Back in June I started at working at Blueacre Seafood as a line cook. I just moved up to a line cook position in my previous job from prep cook but I was working as a pantry cook and I really wanted to play with fire so Blueacre was looking for people so I applied and I got the job. I was at school one day and someone asked me, “Eric, you work at Blueacre?” Yes, I do. ”What do you do there?” I work on the line, cooking hot foods. “Really? I saw that they wanted people with at least 3 years experience?” You let that stop you from applying? “Well, um…”
I told you a little bit about my first day here (click) but things kind of stopped there on this blog. Over the next few weeks I’m going to take you inside of what it’s like to cook hot food at an awesome restaurant. Hot food….cold food? I worked pantry and prep. at my previous job like I said before. Prep involved a lot of cutting, sauce making, soup making, and just bigger preparations to help the cooks on the line be prepared for their evening. I learned a lot and I have deadly awesome knife skills now…..that was my goal. From prep I moved up to pantry which involved making salads, desserts, and a few other side items but again, not dangerous or firey…..so it wasn’t really that exciting. Don’t get me wrong here, I love to do everything in a kitchen and my goal is to learn everything but when it comes to plating a dessert or throwing a salad around compared to flipping something mid-air underneath 40,000 BTU while you have 6 other pans cooking it just simply doesn’t compare.
I was really excited to work at Blueacre for a ton of reasons but from the second I walked in I was a hot line guy and not only that I was working prime time on prime days….evenings on Wednesday-Sunday. My first day I worked Saute which I will get in a separate post and then the next few days I worked Hot Apps. which I will again, talk about in another post but my first home on the line was at the fry station.
Fry station is responsible for fried items as well as most of the sides that come off of the menu. Here is a copy of the menu so you can see what I’m talking about. It changes everyday so here is one from two days ago ( CLICK OCT. 26th menu)….
The fried items that come from the station can be main dish items or just one component to a main dish item. Main dish items on fry:
- Rainier Beer Battered Fish and Chips
- Hush Puppies
- Razor Clams (seasonal)
- Crispy Smelt (not on the menu right now, seasonal)
- Salt & Vinegar Fries
- Regular Fries
Then you have fried components that go on other dishes.
- Fried polenta cake for a grilled salmon prep. we were doing
- Crispy oysters that go on top of the tenderloin
- Fried onion rings that go on top of the Cowboy Steak…not on the menu right now
- Beer battered pickles
- Whatever else that Chef Kevin wants.
The key to the fry station is communication….that’s it. The food will sort itself out as long as you can communicate with everyone else down the line. Once you drop something in that fryer the rest of the food going with it better be ready because there is no slowing down or speeding up. It’s pretty much the only station that needs to talk continuously with the other stations.
“Hey, can you let me know when that black cod is 4 minutes out so I can fire these fish and chips?”
“Do you want me to fire fries for that burger yet?”
“Let me know when that AAC is two minutes out so I can fire these razors!”
This is actually a nice station for me because I can yell. I love to yell and besides baseball and attempting back-flips it’s my favorite national past time. When I first started at fry I didn’t realize how well I would have to communicate with everyone on the line in order to make that station work. A lot of what I was doing wrong had nothing to do with the food itself it was just the communication with the other line cooks. I was really intimidated by everyone there and they all knew what they were doing but here I was trying to figure this stuff out as it was thrown my way. I was afraid to talk to people on the line until Kevin told me that it was essential and I had to get over it………
The worst thing you could ever hear as a cook is “re-fire!” Dammit……F*#%……S*%*……AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhh!!!! There are reasons that are out of my control where I have to re-fire something but when I first started it was all my fault and it was extremely frustrating.
- I wasn’t getting the right color on fries….either too dark or too light…when you’re cooking 5 other things you have to develop an internal clock…I didn’t have that.
- The fish and chips had splattered batter……what?!?!?
- The razor clams were cooked too far and became rubbery….I had to re-fire razor clams three times once…..not fun.
