakes. Anytime he found or saw something wrong he’d correct the issue and move on. There never was much yelling when something went wrong. Chef would calmly ask that the issue be corrected and then explain a solution if the student didn’t know how.

This was the first class where demo plates became significant. Each day chef blocked time so that students could craft one plate before service. Chef would then have us critique our own dish asking us about seasoning and doneness. He forced us to think as independent people so that we could use these tools on the future.

I honestly don’t remember that much about Chef Dellarose. His class always was fairly quiet and unfortunately he never smashed any muffins. Chef was always focused on us and a constantly gave feedback on everything.

He was relaxed, quiet and calm.

Art of Dishwashing: Day 10

“Who’s that?”

“Oh him, he’s nobody.”

“Not nobody, he’s part of the kitchen.”

“He’s a plonguer or something, he washes dishes and takes out the garbage…”

-Excerpt from Ratatouille

Everyone is in the kitchen for a reason. It’s important to realize that everyone and every position shares the same value. While everyone may not fully agree with this statement I firmly believe it to be true. Executive and sous chefs are given huge loads of responsibility ranging from food cost to inventory and sometimes even HR. Moving down the hierarchy, chef d’partie and the various line cooks act as workhorses in the kitchen. But, the lowest rung though, dishwashers, cleaning staff and tournants should never be forgotten. I was told by our GM, “Just make sure they’re happy. Keep them fed and give them a beer at the end of the night.”

Dishwashing and cleaning is a skill and an art. Certainly anyone with basic common sense, although it is shocking how many people are lacking in this department, can wash dishes or mop floors. The trick is being able to do these “simple” tasks well. Dishes can easily get backed up if the staff member is working to slow or if they’re unorganized.

The goal is to have the dish machine always full and running from the start of the nigh to the end. In order to do this, it is crucial to prioritize certain items based on size. Some items will singlehandedly fill the machine such as large pots or sheet trays. These items can be run while other racks lf smaller items are scrubbed and loaded, it’s essentially two birds.

The cleaning staff at Ella’s currently consists of five, could be four now, dishwashers who split shifts. Some of them understand prep as well which makes them even more valuable. And by the way we are looking for dishwashers and prep cooks so if you’re in or near Rhode Island and looking for a summer job please contact me through my personal email: or give me a call. But when we get weeded on dishes it throws the whole kitchen of balance. Line cooks have to jump on to help, so that the clean dishes can get dried. If we have a surplus of clean dishes it makes it impossible to load dirty racks. When the soiled items get pile up it compounds the problem by eliminating space and limiting the tools at our disposal. Everyone in the kitchen has to cease what they are doing and help pick up slack. Every member of the team allots time in their day to complete tasks. When this time is stolen it throws of the daily timeline and forces people to work at a quicker pace, although more speed is never bad.

This isn’t a daily occurrence but when it happens it breaks the vibe of the entire kitchen. It adds unnecessary stress and also slows everyone down. The kitchen operates like the cliché, a well-oiled machine, and without certain parts working at the same speed everything seizes up and comes to a halt. It’s vitally important to treat each member of the kitchen with respect but also value their contributions as the same. I personally don’t care whether you’re the head chef or someone who cleans up after her, I personally value both as the same. It’s a team game and if someone is absent we all lose.

High Volume Production Part I: Day 9

The high volume production, HVP, class was split into two segments. It featured two chef instructors, one for the breakfast portion and one for lunch or dinner depending on scheduling. Now the class is broken into three parts and students get a mix of all three categories. HVP is the final class before externship. It helps students gear up for larger scale food production such as large restaurants, hotels or catering.

The breakfast chef was a combination of two instructors. One of them was shadowing so that he could learn the class procedures and take over the breakfast portion of the class later down the road. Chef Ward, was the main instructor. He was a thin, energetic chef who, regardless of the 2.00am meeting time and his silver hair, came into class with a smile and 100% energy. It was like he mainlined espresso shots before class. He was always running around giving instructions to other students all while getting the class set-up for service. He gave students his all, answering any questions that they had and showing the proper techniques for things as simple as making pancake batter. Each day he would call for demos so he could show us something new. And each day was always full of surprises.

