Sunday 24 July 2016

5 Best Dishes Ever (according to Kevin)

1. Indian candy salmon
I discovered this when working in Alaska. The local fisherman would take the fatty bellies of the beautiful wild salmon and cure them in salt, brown sugar, garlic and black pepper and then they would hot smoke them causing the sugar to caramelize the fish. The result is serious deep amber, sticky, rich, salted caramel of fish with notes of spice. Making something so simple taste so good through technique is a lesson we apply every day in Cuca.

2. Percebes 
The intriguing percebes
Unusual and actually very unpleasant in appearance, the rock barnacles from the coast of Galicia (Spain) are literally worth their weight in gold. People die every year navigating down the sheer cliffs to collect them from the rocks during those brief moments the tides swings out before viciously crashing back. Quickly boiled for 30 seconds, the meat is tender, subtle, oceanic and pure, with nuances similar to the meat of a clam. The idea of searching the shores for delicious very regional seafood has led us in Cuca to find soft shell crab from Kalimantan, scallops from Lombok and octopus from Jimbaran bay.

3. Pierogies 
I literally grew up on these as my godmother made them very, very well. A dough of sour cream, water and flour is molded ravioli-style around a filling of anything. The version I still dream of is onion and cabbage with charred bits of bacon. Served boiled and steaming hot with a dollop of cool rich sour cream, the combination is serious comfort food and the goal in every dish we create.

4. Xiao Long Bao
Even when bad these are good, but when they are excellent, the experience is unforgettable. Paper thin dough wrapped around a well-seasoned steaming hot aromatic pork broth, the trick is to consume the dumpling without breaking the delicate outside to avoid the soup from coming out. A quick dip into black vinegar with sliced ginger and straight into the mouth! The sour vinegar taste covers the silky skin of the dough and with the smallest amount of pressure the delicious soup explodes with flavor. The element of surprise makes this dish very memorable and has encouraged us to create exploding elements like in our Bali Breakfast dessert.

5. Babi guling 
The most traditional dish from Bali is a good one of suckling pig, stuffed and roasted over wood for hours creating a dark golden crispy skinned tender succulent smoky meat. One of the highlights of any trip to the island of the gods remains the perfect cooked pig loved for hours slowly being turned as it roasts over an open fire. Charred food over fire is not new and its smell alone is enough to salivate. We use this technique to trick you into loving our baby corn and our octopus.

Friday 24 June 2016

The rush of the hot pass

Running the hot pass is that unique task that Chefs de Cuisine perform during service where all those years of work finally come to a conclusion.  You have your Trainees figuring out the flow, Junior Cooks learning basics and trying to master their stations, Chefs de Partie running around looking for fires to extinguish, Sous Chefs observing every single detail and the Chef de Cuisine directing the service, playing the cooks like a conductor does an orchestra, controlling every dish, every item, every guest’s multicourse meal, every special request… literally cooking with 40 hands.

The Chef the Cuisine is there, standing at the front of the kitchen and waiting, as guests pour into the dining room, for the sound of the printer to begin spitting out tickets as fast as the ink can mark orders from hungry guests. Numerous dishes, allergies, preferences, moods, expectations and different reasons to come: some with birthdays, some anniversaries, some a special night out, dinner with friends or just plain old hungry and looking for dinner. Whatever the reason, it will dictate how fast or slow guests want their food, how much or little attention they require from waiters or the Chef, and all this will need to be taken into consideration to execute a meal as close to perfection as possible, a meal they will not soon forget. 

Great food with bad service counts for nothing, as does great service with badly prepared food; it must all come together. During service there are no teams, friends, enemies or barriers; it must be everyone for the guest, all staff at full attention to anticipate needs. Chefs must control, they must understand their team and use them like the gas pedal of a car: pushing for speed but not too much to lose control and letting up to slow down and maintain quality and precision. 

Chefs know service time is where hours of work can pay off or be ruined in seconds, where good restaurants become great and great ones can fail. A service turns kitchen staff with potential into super heroes and those without into mere spectators only watching as the magic unfolds. Amazing individuals do not necessarily make an amazing team and a great team is critical to a successful service. It is the job of the Chef to motivate those needing a push, to scold those lacking motivation and to get rid of those who don't belong. No matter how good is today, once it's over the focus is tomorrow and nobody cares about yesterday if they are booking today. 

Chefs know that a guest will judge a restaurant on one meal alone, one opportunity to fail or succeed. Definitely a rush.

Sunday 29 May 2016

Kitchen for dummies

Let's start from the very beginning... The first step in a professional kitchen would be learning the rhythm, the pace and flow, where to stand and where not to, what to touch and what will burn you, cut you and hurt you. This takes time and often recovery. 

Step two is learning the absolute basics. This takes as long as it has to. It depends on someone’s focus, age, drive and demanding girl or boyfriend. 

Step three is learning one by one the various kitchen stations: pastry (desserts), cold kitchen (salads and cold dishes), entremetier (vegetables), poissonnier (fish & seafood) and saucier (meat & sauces). Cooks are transferred from one station to the next for a minimum of 6 months and until they can prove they can deliver. Once they have done time on each station and if they are still standing, they are ready to become Chef de Partie.  They fill in on any station when someone is sick or just decides “no more” and keep a close eye on everything being done. They are basically a baby Chef learning key elements of management, costing, ordering and helping to run the flow of both information and work, assisting like a fireman to extinguish problems. 

Only when you have really mastered being a student can you dream of being a teacher and after a few years as Chef de Partie you know what you are talking about and are ready for a Sous Chef position. Sous Chef is pretty much the same job but instead of helping, the responsibility is now painfully entirely yours. Sous Chefs need to be masters at getting things done, no excuses, no compromise, no procrastination, just done and done well. You are the extension of the Chef, the go-to guy, the person keeping the boat floating. 

At the very top of the pile is the Chef de Cuisine. This guy has done all of this and either by years and years of hard work or great timing when the person on top passes out from exhaustion, finally gets a shot. Where the Sous Chef is like Luke Skywalker, the Chef de Cuisine is like Yoda. They need to cook beautifully, answer any question, catch mistakes before they ever happen, deal with happy and unhappy customers, be the hero and the villain, they do it all.

Food doesn’t get good by accident, there is a team of people who have dedicated their days and lives to making things delicious: the team behind the chef and the magic behind the kitchen.