Archive | May, 2012

3 days left and counting

31 May

Here’s me looking happy in my pastry kitchen. I have the immersion circulator and the cryovac machine (not really a cryovac, but I like to call it that) over my right shoulder, and I’m making “chupitos” and macerated strawberries for stuffing the mochi.  Here’s the mochi before I pull it (it’s not actually green; I think the lighting is weird); then after it’s rolled; and then in it’s final state, plated with the macerated strawberry inside, the flor de cacia gelatin shot on top, and the shot of fresh strawberry juice and vodka next to it.

I have 3 days left at Dos Palillos – yeah!  Yeah, because I’m exhausted. Yeah, because I’m moving onto a new chapter of learning.  Yeah, because I have only 45-48 hours left of this work over 3 days.  I have had lots of fun in between working hours, to be sure.

This past week Alan and his brother Scott have been visiting.  Plus, I had a surprise visit from my love on his layover on the way back from the Maldives.  So, a packed house it was, and lots of cava and gin and tonics flowed.  Here are a few pics from our fun this past weekend:

Alan and me:

The church at night in El Born:

The gin drinking gang, with new friends Dominique and Nathalie (Canadians who do consular work in Senegal and Tanzania):

My new gin of choice:

Okay, rushing off to work now, because if I’m not early, I’m late due to the fact that there’s no way I can accomplish all I need to do in the 1 hour that I get to make only pastries (the rest of the prep I do is for everyone else). Yes, only 3 more days!

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A funny, insightful book: “Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

23 May

I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the book because I can manage to read only a few pages each night before I fall asleep. It’s not the contents of the book or the writing that’s causing me to fall asleep, to be sure.  I love the book. It’s raw, it’s unbelievable in its believability at points, and it makes me laugh.

Monday night I read a few lines that made me smile and that are so true of those (me, including, at first) who flirt with the idea of becoming a chef, but who don’t really understand that it can be and often is grueling work:

“Everyone thinks cooking is ‘fun.’ Everyone who doesn’t do it professionally thinks it’s fun. And it is fun, but not for the same reasons they think it will be. They think it’s the same as trying out a new recipe for brownies like you do at home, with the radio on.”

Then, later the author says, “Two swear words in one sentence had become as effortless a part of me as my own saliva” when she’s working hard in a commercial kitchen.

There are many days I wish working in a restaurant kitchen was like trying out a new recipe in my home kitchen with iTunes blaring, the Hawaii winds blowing through my kitchen windows, and me smiling because I’m being creative.  There is no need to swear because I’m chill in’ and having fun.  Unfortunately, I don’t think restaurant kitchens are ever going to be like that.  But, I do believe they can be “fun” places in which everyone tries their hand at being creative and in which most of the cooks and other staff aren’t miserable to come to work.

My challenge if I “do this thing”, which means opening an eatery of some sort, is to have my other cocineros (cooks) actually want to come to work and like what they do, love it maybe nearly as much as I do.  I want them to know it will be hard AND fun at points, and that the object is to make people happy with what they produce.  In order to do that, I think the cooks have to be happy, as well.  I know that sounds trite, but that belief will influence who I hire, how I hire, what hours people work, and how we all interact.

How do I expect they will be happy?  I think one of the keys is to give everyone some sort of “ownership” in the restaurant. I like Eleven Madison Park’s philosophy. Although I haven’t been there, I heard both the business manager and the chef speak at a great bookstore in SF. They talked about the concept of ownership, but in a different sort of way.   Does one of the servers love beer?  Great, would s/he like to lead the charge to find beer pairings and then explain them to the customers?  Does the dishwasher/prep cook have ideas on how to make things more efficient?  Great, what are they?  Can they brainstorm to come up with some economical solutions?  Who has design in their background? Do they want to be in charge of designing menus?   It’s not just about slugging away day after day at your station and not understanding the multiple facets involved in making a great eatery.

I think you have to put people in positions of their strengths and also give them challenges so they can grow. I know this is business 101, but I don’t know if it always happens in traditional restaurant kitchens.  Usually, it’s about the bottom line: who is the best worker (many times unskilled) for the lowest amount of money I can pay?  I understand that’s the way most for-profit businesses run, but there’s so much turnover and unhappiness in the restaurant world, that I know it affects the bottom line in a negative way.

I also want to give other chefs/staff economic ownership in the restaurant.  If the client base is happy and we get our numbers correct, then everyone should profit – everyone.  I think this is the way to garner loyalty and foster happiness. Everyone wins. I don’t know if it can be done, but I have to believe it can be and that’s my challenge.

