Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Last one, fast one

Phase 3, Week 6, Day 24

Last one, fast one was a saying an old swimming team mate of used to say at the end of a hard set. I always remember that when I'm trying to get to the end something. This is the last week of class before two weeks off on break and also serves as the half way part of the program.

Today was all about lecture and demo and our final test review. So, nothing big.

So, I thought I'd take a moment to talk a bit about the Club and my experience there over the last two weeks. I am still somewhat intimated when I go into work, there are a lot of amazing things coming out of the kitchen and I am still such a novice. I am trying to learn as much as I can and do the best job I can. Each day I go, I become more confident, but I still have so much to learn. Some days I get into a groove and do very well other days I can't seem to do anything right. It's nerve wracking.

I've gotten to do a lot of prep work of course, especially with all the holiday parties. Peeling 7 cases of asparagus, capping 6 cases of mushrooms, making 200 pot stickers, making 300 mini crab cakes, among the regular prep work of preparing banquet veggies. I am actually getting to cook things now too. It seems like I've earned their trust this week, or the guys just don't have time to to everything themselves, whichever the case may be, I'm getting more experience. I am learning lots of little industry tricks, which are so helpful. I'm actually also getting to work on the floor a lot as well. I've worked a lot of pasta and carving stations at all kinds of holiday parties. The best one I have to admit was an "open house" for an ex-ambassador who lives in St. Louis. The party was for 400 and we served some pretty awesome foods. Including wild boar pate, chicken Suzette, dover sole, and a bunch of other stuff I didn't get a chance to check out. Chef even called in several special chefs to help work stations out on the floor. It was a pretty cool event. My work schedule will taper off after the holidays so we will see how things shake out in the new year in that respect.

After several months at the club I still get kind of scared when Chef comes around to check out things or do projects. There are somethings that only he or his sous chefs are allow to cook. I try to keep my head down and do a good job. I had to do an assignment where I observed a working kitchen for class and I did my observation at the club. I also interview Chef and asked him about how he got to St. Louis. I found it interesting that very few people in the kitchen knew anything personal about him. So I just asked. This is what I found out.....

The St. Louis Club is a private dining club that was established by local business leaders in 1964. These men saw the need for a luncheon and dinner club in the ever westward expanding city. Today, the club offers a fine dining restaurant, The St. Louis Room, a more casual restaurant, The Backdoor, and three floors of meeting and banquet space.
The St. Louis Club is well known for it’s fine cuisine which often conveys the city‘s French heritage.  

Chef  Pierre Chambrin has been the club Executive Chef for 16 years. His curriculum vitae is quite impressive, including a stint as the Executive Chef at the White House. I was curious to know how Chef Chambrin got from France to a club in St. Louis.  In the beginning, Chef Chimbrin was not inspired to cook by anyone in particular, in fact, his mother was a terrible cook; he said with a smile. He simply had always loved cooking. He began cooking at home when he was 12 years old and made the move to a professional kitchen when he was 15 while attending culinary school. Chef Chambrin rose up through the ranks in kitchens through out France during his years as an apprentice. He made the leap across the pond in 1969 when he was hired by an American restaurateur  to help set up a small operation in Massachusetts called, Picot‘s Place. After two years of developing a strong foundation for Picot’s, the Chef spent the next 20 years at various restaurants up and down the East coast. 

In 1990, following a failed attempt at owning his own restaurant in Arlington, VA., Chef Chambrin was asked to become the Executive Chef at the White House during the George H.W. Bush administration. He stayed at the White House until a few months after the new Clinton administration took over. Disparagingly, he departed the position . At that point in his life, Chef Chambrin had teenaged children and did not want to stay in Washington or return to New York. The St. Louis Club contacted him and he has been in the mid-west ever since.

Chef Chambrin is a bit of an enigma. He is very direct and to the point. He does not waste time beating around the bush. His temper can flair at the drop of a hat. I am scared of him, and yet, at the same time I like him. Most of the kitchen staff do not know anything about him personally. I thought that was interesting. When I sat down to talk with him he was eating dinner in his office, always the multi-tasker. I wanted to use this time to learn more about him, so I covered the basic questions required by the assignment, then I used the remainder of the time to investigate a bit more. Here is what I found:

Me: How do you start your day?
Chambrin: I believe that the dinner service is the most important event of the day. So, many times, unless there is a banquet in the morning, I come in later in the day and stay until the restaurant and banquet areas close.

Me: What are your daily duties you perform?
Chambrin: I do all the scheduling myself. I review the six menus we use each day. The menus are submitted by the Department Manager and I approve them. I also do some ordering. The ordering is split by myself, and the AM and PM Sous Chefs.

Me: What makes a good chef?
Chambrin: That is a tough question. A chef must not only cook well, but first and foremost be a good organizer.

Me: Being a classical French chef, what is your opinion on modern culinary trends?
Chambrin: I let my Sous Chefs worry about that when the are designing the dishes. Food must first be good, then attractive. It should keep balance between modern and classic and not be too extreme.

Me: What do you look for in an employee?
Chambrin: That is not answered easily. I have found that although an applicant has good technical knowledge/skills on his resume, he still may not be a good fit. I look for a good attitude. I generally just have a feeling about someone. 

Me: Do you still cook?
Chambrin: I have found I can not cook at work anymore. I would continually get pulled away to do other things, but I still cook at home.

Me: Do you miss it?
Chambrin: Yes, a bit

Butternut Squash soup w/ fois grais
Dessert Sampler
Appetizer tray 
Scallops w/ veg of the day

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