Wednesday, October 10, 2007

plating versus production...?

Worked lunch today and toward the end of my shift as I was cleaning the station my sous chef came out to ask me if I wanted to make the sweat-inducing chiboust. If I Don't Do That Then What? I asked, cause if the alternative was something I'd been exposed to less I'd take that one. Or Clean, she said. So I took the chiboust.

I was Asking You Cause You Seemed To Really Like Doing It, she said.

Oh Yeah. I Do. Then I paused to clarify. It wasn't that I loved preparing this particular menu item. I'm So Much Happier Doing Production, I said. I Much Prefer It To Service. I Know I Have A Lot To Learn From Doing Service And I'm Down With That But It Doesn't Make My Heart Sing.

So I whisked frantically for some time and then we super cleaned the kitchen to Le Tigre, silently singing along cause neither of us can sing. I really like my sous chef and feel like we've kind of bonded. It could have started out as just a dyke thing but I tell her what I want, pester her to show me things I haven't gotten to do yet. While we were scrubbing everything down today I told her she was doing a really good job. Not That It Means That Much Coming From Me, I prefaced the compliment.

No, It Does, she said. Surprised. And now hours later I want to tell my coworker who is new to the industry that she's really brave. And I just emailed my boss some things that had been on my mind like how I love my job, because I think it's fairly obvious but it might not be. Is it a good idea or is it a bad idea to email things like that to your boss, I don't know, but it's honest. This post has me rethinking all communication lately, not just fictitious.

I called a cook friend on my way home and we fell into talking about work. Plating. I'd Rather Be In The Back And Mise Ingredients For YOU To Make A Cake Than Plate Desserts I said. Production calms me. Even if I am only punching out cookies on a sheet pan it makes me happy.

I know that plating desserts is important. I also really like my chef's style of plating. It makes sense to me, aesthetically. At Sonsie I was always befuddled by the choices my boss made in terms of plate components and in terms of plate design. We'd do a piece of mousse cake atop a giant peanut meringue, with a tiny line of chocolate sauce like a moat around the meringue. The meringue made sense because it was crunchy and added a texture but who wanted to eat an enormous meringue with really rich mousse cake and who wanted only a dabble of sauce? No, this job is not like that. The plates are lovely and there is a certain pride to it. Each time I draw the glassy, glistening caramel down the edge of the plate in a clean line and don't mess up the edges, I'm totally happy. Placing the fig garnish in a neat line makes me smile. I am even getting into the rhythm of plating again, after nine months without restaurant positions. Lunch is actually a lot faster than dinner and having the tickets pile up while I was still trying to unmold shy panna cottas from their ramekins didn't make me nervous.

So it isn't that I don't like plating. I just don't love it. I understand that it is necessary and I understand why. Production I love. Even when it's boring. Though I'll admit I loved it a little less at the cupcakery, because nothing ever changes.

But my friend made me see it a little differently. You Will Learn So Much About The Products, he said. Each Time You Handle That Cake You'll Understand It Better In A Way You Never Would Only By Baking It, he said. And it's true that I know how each piece feels day in and day out. That a component has different value to me when I see it as a tool.

I Think You'll Get To Like It Better, my friend said.

Will I not truly understand a panna cotta until I can unmold it efficiently? Because...and this is arms are aching, actually. So all you do is warm the outside of the ramekin in a bain, loosen the top edges of the custard, and then invert it onto a flat plate and shake the plate (with your thumbs on top supporting the ramekin) vigorously. Ridiculous sounding, yeah? My sous chef actually laughed at me when I told her my arms were sore.

Do I prefer production because I see myself as less good at plating? With all of its fussy precision. Do I prefer production because it's somehow, and this is ridiculous too, more butch to heft large Hobart bowls someone my size really shouldn't be lifting anyway, to bust out all the bread the restaurant requires for the day? I'm Getting In Touch With My Femme Side, I told my sous chef after I rearranged our flowers into two tiny vials of the ones that were still alive, keeping the prettier one for the pastry side of the pass. Between that and the handwriting.

Maybe...maybe it's not a versus thing. I'm willing to consider that it will teach me not just about precision, consistency and efficiency of movement but about the raw materials I'm working with.


Anonymous said...

Ooh, thank you for re-framing plating for me. That is good to think about. I fear plating because it always seems like I have to do it someone else's way, and I've never been that good at imitation. :(

Busy all the time. said...

It's not me you owe the thanks to, it's my friend Aaron who is also a pastry cook. i'm trying to get behind it, because I think it makes a lot of sense. And at the heart of it all plating is no scarier than piping buttercream so prettily, yeah?