- Burnt onion rings……F*#&!!!!!!!!!!!
- The list can go on but I’ll just stick with a few of these examples.
Chef Kevin is very particular about fried items. He told me that because they’re simple people see items like this everywhere and if you mess them up or don’t take them to the next level of perfection then people won’t come back. Sure, you’ve had fish and chips but have you had them like this?!?!?!? (I need a picture here, haha). Fries? How are you going to mess up fries?!?!! Huh…..that makes sense. He’s also from the south and they pretty much fry everything down there so when it comes to dealing with fried food he has a sweet spot for it.
I’ve been to places and eaten fish and chips but it wasn’t until I saw a Monte Cristo sandwich in the book Modern Cafe that I truly questioned how good fried food could look. The batter spatter/splattered batter is what I’m talking about here. There is a beer batter that I make before the start of every shift that is the key component to making the fish and chips world class. It needs the right amount of liquid (Rainier Beer) to other ingredients that I won’t tell you because I’ve made it my own and it’s the best one out there…..muah ha haha hahahahahahha…ha..hahahaahha. Since I’ve made this special beer batter then why am I going to ruin it by just taking a few pieces of nice fish, dusting them with flour, dipping them in the batter, then throwing them in the fryer so that spatter blatter makes the final product look like amateur hour at Long John Silver. No, this is the #1 seafood restaurant in Seattle…there is no time/place amateur hour. When the right batter is there achieved the two portions of fish are gently dusted with seasoned flour then placed in the batter, removed then raised so excess batter can drip back into the pan, then slowly placed into the fryer. When I do this my finger is about 1/2 an inch from hitting oil and I hold onto the fish until it slowly floats to the top…..sounds dangerous, it is, but that’s what it takes and I’m ready for it….and I’m really good at it. Recently, we added beer battered onion rings to the mix which go in right after fish. We cut thick pieces and serve them along with the fish and chips but sometimes we run out and that’s when magical things happen. The other day I made a fish shape with the onions and it worked when I fried it……a few more times and I’ll have it down
The issue with fish and chips is that it takes two of the four baskets out of use when I fire them. There are two fryers and chef Kevin doesn’t like when we fire the fish and chips together in the same fryer because the fries cool the fish down too much and we don’t get that nice crispiness to it. This is a problem when there are multiple orders coming in but there are tricks that I have learned along the way….I’ll get to them in a separate post.
Razor clams, ugh. That’s been the hardest thing I’ve had to fry. If you don’t fry them long enough then they will be gummy….too long….gummy….just right, f’ing delicious! When I started working hot line I was becoming obsessed with time. Fish and chips takes 4-5 minutes, crispy oyster 2 minutes, other sides coming off the station….whenever really because they’re on a burner and I can slow them down or speed them up just right when needed….. Razor clams on the other hand are all about watching and waiting for the red lines to appear. Buttermilk, flour, fry…..then wait for the red lines to show up then take them out quickly, plate them faster and clean, then call for a runner immediately…….RUNNER PLEASE!!!!
That’s another thing about fried food. It’s best when it’s crispy and crunchy on the outside and warm and not over/under cooked on the inside. When each plate is finished it can’t “die” in the window. Food stuck in the window and not on a table is a disaster. When I worked at my previous restaurant they would normally put food in the window then place plastic disks over the food to keep them warm or they would turn on the heat lamp and let the food sit there until the order was completed. Chef Kevin is not a fan of those shenanigans. All of the food for an order will come up at the same time, be very hot, and be cooked perfectly….none of that dying in the window garbage….again, amateur hour stuff. Food is ready, get it to the customers that want to eat it…the window isn’t paying! When I work fry I’m the last one in the window because that’s the last thing that chef wants so that way the customer is getting the ultimate fried experience without food dying in the window.
