Wednesday Morning Ruminations

Before attending the CIA, my thoughts and daydreams were obsessed with the romanticism of every detail surrounding food. From the intoxicating aromas that leap out of the steam, to the vibrant colors and textures that dazzle the plate, and most importantly, the flavors that envelope every sense into a deep meditation with the one focus on that soul-satisfying bite.  Somewhere along the road, I have lost that obsession… or rather it has been transformed from one of daydream to one of work. My thoughts have drifted from swirling tales of flavors and faraway lands to rigid scrutiny on technique and timelines. I lay awake at night, taunted by the innumerable ways to utilize today’s fava purée into tomorrow’s something spectacular- the frenzied thoughts hang around me like heavy cloak  that I cannot shirk.

Like a writer without a story, I am a cook without her kitchen. A wandering vagrant ever searching for a spark of inspiration… a muse… a choice to have to make. I find myself longing for the days when I drew such pleasure from reading foodie publications and living in the daydream.  But those days have long since gone and I am no longer the cook I was. I am no longer the woman I was. I guess it’s hard to accept change, especially within one’s own self… maybe it’s not such a terrible thing that I live in the reality of being a cook, rather than the fantasy. After all, I do love timelines! Is that wrong? Perhaps it’s possible that I’ve traded in my fantasies of cooking amid gorgeous produce in a 700 year old Tuscan stone and brass kitchen with a glass of wine and an old gentleman playing his mandolin on the terrace for a different kind of fantasy. Maybe now I prefer the quiet clanking of spoons on skillets, the quick bruuuhhh  of the stove top coming alight with flame, and the steady call-backs between cooks and chef.

Maybe this is just a journey and there’s no one way to be… just as there is no one way to cook, there is no one way to be a cook. Maybe I can find a way to hold onto the romanticism and still make room for the timelines.

REDD Stage

With the dawn of our new year, I thought it fitting to challenge myself and stage at one of my favorite restaurants in the Valley: REDD. The food here is so unforgettable, that I often find my thoughts drifting back to a warm summer’s eve and a crispy sweetbread and stonefruit panzanella salad. REDD’s stellar reputation and Michelin Star make the prospect of working in the kitchen a daunting excitement, but on went my big girl pants and into the kitchen door I went. The tiny kitchen was bustling with cooks, prepping on every surface they could find, and I awkwardly introduced myself to one of them, Jonathan,- who luckily knew that I would be arriving- and gave me the grande tour. Within a few minutes, I was donning my white chef’s coat and apron and cozily installed on a tiny part of the back table with my knives and a fair amount of apples to tourner (cutting a wedge into a football shape). Tourner-ing has got to be my very least favorite cut and also the one at which I suck the most- but after an embarrassingly long hour, I had them all done and was on to my next task: the citrus supreme (peeled and membrane-free citrus segment wedges), which is luckily not terribly challenging and fairly quick to execute. Next, I moved onto the apple mustard, which is a spicy-citrusy sauce that goes into the tuna tartar made from onion, ginger, yuzu juice, apples, mustard, and soy sauce and finally peeled, separated, and removed all the white stringy pith bits from the segments of mandarins.

As the hustle of service began, I was keenly paying attention to all of the dishes and which components went into each- I was working Garde Manger with a friendly cook, Kaleb, and eventually, I was able to jump in and help. We made chestnut soup with brown butter and caramelized apples; bitter green salad with dungeness crab and citrus; fried skate fish tacos; steamed pork buns; fried oysters in a heavenly matsutake bouillon with cabbage and daikon; gooey and succulent hoisin chicken wings; lettuce cups with browned spicy chicken thigh meat and glistening scallions; tossed greens with pear, walnuts, and a pear vinaigrette; apple mustard tuna tartar with asian pear, avocado, and fried rice puffs;and beautiful hamachi sashimi with avocado and toasted sesame. At the end of service, Chef treated me to a 5 course tasting in the back of the kitchen- I felt so spoiled and it was absolutely amazing! Staging is a bit like extemporaneous speech at debate tournaments- you have nothing but your own knowledge and wit to lean upon as you are thrust into a world that is busily whirling around you with little time to check-in and make sure that you’re whirling right in step with them- but I always loved Extemp, and so it seems no surprise that I should love staging as well. It’s often those steps into the unknown and the intimidating that help us to learn more about ourselves and in 2013, I expect to take more than a step- I intend to make an odyssey!

Hoisin pork belly in steamed buns with cabbage and daikon slaw

Hoisin pork belly in steamed buns with cabbage and daikon slaw

Fried Oyster with napa cabbage, daikon, and poached matsutake mushrooms in a matsutake bouilloon with miso foam

Fried Oyster with napa cabbage, daikon, and poached matsutake mushrooms in a matsutake bouilloon with miso foam

Seared scallop with brown butter roasted cauliflower, plumped raisins, capers, and sliced almonds

Seared scallop with brown butter roasted cauliflower, plumped raisins, capers, and sliced almonds

Gooey chocolate cake with caramelized banana. coacoa puff crumbles and ice cream

Gooey chocolate cake with caramelized banana. coacoa puff crumbles and ice cream

Butterscotch pudding with creme anglaise and pretzel bits

Butterscotch pudding with creme anglaise and pretzel bits

Happy Customer

Happy Customer

TED Talk Tuesday: Nathan Myhrvold- Cooking as never seen before

I remember the day that our library at the CIA Gresytone got the full volume set of Modernist Cuisine- a slew of my classmates each grabbing a volume and gawking over the pages as if we had never before seen a book; and to be fair, we’d never before seen a cookbook like this. The images vibrantly leaped off of the pages and into our hungry minds- we carefully turned each page with wonder, impatient to see what the next had to offer. We left the library that day talking about all of the new techniques and ideas learned from spending time with those books and to hear the story today behind this important work from the man himself, Nathan Myhrvold, gives me the urge to visit that set and learn in awe again.

BasqueStage Candidate Video

BasqueStage Candidate Video: Andreya Nightingale from Andreya Nightingale on Vimeo.

As some of you may know, I, along with 29 fellow hopefuls, have been selected out of 160 candidates to apply for two BasqueStage Scholarships sponsored by Sammic. My BasqueStage Candidate Video is the first step in a series of application procedures resulting in a final decision to be announced this November- the winners will spend 3-6 months working with some of the Basque areas top Chefs in Spain. It is an absolutely incredible opportunity and an excellent challenge, to boot! So…. for those of you who may not know me… here I am! So happy to “meet” you! Hope you enjoy, and have a lovely day!

TED Talk Tuesday: Arthur Potts Dawson- A Vision for Sustainable Restaurants

Who says that contemporary industry can’t embrace sustainable and renewable energy models? Check out the amazing work going on in the UK’s Acorn House, Water House, and The People’s Supermarket. Arthur Potts Dawson shows us that the future is already alive and well in the present! Enjoy!