Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stage at Daniel Part 1

Last summer in Beijing I was lucky enough to meet famous chef Daniel Boulud. Shortly there after I dined at his newly opened restaurant in Beijing and then at 'Daniel' in NYC. Throughout the year I built a relationship with Daniel through email and through visiting his restaurant. We even had some joking words about the rivalry between the French and American relay teams! It has been a true honor to know Daniel. When I was given the opportunity to work in his restaurant 'Daniel' for a few days I was out of my mind excited...

The first thought that came to my mind was, "I hope they realize I'm not a cook and don't give me something that is out of my league (basically most of what they do at 'Daniel' is out of my league haha)." As the Stage (what they call short learning experiences in kitchens) approached I became more and more crazed with anticipation and excitement but also a bit nervous. I really had no idea what to expect but I knew my genuine interest for what they do and my tenacity towards food and cooking would make up for my lack of experience.

My shift started at 12 noon. I showed up at 11:45 and on the first day I was given a uniform, short tour, introduced to the chefs, and immediately started working. My first task was to make perfect cubes of Chorizo sausage which would be used as garnish on a plated dish. Let's just say my cubes were not all perfect. I felt bad and apologized for my inconsistency but they all assured me it was OK and that I was doing great. What a relief! I moved from task to task...chopping, slicing, helping make sauces and reductions, peeling, retrieving items from the unbelievably stocked refrigerators and freezers, skinning and/or breaking down wild hare, duck and grouse, as well as many other random tasks that came up.

The inventory they have is out of this world. Walking into the refrigerators and/or freezers you'll come across varying things from Iberico ham ($250/lb), truffles, foie gras, whole pigs heads, a plethora of fresh herbs, the most delicious straight-from-the-utter unpasteurized milk, wild game birds, miniature vegetables of every kind, caviar, wild berries etc. I could barely believe my eyes. My first thought was, "I wish I could stay here and work for free for a year to see how they use all of this stuff!" Truly remarkable.

One thing was a questions. I am an extremely inquisitive person and have genuine interest for almost anything and everything. As I worked and bounced around from one job to another I asked question after question. I was literally in awe of their knowledge, of their highly refined sense of smell and taste, and of their grace in the movements they make in the kitchen.

Dinner service starts at 5:30pm. As the service nears you can sense it without even looking at the clock. People come upstairs to the main kitchen from down in the large prep kitchen below. Everyone's movements are faster. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. Everyone becomes more focused on their job. The first order comes in. The chef reads it out over a microphone. Immediately everyone springs into action but with a poise and confidence which can only come from truly knowing what you're doing. What happens next still boggles my mind. Everyone does their job and completes it so that everything is finished at basically the exact same time. Let me remind you that these plates are very complex and often have 15 different ingredients on them...crazy!!! During the dinner service I mostly observed what was going on, helped someone when they needed it, and tried to stay out of the way. Even observing what they were doing provided me with a ton of knew insight into the preparation of food.

Check back soon for part two of my experience at Daniel!


maly said...

as a french reader of your blog , i am glad that you got to see and work with a big french chef. i am looking forward to reading more of your week .

J said...

I liked this blog because of the descriptive detail. Its gives you the feel of being in the restaurant first hand. I wish as much motivation to cook, I used my oven to cook a premade pizza ...ewww! After reading about the Italian recipes, I ashamed to even use the microwave... you have some recipes, and perhaps help some people (like myself) to get into the kitchend and COOK!

Lindsey said...

Wow! It sounds like you had an amazing time at your mini Heat-esque experience at Daniel. You must feel so blessed!

Your descriptions of their ingredients made my imagination go nuts! Unpasteurized milk just mind-bogglingly good. The first time I had it was at a small family dairy in Norway. We had milk for breakfast that they had milked that morning. I'll never forget it!

Teresa said...

Hi Garrett,
Great posting, but I want to know when you are going to visit The Inn of Little Washington in Washington, VA. That is THE best dinig experience in the US. I still need to get some recipes to you for your contest. But, how do you manage all this and keep up with your swimming (and figure)?


Blogspot Template by Isnaini Dot Com