Monday, June 26, 2006 9 No tags Permalink 0

A bit on my whereabouts:

I’m finished at Chef Mavro’s and just started interning at the Washington Place, where I’m cooking for state functions and our Governor, Linda Lingle. The whole 40 hours a week at Mavro’s in addition to 5-8 hours of school a day put a little, er a lot, over my head. Though thanks to the understanding of the kitchen and Mavro himself, I was still able to work on a more practical schedule. I was happier with 20 hours/week, as I actually found time to do homework(!) but I know I didn’t give myself the chance to completely immerse myself in the task get a true feel for a full time job in this industry. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much in such a short period of time. I have never encounter such a group of individuals who were so willing to help me learn. Their desire to share their knowledge and experience was key in my own drive to learn. I find it difficult to express such thanks to people who share knowledge, which is perhaps one of the most precious things you could seek to obtain.

I wish I could give you a log or a videotape of each day I spent in there. It is so hard to explain everything I saw from the afternoon prep to the pre-service rush and the wonderful family dinners cooked each evening. The food, the execution and the simple harmony in which all the chefs worked together amazed me. I worked with the pastry chef, a very talented and young Japanese woman. I learned something new everyday, whether it be how to properly create tight bread rolls, whisk liquid heavy cream till stiff (I wasn’t even aware I had the muscles in my arms to do that! – and now I don’t need to use an electric beater :))I was not prepared to be entrusted with the actual creation of the desserts, the plating and last minute finishes, but given such tasks you gain a rather satisfying sense of responsibility. I loved it when orders were called in for the Lilikoi Malassadas, one of Chef Mavro’s signature dishes. I would deep fry the mini brioche dough rounds we formed earlier in the afternoon the a beautiful golden brown, let them cool of just a bit a then toss in simple white sugar. A trio of these brioche malassadas goes into an order, each injected with a lilikoi curd tasting of a blissfully carefree island day. Topped with a smooth round of pineapple-haupia gelato and a softly pink hued guava sauce, it hard to imagine a more suitable fine dining approach to our local classic.

A most unexpected (though very welcomed) surprise was an opportunity to taste the entire menu on my second night. During each slow point of service throughout the evening, one of the chefs or cooks would bring over a plate showcasing a mini portion of a seasonal menu item. It was marathon fooding at its most sublime. The roasted lamb medallions, crusted with a light cepe dust and served with a confit of local Big Wave tomatoes and sauteed tabbouleh, so tender and sweet with it’s savory juices played rival to the marbled tako with ponzu sauce. The foie gras au torchon was heavenly smooth and silky, contrasting with a crisp eggplant fritter. I could not decide which I loved more – the Moscovy duckling atop a winter white yougurt pearl barley and ginger-mango jus or the round of Kobe style beef bavette finished with horseradish foam, and a gorgeous rectangle of crisp fried white polenta, a crust broken open to reveal the warm soft interior achieved under a watchful eye.

I was also given the opportunity to attend the food and wine paring for the upcoming summer menu. I’m not a wine drinker to say the least and felt very intimidated during that session. Each new menu item was paired with five types of wine, and after tasting, each individual was to note down the top three. That was a LOT of wine. I only managed to take a sip of each and still left feeling kind of uuuuuurg…like that. But I did enjoy the dishes! I’ll vouch for the new dessert, a perfect summer treat. In simple terms, it’s lychee, three ways. It such a sight for the eyes, a soft round of lychee sorbet, moving down the dish, a lychee infused rice pudding floating on a smear of tart and sweet grape reduction and to end, a lychee-marjoram kanten.

There was much more to my experience than what I have written, though I feel as if I could write for days and still never finish, and never do what I’ve learned justice. Working at Chef Mavro’s was very very different from Alan Wong’s, to say the least. Though both are touted as Hawaii’s best restaurants, not only is their approach towards cuisine highly different, everything from the physical layout of the kitchen to the music played in the kitchen prior to service, personalities of the cooks and chef and even the clientele that frequent these restaurants differ greatly. To compare my experience at the two restaurants in a short sentence, I think it’s fair to say that I certainly learned more at Mavro’s but felt more welcomed at Alan Wong’s. Each day at Mavro’s was a crash course in learning learning and more learning. It was terribly exciting but more often that not, I would feel awkward and out of place in their kitchen, like a burden rather than an asset. Despite all that, I took away an amazingly great deal knowledge that I truly owe them thanks to. In comparison, at Alan Wong, I definitely learned, but at a much slower pace. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I was there for three (as opposed to one at Mavro’s) month, so everything was not quickly crammed in. The staff at Alan Wong’s is so very local. And I think I like it that way. The same goal of quality food and service are accomplished at both restaurants, but with different approaches. There’s a more laid back, family, working-as-a-team-together feel at Alan Wong’s, but a more sophisticated, almost New York chic mentality at Mavro’s. Clearly, as judge by the great success of both restaurants, coming from either end works – it’s all a matter of personal preference.

