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Monday, June 05, 2006

In the Kitchen at Radius

For me, my kitchen is home. Actually, any kitchen is home to me, really.
I love to work in the kitchen, cooking, baking, planning, whatever.
I probably spend more time in my kitchen then in any other room of the house.

My love for the kitchen brought me to the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts to the Professional Chef’s Program (this was over a decade ago in 1995, after having been laid off from my job in Biotech/Pharmaceuticals). At the CSCA, I learned the ins and outs of cooking and baking, it was phenomenal. While I attended the program, I worked for a short time at the Black Bird Baking Company, in Brookline, Ma and unfortunately, it folded during my stay! I then moved on to a short stint as a cook at a restaurant called Lazy Bones in Marblehead, Ma. In my short stay in these kitchens, I caught on quickly to the fact that to make it in the biz, you gotta have staying power. At that time, I didn’t have it. I had a taste of what a day job could provide me, and after a while, I longed for it again. So that was it, I packed up my knife roll and went back to my career in the Pharmaceutical world, and have been there since. While my career in the professional kitchen was short lived, my career in my home kitchen was not. I continue to utilize the skills that I learned at the CSCA every day by cooking for friends and family (my best critics). Cooking and baking are my passions, my most favorite hobbies.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the day in the kitchen of Chef Michael Schlow’s restaurant, Radius (8 High St, Boston, MA). At a charity auction for the Faulkner-Sagoff Breast Center (Jamaica Plain, MA), my father won an auction to spend the day in the kitchen and return for dinner, for 2 people. After scheduling the day, and having to cancel a bunch of times, we finally came up with a date that worked. I didn’t think anything of it, but as the day drew close, I actually got a little nervous. I did not know what to expect. I did not know if we were going to just watch the chefs cook or if we were actually going to get our hands wet. While I did not know what to expect of the kitchen, having the culinary program under my belt,
I had high expectations of myself. If they were going to give me an assignment, I was going to do it and I was going to do it right.

My dad and I were to be there at 12 noon, in black pants and a white shirt. I actually chose to wear one of my chef’s coats that I bought when I was at the CSCA. We were greeted by one of the Sous Chefs named Leo. He showed us around the kitchen, and after some brief introductions and a visit to the bathroom, we were each given a work station and an assignment.


My father's first assignment was to pick the leaves off of fragrant lemon thyme and micro mint.
My first job was to peel a milk crate full of carrots, quarter them and juice them for a carrot reduction. The carrot reduction was going to be used later in some fashion with lobster, in a light springy soup.
I worked with a Garde Manger chef named Kevin.
Kevin
He, like all the other chefs, was extremely nice.
We chatted about my brief cooking career, my kids and
how I made all their baby food, andfood science books.

Another chef, Megan, shared a similar story, having swapped a science career for the kitchen. For Megan, I helped clean a 5 lb box of morels. My father moved on to prepping red pearl onions and chopping escargot (!) and Muscat grapes (to be served with the Fois). I chopped some blanched snow peas on the bias into ½ inch pieces, then moved on the stuffing some of the larger morels I had cleaned earlier, with a mixture of butter, sorrel and escargot.
The executive chef, Patrick, came in at some point to start his day, and came right over to us. We had a great talk about cooking and local produce. If my memory serves me correctly, he has been in the kitchen at Radius for 4 years. We talked about the turnover rate, and paying your dues. Obviously for him, he paid his dues, and played his cards correctly.
Me and Patrick
The kitchen was hustling and bustling. I watched Kevin slice tuna for Sashimi, slice burdock root and make mushroom consomme. Another Garde Manger chef, named Sunny, worked with Kevin to go down the list of things that had to get done for service that evening. Megan prepared potato gnocchi, while another chef sautéed quarters of baby artichokes. All the while, Leo and some other staff were preparing the food for the family dinner which takes place between front of house and back of house each afternoon before the dinner service. My father and I stayed and worked until they broke for family dinner.
They asked us to stay for it, but we both agreed that we should not stay because we were returning for dinner a few hours later,with my mom, and husband, Rob.

