For my Lake Tahoe gig last week, I started wishing for things to be different. Even though the lake views and live samba music wafting into my kitchen perch seemed at first glance ideal. To get my work finished, I wanted a more elaborate fantasy: to be in a cool, climate controlled kitchen. Think upscale and professional sushi restaurant. What I got was a humid, hot, sticky kitchen revved by two ovens cranked to 500 degrees. Let me explain lest you wonder if I've gone soft and wimpy.
I was assigned to roll 100 pieces of smoked salmon as a part of a heavenly potato chip-caviar-chive-creme fraiche item for the servers to pass. The chef showed me how he wanted the salmon sliced and then rolled. These weren't going to be sweet little roses of the type I learned how to bang out in cooking school. Chef emphasized how tight and uniform each piece should be. Together we decided it'd be best if the pieces were all the same height. I was warm in my full chef's jacket and pants, and the hot ovens were not helping. Worse, my hands were damp and I wished I wasn't "gifted" with a warm body temp from my Dad. The salmon was shredding rather than cutting, and was also sticky. I'd use Chef's small knife to roll, roll, roll, roll a piece, only to realize it was a too-fat mess. These pieces were not anywhere close to tight or attractive looking. So many times in catering I feel challenged. I want to produce quality food but feel rushed and panicky as the deadline for guests to arrive ticks closer.
When hot ovens mess with you, fight back. Rather than leave the full salmon fillet out, I wrapped most of it up and put it back in the fridge. That'd make it much easier to handle, in theory. I kept pulling batches out after I'd finish fifteen or so pieces. It was frustrating to see how slow things were still going for me, and I kept hoping the Chef wasn't pissed. He didn't seem rushed, and even announced that "we're in good shape," at one point, which slowed my pitter-pattering heart just a bit.
I realized my neck was tightening up from being hunched over. Keep going, this is not a spa. It's work. One hour and probably forty-five pieces in, I started to feel like I had finally gotten the hang of rolling tight, perfect looking pieces. Chef even gave a quick "Mmmm-hmm," on one of his peeks at my station. Omigod, he was even smiling! I put the finished pieces in the freezer and stopped after 100. I worked mainly on fully assembling the salmon apps throughout the two hour cocktail shindig. One guest and friend of the hostess came in to use a regular sized spoon to eat more caviar and salmon. More of that came later. The leftover salmon pieces went into a container and would be gobbled by our socialite client and her pals after the party ended.
My hands still smelled of smoked salmon the next day. An early morning jump off the client's deck into the chilly Tahoe waters helped me feel cleaner and relaxed.