Okay, enough ramblings. I have to wash the dye out of my hair before I run off to work.  I hope I still have hair left.  I mixed solutions from this beauty shop in which the owner explained how to do it in Catalan.  Me: uhhhh, okay. I think I understood.  We’ll see if I have any hair left!

Things I’ve learned in the past 3 weeks, and another fun weekend!

21 May

I have worked 3 weeks at Dos Palillos.  There is much I have learned that I have taken for granted because I’m moving so fast when I am there that I don’t have time to really think about what I’m learning. So, I thought I should jot down at least a few of them, in no particular order.

Here goes:

1) A fast way to clean langostas and large shrimp to keep the head and tail intact.

2) How to smoke the body of a large shrimp over a Japanese charcoal grill while simultaneously cooking the head so that the end result is that the body is semi-crudo, the head is fully cooked, and you can suck the contents out the head after you eat the body (and it’s a lot less gross to suck the contents out of the head after it has been fully cooked).

3) How to make several different types of closures/folds for dumplings and gyozas.

4) That I hate making mochi from scratch.  It takes too long and the kind we make is not all that great tasting to me.  In my opinion, there’s less “wow” for the effort in this part of the dessert.

5) That a chupito is a “shot”.  We make a fresh strawberry juice and vodka chupito that I put in a hollowed out strawberry and then serve alongside a macerated strawberry covered with fresh mochi “paper”.

6) Because I used the “F” bomb at Antonio and put him in his place, we’re now friends. Go figure. He helped me out A LOT on Saturday night when I had a terrific blow up night and had 22 orders for desserts come in at one time. I spilled (actually, Takeshi spilled) my frying oil all over la pasteleria, but it’s because I left the handle sticking out slightly and Takeshi bumped it and knocked it on the floor. My bad.  What a mess!  At least I knew the secret to making the floor non-greasy/non-slippery in a hurry. After mopping up all the oil, put fine salt all over the ground/oil slick to cover/soak up the oil and then clean up the salt later after the oil soaked in.

Continuing on with the blowup night…I also didn’t put the soaked almonds in the blender long enough to make the 2 Liters of almond milk I needed in order to make the almond flan.  It would have been a great idea for someone to demonstrate just how fine I needed to ground those suckers before I actually did it, so I made a lot more work for everyone because then I needed help re-grinding and pressing out all the milk.  Bummer.  So, I did two things that either made more work for others and myself, and pissed off other cocineros. Lovely. Finally, I had to make family meal again. I made chicken, white bean and green chili, chili. It was good and spicy. Umm, apparently too spicy for the weak Spanish palette, so half the people tasted it, declared “buy picante”, and then went hungry as the other 2 components of the meal were bread and salad (which, to me can be a great meal in and of itself).  Again, mi mal (“my bad”). That actually doesn’t translate in Spanish too well.

7) That I am officially Dos Palillos, Barcelona’s pastry chef, but without any pay.  Vincente left Saturday to go to teach recipes and work at Dos Palillos, Germany.  I kind of knew something was up, but I didn’t know exactly why I would be working a usually paid 70+ hour/week job for free.  Huh.  I have learned a lot, but it’s not going to be at the expense of my health or at the expense of what should be a paying job for one of the 25% of people in Spain who is unemployed. It is not fair to anyone involved.  So, tomorrow I shall do something about it.

8) That I hate deep frying ningyo yakis because I always burn myself when trying to get the delicate little suckers out of the frying pan without puncturing them.  But, here is where I think a dessert is worth the effort.  I make a chocolate mousse, then freeze it, and then right before I serve it, I drop it in hot oil so that the outside is hot and it make the chocolate mousse inside oozy, but still cold. There’s a bit of an art to it, as the oil has to be the right temperature and we don’t use thermometers at Dos Palillos, so I just have to look at the oil and keep modifying the temperature.  They look like little eggs. See the feature picture at top.  The ningyo yaks are topped with powered sugar and candied ginger.  They are delicious!

9) I can’t read Vincente’s writing. Here’s an example. It’s certainly beautiful penmanship, but it’s a bit difficult to decipher.

That recipe turns into the following, at stage 2, after cooking (bizcocho de almendra = almond cake):

Yep, it’s actually cooked in plastic cups – yikes!  Then, I cut it on a bias, top it with some yuzu marmalade and a small cut of mint, and it’s finger food cake!  It’s super easy and the texture is kind of like a sponge cake.  It’s very non-American insofar as desserts go because it’s not very sweet.  But, it’s a great one to put on a tasting menu because it’s super quick to make and to assemble.  I’m not giving away secrets here, as this type of cake is used in many restaurants that employ some molecular gastronomy of sorts. In fact, Commonwealth in San Francisco had a very similar cake.

Okay, enough of what I learned for now. Onto some fun things I did this weekend.

