Imagine if all the cooks in every restaurant kitchen disappeared on Christmas Eve. What if Santa finally granted our truest wish?
No alarms would ring. No flashing yellow lights.
A puff of air. A whispering wind.
Walk a mile in our shoes on Christmas night and taste regret.
A rough night for cooks and servers: two hundred confirmed reservations, all here to celebrate and share the holiday with family and friends. The dining room is filled with a mélange of well-dressed socialites with deep pockets and a thirst for fine champagne.
The adrenaline level is high as the house band competes with the clatter of sauce pans and the rattle of plates rapidly filling the pass. The kitchen is humid and our jackets soak up the sweat.
Try to keep up with the constant chirping of the ticket printer.
It’s approaching midnight, and tempers flare as tired knees and elbows ready for the final push.
Our chef, expediting all night, struggles to remain calm.
Frantic servers try to squeeze by at the pass.
“Ok, guys… fire the ten top, I want three amuse bouches for table 52, make that six all day.”
“I need a mushroom risotto to sell this deuce on 60, gimme that risotto now!”
What goes through the mind of a cook when the chef is screaming?
Mangoes, apples, pears…. Are they pleasant thoughts?
The sauté cook seeks frantically for the pan with extra risotto from a previous ticket.
He shoves another pan to the back, cranks the heat up, zaps with chicken stock and parm.
A little more salt and truffle butter, and the plate hits the pass.
Christmas for line cooks… Every one is tired.
But this year, a wish was granted and a prayer was answered.
This Christmas Eve, the fire in the grill will remain unlit.
Whisks will fall and stay where they lay. Nothing will be prepped, the door will be shut.
A puff of air. A whispering wind.
There will be no cooks for Christmas, if only for this year.
and she read a book while patiently waiting for customers.
She had a large orange parasol
to protect her precious mangoes from the mid-day heat.
Call it a mobile fruit stand with wares just hours picked from the tree.
A fleeting glance at all those mangoes made me pause;
but it was her smile that made me stop:
There were oranges for sale in a red cooler,
complete with a little machine to peel them as you waited –
A few hands of ripe bananas:
yes I saw those too, all different shades of yellow –
But set just so a hundred mangoes to catch the light.
I asked their names and she laughed as she pointed:
Julie, Bombay, Blackie, Stringy, Long Mango.
One hundred for Julie, fifty for Bombay, everything else hundred per dozen.
We spoke for a while and I made my selection;
she looked at my face and in my eyes:
A few extra mangos, for you to enjoy,
and flashed another beautiful smile.
I look at these pictures, a moment in time:
The mango lady and her cart of sunshine
This wonderful recipe by Barbara Walter was taken from The Hotel Mockingbird Hill blog. The eco-boutique hotel overlooks the picturesque town of Port Antonio on the northeastern side of the island. I find Barbara’s blog a constant source of inspiration.
Mango Gazpacho with Pickled Shrimps
2 ½ cups water
½ cup vinegar
1 ½ tbs pickling spice ( we use our own homemade jerk spice)
1 tbs minced lemongrass
1 ½ tbs salt
Boil ingredients together. Remove from heat.
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped green salad onions
1 ½ tsp minced jalapeño chili (bird peppers)
12 uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
Stir into the chilled water the parsley, onions and pepper and shrimp, chill and then cover overnight in glass container.
2 large ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted
1 small green apple, peeled, chopped
1 small celery stalk, chopped
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
1 tbs fresh lime juice
2 tsp chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 large jalapeño chili, seeded, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Puree all these ingredients together. Chill for at least 2 hours. Ladle soup into 4 bowls and top with 3 shrimp each and garnish with parsley. The recipe below, also by Barbara Walker from her Hotel Mockingbird Hill blog, is equally delicious and just as easy to prepare.
2 mangoes peeled and pitted (just under 1 kg total)
2 cucumbers, de-seeded
3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Finely chop 1 mango and 1 cucumber and set aside. Coarsely chop remaining mango and cucumber and puree with ¼ cup of water in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in finely chopped mango, cucumber, onion and lime juice and 2 cups of cold water. Chill in the refrigerator for about two hours. Stir in cilantro just before serving, along with 1 teaspoon of salt.
The question of the wolf has been on my mind for quite some time. I’ve been struggling to explain what the concept of the wolf means to a cook. Obviously, it’s not a literal description of an animal with hair, fur, claws, and teeth. In my mind, the wolf is figurative; he resides in a deeper, darker place. I like to think of the wolf as hunger. Our desire to eat and feed lets the wolf loose; it hunts and does what it will.
In pursuit of food, we’re all reduced to our basest instincts. Cooks deal with this transformation every day; we are professionally trained to feed the wolves. In exposing this truth, it bears well to remember that the wolf resides in all of us. Even cooks succumb to the gut-wrenching pangs of hunger. We cook for the hungry and in turn are fed.
Wolves can be particular creatures and hard to please. They roam far and wide in search of a meal, and there’s no telling where a wolf may choose to feed from one day to the next. In fact, it’s the wolf’s discerning palate that keeps people like me employed.
My own wolf likes to roam the tiny kitchen in my apartment. He particularly likes to rummage through the pantry, opening one door and another, touching a can here, looking at a jar there. Sometimes I’ll come home late at night and find the wolf staring longingly into the refrigerator. The light casts shadows around me and I feel his presence in the shadows. I’m quiet in this moment, somehow caught in the reverie of longing. His eyes look up and meet mine. I hear a plaintive whine and I know the wolf is hungry.
In moments such as this, when haste is expedient, cook it fast and serve it hot. Here’s a recipe that I’ve used many times to keep the wolf sated and content.
Fettuccine Alfredo with Shrimp,
Broccoli & lots of Garlic
2 qts of water
1 tsp salt
8 ozs fettuccine pasta
1 head of fresh broccoli cut into small florets (about 2 cups)
1) Bring the water to a boil. Don’t add the pasta yet; I like to blanch my broccoli first. It saves a step and reduces the amount of time and pots to clean.
2) Cook the broccoli in boiling water for about two minutes then use a slotted spoon to chill the broccoli in a bowl with water and ice cubes.
3) Drain the broccoli and set aside.
4) Time for the fettuccine pasta. Add 2 tsp. of vegetable oil to the boiling water. Add the fettuccine and stir every two to three minutes to keep pasta from sticking. It should take about 11-12 minutes to cook al dente.
SHRIMP ALFREDO SAUCE
½ lb. of shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh basil (8 -10 leaves), julienned
3 tbsp. of vegetable oil
Pinch of salt and black pepper
16 oz. of heavy cream
¾ cup of Parmesan cheese
5) Marinate the shrimp with the garlic, oil, salt and pepper and a small amount of basil. Keep most of the basil to add at the end just before serving.
6) In a small saucepan heat the heavy cream and reduce by half. This is important: the cream should be reduced until it is thick and coats the back of a spoon. Whisk in ½ cup of Parmesan cheese and stir until cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Remember, Parmesan cheese is salty, so be careful with seasoning.
7) Drain the shrimp thoroughly. This is important. Make sure to get a large saute pan extremely hot and add the marinated shrimp. Stir quickly for a minute before adding the cheese sauce.
8) Add the broccoli and stir well
9) Add the cooked fettuccine pasta and the rest of the fresh basil; stir to coat the pasta in sauce.
10) Sprinkle the rest of Parmesan cheese on each portion before serving.