Tuesday, July 26, 2011

watermelon man

Dickie P enjoying a summer treat

Shout out to my dad, the biggest watermelon fan that I know. Dickie P prefers his watermelon plain, with a pinch of salt. BUT, if you are in the mood to get a little creative with some on hand ingredients, this salad is prefect for a summer afternoon! You can get hoity toity and cut it up tiny on little fried chips, make it into a salsa, or serve it on fancy plates, but I like it best in big, cold chunks with torn leaves of basil. The key is to serve the syrup on top last minute, so the watermelon stays pink and the syrup dark and thick. 

(click the caption for a little mood music)

Summer Watermelon Salad
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 cup white sugar
1/2 medium watermelon cut into 3” wide planks
20 torn basil leaves
1 cup sliced feta cheese
First, bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower heat and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes more. Let the syrup cool at room temperature.

Next, arrange about 3-5 pieces of watermelon on each plate. Layer with leaves of basil and feta cheese. Repeat this process one more time on each plate to create a stacked composed salad. Finish each dish with a generous drizzle of balsamic syrup.
Serves 4 as a first course.

Dad, thanks, always for your support. I love cooking with you and for you, and I hope you try this recipe with some basil from your raised beds!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

here I go again...

I feel so Doogie, writing in my blog tonight after a long day.
Here we go again... 
 I’m at a new restaurant, consulting for about 8 months. This spot is located on the gorgeous southwest coast of Nicaragua.
windy and wonderful beachfront minutes from home and work.
I’ve been here almost 2 weeks. The restaurant has been open for years, with cooks coming and going, but they’ve never had a real leader in the kitchen. Some of the troubles are very simple, like; no hand rags (for cleaning and drying), no clock, no storage containers (get this stuff out of pink Chinatown bags!), not one large spoon for serving sauces (at least, one without holes). This can be fixed once some new supplies get in, I hope. But then, also, the restaurant is open from the time staff get in (7am) until 10pm, leaving no time for any prep. The menu is WAY too big and kind of all over the place. Every staff member kind of helps with everything, leaving dishes and prep constantly (and overwhelmingly) behind. The crew is constantly running, and now I’ve joined them. 
Today I started my morning, in at 7am to help with the fish order that Felix is going to put together. Felix “pops” (as fast as a broken jack in the box would) over to the local fishing village to buy fish for the next few days and then comes back to filet it. I prepped the specials for lunch and found out that our dinner cook has a doctor’s note for 2 days, so decided to take a quick break before going back in for the long haul of the night. When I come back, Felix is still hanging around, still not fileting the fish he bought, for reason that, he is about to. Give me a break. Serenity now.
did I mention that I couldn’t find my flip flops this morning? Turns out some animal came by at dragged them to the other side of the house and ate the straps. This place is rural. Rural like the Caribbean, but there’s not even a pulperia within walking distance (That’s one of the reasons the menu is so big, because it tries to accomodate every whim of diners and homeowners nearby without focusing on quality food leaving the kitchen. In my meager opinion.).
what ate my flip flops? IT'S NOT EVEN MONDAY!

The night was a trainwreck... which I foresaw as soon as the unexpected party of 20 walked in. Woooonderful. Electricity coming and going... obviously. The front of house staff is nice and all, but, professional? Well, they tuck their shirts in! That’s a start. 
YES we now serve fresh lobster for grilling and salad (now I am working through using the last 40 pounds that we have frozen for a puree’d soup). The staff is now being trained in sanitation, from raw meats, washing veggies, and washing hands! We label products with the date made and I will not rest until we use FIFO (first in, first out) for each item. As I explained today, if I see two open vinegars again, one almost empty right next to the almost full, I may have no more hair because I will have pulled it out. There is a new, amazing and huge kitchen being built to open in November, but for now, I’ve got to make this small, crowded, semi-functional space work.
I have a smaller menu ready to print, but with 8 million (like, 15) servers and 10 people in the kitchen to train, it is a small feat to change. Not to mention the guests. It seems absurd that people wouldn’t mind some change to have delicious and timely food, but what do I know. yada yada, yada...

Gordon Ramsey has a team. A few teams. They revamp, modify the actual restaurant and layout half the time, then have a new team to come in, prep, train... and Ramsey deals with the deliquence and showtime-type stuff. I don’t have a crew to come in and take care of the dirty work, or access to equipment and tools to get in a day's notice. I do have wonderful family and friends supporting me, as always, and thank you for that.

But still, why do I keep doing this? This is the fourth spot in Nicaragua that I’ve helped, and they are all different and great and frustrating in their own way. I feel like I am a birthmother in the Giver (Lois Lowry, advanced kid’s book? anyone?)... like, I have the dirty work duty, then, when things are fixed up and rockin’, I’m on my way! I suppose I do it for the challenge as well as teaching what I know, and growing as a person and chef along the way, too. Maybe it's more like Mary Poppins.

Yeah, I’ll have to sing more.