I leave with a kitchen-full of gained knowledge (and stronger arms J), but there’s so much to learn that I always feel behind. It’s like running up to catch up to this guy and once you get there you find out there’s another guy ahead of that one! So you keep going and going, and you’re all out of breath but there’s this and that to learn, a technique you’ve never head of and chef you want to meet, the dish you need to try. And somewhere along, you realize that your goal shouldn’t be the destination, whether that be opening your own place or becoming a chef, but the journey itself – the whole process of learning. Oh, hehe. That was cliché. But SO true.

I can make a few conclusions:

1. I could not imagine myself owning or working in a restaurant as an actual career.
2. But I do want to own a patisserie. No full scale restaurant, but yes to dessert!
3. I actually enjoy eating food more than cooking and would be more than content working around (as opposed to with) food. What kind of work would that include? Ay, I’m not sure…journalism, design, management? There are many (perhaps more than necessary) “things” I am unsure of. But I do know whatever I do must be in the sphere of culinary goodness. And hopefully that’s enough for now.

9 Comments
  • anonymous
    July 4, 2006

    did you have any difficulty waking up in the mornings?? No need to answer that….

  • anonymous
    July 4, 2006

    Hi Kathy – Sounds like a pretty stepp learning curve there!

  • Robyn
    July 4, 2006

    Damn, you work too hard! :O Sounds like an amazing experience though, and definitely not something I could pull off. KITCHENS ARE SCARY.As long as you know you want to work in the sphere of culinary goodness, you’re on the right track. :D I dunno what I wanna do either, besides…not…chefing it up. Open a patisserie, yaa!

  • anonymous
    July 5, 2006

    Hi Kathy – Whew, you really have a full plate this summer! Though it sounds like you’re enjoying it. Happy fourth of July to you!

  • Kathy YL Chan
    July 5, 2006

    Hey Ron!Lol, it’s summer. I’m back home – it’s all good!Hey anonymous!Though fun and sure worthwhile in the long run :)Hey Robyn!It feels quite scary not knowing what you’ll be doing in the future – I can’t believe we’re graduating in a year…gah. Eh, no matter what you do, I’m sure you’re going to be awesome at it! As long as we eat well :)Hey Kirk!Tired but happy – I suppose that’s the way to be :) Happy 4th to you & the missus!

  • anonymous
    July 5, 2006

    You’re so right there Kathy…the more you learn, the more there is to learn! That’s scary, but exciting too. My internship didn’t go so well, sad to say. Now I’m preparing for the GRE, taking it end August, then applying to Creative Writing programs on the East Coast…yea…maybe we can go fooding together in NY next year! Wouldn’t that be great? But seriously, you seem to have learnt a great deal in a short period and yes, of course you MUST work around food..that’s just your destiny.

  • anonymous
    July 6, 2006

    Kathy,First of all may I say that I really enjoy your blog. I am moving to New York in less than a month from the LA area and I plan to start my own blog, yet I fear I won’t be as thorough and eloquent as you. Like yourself I am food obsessed! (Dreams of FCI) There is no greater joy then sitting down at a restaurant and experiencing the chefs interpretation of the ingredients. I also have had dreams of owning a restaurant (or a wine and cheese gourmet market type place), so I took it upon myself to work at a restaurant this summer after graduation, mind you underneath the owner for more administrative/ marketing type help, although I do love love love to cook and have been teaching myself from Julia Childs book. I too have come to the realization that perhaps I love experiencing and eating food more than doing it for a living, which I find a bit depressing. Your experiences at both restaurants seem amazing! I wish the chef at mine would even let me near a spoon, but you know how some chefs can get. I cannot wait to experience all that New York has to offer culinary wise, and will still work hard towards one day making what I do for a living, and what I love be one in the same. God luck to you in with all your hopes and dreams. Perhaps we will run into each other in a pastry class, or a tasting dinner in New York. Or Maybe we could even meet for a foodie adventure one day in LA(while I am still here)Bon Appetite!

  • J. Lo
    July 6, 2006

    Will you come with me to visit: Yum Yum Thai1106 Bishop StreetTelephone: 808.524.3790….when I get back? And also, if you’re up for it, I really really want some beef noodles and mochi rice rolls from KC Kitchen…. :)

  • Kathy YL Chan
    July 6, 2006

    Hey Pallavi!Oh man, that’d be so crazy if we were both in the city at the same time next year – it’s be fattening fun! I’m crossing my fingers for you, ace the GRE & get into the program!Hey Mollie!I know exactly how you feel – that the love of food doesn’t necessarily come only from cooking but from experiencing it through eating and the people you meet. It’s funny, and I guess hard to understand if you have a different perspective, but I’m sure you understand what I’m trying to get at! I’m looking forward to your blog, and there’s really no better place to do it than in New York! Send me the link as soon as it’s up! :) Good luck with everything and we will, (not just perhaps!) meet up in the city!Hey Justin!What day do you get back? We’re going to both those – gah, those mochi rice rolls!…(and more!) places & I better be the first person you eat with :)

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