One of the things I love about being a cook is the fact that you never stop learning. There are always going to be those Chefs out there that think they know it all...but they dont! A cook can learn from anyone...another cook, a customer or even a dishwasher. Every day the limits get pushed just a bit farther. Sometimes this equals moments of shame, pain and disaster. You learn from those moments too. Usually more so from those...
Last night Juan Pablo Rippe learned a few things. It was his first Chefs Table at the Sawridge Inn. He was confident, prepared and gung ho to make it happen. Or so he thought.
Juan is originally from Colombia. A month ago he was promoted to Demi Chef due to alot of hard work on his part and a love of food that shines thru daily. He has worked in both Toronto and the West now. He wishes his Girlfriend was in the West with him...haha. He is the only Spanish influence in the kitchen. He doesn't realize we are learning as much from him as he is from us. Juan is one of the most inquisitive people you will ever meet when it comes to food. We used to joke with him about the fact he used to say "Cool" or "Awesome" to pretty much anything he saw. Now if only I could teach him to say Salmon properly. Sometimes you know someone is going to last in the industry and will some day be a Chef running a restaurant...Juan is one of these people.
So last night was his first chance to showcase his own food. He got to chose each item on the menu...and last night he had to prepare and serve it all. Sounds easy eh!! Ya not so much. You always have a plan and vision of how everything should be produced and look...but it never works out like you want it to. Never haha!!
Juan's first challenge was the fact that it was not just one Chefs Table but two. Similar menu's..but one table received an extra course and the protein was different for the Main. The table of six was to arrive at 6pm ... and at 7pm a table of two was to be his DejaVu moment. So he had his timing and firing figured out in his head accordingly. Challenge two: its quartre to six and a server comes into the kitchen to announce that the six top has arrived. Two seconds later a supervisor comes flying thru the doors to announce the table of two has also arrived..and its now a four top. Now this may not seem like a big deal...two extra people. In reality a Chefs Table can take a couple days of preparation...and u may not have two extra pc's of Duck or Lamb etc. Juan was in luck though-he had prepared for four and last minute it had went down to a two. Now he just had to deal with the fact that he was about to start the "Dance of the Dueling Tables". Oh crap...I need extra plates, Amuse spoons and Steak knives.
Juan is usually pretty sure of himself. He has that Spanish Machismo! Big Cahones! He was out of his element though...and u could see the nerves...the pressure was beginning. His face took on a more pallid tone and as he figgited (is that a word?) with his Mise you could see his hands trembling ever so slightly. He checked and re-checked his prep. Got his plates ready for his amuse bouche then began to cook...as a few items were "doing their thing" on the burners and in the oven...we ran to the first table and he introduced himself and his menu. Back to the kitchen to plate the six pax.
He started with a spoon of Cracked Corn Polenta with a Prosciutto Crisp and a bit of Sprouts for colour. A simple flavourful mouthful to begin. We grabbed the plates and ran to the room. He explained the dish...then we dashed to the second private dining room so he could introduce himself yet again. Back to the kitchen to produce four more Polenta plates...
His Second course for the six was a Grilled Rabbit Sausage with a Cured Fruit Mole Sauce and a Chardonnay Sauteed Spinach with Mustard Oil. His face was becoming even more tense as he danced from the line to his plating table...you could see the first inklings of doubt in his face...but he was still confident. The Mole was perfect...the Rabbit Sausages were nice and moist...the Spinach perfect...and the drunken Figs looked awesome...quick dash to Private Dining Room one. A too quick explanation and a jaunt over to PD 2 to see how they liked the Polenta.....brisk walk back to the Hot Box.
Now it starts to get interesting. In an ideal world both tables would be eating the same plate at the same time. We dont live in a perfect world...the gentle wind is about to become a Hurricane. The table of four needs its second course. A Pomegranate Glazed Brome Duck Breast with a Sweet Potato Galette. The breast came out of the oven a beautiful colour. Quick plate...off to PD 2. Quick explanation of its components (he was starting to get his tongue back now)...quick stop at PD1 to see how they liked the Rabbit...back to work.
Now to reproduce the Rabbit dish for the four pax...and get the Mains going for the party of six....I offered to bring the Rhubarb Pineapple Sorbet to the six pax. My only real offer of help so far. He accepted...I watched him doing the merengue behind the line as I passed with the Sorbet Glasses. Now you have to remember...he is cooking this on the restaurant line. There are four other cooks on the line doing their own dance as the chit machine constantly spews out new orders.
The Main for the six pax was Shrimp Stuffed Alberta Beef Tenderloin with English Pea Risotto, Baby Vegetables and a Shiraz Demi. He made a Horseradish Crisp to garnish with. Juan plated this as his Rabbit was in the oven. Quick plate clean....off to PD1. Now hes beginning to relax a bit...he gets to have a little bit of Happy Time with the six pax. He now knows they are really enjoying everything...he's calming down. Colour is coming back to his face. Back to the kitchen to plate the the Rabbit.
The six pax needs no more plates from the line...its now just dessert from Sara in the Pastry department...whew! Now he gets to start to contemplate what he has already accomplished and focus on the Main course for the four pax. Their Main is to be a Hawthorn Berry Rubbed Bison Tenderloin with the same Risotto and accompaniments as the prior table...but he had alot more time for plating. With much better results. He made an odd comment as I was walking out of the kitchen to check on the four...he asked me to smell the raw Bison. When I returned he had already seared the meat on the grill...it was a lil pc of perfect! I walked to PD2 and cleared the Sorbet glasses...as I walked out I said "this may seem a lil odd...but when your main arrives..make sure you smell the Bison...which created a few chuckles".
He garnished the Bison with Puffed Barley. That was a little experiment that involved several of us in the kitchen. They didn't turn out exactly like any of us expected...but they worked and added a neat component to the plate. Off to PD2...
Juan shot me a looks as he explained the dish to the table...in unison all four of them bent over and smelled the Bison. I let out a giggle as did all at the table. The Ice was Broken...Juan was now completely relaxed and his normal self. He was now at ease with the it all...and I was happy for him.
Both tables ended at almost the same time...and we had our last DejaVu moment of the evening. Sara had prepared a Peanut Butter Confit Cake with Molasses, Malted Peanut Butter Ice Cream and Candied Maple Bacon. A thing of Beauty as always...we have a wicked Pastry Team. The three of us parked the last course on the tables and headed back to the kitchen. As we entered the kitchen Juan realized he had created a small warzone on the table I normally call my own. He mentioned he would start cleaning...but I grabbed the two menus off the line fridge where they had been taped and scribbled on all night...and we headed to the office to discuss how it went.
The tables were sooo happy. His confidence was restored....there was a huge shift in his body language from beginning to end.
We discussed all the aspects of the plates we liked and disliked. How he thought the service had went. What he would do differently next time. The biggest thing I wanted to discuss was what he had learned!! Juan had learned a tonne...and the night had served it's purpose. He had absorbed everything he had done well and everything he hadn't...he now knows what he would change next time. We learn from our mistakes. Organization being the key to success. There will be a next time and he will come up with a brand new vision of his food. I for one am looking forward to it. I was really proud of him!
As I said my goodbye's to staff...he was just beaming! As he should...
Great Job Chef!!