Good evening, friends and neighbors.
So this happened last week-
She’s a student. Crazy capable, and catches on quick. We’ve had her as an extern for a while, and today- thanks to a crunch schedule- she gets to solo the pastry bench. I’ve already got things set up for her as much as I can. She has a production list, but she gets to decide her timeline. The list is reasonable, but unspecific- she’ll have to get creative.
I’m off to the left with my own work, taking care of the production end of things. I have a light list so I can keep an eye on her. She’s worked, she’s prepped- and now it’s time to fly.
It was time to make a galette, and I left the filling up to her. She saw what we had a lot of stuff in the walk-in: ham, kale, carrots, and a fresh crate of onions. “These with pepper jack, I think.”
Part of me flashed back to Chef Sheridan back in ACA’s restaurant, Careme’s, and reminding me of how to craft dishes- figuring out what goes together.
“Hold up- WHAT exactly are you going to do with the kale? WHY carrots?”
About 5 minutes and a trip to the walk-in later, the ham was the odd one out. When crafting a dish, using what you have is a good way to start- but it must work together and make sense.
Once back at the bench, she is in her element- plowing through the list and prep, and I can work on my own tasks. Then she goes to work on the kale. She’s stemmed and chopped it, and thrown it in with the rest of the veg for the oven.
“Whoa, hold up. What are you doing with the kale here?”
“Um… roasting it?”
My mind flashes back to school again- this time to Chef Matt, and him gently ribbing me over caramelizing hazelnuts for a bread.
“No no no. That’s good for kale chips. You need to sauté this if it’s going in a galette.”
She nods, pulls a pan down and starts oiling it right on her bench.
“Wait, hold up. You know it’s a hot pan you oil, right?”
She shakes her head. I am thrilled ACA made me go through Soups, Stocks and Sauces on the way to a pastry degree and look at the half-done prep on my table.
“Okay, meet me at the range in about 5 minutes. Bring the kale, half-cup of the chicken stock I just made, two cloves of minced garlic, and the crushed pepper.”
She moves like a soldier. Her mise is perfect as she brings me everything nice and neat. I heat up the pan, hand her a wooden spoon, and oil the pan. Together, I show her how to braise the kale the way Emily and I do it at home- savory and crunchy, but tender and bright. In my head, Chef Chelius is sternly-but kindly- walking me through everything, explaining why each step needs to happen.
When it’s done, I hold the pan up and tell her to try a piece. She’s never really had kale. In my head, Chef Cragg says “If you haven’t tasted it, why should I?”
She does. It’s delicious. “I never really tried kale before, but that is really good!”
“And that’s going in your galette. Now you know how to make kale for the rest of your life.”
Her shift ends, and I write up remarks on her student evaluation.
“Any kitchen lucky enough to get her will not be disappointed.”
Anthony Bourdain says, “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”
She’s gonna be a hell of a baker, because she’s got it in spades. Skills and tastes will come in time.
Thank you to her teachers, and to mine.
You didn’t just teach me how to bake and cook- you taught me how to teach.