New Years day, 2008 and I'm living my worst nightmare come true.
Well, okay. My worst "waiter" nightmare come true, but it was a bad day either way.
I'm on the floor at 6:30 am setting up for New Years Day Brunch, a shift I'd sworn I'd never work again.
Still today, the words New Years Day and Brunch conjure up unpleasant memories of mental pain and anguish. Even to write them is to live through the never ending sea of people, each at different stages of New Years Eve hangovers, and all of whom want more coffee, lots of it, and right now.
Unfortunately for them, I suck a coffee refills.
As a result of this fact, my section is not happy.
Neither am I.
That day was one of the lowest points in my life professionally, and I wanted everyone there to know how big of an asshole they were for being there by letting them all be sure they know how little I wanted to be there in contrast.
Also I have the biggest section, the furthest away from the bar, and thus having to walk through the impenetrable throngs of brunchers angry there isn't a table waiting for them whenever exactly it was that they decided to grace us (along with about 500 other people, most of whom also without reservations) with their presence. (most of them are really nice, but I won't let that get in the way of the picture I'm painting.)
Of course I realize it isn't their fault I was there, it's mine. in reality they had nothing to do with how or why I ended up back at a job that I swore I'd never end up back at, but they were more or less the reason I was there ultimately, so I took it out on them every second of the 11 hours I was there.
It was one of the longest, most defeating and humiliating days of my life...
Fast forward to this year:
New Year's Day 2010, I'm on the floor at 9 am setting up to work what promises to be another busy New Year's Day brunch yet this time I'm smiling. Whistling in fact. Ready to work.
Difference being? This year I'm on the floor in the kitchen, working what I assume to be (again) my last shift in Balthazar. (Hey, third times the charm, right?)
(yes I also worked NYD brunch in 2009, but it doesn't figure into this story as I can't recall the same venom from the year before, so it must not have been as traumatizing.)
Balthazar has and continues to factor into my life in ways that I still haven't fully grasped the complexity of. I started there as a waiter in May of 2000 and two stints, and over 5 1/2 combined years of working there, I'm still attached to the Balthazar family in many ways, not the least of which is my new job at (name withheld at this time).
So when it was time to do a food project for school, it only seemed natural (and slightly ironic) to do mine based on the cooking of Balthazar, seeing as how it was so ingrained into almost everything that I thought, good and bad, about the food industry.
It also has a lot of personal memories for me. It was where I was working when I met Liz, it was where I was working when I decided to move to the kitchen and go to culinary school. In fact the chefs there are who I talked to about going to school in the first place (they advised against it, and instead to just come work for them. Ignoring them, 9 months and $40,000 later this is exactly what I'm doing...)
I think it's fair to say that the people and experiences I've had in and around Balthazar are an instrumental part of who I am today. Good times, bad times, tragedy (9/11) and triumphs (Obama's election), births, deaths, happy, sad, I've experienced it all and everything in between (strangely, never a love affair or drunken hook up though), and remain close to many of the same people who have also been through all these same things with me and will always be part of my life in many ways.
I'll also add that having worked in the kitchen gave me a whole new perspective and level of respect for the food there, and for the people who make it. In fact it gave me a whole new perspective of the restaurant industry in general, and the amazing amount of work it takes to make a restaurant successful.
So the following are pictures of food that I made from the Balthazar cookbook, that not only was signed by Kieth, Lee, and Riad, but was also 50% off because I was an employee...
I started by hand cutting some fries for some reason (it just seemed fun I guess):
Next I made the chocolate pot de cremes:
While those finished and cooled I made a maitre d' butter which is butter with shallots, herbs and garlic:
that I rolled into a tube in plastic wrap by spinning the ends until it formed into a log:
Meanwhile I blind baked a tart shell and put the onions I had caramelized into along with a goat cheese mixture (goat cheese, cream cheese, eggs, cream, salt and pepper):
I washed the top in an eggs wash and baked it until golden brown and delicious:
By this time the kids were too hungry to wait, so Liz got to work on her specialty:
And even though I didn't have the oven space, I relented:
Notice the perfect grill marks...
I fried the fries:
...and began to put the dinner together.
For the first course I made a raw bar platter, and the recipes for all these dishes can be found in the Balthazar Cookbook (I'm waaaaaay too lazy to write them out for you):
Plateu Des Fruits De Mer
Oysters and shrimp cocktail with a red wine mignonette and cocktail sauce
Goats Cheese Tart with Caramelized Onions
Steak Frites with Maitre'd hotel Butter:
And of course, finished with:
Chocolate Pot De Creme:
And no good meal goes without a huge mess (at least in my house):
Over all it was fun to make the dishes I've spent so many years of my life serving, and now am helping to make in the basement.
It's funny to think of the range of emotions the word "Balthazar" has made me feel at different points in my life over the past 10 years. From pride and excitement, to resentment and being completely burnt out both mentally and physically. From total hatred, and frustration, to a peaceful, almost wistful memory of the life and times I've had there. To think of the complete, almost poetic circle my life has come to in the past few years from the first New Years Day Brunch back in 2008 to this one past has been an interesting study in my metamorphosis from who I was into who I may yet become.
I don't know what my future holds, I really don't. I may fall in love with cooking and follow that path down to it's conclusion, or I may continue to feel this great need to write and communicate my experiences and eventually have to put that into the forefront of my focus and have cooking and the restaurant industry be in my past.
It's amazing to think of all the possibilities and potential my life now has a result of the way my life has been forged up to this point. It's also ridiculous to think that food isn't a part of who a person is. In many ways this food represents who I've been for the past 10 years and in my own way I think that this meal was me saying goodbye to that person.
I know it seems almost contrived the way this all shook out. The graduation and the new year and new job all rolled up into one weekend. It seems like a scene in a movie that no one would believe if it happened. Even despite my penchant for symbolism I can't help but feel that all of this is a major page being turned in my life, a new chapter, a new beginning.
I also know that I've thought that it was the end for me and the "Big B" before, and it wasn't, and then it wasn't again. So to that end I'll just assume that in one way or another that Balthazar will always be a part of my life and a part of who I am, and for that I am thankful. Countless tears, swears, teeth-gnashing, and diatribes to the contrary aside.
Now onto the future...
I'll see you there, my little chickadees, if you're up for the ride and if you'll have me, I'll see you there...
In the meantime, go ahead try and figure out how I grilled those steaks in my apartment... I'll give you a hint: It involves an open door, an open window and a fan pointing into the hallway (I'd like to apologize to my neighbors for that BTW...)
Be back soon with some new tricks...