Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The KTB Experience!

I have long dreamed about working in a professional kitchen. I love cooking and prepping and above all - feeding people delicious food. I knew that if the opportunity ever came along, I'd snatch it up. Well, last December that's exactly what happened; and I couldn't be more happy with the experience! I feel like I know what goes on in the front of the house of a restaurant - at least as a diner, I know how the back of the house looks - because I deliver at the back door, but I have been fascinated by what happens there in the middle - the important step... that step where chefs take my carefully grown produce and transform it into something that will thrill a diner - that was what I was interested in learning, and was so happy to have the opportunity to close my farm-food loop a little more; to get the big picture of what happens to all these seeds that I buy in the deepest time of winter - they get planted, they grow, get harvested, get transformed into something delicious, and customers demand more. I couldn't wait to get started! By way of some background, Spencer and I have a great partnership with Steve & Lara Atkins at The Kitchen Table Bistro in Richmond, VT. Steve used to come to the Burlington farmers market on Saturdays, buy as much as he could carry from our stand, and repeatedly mention how happy he would be if we would just deliver to his restaurant. This went on for a couple of years, and then,
finally, we gave it a try..... and have never looked back! We love working with chefs like Steve & Lara because they only work with quality ingredients, truly care about who they work with, and have an incredible seasonal menu that features the best that the region has to offer. It was a perfect fit, even from the very beginning. Since then, we have been partnering to create farmers' dinners that feature Half Pint produce - the most extreme of these endeavors being the Outstanding in the Field dinner we did together last August; we even grew cornish game hens for that meal! It was at one of these farmer dinners, I think the heirloom tomato dinner, when the meal was completed and we were sitting with Steve talking about how much we enjoy our relationship that I let it slip that I would be interested in working in a professional kitchen someday. Steve was instantly supportive and intrigued! He promised to let me know as soon as he thought it could work on his end. This past December he was short someone to help with garde manger (cold salads, etc.) duties, and asked if I could fill in - I said that I'd be honored, as long as he understood that I'm a definite newbie and will need instruction, but I relished the opportunity to work with him in this new capacity! It was decided that I'd work from December 1-31 - it was going to be a busy month, because there are company parties, families getting together for the holidays, and they were going to be open on Christmas Eve AND New Year's Eve as well. Talk about learning on your feet! Day one, I was shadowing the outgoing garde manger - a NECI intern at the end of his term. I was immediately impressed with how strong of a team Steve had at the back of the house! Everyone communicated so well, and every plate came together at the perfect time and temperature - a carefully choreographed dance that was always so satisfying to see come together with each table we cooked for. One confusing thing (to me) that still makes me smile is that the waitstaff would drop off the ticket, Chef would read off the items that needed to be assembled first, and everyone at all of the stations would spring into action - I was poised and ready to make my first salad, but I never heard the word "salad" on the first day, though we made plenty of salads! I had to learn the lingo and learn quickly that it was always a "caesar", or a "greens" (salad, implied), or a "beet" (again, salad implied - which was really an arugula salad with cubed roasted beets on the top). I was definitely unprepared for the lingo of the kitchen, but it would prove to be a very utilitarian language that I pretty much picked up in a week. I was so fascinated with the disconnect between the kitchen and the diners - I never quite got over the intense care and love each dish was made with and sent into the dining room... and that plate would invariably make its way back to the kitchen completely devoured and seemingly enjoyed - but we very rarely got feedback from diners. It was as though we were putting all this energy into a plating, and sending it into the void, hoping it all went over well! I am so used to getting instant feedback when I cook at home - this was such an interesting difference. There were those cool moments, though, when a diner would poke their head into the kitchen and thank us all for a great meal; now that felt good! It also became clear immediately that this was a perfect learning kitchen for me - there was no yelling, it was extremely clean (we cleaned the kitchen top to bottom after every service!), there were interesting dishes using lots of techniques, and good humor was maintained all around. My station, as I mentioned above, was the garde manger station - "keeper of the food" (a fitting moniker for me, I think!) - all things cold on the plate came from my station: hand-chopped beef tartare, house-cut potato chips, all salads, all garnish salads, I made all the dressings, croutons, candied nuts, grated cheese, crumbled cheese, pate, butters, as well as assembling desserts! It was a very busy station, and completely to my liking! I feel like I took to it like a fish to water - and would be happy to do it again someday. My favorite evening by far was the New Year's Eve dinner - my last night, but not for that reason at all - I was sad about finishing my stint! It was my favorite evening because we had so many cool things on the menu - sweetbreads, fried oysters, blood orange parfaits, stuffed quail, smoked salmon salad, and some dishes even had components of Half Pint products that Chef had processed in-season to use later - like the Wapsipinicon Peach tomato puree! So cool. Here's some pictures I took from that night - thanks staff of KTB! I had a blast, learned a lot, got to know all of you better, and appreciated your patience with this newbie!

I had nothing to do with these quail, but they sure looked yummy!

Hand-cut tartare, salad, potato chips (HPF radishes still!)

The delicious and addictive fried oysters!

Arugula salad with house-smoked salmon and blood orange supremes

Greens with blue cheese dressing, roasted golden beets and candied pecans

Halibut with summer corn succotash and Wapsipinicon puree - YUM!

Chef giving the lowdown on each of the new dishes to the staff before service

Staff diligently taking notes on the changes, while the rest of us stood by with forks poised to sample everything - my first taste of sweetbreads! Everything was of course delicious!


Anonymous said...

Love the new blog. It sounds like you had a great time being in the middle of the of the restraunt fiid chain. You have come full circle. Nancy

Chef Robin White said...

Simply beautiful and how it should be