Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guest Chef Night -- The Prep Kitchen

It is the day before Guest Chef Night, when Clare's father, Frank, and I will be presenting a four-course dinner at Rag's Italian Bistro.  All of the ingredients have been ordered, and, now everyone's attention is turning to the prep work.  We expect to have about thirty family members, friends and guests in attendance.   With the able assistance of Clare and her mother, Geri, we have spent a good part of the morning doing some basic prep work for some of the courses at home.  We then moved the prep work to the restaurant, where we continued our work to prepare for the special day.

This meal requires a lot of preparation.  The prep work started with grating Parmigiano Reggiano for the Mushroom Gratinate and the Chickpea and Escarole Soup.  The Mushroom Gratinate necessarily calls for a good amount of cheese, which is added to the sauteed mushrooms as they are spooned onto french bread and then topped with even more cheese before going into the oven in order to melt and crisp just a little around the edges.

So, I began to grate the cheese by hand.  I broke down one of the two big chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano that we have for the dinner, removing the rind as the first step and then cutting the cheese into several large pieces to grate.  When I was done, I had a small mountain of grated cheese, which was about six cups.  We will need about four and a half of those cups to use in making the Mushroom Gratinate.  The remainder, along with additional grated cheese will be in a bowl that a server will use to sprinkle over the Chickpea and Escarole soup as it is being served.  

While I was grating the cheese, Frank was busy working on other ingredients for the Chickpea and Escarole soup, such as chopping several pounds of fennel into small pieces for the soup.  As is the practice with most restaurants, we planned on making the soup ahead of time, leaving the final steps, such as the addition of tomato and escarole, to right before we have to serve the soup.  Frank cut a lot of fennel, which will provide a licorice flavor to the soup, adding to the complexity of the taste of this dish.

Photo courtesy of Clare
Then our attention turned to the green beans that will be used in our Green Beans with a Cherry Tomato Salad, which is a dish that has to be prepared ahead of time.  Once again, all four of us -- Frank, Geri, Clare and I -- confronted pounds of green beans.  The first task was to trim the beans, cutting off the ends where they had been attached to the stalk  After weighing the beans and determining the proper serving size, Frank, Geri and Clare worked on blanching the green beans.  Given the amount of green beans we were working with, they had to do three batches of beans.

While Frank, Geri and Clare worked on the beans, I turned my attention to six pounds of red onions, which had to be diced for the two sauces that we are preparing for the couscous.  One sauce will be seafood based and the other one will be chicken based.  The recipe calls for one big red onion.  However, we are tripling the recipe and doubling it again in order to make the two sauces.  That meant I had to dice six large, red onions.  Surprisingly, no tears.  Perhaps the lack of tears while cutting all of those onions comes from having cut a lot of onions in my time.  Anyways, the prep work was coming along at a good, albeit relaxed pace.

Once we got to the restaurant, we continued the prep work.  First, we finished the slicing and dicing of vegetables to make the Chickpea and Escarole Soup.  We diced onions and garlic and chopped anchovies.  With all of the prep work finished, at least for the soup, we began cooking.  We focused first on the soup, making the base of the soup so that those ingredients could be refrigerated overnight to help the flavors meld together.  Once we finished working on the soup, it was about 5:30 in the evening and we decided that it was a good time to stop.  We all knew that we would be back at it tomorrow morning.

So, that was the first part of our prep work.  We will be doing much more prep work tomorrow before the big night.  More to come about that....


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