Brown Butter with Cream

Night two.

Prior to leaving the condo, I made certain my clothing ensemble for the kitchen at Lucy's this time around was more appropriate than the previous night of high-heeled boots and a long wrap sweater. Tonight's was simple: jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and...my Eastland clogs. Definitely not appropriate for city wear, but absolutely perfect for the kitchen (and they are just about the most comfortable pair of shoes I own. Truth be told, I enjoy the times when I sneak out to run errands and choose function over fashion with these babies). Oh, and one more item. Though he half jokingly asked me if I had my chef's uniforms from class, there was no way I was going to let chef Bryan catch me off guard during my next visit to the kitchen. I grabbed my chef's jacket on the way out.

I was running slightly later than I planned. It was Friday night and I assumed the kitchen would be a bit more active versus the last night I visited; a Tuesday. Parking was a bear in NW, but I finally snagged a spot about four blocks from the restaurant. I shuffled up the dark streets of NW Portland to the back door, this time feeling like a part of the crew and walking right in.

I entered and was greeted by a bustling back room. It was close to 5 p.m. so the kitchen was definitely in happy hour mode, and approaching Friday night dinner time. I also noticed that the crew had increased by two: Nate, a transplant from Jacksonville, Wyoming, who'd been with Lucy's for three months; and Haley, a culinary student at Oregon Culinary Institute who was in her fourth week in the kitchen with chef Bryan crew.

"Do you know what you want to do with your culinary degree," I asked the wide-eyed intern.

"I'm not sure yet. There is so much out there to do," she replied.

Yes, my dear, yes there is so much that one can do with a culinary degree, I thought...

Nate was busy constructing a gnocchi dish. I noticed chef Bryan called it "Parisian" gnocchi.

"What in the world is Parisian gnocchi?" I asked.

"It's a gnocchi that's made with pâte à choux instead of potato," he answered quickly.

Ah, I remembered pâte à choux, and the recounted the times I had made it in class to create profiteroles. It's also a common dough used to make eclairs and begneits. Incredibly versatile, and apparently used to make gnocchi in this kitchen.

"Oh, I remember pâte à choux, but can't remember exactly how to make it," I said.

Without hesitation, chef Bryan rattled off measurements of the ingredients for the pâte à choux as well as cooking instructions. Right then and there. Right off the top of his head:

"You need 600 g of flour, 1200 g of milk, 1 lb. of butter and about 16 - 20 eggs. Heat the milk and butter and combine - almost like a roux (a butter and flour mixture that is heated until it takes on a slightly golden-brown color), but not as brown as a roux. Take the mixture off of the heat and, one at a time, add in the eggs, stirring with a spatula until the mixture pulls away from the edges."

Yeah, that's pretty much how I remembered it too.

Keeping the thought of the dining experience at the front of his mind, Bryan mentioned that they needed an amuse bouche for the evening. An amuse bouche is somewhat common in fine dining establishments. It's a little mouth teaser that is sent out from the chef as a one-bite wonder that is meant to wet the appetite. A pre-dinner treat, if you will.

"Jen, what should our amuse bouche be tonight?" he asked. "We have some chicken confit that we can use for it."

A bit thrown off, but not wanting disappoint, I shouted back, "The chicken confit (chicken cooked in and preserved in it's own fat), crème fraîche, bacon and chives."

"No bacon as we already have a dish that has bacon in it," Bryan said.

I see some wild mushrooms and suggest those.

"No, too expensive," Nate responds. "We want something that we need to use (won't go to waste) that isn't too expensive, but that will be pleasing and special to the diners," he explained.

Bryan proceeded to construct something. He added some chevre cheese and heavy cream to a saucepan and stirred until the combination looked like white frosting. He took some toasted ciabatta that the kitchen had, added a dollop of the chevre/heavy cream mixture, some chicken confit and topped it wth a currant and a sprig of fresh greens.

"Here, try this and let me know if you think it's good enough to be an amuse bouche," he said to me.