Sunday lunch I made cheeseburgers for Diana, her sister, and Diana’s 3 kids.  I said I was going to make a typical “American” style cheeseburger.  I did, sort of. I had to search for cheddar cheese in this town. It’s not typical here, since they have so many other (and better) kinds of cheeses. But, I felt cheddar was essential for my burger.

I mixed ground beef with minced fresh garlic, some hot sauce, and some chorizo. I made 1/4 pound burgers and the last 5 minutes, I let the cheddar melt and ooze over the burgers. I put out the requisite sliced tomatoes, lettuce and ketchup.  I also made balsamic onions as that’s my new addiction, and set out sliced avocados.  I served the burgers with roasted new potatoes and a salad.  All was gobbled up. Diana served fresh pineapple, almond cookies, and cinnamon tea along with the 3 organic chocolate bars I brought, and that was a perfect combo for dessert.  I loved this cinnamon tea she had, so I’m going to go in search of it. Cinnamon, chocolate and almonds just work so well together!

Last night I slept 8 hours – yeh!  Then, today, Monday, I had lunch with Quim at Origens, and then he showed me a bunch of places I had not been to in the Born barrio.  We went to one of the best wine and cheese shops in Barcelona, and although we were very full from lunch, of course he knew the owner so we had to do a little cava tasting and had to eat a cured meat to fully appreciate the cava.

Then, I went to have a massage to try to work out the knots in my back.  So, it was a very relaxing day!  Now, I’m doing laundry and hoping to get another 8 hours of sleep before my crazy week begins again 🙂

I’m so looking forward to seeing Alan, his brother, and my love this weekend!

A typical day at Dos Palillos (well, not today)

17 May

I seem to have a perpetual sore throat and snot nose here. Could be allergies, but it could be that I’m picking up hundreds of plates – yes, hundreds – from customers every day, picking up their chopsticks, etc. and then likely putting my hands on or near my face.  For almost every course of either the 13 or 17 course tasting menu, you remove the old plate and set down a fresh one in front of the customer.  Why am I doing this?  All us do it.  All the cooks serve.  But, at the beginning of service, I do most of it, because desserts don’t come until the end.  As a customer, I see the appeal of having the cooks serve and explain the food. As a cook, it’s kind of annoying for me because I’m always in a hurry to do something else other than set down plates and remove them.

Anyway, I digress. Today is a sick day because I have a cold that I’m trying to get rid of through rest and I also threw my neck out prepping at a prep counter that is way too high for me. Translation: I’m cutting with my arms at an unnaturally high angle and that means my shoulders are up around my ears.  It puts stress on the neck because I have to use more force at a weird angle to properly cut.  There’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to let my neck work out its problems… with a little help from a buckwheat pillow that alternately gets thrown in the freezer and then the microwave, some menthol rub, and some cava.  This combination, I believe, will be better than slugging down a bunch of anti-inflammatories.  Note to self: when you install prep counters in your eatery, make the height work for you!  Or, alternately, don’t do so much prep 🙂

This next part is going to be a chronicle/diary of what my day looks like, so if this boring to you, skip down to the section where I start showing pictures.  Here’s what a typical day at Dos Palillos looks like for me:

9:30-10:00 a.m.  Arrive at Dos Palillos. Change into prep gear, go over the day’s list in la pasteria of what I have, what I’m missing, and what I need to make.  But, before I can start on making any desserts, I do “common work”.  For the longest time, I thought Vincente kept saying, “Come and work.”  And, I would say under my breath, “What do you think I’m doing?”  He is trying to learn English.

10-11:30 a.m. : Common work.  That’s prepping for all the savory dishes for the evening.  No, common work doesn’t mean helping the pastry chef except on the odd, third day when everyone has to press almond milk.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. I RUN to pastry to make all 4 of my desserts in 1 hour.  Even though they’re pretty simple (except for the mochi), some are a bit time consuming because they have several components. I never accomplish this in one hour.  It’s a nearly impossible task for me.

12:30 p.m. Required family meal over which we talk about the number of customers on the books, etc.

1:00-1:30 p.m. We go set up our stations and the rest of the dining room for service.   I get to sneak in about 15 minutes of trying to finish desserts in this 1/2 hour window.

1:30-5:00/5:30 p.m. Lunch service. Technically, the last seating is at 3:30, but if they order a 17 course tasting menu, it’s a 1.5-2 hour deal, no matter how fast I try to throw down the plates. What does service entail for me?  I start out by doing more common work to help prep for anything that didn’t get done for the other stations. Then, when the dining room starts to get full, I start running plates to customers, making burgers, etc.  Then, I run back to the pasteleria when I get a dessert order.  Typically, there are 2 desserts for each tasting menu.  Sometimes, there are 3 if there is a VIP customer. Of course, I am the last cook to “cook” and serve, because I am desserts. By that time, all of the other stations are cleaning up and taking a break.  No break for me.

