Sunday, 24 January 2010

New job, version 2

This week, I started my 2nd new job in 2010......I wasn't expecting to be swapping jobs so soon but c'est la vie! Needless to say, I was more than a little nervous coming to work on Monday but fortunately, the week passed without much "controversy".

I am now working at yet another French resto, this time in central London and in the heart of Theatreland, boasting 2-Michelin stars (so moving up in the world!!). There are 2 restaurants in the same building, the ground floor resto is an informal dining experience with the emphasis on tapas-style dishes, whilst the 1st floor resto is a more traditional table service resto. Both floors have open kitchens which means guests can see their food being cooked in front of them (there is only an open kitchen for desserts on the 1st floor, guests can look down into the basement to see the pastry/desserts being prepared for the resto on the ground floor). The resto also has a bar on the 3rd floor which has started serving afternoon tea from this week onwards so some other interesting work for us to undertake.

I spent my first week shadowing the demi-chef de partie in the 1st floor resto as this is where I will be working and doing the required mise-en-place for those desserts. A lot to take in and remember but it was interesting and all the people which I have worked to date have been nothing but helpful and friendly :)

The demi-chef de partie went on holiday on Friday which meant that I was left to prep for service on my own on Friday evening - a little daunting but luckily, I had the chef de partie from ground floor resto to help with mise-en-place and then later, the pastry chef helped me with service.

It has been pretty tiring as we do not finish earlier than 1am every night, the double shifts were especially challenging at the end of the week but I think its a matter of getting used to the hours :)

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to take many photos during work but I managed to sneak one on my mobile phone of a dessert from the ground floor resto  - I think it is called "Le Citron" and consists of a yellow-coloured white chocolate sphere with lemon sorbet, cream and raspberry jelly inside. I haven't had the chance to taste it but it does look pretty impressive!! The desserts here do have that wow factor so am very excited about working here and mastering the skills required for everything! :)

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Weekend baking

My last weekend of freedom before I return to employment again!! Having asked my friend to buy me some financier moulds from Paris, I decided to have a bash at making these myself for the first time.  There is a blog called Canelle et Vanille which I follow from time to time (also on my blog list) - the author is a Basque ex-pat living in the States who also comes from a family of pastry chefs. The blog is bound to cheer you up on a dreary day because the photos are always amazing and full of life and colour. Anyhoo, one of the recipes which was posted up around Christmas time was for chocolate and kumquat financiers - they looked pretty yummy so decided to try this recipe out. Despite not using an entirely correct method, they turned out OK and they also went through my friend as an acid test (he made financiers daily as part of his stage!) - I half-passed the acid test, the taste was OK but the financiers needed to be cooked for a little longer, until the edges are brown :)
My other piece of weekend baking was also inspired by another blog which I read, Chocolate and Zucchini. The author, Clotilde, has published a couple of books, one of which is a gourmet guide of her hometown Paris - a great source of information and great eats for me last year. The other is a recipe book and this was where I found the lemon sable cookie recipe I tried. Very easy to make and quite tasty but might need to cut down on the amount of salt next time and still a bit unsure about the icing which was probably not tart enough for my liking.
It was nice to be back in the kitchen baking - almost therapeutic in a weird sort of way and the unmistakable aroma of something baking in the oven is bound to bring a smile to your face :)

Sushi lesson

After St John, I wanted to take my friend to a Japanese restaurant that we had visited last month and really enjoyed called Asakusa. We arranged to meet early evening on a Wednesday night at the nearest tube and walked down to the restaurant together. Being a midweek evening, I did not think we had to book for dinner but upon arrival, we were told that the restaurant was fully booked and that there would not be another free table for 2 hours??!!!  So much for the credit crunch and recession, huh??

We decided to head back into central London and ended up having dinner another Japanese resto, a place that I used to go to a lot but haven't visited in a good 5 years. Sakura used to be well known for its authentic and reasonably-priced food which made it a hit with Asian students studying in London. I think the success went to the resto's heads a bit.....the prices have gone up a little, the service is not the best and at busy times could rival Wong Kee' was also sad for me to see that all the special dishes posted on the wall are now all written in English rather than Japanese :(

Dinner was a bit of a non-event (sorry, Won!) but my friend gave me a crash course in sushi and how to eat which I thought was pretty interesting:

