Steve’s Chef Cuisinternship: Days Two and Three
Editor’s Note: Our Chef Cuisinternship Winner, Steve Loh, recently completed his week long adventure with Chef Gabe Rucker at Le Pigeon. Steve has graciously agreed to let us peek behind the scenes of his week in Portland. We’ll be posting his recaps over the next several days. Read his first day’s recap here. Enjoy!
Today, I became intimately familiar with the cooking term “brunoise.” It’s French for “cut stuff up into teeny, tiny, little, uniform cubes.” Definitely an exercise in the zen-like pursuit of tedious perfection. Chef Rucker is putting a new dish on the menu tomorrow, and I’m lucky enough to be here to see it… and cut up lots of stuff into teeny, tiny, little, uniform cubes for it.
Chopping is something I love doing. The primal nature of a blade-in-hand slicing through once-living things to make them smaller is what makes me feel like I’m cooking. Yan-can-cooking. But today got me to really understand the value of precise chopping.
I brunoised (if it can be used as a past-tense) a bevy of vegetables: butternut squash, celery root, royal trumpet mushrooms, and a bunch of other things that I can’t even remember. It was a day of nonstop chopping. It took a bit to get into the groove, but the groove is where I got to.
For the new dish, the chef sauteed and seasoned the brunoise veggies, then laid them down as the base for seared albacore, which was topped with thinly shaved, marinated veal tongue. If you were to ask me what are his secrets to cooking, one of them would be the level of detail he puts into every layer of each dish. But I guess that’s not really a secret. That’s craft.
Perhaps I’ve become too cynical living in LA, but I still can’t believe how open he is with sharing, well, everything with me. At one point, I joked about taking spy photos of the little notebook where his recipes are handwritten. He just opened it up to me and said “Go ahead.” Unfortunately, chef recipes only contain the ingredients. They don’t tell you how to make them. No technique. No cooking details. For that, you have to actually be the chef.
But if anyone wants to buy a list of Le Pigeon secret recipe ingredients, hit me up. I accept Paypal.
For dinner service tonight, I was right in there again, this time plating up the foie gras profiteroles. Holy hell, those things are good. I also grilled the foie-gras and candy cap mushroom sandwiches that went with the chanterelle soup. Ridiculously good. After closing, we hit another bar for an after-work whiskey. Another great day, another great night.
They say a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife. Some may argue yes, some may argue no. All I know is, a sharp knife makes me happy. So today, I was especially happy because Chef Rucker gave me a lesson on knife sharpening. I flew in with one piece of checked luggage just so I could bring my knives with me for this.
I rarely sharpen my knives, and when I do, I take it to someplace like Sur la Table and pay too much money for it. Now, no more. After only a few minutes of very gratifying shaving on a three-section sharpening stone, my knife can split the whisker of an albino kitten. I gotta get me one of those (the stone — not the kitten).
I brunoised a lot more vegetables after that, and I can’t even tell you how happy that sharp blade made me. Very happy. OK, there, I just told you. Chef Rucker put on some techno music, which is his usual cooking soundtrack, and I just chopped my little heart out.
Over these last three days, I’ve learned a lot of gourmet things from not just Chef Rucker but also the rest of his staff. Erik, Bones, Su-Lien, Conner, Jordan, Nate, Travis… It’s been amazing being able to throw questions at them all day long and pick their brains. Usually, my eloquent inquiries would be in the form of “Wait, what was that?” “Why did you put that in there?” and “How did you…?” And like Rucker, they’re all just cool people who like each other.
Most restaurants have high turnover of staff. But apparently cooks don’t leave a place like Le Pigeon. I wouldn’t.