Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Return to Gary Danko

I went back to Gary Danko last week, but this time I was in the back of the house instead of the front. I did not mention in my first post about my dinner at Gary Danko that I was invited to return to the kitchen. It all started when I was given a tour of the slightly small, yet fully efficient and well-organized kitchen at Gary Danko. I was led from one end to the other. The kitchen is divided into four different rows. The row on the far left is for preparing the cold appetizers, such as salads. The row to the right of this is for hot meats and poultry. These are almost all cooked on the stove. To the right of this was the seafood row. This is where all of the hot seafood was cooked, like the seared scallops, the salmon, and steamed shellfish. The fourth and final row is where the specialty meats, poultry, and seafood are assembled, like the foie gras, and the glazed oysters. In the back of the kitchen there is a counter for all of the desserts to be prepared that runs in between the two walk-ins. Though it is small, it has everything needed for a high-quality restaurant. As I was led through the different sections I asked many chefs what they thought of being a chef, and whether or not it was a path I should follow. I was greeted with a very enthusiastic "yes." Everyone I spoke with was very friendly and encouraging about my culinary hopes. Then the sous chef, Kolin, approached me and asked me about my cooking experiences. We spoke for several minutes, and to make a long story short, he told me that I was welcome to come and visit the kitchen for a day if I wanted to. Now it was my turn to respond with an ecstatic "yes."

I got to the restaurant at 2:00 last Wednesday, around the time that the chefs were arriving. After meeting a few of the guys, I got right to work by helping with whatever prep work I could. After set-up I got a chance to walk around the kitchen and watch what all the different chefs were doing to finish getting ready for dinner. Then the restaurant opened. Soon the expeditors were yelling out orders at the end of the meat and fish lines, and runners were headed back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room. The air became thick with the scents of searing meats, frying cauliflower, slow roasting lobsters, and steamed shellfish. The remarkable thing about this kitchen however, is that through all the chaos of making around 175 dinners in one night, the kitchen never became loud, angry, or rushed. In fact, the chefs were so well organized that they were even able to make some of their amazing food for me to taste. I would be watching the scallops cook and someone would pop up behind me saying, "Try this, it's the seared ahi." I would be asking the pastry chefs about the huckleberry butter cake, and someone would magically appear beside me offering me pancetta wrapped frog's legs, only to disappear a moment later to continue manning their station. Though I thought that all kitchens must get wild and crazy, I saw that the meticulously run kitchen and Gary Danko always seems to keep their cool.

During set-up I must have picked and minced herbs for hours, yet I was so happy to do it. How often does someone get the opportunity to work in the kitchen of such a prestigious and well-known restaurant? The fact that I was even allowed to touch a knife in that kitchen showed me the remarkable generosity of the people at Gary Danko. Not a single person in that kitchen owed me a thing. They did not have to offer me the chance to get to see what it was that they did there. To them I am a very amateur cook who is years away from knowing half the things that they know about cooking. And yet there they were, teaching me to make the rich scallop dish I had tasted there. Though I know that I still have much to learn and do before I will ever be on a level with the people in this kitchen, I am deeply grateful for everything that I learned from the kind people at Gary Danko.

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