Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Am I in Spain, not quite ……

The other night we decided to pop along to rhe much published Barrafina. A trendy tapas bar in Soho, owned by the Hart brothers. There are no reservations taken, so it’s on a first come and first serve basis. The restaurant has about 20 stools all along the L shaped bar, from where you can watch fish being cooked on the flat top grill. Jamon being sliced off the leg in front of your very eyes. A marvellous sight for any carnivore. The place was buzzing which always adds an element of excitement to your meal. But you would expect this place to be jammin’, as it is the “IN” place to be seen at the moment in Soho. And packed it was. We only had to wait about 30 minutes, as a lot of people were pre-theatre dining. But with a clear crisp bottle of Albarino white wine, the wait flew by. As I said the wait flew by and in no time we were seated at the bar, and given a list of the days specials, which were all fish. The menu is easy to read and digest. Nothing really out of place here than you would find in an upmarket tapas bar in Spain. We opted for some Jamon Croquettes, what we thought were patatas bravas, but turned out to be fries with a mildly disappointed sauce (as we were with it.). A little but too runny small tortilla, and one of the specials, a beautiful piece of well cooked haddock. The croquettes were sublime, that combination of deep fried potato and ham rolled in breadcrumbs never seems to amaze me. We do a veggie option in the café with goats’ cheese and herbs. Eat far too many. The idea of doing French fries instead of cubes of potatoes is no short of stupid. This isn’t the golden arches you know, and if you say the sauce is brava then make it so. Not some tomato sauce with a little bit of paprika mixed in. The one portion tortilla is cooked in the same small frying pans we fry our eggs in, and is a great size for a tortilla. Unfortunately the inside was still a little bit too runny. Needed a little bit more salt, or have I become over salted working in a French (in style) café. The haddock was beautifully cooked on the flat top grill. Fantastic. Cooked all the way through, but still moist and the flavour was great. Hats off to the girl who cooked it. To finish off we shared a portion of chocolate tart. Nicely cooked pastry and good chocolate filling. For some reason since working at Café Boho, I have developed a sweet tooth, which never used to be there before. Maybe as I said it’s the amazing amount of salt I am now consuming, or maybe it’s the lack of food I am eating and I am getting my energy from the copious amounts of lemon tart I consume on a daily basis. All in all it was a good night, but would I return.... It's unlikely, unless I happen to walk past and there was space and I was a little peckish and fancied a little something with a glass of wine .....
Barrafina on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Difference between home and restaurant cooking ……

There are several differences between being an avid home cook and cooking in a restaurant.
1.    The extremely long hours and little sleep.
2.    The ability to multitask.
3.    There is no room for error.
4.    The pressure of cooking 3 or 4 dishes at once and getting everything perfect.
5.    The sheer volume of food to produce, and the little time you have to do it.
6.    The abuse when it all goes tits up.
7.    The Prep.
8.    Crap pay.
9.    Staff food. Sucks.
       10. The guilt when you send something out that you know is not 100% perfect. But you have no choice

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Whose Idea was it for me to Work in a Professional Kitchen

Rather late in life, I decided to really get to know how to cook. So I took a 6 month full time cooking course at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. I was a pretty good cook, and enjoyed it immensely. So when I started the course, I realized how much I did not know. Incredible, but I enjoyed the new learning experience. The theory side kinda bored me a lot, but had to learn the hows and whys.
After I finished in March, we popped over to Asia for six months. (See blogs below). On our return in October I decided to work in a restaurant, kinda wishing I had done it back in March or April, but Asia was fantastic and I am so glad we went.
Luckily enough I got a job in a new restaurant that was going to open in a new shopping centre in West London. The head chef was an ex teacher at Leiths, so thankfully I was taken aboard. In the kitchen there was 7 of us to begin with. 4 commis, a junior sous, a sous and head chef. This over the following 6 weeks dwindled down to just 5 of us.
The menu originally was fast healthy food for ladies who were going to lunch in this new shopping centre. They still came in but not as many as was predicted. Recession maybe.
Like in Sushi bars we had or a conveyer belt where the cold starters were to go. Thankfully this idea was aborted after the 2nd week. It became clear with the lack of customers there was a lot of wastage, as everything has to be cleared within 2 hours. So in the end I was making to order. A better idea.
The restaurant never fully recovered from a shamble of an opening, and we slowly went down hill over the next 2 months. Although we were really busy for weekend brunch …. Not enough to keep a place alive. So the owner closed up shop quite suddenly 2 weeks before Christmas.
For me it was a good introduction into kitchen life as we were not too busy but busy enough to give me an idea of what it was like. The hours were painful though as there were so few of us we used to do shifts of 16 hours. A killer. Normally at least three times a week.
I had a few weeks of doing nothing before Christmas before my Sous Chef gave me a call and got me a trial in a kitchen that is part of the Soho House Group here in London.
Now if I thought Ito was a killer. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I normally do 7 or 8 shifts a week, which are nine hours each. A few doubles in there for good measure. But sometimes the aount of work is relentless. Just to prep my station takes me several hours and if I am doing two at once. It’s a killer. At 38, my body can not really take much more of this. I’m hoping to last to the end of March, then take it week by week.
At one point I realized that over 3 days, I had slept for 15 hours, and eaten very very little. No wonder I was so mashed. All I do on my days off is sleep.
Now this sounds like either I’m moaning or torturing myself. The thing is I am really enjoying the job, and wished I had done this when I was younger. Much younger. I am learning so much more. Basically all I learnt in college does me no good here, as restaurant ways are a lot different from there and at home.