  • Sushi should be eaten in order, from the most delicate flavour first and ending with  the strongest flavour. For our selection, we started with the sweet shrimp, then sea bream, salmon, mackerel and ended with egg.
  • You should only dip soy sauce on the fish and never on the rice.
  • One way of putting soy sauce on the fish is by using a slice of pickled ginger, dipping this into soy sauce and then "brushing" this over the fish - quite an effective but my friend then warned me that only the older generation do this in Japan, cheers mate!!
  • Some sushi enthusiasts would never order egg sushi as it is not traditional. On the other hand, egg sushi can reveal the level of skill the sushi chef has (e.g. the layers of egg should be thin and there should no holes in between the layers. It should also be a generous slice)
  • Some sushi snobs may also remove any excess rice from sushi and leave on the side of the plate if they feel that there is too much.
  • Mackeral sushi is usually marinated in vinegar but ours was cooked in vinegar. The vinegar is used in order to preserve the fish as it has a tendency to go bad quickly. By cooking the fish instead of marinating it, the fish can last even longer.....not great for the consumer but more economical for the resto.
As my friend said, not a great dinner but the company was delightful and most educational! :)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Dining with old friends - St John

I was expecting this week past to be a stress-filled one with trying to find a new place to live as our current lease expires at the end of the month. Luckily for us, we placed an offer on one of the places we saw last week and fingers crossed, we will be "avec flat" soon :)

The other big news was one of my close friends from Ferrandi was popping over to London for the week. It was really nice seeing him again after several months, catching up on news and going out for some nice food, bien sur!! Very difficult to know where to bring my friend for food as he is a global gourmand and on his previous trip to London last month, had already hit all my hot dining spots.....and more!!

When I found out that he was coming over to Blighty, I decided to try and land a reservation at St John, since we both had wanted to try this resto for a while now. I rang a week in advance and was pleasantly surprised to have nabbed a table. I did think it a little strange that I received no phonecall on the day of dinner to reconfirm our table (the norm these days) but thought nothing more as it was Tuesday busy can they be?? On arrival at St John, we threw the maitre d' into a bit of a fluster as he could not find a reservation and worse still, there was no free table to be had.....after a few phonecalls, he managed to get to the root of our problem.....apparently, I had made a reservation at St John, a pub in Archway!! The maitre d' explained that it happens to them all the time - was a bit a mortified about this, not to mention that I had brought my friend and JD all the way to East London with no chance of dinner. Luckily for us, the maitre d' managed to do a bit of juggling offered us a table for dinner providing we would give it back to him in 1 hour 15 minutes! Of course, we were going to take the table but the problem was whether we would be able to complete 3 courses in that time. Managed we did, all lovely but our waitress could've taken a leaf out of the maitre d's book with regards to service with a smile.....the time constraints meant we didn't have as much time to savour our food as we would've liked but I was still grateful we got to eat there. Will definitely be back for a return visit, hopefully less rushed next time!
The bar area (where one can also dine but on a different menu) plus bakery in the background - their sourdough bread is pretty yummy but more dense than its French cousin.

Main dining room - very simple with lovely high ceilings. Not what I was expecting but then again, I wasn't sure what I was expecting??

Roasted bone marrow on toast - so delicious! Definitely a dish to savour and a shame we did not have enough time to slowly appreciate it.

JD's starter of smoked mackerel - delicious and full of flavour too but would've been nice if it was a little warm. 

Whole pan-fried lemon sole - the freshest fish I have eaten in a long while!

Shared sides of boiled new potatoes and sprout tops - so simple but done exceptionally well.

A race to the finish for dessert - hot ginger pudding with butterscotch sauce, served with fresh cream. Wins no awards for sophisticated patisserie but a scrumptious pudding :) 

Thursday, 14 January 2010

January weekend eating

The snow finally arrived here in the big smoke which put a stop to us venturing too far for grub during the weekend.  We therefore decided to stay local and eat in our closest Thai place, the Old Pack Horse. Its actually a restaurant inside a pub and there are a lot of these around town, one of the most famous being the Churchill Arms in Notting Hill. Our other favourite Thai kitchen is the Old Parrs Head in Brook Green , which was first introduced to me   over 10 years ago by a Uni friend!! The Old Pack Horse has a proper restaurant area and on our most recent visit, also does desserts as well - a treat!

