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.