Sunday, August 28, 2011

From Doughville to Tartlandia

**note: update Sept. 13 - pictures added.  and the recipe changed from onion tart to a sauerkraut/bacon tart... so some of the details for "tartlandia" changed in the last two weeks of LudoBites...

I've finally made peace with my role of being the person in charge of this appetizer dish I've been making for the past 4 weeks.

You need to cook happy.  You can't be angry while preparing food.  It'll somehow reflect in the outcome.

Hence the names.

I arrive at 11:30, and start working through "Doughville".
Step 1: gather the equipment, measure out the ingredients, and start mixing away using my Sea Foam Green Kitchenaid (which always makes me happy).  Then I set the giant balls of dough into the fridge to let them proof while I clean up my station and prepare for the next step.
Step 2:  Cut up a giant dough ball into 11 portions of approx. 80 grams each.  since I'd been scolded for not having even sized dough back in week 2, I started weighing the portions to get them as even as possible.
Giant dough ball - proofed overnight in the walk-in fridge - ready for slicing

Step 3:  Knead the 12 portions and then gently coax them one-by-one into soft pillow-y balls, with as few lines/seams as possible.
this is what you are going for on the underside - the seams are shallow
This is the top side - nice and smooth.  kinda satisfying in its velvety surface feel.

Step 4:  In order to keep them from drying out, I line the balls up on a sheet tray and cover them with a humid kitchen towel.

I get in early so I can "spread out"... my work station is rather tight. 
Step 5: Pass each ball through the pasta machine 5 times - to get it stretched out enough, and close to the correct size.
sometimes i go from 1 to 3 to 5... sometimes i have to do 1-2-3-4-5... and before I got my pasta machine back from my friend Joan, I didn't have a clamp to hold the machine in place... I almost got carpal tunnel syndrome in my left hand because of holding the machine steady!  ouchie!

Step 6: Using a rolling pin, further roll out the dough to the correct width & length. (the pasta machine has a fixed width which is too narrow)
This task helped give my arms some definition

Step 7: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, dust it with flour, lay out the rolled out sheet of dough, dust the top side with flour, lay another sheet of parchment on top.  Then repeat with the remaining balls of dough. I top the stacks with another sheet pan to help prevent the dough from shrinking back - wrap the sandwiched dough with plastic wrap. label it, and place it on a speed rack in the fridge.

Then repeat steps 2 through 7 at least 1 more time, sometimes 2 - depending on how many sheets of dough we need.

It's methodical.
It's time consuming.  
It's a helluva workout!
My arms are getting some definition now (happy dance!)
And it's my assignment.  I gotta do it.
There are no shortcuts.
But I've learned how to manage my time better and get consistent results.

After exiting Doughville, I am free to work on other projects.
If I have time to do Step 1 the night before, then I can potentially finish by 2pm.
This doesn't apply for Tuesdays.
If there are any leftover sheets from the night before, I might get away with only doing the recipe 2 times instead of 3. 
Again - it doesn't apply to Tuesday, as we don't keep leftover dough from the previous Friday.

At approximately 5:30, I enter "Tartlandia". 
Tartlandia is where it all comes together.
Step 1:  Organize the "Mise en Place"
  • Scoop some ice into a rectangular tub, and sprinkle it with kosher salt. 
  •  Gather the deli cups of the Creme Melange, Caramelized Onions, Thyme leaves, Bottarga (fish roe pods) and place them in the tub to keep cool. (weeks 1-4 was an onion tart; weeks 5 & 6 were sauerkraut/bacon tarts - so the mise-en-place changed)
  • Hopefully there are some half-sheet pans available (I try to start hoarding them around 5 so I have enough to start - at least 6)
  • Have the wood cutting boards (for serving) stacked and wiped clean
  • Place the white cutting board at my station with the tools needed (spatula to lift any stuck dough off the sheet pan, mezzaluna to cut the tart, Chef's special rape to grate the bottarga & this bamboo tool to scrape any stuck bits of bottarga off the rape)
  • White pepper mill & fleur de sel
  • Have a dry kitchen towel for removing trays from the oven, and a wet towel to wipe the station clean
Step 2:  pull out the rolled-out dough from the fridge - and start carefully lifting each dough off the parchment stack - and laying them on floured sheet trays.
Step 3:  apply the creme melange onto the dough - not too thick, not too thin - close enough to the edge without getting on to the pan.
Step 4:  spread the caramelized onions atop the dough - again, not too heavily - allow enough room for the hot air to move around the onions to cook the tart.
Step 5: par-bake them for about 5-7 minutes in order to keep the dough from getting too soft which leads to sticking on the pan.

Par-Baked "Choucroute Tarte Flambe" ready to be fired as the orders come in

The real stress comes when the order tickets start feeding through.  Because if there are more orders than prepared tarts, it's a scramble to get more into the oven.  And then after they bake, there are still several steps before the tart is finished to go to the customer...
Step 1: remove the tart from the pan (sometimes it's not that easy)
Step 2: grate the Bottarga evenly on the tart.  sometimes the bottarga is very gummy and hard to grate.  This is the most time consuming of the finishing steps.
Step 3: sprinkle the thyme leaves, a small pinch of fleur de sel, and several grindings of white pepper.
Step 4: slice the tart into triangles with the mezzaluna.

Once the tart looks good and is ready to serve - it needs to get "run" out to the front for the server to take.

Of course the order tickets come in randomly, and sometimes 3 tarts are ready at the same time.  Or while I'm in the process of finishing 1 tart, the next one that was fired into the oven is ready to pull out.  This is where I need the assistance of either Elodie, Erika or Sabel.

Ryan is rad.  He totally took charge - but he was only around after 6 on Wednesdays & Thursdays - and on the final night

Some nights, I can do most of this alone.  But most nights, I need the extra set of hands.

