Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Knife Bag 5. OUI CHEF!!!!!!

You know the part in Pulp Fiction where Sam Jackson flips his wallet out onto the table and it says Bad Ass Motherfucker?

Ludo Lefebvre is that wallet.

Look him up online. Don't let the white teeth fool you. This is a man who runs marathons after training a few days, who comes to work after back surgery instead of nodding off on Vicodin like the rest of us weenies would.  He is polite, unassuming. He is a machine.

There are so many parts to being a chef. Cooking is only the first. You are the coach, the mommy and the shrink. You need to recognize different personalities and get each cook to want to be better with each plate of food they put out. You never want your team to be counting the minutes until they can leave. This isn't Subway. People can tell how much love got put into their food and that is a direct reflection of the team and it's leader. Ludo is exceptional. It is stunning to see someone who gets subtitles when he's on TV explain himself better than any chef I've ever worked with. EVER.
Lots of chefs get the cooking part, but cannot tell you how to do something. When you think you have finally figured out what they want, they come over and tell you how stupid you are.

(What normal person picks a job where people get to scream "RETARD" at you while you burn yourself, btw? There is such an S&M angle to cooking. I wonder what Freud would say)

Anyhoo, Ludo is genuinely warm as he greets me.

He hands me a shirt and apron, smiles with his very white teeth, and.........

tells me I'll be working hot apps & dessert with Chef Dan. R'uh r'oh.

The Twitter has led me to blogs and the blogs have led me to stories about failed souffles.  No one has apparently mastered these little fuckers yet, but there have been many stern looks of disapproval and the inevitable banishment to ice cream land. 

Lead me to the guillotine, sir.

It's like the first quarter of cooking school where you have to get past the crabby instructor before they let you cut more than onions and carrots.  It must be very challenging to have so many people with different skill levels knocking flour everywhere and forgetting things in the mixer.

The other interns are AMAZE-O. Where they lack experience, they make up for in stamina as they are pulling 50 hour weeks, gratis, just to get to work with him.  That's the power of the LudoBite.

After a five year-absence I feel like the red-cloggers on Top Chef. You've seen them. The 40 year-olds who represent for the catering witches everywhere. We're not untalented, just a bit slower. We don't have the energy we did when we were 25. We have had dead babies and breast cancers, sick parents and mortgage crises. We want to cook to save ourselves and the world from ow-ies and mean people.

So I'm slower, but I'm also different than I was before in a kitchen. I am VERY sensitive as most of you know and I used to go home crying sometimes after a behind-the-line ass-chewing.

Not anymore. When told to "inspect and reflect" my buttered souffle molds in a tone that might be construed as condescending, I just said Okay, and did them again.  I thought about Evan and how glad I would be to see him in four hours.

Wrap first night.  No disasters. I remember to say 'behind' and 'corner'.  No plates are dropped.

I am on cloud 9 as I exit through the dining room, softly lit like a cathedral where octopus and pork belly are worshipped instead of the Mother. I am back in my element, I can't wait to collapse into the Subaru and get home.

I turn the corner and reach my car................

Which is all alone. In a pitch-black lot. With no valet in sight.

next up-Are You Effing Kidding Me?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Knife Bag, Part 4......Welcome to the Terrordome

I was a bad-ass.
Professional cooking is hard as nuts. Most girls would never want to smell this bad or have their nails look like mine. Could never imagine being elbow deep in pig intestines. And the outfit.  Sweet Fucking Jesus. I cried the first time I put the whole thing on. 

When I came into the kitchen in 1992, women were the mascot. There was one of us in every kitchen and we got to make salad. If a gal was lucky and blew the right GM she might skip cooking altogether and go straight to being Executive Chef where you only had to show up a few hours a day to order and schedule.

I was NOT that girl.

I was the girl in the parka and ski-cap on a dock on Lake Union in January, grilling 200 sides of salmon. I was at the Ruins working 21 hour days during Xmas. You heard me. When was the last time any of you actually stood up doing manual labor for TWENTY-ONE HOURS??!!( the five chefs and one actress reading this are excluded)

I was a fucking bad-ass.

Maybe not to the guys on Deadliest Catch, but seriously, compared to most people I know? 

A certain constitution is required to be able to handle the long hours, hot & dangerous work environment and binge drinking. It's a perfect life for a single 25 year-old. It's hell if you're a mommy.

So when Evan was born, I quit.
I didn't want to parent from the couch while I recovered from the night before. It seemed a logical choice for me to stay home.
2000 days later I am a bit out of shape.

Cooking is like athletics. You might see a big ol' gut on a chef or two,  but there are no fat prep cooks.

A few days after our miraculous anniversary dinner I get an email. Ludo is going to add a prep cook. Am I in?

Nick promises to leave work early everyday so I can be downtown at 3 and I start to assemble my knife bag.

Uh oh.

Honey? I need to get some tools.

Like what?

Like EVERYTHING. DUH. I can't go asking to borrow stuff in the kitchen.

Why not?

It's like talking to a tree stump. He just doesn't get it. It's not like an office job where the computer and printer are waiting when he gets there in the morning. A kitchen has an oven. And some half pans if you're lucky. It is not uncommon for cooks to bring their own egg pans or their own spatulas or whisks.  Restaurant owners are notoriously cheap and forcing you to bring everything down to measuring spoons ensures that they won't have to pony up for any more than necessary.

I spend the next 2 days driving all over LA reading the menu and trying to guess what I might need. Poached oysters? Better get an oyster knife. Ricer for mousseline? Check. Nick shakes his head every time I walk in the house with a new bag and bets me I won't use any of it.

Now that I am equipped, I have the genius idea to get the oil changed. Which leads to some belts being fixed and the info that our battery is about to die.

THAT can't be that hard to fix. I've done it plenty of times.

Yeah, stupid. IN THE NINETIES!!!!!!!

When the computer of the car did not need to be reset in order to run.

This is a revelation a girl does not want to have at 6 pm on Saturday night.  My chariot to the most fantastic kitchen experience ever is stalling every other minute and the only place open on Sunday is the Sears who sold me the battery, but can do nothing about computers. Sorry. SORRY?????

I am hysterical. I call everyone, look at every Subaru repair website. What am I going to do???  I can't sleep, I'm so freaked out. I swore to Krissy that not only could I do this, but would do the best job ever and I can't even get there. I even look up metro schedules so that Nick can start and stop my ass all the way to the bus stop if he has to.

I go to the EZ Lube that tested the battery, in tears, asking the manager what to do. The very nice man who looks exactly like Cedric the Entertainer, motions me into his office. Uh Oh.  I don't want to cook THAT bad. He tells me that he can reset our computer, but it's totally illegal and he's going to do it to get me to stop crying.

There must be some reason life is trying to get in the way of me getting to Ludobites.

Silly me thinks its a test to see how bad I want it.

next up - Out of the Frying Pan.