Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mis En Place

Pronounced “meez en plauss” and French for “mind in place”. One of the first terms you learn stepping into a professional kitchen…

Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Powdered Sugar and Strawberries
Egg and Cheese Sandwiches
Spinach, Pepper and Feta Frittata
Banana Bread
Fruit Salad

Curried Chicken Salad with Apples, Dried Cranberries and Pistachios
Green Salad with Mangoes, Fennel and Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette
Naan Bread

Warm Shiitake Salad with Oranges, Bamboo Shoots, Water Chestnuts and Citrus-Miso Vinaigrette
Chefs Selection of Sushi – Lacquered Salmon, Crab and Avocado Hand Rolls, Spicy Tuna Rolls, Tuna Sashimi
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Mango Coulis and Vanilla Cream

Today was one of those days – breakfast stretched on forever, everyone wanted something different, and nothing was going as it should. There were slip-ups, spills, my flourless chocolate cake cracked, and it was just a generally annoying day. I was preparing for two new arrivals to the boat - the parents of the owners already on board - and I was getting a sickening feeling in my stomach that things just weren’t going to go well. I’ve had my menus for this charter planned out for over a week and I had already ordered my provisions and done my grocery shopping as we’re going to be in Anguilla for a few days where there will be no grocery shopping (to speak of) available, when I came to learn this afternoon that one of the guests arriving doesn’t eat meat, which completely throws off what I had planned. This compounded by the arrival of a new crew member yesterday that also doesn’t eat meat, another crew member that doesn’t eat fish, another crew member that doesn’t eat anything, and the two children of the owners that only eat food that is white (bread and pasta), beige (peanut butter and bologna) or purple (grape jelly). But such is life being a yacht chef…

Sushi was on the menu for our guests for this evening. Sushi doesn’t take an incredible amount of preparation but it can be tedious and in order to make it look spectacular and appetizing, rather than sloppy and potential hazardous. It takes focus and organization and until today I haven’t quite felt like I’ve had the focus and organization that I need to be working on a mega-yacht, such as the one I’m on, and be putting out the level of quality that I personally want to be putting out…

The kitchen I work in is really tight and I began to feel “station creep”, something taking up every place on the counter, ingredients spreading far and wide. I really needed to pull myself together or the kitchen, and potentially dinner, was going to turn into a disaster. I looked around and thought about all the restaurants I’d worked in; if any of my old chefs saw me now they’d tell me to stop what I was doing and clean up my station - of course they would use much more colorful expletives and in a pitch that only dogs could hear – but you get my drift. I wasn’t thinking like a chef, my mind and my prep were all over the place.

A few years back I was asked by a friend to assist one of her friends (another chef) with a catering event. Upon arrival, my friend and I learned that the dessert for 150 people, which was supposed to be served in an hour and a half, was a complete disaster and totally un-servable. My friend was a pastry chef and the first thing she did was make everyone leave the kitchen while she and I spent the next 15 minutes (which seemed like an eternity) cleaning and organizing. Once the kitchen was clean and she had a grasp of what state the situation really was in and what ingredients she had available, she made a few phone calls to her sister who then ran to the grocery store for some ingredients, picked up some baking equipment from my friend’s house and brought everything to us. Then, my friend began delegating tasks to everyone; in an hour and a half we had completely recreated 150 desserts almost from scratch. Waiters were leaving the kitchen with plates of dessert while we were pulling the final batches out of the oven – but it all worked out seamlessly and the guests had absolutely no idea of the fiasco that had taken place.

I think about this every time I sense an impending disaster in the kitchen. It’s impossible to think if there is a mess, and you can’t focus on the problem because focusing on the problem isn’t going to put food on the plate. You have to become totally solution minded in a kitchen, especially on a boat where it seems like change, unexpected situations and disaster is lurking around every corner. So I stopped what I was doing and cleaned the kitchen, then took a break for five minutes. When I came back, I began setting up a station just as I would have if I were working in a restaurant - and just like that, everything started clicking and coming together. Before I knew it, it was time for “service” and the show was on. Even my presentation improved and the guests were gushing after dinner about how much they enjoyed everything and how beautiful it all looked.

Like an epiphany I realized what I needed to do and how I need to work to be able to enjoy what I was doing and not completely lose my mind. I thought I was organized, but in order to cook on a yacht, I have to be 100 times more organized – and extremely flexible. The nice thing about working on mega yachts is that there is a good budget for provisioning and menu planning, not that I can go completely crazy – but there is a lot of room to be flexible and to stock the boat well which is key when handling unforeseen situations and being well prepared, but I have to be able to deliver on their expectations too. Also, in provisioning for a charter I’m learning that I have to think a week ahead because once when we’re out motoring around to different islands I may not be able to get to a store for three or four days, and on many of these little islands around the Caribbean you just never know what you’re going to find; limp, anemic produce, poor quality meat, no herbs, and sometimes not even milk or eggs.… It takes a lot of planning…

So, all in all, I’m really happy that this is my first real mega-yacht experience because the captain has really been showing me the ropes and explaining how the business works. I’m being thrown into the fire and learning what the real mega-yacht world is all about. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun, really, really fun…

And leaving that other boat was the best decision I could’ve made.

No comments:

Blog Directory - Blogged