Monday, June 24, 2013

What Dance Recitals Must Feel Like for Proud Parents


Pluot walnut tart, yogurt parfait, prune red wine puree, fresh pluot, coriander berries. Photo credit: Baby J.

Oh, you dear sweet folks that are reading this... I know it's been a very long time, but like many folks with (likely) better maintained scribblings, I blame life. My move to San Francisco was not without its speed bumps, but it was also filled with things like the incredible joy of finally finding the people that make your home (thanks, Craigslist), knocking out five interviews and getting job offers from the places you care to work, and petting every dog regardless of what the attached human might be doing. Anyway, I just want to say thanks for giving a rip. You're wonderful and appreciated.

I've been working day time pastry prep at a nice casual (some people I love call it bourgeois) restaurant in Oakland for the last six months and it hasn't been inspiring. Long story short, the hours are better, but this is not my pastry chef's home base within the restaurant group, so it leaves me to my own devices as far as personal development.

Fear not, for I have found my silver lining: summer wine dinners. We're hosting different vintners or wineries once a month and I've been given free reign to play. Our first one just passed and in the words of Willow Smith: "never been the one to toot my own horn," but! Our vintner didn't send over a dessert wine, so I could do just about anything I wanted as long as it tasted good and decided to do a plum tart. I wanted a cold, creamy texture with it, but didn't want an ice cream, blah blah blah... I could tell you all about how the gears of my mind went tumbling with ideas, but I think the photo above is much more eloquent. Beep beep.

Plating up my dessert. The puree in that piping bag is not true to color in this photo. Weird. Photo credit: Baby J.

When you do day time pastry prep, you don't stay for dinner service, which means you typically pass whatever you've made on to someone else to plate up for patrons. The desserts at this restaurant are designed to be easy to execute and on normal days, it doesn't really bother me to place them in the hands of others. However, this dessert was my baby. So, I came in on my day off to plate up every single dessert for our big event.

It was weird being there at night, working within sneezing distance of diners, all very curious about what your doing and if that's what's coming to them next. Open kitchens have their advantages and not so great bits, too, but all of my experience had been in full view of customers before I moved back to the States, so once things got rolling, I felt just fine.

Folks told me all sorts of nice things about the dish and wouldn't you know it, that made me feel mighty good. The vintner even came up and complimented us on the (nearly last minute) syrah pairing. One of my old coworkers from our restaurant across the Bay was at the dinner and told me it was very grown up and the best dessert he's had in a while.

Enough horn tooting. For me, it was a great feeling to show folks that I know what I'm doing and that I can rise to the occasion. Doing day time pastry prep has felt a bit like hibernation; a long sleep in which I didn't have much of a choice.

This whole summer wine dinner series has really helped me shake the dust off and wake up. One thing that I didn't really appreciate much until now was the freedom I've had for the last few months to put desserts on the bar side of our establishment. The bar food is more casual than our restaurant side, so I can do things like this:

Brown sugar caraway pop tarts. They're off the menu now because it was a whole lot more work than I could grant to the price point and popularity of it. For what it's worth, I paired it with vanilla milk.

That brown sugar caraway pop tart was magic, but it wasn't selling (come on people!), so it was quietly taken off the menu. But! My chef had been asking about panna cotta for weeks before the wine dinner and finally ordered little cups for it, so I had to kinda actually do it. After a little hemming and hawing (have you witnessed the horror of a "panna cotta" Google image search, because I have and it hurts), it clicked: Thai tea panna cotta.

I ran spoon fulls of my test batch straight into the mouths of cooks with busy hands and was met with groans of taste bud delight. After a quick little consult (read: taste test standing in the bar) with our bar manager, he suggested pairing it with Mekhong, and so came a thin layer of alcoholic jelly on top.

Thai tea panna cotta with Mekhong jelly, to be served with wee little micro mint leaves.

Anywho, this post is getting long and it's certainly past my bed time, so I'll leave you with that tasty thought. Thanks again for reading and I hope to share some more yums soon.

x Melissa

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Leaving the Island and Capturing Memories

I'm trading the safety and ease of this island nation for a return to the west coast (which is the best coast, ahem). The move is happening in T-minus two and a half months and I am putting my brand new sort of okay camera to use. Here are some of the things I've been seeing lately in my work life:

Mise en place for a spice cake test.




An old edition one of our newer lunch desserts topped with a potent and delicious coffee ice cream.

What came out of our pastry team think machine when I put a couple ideas in. If you've never worked on a dish before, you'd be surprised at how much flavors, textures, and even the base idea can evolve.  This tumbled out of a craving for spicy mango and horchata.

I'm going to miss my pastry team here incredibly. I can't be thankful enough for the experiences I've had and the things I've learned with them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Did Someone Say Baguette?

My very first epi.

