Saturday, August 29, 2009

The High Life From The Other Side

Rule #1: The help doesn't care what the event is officially called.

That is my deduction the morning after volunteering my time as a server at the Goddesses of the Harvest event at Krohn Conservatory.

For over a week, I'd been telling my Twitter followers that I was excited I'd be volunteering at the "Goddesses of the Garden" event at my favorite landmark in Cincinnati. Little did I know this event was about the harvest, not the garden, at Krohn.

Truth be told, I was more concerned about resurrecting my serving getup.

In another place and time, I earned my keep by serving fine diners boiled or baked stuffed lobster, swordfish (ed note: 15 years ago we didn't have warnings about the oceanic ecosystem that we do now. These days, please do not order swordfish and many other types of fish that cannot sustain the demand. Please.), prime rib and other choice dishes.

Working in the restaurant biz was a great training ground - I learned efficiency, team work, stress management, the art of courtesy, the humility of being nice to an asshole you're serving, the vindication of (rarely) dishing it back when it's warranted, and the courage of calling people out when they failed to leave a tip for exemplary service at an expensive restaurant.

Serving in high school and college was a great entree into the real world.

Serving also nurtured my love of good food.

Last night, 87 guests were treated to an elegant meal orchestrated by five acclaimed women, including my friend, Chef Renee Schuler of Eat Well Celebrations and Events in Newport.

Renee invited a friend and me to help at the event, and I was quick to jump at the chance. Volunteering would be a great way to enjoy the moment without shelling out the $75 pp price tag.

And, having worked in kitchens before, I knew there'd be food to eat at some point during the night! I also thought it would be a fun opportunity to blog about my experience and capture the workings of the kitchen for the blog. Enjoy the following videos (each are no longer than :15), paired with my comments about the moment.

Four chefs prepared courses celebrating locally grown produce (including produce grown at Krohn), all paired with wine selections chosen by wine expert Renee Koerner.

The evening started with Renee's summer corn custard, house smoked salmon, petite herb salad, all dressed with a Big Fish Farms caviar vinaigrette.

Rule #2:
Food is much an art as any form you can see at the local museum.

Renee and the other chefs were extremely focused on the presentation. It's true - we eat with our eyes as much as we do with our taste buds. Experts at their art, these women knew a well crafted plate would tease and tempt our dinner guests well before their first taste.

I admired their commitment Make sure the custard is served at three o'clock and the crustini at nine! and the extreme attention detail where garnishing was concerned.

The second course was prepared by Julie Francis, executive chef and owner of Nectar in Mt. Lookout. Consisting of a trio of salads - braised beets with walnuts and a dusting of feta, curried okra, and chickpeas and eggplant with soy - it. was. fresh. The beets practically melted in my mouth, offering an aftertaste explosion of nutty walnut and tangy feta. The okra wasn't slimy like you might expect, and the chickpea/eggplant salad was great too - but the beets were, by far, my favorite.

Last night reminded me of something I picked up in high school and college - Rule #3: The food industry relies on team work.

Where cut throat tactics may fly in the boardroom or on a conference call, an efficient kitchen and dining room operation requires a collaboration of efforts. Last night's orchestration was no exception. Though the meal was prepared by four, individual, spectacular chefs, the entire team supported the one whose dish was getting prepared and plated for the guests.

It was definitely an All for one, one for All kind of gig. Delightful, considering any one of these women was entitled to have an ego the size of Texas.

The above video shows the crew helping Chef Anne Kearney of Rue Dumaine in Dayton (ed. note: Kearney is a culinary treasure for our region. She and her husband originally had a restaurant in New Orleans, and life circumstances inspired them to return to Ohio and open a venue here) plate her braised veal short ribs atop locally grown and ground polenta, garnished with a relish of cucumber, tomato, roasted corn and edamame. Everything was local except for the edamame.

The veal was so, so tender - some bites so fatty and soft that it was reminiscent of pork belly.

So. The serving. How'd I do?

Well, a couple things I remembered. Amy Tobin of Party Source in Newport reminded us, "Lower Left - Raise Right," which refers to how you properly serve and clear plates.

Courtesy and kindness is normally a part of my personality, so I didn't struggle so much with serving these folks with a smile. What I DID struggle with - I had two or three "slow eaters" in my section, and I could never tell if they were finished or taking a break. One of them was downright testy when I asked if I could take her practically bare starter plate. Another rolled her eyes after I asked a second time about her starter plate.

In my defense, she kept switching the positioning of her fork on her plate (which looked like it had been picked over), and I could never tell if she was signaling me to take the dish or leave it.

For the rest of the evening, I left those two ladies alone until absolutely every other plate was cleared and the next course was being served.

For dessert, we enjoyed a magnificent dessert prepared by Pastry Chef Summer Genetti of The Palace Restaurant at The Cincinnatian - chocolate zucchini cake with cheesecake ice cream and a deep and dark hot fudge sauce. I was excited about this course - Julie had introduced me to Summer and her talents a couple months ago over a cupcake flight at the Cricket Lounge.

I was not disappointed.

After enjoying my helping in the back with everyone else, I went for another petite scoop (okay, two) of the cheesecake ice cream. It was spectacular - kind of like when I experienced the cake batter ice cream craze in 2002. Awesome trickery for my brain.

While the guests enjoyed their own dessert confections, our small but hard working crew gathered in the makeshift kitchen for glasses of wine, toasting to our efforts and a smashing event.

Rule #4: The kitchen staff gets to enjoy the fruits of its labor, too.

I normally enjoy these events as one of the paying attendees. I usually justify the ticket price as a small fee to help out an organization while enjoying a spectacular series of dishes.

Last night, I only needed to buy a white button down shirt to gain admittance.

The experience reminded me - food is about far more than a bunch of flavors served on a plate.

Food is about art and friendship. No matter what side of the dish you're on.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

1 comment:

Tina L. Hook said...

Sounds delightful. You have inspired me to check out Rue Dumaine. I have been hankering for French food. Oui oui.