It requires a certain amount of stress to cook for a lot of people. Otherwise you won’t get it done. Too much work, and therefore too much focus and efficiency to both get everything done and also enjoy yourself. You’ve got to like this very peculiar kind of stress. Or like the release that inevitably follows. And it’s not the same kind of release as it is for the guy who, when asked why he’s banging his head against the wall, responds, “Because it feels so good when I stop.” But it’s close. You’ve just got to have that kind of love-the-pressure, love-the-release to cook for a lot of people night after night. If you do, you can make a good and happy living as a cook and maybe chef-restaurateur.
Me, I really only liked the release part. During my very brief time as a line cook, I dreaded Saturday night. One of the worst nights of my life, I will never forget it, everyone in the restaurant wanted the grilled strip off my station. I could even glimpse the other two cooks sort of shaking their heads and chuckling as Paul shouted, “Ordering: Eight steak! Two rare, three mid rare, two medium, one well! Firing five steak. Pick-up: thirteen steak!” And then later I’d glimpse the other cooks no longer chuckling but more or less wincing as another waitress breezed in and out and Paul read the ticket, “Ordering: one salmon (my station), one halibut (my station), one pasta, two steaks mid rare, three steaks medium.” At one point, when Paul, disgusted, had to come back and throw wood on the fire—“Jesus Christ, your fire almost went out, don’t let your fire go out, man”—I looked up and all I saw were grilled steaks everywhere and I had no room to work.
This is called having your ass handed to you.
As I was wiping down my station after it was all over, Paul leaned in between the service shelves and stared at me with his lazy bloodshot eyes and asked, “You want to come have a drink with us?” It surprised me. I thanked him, but I wanted to go hate myself in private.
All of which is a long winded way of explaining why cooking for twelve to sixteen people is something of a breeze. A lark, really. At least once I get going. Because I’ve already stressed ahead of time enough to be totally prepared. And I knew some of the sailors loved to cook and would help. And everyone would be drinking, and therefore, forgiving. So not only did I have time to write in the morning, I had time to enjoy the cooking and the eating.
And I really love to cook for people.
I love cooking more than eating. I love cooking more than anything except for writing. How lucky did I get?
Here’s the Key West Race Week 2012 Menu. Next up, equipment and strategy.
Thursday January 12th
Yellow tail snapper ceviche served with grilled baguette, basmati rice cooked with onion sautéed in schmaltz and chicken stock, with chicken skin cracklings and red peppers. Grilled asparagus with garlic and olive oil. Grilled mahi mahi tacos with avocado, lettuce, tomatoes and sriracha sauce.
Friday January 13th
Grrilled chicken with a lime-tarragon-mustard butter baste. Clean out the fridge scrapple (grits, pulled pork and black eyed peas), fried. Twice baked potatoes. Green beans blanched and finished on the grill.
Saturday January 14th
Strip steaks, salted, then marinated in olive oil and course ground pepper, seared on the grill and finished in a warm oven. Sauteed onions and mushrooms in butter and wine. Pasta tossed with guanciale, butter, parmesan. Caesar salad (anchovy, egg yolk, and garlic dressing), warm croutons.
Sunday January 15th
Eastern Carolina Barbecue night. Hoppin' John (black eyed peas with guanciale and chillis). Yellow rice. Roasted broccoli with garlic. Baguettes painted with garlic butter and broiled. Jason’s wife Christie made an awesome banana pudding for dessert.
Monday January 16th
Duck night. Duck bacon included with apps. Duck confit with grilled magret duck breast, all purchased from the excellent Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Sous vide egg, arugula salad with a shallot-red-wine vinaigrette. Multi grain bread swiped with olive oil and grilled.
Tuesday January 17th
Pork belly confit, with crispy skin and a mango chutney salsa. Black beans with hot, smoked paprika. Multi-grained rice and stuff (will explain later). Sauteed snow peas.
Wednesday January 18th
Surf and Turf: Maine Lobster tails and claws, grilled strip steaks, mashed potatoes, salad.
Thursday January 19th
Grilled wahoo with mango lime chili salsa. Lobster pilaf. Maine bouchot mussels. Grilled asparagus with garlic and lemon zest.
Friday January 20th
Lobster bisque with massive chunks of lobster. Beef short ribs cooked sous vide, slathered with BBQ sauce and finished on the grill. Hand-cut cole slaw (cabbage, red onion, carrot) with lemon-lime poppy seed dressing. Brown-butter-sage pasta.