Friday, March 30, 2012

Letter from a fellow chef

To celebrate my 201st posting I offer up an email that I received from a fellow chef, proving that not only is fact greater than fiction but also that I couldn't make this kind of stuff up!! (and wish that I could)

Two things, there are two things I did this Saturday past that I knew better than to do, but did, in fact, anyway, thereby causing myself a certain degree of both misery and pain.

In reality, one of them began far earlier, as I was pontificating in a Chefly way about hors dooveries we could serve at a big ol' wine tasting event (400 guests) and posited how it might be nice, and something no one else would be doing, to make and serve empanadas; yes, little pastry crescents filled with an attendant goodness.
My boss, said, "oh cool" or the equivelent thereof and so it was to be.
The week arrived upon which the party was to be held and thinking ahead, as I am occasionally prone (prone indeed) I asked the chubby officious little kitchen manager to order me 20# of boneless beef chuck that I would braise, days in advance, in a low and slow fashion, so as to have time to shred it and mix it with various and unique flavoring agents.  I ambled into the kitchen two days before the blessed event (lots of ambling going on when this is the only gig of the entire week) to get that big chunk o' meat in the oven along with some onions and garic and chiles and red wine, and blow and leehold, the big ol' chunk of meat is NOT 20# of beef chuck, but is instead, two 10# tubes (yes, 20#) of ground chuck; boneless, yes, but hardly suitable for our purposes.
So we did a lot of phonin' and we did a lot of moanin' and finally we arranged to have the 20# of boneless beef chuck delivered, but because it came from somewhere far away it would not arrive until the morning of the day before the blessed event.
I proceeded to put the large chunk of chuck in the oven, along with a variety of aromatics, juices and flavoring agents and started it off on it's long relaxing journey to tenderness, although this did not come until waaaay later in the day, when I had left the building.  I did manage to get five sheet pans of garlicky cheesy mushroom risotto made in the meantime (where does the phrase/word "meantime" originate from, anyway?  yeah, I know, google it), and all the sauces for both the risotto (which would be turned into tiny pankoed cakes) which would get a nice rich green herb aioli (based on a huge amount of scallions) and red and yellow roasted pepper sauces for the empanadas.
So we arrived, the noble and hardworking Pedro and myself at 9:00 yesterday morning knowing that we had to cut and panko (my kind of verb) the risotto cakes which would be a snap, if a time consuming one, but also that we had to assemble the fucking empanadas from scratch.  And this is where the first of my knowing better bells began to ring in the larger of my two heads.  "This was dumb" it rang, "this is going to suck", it pealed.  And I tried not to listen, but it was far too late.
So, we shredded the 20# of oh so very tender boneless braised beef chuck, blenderized it's pan drippings and the attendant flavoring agents (lots of onions) once they were defatted, and mixed them with  several cups of roasted corn I had stashed away and frozen back in the season, several more cups of nicely soaked golden raisins, and five or six finely chopped jalapenos.  The clock was moving.
We (I) moved into dough mode and began churning small batches of the empanada dough while the loyal, noble and hardworking Pedro began the rolling, filling, folding and crimping (yes, with a fork process).  And it was here that the second of the two misery and pain producing things that I knew FAR FAR better than to have done occurred.  On about the fifth or sixth, but could easily have been on the sixth or seventh, batch of dough I stopped the food processor because I didn't think the water I had just added had mixed in with the dry ingredients at the bottom.
  So (and here's where it comes, folks; "Don't do it, don't go in the haunted cave" they scream from the cheap seats) I stuck my right hand down into the bowl of the food processor and in doing so managed, unbeknownst to me, to hook my middle finger under the cutting blade.  And then what could have happened did.  Upon attempting egress with my hand I caught the fleshy part of the top digit of my finger against the blade and pulled up.  Halfway through the action and before it was complete I knew exactly what I had done.  I ripped my hand out, causing the bowl and the top parts to fly across the kitchen and screamed, "No, no, you stupid asshole, no!!!"  But it was too late.  I had opened up a big crescent shaped gash in the previously mentioned fleshy part of the top digit of the middle finger of my right hand.  And there was that moment, that priceless second where I looked at it and could assess the nature of the damage, just before the blood came pouring out.
So at that point the selfless, noble, long suffering and hardworking Pedro had to quit rolling and filling and folding and crimping (yes, with a fork) and also becaome the doctor.  I got a towel on that sucker as fast as I could and squeezed it for all I was worth.  Pedro got the goods and we proceed to first sterilize, then bind that thing as tightly as we could.  Oh yeah, and now it was big and a rubber glove wouldn't even fit over it, although Lord knows I tried.  And the clock was still moving,
It was now late afternoon and we were only up to 280 (four sheet pans) of empanadas.  We kicked it in, although I must say, it is no mean feat rolling out dough, and cutting, filling, folding and crimping empanadas with a finger the size of an andouille sausage.  Pedro, bless his noble and hardworking heart kept on rocking and rolling (not to mention, filling, etc...) and by 5:10 (we were to leave at 6:00 and still had to fry the cakes and bake the precious empanadas) we had 510 of those little suckers all filled and ready to go.
The final hour was a bit of a blur, but it all got done.  Every last one of those 1050 morsels made it from a sheet pan to a 2"hotel pan for transport in our cambros to the site of the blessed event, AND, every single one of them got scarfed down my a bunch of folks from West Salem who somehow all seemed to get drunk drinking one ounce of wine at a time.
So there we stood at the end.  Bloody but unbowed.  13 hours our feet without a break (except for the bandaging process).  My back ached from the time spent over the table lovingly preparing the empanadas and my finger was throbbing like the floor when you live over a houseparty.  Pedro, the hardworking, loyal, trustworthy, brave, clean, thrifty and reverent Pedro turned to me and said, "Chef David, when I work with you, even when I work hard I always like it and I always learn something."
I eyed him dimly, a certain amount of fatigue coloring my view.  "What did you learn today, if I may ask?"
He looked me right in the eye and said, "Never do empanadas for a big party."


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