Monday, February 28, 2005

Meal Prep Notes

I have about a hundred of these notes in between my notebooks, textbooks, in the middle console of my car, all over my desk, kitchen refrigerator (and I'm sure some lost in classrooms and rented kitchens). Sketching out a menu is one of the first things I do when planning a meal. Surprisingly, I can read my own handwriting. If I have others helping me, I write neater and better organize my notes. Sometimes I have different versions (rough through final).

This is a rough draft (and initial thoughts) for my friend Doug's surprise dinner -- service for 20

This is a cocktail reception I prepared for a hip business gathering at the Standard Downtown. Obviously, this is the first set of notes.

Our final menu, English Butler style service except for the mini bowls of edamame near the bar, consisted of:
• Bite sized seared ahi, over a mini-nest of pan fried vermicelli, topped with wasabi caviar (sweet soy dip on the side)
• Chicken satay (on skewers, peanut sauce on the side)
• Three kinds of spring rolls: Butter Grilled Beef, Tofu, Veggies + Herbs (coconut-hoisin-peanut and nuoc mam sauces served on the side)
• Curry chicken salad canapés (madras blend with fresh asian pears, dried cherries, home made asian aioli)
• Coconut cranberry shortbreads
• Mini ginger brulee's served in edible shells

This is an initial (and probably only/last) set of notes for a Lobster Risotto dinner I'm cooking for friends this Wednesday.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Spring is in the Air

The very season that inspires the name of my future restaurant is a profound time for me. Winters, especially gloomy ones as this has been with a historical rain season, are not something I particularly enjoy. Albeit being necessary, as life is cyclical and with depression comes gestation and growth, I look back at the past two months and wonder what happened to them. I've been neglecting friends, relationships, letting things go undone, forgoing exercise and dealing with paperwork/finances. I've been hiding behind my books, the scrabble board, and a vat of excuses (rain, it's cold, my right to be depressed).

However, today I woke up (even with mild symptoms of the flu), the sun is out, the birds are chirping, and I'm able to open my balcony door. The door gets stuck during the rain as wood expands. My potted herbs have been flooded, roots browned. It's okay. Everything will be okay.

I put on KCRW as I do by habit, and the usual Harry Shearer whom I adore is depressing me, so I put in a wonderfully beautiful mix by Drew. A little Keren Ann, Black Box Recorder, Rufus Wainright, Coco Rosie, and Ben Folds doing a live version of "Raindrops Falling on my Head."

I make coffee. I thumb through Dwell and Jane (a very guilty little pleasure). My house is in desperate need of cleaning, but instead, I'm sitting with my magazines, newspaper, books and daydreaming. For you multi-taskers out there, I don't think I can daydream and clean at the same time. Not today. Daydreaming is essential to my livelihood.

I dream of the food I will make and the people who will eat them. I think of the organic rooftop garden I will have. I differentiate the smell of peppermint versus spearmint in my head. I think of segmenting blood oranges into supremes for a mesclun salad served with a champagne-citrus vinaigrette, topped with roasted coconut flakes.

I think of my team who will strive for perfection at every corner. I think of stainless prep tables. I think of a warm oven and sweeping flames. I think of the clean, inviting, fashionable uniforms my staff will don. I think of a busboy who has dreams of his own. A mile away I can spot his talent yet until he walked through my kitchen doors he lacked opportunity.

I think of a kid whose parents had to bribe and drag before making it to my restaurant for Sunday brunch. The mopey boy would rather be at his best friend's eating potato chips and playing Grand Theft (what a lovely society we're raising kids in). Sitting at this Vietnamese restaurant surrounded by adults suck (except the cool Vans that they wait staff wear). Everything on the menu contains green things and sauce, too frilly for an eight-year-old punk skateboarder. Then I think, what a lucky kid. His parents must love him a whole lot. He just doesn't realize it yet.

I think of my Mom whose talent I admire more and more each day. Lately, I've been into terrines and galantines and realize how much Vietnamese cooking French influences. Although I'm not a huge fan of terrines and galantines, I appreciate the craft and skill that goes into creating and serving them. Growing up, I saw my Mom layering meets, and using all different kinds of homemade molds (milk cartons, cans, etc.) -- Surfas and Sur la Table are not things she's familiar with. Sometimes making one loaf would take ten hours. The worse thing is you had no idea how it was going to turn out (has it cooked all the way through, will the colors come through, was the fat to protein content correct, enough or not enough gelatin, etc.). Finally, the hours of working in anticipation was going to pay off, or not. The banana leaf wrapped galantine has cooled to the right temperature and she would gently put it on a cutting board lined with a recycled paper bag (so she can just roll up the mess once she was done). She would dip her sharpest knife in hot water, wipe off the knife and with one swift move, turn out the cleanest, most beautiful cut. She would call all of us over and make us look, "Come here, look at how this turned out." She critiqued herself, replayed each step, and thought of things she would have done differently. She would be proud of the fact that, "This is exactly how I thought it was going to come out." I would be the least bit interested and barely touch the plated delicacy (usually served with various sweet rice and pickled vegetables). I was not a fan of cold meat (still not). Moreover, I had no appreciation for my Mom's work and would complain about the heat, the smell, and the prep she made me do (I once peeled about over fifty cloves of garlic when she volunteered to make five gallons of Nuoc Mam for a church event). I spent a lot of time sulking in Mom's kitchen. Today I think back. I was/am so blessed. Little did I know.

This is why daydreaming is so important. Especially on crisp, clear days when the break of Spring is in the air.