CULINARY: Pigall’s night — Jun. 16 2007

On Saturday, June 16, 2007, I worked in the kitchens of Jean-Robert at Pigall’s. It was a good evening to work — the Chef de Cuisine and one of the line cooks were both out. Adequate plans for coverage were made, though — the sous chef from one of Jean-Robert’s other restaurants worked the “middle” (between fish and meat), I was there, and there were two high school-aged girls volunteering as well. It’s rare to see volunteers there because the kitchen is so small, but the girls stayed mostly out of the way.

Before service, I assisted with general prep. When Chef arrived, he pulled me downstairs to assist him (it was fun for me in a weird way to re-assign my mise en place to the high-school girls) with butchery & fish mongering. I worked my way (slowly, Chef would tell you!) through several skate wings and beef tenderloins. I enjoy butchery and fish mongering and have some skill at it (though I am a little bit slow, Chef would probably point out again, poking me in the ribs with his finger), and it was nice to give these skills a workout — not something I get to do often. An added perk was that Chef worked with me for much of the butchery. We had a good conversation while we worked, a rare luxury in such a busy kitchen.

After cleaning up from the butchery, I moved upstairs and shadowed Abby on Hot Appetizers for service. I helped with the soup and ravioli dishes, and helped Abby wherever I could. I didn’t start out the evening very helpfully — the first thing I did was drop a sizzle plate loudly to the floor (“it’s going to be that kind of night,” I thought). I messed up a couple other things that put Abby in the weeds, but she was cool and collected through the first turn. Or perhaps she was just relishing the quiet because she over-celebrated her 25th birthday the night before… I got my shit together for the second turn and feel like I contributed. Since morel mushrooms are in season, we sold a bunch of them — more than 20 orders, I think.

At one point during service, we ran out of prepared skate so Chef pulled me from Hot Apps and sent me downstairs to fabricate a few more. I busted them out, brought them up to Chef, and cleaned up. After service, Chef said that he was impressed that I jumped out, did what was necessary, and jumped back in.

After service, Chef asked if I wanted a soft-shell crab, which is currently on our menu. I said sure (it is bad form to say no when a chef offers you food!). The fish guy (Rob) told me that he’d cook it but I had to prep the crab. So, I followed the instructions Abby told me: “Step 1: Cut off the face with these scissors. Step 2: Lift up the skirt and cut out the gills. Step 3: Pull the tab (near the crab’s butt) and cut it off”. Abby has a hard time getting past the “cut off the face” part, but that doesn’t give me a problem. In culinary school, I went around behind the chef-instructor’s back and dispatched the lobsters of squeemish classmates. On Valentine’s Day (we call it amateur night) at the restaurant, I had to prep, dispatch, and par-cook 75 lobsters. The prep involved inserting a “booty stick” in the lobster’s, well…, booty (to keep the tail from curling when cooked) before dropping it in boiling water. After a few minutes, they were shocked in icy water and I broke down the bodies and cut their faces off for garnish.

Rob pan-fried the crab and served it with sauteed vegetables including fennel & fingerling potatoes and a caper buerre noir over top. It was delicious! I noticed that any time I’d turn my back on the plate, bits of the crab would disappear as my co-workers snuck samples. Fine with me.

After service was over, I helped everyone break down their stations and prepare to shut down the restaurant for their “weekend” — no service on Sunday or Monday. I was ready to go out for drinks, but owing to the over-celebration the night before, no one wanted to indulge, so I headed home, tired but happy to have helped out.

Upon reflection on the night, I feel like I passed a threshold in the restaurant with my participation during prep and service. I am not currently able to articulate what threshold it was exactly, but it feels like something very positive. I really enjoy working at Jean-Robert at Pigall’s.

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