Dinginess is death to a writer. Filth, discomfort, hunger, cold, trauma and drama, don’t matter a bit. I have had plenty of each and they have only encouraged me, but dinginess, the damp small confines of the mediocre and the gradual corrosion of beauty and light, the compromising and the settling; these things make good work impossible… So it seemed to me in those days of no money, no job, no prospects and a determined dinginess creeping up from the lower floors of our rooming house, that there had to be a centre, a talisman, a fetish even, that secured order where there seemed to be none; dressing for dinner every night in the jungle, or the men who polished their boots to a hard shine before wading the waters of Gallipoli. To do something large and to do it well demands such observances, personal and peculiar, laughable as they often are, because they stave off that dinginess of soul that says everything is small and grubby and nothing is really worth the effort.
–Introduction to Oranges Aren’t The Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson.
The above quote doesn’t really have anything to do with this post. I picked up Oranges recently and fell in love with the introduction. The rest of the book doesn’t disappoint either.
We were discussing a future function at work the other day. It’s a massive function – which I won’t actually be around for, now that I’m leaving this place. The major issue for the pastry section was how to go about making the 60 or so full-sized lemon tarts that comprise half the menu for that particular function. That’s 60 lemon tarts to be made, in a single oven that comfortably holds maybe 7 tarts at a time, each batch taking at least 2 hours+ of oven time. BossMan was all for ordering them in. I told him that if it were up to me, I would attempt to make those tarts. Easy for you to say, when you’re leaving, the roll of the eyes said.
But I think a lot of people in my position would want to do the same. I hate having to buy things like tarts in. It annoyed me when we had an order for 1000 muffins a couple of months back, because I knew there was no physical way I could fulfil the order within the required time. Given the opportunity, my ultimate job would enable me to produce everything on site – from crackers and bread for cheese, to making my own ice-cream and puff pastry.
When I started working at my current job, I was surprised to see that the hot kitchen bought in things like sushi rolls, dumplings and even tempura prawns. These tempura prawns are 80% batter, reminiscent of the battered “scampi” B once had at a pub in Belfast. If there was scampi in that fry basket, you would’ve needed a magnifying glass to identify it. I was also disappointed to discover how frequently my work area would be left in a mess overnight, after a function. I’m talking about little things like finding whole meals sitting in the sauce-spattered microwave, equipment dumped in a corner, rather than being put away properly, a deep fryer with dirty oil that is often only cleaned when it is actually needed, the stove near my area that is used on a daily basis, but isn’t broken down and scrubbed on a daily basis. I used to complain and gripe so frequently about it to D that he would probably have been relieved to see me finally go, if not for the fact that he has already left himself!
Most of the time, I’m probably making mountains out of molehills, but sometimes I find it frustrating because I see it a gradual erosion of standards. First you’re shaking your head and laughing at the chef who supposedly makes Minestrone from a packet mix, or the one who orders his mashed potato in, premade. Then suddenly one day you find Gordon Ramsay knocking on your door, running his middle finger across your stovetops, and throwing up noisily in your bathroom after tasting your food; all this this while a camera crew is snapping at your heels.
That said, I just realised again today what an amazing guy the BossMan is. He is Martha Stewart, Santa Claus and Yoda all in one. He is creative and very resourceful (without having done time in prison a la Martha.. or not that I know of anyway!). Give him any request/demand by a client, and he will manage to create an amazing function out of a vision in his head. One of the most treasured possessions in my kitchen is a large drinks fridge which I use to store all my prep. He managed to wrangle this hugely important fridge for the section, at virtually no cost to the business. Like Santa, he is also capable of being tough on those who displease him and generous to those who work hard at meeting his expectations. Today, in the most clever way imaginable, he was also able to utilise the force to finally oust and elicit a confession from a thief that has been in our midst. And he mostly manages to accomplish all this from a tiny room, at the end of a corridor, which is aerated by nothing more than a struggling metal fan and which is filled to the brim with paperwork and the overspill of excess equipment and dry goods. Genius, he is.
Grand Marnier truffle ganache:
(adapted recipe from Chocolates & Confections, by Peter Greweling)
250g heavy cream
660g white chocolate, unmelted, untempered, chopped
80g Grand Marnier
Combine the heavy cream and glucose syrup in a saucepan. Bring to a boil.
Pour the hot cream mixture over the chopped chocolate and let sit for 60 seconds, to allow the chocolate to melt.
Using a spoon, stirrer or spatula, stir the mixture in small vigorous circles in the center of the bowl until it emulsifies.
Stir outward in larger circles to spread the emulsion throughout the bowl, checking to see that all the chocolate has melted. If necessary, place the ganache over a warm water bath (not exceeding 34’C) to melt the chocolate.
Stream in the liqueur, stirring the mixture until it is homogenous.
Pour the ganache into a tray, covering the bottom of the tray with a thin layer. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ganache. Allow the ganache to rest at room temperature until it reaches 25’C, or slightly lower, approximately 20 minutes. The cooled ganache should be of a thick but fluid consistency to properly fill the white chocolate truffle shells. (Yields 125 truffles)