Doughville is my place of zen - and I'm on my own there.  But I can't linger too long.
Tartlandia is all about adrenaline and speed - I must have that sense of emergency to get the orders out in a timely manner. It's usually crazy from 6:10 to 6:50 - then it dies down as the diners are eating their entrees.  Then after I help Elodie with her desserts, the second seating comes in and I again get that rush from about 8: 30 to 9.

this was what the onion tart looked like - served on the cutting board... it's missing a couple of slices - sometimes we had to do quality control checks ;)

All this for one appetizer that will set you back $10.
Chef is thinking of changing the toppings next week, and tested it on Friday.  If we switch to that new recipe, Steps 2 & 3 of the finishing will be eliminated. I'd probably get those tarts out faster.

Choucroute Tarte Flambe - mustard creme melange, sauerkraut, pommes saute a la cru - or thinly sliced potatoes sauteed in clarified butter, bacon, onion.

On Thursday, I'd expressed to Joon how I wanted to take part in working on caramelizing the onions - so that I can truly say that I worked on 90% of each tart that I sent out... So Friday, I tended to the onions on the stove - visiting every 10 to 15 minutes to give them a good stir to make sure they weren't sticking.  Thanks Joon, for chopping the onions for me... I'd have been a teary-eyed mess as I didn't have goggles for protection.

Another good thing about this role... how can I snack on raw dough?  eww... It's definitely helped me get muscle tone and definition on my arms, and I've lost weight.

I used to really hate this assignment, and wished I had a different part of the menu to work on.  Especially because Chef would get so angry that they went out so slowly.  But I've gotten faster, and finally earned some praise.  When Chef got mad at me the other night for something about the tarts, it seemed for a moment he would re-assign me.  I almost didn't want that to happen.  I've grown to like both Tartlandia and Doughville - they are polar opposites... but I'd miss them.

The Wrath of Chef

I've finally witnessed it.
It happened at the end of week 4 of LudoBites 007. 
And it was scary.
Someone almost got fired.
Something was wrong with the Mayo (missing ingredient? I have no idea)
It was soooo wrong that Chef grabbed the container of it, slammed it down, and it went flying everywhere... even on the ceiling.
See those 2 glops of stuff just above the edge of the light?

Thankfully, I wasn't the instigator.
Nor was I even a culprit in any of it!
Though I am one of his favorite "whipping boys" and a frequent target of his stern, vocal admonitions... probably because i'm so sensitive, and he always gets a reaction out of me.

Everything that could go wrong was going wrong on Friday - and most of it was outside of any of our control.  This is not Ludo's kitchen either.  It belongs to a restaurant called Gram & Papa's... and the faulty equipment maintenance, which heretofore was a running joke (this is not working? ah yes, welcome to gram & papa's...) was no longer funny.  Elodie had a running list, most of which I forgot, but here are some of the highlights, errrr, lowlights:

Heat wave in L.A. (circumstance)
Broken Air Conditioner (G&P)
Freezer that never stays cold enough to let the ice cream harden (G&P)
Ice machine not cranking out enough ice (G&P)
One employee almost fainted (combo of stress and the heat) (circumstance)
Dish washers who are not the smartest and don't quite know how to keep a kitchen clean (G&P)

But when the fault lays squarely on a member of the team, and becomes apparent during dinner service - watch out!

One guy wasn't prepared with his "Mise en Place" and rather than sending an intern to do what he forgot, he left his station to fix his mistake... (wrong move).
And this was followed by the discovery of the messed up mayo. 

I had just run one of my tarts to the front, for service, so I didn't see how the mayo went flying and how some of it ended up on the ceiling.  I heard it all going on, but my role was to smile, and hand the appetizer to the server, as though nothing was going on at all.  Acting!

Upon returning to my station, all I could think was "just do your job, and don't fuck up".  Joon, Elodie, Erika and I all exchanged knowing glances that this was Chef being mad for real.  He was ranting in French - most of which I didn't quite get...

But this anger diffused when he was in the process of making a new batch of mayo at Elodie's station, and I heard a crash followed by Elodie and Ludo laughing, and Elodie was on the floor, having slipped on something.  Thankfully it wasn't a bad fall, because they were laughing - and I guess that was a reminder of what's important... you don't want anyone getting hurt in the kitchen... and you can't (or shouldn't) cook while mad. 

Still - the mood of the night: don't fuck up because Chef was on fire. 

Notice the temp on the freezer thermometer?  It should be about 20 degrees colder.
Oh - and then around 8pm, right before the second seating - we ran out of ice.  Krissy came up to me asking if I had a car - gave me cash and sent me off to get ice... as much as could fit in my car.  hurry.

Off I went to Ralph's, during dinner service, leaving my tarts behind, to get ice for the restaurant.  It was when I was walking through the parking structure of the grocery store that I realized how sweaty, and icky, and smelly I was... 9 hours in an extra hot kitchen, after kneading & rolling out 33 pieces of dough, whipping the creme patisserie over a hot stove, stirring the caramelized onions over the hot stove, and getting the onion tarts in & out of the oven - I was a hot mess!

I returned with the ice to everyone's relief, returned to my station, continued firing out those tarts as the orders came through...

Chef:  Sharon, you've been doing a good job today
Me: (relieved) thank you, chef

Yay! some recognition and praise from the Chef! 
How did I follow that up?
Yep, I promptly messed up.
In a row.
Luckily for me, this was the end of week 4 and I was prepared with back up plans, and unless Chef reads this, he'll be none the wiser.  shhhhh - don't tell him.

About the mayo on the ceiling... Chef only discovered it about an hour after it happened.  He told us not to clean it up.  He wanted to see if anyone at G&P's would notice it and clean it sometime before we return on Tuesday.  We are all guessing it will still be there. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When "Yes, Chef" isn't the right answer.

 One of the reasons I was so resistant to cleaning those strawberries last night was because they were getting mushy, and had lots of soft spots.  Not pretty for serving anymore.  But perfect for jam.  And that's what Elodie made today.  I refused to partake, on principle.  Well, that, and I was working on other projects.  Though I will say that the jam smelled so good. 

My punishment jam, cooling in an ice bath.
Chef walked by and I said: "so this is my punishment jam..."  to which he then got this grand idea.

Chef:  Ah yes, and if you talk back to be again tonight, I'll tell you in advance what your punishment eeez ... (he glances around the kitchen and sees a deli-cup of cherry tomatoes)... Your punishment will be that you will peel for me those tomatoes sherry (cherry tomatoes).  And not just that basket - there eeez a whole flat in zee fridge.
Me:  (eeek!) yes, Chef.