5:00/5:30-6:30 p.m.  More “Come and Work.” I don’t get to race back in and finish any desserts that I didn’t get to. That would be too good of an idea.  Nope, I have to do more common prep like cleaning langostas, stuffing gyozas, prepping shrimp for the grill, etc.

6:30-7:00 p.m.  Required family meal again.  At least they feed us family meal. Sometimes it utterly sucks. Sometimes it’s great. It depends on who makes it. I love it when Vincente makes it. He’s an awesome cook. I don’t know how he got stuck in pastry. Oh wait, they’re short staffed and that place would crumble without him helping EVERYWHERE.  I made Thai green curry chicken last Saturday family meal, so it was awesome 😉  Mario, one of the cooks I like, said I set the bar too high.  Awesome, thanks!

7:00-7:30 p.m.  Set up my station again, and try to finish any desserts I didn’t finish.

7:30 p.m.-1:00/1:30 a.m. Service.  Same deal as lunch, only longer because we have more customers and the last seating is at 11:30 p.m. Seriously?  No wonder the cooks get pissed off.  Learning point: I would never have an 11:30 p.m. seating with a 13 or 17 course tasting menu.  Your cooks are already tired by then, especially pastry!

1:00-2:00 a.m. Clean up and make a list of what needs to be accomplished in pastry the next day. Review list of what I need ordered with Takeshi.  Since I’m the last to serve, I’m generally one of the last cooks to leave, with the exception of Takeshi and Vincente.  The other stage leaves before me, and Borja and Mario are usually done and gone before me. Even the dishwasher is sometimes gone before me.

The good things:  About every other day, Takeshi introduces me to a new dish and shows me how to make it. I end up making a few for customers so I get used to it. It also serves another important function for the restaurant: If  I have to serve that dish to a customer, I need to know how it’s made and what is in it.  I made the mistake of not telling one customer in Spanish, early on, that one of my desserts must be eaten in one bite – “todo en la boca” – because it’s an oozy chocolate mousse that is frozen and then deep fried quickly so there’s a contrast in textures. Because I forgot to tell her to eat it in one bite (seriously, lady? it’s about the size of a quarter – you can do it!), she bit it in half  and sprayed chocolate mousse all over herself. I got in trouble.

Oh, I forgot to give a shout out to Antonio, the stage who formerly hated me.  He snuck me some wok’d veggies last night during service. Prior to that time, I was cranky because I wasn’t feeling very well and I may have said something slightly nasty to him.  He said something to me that I didn’t understand. So, I told him to repeat it, please (in Spanish).  He retorted: “You’re in Spain, learn how to speak Spanish” (in Spanish). My response: mmmmm, I shouldn’t write it here. But, it universally translates.   Borja laughed and said, “About time.”

Antonio’s response a bit later:  “Shhhh, for you.”  A beautiful array of fresh baby carrots, shitakes, black trumpet mushrooms, spring peas, and tofu, all in a fresh ginger, garlic, shoyu sauce, perfectly cooked in a wok.    I think this is the way of the restaurant kitchen. We yell at each other because things are stressful, but then food unites us.  Actually, this is the way of my many households throughout my life:  life can get stressful and sometimes unkind things are said, but then a good plate of food with the people you love makes it better.

More good things about Dos Palillos: That schedule is “minus 3 hours” on Tuesday and Wednesdays. We only serve lunch on Thurs-Saturdays. That means, since we go in a bit later on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (still 12 hour days), I get to go visit Quim for lunch on one of those days and the other day I get to leisurely make coffee and a more lavish breakfast/lunch for myself.

Yesterday, Sara, Natalia and I met for an early lunch at El Quim.  Of course, he didn’t let me order and then sent out the most excellent dishes.  Sara, in the name of research as a sommelier, ordered some wine.  I fought Quim and told him he can’t always treat me because we eat his profits. So, he let us pay for the wine, at least.  Below, and at top, are pics of a few of the dishes we ate.   The feature picture is mushrooms topped with caramelized foie and caramelized mozzarella. Unbelievable. Yummmmmm!

One of the ladies’ favorite salads (this one was hot; the other I loved more that I didn’t take a pic of was a rice based one that was cold):

The items that look like rice at the bottom of the terrine are actually baby fish – yeah, more baby fish!  Delicious!

