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!

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One Response to “A typical day at Dos Palillos (well, not today)”

  1. Gigi May 18, 2012 at 12:55 am #

    You know, I HATE low counters because I always get a sore back. At least you can stand on a box. Stretch before and while working-neck and shoulders. xo

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