Over the last month and a half, I have become what one would call a “solid” traveler. I’m truly capable of living out of a suitcase and now it seems as though I am thriving on-the-go. I was once a flight attendant so travel is in my blood, however my skills have been honed from these recent adventures. I’ve become a keen navigator of airport terminals far and wide, I’m a secretive TSA wooer able to sometimes squeeze past with 5 ounces of toothpaste, and lastly, flight attendants surely regard me as passenger extraordinaire hence the double snacks I receive per flight. Okay, you get the point… So, since I’m deeply in love with cooking, traveling, and connecting I saved the best for last…I am off to a little place called New York City. Have you heard of it? That’s right, it’s the final destination for this round of adventures.
The set-up is quite simple. New York possesses some of the best restaurants in the world. One that holds solid ground in this category is the highly famed Del Posto–brainchild of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Now, I realize there are people out there that may never have an opportunity like the one I am about to experience, so on my quest to make you, and those individuals proud, I pile layers of expectations upon my shoulders… the thought of utter failure in this quest, makes me feel squeamish daily. Why would I fail???… Let’s examine.
Two-story kitchens are almost unheard of…in hotels across the country, well, maybe it’s more common. As far as freestanding restaurants in NYC, a two-story kitchen earns itself a sort of “urban myth” status. People hear the news about the kitchen, but hell, no one believes it. For me, coming to NYC meant the possibility of having a glimpse of the cooking underworld, mainly the underworld described by Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential. Del Posto, sooooooooo not the case! Del Posto (meaning “The Place”) could actually change it’s name to il Palazzo (meaning “The Palace”)…I think it would be more fitting. Perhaps I’ll send my idea to management. Ok, getting back to the point. There is one entire floor dedication to prep, walk-ins, functions, etc. and then another floor which is solely the kitchen. To put it in perspective I’m going to estimate that the two kitchens I have come from previously would fit together in this space approximately 25 times over.
Anyhow, the palace is a mecca…built for perfection and for an executive chef that oozes perfection. I’ll say it again… OOZES perfection. Until now, I have been absent from the world of culinary crushes…wait…ok, that’s not true. I love and admire female chefs as I can only imagine the shit they have had to shovel through in order to excel in their industry. Aside from the females, I’ve never had a culinary crush on someone that I would have the chance to meet… until now. What I love about cooking —why I cook—is that it allows for the creative to engage in risk-taking techniques that inevitability separate the good from the best. Experimentation is a must, an open mind—a must, a superhero palate and with a repertoire of trailblazing skills—a must. You are measured by your performance in a product you turn out. Del Posto, for me, is turning simple things into exceptional dishes. Seeing as the executive chef is known to be a low-key, off the radar gent, I shall withhold his name as I have that much respect, however, it must be noted that he possesses the attributes mentioned above, hence my professional crush. (Google him, then we’ll all be on the same page.)
So an enormous Michelin star restaurant, a talented and creative New York Times 4 star Chef, a city known for eating people alive in the kitchens…is my squeamish nature rightfully deserved? Of course.
Luckily I arrive in NYC early on Monday. Unlike LA and Chicago, I barely know the people I am staying with. My lovely sister Heidi arranged for me to stay with one of her dearest friends…Keeli. Still, it’s slightly complicated. Keeli at the moment is in Israel on a whirlwind excursion, so actually the one person I am set to stay with (the one person I have met prior) will not be there for the beginning part of my stay. Keeli therefore reaches out, via email, to her two roommates to see which one will be up for entertaining me on my first day. Amir, who at the moment has endless amounts of time on his hands, decides to be my chaperone for the day.
We spent the day eating our way through the city, meeting up with friends along the way… Derek & Sharon (tour guide gurus), and Eunice (lover of food & wine). It was a great re-intro to NYC since my last visit was so long ago. Before I knew it, I was off to bed and with the promise of a new day on the horizon.
Originally, I was told to show up at Del Posto at 2pm for my first day…FYI to those looking to pursue a career in the industry, a show time is a test. Don’t be fooled. They’ll stand by to see if you’re a go-getter and arrive sometime earlier. If you stroll in at the time they set, you’ll surely be labeled a slacker regardless of your skill. Needless to say, I’m not a professional cook so I need to make up my lack of skill with persistence and dedication. By 12:30 I am standing on the street across from Del Posto…it’s enormous. I feel really sick and actually, for a split second I consider turning around and breaking into sprint back to the lower east side. Honestly, I’ve never been to a restaurant this size…let alone attempted to cook in one.
When I finally persuade myself to enter the building, I haphazardly find my way to the kitchen office. It’s that big that there is a team of people who are strictly running an office. Very different from the last two places I’ve just traveled from. Everyone is friendly and in moments I am set up in a full chef uniform and ready to chop.
I’m paired up with a sous-chef who is a newbie to Del Posto. New York is a place that is all about speed and quickness. There’s no time to waste here…having east coast blood, I love that. People don’t wait for the solid pedestrian signal to proceed across the street…there’s no time. If there are no cars, they’re walking. In the conversation arena it is very similar—-quick, to the point, with very little chit-chat. So in my first few minutes of conversation I ask the same questions to the sous-chef as I do to everyone I meet: How long have you been in the industry? What restaurants have you worked at? And…Did you go to culinary school? After successfully getting my answers I proceed to slicing scallions.
There are so many people that work in this kitchen…in the matter of 5 minutes I meet approximately 15 individuals. Trying my best to remember their names, I say them over and over again in my head. Another attempt I make is to not get lost in the bowels of the prep floor. There are a ridiculous number of doors (leading you in all sorts of directions). I’m having a tough time navigating and when I think I am going to end up near the walk-in freezer, I actually land myself in a dry goods closest in some random area. Also, as my hearing is not so good, I seem to miss 50% of what people are saying to me (the sound from the refrigeration is so loud, all I seem to be doing is reading lips). Everyone looks at me like I’m a serpent with 2 heads. All in all my first day and fist hour I feel like a complete loser.
Over the last month and a half my confidence slowly started to grow. Within 1 hour in a NYC kitchen, it all went out the window. The saying “If you make it here you’ll make it anywhere….” well, I believe it. I came here to do my best, to learn, to watch, to gain insight and guidance into the world in which I want to belong to. I’ll be damned if I let it eat me alive. I refuse to quit, to hang my head low and solemnly while chopping my scallions….NO! I came here to get better and God-damn-it, that’s what I’m going to do! I make a plan: the first few days I will spend at the back end of the pasta line, then I will move to Garde Manger (cold apps), then to Meat, then to Fish, then to Assaggi (little bar bites and nibbles). If I never cook a thing, I will not cry…it is after all New York Times 4 star restaurant, I am lucky they even let me in the door.