My goal of the day - well, I had several... look at me being all ambitious!

Goal 1 - not to get yelled at by Chef.
Goal 2 - not to mess up on any tarts.
Goal 3 - finish rolling the dough super early so that I could do other things.
Goal 4 - remember the answer is always "yes, Chef"

Technically, Goal 3 is the only goal that isn't already a given. 

Yesterday (Tuesday), I made an extra recipe of dough, and wrapped it up in plastic to cut up and shape today.  And since I had 8 unused already rolled-out doughs, I only needed to do one recipe today.  After I mixed together one recipe of dough, I popped it into the fridge to let it proof/rest and then I was able to start rolling out yesterday's dough.  I was able to finish rolling out all the dough by 2 pm.  That's 2 hours earlier than my average of 4 pm!

Elodie was thrilled, that she was able to use me to work on other things with her.  Like making the Creme Brulee (not bacon, anymore - just regular).  And then I made the Brioche dough for the Tropezienne.  And I also assisted her in making the Creme Patisserie that's used to fill the Tropezienne desserts.  

Service time:  I got all the Onion tarts out in a timely manner (finally learned the trick of par-baking them - that helped us get around the slow oven situation, and the sticking situation). 

But then I burned my arm when I was putting another tart fresh out of the oven on the speed rack.  My arm just barely touched another sheet pan that was cooling.

My left forearm.. with a brand new burn.
I was icing my new battle-wound/permanent memento of LudoBites when chef walks back and sees me icing it. 

Chef:  (sarcastically) what do you think you are doing?  you cannot ice your arm during service!  Oh stop everything, 86 the Onion Tarts, Sharon can not continue... 

there were no tarts on order at that moment.  I wasn't forsaking any of my duties... does he have to be so dramatic?

Me:  (hold your tongue, you know what the answer is) yes, Chef. 

So other than this little bit of mockery... nothing for him to yell at. hooray!  I prepared 2 recipes of dough during my little lulls in action so that tomorrow, all I have to do is roll them out. 

Later, Chef & Elodie were discussing what to do with the leftover Brioche from the night before - they decided on making  a bread pudding for the staff meal. 

Chef: (to me) have you ever made bread pudding?
Me: yes, chef.
Chef:  good - then you can make it tomorrow.
Me: (damn!) yes, chef.

Hmmm... now I have to look up some recipe, and figure out how much to make for a group of approx. 15.  Sometimes the correct answer isn't "yes, chef".

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In Less Than One Month...

I'll be back in Barcelona soon...

The original intention of this blog was to chronicle my journey as an ex-pat living in Barcelona - hence the title. 

And since the name "Sharon" doesn't sound right in Spanish - gets lost in translation, my pseudonym would be Violeta....

My return to Los Angeles got extended due to an unexpected internship that I couldn't pass up.  I'm halfway through the internship.  And at times, I just want to quit - it's so stressful.  But I love being there, and being part of it... just making it happen. 

On the plus side, I'll be returning to Barcelona the same weight as when I left.  See, I don't particularly like cured meats & seafood... so I wasn't eating much in BCN.  But when I got back to LA, I started gorging myself on all the foods I love here, and promptly gained about 7 pounds. 

I never realized how working in a restaurant could be such ass-kicking hard work.  12 hours almost non stop with all the prep and then the service... and then the clean-up.  And no time to eat!  I rarely sit at the staff meals, and rather use that time to get my "Mise-en-Place" put into place for when the orders start coming in. 

Less than a month left in LA... EEEK! 
Of course I'll return.  But will it only be for a visit?
I guess LudoBites will be categorized as things I'll miss about LA.  It's not even over, and I already miss it.

... And that's your punishment for tonight!

Joon:  Don't worry, he likes you.
Me:  How do you figure?

Ok - let's rewind a bit here. 
I was in the process of cleaning strawberries.
At 11:30 at night.
Because some little stubborn brat (me) couldn't keep her mouth shut, and questioned Chef again. 

Chef: Why you keep arguing with me?  Clean those strawberries.  All of them.  And that's your punishment for tonight.
Me: Yes, Chef.
Chef: You better take some speed (I think he means 'speed it up') because you are not going home until they're all done.

What made this task so tedious was that they weren't big strawberries like Gaviotas or Alvions - they were probably Chandlers or Seascapes - one of the small varieties.  So one little basket has like 20 berries that all needed to be topped and sliced.  And I had to finish the whole flat.  That's 12 baskets. 

Thank goodness Sabel came to the rescue when I was down to the last 4 baskets.  She helped me finish it all. 

Never an easy day.  Ever.

Oh, and other than some minor timing issues - all the onion tarts went out perfectly.  none stuck.  none got burnt.  none went to waste.  The only snag was that Chef came to the back at one point yelling that they weren't coming out fast enough.  Well maybe if Mike (owner of Gram & Papa's) got his oven fixed, it would work more efficiently and I wouldn't have to wait on the oven and get the tarts out faster.

Joon:  In the beginning, I thought he hated me. 
(this is Joon's 3rd stint doing LudoBites - and he gets yelled at all the time)
Me:  Why do I have to be so stubborn?
Joon:  Just do as me - always say 'Yes, Chef' - that's the only answer.  'Yes, Chef'
Me: Thanks, Joon.

What time did I finally leave? 
12:15 am. 
What time did I arrive in the morning?
11:30 am. 
yeah, almost 13 hours. 
and no... i'm not even getting paid for this.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How not to get yelled at by Chef: beat him to the punch...


11:30am  I'm having yeast issues.  oh wait, let me explain:

Elodie has been making Brioche for dessert.  For the Brioche, she uses fresh cake yeast instead of dry yeast.  I've never used the fresh yeast, but we only had enough dry yeast for 1 recipe of dough - and I needed to make 3 batches.  After 2 failed attempts at getting the yeast to bubble, my 3rd attempt finally took.  But again - just as I'm getting used to all the variables that are involved in making dough, something new has been tossed into the equation. Can't things be consistent? Ever?

