Last Thursday was a holiday in Denmark. The lab was closed; restaurants were not.
Resting is nice, but learning is nicer, so instead of a holiday I asked Matt if I could come in and stage for the day at Amass.
I have worked in a few kitchens, most during summers to pay for college and then others for the love of it when I could. But none of them had quite this type of ambition. So I was ready to get smashed.
I started the day in the garden. I got in later than I’d hoped because Leo at the restaurant urgently needed some of our aprons from the boat, and once I was there I saw René who wanted to chat (and he’s not really someone you just say ‘sorry dude, gotta run’ to). When I arrived I started harvesting some mustard seed pods with Jacquie, my lovely friend who also heads up cold section at Amass. I did that until noon when the rest of the team arrived from a morning forage. We left our bounty on the counters, donned our whites, and got to work.
I was mainly working on cold section with Jacquie and Dave, one of the sous chefs. I started washing and cleaning dandelions, to be blended with crème fraîche for the serving of lumpfish roe and sourdough pancakes with loads of herbs. I peeled white asparagus to cook and plate with walnuts, beach roses and dried yoghurt. I packed green garlic with oil and lemon thyme to be steamed in the oven. Then another stage and I peeled red potatoes and, with a melon baller, made small spheres of potato to be steamed in the oven, semi-dried, and rehydrated in almond oil, then served with the green garlic, lemon flesh, almond emulsion and onion cress. We made six-hundred – ten bags, sixty in each. After the first two, Jacquie looked over our work. We weren’t going fast enough. “Right guys – you need to have four bags in the next twenty minutes, cause they need to go into the oven.” That helped me optimise. I was into the flow, and sped up.
At four o’clock we had a big clean-down and then ate staff meal. It was prawn laksa with spicy beans and roasted cabbage, cooked by a stage from Singapore. So delicious, in big heavy bowls.
A little more prep. Then I was sent out to the garden to harvest some herbs for meat section
and before I knew it it was six and we were into service.
Now, I feel pretty ok with my ability to bust out some simple prep, when given directions and corrections. But walking into a foreign kitchen and being part of service the first day is something else. I felt like I was on the dancefloor and didn’t know any of the moves. There are three dishes coming off of cold section right now – the sour pancake, the white asparagus, and the potato – and Jacquie taught me how we put them together on the go. It was learning by doing at its best, because there was no time for anything else. I started to pick up the simple moves, the orders of things, the parallel processes. What could be put together in advance, and what was done to order. I don’t think I had any major fuck-ups, although I think my biggest mistake of the night was forgetting to put the green garlic in the oven before portioning the potatoes out of the pot of almond oil keeping warm on the stove.
“There is no reason why the green garlic should not be at the pass before the potatoes.” Matt said this to the team, but I, leaning over the stove to get the last of the potatoes for an order of four, knew it was I who had made this crucial and time-wasting mistake. But there were no fingers pointed or shouts or shaming. Before Matt had finished saying the words, Jacquie already had the tray of green garlic and was heading for the oven. She left the small lemon segments on the pass as she went by. I put the potatoes back in the almond oil to keep them warm until the green garlic was ready. There was really no time for patience, and they had no reason to be patient with me learning, a stage for but a day – but they knew I saw my mistake and that was that. I did not forget the green garlic again.
It is satisfying to finally work with friends I know primarily outside their kitchen. Jacquie is sweet and genuine, and now she was cheerfully but efficiently telling me what to do and how, and when I was wrong or inadequate or slow. I like this immensely.
Matt I would do anything for and my biggest reservation about staging at his restaurant was fucking something up bad enough to warrant his disappointment. I would rather have a burn or cut than that – and even worse, risk our relationship.
Yet everyone was patient with me. Maybe it was because we knew each other already. Part of me wished they would be a bit harder on me when needed, but I also appreciate their openness to me because it made it a really safe and constructive entry into a world of cooking to which I work peripherally but am not native.
Overall, I really needed this day, in many ways even more than rest. It was relaxing to follow directions, and stimulating to be standing and working with my hands all day, to learn the moves of a dance I see all the time but do not really, physically know. I work with and experiment with and think about food every day, and it is increasingly important to me to connect this work to the food that others make to feed people – in restaurants, in production facilities, in home kitchens. It gives it life and makes it real.
After the main rush on cold section, I moved over to meat section to help layer chicken skins in boxes, to be steamed and pressed then sliced in cross-section and fried. A delicious, grotesque terrine of ungodly purity. Then I made some walnut milk and walnut oil for the next day’s asparagus dish prep.
Just after eleven, all dishes had come off of cold section. Jacquie and I cleaned up, said bye to the team and started the bike home. I talked her ear off all the way.
I am grateful to the team at Amass for letting me learn for a day and trusting me to not fuck things up completely. I hope I was more help than harm. I’m looking forward to the next time. You guys are the best.