This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to stage at the number one rated restaurant in Dallas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, “stage” is the French word for “intern,” or in other words, “I work for free.” The purpose is to gain experience in different professional kitchens. It can also be a prerequisite for a job in a kitchen. And most of the time, culinarians have no problem with free labor, so they welcomed me with open arms!
I arrived for my stage at 2:51pm and was immediately faced with the dilemma of which door to use. Yes, I understood that I was supposed to use the back door that leads to the kitchen, but there were like 12 different doors to choose from! The one without a handle was the one I was supposed to pry open…Luckily a girl came out of it soon after I had finished searching for a way in, and she pointed me in the direction of the chef. After a very brief introduction to the sous chef and the chef de cuisine, I signed a liability waiver, and the sous chef immediately gave me a recipe to follow. A habanero-tomatillo relish. He showed me where the ingredients were, set me up with a cutting board, and then I pulled out my knives and got to work.
Unfortunately, halfway through brunoising the ingredients, I was told that it was supposed to be fine brunioise (mistake numero uno). So I changed my cuts and then had to go back over everything I had already cut. I also had to de-seed various peppers, but I was too nervous to ask for gloves, so I just did it with my bare hands…and then my hands had a nice slow burn all over for the duration of my stage (mistake #2).
While I was chopping my mistakes and worries away, more cooks started to arrive for their shift. Everyone was friendly but surprised to see a newbie in the kitchen. This was by far a veteran team as the newest member had arrived over a year ago, so they were wondering whose job was in jeopardy by this newcomer. After I introduced myself to everyone and explained my purpose for being there, everyone seemed very willing to show me around.
I would be assigned to trail the hot apps guy for the evening. The restaurant was on summer hours (6pm to 9pm) and because the majority of their clientele was off at their vacation homes in the Hamptons, the restaurant was slow. However, this allowed me to move around the kitchen during service and see all the stations in action.
I found out all of this information while I was still working on that first recipe that they gave me. Once I FINALLY got everything to the size they wanted, I cut more veg for the hot app station and then joined him on the line to prep for service.
The line is an open kitchen set up much like the traditional French brigade system. Sauté, grill, and expo down the left side, and hot app and hot app sauté/sides down the right, with sushi and desserts out front on the left or right where it is nice and cool. I got a brief tour of each station, complete with tastings of Coppa over at the sushi area and a medley of aiolis at the hot app station.
For the beginning of service, I stayed with the hot apps guy and saw lobster shooters and fried calamari being plated, and then directed my attention to the hot app sauté cook when she plated this beauty:
Because the kitchen was slow for the evening, I had plenty of time to chat with everyone on the line. The sauté guy had been “sauté-ing” for 16+ years at various restaurants, and he was unbeatable. I noticed that all the front burners were turned on high with a pan over each flame all the way around the line. That way, as soon as an order came in, their pans were already blazing hot and ready to go.
During a busy moment in passing, the grill station/sous chef slipped me a piece of heaven for me to try. By heaven, I mean a bite of the most delicious pork chop I have ever tasted IN MY LIFE. It just so happened to be a 20-24oz hunk of love from some magical farmers in Alabama, marinated in the house blend, wrapped in bacon, and cooked sous vide in a water bath for 4-5 hours before being finished by a kiss from the grill and a hug from the oven. IN.CRED.I.BLE. I have now tasted why they’re considered the number one restaurant in Dallas.
The hot app station was done by 8:45, the restaurant closed at 9PM, and we were gone by 9:15.
All in all it was quite an adventure and I asked to come back over my winter break in December to which they happily agreed! I would love to come back when they are busier and experience a longer night. Hopefully on New Years? We’ll see.
I did have three realizations though: 1) I need to pick up speed, 2) I need to focus more on precision, 3) I need to be working in a kitchen while I go to school. And I’ve really missed working in the kitchen while I was on break…I was so nervous for my stage, but the moment I put on that chef coat and saw myself in the mirror, I felt a million times more comfortable. So I will now walk away with this stage knowing that I am more prepared for my next one, wanting to do more, and even more willing to make this my career path. There are definitely moments where I start to doubt myself, but the Lord also blesses me with moments of absolute certainty that I am doing what He wants me to do.
Overall, this was a great learning experience, and I look forward to doing another one!