I get my 30 doughs done in good time.  Things were moving pretty smoothly all day.

First Seating: it's always easier to plan for.  All the tarts that I assemble get fired and served within the same 30 minutes.

Second Seating: impossible to prepare for!  And anything that can go wrong does go wrong.  If the dough sits out too long, it softens and melts onto the cookie sheet... and sticks.  and the oven door opens and shuts so many times, that the temperature never stays consistent.  Some tarts get too golden - to the point of burning.  So I have to scrap those and fire new ones.

Chef comes to the back - wild-eyed, looking at the over-baked tart that is sitting on my cutting board.

But I'm already exasperated.  This is the 3rd week of making these onion tarts - why can't i get it right already?

Cue The Dramatic Monologue:
Me: Chef, I know as upset as you must be about these ruined tarts, I feel even worse! (There's now an audience of Chef, Krissy, Elodie, Joon & a couple of others)... I mean I put so much work into making the dough and rolling it out and all of the prep to get these in the oven.  And when we had the oven at 425, they weren't cooking fast enough, so we put the oven at 450 - and now they're burning.  And when I assemble the tarts too early, the dough gets stuck (I point at the previous "ruined" tart that we've already been snacking on)

... "So I'm incredibly frustrated by all this!  Why can't they just be consistent?"

Chef: Oh Sharon, Relax... Don't worry so much - it's OK.
Krissy leans in and gives me a consoling hug. 
Chef:  (continues)  If they burn, it's ok, the customer doesn't get it - we only send the good ones out, and your tarts are very good.
Me: But I hate waste... and (i'm stammering now)...
Chef: This is your first time working in a restaurant - you can't expect to know everything.
Me: It's been 3 weeks now of me doing the same thing.
Chef: your tarts are good.  you've been doing a good job.

Chef: your homework this weekend:  Meditate.  You need to meditate and take time to relax.

During this whole discussion, there's a tart in the oven.  It's now ready.  I pull it out:  perfection!  but there's no tart on order. 

There's just so much contradiction with Ludo... we need to have a "sense of emergency", and work fast - but then I'm concentrating so hard, trying to get everything right - and he tells me to calm down. 

Thank goodness he didn't yell at me.  He saw that my frustration was genuine - it's not like I'm slacking or not paying attention.  I'm just having a tough time with this balancing act.  I wish I could be more consistent. 

These 12 hour shifts are totally kicking my ass.  It's Monday morning and my hands are finally recovering - same with my arms.  That rolling pin makes for a serious workout. 

Up. Down. Up.

My learning curve tends to have bumps and dips along the way.  Like a roller coaster.

My 3rd week at LudoBites started off good.  Went terribly wrong.  Then picked up again. 

This is all behind the scenes, of course.  Everything that goes out to the front of the house looks like a well-oiled machine. 


A great day!  no dough disasters, no baking disasters, no panic... I almost did all the Onion Tarts myself... just a little help during the rushes. 

However Chef wasn't happy with the size of the tarts.  He wanted them wider.  The pasta maker is only so wide... that means back to the rolling pin. 

Chef: Tomorrow you start later - come in at 1 so you can stay later at night.

(I'm on the schedule from 12-8, but usually come in at 11:30, and stay past 9... these days are long)


I started at 1pm, as instructed.  The kitchen was now full and kinda crowded, my "happy zen place" was gone.  I like starting when no one is there... I'm relaxed and the dough reflects it.

But starting in a crowded kitchen, I wasn't as relaxed - and the dough came out tough... it was over-kneaded... I tried to let it rest... hoping that it would be easier to work with a little later... maybe the kitchen was too hot? 

Chef: If the pasta machine only makes the dough that wide (pointing to the strip i just rolled out) use the rolling pin.

I grab the pin & start rolling the dough, and I take him a sample.

The new size of the dough atop the breadboard the tart is served on.

Chef: Yes.  This is the size I want you to roll the dough out - every time.  Memorize this size.  Take a photo if you need, or use the board as your guide - but I want them all to be this size! 
Me: yes, chef... (and I snapped this picture).

Problem:  The dough is nearly impossible to work with.  It kept shrinking.

Chef is making me nervous again and time is ticking by.  We're getting closer to 5pm - which is when we're supposed to clean up and get ready for the dinner service. 

How many tart doughs are ready? about 15. 
How many do I need?  closer to 30. 

And I can't make another recipe of the dough because the KitchenAid is being used for the desserts. 

I was stressed. 
At least I wasn't alone.
The mean girl has turned a new leaf - she's helping me. 

Joon (who's responsible for my output - since I work at his station) is also there trying to roll out the dough with us - to get me to 30. 
Elodie finally frees up the KitchenAid and makes another batch of dough, and starts kneading - to get me something that's more workable. 

Chef: Are you going to be ready? How many do you have?
Me: About 22, chef... But we'll make it happen. 
Chef gives me a doubtful/worried look.  But I haven't stopped, and I'm not giving up.  I have no idea how many finished doughs we had in the end, but we didn't run out.  We had about 5 leftover to start with on Thursday, and half a ball of dough that Elodie made to divide and roll out. 

Chef was on fire today... "Expressing himself" loudly with just about everyone.  He wasn't really yelling at me since he saw how stressed I was.  He saw it on my face. Was it any consolation to me that the seasoned veterans who have worked with Ludo before also get yelled at?  Kinda.  But I don't like hearing anyone getting yelled at...

Joon:  tomorrow, roll out the dough with the pasta machine to level 4, then do the rest by hand.


They don't make KitchenAids in this color anymore...
11:30 - I like starting early, when no one else is there. I also brought my beautiful sea-foam green KitchenAid that I gave to my cousins (as I can't take it with me to Spain). 
I started making the dough - and now there's a second mixer - just in case...
The dough came out fine, I used Joon's advice & did the pasta maker/rolling pin combo. 

Thursday was a good day.  Chef was pleased with the tarts.  Since he made little to no comment during the day, I knew I was doing well... otherwise, it would have been nothing but criticism.  Things went smoothly for everyone, in fact. 

But then there was Friday...

The Shopping List Incident

Chef: (loudly) Who wrote "gelatin" on list?