I have gotten pretty good at fry station. When I started working that station the other guys on the line said that there was only one guy that could work that station properly and the other people have quit or been fired after a short period of time. I took this as a challenge and proceeded to make sure I was the best with the help of the guy that had been there the longest…Dio. He moved up from washing dishes to working pantry then to working fry station. Some of us spend $50,000 on culinary school to work fry stations….others find a less expensive way to get there…..haha. That was the joke I kept hearing at work for a while. “Eric, Dio doesn’t have a blog, formal culinary training, or a lot of the other stuff you have but he rocks this station”. Dammit……….well um…….ugh……yikes. I think this is the point where other guys quit or were fired. They took it as something to deflate their ego or as a personal attack on them. I welcomed the challenge and proceeded to pick the brain of Dio in order to get myself on par with the fry master.
It’s about communication right? This station? Mira Dio, como puedo hacer estas Fish N Chips mejor? Ok, y come puedo hacer esto y esto y esto. I remember speaking Spanish to Dio and the rest of the people on the line looked at me like they saw a ghost….they had no idea that I could. I would sit there and speak with Dio and it was easy for him to answer questions or just have me fire things because he could say it quickly in Spanish. It made him more comfortable to teach me and we could joke around and have fun while we were getting our teeth kicked in on busy nights. My Spanish isn’t the best when I’m speaking it but I understand everything that’s being said to me. This is golden in a kitchen. I laugh when culinary students want to learn French just so they have a better understanding of what they’re cooking…..I say, “learn Spanish because those people are going to be the majority of people cooking your food in a kitchen….not some crazy French chef”. So Spanish folks…..it will get you ahead/let you keep your job on fry.
Those are a couple of highlights of the fry station but remember, I told you about sides that come off that station and there is no bigger/better side that comes off that station than the Minneapolis (pictured above). That is a hash brown cooked in clarified butter stuffed with onions and bacon then if you choose to make it an ala Brian then we add more bacon, chives, and sour cream….it’s amazing and very simple. This is the hardest thing to make on fry and probably the biggest make or break item on the line. It takes 10 minutes to cook which is one of the longest things we fire on the line, it involves a mid-air flip, and can really mess up the flow of food on the line.
My first experience with the Minneapolis was on my third day on fry. The first two days they wouldn’t let me make one until I watched the flip. There were two people on fry so Dio was sent home early so I could go solo. Ticket comes in and I heard the words, “FIRE MINNY!!!!”. Oh S*&t, OK!!!! Take a non-stick pan fill it with shredded potatoes about an inch or two up then place the bacon, onions, salt and pepper in then place more shredded potatoes on top, form it, then pour clarified butter around the edges of the pan then on full fire it goes. Chef Kevin talked me through the process, my hands were shaking and I knew what the stakes were….if I mess this up it will add another 10 minutes to this ticket…….I CAN’T MESS THIS UP!!! When the Minneapolis is in the pan I take a rubber spatula and make sure the edges are setting nicely so I can get it ready for the flip. Chef Kevin talked me to through the flip before I did it. ”You ever play golf”. Yup. ”Alright, so grab the pan then when you flip it don’t let your wrists break, it’s one solid motion with your hands and your arms in order to get the Minneapolis to flip”. Ok….let’s do this. “Just remember, don’t break your wrists…this isn’t an omelette”. I grabbed the pan, drained off the butter, looked at it and said, “don’t f#(% me here”, then flipped it…..IT WORKED!!! Flying potatoes!!!! Somersaulting starch!!! Backflipping brotato!!!
Since then I have only messed up 5, yes I have kept count and those 5 times were all laced with profanity quietly under my breath….haha.
The other sides on the menu change frequently and are exciting to make but there is nothing as exciting on that station as “FIRE MINNY!!!” Getting those Minneapolis’ down really helped my confidence on the other two stations I work at Blueacre….Saute and Hot Apps but I’ll save those two for another post. I’m just happy that I was able to work in that brotato picture…I think it’s hilarious.