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.