And, finally, the ladies: Rachel, Sara and Natalia (for the people who know me, look how small Sara is compared to me ; she’s 88 pounds!):

Tonight’s dinner:  Escalivada and pan con tomate. I have a barely usable eggplant that needs some fire on it, so I’ll build my terrine of roasted eggplant, roasted red peppers, balsamic onions (what would I did without balsamic?), and fresh goat cheese that I’ll broil for just a few seconds, topped with some spicy olive oil.  I’ll probably throw some lettuce on the side for good measure since I don’t eat much raw veggies these days.

Dinner:

Okay, time to jump in bed so I can try to get some sleep before the construction starts early tomorrow again. Happy eating!

Another week done at Dos Palillos and a fun weekend full of eating and drinking

15 May

Week 2: done. I made family meal on Saturday night for the cocineros. Everyone has to take their turn making family meal, and being the new person, I was stuck with Saturday night because of course that’s the longest day and no one wants to spend whatever small break they may have making food for the staff. Vincente was gone all day preparing for a birthday party for Ferran Adria which Albert Raurich catered. So, I though I was going to be all by myself trying to figure it all out.

I have to give a big shout out to Takeshi, Iron Chef Dos Palillos. He did all of my prep for the curry. I’m not kidding. I kind of felt guilty, as that is unheard of – essentially, the boss of the kitchen doing your prep for family meal. But, I think he knew I would not have finished in time. So, he did all of my mis en place. Thanks, Takeshi! All I had to do was throw it all in, in order, taste, adjust, make rice, and make the cucumber salad. Also, Borja and Mario offered to stay and help, but I told them I just needed to know how to turn on the big burner. They came back from their break, early, anyway to check on me. Such nice guys! And, the curry turned out fab, if I do say so myself. Everyone loved it. I was afraid I threw in too many Thai chilies, but Sara said it had “an elegant spice”. Wow, thanks! I hadn’t ever heard elegant as a descriptor for curry.

After a long Saturday, I couldn’t sleep. I finally fell asleep at 5 a.m. Sunday. Thank goodness they don’t do construction on Sunday in Spain, so I actually slept until noon that day. I know that sounds like a waste, but the 7 hours of sleep was sorely needed. I continued to have a lazy Sunday. I iced my feet and put them up, watched a movie on my computer, read, and then at 6:30 p.m. I wandered out to get my favorite avocado, cucumber, sprout, and nut salad at El Bixto. Met a nice German kid who is studying in Barcelona. I shared my salad as I could tell all he could afford was pan con tomate. He ordered 2 baskets.

After the nice rest on Sunday, I was ready to venture out on Monday. I had lunch with Quim at a very old, very popular tapas bar just up the street from me. It’s called Cervercia La Granja Catalonia. After a 30 minute delay in which I was at the other restaurant near me named La Granja Catalonia, we met and chowed! We started out with fried baby fish and lemon. Yummmm. I love those little suckers. They are kind of sad because they look at you all deep fried and you can see their tiny eyes when you gulp them down. But, they are delicious. Then, we had steamed clams with a perejil (parsley), garlic, and lemon sauce. Then, thinly sliced octopus that was marinated and extremely tender. I hardly had to chew it.

We had anchovies. Yes, for me that’s a big step, as I don’t usually like fishy fish. But I’m getting used to eating anchovies here; they’re on every menu. We had sliders with manchego (sliders are all the rage here). Then, came one of my favorite dishes of the day: pieces of manchego on a stick that were rolled in crushed almonds, then deep fried and covered with strawberry jam. Yes, it was partly because it was on a stick and we Minnesotans love our food on sticks, especially those of us who are fans of the state fair. But, it was more than the stick. The almond crunch on the outside contrasted nicely with the oozing manchego in the middle, and the sweet jam was the perfect compliment. My other favorite dish of the day was a black trumpet mushroom, asparagus and Jamon Iberico “stir fry” of sorts. Light, very flavorful, full of great textures and colors.

After a bottle of cava with our 2 hour lunch, we decided to stop for coffee at an outdoor cafe. I think the cava certainly helped, but I’m not so self-conscious now about throwing out my bad Spanish. This was by far the best conversation I’ve had with Quim because we could almost fully understand each other. It was a good Spanish lesson for me and a good English lesson for Quim. When I didn’t know a word that I wanted to say, it went something like this: “Es una cosa que….”, or in English, “It’s a thing that….”; or “Usa in el contexto de…”, “It’s used in the context of…”. It’s strange that I can describe the words I want to use more than I can find the actual correct word in Spanish. No matter. It seems to work.

