Most readers don’t know this, but my mom is the real trained chef, and I am just an aspiring student. As two cooks, we share inside jokes and tendencies that my siblings don’t relate to. One of our favorite jokes that is also undeniably true is that after cooking all day for other people, we barely have any energy to cook for ourselves. We say that a chef’s meal is not at all extravagant. Just a thick piece of bread with some cheese and maybe a glass of wine to wash it down is what hits the spot. This is especially satisfying to eat when I’m here on a farm in Vermont where the rustic bread and cheddar cheese are made on site, and my employee benefits include unlimited amounts of both. After almost limping into the house on my sore heels after an 11-hour dinner shift, a couple of pieces of French-style country bread slathered with Shelburne’s strawberry-rhubarb cheese with some melted 3-year-aged sharp cheddar always sounds perfect.
We’re about 3 weeks behind you all in Maryland, and we’ve moved from the slightly lighter summer ingredients to finally using our own farm-grown tomatoes, mushrooms, and eggplants amongst the dishes. For pasta station, that means a new and decadent fresh fettuccine dish with strong umami notes from an intricate mushroom cream sauce and sauteed shiitakes with wispy garnishes to bring out the wild in the plate. This pasta sounds simple, but it takes a lot of prep, and we try our hardest to maintain the life in all of the produce we use so we only prep enough for each day at a time. The wispy garnishes alone took the head chef and I an hour to prepare. First, we take the green tops of scallions and slice one side open with a sharp pairing knife, careful not to puncture the other side. Then, we slice them ultra thinly and soak them in ice water. The ice water curls them up into long double sided ringlets. Our salads are full of black raspberries and gooseberries that are finally coming to us in stacks of trays. They’re so fresh delicate that if we don’t use them right away, they become the vinaigrette or the pastry team claims them to make sorbets and syrups with.
As grueling as I can sometimes make the dinner shift sound, it is still a joy ride. Especially this week, where we’ve changed the menu to match the season, and the learning curve has reset. I went in to work the other day with an open mind and some space for mindfulness, knowing that it was going to take a little bit of time to master things again. The chef likes to tweak our plating on the spot until he finds the combination that he likes best, so even if you’re doing exactly what he taught you yesterday, there’s a chance it will still be picked apart. But it’s (usually) fun, as each ticket click is another opportunity to create. The feeling of putting each plate in the window is almost like sending out small artworks every 6 minutes.