Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Best Day Ever...

By Robin 'Red Hot' Kaye

If you’ve read my books—or my blogs for that matter, you probably know I’m a bit of a foodie. Okay, a total foodie. I love to cook almost as much as I love to eat, and food usually plays a special role in all my books.

I’m working on a book right now, the second in the Bad Boys of Red Hook series—YOUR THE ONE, and my heroine is a chef. I thought it would be easy because I’m a total food snob. So off I go, writing away, and I realized that although I’ve worked in restaurants, I never spent much time in the kitchens except to walk through them in expensive clothes and four-inch heels—not a fun thing. In other words, I had to do research—a lot of it.

I got on google, checked out executive chefs, sous chefs, line cooks—you know, the normal stuff, but I had no idea how many cooks a kitchen needs for a 70-seat restaurant. I didn’t know how often they order food, hell, I didn’t even know what kind of equipment you need in a kitchen for that size restaurant.

I was discussing my problem with a friend of mine, Jenny, and she lit up. It turns out she is friends with Chef Jeff Eng—the executive chef from Clyde’s Tower Oaks Lodge—a brilliant, beautiful, five-hundred seat restaurant that looks like a hunting lodge on steroids, and has the best food I’ve eaten in the state of Maryland. I’ve been here twelve years so that’s saying something!

 Chef Jeff Eng

Chef Jeff has been on Chopped, he won Hop Chef—basically, he’s amazing and a really good sport since he invited me to hang with him and his crew in the kitchen for a day. I jumped at the chance. 

I showed up a little after ten in the morning and met Chef Jeff—an Asian man in his early forties, dressed in chef’s whites and wearing a baseball cap covering his foot-tall orangey-yellow mohawk. I’d googled him and saw pictures—it seems the mohawk changes color on a weekly basis.

I liked Jeff immediately. I watched as the wait-staff arrive, all of whom either shook Jeff’s hand or gave him a hug. The kitchen and wait-staff seemed like one big happy family. Jeff introduced me to his sous chef, Enrique, his pastry chef, Maura Radmanes, and a plethora of others—all were friendly, and answered every question I had.

I was chatting with the Maura when Jeff grabbed me and invited me to the ‘Specials Class’ where he showed off the day’s specials. My mouth watered as he described how each one was prepared, whether or not they were gluten-free, and what the ingredients were. He added little bits of information—such as a history of Gin which I learned is made from juniper berries, and the Brits had gone to Holland to extend the family line by marrying one of the monarchs, and came back with much more than a bride, they’d taken the secret to making Gin. Who knew?

Fifteen minutes later we were back to the kitchen and things started getting busy.
I had expected controlled chaos. What I hadn’t expected was a well-oiled machine. I watched the entire lunch rush and only saw one mistake—a server had taken a bowl of seafood stew that wasn’t meant for him, and no fewer than five people noticed it.  I watched how they handled allergy orders—someone was allergic to onions and Chef Jeff followed the dish from the time it was empty to the time the order was up to make sure it never came into contact with an onion, and then personally handed it off to a special person for an allergy carry. Yeah, it wasn’t even served with the rest of the food. Chef oversaw everything while running back and forth to a huge pot of sauce he was making with veal stock and hoisin sauce—it was so rich, it was cooking down for hours and completely coated the ladle. 

When things started to slow down, Chef Jeff invited me to sit and chat. We went to the dining room, sat down, and I pulled out my notebook with a plethora of questions. When I looked up Jeff was smiling. “Are you hungry?”

“I could eat.” I was shocked I hadn’t spent the entire time drooling. Then I realized I’d spent hours in the kitchen and never smelled food. It was odd, their ventilation system was so good, I didn’t get a whiff of anything, which for me, was kind of disappointing. I really love to smell the food.

A server appeared and Jeff asked me what I liked. I’m not a picky eater—I answered with my usual, anything but liver and lima beans. He quirked a brow and ordered. Ten minutes later I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. He’d ordered The Local Butcher Board, which had Italian ham, Capicola, Duck Confit, homemade pickles, incredible breads, Teriyaki Red Pepper Jerky, mustard, and the best fig jam known to man served on a butcher board. I tried everything and it was all fabulous.