Going into the day, I did not know what to expect, and as I said before, I was nervous. My father also did not know what to expect. As we worked side by side, taking it all in, we both agreed that it far surpassed anything we thought it was going to be. The professionalism of the staff blew us both away as well as the fact that everyone we encountered was off the scale nice. When I would complete an assignment, the chef would thank me for what I had done for him/her. I said, "Don’t thank me, thank you for letting me work in your kitchen today".
I never once felt out of place or in the way. I left feeling a bit melancholy. Where would I be today if I had decided to change careers totally, and stay in food instead of returning to corporate America? I probably would be a lot happier to tell you honestly. I’m not going to rule it out. Spending the day in the kitchen of Radius got me salivating, in more ways then one. I’m not saying its going to be immediate, but I’m going to look into making a change to get back to my cooking roots in some fashion.

We arrived back at Radius for a 7pm dinner reservation, which started out the bar. I had a Kaffir Lime Margarita that was out of this world. The addition of the Kaffir Limes gave the drink just the right edge to make it stand out. Upon sitting down at our table, we were poured gratis Champagne. I believe it was Louis Boisset, but I could be wrong. The auction was for 2 people, for the tasting menu, so Rob and I did the tasting menu, and my parents ordered a la carte. We started the dinner with not 1, but 2, Amuse Bouche, or gift from the chef, basically a small appetizer to wet your whistle, on the house. First off was a small piece of a poached shrimp on a bed of poached, brunoise of onion and cauliflower with a sprig of dill. A nice way to start. Second, out came none other than the morels I had stuffed that afternoon. They were breaded in panko and fried. Delicious.
The first course of our tasting menu was the tuna sashimi with ponzu sauce, kumquat, cucumber, scallions and avocado. It was divine. The kumquat really added that zing to complement the smooth texture of the tuna. The wine that was served with the sashimi was a white wine, Menetou Salon, Domaine de Chatenoy. It was golden yellow with tons of body, tasing a bit green but with hints of apricot.

The second course was a Hawaiian fish, called Hapu'upu'pu, a type of grouper. I had talked to Patrick about it earlier. He had gone into Radius earlier that morning, at 8 am, to receive the fish, which was caught, cleaned and shipped only 1 day earlier. It was seared off and served with red pepper and chorizo and small pearls of potato; the attention to detail blew me away, with each little potato pearl. The wine poured with this 2nd dish, was a 2001 Truchard Estate Roussane from Carneros. It too, like the previous wine, was heavy in body and paired up well against the aggressive flavor of the chorizo.

The third and final dish was a lamb tenderloin (3 medallions) with a lamb reduction, artichokes, and cepes, and was topped with a sprinkle of that lemon thyme my dad had picked earlier, as well as some white truffle shavings. Now, I normally do not eat lamb. In fact, I limit my intake of red meat overall, and eat it infrequently. Having said that, this lamb was outstanding. It was soft in texture with a bold taste enhanced by the lamb reduction. The wine served with this course was my favorite of the night, a Garnacha from north central Spain, Tres Picos Barsao. It was velvety with a buttery finish.

Just when you couldn't eat another bite, out came a palatte cleanser of apricot mint sorbet. Then the desserts - a different one for each person. My dessert was a goat cheese and cream cheese cheesecake with a buckwheat tuille and huckleberry ice cream. Rob was served a trio of sorbets including Vietamese coffee and some type of berry. My dad was served what was called the "Cinema Paradiso" and was a small glass of an orange slurpee, a popcorn box filled with a molasses candy corn complete with peanuts and a cake, and for the life of me, I can't remember what it was. My mom was served a single serving of a chocolate banana milkshake and a chocolate coconut cake with roasted cashews. All of this decadence was served with, you got it, another Champagne! This time, a demi-sec (= nice and sweet). I unfortunately did not jot down the winery. After dessert, with coffee, we were served some small, single bite cookies (as if dessert was not enough), a shortbread topped with cream and a blueberry, small choux balls and some coconut-apricot balls with flecks of chocolate.

The dinner was pure bliss. Pure class the entire time, from the moment we walked in to the moment we left. At the end of the meal, they brought me a copy of Schlow's cookbook, It's About Time, and told us the entire meal was taken care of. We fully expected to pay for my parents meals, and they would not hear of it. It really was the icing on the cake.
Overall, my experience of spending the day in the kitchen and returning to eat at Radius was moving and has made me start to rethink some things in my life. The only thing that would have made it better is if Schlow himself spent some time with us. I highly recommend the restaurant to all. Let them take you on a journey, order one of the tasting menus they offer. You will not be disappointed.

3 Comments:

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Stinky said...

where's my picture??

 
At 8:22 AM, Blogger Sharon S said...

Its up there - right under mine - you can't see it????

 
At 10:03 AM, Blogger anne altman said...

NICE!
father / daughter cooking day?

awesome!

 

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