Saturday, March 8, 2008

Una mujer buena

Lupe is back from Mexico! It so good to see him again. We never exchange more than a few words with each other, but today we had an pretty extensive (by Lupe's standards) conversation about his trip back home, and discovered that he really wants to find a wife. He told me his first wife passed away 5 years ago, leaving him with 5 children. How this man managed to raise all those kids alone while working in a kitchen is a mystery to me, but I'm starting to see these are kinds of stories that float around RestoX. Lupe, the honest, hard-working machine with hands marked with years of intense labor... I hope he will find himself a good woman.

It was a quiet and productive day today. Adam is now giving me a personal list of tasks for the day, scribbled on a paper towel (the standard note paper in professional kitchens):

Roasted peppers

Mincing shallots:
I got reacquainted with shallots today, not having done them in a while. Weeks ago, when I watched Adam mince them, I noticed that he hardly threw away anything, not even the ends. The ends are a bit tricky to mince, having nothing to hold onto and being of an irregular shape. It was a satisfying challenge to mimic Adam's way of working, especially after seeing how much goes to waste in restaurants in general.

Roasted pepper confit salad:
Adam roasted some red and yellow peppers, doused with olive oil. I then peeled off the skin, divided them into quarters, and cut them crosswise into julienned strips. He had me toss these with olive oil, sherry vinegar, capers, salt and pepper. When I tasted it, I changed my mind about roasted peppers. I like them, made just like this.

Mashed potatoes:
Or shall I say, "Cream and butter, with some potatoes as a binding agent?" Heat undisclosable amount of butter and cream in pan. Meanwhile, cut a few pounds of potatoes into uniform sizes (the uniform sizes being important enough for Adam to repeat it twice), boil them in well-salted water until very tender, and drain. At RestoX, they like to use a hand-cranked food-mill for the potatoes, which helps to keep from over-mixing them, a practice that creates a gluey texture. Texture comes out light, fluffy and lump-free, and when mixed with the cream and butter, ridiculously smooth and creamy.

One thing I'm learning about myself and cooking is that I have a mortifying fear of over-salting anything. When I first started to cook for myself a few years back, I ruined many hours of hard labor going overboard with salt. So now I season with a tentative hand. To me, the socco batter tasted pretty well-seasoned, if not over-seasoned. But when Segundo tasted it, he threw in another a few more tablespoons of salt, making it taste so much better. How does he know how to season so perfectly? Does it come from practice, or is it instinctual? This is the secret to being a good cook, one that I hope to someday own.