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March 19, 2007

Pet Peeves I

There's a term that cooks use that's been floating around a lot more lately: Dysfunctional garnish. The term is already skewed because it implies that the garnish in question has no function, no purpose. A less prejudiced term is non-edible garnish. It seems cool to beat up on things on the plate that aren't meant to be eaten, because the diner might be put in the embarassing position of putting something in their mouth that isn't edible.

But, uhhhhh, isn't it GARNISH?? To me, it's a bit silly that people have to be told not to eat twigs of rosemary and paper liners and such.

Part of it also seems to be a Western bias. Namely, Japanese cuisine has probably the most aesthetically fetishized food presentation of any culture. All sorts of seasonal leaves, flowers, and other natural products in beautiful ways. Of course, it has to make sense with what's being served. Japanese chefs use items with a profound connection to the dish that is being garnished. It seems more appropriate to me to put a beautiful and meaningful garnish on the plate than a sprig of curly parsley that has no significance to the dish, yet is technically edible.

March 15, 2007

The Call and the Callback

In most kitchens, coordinating the timing of food is a fundamental goal, so that the guests eat each course of their meal together. Since a table can easily have their four entrees made by four different stations, and therefore four different cooks, there has to be a system for getting those dishes to the window within seconds of each other. Most kitchens have the chef or the lead cook call out what is currently needed. The call should be confident and authoritative, or it might get ignored.

For instance, a chef might call, "Fire table 100: Steak, Med Rare; Entree Ceasar with chicken; Pasta Primavera; all going with Fish Special." Depending on how the chef likes to run things, he probably wants a callback, which is each person acknowledging what dish they're responsible for. The callbacks would be something like: Grill: Steak, MR. Pantry: Entree Ceasar with Chicken. Pasta: Pasta Primavera. Most likely, the chef is cooking the fish special, so there's no callback for that.

In more traditional kitchens, every phrase must end in, "yes, chef" much like the military requires "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am." Then the callbacks would be something like: Grill: Steak, MR; yes, chef. Pantry: Ceasar with Chicken; yes, chef. Pasta: Pasta Primavera; yes, chef.

Over time, each cook gets to know the pickup times for all dishes, so that if their dish is going with another that takes a while, they shouldn't start it right away. Or conversely if they're already behind because the fish special only takes two minutes, but the pasta usually takes about four minutes - so he or she better do whatever it takes to get it in the window, because the chef already has his fish in the pan.

Not calling back can be seen as, a) disrespect, b) not paying attention, c) bad kitchen ettiquete, or d) not having his or her shit together. None of those are good.

On the other hand, enthusiasm when calling back is good form.

Satirizing the call and the callback can be done as follows: "I need two hot pockets, one toaster strudel, frosting on the side, one soy pig in a blanket, one ham and cheese sandwich, no bread." Response: "Two hot pockets, one toaster strudel, frosting on the side, one soy pig in a blanket, one ham and cheese, no bread; yes chef."

Alternately, the incorrect callback: "Two Steak and Lobster, black and blue and well done, bearnaise and teriyaki on both; yes, chef."

Another variation I like is: "All that stuff you just said; yes, chef."

It's always about the details.