Stuffed chicken wings

Pretty tasty sweet and sour chilli fish

Duck in red curry sauce - very tasty but wish the duck slices could've been a bit chunkier

Not very authentic but oh-so-good!! Banana fritters with ice cream :)

We ventured a little further on Sunday and took what is probably the most convoluted bus route to Camden to check out a Portuguese place called Ferreira delicatessen that JD had read about and heard that the pasteis were pretty amazing there. We were expecting to find a cafe where we could grab a light lunch and sit down with pasteis and coffee. What we found instead, was a corner deli/convenience store in the heart of Camden which happened to also see Portuguese pastries. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to sit so after making our purchases, we headed into the warmth of the Tube and sampled our goodies whilst on the way home. Very nice pasteis de nata and bolo de arroz (sorry, no photo) but am going to have to think twice about going back as its a bit of trek :)

The final foodie event of the weekend was me attempting to re-create one of JD's favourite dishes from Leon, Morrocan meatballs. This was the first time I had cooked anything from this particular cookbook and it turned out pretty good - no harissa in the cupboard so had to substitute with dried chilli you can imagine, the dish got a real kick compared with the original :)

Thursday, 7 January 2010

New year, new job(s), new beginning(s)

The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity for me and its only now that I finally have the time to sit down and reflect on what has been going on :)

After finishing my stage in Paris (end of October), I was leading a bit of a nomadic existence flitting between London and various other places. Despite this, I managed to land 3 job offers before I headed home for Christmas, giving me great confidence that I would be back in employment again before the New Year. After much consideration, I decided to take a pastry position working for a French restaurant within walking distance from where I lived. It was a restaurant which I had eaten in a couple of times and was impressed by the food they served, as well as the service and the overall ambiance. At the trial, I also liked the way the team worked and everyone seemed pretty friendly and helpful. The hours were no slouch - 4 double shifts a week with 3 days off. My thinking was that by choosing somewhere so close to home, I was giving myself the best possible chance of success given the long working hours.

I started work here the week after Christmas and was immediately thrown into a lot of  "mise-en-place" work, all leading up to and preparing us for the New Year's Eve onslaught. For the first couple of days, I worked alongside a colleague who wasn't a pastry specialist but we got on fine and I was able to produce almost all the things he wanted with just a recipe (lucky I had done all that cooking practice at Christmas!). On New Year's Eve, I was working with a colleague who worked mainly in the desserts/pastry section - a little more challenging than the first few days as he was less used to delegating. Despite the fact that a lot of the mise-en-place had been done the previous days, the lack of organisation on New Year's Eve meant no afternoon break for us, meaning working 16.5 hours straight which was tough going. Up until then, I had next to no experience of doing service and on New Year's Eve, I was thrown into the deep end - when the orders started to pile up, I had to get stuck in and help plate what was the most complex dessert of the evening - no problems there, I just got on with it.   

After a couple of days off, it was back into the kitchen and also my first days working with the head chef in charge (he had been away on holidays until then). As far as I was concerned, everything was fine - I was able to get on with my work......if I didn't understand anything, I would ask my colleague what I should this point, I was still not involved in service therefore my interaction with the head chef was minimal (a couple of conversations lasting merely seconds).

You can therefore imagine my surprise when after service on Monday night, he asked me how I was getting on and I said "Fine", to which he immediately responded with, "I get the feeling that you don't want to be here....let's have a chat in my office" (?!!!). I was then subjected to the following barrage of comments and accusations which left me feeling a little gobsmacked:

  • I don't "get" you.
  • You make me feel uncomfortable.
  • I get the feeling that if you find a new job, you will leave straight away (despite the fact that my work to date has been good and according to his "psychoanalysis", if I had an attitude problem, surely my working standards would slip?).
  • You seem to think that just because you worked at "X" in Paris and "Y" in Hong Kong that you are far superior than the rest of us.
  • I was surprised to hear you asking a question about the pastry - you've only been here a week (i.e. how dare you question anything, shut the fuck up and get on with your work)
  • I've been hearing "rumblings" from others (no examples given but admittedly I did not ask)
  • I have no problem with you asking questions but there are others in the team and if you ask too many, it can get wearing. Also, this is not a cookery school.
  • You are too over-enthusiastic.
  • You're not fast enough (pretty hilarious, as by the middle of Monday night, I had finished everything that was asked of me and was hanging around service to the point where he said, "Can we find something to do rather than stand around and cross our arms?" - actually, the person giving me work had nothing for me to do) 

I was more than happy to explain my side of the story saying that the questions were only to help me learn how things should be done in his kitchen as quickly as possible so that I can then integrate faster into the team. (his response was that you are new and it was too be expected that I would not know everything immediately, no appreciation for me trying to pick things up as quickly as possible). After the conversation continued for a bit longer, I realised that he was the type of person who was not willing to listen to anybody. I already suspected him of being a bit defensive after my day trial and this conversation confirmed my fears. He also revealed himself to be someone who was insecure with his own ability and knowledge and only managed to get others to obey him through rank (and therefore supposed authority) only. Despite my explanations, I got the distinct feeling that he was not convinced. He had made his feelings known and to be honest, I didn't particularly want to stay working in a  place where I was not wanted.

