Monday, November 14, 2005

The Aukberg Test

Make a list, load the car, go to the kitchen...
It's a two mile or so drive to work, and the whole way I think about timing. When it goes in the oven or on the stove, when it comes off. What the plate looks like... what the sauce should look like... when it goes on...
Unload the car, check the list, chop chop chop...
I had a gig on Saturday - pretty simple thing really, dinner for six. Seeing as though I make about 1500 meals a week, no biggie. The only difference is, these six people could mean some real money for me, since the hostess wants a personal chef and wants to see what I can do... so by the time I leave the kitchen and load the car again, I'm ready, but sweating a little.
I arrive about 90 minutes early and unload the car again... unpack... and start the required small talk... what a lovely kitchen... oh, you interned in some restaurants in Belgium, how wonderful... yes, I always bring my own knives... two kids... ooh, a plate warmer, cool...
don't let me keep you from your guests...
now it's my kitchen...
shoo...
Last two guests arrive, and things start rolling. Cold plates from the fridge, a little ring mold, and in a minute I have six perfect little columns of wasabi cucumber salad. Next six little flatbreads balanced off center like diving boards are gently propped up with a dollop of caviar, and the smoked salmon rolled up with wasabi mousse comes out of the freezer. Quick little slices make pinwheels that defrost on my fingertips, and gently perch on the flatbreads like wee Greg Louganis' (Lougani?) waiting to attempt their inward two and a half onto a pool of freshly scissored chives.
Chargers come off the table, amuse-bouche goes on, and I'm starting to jog...
Some extra cream in the soup to bring it off boil, little pepper - and mumbles from the dining room. Forks clink, mumble mumble, and I sneak in to pull the plates. Bowls out of the warmer, quicklikerabbit I ladle the butternut squash, leek & chipotle out and wipe the rims... basil chiffonade and red peppercorns mounds float on the side (a bit like Greg Louganis after he hit his head I think... not funny, must focus) ... bowls on saucers, and they go out, and now I'm runnng.
mumble mumble...
In case you were wondering when the fun part comes, here it is.. ten ounces of soup per person, and an extra ten minutes of wine and conversation, and I need an entree. Sea bass comes off the ice - and already I have a hiccup - every strip of fish I cut has an odd line of bones right down the center that should have been taken out already. Quick mental note - must yell at fish guy. Loudly. No tweezers or time, I cut the center out of each steak and now instead of six nice pieces of fish I have twelve cute little pieces, and all of my plating ideas are out the window. Oil, chorizo and bay leaves in one pan, cranberry cilantro polenta in another, and asparagus with herb chimichurri in a third. Bass on top of the chorizo, flip asparagus, flip polenta, flip fish, polenta onto a sheet and into the oven, flip asparagus, fish pan into the broiler.
Breathe.
mumble, mumble...
Plates out of the warmer, extra piece of polenta I was clever enough to make directly from the oven to my mouth, and I move on. Actually, I stop for a minute and think "holy shit... thats pretty good" and then I move on. Polenta goes down, TWO cute little fishies stacked on top, a drizzle of chorizo oil, some fried bay leaves and a little basil, my mouth is watering, some chorizo to hold up the stack, and the kitchen smells like Christmas time at my grandmother's house in Portugal. Actually, I don't have a Portuguese grandmother. One day, I do plan to befriend an old Portuguese woman though... spoons clatter... chevre goes down next to the fish, asparagus on top, a few raspberries nestled on the asparagus, bowls come off, plates go on.
Sidebar - apparently, it is perfectly acceptable to spend $100,000 on your kitchen, and only have twelve nice forks.
so I wash some forks...
A little time now, so I throw some english cucumbers on the mandoline to make long thin strips, and stand them on edge on each salad plate in circles to make little walls - tuck the salad greens inside and let some puff out of the top so the plate looks like Huggy Bear wearing a cucumber headband. Some anjou pear on the side, a little Maytag, a pear vinaigrette squirt, and I'm good.
Plates come off, salad and freshly washed forks go on.
mumble mumble...
Back in the kitchen I roll crepes with poppyseed cooked in sugar and orange rind, then roll some with strawberries and mascarpone, and toss them all in the oven. Chocolate sauce and little drops of butterscotch on the plate, crepes out of the oven, stacked like lincoln logs, little strawberry fans on the side, plates come off, plates go on, and I'm done.
breathe...
The kitchen is clean by the time their plates need to be cleared, and Rosa has out her calendar and a red pen to mark down all of the dates she wants me to come back. To seal the deal, because she is stuffed and a little drunk, she pays twice what I asked, and I'm in the car listening to Anna Nalick and smelling the chorizo on my apron before the oven has even cooled down.
Sunday afternoon rolls around, and I'm watching Sam race his rubber iguana down the slides at the park. My finger starts bleeding again from some random dinner injury, my arms are covered with spatter burns, and still, for a minute I can't imagine life being better. Maybe if I had a Portuguese grandmother... or some more of that polenta...

2 comments:

Jeanne said...

Whoa. Not fair posting right before I'm about to eat my crummy leftovers for lunch. Can you save me some next time?

Deidre said...

she has more than 12 nice forks, they are not kept in the kitchen.

 
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