Monday, February 21, 2011

Valentine’s Day: A retrospective from a professional perspective.

Best of the best: Seared scallops with tomato tartlet and basil vinaigrette.

Obviously I would have preferred to post this sooner, perhaps at a time when it may have had some kind of relevance. But given how this past week has been, this is the best I could do. A phrase that to my ex is pretty much a catchphrase. It was a tough week in the restaurant. Last Saturday’s (12th Feb) service was an endless slog. There are evenings in a kitchen that are relentless. The first docket comes in at five minutes after opening and the printer keeps on churning them out right up to last orders, four hours later. The kind of service where it feels like someone’s holding your head underwater and just as you think you’re about to get a moment to catch your breath it’s, ‘CLICK-SCREECH, CLICK-SCREECH, CLICK-SCREECH’ three more tables of two have just come in. The next day the guys and I were talking and nearly all of us said that when we finally got to bed and closed our eyes we could almost still hear the printer churning in the background. As for Monday (the 14th), that was an interesting one.

We’re a hotel so regards to the restaurant nearly 90% of our customers are guests that are staying. So given the day the hotel was pretty quiet. On Sunday night the bookings for the next night were just eight. Around lunchtime on Monday that was up to eighteen. We laughed and joked, ‘Tough one tonight lads, haha!’ Five minutes to opening we’d gained twenty-five bookings. Hmm, we thought. So a bit busier then we expected, nothing to panic about. Then service began and about an hour in we noticed we had five-six tables in. There were main courses waiting on the pass and I had starters and deserts awaiting pick-up. This would be fine were it not that there was not a waiter to be found. On this night there were about four-five wait staff on, which to my mind would be enough if we were expecting over eighty, so where the fuck were they? ‘Anna, Sarah, Davie, you have mains for tables 21, 33 and 4.’ Would be barked when occasionally one would rush into the kitchen, and with a panicked look, grab a bottle of mineral water or some more bread for a table and rush back out again. Turns out reservations had the bright idea to clump nearly all the table into the space of an hour and half. All those people arriving at once did not fit our server’s standard protocol of total ass-kissery. Meaning they actually had to work quickly instead of listening to the entire family history of table 12 in the hope they’d be rewarded with an extra two quid with the service charge. Did we in the kitchen sympathize? Did we feck! I was working through a block of about two two’s and a four top. I had it laid out and getting ready so I was going to get it out in time. The German then entered my station, looked at the dockets and started to assist with the plating. ‘Actually dude I’m fine here, seriously.’ He shakes his head. ‘I know but vee shoot this out as quick as vee can. If they’re going to give us eight tables at once, they need to pick up eight tables at once.’ He then nodded to the lone waiter polishing a glass as the fish for table 8 overcooks under the hot lamps and lowered his voice, ‘So I vant to fuck zem.’ And if that seems a bit harsh and unnecessary all I can say is, you should see him at Christmas. Final count at the end of the night was sixty-eight covers

Location: Weedsville. Population: You!

Overall food-wise it meant putting some new things on the menu. My favorite is pictured top: Seared scallops with tomato tartlet, rocket and basil vinaigrette. Half some cherry tomatoes, marinade in thyme, oil, salt and pepper. Butter a dish and arrange five-seven halves face down. Place a disk of puff pastry over them like you would for a tart tatin and bake. The vinaigrette is just chopped basil blitzed with lemon juice and zest, garlic and oil drained from sun-dried tomatoes. Sear scallops for about one – one and a half minutes on each side. Serve as above, caviar optional. By the way that dish pictured was just a mock-up, hence why the tart’s gotta little char on it. The dish itself was light, fresh and in my opinion probably the best starter we’ve had. The tart on its own was a winner. So much so that this Saturday gone we ran it as a vegetarian special. We simply replaced the scallops and caviar with parmesan shavings and pine nuts. Despite the berating by the German sous that it didn’t look substantial enough (‘Zere is no fucking vay I vould pay nine quid for that!’) But the customers thought it was ace. So for not the first I get to say to my boss, in your face Hans! Now that the only contribution I can make at this point involving food is done. You may now leave and go about your evening. If you want to stick around however, here’s my personal summing up of Valentine’s Day:

Valentine's Day, oh how I loathe thee. And I know that sounds bitter and dejected and even somewhat juvenile. But really when you think about it there's very few holidays in the entire year, that's celebrated by any other culture, that is as contrived and alienating as this Godforsaken mush-fest is. And I'm not just saying this because this year it was dinner for one (a frozen pizza, eaten at 00:10 am, after a ten hour shift) But even if I actually had plans, that didn't involve taking a sizeable chunk out of my monthly download limit, there's still something kinda messed up about the whole concept of this holiday. Let's get hypothetical; there are other holidays that are more geared to a specific people. Paddy's day means nothing to a Korean IT student and Thanksgiving passes by unnoticed over here. I mean I'm not being rude but I honestly don't know what date it's on, its November isn't it? But should I find myself at an American family’s dining table on that date then I would like to think I would be welcomed into the traditions and values that the holiday represents. Likewise if young Hyun-Ki (didn't make it up, it means 'wise') woke up in my flat on March 17th, I would equally bring him into the fold as to how this day is to be spent as I made him breakfast. Breakfast being two cans of Guinness consumed before . Yet unless you've someone to share this day with, exactly how the fuck are you supposed to spend it? Apart from being reminded that, oh wait, you don't. I think this whole situation would be remedied if there was another holiday celebrated in and around the same time that could only be appreciated by singles. Something like, 'Knob-jokes and Beer Day' or 'Strip club Appreciation Week'. To sum up, think about it, you wouldn't have a holiday called, 'My two legs work just fine thank you.' and is spent skipping merrily past people in wheelchairs.

Last year did nothing to endear me to this day. I was in work, of course, and just as the tempo was starting to pick and up and things were beginning to get a bit tenser. The phone in the kitchen rang, it's for me. 'Alright man, how's things?' I sigh 'What is it?' it’s a commis, young lad not even 19 with a tendency to wreck the head. He has the night off and hasn't shut up the days previous about this young 'wan' he was going to be meeting up with. 'Just eh, what's the recipe for that chocolate mousse you were trying out the other day?' 'I dunno dude, I don't have the exact measurements with me and we're kinda starting to get busy here and. . . ' 'Any chance you could just give it to me just like, off the top of your head' he then lowers his voice to a secretive whisper, 'She's going to be over in an hour or so, is there any chance man?' I sigh wearily, 'Okay it's about this and that and this. You then take that and those makea a thing and add this and do that.' 'Sound man, cheers. Appreciate it man.' I hang up and return to the brewing shitstorm that’s begun to take shape. The next day he comes in and without word or reason just marches straight up to me and locks me into a sincere, almost brotherly, embrace. 'Mousse work then?' I ask. 'Aw man, wait till I tell ya.' 'You know, I really don't want to know.' 'I got the can of whipped cream and I sprayed it on her. . .' 'I SAID, I'm good with the details.' Because it's one thing to know that there are other people getting some when you aren't. But knowing that someone got their jollies on account of YOUR recipe. Well then, thank you world!

Not surprisingly when the whole deal came round I decided to forgo anything to do with it. As to post anything related, given my attitude, would be akin to requesting a dissertation on the virtues of modesty from Kanye West. So let the records show, that for the season of Valentine’s 2011, my contribution to the blogsphere was a 600 word rant and a curry recipe. Perhaps next year I’ll even it out with a flower arrangement, a recipe for chocolate fondant and in the text hide a link to a picture of a puppy wearing a red bow with the words, ‘Wuv U!’ stitched into it (the bow that is, not the puppy).

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