Luckily for me, I was able to return to work this morning and say that I did not wish to continue working there (I was on a preliminary month trial) - another opportunity presented itself to me over the last week and after several interviews, I am happy to say that I have secured myself another job. I was not expecting to switch jobs so soon but all I can say is, it looks like the type of place where I can learn and thrive and enjoy my work, my experience of the organisation to date is professional and communication is open. The food and concepts excite me a great deal and the chefs I have met have been friendly, welcoming and encouraging.

As you can probably imagine, the last few days have been stress-filled for me but hopefully, things should look up from now on and I am looking forward to a new start in a week's time.

Days off eating - Woojung and Franco Manca

Have just had the last few days off - like most of the rest of the world, London has been freezing cold this week and we are set to have more snowfall until the weekend. The last few days has seen me pottering into town to run a few errands and also an excuse to go and find some nice grub. The cold weather started giving me cravings for Korean hot pot casserole hence lunch at Korean restaurant, Woojung. In the end, I did not go for hotpot but for a galbi set instead which included Korean pancake, a big sizzling plate of galbi, rice and some side dishes all for under a tenner! Very satisfying!
I liked the cast-iron "cow" platter a lot! :)

To  be honest, I have never really been a fan of this Korean side dish - acorn jelly with spicy sauce?!

We also finally managed to head up the road to try the new pizza place in our area called Franco Manca. The original branch of this restaurant is in Brixton and has been getting rave reviews for its sourdough crust pizza (and also decent prices) ever since it opened last year. Luckily for us, now they have decided to open north of the river means less of a trek for us for good pizza! The menu is short and sweet with only 6 options for pizza and another 2 daily specials - we went for a meat special (wild broccolli, sausage from Naples and smoked mozzarella) and a napoletana (anchovies, olives and capers). Our pizzas arrived in record time, they were bursting with flavour and the crust was really yummy! Definite recommendation :)    
Meat special


Yes - we should be so lucky! :)

New Year eating - Comptoir Libanais

Having survived a hectic enough New Year's Eve service, it was very nice to have the weekend off and just chill out. This involved our first trip to the cinema in 2010 to see "Sherlock Holmes" (good Friday night entertainment flick!) and of course, some eating!! I had heard good things about Comptoir Libanais, a chic Lebanese casual dining deli behind Selfridges so we decided to head there for our Saturday lunch. We arrived just in time to nab a couple of seats by the front window (by the time we left at around 2:30pm, there was a substantial queue of customers waiting to be seated) and tucked into some grub. The deli itself is very nicely decorated with a bustling atmosphere; the food was alright but not good enough to deter us from going back to Al Dar for excellent Lebanese food. Similarly, when compared to other casual dining places, Leon offers far more superior food than Comptoir Libanais. It was nice for a visit but I don't think we will be going back.   
Strawberry Fanta in the middle shelf!!

Our order: fruit juices (carrot & apple, apple & orange), baba ganoush (too sour and too cold), chargrilled chicken couscous salad (too cold and not much flavour), kofta tagine (OK but not bursting with flavour) and mezze platter (nice falafel and tabbouleh, hummus pales in comparison to Al Dar)

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Where has the time gone?

Happy belated New Year to everyone!!
I really can't believe that 2009 is over and we are already well into 2010......also, hard to believe that during the last year, I have:

  • Quit a steady job to re-train as a pastry chef.
  • Lived in Paris for most of the year to hone my craft and train at a great school under some fantastic teachers and made some lovely friends.
  • Completed a 3-month stage at THE top pastry shop in Paris and came out in one piece at the end of it :)
  • Made my first 2 wedding cakes for some very important people in my life - both cakes were greatly appreciated and fairly successful taste and look-wise :)
  • Organised and completed a 10-day stage at THE top French resto in Hong Kong..... the best kitchen experience to date!
  • Received job offers from all the restos I went and trialled in.
  • Found a job before the end of 2009.
  • Survived my first New Years Eve service.....
I never dreamed for one second that a year on, I would have progressed to this stage. I can honestly say that I have not regretted my decision to quit the rat race and for the first time in my life, I feel confident in my job which is a great feeling and can even add my own knowledge at times in the workplace.....a really great feeling!!

I can only hope that everything I have learnt and experienced over the last year will stand me in good stead for 2010 and into the future - thanks to family and friends for your continued support :)

Ma Chan's Chinese home-cooking....a real treat! :)

Tiger prawns stir fried with garlic and soya sauce

Braised duck feet with dried shitake mushrooms

Dish of delicacies - abalone, sea cucumber and fish maw....sooo good!

Choi sum - brought all the way from London town!

Chicken with dried beancurd sheet and fermented beancurd sauce