Chef did have a drive for doing things consistently, which he should. Looking back to an early morning of class, my partner for the day had just finished baking muffins.   As she was un-moulding them and lining them up on a cooling rack, chef waltzed by and glanced down. He stopped and out of my peripherals I noticed him putting two muffins on the table. They were two completely different sizes. He called our attention and as we looked up it began. In a serious tone he quietly asked “Hey, which one of these would you rather eat?” he paused waiting intently for a response. “That one” my partner said quietly in her thick New York accent as she sheepishly gestured to the larger muffin. “Then why aren’t they all like that?” At this point he was in a full rage as he slammed he hands down, crushing the two hot muffins on the table as they exploded like rocks blown away in a quarry.

To this day I still think this was one of the funniest things I saw at CIA. Due to the nature of the class consistency is key. Large amounts of food have to go out to the customer in a consistent manner. I appreciated Chef Ward’s teaching style. It was a very hands on approach and it seemed like he had a genuine concern for students and their education. He was always energetic and it translated as a passion for what he does. It was refreshing to have him just after Chef Johnson, whose approach was the polar opposite. I thoroughly enjoyed Chef Ward and everything he had to teach.

His 3 word description. Energetic. Enthusiastic. Consistent.

Late Night Tacos: Day 8

Last night I had the pleasure of dining with our GM. He cooked me a simple meal and it was amazing. We reminisced about the Perfect Caper back in the 90’s as well as talked about Su Casa, a small authentic Mexican restaurant that didn’t quite work out.

As soon as I sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen a delightful combination of Siracha, fresh seared fish and chopped onion permeated the air. Our GM hustled around the kitchen multitasking by making drinks, cooking fish, cutting garnishes and even grilling tortillas outside. Nothing overly impressive other than the fact that he was still going strong at 12.00 at night after a full day of work. “I have this really bad habit of eating late”, he told me. “I just like being able to sit back and enjoy my meal”. A perfectly reasonable request. As he cooked he chatted with me about some of the history behind The Perfect Caper, the place where I got my first break.

The Perfect Caper started as a small 30 seat restaurant with only a convection oven, four stovetop burners and two low boy cabinets with a single two foot pass. This small restaurant pumped out over 120 covers on good nights which is absolutely astounding. This humble establishment was located on Sullivan street in my hometown of Punta Gorda. It was a small purple house that had been converted into a restaurant. Now this small house operates as a tiny local bar that hosts live performers outside on some nights.

After about 15 minutes I was handed a lush plate of chopped lettuce, grilled corn tortillas , shredded breakfast radish, black rice and about a heaping pound of fresh caught halibut. It was paired with a light grapefruit cocktail that added a nice balance of acid to the whole dish. Each bite of taco had a vivid crunch from the vegetables, the black rice provided subtle earthy tones matched with the sharp flavors of light and flaky halibut marinated in siracha.

We then transitioned into a short discussion about Su Casa. “People just didn’t understand what we were trying to do.” He continued “They wanted sweet tomato sauces and yellow tortillas, not the real stuff”, if only they had tasted our tacos.

It was a great meal that we stretched for over an hour. At the end I felt refreshed and full but not stuffed. Great flavors matched with fresh ingredients provided an explosion of delight on my pallet. If you haven’t ever had authentic Mexican food, not taco bell or Moe’s, then you truly haven’t experienced Mexican food.