Then came the oysters on the half-shell—several different kinds flown in from all over. We slurped oysters for a while. I really love oysters and the different kinds were surprisingly very different tasting, I’d never noticed before because I’d always had one kind or the other, never several side-by-side.

I was still deciding if I should lick the fig jam off the butcher board (oh yeah, it was really that good) when our entrees were delivered. Jeff said I just had to try his crab cakes. I thought, sure, why not, but frankly, crab cakes have never blown my skirt up. I mean I like them, but they’re not something I dream about. And yes, I dream about food. Let me tell you, I’ll be dreaming about Jeff’s crab cakes. He wasn’t blowing smoke when he said he made the best. The crab cake I ate was, by far, the best I’ve ever tasted. I totally ignored the potatoes and green beans and never bothered to use the cocktail sauce—it was totally unnecessary.  No wonder Jeff told me I had to try it.

Then Maura—the pastry chef joined us. She came out of the kitchen carrying the most orgasmic dessert I ever imagined. It was a Valrhona Chocolate Marquise, which is dark chocolate mousse and chocolate cake with ganache, Nutella bombe and local blackberry compote. Jeff and I shared, though he only had a few bites. I was so stuffed from the rich food, I told him he had to eat more. When he declined, he said that was okay, I could just leave it. IMPOSSIBLE! I couldn’t leave it—it’s against my religion to let amazing dark chocolate go uneaten. I made the major sacrifice and took one for the team. I hope you appreciate what I do for my art.

By the time I left, I had a full stomach, a bunch of menu ideas for the book—Jeff gave me a full five-course meal and a tasting menu—and I knew all the particulars about staff and equipment. It was the best day ever!

Oh, and then when I got home, grumbling about having to work instead of napping, I opened my email and saw the cover for my novella—HOMETOWN GIRL coming out in ebook on December 3rd. It was perfect, just like the rest of my day!

Let me know what you think of the cover, and tell me, are you a foodie? Do you dream of food? And do you enjoy foodie novels?


Robin Kaye said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
krisgils33 said...

I love Clyde's, though it's a 45 min drive from me so I haven't been to the Lodge, only the VA ones. Double-checked to make sure I have Hometown Girl pre-ordered and I'm good to go. Now I'm hungry even though I just finished breakfast!!

Mo said...

Yipee - I have pre-ordered Hometown Girl and Back to You. I enjoy foodie books. I am a good cook but wish I was better. Louisa Edwards and Julie Hyzy both have fun chef series.

Unknown said...

Yes, I love food and love to cook. I'm from southern louisiana (right in the heart of cajun country). Having been doing travel work for a number of years, it's the one thing I miss the most (well besides family).

If I want to enjoy a down home recipe, it means I have no choice but to cook. Now if you have ever been down south, we are taught to cook for an army. My neighbors and co-workers are extremely happy when I cook, because I have to spread out the food to others.

I do like reading about chefs, and what goes on behind the scene.

Robin Kaye said...

I was traveling all day today. Baltimore to Boise, Idaho to see my son who is a freshman at Boise State. This weekend is parents weekend so my husband and I came out. It's been two months since we've seen him, he's grown an inch and looks like he packed on a bunch of muscle. All that PT in ROTC is doing some good!

@ Krisgils33 - Tower Oaks is definitely worth the trip. It was amazing! I hope you'll give it a try. Thanks for the pre-order. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it!

@ Mo - Thanks for the pre-order, Mo! I love Louisa Edwards--she's a doll! We talk-tweet about food quite often! I haven't read Julie Hyzy, but I'll put her on my list. Thanks for the heads-up!

@ Sabrina - Italians are taught to cook for an army too-- When I make sauce, I make it 20 qts. at a time with about 6 lbs of sausage, meatballs and brosciole. I freeze it and it's good for about 10 meals--5 with meat, and that's with inviting the neighbors for dinner.