After a quick 1 hour throwing my feet up again on the couch, I journeyed back out to meet Sara, the Sommelier of Dos Palillos. She invited me to do some wine tasting at a wine bar near my place called Monvinic (see the menu of the wines we sampled in the picture just above this paragraph). This wine bar is a very cool concept. It’s staffed by all sommeliers, they change their wines EVERY WEEK and they have a boat load of them, they have a wine library that anyone can use inside the restaurant, and the menu is similar to an ipad on which you scroll through and select your wines, see pictures and prices, etc. We tasted 3 half glasses each of different whites and 1 half glass of a tempranillo. Sara explained the demoninaciones to me and we talked a lot about wine. We were joined halfway through by her friend Kaitlin who is a nurse and works in an ambulance. Then, about an hour before we left, Sara’s boyfriend joined us. He used to be a chef who worked in England, but now he’s a photographer and activist.

We had great conversations over 3.5 hours (half in Spanish; half in English). But, then I was spent. I needed more food, even after the big lunch. So, I returned to the apartment and made myself a bocadillo. I bought a baguette, fried 2 organic eggs in olive oil, made some quick balsamic onions, and threw all of those on the baguette with some fresh basil, an old tomato and lettuce, and roasted red peppers I had in the fridge. I topped it all with some dried New Mexico chilies C brought to me and some black pepper. YUUUUUUM! See feature pic at the top of this blog. I also had another glass of wine (remember: I only had 1/2 glasses over 3.5 hours at the wine bar. So, stop counting!). It is Quim’s favorite bottle of white. Here’s the pic:

It has a nice mineral content, is very crisp like a Sauvignon Blanc (I actually think it’s a SB grape), and is very drinkable right out of the gate. I will need to go in search of more of this one.

Okay, time to sign off. I have 15 minutes before I’m suppose to be out the door for another hell week, I mean staging week at Dos Palillos. Thank goodness I love this town and its people so much, and that I’m learning a lot.

15 is my new lucky number

11 May

Today, I worked 15.5 hours, with a 15 minute break. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal, even in Spain. But, the good news is I still have 5 toes on each foot and 5 fingers on each hand, even if my fingernails and fingers, in general, have not been this stained and filthy since I was a kid. Think: cleaning/stabbing yourself with shrimp head shells and then cleaning cuttlefish (essentially, like baby calamari) that bleeds black into the cuts and fingernails. Then, cleaning the blood out of eel. I always said black was my color!

It’s 3:22 a.m. Barcelona time and I just took a shower and I’m doing some laundry so I have clean clothes for Saturday’s work. Since it takes 2 days to air dry my chef’s coats and pants, and I only brought 3 of each (stupid!), I’m waiting for the washer to finish.

Luckily, this is “kind of” another short week for me. I went in on Tuesday and then had to leave after 1.5 hours. I barfed while putting the chicken pieces on the palillos (small sticks = skewers, or in the case of “dos palillos” 2 chopsticks) for the chicken yakitori. I was feeling queazy that morning at breakfast and convinced myself I was just tired, which I was and am. Very tired would be a bit of an understatement. Anyway, obviously, something in my system was unhappy and I started to dry heave and all of a sudden…. well, yes. I went home. No one likes a barfer around food. I slept the rest of the afternoon and all was fine the next day.

My love was in town for the weekend. After flying I don’t know, around 16 hours, to get to me after a long week, he came to eat at Dos Palillos and Takeshi, the Chef de Cuisine, made up a 17 course tasting menu for him from the selections of the evening. The menu is at top. Carnet took pictures and keeps threatening to do a guest blog, but he just flew 24 hours to India and is a wreck, so I’ll forgive him 😉 I’ll leave the food assessment for another time.  Maybe he’ll even tell you about all the wine and cava he drank, courtesy of Chef Albert Raurich – ha!

Speaking of food… the Paki is sneaking me tastes of everything and so is Borja. Borja is the grill master, and the one I get along with the best. One would think that it has a lot to do with the fact that he speaks spectacular English, but you’d be surprised at how little language you need in common to laugh with someone, to understand their body language, and to have a full on conversation for quite a while. Borja is 25, has worked for some of the best chefs in the world, is very talented, is irreverent like all young chefs, and knows that he should be deferential to someone older (me). Surprising to me, he has given me good advice, and he also tries to help me as much as possible to see what I don’t see in the kitchen. And, that’s the key about running a kitchen… to see what you wouldn’t normally see. That comes from experience, yes, but like every profession, there’s a rhythm one must find to make the orchestra sound like more than just it’s different instruments.

Unfortunately, this instrument has a zit on her chin the size of Manhatten. Since I’m working pastry, there’s lots of sugar around, and of course, I have to taste everything I make, every day, and sometimes then some.

I need to exercise, I need to sleep, I need to ice my feet, I need to tell my friends and family I love them more. As to the last part, please accept this as another form of me thinking about you all and sending you loving thoughts.

