On Saturday, July 8, I ventured down to the city with my friend Charley, for my first stage in the city. I was BEYOND thankful to have a friend to make the trip down there with me. We were even able to grab a quick lunch and ride the subway together because our respective stages were so close to each other.
I don’t graduate until January, so finding a job is not that pressing yet, but I am definitely considering staying in NYC (if it’s financially feasible) after graduation. So I though that I’d start seeking out what kind of restaurant I want to work in sooner rather than later.
My first restaurant to stage at was Riverpark. It is one of Tom Colicchio’s restaurants, and a part of his restaurant group, Crafted, which was at the most recent CIA career fair. After speaking with the HR director at the career fair, I liked the benefits the company offered as well as the bonus that Riverpark has an on-site garden, from which they utilize all produce in their restaurant. Coming from my externship at the Royal Mail, I already know that another restaurant with a garden is something that I’m dying to work with again. However, being in a city as giant and urban as NYC, it seems almost impossible to me. Yet this restaurant has managed to create a garden around their restaurant using about 7,000 milk crates. Functional and moveable. Very interesting.
Anyways, I arrived for my stage at 3:30pm in black chef pants, non-slip shoes, and knives in tow. After being handed a skull cap, a chef coat, side towels, and an apron, the chef de cuisine gave me a tour of the facility including the garden, front of house, and beer garden. I was most intrigued by the garden, so I would love to go back when the farm crew is working. Unfortunately, it is not the chefs that harvest the produce from the garden, however, they have been known to collect herbs in a rush for service if needed! There is also a larger and actually in-the-ground garden upstate which the farmer and his two assistants are also in charge of.
Once the tour was over, it was time to help prep for the 5:30pm service. I was given the task of oblique cutting carrots, blanching them, cutting some broccoli rabe into smaller pieces, and oblique cutting potatoes. All very minute tasks, however within the second swipe of my vegetable peeler, I missed the carrot and peeled off a section of my finger instead…so I tried to deal with that as calmly as I could (no one really noticed, even though my heart was pounding), got a bandaid and finger cover, and went back to work. Thankfully, no other injuries took place during my stage.
Throughout prep I was introduced to the kitchen teams. AM was finishing prep for the next day while the PM crew was setting up their stations for service. Each chef is responsible for a portion of family meal, however they warned me not to eat much if anything at all, because I’d be getting tastings all throughout service. I also was taught how they break down their chickens, which was a pretty interesting and rather difficult process. I just don’t have a big enough hand to hold back the wings back like they wanted me to before you cut the carcass in half.
The restaurant also purchases all their proteins as subprimals, and employs a butcher to portion all the meats that are used in house. He wasn’t there, but it was fascinating to see all the assorted proteins on the speed rack in their walk-in.
Before service really got going, I went station by station to see the cooks’ mise en place and talk to them about why they came to Riverpark. There are actually 3 CIA graduates, all guys, currently working there. Also, the entire PM staff seemed to be quite young, definitely nobody over 30, except for the chef de cuisine.
I tasted my way through the menu and was able to see just about every dish get plated as well. Overall, they had about 125 covers between 5:30pm and 9:30pm, with the rush hitting around 7:30pm. There was never really chaos in the kitchen at any point during service, just a well-oiled machine led by a very calm chef and expeditor.
Every plate sent my way, sans the pasta and scallops, was a full portion, so I was stuffed by the end of service. Eventually the chefs had to help me chow down.
Now here’s a peek of the food!
The first taste I got was of the burrata (fresh cheese), served with pea mash, fresh farm greens, an everything bagel chip, pickled shallots, and togarashi oil (a Japanese spice blend).
Next, Big Eye tuna crudo with ginger and shallots, fresh strawberries, pickled green strawberries, black rice crisp, and nasturtium. This green leaf and flower seem to be everywhere right now. It seems to be very present in my culinary life especially, not only because it’s in season, but I was first introduced to this plant in Australia. And now that I’m back for the summer season this side of the world, it’s on every menu in the States. I doubt it’s a new ingredient BUT I feel very cool that I learned all about it in Aussie-land before I realized its popularity back in the States.
