Wednesday, September 26, 2012

the last book I ever read (Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef, excerpt one)

from Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson:

In any professional kitchen, the lower-ranked staff responds to any request from above with military-like respect. "Yes, chef" is what I was taught to say whether he or she asks for a side of beef or your head on a platter. Yes, chef. Yes, chef. Yes, chef. I had failed at soccer and the failure made me humble and determined. At Mosesson, I was determined to be the best. Soon I was serving up not only classic three-course Swedish smorgasbords but damn good renditions of coq au vin, steak au poivre, and bouillabaisse.

Halfway through the first term, my class started working in the restaurant school, cooking for customers. Most of the time, our lunch menu was pure Sweden: plates of gravlax with boiled potatoes and herring in all manner of sauces--mustard and dill, cream, curry, and 1-2-3 with slivered onions. We also prepared contemporary classics like toast Skagen: a sautéed round of bread topped with shrimp salad, finished with a spoonful of whitefish roe. Dinner, on the other hand, was typically French, which was considered an elegant cut above homey Swedish far: sole meuniére or duck a l'orange.

We worked in rotating shifts, so I might be a waiter for three weeks, then a dishwasher, then a line cook. I was a decent waiter and I knew it was useful to see how customers behaved in the front of the house, how they ordered, and how they regarded their meal once it was served, but I never felt at home in the front like I did in the back. The back of the house was where the real action, the real creativity, was. Even with only forty seats in the restaurant, and even if only half of them were filled, the kitchen was guaranteed to be humming at a pitch that bordered on chaos. And it was that organized chaos that I loved. I still do.

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