Sunday, September 28, 2008


At 4:00 a.m. Left-over pizza. With O.J. (Why not have a little breakfast along the way?) Why does left-over pizza often taste better than the fresh ones? Maybe cause they're eaten when one is mad hungry.

The phrase of the day is: "Mental mise-en-place." The chef who's most like my mentor called it that when I explained the mind-set change I learned from him. Mental mise-en-place. Gotta love it.

One slice left, then good night.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Covered in meat juice due to a malfunctioning trash bag.
Hand jam.
Foot jam.

Some things:
• There's always a faster way of doing everything. I learned this today while weaving my potatoes. Aha! I had a breakthrough moment and it made me stupid happy.
• When you love the food, it loves you back.
• I'm actually starting to get what it means to "push."
• Must remember to think before I move. Sometimes my body wants to move somewhere before my brain tells it where to go.
• Must remember to stop talking to myself, outloud.
• Must remember to smile at least three times a day, even on crappy ones.
• Today we found out there'll be a new farm chore: The Cardboard Chipper. They'll begin recycling cardboard boxes in chippers, like the wood chipper in Fargo. Cool!
• Harold McGee is coming to spend some time with the kitchen staff. Super-cool!
• The chef de cuisine is back. Über-cool!
• Never gloat or become complacent cause that's when the shit hits the fan.
• My English is getting worse and my Spanish is improving.
• "Yes" to everything.
• International accents in the kitchen can lead to some seriously hilarious miscommunication.
• Got a taste of some beets with honey and apricot foam. YUM.
• The word that I hear floating around most during the day is "celtuse."
• On fence today: Cheddar and purpole cauliflower. Pretty.
• Love: Rainy days at the property.
• Love: 2:30 a.m. showers and ice baths for los manos pobres.
• Made it through prep and service almost alone.

There was more. What was it???
So sleepy...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In the crapolas

In the shits.
Back pain.
Achy hands.

So why do I look forward to doing this another day???

I look at my daily prep list and it looks like mission impossible, but my garde manger supervisor insists I can do it all by myself if I really push it. I really believe I'm pushing it all the time, but the rate at which chefs move is on a whole different caliber. I just don't get it. Maybe tomorrow I will. Yes, tomorrow I will! I learned something new today - that while I tend to focus on only the task at hand and doing it well, the other chefs are planning their next move and going through the motions of that move in their heads. It's a weird balanace because last week I tried to multi-task and got scoled for not focusing. So I guess you must focus physicallly on the task at hand, but multi-task in your mind. Much more stressful. We'll see how it goes. Tomorrow's another day...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The rise and fall of pizza dough

This was partly M.'s inspiration and partly my failure to find ready-made pizza dough at Whole Foods, as M. suggested. I was in the mood for a pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions, but the pizzerias in New Rochelle are quite disgusting to say the least. M. made a really beautiful pizza for her parents at her daughter's 4th with WF pizza dough and I thought I'd give it a try, too. But I had no luck in finding it. So I made the dough myself, which turned out to be o.k., but not great. Now I'm racking my brain trying to remember what my all-time favorite pizza crust was like, and what was so great about it.

As you can see in the pictures, the dough was definitely not rolled flat enough, and I ended up with a very puffy crust. Not my thing at all. And of course I had a brain fart while shopping - I was so focused on the secondary toppings and finding the dough that I forgot to buy tomato sauce and mozzarella. So it turned out to be a cross between a foccaccia and a pizza. But the toppings were quite tasty, and I'll be using the same combinations quite a bit in my future crust experiments.

On one side is Gruyère, caramelized onions, mushrooms, garlic and thyme. The other, Gruyère, caramelized onions, caramelized fennel, pancetta and thyme. Out of the oven, I topped the fennel side with a few arugula and frisée leaves. I only wish I had olives for some good ol' brininess. Yum yum.

As a side note: It's really nice to be writing and home-cooking again!

Cool beans

Some neat-looking beans we had to shell recently. They were so cute I had to bring them home.

Left: Can't remember the name
Center: Jacob's Cattle, an heirloom variety that originated in Germany
Right: Yin Yang, or Black Calypso, is a rare heirloom variety that pairs well with corn