Chef: (louder) Come on - I am serious guys - who wrote 'gelatin' on the list?

we all pretty much know it's Grace, but she's on the line out front and doesn't hear his inquiry.

Chef: No one is going home until someone tells me who wrote gelatin on the list!

Krissy: I don't know, but Sharon's got this guilty look on her face

Me:  Wha? that's not my writing... c'mon - you know what my writing looks like!

everyone laughs

Krissy: oh right - we have about 6 different versions of your handwriting...

Grace finally walks to the back and said she put it on the list for the next week.  Chef, expressing himself in his colorful way, said put it on the list tomorrow, not tonight.

(duly noted by myself as well)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"I have to Tweet this" - Ludo Lefebvre

Who doesn't have a Twitter account these days?

I don't use mine, but I have one.  I added Ludo Lefebvre a while back... (just because?)

but as my current status says "I don't tweet".  I rarely look at the feed.  I haven't gotten into it.  And now that I've been working 10 to 12-hour shifts at LudoBites 007, there's no time for me to even glance at my phone, check emails, read texts, scan push notifications on my facebook - let alone answer any calls or listen to voicemails.  Complete disconnect from the world.  I'm in Ludo's kitchen and I'm giving it 100% undivided attention.

Chef, on the other hand, he can take some breaks... sure he's under pressure to put on the meal every night, but with all the hands in the kitchen working hard...

Yesterday I was in at 11:30, with my "standards" sitting on my work station.

Chef arrived around 1 pm, and as he was checking inventory and deliveries, he stopped short when he saw those sheets of paper with "I will not argue with Chef" written across the page. 

Ludo: Ah non!  ne me dit pas (don't tell me).  I didn't mean for you to... oh now i'm embarrassed... I have to tweet this. This is great.

Ludo Lefebvre's photo "I will not argue with chef" 100 times. Yes, I make them do it.
Ludo Lefebvre on WhoSay

I turned beet-red, as I do when the attention is on me.  But it was funny.

As for the work day... same as before.  Just a whole bunch more tarts.  And while the dough has improved (I kneaded it more, and used less water - so it wasn't as soft), the shapes aren't as even as they could be... Chef wants them completely uniform and a little larger... that means I'll probably have to make more dough - 3 batches instead of 2 - and dividing the dough into larger portions.  He's going to work with me today.  (answer to everything: yes, chef!)

Mean girl was there (boo!).  She doesn't say a word to me, ever.  unless she needs to.  I didn't need her help last night.  I did the tarts almost all on my own (yay!). 

Oh - and Elodie's new dessert - the Tropezienne - total hit.  out of the ball park - awesome!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I will not argue with Chef

100 times.  by hand.  not on zee computer.
The way Joon recounted the situation, it sounded so much more dramatic and awful than it seemed when it was spilling from my mouth.

Friday night.
There was a rush, and I didn't have enough tarts ready to send 3 to one table at the same time.

Chef comes to the back shouting
Chef: You will not send out the tarts one at a time.  I want 3 tarts right now!
Me: (panicked - because not all the tarts went into the oven at the same time) Alright, we're trying.


Oh shit - wrong way to talk to him. 
If I wasn't just a student/novice - I'd have been axed. on the spot.

Me: Yes, Chef. 
Chef: You get me those 3 tarts.
Elodie steps in to my rescue and is getting a couple out of the oven - with another soon to follow - and we're rushing and hustling to get the 3 out together.

After the crazy rush ended, Chef comes to me and says: Your homework this weekend - you will write for me 100 times "I will not argue with Chef". By hand.  Not on zee computer. 
Me: yes chef.

It's now about 11pm and the cooks from the front room are in the back and we're cleaning up and recounting our horror stories of the night.

Joon:  And then she looks Chef in the eye and answered back to him.
Greg, Sam, Grace: (looking at me shaking their heads) you did not!
Me: it was that bad?
Joon: The answer is always "yes chef"

So why were we so short handed?  That girl who had made the off-handed comment to me about the tarts, the one who was throwing me under the bus and sabotaging me in these subtle little ways (which isn't really undermining me, it's undermining Ludo - as it's his name and reputation on the line), yeah, she had "car troubles" and couldn't find a way to get to the restaurant.  Hmmm... I don't think she'll be coming back next week.

Chef doesn't harbor ill will over something like insubordinate talk from an intern who obviously had a case of foot-in-mouth syndrome.  He was back to joking around. 
Chef: I Need a Tart right now - How Long?
Me: 9 minutes chef!
Chef: (smiling) that's ok - i don't need a tart now.  But you will write for me 100 times "I will not argue with chef"
Me: yes chef

Chef: those 4 leftover tarts (pointing to the raw assembled ones on the speed rack) - prepare them for the staff.

Not like we could save them for Tuesday... the staff loves them.  We love all the food... It's all so good!
Too bad we always sell out of the Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings - I really want to try that dish.

As for my homework - damn straight I did it.  I'm not taking this job for granted.  Even though Elodie was assuring me that he wouldn't fire me over such a trifle.  We all have our roles in the kitchen - and my 3-4 hour task of preparing the dough is my fixed task - it won't be re-assigned to anyone else, as everyone else has his/her own role.  And while some dishes are being rotated in and out of the menu, the tart isn't leaving.

Friday, August 12, 2011

QOTD - "Now You Look Like You Just Voted in an Afgani Election"

I've been having a rough couple of days.

It started yesterday around 4pm.  I was already done with my tart doughs and ready for a new task (I'm getting faster!).

What new task?

Cleaning squid. 

Just like the shucking of the oysters last week, this was a completely new task for me.  Some people actually enjoy cleaning squid - Sabel, who was teaching me how, is one of them.  She was laughing at my squeamishness. 

Sabel: first empty the tube of all the guts
she demonstrates
Me: stick my finger in the tube?
Sabel: and then be sure to pull the plastic-y hard thing out.

First off - squid are slippery little suckers. 
Second - the innards are slimy and gooey and kinda gross.

Sabel:  after you gut it, then you have to peel the skin off
she demonstrates making an incision with her nail, then slitting down between the flaps, pulling the skin over the top, and grabbing the flaps to peel down.