I never knew what an epi was, let alone what one looked like, until I browsed the pages of the book Modern Cafe. The simple snips of scissors can transform a typical long and slender baguette into a beautiful wheat stalk shaped loaf known as an epi. Thank you, Francisco Migoya.

This was much more beautiful in person.

I did my best not to tamper with the dough much after the initial mixing-kneading process, taking care not to add too much flour or handle it rougher than necessary. I certainly wanted those air pockets and I'll be the first to admit that I've definitely beaten the best out of a dough.

Hole-riddled insides.

I have to say I'm pretty proud of this bread.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lookit What I Made: Brioche

I made brioche when I had an early off night and a late morning start back to back. Idle hands...

I have a follow up post to a previously failed cake coming up soon. Round two: K.O. In a good way.

Sorry for the brevity; perhaps it's best to give you shorter posts more often than longer posts that are even fewer and farther between. What do y'all think?

Off to maybe sleep now.

X Melissa

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Admiration

 One of five live crabs I met this morning.

This isn't particularly about pastry or working in a kitchen, but I found this to be something I'd like to share.

I worked early this morning and on weekends, as it happens, I'm usually one of two or three people around. I appreciate mornings alone in the kitchen because of the quiet independence and self sufficiency it allows. The only downside is that it can take a considerably longer time to pick herbs when the door bell is going off every ten minutes and one must put down the tweezers and spritzer bottle to check, sign, and "chop" ("chop" is a noun or verb referring to the stamp or stamping of invoices in Singapore).

Amongst the morning deliveries were five live crabs.

The crabs were all wrapped in twine like brown paper packages tied up in string that are occasionally sung about, the twine placed just so to both restrain and provide a handle for the crustaceans. This struck me as sad, but I understand not wanting to get a finger broken off when getting a crab from point A to point B.

Unlike some folks, I have a tender place in my heart for crabs. I studied biology in university and during my love affair with marine biology, I did a study on the predation of crabs on two mussel species in Puget Sound. During that time, I learned that crabs are... crabby. And they break things, especially when left alone over night in laboratories.

Grumpiness aside, crabs seem strong willed and will do just about anything to escape the clutches of captivity, and I have to say I admire that.

I've met a few people lately that are incredibly talented and beautiful people, people that are confident in their skills and in their ability to take themselves anywhere they would like to go. I hope to continue to meet people like this and that some day, I too will have the skill level and confidence to know that I can constantly move forward with grace and dignity.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mugaritz!

"Soap" bars made with cocoa butter.

Do you remember the feeling you got when you were little and the cool kids asked you to play with them? That's pretty much how I felt every time I was asked to participate in the charity dinner hosted at my work. Chefs from Mugaritz visited and showed us some amazing things.

The opening dish, watermelon carpaccio.

You think you know watermelon? Think again. Several days and severe conditions later, watermelon takes on the texture, color, and flavor of meat.

Edible clay from the Mugaritz team.

The restaurant has its own line of kitchen products that are available to the public. Kaolin is a very fine, food grade clay which the chefs used in several of the dishes.


The most delightful item they made was walnut shells to go with the goat cheese ice cream dessert. Kaolin, chocolate, and a couple other secrets were mixed together and molded in ten unique silicon molds that Mugaritz had custom made. Ramon, their lovable mountain of a pastry chef, made all the walnut shells himself. You could tell he was incredibly passionate about pastry and that he enjoyed food and new tastes deeply.

Injecting the walnuts with jelly one by one.

Each walnut shell was filled with a liquor jelly before service. The shells were so delicate that quick and gentle handling were required to avoid breaking or melting them.

Ramon mixing ice cream, walnuts, and goat cheese.

The walnut shells were paired with real walnuts, milk ice cream, and goat cheese. It sounds strange, but you can bet that more than one bowl was passed around the kitchen for taste testing and re-testing with no other aim than to indulge ourselves in the wonderful flavor and texture combinations.

I'd love to post more for you to read, but I have to be up in less than seven hours to get back to the (happy) daily grind. Keep your fingers crossed for a continuation :)

X Melissa

P.S. Also, please forgive any spelling or grammar slips... I'm sleepy and want to bring this to the masses (ha) ASAP!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Off the Grid

Orange jam and gingerbread buttercream bon bons, with one of the savory chefs milling around in the background.

Sorry folks. I hate to admit this, but I've just plum run out of time to update this regularly. BUT! It's with good reason: I started working full time. I started working full time at an absolutely amazing place with wonderful people and the most equipped and spacious pastry are I've ever seen in a restaurant. So for the time being, please excuse me while I do things like make these orange jam and gingerbread buttercream bon bons for twelve hours a day :)

I'll miss you.

X M

P.S. Those yellow swooshes? Those would be my chocolate finger painting skills. Yes, chocolate finger painting. I like my job.