Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Luto-lutuan is retiring!

Yes folks, Luto-lutuan is bidding you farewell. This blog, after all, has served its purpose. But fear not (or quake in your flip-flops, alternatively)! I'm not hanging up my apron permanently. My saga continues at http://cookeatzen.wordpress.com

Friday, December 3, 2010

Take my white (side)towel and shove it, and other epic fail moments

I give up. This isn't working. A thirtysomething gal supporting herself can't live on love and minimum wage alone, contrary to whatever the idealists may say. Sure, she could, if she had a trust fund or the support of middle-class-to-wealthy kin. I have neither.

The difficulty of scratching out a living from kitchen work, at least for newly minted entrants like myself, hit me hard last week when I received my first paycheck: PHP1,250 ($28.50) for a week's work, plus PHP175 ($4) in tips. I might have stayed if the restaurant were more promising, but at the no-name Italian restaurant and pizzeria I found myself in, I was doomed to eternal boredom of the guestless restaurant. Days would pass when I would be lucky to be cooking two entrées during an entire eight-hour shift. The cooks would dip their fingers in the food to taste it, and prod me, the trainee pasta cook, to do the same. The fact that I brought my own knives and side towels was a novelty to them. There was very little production work. The restaurant also suffered from management problems - an absentee Italian chef-consultant who only came to the resto once a month to collect his paycheck, a menu that had not been changed AT ALL in three years, and an owner who did not remit employees' income taxes and social security payments. Everything pointed to infinitesimally meager learning, minimal pay and an abundance of suffering.

What was I doing at this gem of a place? Oh believe me, I peddled my CV everywhere. I had to contend with security guards who fancied themselves human resource managers ("Who told you we were hiring?? I'll have to speak with the manager if you'll be allowed to deposit your resume" - what, is there a law against that now?); manpower agency personnel hell-bent on pigeonholing me to the front of the house, service staff who'd look me up and down and scoff, "You? In the kitchen?" - and this while I deliberately wore my rattiest shirts so as not to look too prissy to be gutting fish; imperious chefs who would enquire about my goals and then snort at them ("You, cook in a Michelin-starred restaurant??"); and clueless restaurant managers who would tell me I was overqualified because of my university education and refuse to take me seriously because of my corporate background.

I give up. The local food industry is unfriendly to women like me. It takes even less kindly to those who do not have the right connections. So I'll do the next best thing: I'll work towards setting up my own food-related business. Entrepreneurship is the only option I haven't considered, really.

So. I'm still here in the world of pinstripes and neatly pressed slacks. Well, at least I won't break my back, literally. And I'll earn enough to buy my oven and mixer.

So. Apply as food editor for a large publishing company? Or PR executive of a luxury hotel? Why the hell not? It'll be my revenge on the glass-floored (it's a floor, people, a floor! Not a ceiling!), unforgiving industry that didn't love me back.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My angel is a punk rocker

Something amazing happened to me last week. But wait, let's start with the awful stuff first.

I answered a job ad and reported in the morning to a manpower agency's office in Cubao, Quezon City, which is all of eight MRT stations away from where I live. The vacancy turned out to be for a kakanin maker in a canteen for call center employees. In far, far away Cavite. Now, I have nothing against kakanin. As a Filipino with a natural affinity for all things rice I love kakanin, with cassava cake and bibingka being two of my top comfort foods. But as someone with a rudimentary professional baking education, it is the mastery of bread-baking and pastry and dessert production that I'm after. You can imagine I was dismayed and feeling that I was doomed to languish in the pits of a failed career. What career? I haven't found paid work yet!

There she was again, Desperation. I could see her waving her bloody talons out of the corner of my eye. I decided to go home, cobble together a cover letter, and look for Park Avenue Desserts. I vaguely knew that it was owned by Buddy Trinidad, who is one of the Philippines' top pastry chefs (in hindsight, when I looked up his bio after our encounter, I realized I knew so little about how fierce his credentials are!). My plan was just to deposit my CV and leave. I didn't realize I would be granted an audience with The Man!