I kept dropping the squid back into the tub i was dumping the guts into.  I was hopeless... but it was something new.  Sabel found my struggles very entertaining.  How anyone can find this an enjoyable or satisfying task is beyond me.  But there was something else preventing me from really getting into it... my back was killing me! And I couldn't understand why.

That was the beginning of the end for me.  Some of the tarts got messed up - the dough stuck to the pan - and a few other mistakes in communication. 

I drove home in tears, just because I felt that I did terribly.  Turns out I had a fever.  A mild one, but enough to zap me of all my energy, and kill my personality.

Am I one to throw in the towel that easily?

Hell no.  I popped a couple of Tylenol and was back at work at 11:30 this morning.  Got my dough cranked out. It takes a good solid 3 hours from start to finish... that means by 3:15 or so, I'm ready to do other tasks in the kitchen.

Today's task:  Help Grace...
peel purple carrots.
Then slice them into 'coins' on the mandolin. 

After peeling the carrots I looked down at my hands.

Me: OMG Grace - my hands are all purple
Grace: Now you look like you've voted in an Afgani election.

That qualified for Quote of The Day.
Note to self, wear gloves next time.

No SNAFU's with the tarts today.  They're like my babies.  I nurse them from raw ingredients, form them into balls of dough, let them rest, cut/divide them, then knead them and form the smaller doughs balls (32 total).  Then pass them through the hand-crank pasta machine until i have those rustic rectangular-ish shapes for the onion tarts.

Thing is, when it comes time to assemble them, put them in the oven, then finish them and serve them, I want to be there.  Here I am, an intern at LudoBites, taking care of one item on the menu from start to finish (with some help from other girls in the kitchen when the rush happens from 6:15-6:45).

One girl yesterday made an off-handed comment that kinda stung - she said "whatever, it's just a tart"... I didn't want to work with her again.  Maybe it was me being cranky and sensitive due to my fever... but I'm sure if she put as much effort into the task as I did, she'd feel otherwise.  Sure, she helps Joon with his important entrees, but I'm doing 80% of one menu item.

But by the time the second seating starts at 8, it's time for me to go.  And today, I couldn't even last til 7:30.  My back was aching and I was going in slow motion.  I hope this fever is done with by tomorrow.  At least I have no symptoms of anything...

Tomorrow I think I'll get it done in under 3 hours. Maybe then, I can do more new tasks. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

TART! - One more tart, 3 tarts all day.

That's my life right now... tarts. 

Chef: so you practiced this weekend?
Me: (i can't lie)  no, chef.
Chef: NO? but why not?
Me: I don't have the equipment, chef.
Chef: but you can borrow zee equipment.

I needed those 3 days off.  Although a part of me actually did want to try the recipes at home, but as I confessed to Chef, I really didn't have the equipment.  or the ingredients. 

Additionally, my agenda was booked.  I rested my feet.  Maybe that's why I'm still so perky tonight.  I even took the dog for a jog - not just a walk - but a jog around the block when I got home. 

We are now in week 2.  I've had 3 full days of preparing 2 mixers worth of triple recipes of pizza dough.  And subsequently rolling out 32 thin rectangular shapes.  They're still not perfectly even, but they are much more uniform than last week's doughs.  The rhythm is down.  They are looking good, and at the end of the night, they all baked up perfectly. 

Next:  Gotta work on my speed.

At least I wasn't panicked or rushed - but it's such a tedious task that I want it over with as quickly as possible so I can move on to something more interesting.

Oh - and we got these gorgeous new aprons with the Ludo rooster logo silk screened on the front.  It has pockets too!  I'd post a picture, but it's in the wash right now.  why?  yep, it was covered in flour.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

After a severe ass-kicking, I earned these "kicks"

Someone's hands made it into the L.A. Weekly slide show
Thanks Colin for not using a body shot.
Photo by Colin Young-Wolff for the LA Weekly

What you don't see in the picture:  how my apron is completely dusted in flour after rolling out 32 tart doughs by hand.  That was the workout that kicked my ass and sapped all my energy for the remainder of the week.  Easy as pie?  Hah!  whoever came up with that expression obviously didn't have to roll out over a dozen (let alone 3 dozen) crusts on a deadline.

But this seems to be my adopted task:  the onion tart.  I'm the in-house tart.  uh, yay?

I'm getting better at making them.  I went from being hopeless at rolling out dough, to actually feeling somewhat comfortable with it.  When given the challenge of baking a pie, I would cheat - always looking for a recipe that didn't require a top crust and using a box grater to shred the ball of dough and press it into the pie form. Now, I think I could do it.  granted, pie crust (pastry dough) is considerably different from this pizza-like dough, but I'm developing a feel.

I also saw what didn't work about the previous night's tarts, and made some adaptations to my prep work.  Things are moving faster.  What's left for me to do is to work on getting each tart dough to be the exact same shape/size.

Chef is a really good guy.  He expresses himself when needed.  After all, it is his name (and reputation) on the line.  He isn't yelling at anyone for the sake of yelling - he's just emphasizing the urgency of the situation.  And no, I'm not just speaking euphemistically. 

Though he can have a wicked little sense of humor:
Chef:  SHARON! we need 4 tarts right now!  get them in the oven!
Me: (oh shit - it's the end of the night - no one should be ordering appetizers now) YES Chef!
I'd just put one in the oven, and i was running to get another one that was ready to bake - but that was it, I didn't have any other pre-assembled tarts to pop in the oven - eeeek!

Chef: no, no, no - cancel the 4
Me: wha?
Chef: I was just testing you.
Me: (confused) so you don't need the 4 tarts?
Chef: just the 2 - the one in the oven and the one standing right here (pointing at himself). 
Me: so wait, there's one in the oven - do i need to put this one (the one on the tray in my hand) in?
Chef: no, no - just the one.
Me: oh, ok (still confused if there was a need for one or 2)
I return to packing up and labeling the remaining ingredients - to put them away for the night.
Me: Yes chef?
Chef: so do you have one in the oven?
Me: yes chef!
I continue cleaning up the station, and i'm facing away from the oven.
I look back and see Chef just closing the oven door - with a look on his face as though I just caught him with his hand in the cookie jar... that charming amused grin of his...
Me: You didn't believe me?  you don't trust me!
Chef: Well I have to make sure.

