It was everything I could have wanted. I only wish I could have spent more time in the kitchen doing anything — even just watching everything go down. On Saturdays people are allowed to help in the kitchen. At 7 AM. I think I made it by 8…. I had a long night with my cousin the night before. They started me on chestnuts: score them through the skin, blanch them, peel them. Sounds easy but it’s not. I’m surprised I didn’t slice my thumb off to be honest. I have a newfound respect of the guys selling them on the street — theirs are peeled perfectly. Get them in there. Anyways, I did that for about an hour (which resulted in about 14 sad looking peeled chestnuts) until Miss Talbott pulled me over to her station where she wanted me to bread cardoons that she was drenching in eggs. One hand for wet, one for dry. Not thrilling but much better than chestnuts and I got to ask Mona some of my burning cooking questions, all of which have been erased from my memory by the excitement of the day. And they say Saturday lunch is the most laid back meal to prepare.
Next I began peeling potatoes to be sliced for pizza. In between I took a break and learned to fry the cardoons. I did it in a big pot of oil at around 180 degrees C. I felt very important…. I’m pretty sure Mona gave me that job because it is close to impossible to screw up: make sure the temperature stays around 180, fry the cardoons in batches, take them out when they look done, sprinkle them with parmesan, plop them on a plate. I had a lot of fun doing it.
Back at the potatoes, one of the young chefs, Nick, taught me how to properly bake them to be used as a pizza topping. In the past I would just slice them in the Cuisinart, spread them out on a pan in a thick layer, cover them in olive oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper and bake them until they were soft. Nick’s way was much more precise and produced a much higher quality result. Here’s what you do: peel the potatoes and soak them in water. Slice them at a constant thickness using a mandolin. Cover two trays with parchment paper, sprinkle one with olive oil and salt and place the potato slices in a single layer on top. Sprinkle them with more olive oil and salt and a handful of water from where the potatoes are soaking. Place a piece of parchment on top and then another pan on top of that. Bake until the potatoes feel soft and taste… good, about 8 or 10 minutes. I burned my tongue so badly doing this, imitating Nick as he tossed a potato slice in his mouth directly from the pan. I did six batches of these and then we got to eat!
Lunch was sooooo good. There was a Panade, which consists of very thinly sliced toasted bread, white wine caramelized onions, and a few cheeses, stacked in three layers. I watched another one of the chefs, Brian, sliced the bread using a meat slicer and then layer everything together. Amazing — I’m going to have try this one at home. There was also a pasta with lentil dish that was really yummy, a delicious roasted fennel and lemon dish served with olives, the fried cardoons and salad. And wine.
My favorite part of cooking in the kitchen was seeing how little timing things matters or is even mentioned – it’s all look, taste, smell, temp and feel; I need to get better at interpreting and understand all those things. So much fun with so many talented young chefs!