“Learn from the best”…this advice amongst other things, is what I’ve learned over the last 48 hours. To begin, I think I need to set the tone…Patina’s kitchen is run by a 3 star Michelin chef (if you are not familiar with the Michelin star, see below). His life and career began in France and in Michelin star restaurants. After a few years he was trained further by Alain Ducasse and eventually moved to New York to run Ducasse’s kitchen at the Essex House. The Essex House won their 3 stars in 2006.
So, now as executive chef at Patina, the lovely Frenchman (who could be a brother to George Clooney, yes the obvious is that he is good looking) runs his kitchen with a meticulous eye for all details. What is impressive to me is that despite the accolades, experience, and his “French-ness”, he truly is unpretentious. He takes the time to teach his people. This does not sound like a big deal…but it’s a HUGE deal. His staff comes from famed restaurants such as Bouchon, Craft, Le Cirque, etc…overall the consensus is that from all of the establishments they have worked in, he is by far the most hand’s-on executive chef.
Patina’s sous chefs are in charge of directing me during my stage…thank god!!! It works perfectly for me seeing as I have the most difficult time understanding the executive chef through his heavy French accent. (On average I understand 30% of what he is saying, the other 70% I swear he is still speaking French. I stare intently at his mouth trying to make sense of his words. I know for sure I’m freaking him out and he is wondering, “What the hell is she looking at?”). On my first day in the kitchen he pulled me aside to have a quick cup of coffee and to discuss my future plans. (He thinks I am younger than I am so his advice is tailored to a 25 year old rather than someone who is 33). Needless to say, I make it known that I am an at-home cook with aspirations of someday being a chef and business owner. His words, which, thank goodness this time I could understand…were simple, “Learn from the best.”
So, what else have I learned in the last 48 hours? Here is my simple breakdown:
-#1: First and foremost: Right now I suck! There is so much I don’t know about working in a kitchen and it is not anything like cooking in your home.
-#2: There is so, so, so much I need to learn, however, I am great at prep, I work fast, I jump in when ever I see a need…a hopeful sign.
-#3: I have already learned simple valuable techniques that have been burned into my brain…such as taking 3-4 ingredients and executing the dish in a way that creates layers of flavors while keeping the integrity of the ingredients.
-#4: I get frustrated easily due to my lack of knowledge…this frustration makes me work harder.
-#5: Most important life lesson learned…is that the ONLY way to eat an elephant is by eating it one bite at a time. I have learned that everyone—EVERYONE—needs to start somewhere, and that this is my start.
(The Michelin guide awards one to three stars to a small number of restaurants of outstanding quality. One star indicates a “very good cuisine in its category”, a two-star ranking represents “excellent cuisine, worth a detour,” and three stars are awarded to restaurants offering “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”. A three-star Michelin ranking is rare. As of late 2009, there were 26 three-star restaurants in France, and only 81 in the world)