Hopefully, this weekend, I’ll get around to uploading more pics from the awesomest (yes, I know that’s not a word) camera in the world that C bought me. Until then, happy eating. Laundry and bed are calling me. I only have 6 more hours before another 15.5 hour day (if I’m lucky) starts again.

Quick pic of the “japo burger” aka slider that Borja snuck me (indeed, it’s a very good burger, with pickled cucumbers, homemade ketchup and shiso leaves on top):

Day 3: Ahhhh, it’s over

4 May

It’s 1:45 a.m. and I’m sitting in my bathroom, feet soaking in an ice water tub. I just opened up a bottle of “biologico” rioja. That’s organic, here. It goes without saying that I’m exhausted, but I’m too hyped up and sore to go to bed at the moment. I’m super nervous about tomorrow, when I essentially take over pastry. Apparently, Day 4 is when you have to make all the food yourself, serve it all, and explain it all. Seriously? It’s only Day 4. Sorry, Chef Raurich, there goes your Michelin star. Haha. Actually, I think Vicente is exhausted. He’s one of the first ones to get there in the a.m. and the last one to leave. He told me he sleeps like 2-3 hours per night. Yikes. Hopefully, I won’t screw things up too badly.

I’m equally excited because my love comes into town tomorrow night! He’s in Barca for 2 1/2 days before going on another month long journey all over the place. I hope he’s ready for some serious sleeping, as I am 🙂

Oh, I made two new friends today at work. One is the dishwasher and is from Pakistan. The other one is from India and does all the dumpling and spring roll fillings AND works behind the scenes at the steaming and frying stations. I asked questions about their homes. They each have a family and kids back in their respective places, but they can make a lot more money working in Spain than at home.

But, it wasn’t my stunning conversation in poor Spanish that won them over. I think it was the fact that when I’ve had enough of the front of the house and the frenetic pace of trying to do and see a million things at once all the while trying not get yelled at, I go back and ask to help them out. I do the dishes, sweep their station, just do whatever they let me. It’s more about my self-preservation. Haha. The one from India made me a spring roll at the end of the night. Yeah! It was delicious. It’s good to have friends in the kitchen 🙂

Takeshi, the chef de cuisine, was also very gracious to me today. He said, “mira” a lot and explained to me how to make dishes several dishes (wow, that is a very Spanish way of saying that last sentence). Mira is “look.” He is the head honcho when el jefe (the boss, or the chef) Albert is not around. I have affectionately dubbed him, “Iron Chef, Dos Palillos.”

Okay, I’m not going to brush my teeth and I’m going to finish my wine and go to bed. Less than 6 hours from now, I’ll be up, showering, and making my way to the secret blue pastry book to run through all the recipes I’ll be making tomorrow. By the way, I can make mochi, but when it comes to stuffing it and making it look pretty, wow, I’m terrible. But, tomorrow is another day!

Oh, one last shout out to Karina, my roommate for the next few weeks. Thanks so much for buying me treats, hanging and ironing my laundry (yep, she ironed my chef jacket and pants because we don’t have a dryer and I needed them dry by the next day), and for being sweet to me! It has really helped.

Day 2: Dos Palillos

4 May

This is going to be another short post with no pictures, as it’s actually Day 3, my time, and I have to run out the door to work in a few minutes – just a short 7 hours after I got home from Day 2.

More things I like: 1) I made mochi from scratch. I had never done it and it was a great process. 2) I made almond milk from scratch. Ditto. 3) The clientele is from all over the world. Some German guy at the bar asked if I was the sommelier and said he wanted to compliment my service. Really? I just brought some wine and explained some of his 17 course dinner. Anyway, it was nice to hear a compliment during a rough day. 4) Vincente and I are getting along great. Whenever I get yelled at, he quips back at the chef de cuisine and says it’s his (Vincente’s) fault for not showing me. Thanks, Vincente. 4) I piped up and told Antonio in my bad Spanish when he told me something I did looked like “f_ing shit”, “Listen kid, I’m old enough to be your mother and I have sharper knives. Be careful.” I think I was channeling Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes when she bashed the young girl’s car and said, “Face it girls, I’m older than you and have more insurance.” Plus, earlier in the day, another young kid asked if I was doing okay and if everyone was helping me. I said yes and that I liked everyone. Then, I smiled and pointed and said, “Well, maybe not him” and winked at Antonio. I think everything translated okay as at the end of the night, Antonio said, “I’m crazy. Don’t worry about it.” I think we’re going to be friends – haha. 5) I learned that tomorrow, Saturday, Vincente is going to essentially give me control of pastry. So, I’m going to have a lot of responsibility in the short term.