It was a bit on the heavy and bland side and needed to be "brightened" up. I found that I was hesitant to critique his work, but sort of mumbled that it needed some brightening.

"A fresh squeeze of lemon?" I added.

In the end it was decided: ciabatta as a canapé, crème fraîche, chicken confit, currant and fresh greens.

The night went on and the kitchen was definitely more active than before. Mike, the owner, walked in.

"Oh, you are here tonight. I wasn't sure," I said as I greeted him.

"Are we open?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Then I'm here," he said with a grin on his face.

I spent a large part of the night just keeping myself out of the line of fire (ha, sort of a pun intended) and sat and watched as they worked their magic. Nate was making an abundance of the gnocchi dish as well as a goat cheese ravioli. I had seen that before and it looked amazing.

"Do you want me to make you a small plate?" he asked.

"Oh, maybe just one," I said.

"Well they come with three raviolis to a plate," he replied.

"Ok, yeah, thank you, Nate," I accepted, promising myself that I would only eat one ravioli.

It was delectable. Triangle raviolis filled with goat cheese and topped with the most buttery, nutty sauce.

"What is this sauce you on the ravioli you made me," I asked.

"Brown butter, brown butter with cream," he replied.

I literally stopped mid-bite and looked up with a sly grin on my face.

"So a 10-mile run for me tomorrow then?" I fired back.

"Yeah, pretty much," chef Bryan replied without hesitation.

I had noticed that with every dish that they constructed, sauce played such a huge role. Bryan had mentioned that before his arrival, the kitchen would typically use just a couple of sauces, usually tomato-based, for their dishes. Now, it seems there were at least five sauces that were crafted to uniquely fit each dish. I tasted a few. A rabbit and oxtail sauce used for the gnocchi was absolutely divine. I could devour it like a soup.

Being the writer, I told Bryan that we should develop a book on sauces for today's home cooks. He handed me James Peterson's Sauces: Classic and Contemporary Sauce Making. It had it all in it, but I still thought it might be a bit too ambitious for some home cooks who just want great basics.

I continued to flip through the book as the crew prepared for a 16-plate order, listening to the kitchen communication while skimming through the pages. I came across something Bryan had highlighted in the introduction of the book that made me stop and think:

"No amount of book learning can provide a substitute for hands-on experience." James Peterson

Yeah, pretty much.



The Back Door

For anyone who has been following this blog, or is just one of many important friends and family in my life, you've heard me say - numerous times - that when I decided to sign my life away for eight months of Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts training it wasn't for the goal of becoming a chef. No, life in the kitchen would be way to tough for a girl like me. The heat. The sweat. What would become of my foundation, my mascara, my perfectly flat-ironed curls? And there would certainly be yelling. I don't do yelling. Don't all chefs have outrageous outbursts that emulate those of chef Gordon Ramsey?

But during the past year and a half after earning my diploma and exploring the world of food writing - plus other avenues in the arena of all things culinary - something continues to intrigue me.

There are not too many things that can hold my interest for an extended period of time. I get bored. My attention is short-lived. My mind wonders, and I tend to move on. Quickly. But one thing keeps toying with my mind.

That kitchen.

What goes on day in and day out? Is it really that hot back there? Is the chef really going "Gordon Ramsey" on the line cooks?

I've kept in close contact with a former culinary school classmate of mine who's quickly worked his way through many of Portland's esteemed restaurant kitchens just in the short time since we left our kitchens at school. Just a few weeks ago, he was named Chef de Cuisine at Lucy's Table. His name is Bryan Szeliga; chef Bryan, pardon me. I couldn't have been more thrilled when I heard the news of the opportunity he was given. I was even more thrilled when he offered me a chance to come 'hang out' in the kitchen with him.

Last week I reached out to Bryan as I was doing some research for an article I was writing for an industry publication. He suggested I stop by the restaurant to chat with him about my questions a bit more. We confirmed via text.

Me: I'll try and come down by 3:30/4. Is that too close to dinner service?
Bryan: See you then

I arrived at the front door at NW 21st and Irvine slightly after 4 p.m. It was locked.

