Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Jamie's Big Night Out!

This event was by far one of the most enjoyable and best-coordinated functions I've done yet at Fifteen. Kate and the rest of the team did an incredible job planning the event, and everything ran smooth as butter. There were lots of VIP's in attendance, most notably Jamie Oliver and performer Jamie Cullum, who as a part of the auction "sold off" a performance of Beyonce's "Single Ladies." I'm still unsure whether it was entertaining, perplexing, or just frightening... but that's beside the point: he helped us raise loads of money for the organization. At the end of the night, we had raised approximately £200,000 for Fifteen Foundation. Job well done!

The only contact I had with Mr. Oliver was when I was standing at the bottom of the stairs, literally right in his way, and then stood there sort of dumb as he politely said "excuse me." Greeeat first impression!

As the night came to a close, there were left-over slices of a chocolate coffee truffle tart with crème fraîche ice-cream. I couldn't resist! I had two slices, oops.

Christmas Goodies...

One project that I've been working on recently has been our Christmas baked goods project. In a couple of weeks, we will begin to sell puddings, mince pies, and chocolate truffles at the restaurant. Although it may seem fairly straightforward, organizing a project like this takes quite a bit of effort. Lots needs to be done: ordering materials, communicating with the pastry chef, creating ingredients lists and cooking instructions, evaluating costs, and managing sales.

I've never undertaken a task like this, so everything is new and interesting. It has been really educational to follow the project from start to finish; I've worked with marketing to develop designs, the food-labeling people at Jamie Oliver to create nutrition labels, and even alongside Ed (the pastry chef) slicing up figs for the puddings. Look at the picture below of the dried fruits macerating in brandy (nearly 4 liters of it)! Yes, that's a full-size trash barrel. We plan on selling 200 puddings this year.

Borough Market

One of the best foodie experiences I've had in London so far has been Borough Market, London's largest open-air food market. Just look at this cheese!!

The food was definitely more upscale and artisanal, with farmers selling their organic produce and meat, fishmongers with their daily catch...

There was also lots of really fine food, like pâté, foie gras, and truffles. I couldn't believe that one of the truffles was priced at £90!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Bring on the Pasta!

Wow, what a day yesterday... Is it shameful that running pasta dough through a machine makes me nostalgic for my playdough days? I had so much fun cranking out the tagliatelle, watching the sun-yellow dough become smooth and paper-thin. I also made beetroot gnocchi, which would later be served in a horseradish, butter, and white wine sauce with pancetta and smoked eel. The little pillows came out soft as ever and went perfectly with the smokiness of the eel and pancetta. The tagliatelle was for a pork and lamb ragu, which we finished with a pat of butter, ricotta salata, and an orange pine-nut gremolata.

So, I ate all day again. But I also learned a lot of new things, like how to skin, debone, and prepare a smoked eel (which was the spitting image of those freaky wriggly ones from The Little Mermaid). I've never had smoked eel before, and I don't think it's something you can buy (at least easily) in the States. But it was so delicious, even just on its own. It's almost like a cross between tuna and mackerel-- oily and meaty, but really rich in hickory flavor.

I also learned how to extract the meat from crabs, which was a lot tricker than I thought it would be. I've made the softshell ones before, but these were bigger and spiny and had all sorts of colorful guts to evade. By the end I finally got the technique down, though. I was happy to hear that the crab salad appetizer was our best selling starter the other night.

I can't wait until next week to get back in the kitchen again! Maybe I'll try to smuggle a couple eels back into the states when I go back... is that weird?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Kenny's Bread... Makes My Life.

Major perk to working at Fifteen: we get Kenny's freshly baked bread every morning in the office. I was trying to cut out simple carbs, but I seriously cannot hold back from these beautiful golden specimens of his oven.
Today we had challah, a bread that I grew up making and eating, often on Fridays for the Jewish sabbath. Kenny's version (which I just ate with some sweet butter, honey, and a pinch of Maldon salt) is spot-on, with a pillow-soft texture and rich eggy flavor. I might try to snag a couple slices on the way out for tomorrow morning; it makes ethereal French Toast. Bravo Kenny!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

In the Whites!

Yesterday I helped out in the kitchen! I have since gained a new appreciation for the humble artichoke. After laboriously prepping a box of the little guys-- peeling their stems, cutting away excess leaves, halving them, and spooning out their "chokes" (the pulpy bit inside)--I will never look at an artichoke dish on a menu the same way again.

I also made aioli... by hand. When I asked why they didn't just chuck the ingredients into a blender and call it a day, Sam, one of the cooks, told me that they really emphasize the basics in their kitchen, so that the apprentices learn proper technique from the ground up. He said, "if all that the apprentices know about an aioli is how to throw things into a blender and flip a switch, then we haven't achieved our purpose. Doing it by hand makes them aware of the technique involved in making an emulsion."

It was a joy to work beside the passionate cooks, most of whom are right around my age. One of the more memorable conversations I had yesterday began with, "how do you feel about pork shoulder?", followed by a lengthy chat about regional variations, preparation methods, and wine pairings. It's no surprise that the apprentices thrive in such an environment, where cooking, eating, enthusiasm, and a no-frills education comprise your work day.

Finsbury Square Farmers' Market

It didn't quite feel like autumn in London until Friday, when I met up with some of the Fifteen crew (Joe, Tas, Wendy, and others) to help out at the Finsbury Square farmers' market, which we attend once a month. Something about the fall produce and brisk wind made me realize that the warm weather was finally over.
We prepared hearty seasonal dishes like sandwiches, brownies, and an Italian beef stew with white beans and tomatoes, served with a square of homemade rosemary focaccia. SO GOOD. Yet another wonderful excuse for me to snack all day long!
Wafting from other vendors' tents were aromas of toasted fairtrade coffee beans, grilled smoky apple sausages, and freshly baked artisan breads and scones. There was also a gentleman selling produce, and with friends coming for dinner, I couldn't help but to grab a few parsnips and sweet potatoes (still encrusted with soil) to mash. As he handed me my change, I noticed how calloused his hands were, coated with a light layer of dirt from handling the crops. It always surprises me when I think of how rare it is that we actually see the hands that cultivate our food, especially in metropolitan London.
After spooning pesto onto sandwich after sandwich beside my new coworkers, I felt really comfortable with them. But what solidified my trust in my new friends at the restaurant, and in Fifteen as a whole, happened right at the end of the day as we were packing up. A homeless man approached the tent asking if we had any leftover food. Without hesitation, Joe said warmly, "of course we do, mate" and even proceeded to ask him what type of sandwich he wanted. This generosity was paralleled by one of the bread vendors, who offered up his leftover bread at the end of the day to whomever wanted it (I cheerily left the market with ciabatta and a brioche!), and also by the coffee sellers, who brought over hot cappucinos to our tent as the weather became colder.
I absolutely love this type of community outreach, especially when I know that the product I'm selling is supporting such a good cause. I can't wait to go back next month!