Monday, September 22, 2008

A few of my favorite things

• Being greeted in the morning by chickens, cows, sheep and pigs
• Witnessing 2 pigs shamelessly making out in plain sight, in front of all the little kids
• Sending off newlyweds with a clanging of pots and pans
• Making a fresh batch of ricotta and butter every day
• Kneading and seasoning butter
• How ricotta becomes sweeter as you add the salt
• The characters I get to work with side-by-side, 14 hours a day
• The sweet-smelling air, especially in the crisp of autumn
• Thursday farm chores and the lectures from special guests in the afternoon
• Mondays and Tuesdays being "weekends"
• Speaking Spanish
• Speaking German
• That the chef de cuisine and dishwashers alike like to greet one another with a handshake
• Picking sage for the potato chips directly from the herb garden
• That arugula here tastes like arugula should
• Edible flowers
• Getting through a night of service smoothly with enough goodies for V.I.P.'s.
• Stone Barns honey, in honeycomb, served warm
• "Field gras"
• The composting bins
• The bins for the pigs
• The recycling bins
• Never having to throw away much, not even the frying oil which gets converted into bio-fuel
• Thick financier batter with plenty of ribbons
• Good olive oil that will give us a thick financier batter with plenty of ribbons
• Sharpies
• Serrated paring knives
• Mini-spatulas
• Large supply of bamboo skewers
• Large supply of quart containers
• Large supply of quart container lids
• Small sized chef's jackets with the right size pantalones
• Midnight chefs' meetings
• Stainless steal
• The sound of plates clanging side-by-side during buy-outs
• Face bacon
• Fried pig snout
• Blue Hill baloney
• Kale chips
• Arugula salt
• Maldon sea salt
• Orange thyme
• Pretty fences
• Squeegees
• Spoons, especially the little ones
• Heaps of kitchen towels
• Controlled chaos
• Uncontrived plating
• The chef de cuisine who never freaks out
• The sous chef who's cool as a cucumber
• That Chef sometimes gives me a wink
• Feeling like family
• Working with my hands
• Constantly moving

Am I really here?

My left fingertips are burnt, calloused and numb. I have a bad burn on my right forearm and wrist. I have a strange wound that won't heal in the space between my forefinger and thumb - a little accident that happened in my wrestle with a giant Hobart mixer. Both my hands are swollen and muscular like a man's, and they tingle with tightness every morning. My back aches, my feet hurt, and I'm really really tired.

On September 3rd, I began my four-month apprenticeship at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. My day starts somewhere between 10:30 a.m. and noon and ends past midnight, around 1:00 or sometimes 2:00. When they say to come in at noon, it's really not a blessing because you have less time to do the same amount of work. I really can't believe the amount of food the kitchen is able to produce in so little time every day. With set-up for service at 3:00, family meal at 4:00 and service starting at 5:00, you only have about 4 full hours to get it all done. How do you it? You push. And push. And push. I thought I was pushing, but it's become clear that I have no idea what that really means.

In the first week, I worked with the meat guy. Ironic considering how little meat I eat at home. I spent most of my time putting various forms of meat into sous vide bags with various forms of marinade. The main takeaway from that week was that meat is heavy, especially turkey breasts. They are about the size of my thighs.

In the second week, the chef de cuisine put me on the amuse station. Talk about being thrown into the fire. I came out alive, but it felt a lot like the feeling of being thrown into the deep end when you don't even know how to doggie paddle. It was crazy. But it's also an honor to be given so many responsibilities. Every day I learn a little more - how to organize myself better, how to shave a few seconds off of this or that, how to season better, batter better, slice meat better... I'm learning on the job, hands-on, through experience. Raj at Saul used to say theory is useless if you can't execute it. Many cooks know a lot of stuff in theory but can't cook. I hope I'll learn to cook better. Someday. Day-by-day.

So how has it been? My brother asked me yesterday if I was having fun. I can't say I am, only because I've made a lot of sacrifices to be here, and life in the kitchen is hard as hell. It was never meant to be for my entertainment. There have been times, especially in the last week, when I would wonder about this new life I've chosen, if it needs to be so hard. I would ask myself, "Annie, wouldn't it be so much easier to go back to advertising? What are you doing here taking out linens and trash at midnight for zero pay?" But the thought of going back to the office life makes me cringe and my stomach churns just to think about it. It makes me sad sometimes to think how much I hated it because it would be so much easier if I didn't. If I could be just a little o.k. with it, I would go back. I really would. But I know I can't. I just can't.

What I can tell you is that I'm much happier. Or maybe it's more contentment and feeling at peace. In the morning, I drive past a beautiful lake, up to the pastures of Stone Barns filled with pigs, chickens, cows and sheep, and have a little chat with Gerry, the security guard. I get out of the car breathing sweet air, put on a crisp, clean uniform and start a new day with new challenges. I greet the staff, an amazing staff full of some real characters, then I set up my station, which has a window out to the courtyard (which I never seem to remember to take a moment to look out onto...).

At the end of the day, after thirteen hours standing on my feet and using my hands, I come home knowing that I did honest work and knowing where the fruits of my labor went. I'm also mighty proud of the stuff that kitchen puts out. Maybe not my finicky, disastrous financier burgers, but my ricotta and butter aren't half bad. And of course I'm in awe of the exquisitely beautiful plates that the chefs produce, especially the salads from the garde manger station.

Sometimes I wonder how I got here because every morning I feel like I awoke to a dream. Then I remember I just asked. Just ask. You never know if someone will say yes and where it will take you.

The photos above are from my third Thursday at Blue Hill. Thursdays are farm chore days, when we go out into the fields for an hour or two and have a chance to come that much closer to the ingredients we work with. It's great to get our hands dirty.