Hah!  He makes fun of me a lot.  He makes fun of all of us.  It's a fun kitchen to work in.  He's assembled a good crew that seems to work well together.  Mistakes happen sometimes - though when they happen, you will hear Chef say "In my country, zees eez what they call sabotage!"

Earning my kicks:

Thanks Krissy & Ludo! 

Friday night - week 1 completed.

Krissy: you're coming back next week, right?
Me: Of course!

I've observed and done and learned so much in this rapid-fire week - I'm not about to turn in the towel.  I'm in it for the entire run of LudoBites 007.  

Krissy: here ya go...

I'm afraid to get them dirty.  My friend J took me out for dinner tonight - she was sporting red knee high boots, so I had to lace up these new kicks so we could be the red-shoe crew. 

Though my feet were looking happy tonight, previous nights - not so much.  Thursday morning required a visit to Rite-Aid.  I got the 6 pound bag of Epsom salts.  It might last me 2 weeks?  I'm not sure how these salts work.  I tried google-ing Epsom salts - what is it that makes it so therapeutic for sore feet/muscles - while i was soaking in the tub - using my iphone.  i get crap internet connection from that bathtub.  I didn't really find out.  I'm still achy - but i suppose the discomfort has subsided a bit.


My agenda for the weekend: nothing. enjoying the tranquility of this lovely garden - just me and the dog.  Oh shoot - I'll need to get dog food before tuesday.  This will probably be my last weekend house sitting here, so i'm making the most of it by not leaving the property.
All I need is a nice bottle of wine.  and another good book perhaps.  I kinda want to read the sequels to the Hunger Games.  Maybe that will be my trilogy for summer 2011.  Summer 2010 was all about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Funny how I'm craving good summer-reads now as an adult, but as a kid in school, it was painful to get me to complete anything off the summer reading list. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 2... more dough.

My adopted task: the onion tart.   

Click here for some great pictures taken by Kevin from the blog Kevineats.  He's kinda "big" in the L.A. Foodie bloggosphere culture. And click here for more pictures from - another blogger who secured an opening night table.

You know what I found out?  the dough that has taken over my world is kinda like pizza dough (except this has more flour).  I can now make dough, knead it, form it into balls, and roll it out quite easily.  Well, not so easily...

Chef: Eez a good workout for you, no?
Me:  My arms are gonna fall off.
Elodie: why don't we use the pasta maker?
Me: we can?

Well, the pasta maker did help make the task easier - but not much faster... passing it through the gears, and trying to hold the little atlas hand-crank machine in place was not too easy.  we didn't have a vice to attach it to the counter.  but at least it saved my arms.  I didn't feel like I worked on much else besides the dough and the creme melange.

I was way too tired today.  I think i'm turning in early tonight - and I'll just shake out the flour from my apron and... no - i gotta put it in the wash tonight... ugh. 

I hope i can work on something different next week.

The Today Show cameras were rolling.  I hope i didn't make it in the clips.  I'm not good on camera.  And I was covered in flour again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Opening night of Ludo Bites 007... Just Make Happen!

Chef:  You know what you're supposed to do?
Me: No, Chef - Elodie wasn't sure what to start me with.
Chef: Measure out the ingredients for the Creme Anglaise.
Me: Oui, Chef (not the eggs again, ugh).

Well, if you've been watching any of the episodes of Ludo Bites America on the Sundance Channel, you'll know by know he wants the prep station C L E A N ! ! ! !

So that's what I started doing - I cleaned up - then started measuring and grabbing all the necessary equipment.  It's my 3rd time doing this, I have the recipe memorized (or at least I have the ingredient list memorized).  But (un)fortunately, the eggs hadn't been delivered yet.  Just as I was about to start breaking into the brown eggs - which were a different size from the white eggs (he did that on purpose, so we would know which eggs to use for which recipe) - he stopped me. 

Chef: Ah no - put this aside - start juicing lemons for me - about half that crate. 
Me:  Yes Chef.

more cleaning.  wow - i go through those kitchen towels like mad!

Now what I should have asked:  how much juice did you want?
No - I just started juicing what looked like half the crate.

Me: Ok Chef - done.
Chef: how much is that?
(damnit - i should have expected this - note to self - get precise measurements!)
Me: 2 1/4 liters
Chef: I want 3 Liters!
Me: Yes Chef! (ugh - I'd just cleaned off my work area and put the juicer back up front... stupid me for not asking first)

Now everything that I'm working on is to meet a deadline of 6pm opening time.  I know that there is a full menu of other things that will be served.  Do I have any clue as to what is going on behind me?  I'm in a station facing the back wall most of the time.  I just hear some of the shouted-out instructions - but otherwise, my world strictly comprises of what I'm working on.

New task:
Dough for the onion tart appetizer.  I'd witnessed Elodie rolling it out last night, and I helped her assemble the finished product at service for the private party.  Now it was my task to learn how to make the dough. Triple the recipe, and 2 batches simultaneously and use 2 KitchenAid mixers. 2 times.
The first time, Elodie used one mixer - I used the second - and she demonstrated - I copied. Then we kneaded the dough, divided it up into quarters and then halved the quarters - in total, we needed 16 balls of dough.  After we set the balls to rest in the fridge...

Elodie:  now you do the next two batches - you saw me do it - you take care of it.  Call me if you need me.
Me: (gulp!) Ok. 
After I measured for the 2 batches, she joined to help rise the yeast and start one kitchen aid as I did the second one. But then she left to take care of the peach dessert.
 So I did need some more input and guidance as I don't quite know what the "failure" would look like - so I have no basis of comparison.  Chef walked by - had no comments - so that meant I was doing alright. 

When I thought I was done - he came by and asked "what is the most important thing you have to do next?"

pause... um...

Elodie tears a little piece off and hands it to me, as Chef takes a pinch off - "Taste it!"
Duh. of course I need to taste it... but I'm so focused on getting the work done, that I don't even stop to drink water even.