Panna cotta trio: white asparagus & orange, pea & mint, and carrot & cumin.
East & West coast oysters…I am slinging back quite a few of these slimy guys recently. They let me try one of each. The east coast oyster was from Hope Island, Rhode Island and the west coast oyster was a Shigoku from Washington. I preferred the west coast.
The GIANT charcuterie board: duck prosciutto, testa (head cheese), lingua (braised beef tongue), rabbit liver pate, smoked olives, pate de campagne, pickled veggies, whole grain mustard and grilled bread. ALL made in-house, except for the duck prosciutto. WOW. Coming right out of garde manger, I knew how to produce everything on this board.
There is a pasta section on the menu that serves half and full servings. I was able to try two different ones. Both of which the pasta is made fresh in-house everyday. On the left is squid ink chitarra (thick spaghetti) with braised octopus and calamari. On the right is bigoli (some other type of spaghetti-like noodle) with ramps and walla walla onions.
One of my favorites to taste and see: roasted white asparagus with lemon confit, wood sorrel and bottarga, a new ingredient to me. It is salted, cured fish roe. They shaved it on top of the dish at final plating. It paired well with the bitter and sour flavors of the lemon. Beautiful dish.
My first taste of the entrees section of the menu: grilled chicken with nettles (another ingredient I learned about in Australia), kohlrabi, hon shimeji mushrooms, and whole wheat spaetzle. The spaetzle was my favorite part.
I’m a sucker for scallops, so this dish was also one of my favorites: roasted diver scallops with corn, basil, heirloom tomato confit, and green garlic. I got a half portion, but the full portion came with four scallops.
A bacon-wrapped rabbit loin, with cornbread stuffing, baby carrots, peas, and cipollini onions.
A beautifully-plated dish: spiced baby octopus with peas, radish, carrot, lime, and cilantro. The ginger-pea cream sauce that’s dotted in the shell reminded me of horseradish. Did you notice it is dots of sauce instead of peas? Look closely.
Brook Trout served with a salad of cherries, cucumbers, almonds, dill, and two deep fried quenelles of grits.
Crispy sweetbreads with ramps and a coddled farm egg.
Whole roasted Dorade with sugar snap panzanella, pickled ramps, and marinated white anchovies.
Grilled lamb rack with broccoli, pine nuts, golden raisins and bulgar.
Imperial wagyu bavette, grilled asparagus, potato gratin, and hen of the woods mushrooms.
Another eye-pleasing dish: saffron poached skate with summer squash, carrots, pole beans, nage, and lemon verbena tuile.
I was even given two different desserts!
The first was called “cereal & milk” and consisted of a chocolate ganache cake, caramelized rice puffs and vanilla malt in a perfect dome chocolate shell. You crack it with your spoon and then go to town on the best bowl of cereal ever.
Last was an olive oil cake with fresh strawberries and strawberry black pepper ice cream.
I had a chat with the chef de cuisine after service was pretty much over, and he said I was free to go at anytime, but I asked to stay and help clean. I didn’t do much to prep, and I had just observed the entire service, so I was itching to do something useful, so why not get my hands dirty? They seemed very grateful/surprised that I stayed, but put me to work anyways. The dish pit was down one dishwasher, but when I volunteered to help, all the chefs protested that they wouldn’t let me be in the dish room unless I was on the payroll. So after the line was broken down, I said my goodbyes and thanked them all for a great stage. All the chefs were nice, easy-going, and worked well together. I ended my first stage in the city with increased confidence, and the possibility of a job there in January. We’ll see, but I will definitely be staying in touch.
I have another stage in the city at the end of July, so finger’s crossed that that one goes as well or better than this one!