Part of my culinary education is to complete an externship. This is on-the-job training, for no pay, where I learn what it would be like to work in the industry. In order to decide where I will do my externship, I must ‘trail’. A trail for a restaurant is going in for an entire shift, prep to end of service, and helping the cooks with whatever tasks I am assigned.
Today I trailed at a very nice, high end restaurant in the West Village. I chose this restaurant because the Chef focuses on local, organic or sustainably grown foods that are in season. He has been written up as one of the up-and-coming head chefs in New York. He is also of the belief that when purchasing high quality ingredients, preparation should be to highlight those flavors – keeping things more simple than say, a fine-dining French restaurant with all of their complex dishes and grand sauces. However from what I observed that night, and tasted for myself, flavor and beauty of the dish is not sacrificed – but amplified.
I arrived as instructed, at 2:00pm, with my knives (they supplied the uniform). I immediately began working with the garde manger by helping her mise en place (prepare ingredients for service). The garde manger is the chef responsible for cold food prep and appetizers. I helped prep ingredients for the appetizers and salads such as microgreens, shrimp, Meyer lemons and chopped herbs. After, I prepped for the sautier station trumpet mushrooms and roasted beets. The staff were all very nice and welcoming. We chatted while listening to the radio and chopping vegetables, stirring soups, or tying bison roasts.
At 5:00pm we all sat around the dining room tables for the staff meal. The waiters, hosts, bartender, and the head chef (whom I had not officially met yet) were present. The head chef and I sat for an interview after the meal. Looking over my resume, he asked me about my goals in the industry and told me about his restaurant and philosophy as well as his expectations for interns. My first impression of him was a good one. After, we returned to the kitchen for service, which began at 6:00pm.
During service I was in charge of preparing and plating the amuse bouche. For this particular meal it was a warmed pepper biscuit with duck rillette and microgreens plated with yogurt sauce. I also helped the garde manger when needed, but most of my non-active time was spent observing the kitchen dynamics.
Since the kitchen was small I was only about 4 feet from the counter where the head chef was expediting (that means plating all the entrees and checking the plates before they leave the kitchen). The kitchen was busy, but not too stressful or overwhelming. The chef was calm under pressure. This is contrary to stories I have heard about head chefs in this business yelling and having tempers (we have all seen Kitchen Nightmares right?) I was pleased to discover that this head chef was level-headed and respectful of the staff. The staff were able-bodied and professional.
The food was beautiful. The attention to detail in plating brought the dishes to life. There were vibrant colors from the vegetables – deep purple roasted beets, bright green sweet pea sauce, white potatoes, yellow squash, microgreens, and more. These complimented and contrasted the sauteed meats and fish with their brown crisped exterior and creamy white or light pink interior. By just looking at the plate, one could see the foresight the chef had in developing the recipes and plating the dishes. I tried about four different dishes – and they were all delicious! Let me just say that if this chef can make me like sardines, he earns my respect.
Saturdays are generally the busiest day of the week, and this was no exception to the rule. We were in full swing from 6:00pm – 11:30pm when the kitchen closed. Afterward the head chef informed me to keep in touch until August, when my externship begins. He knows I will be trailing at other restaurants gave me suggestions of restaurants to consider. In his opinion, taking full advantage of my unique position in New York City, I should trail as much as possible. This is good advice that I intend to take.