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