Thursday, March 27, 2008

rhubarb

It wasn't strawberries this year that made me kick-start giddy into spring. It was rhubarb. We were tasked to come up with a dessert special, maybe a crisp, and suitable ice cream was made. We all brought cookbooks...rhubarb the great unknown, the pinkish vegetable, the first blush of spring. I was the only one who'd used it before.

I had never thought to peel rhubarb before but my coworker (who must've read it somewhere) told me to do so, and I had another stupid moment as I chopped the peeled rhubarb, a body memory return to last spring and the mountains of rhubarb I used for crisps and whatnot at Frog Hollow. The slices would always stick together by this fibrous membrane, and I'd curse it out and hand-separate them (or not, mood depending). But it never, ever, occurred to me to peel the thing. Genius.

So it was the body memory that got me, and then the smell. A rough earthy smell, a green smell. Not a perfume, nothing sexy. A smell of spring and beginning. It took me back to the Oakland days, to when I knew nothing and no one here. To how great it felt to finally be on my own in a kitchen and playing with whatever produce was on hand, plus the flip side of that, ignorance, the thousands of unanswered questions and uncertainties and things-left-to-learn.

Rhubarb...it smelled so new again. And like a thousand old things I'd left behind.

Maybe because of the rhubarb, maybe not, but the rest of the night was great. I was working both stations and getting enough garde manger tickets that the board was getting filled up and I needed to work quick and clean and wipe...and when the intermittent pastry ticket it was time to turn around and tend to the cakes, custards, sauces. We had a good number of dessert sales, too, and though I gave my coworker a 20 minute shot at the station because she missed it (and went off to consolidate walk-in stuffs), on the whole I was into service and had a really good rhythm going.

The whole night was like a gift. A reminder of what I am here for. I love working with food. I love the excitement and possibilities of a new dish. Especially a dish like crisp is so fraught with memories for me. I thought back to all the FH crisps that were too soggy or too stiff, the parade of peach and nectarine varietals, the experience of making 9 months' worth of crisp and having to guess the right amount of starch to balance out the liquid from the fruit. I love my coworkers. It feels like we've all been here for so long, but really it's been the blink of an eye. In September, I stood in the Oleana kitchen nervous to go back to SF and start a restaurant job with serious people and Maura said to me that all restaurants weren't like the ones I'd worked in. She promised me there were good restaurants and good people, and when you see it? It's seductive. You can try to explain it to the other people in your life, those who aren't in the industry, but they won't get it.

9 comments:

budi said...

OMG! I never peeled rhubarb either! It's one of those things-- I learned to use rhubarb from my Granny, who learned it from hers, and so on. Who knows why, originally, they didn't peel the rhubarb. Probably for no good reason. But anyway, I've been playing with strawberries. Now I want to play with rhubarb.

Busy all the time. said...

you should, and you should peel it. today we're making rhubarb chips and strawberry chips ;)

rich said...

i miss the rhubarb...i had never had it until i moved to vermont...where it grows like mad everywhere...although I never saw it...and now I dont see it in hawaii too often.

Busy all the time. said...

you mean to say with all the tropical fruits in hawaii, you miss rhubarb? hah.

Anonymous said...

I still don't understand why you're peeling the rhubarb? all of rhubarb is rhubarb-- those strands are in the entire stalk. if you omit the outer layer of rhubarb you miss out on all that pretty pink blush. or ferocious hot pinkness...

rich said...

Well yes...you can only eat so much pineapple in a year before you pop. I was so excited to find apple cider in the store the other day...

We have some nice fruit that i had never had...longans...lilikoi...other crazy ones...and the dragonfruits are awesome...there is just so much you can do on the savory side with tropical fruits...before you overload the guests...

Busy all the time. said...

so far as i know we're peeling the rhubarb because it makes it easier to work with and takes away some of the most tough, fibrous strands. and where it's in a crisp with strawberries, the color effect is lost anyway.

rich: lilikoi, yum! i've never had a dragonfruit though.

White On Rice Couple said...

We WERE excited about cooking with the rhubarb that we planted, until a mischievous DOG uprooted our plants. So it seams that this DOG loves rhubarb more than we do and ended up eating all the stalks before we could get to it.
Thanks for the reminder, we'll have to hit up our farmers market for these beautiful red stalks. We've given up on planting it!

shuna fish lydon said...

It is a myth that the rhubarb "skin" is skin at all. Rhubarb is about 80% water, and this is held together by very tight strands which run the length of the stalk, top to bottom, like.

If you do this experiment you will see what I mean: run a knife from top to tail, attempting to get one long thin piece. Immediately after being removed from it's whole it will curl.

Color is always imprtant in cooking, even if you are feeding the blind. For if you are overcooking rhubarb (which perhaps 95% of the population does), you are going to accentuate those stringy fibers and the flavor is going to be that much more lost.

Yes, you're knife has to be sharp when cutting it, but removing rhubarb's outer layer is like trying to get to the solid part of the onion-- it's all layers.