Day 7: Center Guy

Each day always brings new surprises. Our cover count yesterday was over 140 and dinner service was quite the rush. My job is working between sauté and grill station to help plate dishes and expedite tickets. The “center” job entails a lot and it’s similar to working as a tournant. I lead the team in the production of plates and help where I can. The process of getting a plate of food to the table has a few steps. The first is the ordering. When tickets are ordered in, any item that sits in the first course, typically the top of ticket, is immediately picked-up. The next step is placing the order on pick-up. This is typically dictated by the server. Picking up or firing is the term used for actually cooking and plating the dish. Most first course items are simple items that take usually no more than 3 minutes to cook. Items that take longer such as grilled steaks or sautéed chicken will be started early so that when the next course is picked-up, it can simply be finished or reheated. This allows for all of the plates to come out at the same time at the right temperature.
My job is to communicate with the other members of our line and gather information on the current status of items for the next course. Once all of the proteins or main item are ready or nearly ready and the server has called for pick-up, I begin plating starch, cooking vegetables and then finish the plates by adding sauce, proteins and garnishes respectively. I also am responsible to call for sides and salads that I don’t produce on my station. It is an intense position due to having to work between and with two separate stations. There are times when both sides require attention. The goal is to focus on individual tickets and complete each one in sections. For example plating all of them items that come off sauté station then follow up by plating everything for grill.
I will be honest, right now I’m still slow. I’m learning the protocols and making improvements each day but it is a hard, intense role. Nonetheless, I couldn’t ask for anything better. I compare it to a complex strategy game. The opponent is the clock and the win condition is making it to the final stage, selling the ticket. Selling the ticket is the final stage of the production process. Once the plates are ready they are placed in the window under a heating element and the server is paged to run the plates to the table.
Awareness and multitasking are the two main skills I need to practice to get more efficient. Reacting to calls rather than listening and processing is what is currently slowing me down. I have assessed my weakness and now I just need to correct it. I still look forward to each day of service because it’s just more time to get better.

Day 6

On the days where I have nothing major to report I have chosen to go back and write about some of my experiences at CIA. The focus will be on chef analyses but will also include small vignettes about exploits with friends.

The start of the program at CIA begins with a class called culinary fundamentals, we call it fundies. This class teaches the basics that are used throughout the programme. The chef instructor varies depending on start date and time block and I was given the esteemed honor to have Chef Joseph DiPerri. Day one commenced with a tour of the kitchen. Chef moved around the kitchen showing us where equipment was located as well as the general procedure for his kitchen. One of our daily tasks as a class was to produce 50-80 gallons of chicken and beef stock. Most fundies class are only required to practice making stock for the first quarter of the class, 7 instructional days. But our Chef was a genius. Each bag of stock that we produced was given a value that could be redeemed by selling the stock back to the storeroom. By constantly maintaining this flow of production Chef always had stock in inventory but also never ran over budget for his kitchen.

Chef was always stern with us. He wanted things done one way, the right way. From day 1 the quote “pros not schmos” was something that rang throughout our kitchen. Chef was adamant about properly cooking food and using the correct techniques. Every demonstration he showed us was interactive. Chef asked us questions about the science of the food as well as the history. Topics like Millard Reaction would transition into later topics about protein coagulation all while chef seared meat in a hot sauté pan or crafted a beautiful Consommé. When our class had rough days he would scream across the tables “You guys make me want to go jump off the Mid-Hudson bridge!”. He never was rude or disrespectful, but he would often make light of common student mistakes, of course he had seen it time and time again.

Chef would often address the class with “Say the word”, after points of enlightenment, common mistakes or realizations such as burning a pot of rice or breaking a buerre blanc. These of course were things we had been taught to avoid and they had been explained and re-explained multiple times. Every time we heard this echo through the class room our response was always, as you might imagine, “Oh…”. He would frequently jest about these mistakes by asking our group leader, as if he knew, why the vegetables hadn’t been washed or there was plastic wrap in the compost bin. “Group leader, why the man who…” he’d shout in a terrible French accent, followed by the grievous offence.

Chef has over 20 years’ experience in the industry as well as over 20 years of tenure at the CIA. He continues to teach fundies because I believe it is something he loves. He is a genuine chef that wants to give you all of his knowledge. He wants things done the right way and he has no tolerance for laziness or apathy. He always explained why, which was frequently helpful when trying to understand and learn the techniques used in the kitchen. He was very critical, not afraid to lay into a student if they made a blatant error like under seasoning or over cooking. He allowed no short cuts and wanted everyone to perform at their best. He kept us focused and attentive by constantly asking us questions and reiterating information. “Don’t bobble head me!”, he would remark after giving us a valuable piece of information making sure we weren’t just nodding our head to appease him.

Chef DiPerri is my mentor at CIA and he has provided me with insight that I couldn’t hope to gather from anywhere else. His class and teachings were truly unique and I consider everything he taught me each and every day. He was a great guide for the start of my CIA career and no amount of words could possibly do him justice.

“Group leader, why the man who put ketchup in his Consommé? Six page paper on how to make Consommé!”

-Chef DiPerri’s imitation of one of his former instructors.

You provide the food and I will provide the perspective." – Anton Ego, 2007


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 68 other followers