Turns out, the most difficult job for a Line Cook who’s starting out isn’t preparing a meal for a paying customer, it’s preparing what’s known as “staff meal.”
Back when I was a Newbie, at Spruce Restaurant, there was a day circled on the schedule, each week, with initials, which let you know staff meal was your responsibility.
Up to this point, I was doing what I was told, obeying diagrams on butchering, a slave to recipes by the book, never daring embellishment: Hollandaise was Hollandaise. Poached was Poached. Ham wasn’t the funny guy “Hamming It Up.” Ham was Ham and it sat atop an English Muffin.
All of this is an important part of developing kitchen discipline. But none of it leads to creativity. That’s something you have to earn. And there’s only one way to earn it, The Newbie gets hazed. In the kitchen, it’s a rite of passage.
New job agita is nothing without panic. Nothing causes panic like creating an original dish for a talented crew of restaurant pros with a severe case of the “Been There Done Thats.”
Combine new job agita with a brain fart, the result is starchy pasta, scorched tomato sauce and raw potatoes over mushy broccoli. Then, combine overwhelming side-prep with zero coping skills, the result is me running away from my first restaurant gig to hide in the kitchen of a hotel.
Everyone runs away at some point. It’s another rite of passage in the kitchen. But in the end, I was changed. And a better chef for it.
To this day, I view staff meal as a time for everyone to sit, eat, relax, bond and prepare for the chaos to come. I insist on the kitchen respecting this tradition. They’re rewarded with an atmosphere of teamwork. And their culinary creations appearing on the specials list.
In my book of top chefs, the best of the best always find a way to get jalapenos and cilantro into the recipe!
Spicy Seafood Pasta (Feeds 4 to 6):
- 2 16 oz cans diced plumb tomatoes
- 1 large yellow onion large diced
- 3 heads garlic smashed
- large pinch each: dry oregano, dry parsley, dry basil, chili flakes
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 juicing lemon
- 1 small can chipotle
- 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro chopped fine
- 1-2#s linguini
- 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 can chopped clam
- 8 oz salmon medium diced
- 8 oz tilapia medium diced
- 2 Australian lobster tails medium diced
- 2# fresh baby clams
- 12 large shrimp shell on and de-veined
- cook pasta in water salty like the sea and shock in ice bath
- toss in virgin oil, juice of lemon, cilantro and set aside
- in large pot caramelize onion and garlic
- add dry herbs and chili flakes
- de-glaze with wine, add stock and simmer 3 minutes
- add tomatoes, adjust seasoning and simmer 10 minutes
- puree with wand hand mixer. add clams with juice, chipotle, and simmer 5 minutes
- add rest of seafood and simmer on low 10 minutes
- pour over pasta and eat