Start rolling out the dough.
All 32 balls.
This was a crazy tough task and a workout indeed!
It took over 3 minutes each... some taking longer than others... I did take a break at one point... but it took me about 2 hours to roll out that dough.  My arms are so tired right now, I have no idea how i'm typing this.  and my hands are gonna fall off. 
What kept me going?
Elodie told me from across the way that they were looking beautiful. 
And I can't quit - I gotta finish my task.

There's a photographer with the LA Weekly who is also taking photos for the Chef Ludo's website.  He was there yesterday and again today - taking pictures of us working in the kitchen.  I'm so camera shy that everytime he's near me, i'm looking down or away... I don't want to be photographed all covered in flour!

It's showtime!
Staff meal? hah!  no time to stop and eat!  I still had to make the creme melange to top the tarts. 
I was assisting Elodie on making the onion tarts.
Grab the dough
flour the pans
spread the creme melange, and then the onions that have been cooked down and strained.
What? we're running out of onions!  we'll barely have enough for the first seating and it takes 2 hours to cook those onions down. 
as the T-shirt says - Just Make Happen.
Joon, Elodie & Ryan start chopping onions that Joon then puts on the stove to cook - it should be done for the 8pm seatings.
As the evening progressed and the dessert orders started coming in - Elodie had to switch over to dessert.
Elodie: "your turn - you take over on the tarts - you know how to do it"
Chef was now at our station helping Elodie with the first plating of the dessert.
As I was figuring out how to balance the very-hot-just-out-of-the-oven baking sheet of tart in one hand while trying to lift it off onto the cutting board with the other hand (there was no more space to set the tray down now... Just Make Happen...
Chef observed me.  I made it happen.  And as I was adding the topping and then cutting up the tart...

Chef took a slice and gave me the thumbs up and said it was very good. 

Yay!  he was happy with my work. 

And then since I was the one in charge of the tarts now - I had to take them out to the front - and hand the board to either Krissy or Ludo to tell them which table they were for.  I saw the diners out there... They were all so happy to be there.  I'm so happy to be a part of this... This is what it's all about.  putting together a great menu, preparing food with love and care, serving it to an eager clientele who appreciates it... I get it.

I'm done.  totally fried.  I showed some of the other girls in the kitchen who started later and were staying longer how to do what I was doing... So I could go.

Ludo promised me I won't have to stay as late tomorrow.  Thank goodness!  And now that the laundry is done and my apron is clean and dry - I can turn in for the night. 

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

First night - Private Party for American Express


Chef - "you know where you're supposed to start?"
Me - "Oui, Chef!"
Measuring out the ingredients for another triple batch of creme Anglaise - for the vanilla ice cream.

This entails separating 54 eggs.  And every time he walked past me and watched what I was doing, I'd go extra careful - and promptly mess up and break the yolk.  And get some yolk into the white.  which ruins meringue. 

I'm definitely the least experienced person on the team.  And everyone is well aware of the fact.  They're treating me nicely (for now).  Thankfully I was prepared today with my own knives (thanks Marty).  And got schooled by Chef on how to walk in the kitchen with a knife.  I got a lot of schooling today.  Which is good - I'm learning.  As they say on the ski slopes - if you're not falling, you're not learning anything - and will probably not improve.

I went to move a cookie sheet out of the way.  with my bare hands.  "Yeow! Hot" - Chef looked at me with a half smile.  I seem to amuse him.  I listen. I observe.  Some of the lessons are quickly being put into use.  I have been manically cleaning up in the kitchen at the house where I'm staying now. 

I'm shucking oysters.  I've never shucked oysters before in my life. 
Sam: "so before you put the oyster into the bowl, smell it to make sure it is still fresh"
Me: "um - is this right?"
Sam: "you've never had fresh oyster before"
Me: "not really - it's not something I ever order"
Sam: "try it!"
Me: "uh - no, it's ok - thanks"
We thought we were done, and had cleaned up the station when Chef walked by and said there's a second box. 
Ludo (looking at me): "why are you working on this - have you ever done this before?"
Me (eagerly & proudly): "I just learned, Chef!"
he didn't have anything to say to that except shrug and say ok and walk off to the next thing.  Though when I saw Elodie (the one i've been assisting yesterday & today) working on halving the peaches for dessert, I promptly switched tasks since 4 people shucking oysters was excessive. 

Chef is waiting by the KitchenAid mixer waiting for a batch of cream to whip up.  I was just cleaning up the same station since we'd finished assembling the tarts.  I felt the weight of his stare on me.  Of course i was turning red and began fumbling.  I looked up and told him "you know you totally intimidate me, right Chef?"  He said not to worry and that by this time next week I'll be having dreams about him.  Hah - I should have told him about those terror nightmares I had during that week before my interview - like the one where I was screaming and woke myself up screaming...

if he only knew. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ludo Prep - Day 1

I'm so tired, I can barely sit up to type this.

First order of business:  clean the place up.  It seems like Gram & Papa's hasn't had a thorough cleaning since the last time Ludo had his restaurant hosted there a year ago.  Apparently last year, it was 3x dirtier & grimier.  Not that the place was filthy or anything - but we had to move all the equipment away from the walls, wash the walls, wash the backs and sides of all the machines, carts, equipment... just to get it to Ludo's standards.

The restaurant was now clean.

Ludo: (happy about our work ethic and general ease and cooperation) we have nothing to worry about since we have Shannon here.

Me: oh, who's Shannon? (yeah, i knew he was referring to me)

Ludo: ah, no! Sharon, Sharon!

Did I get any assignments... not really - just watch and help and learn.
I was gonna help make the creme anglaise.
I cracked and separated 54 eggs.
After the girl i was assisting got everything else together I took the giant pan to the stove to start cooking.  But of course i didn't have any technique.
Chef then demonstrated how to make it. 
He stirred and talked while i watched.
since we will probably be making this ice cream every day, I'll soon be doing this on my own.
oh - and I have to taste it to make sure it is good.
damned lactose intolerance.  It tastes so good, but i'm gonna break out so badly.
le sigh.
So far, so good.
Chef has been very nice the whole time.

Did i mention how tired i am?