The first thing he asked me was which school I graduated from. It rang a bell. "Ah, you're a student of Martha's (Ebro)." To my teacher chef Martha, our "Mahal na Diyosa", I'll forever be grateful, because your name opens doors! He asked me a few more questions about my background, and then he said the most thrilling thing anyone has ever said to me: "You're hungry. I will take you in. You're welcome to come in and learn, sort of like another apprenticeship. I don't keep any secrets. I share everything I know with my students." And then he said he would forward my CV to people in his network, mentioning in particular two big names: a French chef and a Colombian guy. I swear, I almost wept!

This was on Tuesday. Well, he kept his word. I was summoned to an interview on Saturday at Restaurant CiҪou. It was scary, of course, and the prospect of working there makes me want to slash my wrists out of a combination of fear, joy and rapture, but hey, this amazing opportunity, and that of learning from him, was thrown in my lap courtesy of my angel the punk rocker.

Have I been a good person? What have I done to deserve this unbelievable, and wholly unexpected, piece of good karma? Now I just hope I don't screw up, or he might whack me with his guitar - okay, maybe not, because it's too precious to risk breaking it on my pate. Maybe a rolling pin instead?

I start reporting to him tomorrow. I'm so excited I wanna be sedated! Okay, that's me borrowing from one of his musical heroes. I'll shut up now before he happens to read this and really does decide to whack me on the head for my foolishness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Goose Station diary

Things I did during my stâge at The Goose Station:

October 1:
-broke spaghettini into pieces for fideua negra
-diced watermelon for Beet Garden. Fail!
-peeled, ricered and sieved potato for mashed potato
-prepared mashed potato with truffle oil
-put avruga caviar on top of Caviar Surprise
-helped assemble/plate Beet Garden, Unagi Foie Gras Terrine, 24-Hour Steak; Yogurt Foam, Granola, Mint, Mangoes & Berries; Bittersweet Farewell
-picked out mint leaves for Yogurt Foam dessert
-helped assemble Bittersweet Farewell
-deveined and prepped foie gras
-learned how to make brioche
-saw how sous vide cooking is done

-Fideua Negra
-Yogurt Foam
-Savory Macaroon
-oreo-like thingy with boursin

October 2:
-assisted in expediting
-helped plate Eggs Benedict; Squash Soup; Quail; Chocolate Candy Bar
-saw how 24-hr steak is portioned out (150g a la carte, 50g table d'hote)
-learned how lamb sauce and steak sauce are made
-placed in charge of hot station's chiller. Organized it.
-participated in general cleaning. Bled to death (almost!) from cut on right middle finger
-planned employee meals for next 5 days and ordered ingredients for them

October 4:
-cooked employee meal (chopsuey)
-fried the onions for 24-Hour Steak
-learned how quail is fabricated
-learned how demi-glace and tomato sauce are made
-expedited and plated and did better at it :)
-“fired” squash soup and learned how to make it
-helped cold kitchen assemble desserts
-made brioche
-mep for next day's EM (pork salpicao)

October 5:
-fried the onions for 24-Hour Steak
-learned how to make Seared Foie Gras
-learned how to make Potato Glass
-learned how to saute quail
-learned how to make marinade for lamb. Sealed lamb and marinade in vacuum packs for cooking in immersion circulator
-learned how to prepare Farmer's Egg and plate it
-learned how to cook veg for 24-Hour Steak

October 6-7:
-made tapenade
-made cones using fillo pastry for welcome snacks
-learned how to fill cones with foie pate
-plated Beet Garden, Caviar Surprise, Foie Gras Terrine
-mise-en-place for cold station: diced watermelon, sliced honeydew, made beet coins, blanched edamame,
-cleaned up cold station's chiller
-helped with inventory of cold kitchen's supplies
-set up pass
-made welcome snacks and Bittersweet Farewell

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wait a minute...

On second thought, I don't think I want this. Let me clarify: it's alright for the powers that be to post this blog on their page and say it was written by a student. I don't want them to attribute it to my name, though. And I must say, I have misgivings. Once they claim this blog, my editorial integrity is going to be questioned because my readers - yes, all three of you - will start suspecting I have become a marketing tool, and that I have to censor certain sentiments instead of remaining my old, candid self.

Hmmm ... Anyway, last time I checked, I wasn't on their page yet. The brand manager probably found Luto-lutuan too roguish and highly unsuitable. LOL.