Dislikes: 1) Crazy hours, 2) getting yelled at, 3) not understanding half of what’s going on due to the language issues, 4) not being able to try any of the food. They don’t let you. Hmmmm. How am I suppose to tell people about the food if I haven’t tasted everything? That will not be a mistake I make in my restaurant. You want believers to work for you.

Off to Day 3!

Day 1: Dos Palillos

3 May

No pictures. Who had time? I worked from 2:00 p.m.-1:00 a.m. Today was a short day. Thursdays-Saturdays, I go in at 9:30 a.m. and leave at about 1:00-1:30 a.m. Yep, a.m. to a.m. – 15-16 hour days.

Luckily, I’m working with Vincente this week. He does mostly pastry and has been with Albert Raurich since Dos Palillos opened 4 years ago. Vincente is really mild mannered, very helpful, and gives me a lot of responsibility (too much, I dare say, for my first day). He left me to my own devices reading tickets and making desserts while he went upstairs to deal with new recipes on the computer. Yikes. Luckily, the desserts weren’t all that complicated. But, the thing about all the courses at Dos Palillos is that all the chefs serve what they prepare and provide explanations with them. I’m going to need to write some of the translations down.

Things I like about Dos Palillos, so far. 1) The philosophy: everyone does everything. We all start by doing prep. We all prep everything. No one gets the “worse” job, if there is one. Then, a few hours later, everyone takes a break from dealing with their stations and we all stuff and close dumplings. Then, a few hours after that, Vicente and I made about 100 spring rolls. It’s basically whoever has time to make whatever, makes it. Since Vincente and I were on pastry and we got our work done early, we did spring rolls and cleaned prawns during dinner service and before desserts were up. 2) Both ladies who worked the bar, the chef de cuisine, and a few of the other guys. They are all very nice and 2 of the guys told me they know it’s overwhelming the first few days (which it is). There are 2 possible tasting menus: A) 13 courses, or B) 17 courses. Every dish has its own certain plate, sauce, plating technique (mostly with chopsticks), and oration to accompany the service.

The things I dislike: 1) Antonio, the other stage, who has been at Dos Palillos for 1 month yelling at me in front of the chef de cuisine that I shouldn’t wipe my hands on my a__. My response: Well, if they’d provide hand towels, then I wouldn’t have to. How about paper towels? Nope, they ran out. Okay, so where should I wipe my hands after I incessantly clean them, which is a good thing? Haven’t figured that out. 2) Antonio giving me orders on what to do. I’m sorry, how long have you been there? Oh, yeah, I forgot. You’re a young Spanish kid who has that awful machismo going. Wonderful. 3) The crazy hours. Did I say I wanted to be a chef? Ummm, yes I do, and I’m willing to work that hard when it’s my own restaurant. But, for free? Call me crazy.

It’s time for this crazy to go to bed. It’s past 2 a.m. and I have to be there in 7 1/2 hours again.

Labor Day in Spain (Dos Palillos forgot to tell me they were closed)

1 May

So, I was all excited about my first day as a stage at Dos Palillos. I arrived a 1/2 hour early, at 1:30 p.m. The gate was down over the employee entrance and there were no lights on in the restaurant. I thought, “Well, maybe, just maybe everyone shows up at 2?” Nope. It’s labor day and they forgot to tell me they were closed today. No matter, I had a wonderful afternoon walking around town for 3 hours. And, I have a bit of a cold so I wasn’t looking forward to trying to keep my nose from running everywhere in the kitchen.

Yep, I indeed went back to one of my new favorite chocolate/pastry shops – Bubo. The picture at top is the chocolate and salted macadamia nut bar I bought as a treat. I ate about half of the bar and drank some fresh ginger iced tea I made for myself. I’m really into the fresh ginger tea these days, as it helps my stomach and is good for colds, as well.

Ahhhhh, that chocolate was a delicious 6:00 p.m. snack! I love that Bubo doesn’t tell you on the box just how many ounces are in the entire bar, or the fat or calorie count. My philosophy on food indulgences is if it’s high quality, then just go for it and remember to balance it out in other ways. My balance? I did eat something healthier for me before that. I made myself a big salad with some tuna and a side of pan con tomate with a fresh baguette I picked up along my journeys today. I love that you can buy a really good, fresh made-that-day baguette for 1 Euro.

I walked through the Born neighborhood, which I love, and found a few more little restaurants I need to try. Here are a few pics I took. As you can tell, it is the most gorgeous day here.

A government building that I think is just beautiful:

And, another building in El Born with some cool art and vines up the side:

Now, it’s time to throw my feet up as my dogs are barking. Stay tuned for news on my first day at Dos Palillos.