Me: I'm outside. Door is locked.
Bryan: Back door

At that exact moment I looked up and saw the bartender preparing the bar for the evening. We both froze as we realized we knew each other. She is the wife of my Pilates training. I had almost forgotten she worked a Lucy's part-time until the moment I saw her. What followed was about 30 seconds of sheer confusion and conversation through the locked, glass door.

"Jennifer?" she asked.
"Stacy?" I replied back.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I'm here to talk with Bryan, your new Chef de Cuisine."
"You know Bryan?"
"Yes, we went to school together," I answered.
She motioned for me to walk around building,"Come around to the back door."

And I did. And when I arrived I was met by Lucy's owner/chef, Mike Conklin.

"Hi," I said. "I'm Jennifer, I'm here to see Bryan."

Mike greeted me with a friendly smile and guided me through the back door and into the kitchen.

Having come from running miscellaneous errands all the day, I was clearly not dressed to be in a restaurant kitchen. Tip toeing with my high-heeled boots through the back entryway and onto the wet, rubber mats I finally met up with Bryan and giving him a long-overdue friendly hug while admiring his crisp, white chef's ensemble. I clutched my big purse and held my over-sized wrap sweater tight to prevent it from unraveling into anything it shouldn't have, found a corner next to a row of culinary reference books and set my things down - big wrap sweater off, short-sleeve V-neck shirt revealed. Now, I was ready for some exploring.

Bryan first led me on a tour of the kitchen and explained to me some of the things he'd changed around in his two short weeks at the venue. There was the modest walk-in fridge with shelves full of milk, cream and large cubes of butter. And sitting outside it, tubs of dry goods like potatoes and onions. Down the short alley-like hallway was another stash of goods, these the vinegars and oils and condiments.

After the quick tour, Bryan needed to get things prepped for dinner service and we chatted as he worked at the stove and coordinated stations with his line cook. He wasn't yelling.

The owner had been in and out of the kitchen, and during one visit, reminded Bryan that a local publication would be by around 5:30 p.m. to snap some photos of select menu items for an upcoming edition. A food photo shoot? I thought. Another behind-the-scenes view of another aspect of the food world that I love so much. I picked an excellent evening to come by.

As the time grew closer to the dinner hour, the action in the back grew as well. Bryan and I were chatting about questions I had for the article, and all the while I was shifting from one wall to the other, dodging the servers and owner as they were shuffling things around and getting prepped for an active evening in the dining room.

And the evening went on. The photographers for the local publication arrived and I watched as Bryan and his line cook, Rojellio, created the dishes that were to be shot. Once each dish was finished, I'd follow it out to the "set" and watched as the photographer shot and the dishes were transformed into works of art for print.

And after a few hours of 'hanging' with the crew at Lucy's, watching the kitchen guys dance effortlessly on the line, venturing to the front of house to witness the photo shoot and the action at the bar and the diners in the restaurant, one thing was a constant. My face held a permanent grin. The evening's happenings captivated my interest. I was fascinated by how every one's role was played with ease, and how all the details just continued to come together behind the scenes.

Bryan mentioned to me that the next time I visit, to please wear my non-slip shoes and more casual attire. He asked if I still had my chef''s uniforms from school days and I, hesitantly, said yes as I remember those black and white checkered pants. I immediately told him those pants would not find themselves back on me again. He held a smirk on his face and told me to hang on to at least on pair - in the event that I wanted to venture around to be a part of any other kitchens in town. I left Bryan and his staff, who had all graciously welcomed me into their space for a few hours, and headed out to the front.

I said goodbye to Stacy and Maggie, the other server on site for the night, and said a quick 'thank you' and goodbye to Mike, who was in the middle of a tasting with a couple of wine distributors. He asked if I enjoyed the few hours I spent at his venue, and I quickly said yes. He welcomed me to come back at any time.

And I shall.

I think the adventures in exploring the culinary world is about to reach an entirely new level.


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