Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chefs for a night...our Perfect Pairings adventure

I recall getting the phone call from our good friend Angie....asking me about the idea of a one night only event at The Stock Market restaurant in Bonifacio High Street.  'Just one night with a fixed  menu...with you and Isca as featured chefs.'  Sounded simple....after all, we could pull out dishes from what we knew we could do and do well, put them together and serve them up, right? Wrong. 

While I do enjoy cooking, doing a sit-down for a paying audience in an actual restaurant made me nervous and anxious but oh so very excited.  I immediately told Isca about it and she felt exactly the same way.  As chefs for the night, we would get a share of the night's purse...something that barely registered and we immediately agreed between the 2 of us that our share would go to our parish's church construction project.  So we agreed.

There were about 6 weeks to prepare and we needed to come up with menu options for what was initially a 4 course dinner - salad, appetizer, main course, dessert.  Scouring our memory banks, we came up with a template containing various options for each course.

We met with Angie, the restaurant operators/chefs and the Ad Agency that was handling the event's PR to discuss the menu options and timetable.  Ideas were exchanged and some excited views on food were tempered with the reality of having options that were appropriately costed  and would set up the kitchen to properly prepare, plate and churn out each item on the menu.  

The next steps were refining the recipes, the cook and taste test.  Options had been narrowed for the final selection and we excitedly put together a market list.  There were high hopes for a porchetta, which we had served at dinner parties before. The phyllo-wrapped tenderloin, however, I felt would be the winner....the ingredients were simple, they could be assembled and prepared in batches and I had not prepared it in a while so there was an air of mystery about it.  The week-end before the taste test, I tested and put together the recipe for a leek-potato gratin.  We were ready for the cook and taste test.

As we visited the kitchen and prepared the food for tasting,  one of the kitchen interns was assigned to help me.  Being addressed as 'chef' for the first time was both embarrassing and, I'll admit, flattering.  Having spent done a short course at a culinary school, I sort of knew what it took for anyone to be addressed as 'chef' in a working kitchen.  I did try to correct him initially but as the day progressed, I just let it slide.

We prepared the dishes for the tasting - The appetizer and salad choices - grissini with parmegiano, arugula wrapped in prosciutto, 3 crostinnis -  gambas, chorizos and dulong on sun-dried tomato cream cheese and finally, caesar salad.  Entree choices were porchetta, scampi e funghi cream pasta and a tenderloin steak, topped with mushroom duxelles and boursin, wrapped in phyllo pastry

After the taste test and a lively discussion, we decided to have an all seafood appetizer plate, a soup and a fish option for the entree.  I suggested a tuna tartare, a roast capsicum and potato soup and a roast halibut with Isca's mediterranean style topping of tomatoes, capers and basil.  The beef tenderloin was selected as the other main.

Isca and I were particular about specific aspects of the dishes  and while we had help from the staff on the prep work,  there was stuff we did ourselves - the gambas, salad dressing, soup, mediterranean topping for the fish, assembly of the phyllo wrap and the tuna tartare.  We also oversaw the preparation the staff did for the rest of the dishes, following our recipes.

For a while, it truly felt like standing at the helm of the kitchen,  making choices and decisions as the food was prepared and cooked.  Isca took care of the front of the house, preparing a brief training plan for the servers, sharing details about the dishes and telling them how to manage greeting, serving, payments and questions.

The press releases, I think understandably, thrilled us and helped publicize the event.  Not a few people have come up to us since then assuming we own the restaurant.

On the night itself, as people came in, we were all over the place, meeting and greeting our guests, spending a little time with each person and going in and out of the kitchen to ensure things were going smoothly.

It was hectic, nerve-wracking, fast-paced but above all, it was SO MUCH FUN!  Just a few people we spoke with indicated they were not so happy with the food for one reason or another. But this was a tiny, tiny minority compared to the complements we received from many, many others.

At the end of the night, when the last guests had left, we applauded the wait-staff, the kitchen staff, the restaurant operators...hugs and kisses and thanks for Angie who thought of the evening and made it all possible.

Would we do it again? a heartbeat.

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