I thought you’d get a kick out of seeing what happened behind the kitchen door the day we launched the Union Club’s new menu. I hired photographer Kelly Lawson to capture my team preparing the tasting menu for Wednesday’s sold-out lunch service.
General Manager, Deb Tremblay and I had agreed to set the cut-off at seventy guests. The enthusiastic response to attend the menu launch pushed us to ninety. Deb’s excitement over the community’s interest in the Union Club’s new menu inspired me to figure out how I would seamlessly add twenty more plates. Note the word seamlessly… For a professional kitchen, serving ninety people lunch is not difficult, but when you want to knock it out of the park the game changes. Every component on the plate needs to be perfect. I chose to offer a combination of soup, salad and sandwich to highlight the tastes and textures I’ve woven throughout the Union Club’s new lunch menu. My challenge was to figure out how to get ninety plates to our guests with soup steaming, salad greens crisp and the open-faced ham, cheddar and caramelized apple sandwich still crunchy on the bottom and gooey on top. We needed an extra set of hands.
I reached out to Chef Andrew Brewer. For two and a half years, Andrew and I worked side by side at Italian by Night. While working together on the high energy line at IbN, we developed an intuitive kitchen short-hand. He knows exactly what I want, sometimes before I do. Thank you, Andrew. It was a delight to work with you again!
The kitchen team at the Union Club and I had prepped everything we could leading up to Wednesday’s launch. Chef Matt Murr was responsible for the Sweet Potato Vichyssoise. You see him, below, finishing the soup with heavy cream. Chef Andrew is preparing the soup’s garnish of deep-fried julienne leek. I wanted each soup topped with a leek haystack.
Matt, Andrew and I were solving how to deliver ninety toasted open-faced ham sandwiches with melted cheddar and oozing caramel apple slices without serving soggy bread. This sandwich is served on house-made oatmeal, cranberry, pecan bread. I wanted it’s debut to be flawless!
To ensure our micro-greens have as much life as possible, Chef Andrew snips them moments before they’re served.
Chef Matt and I having a giggle over how quiet the kitchen is. You could have heard a pin drop while we plated. Every kitchen has a different vibe. When I’m leading a team, I insist on a respectful, calm and focused environment. No cursing, slamming or yelling – Gordon Ramsey would not be welcomed!
Each focusing on our own task, we built the ninety sandwiches lickity-split. The sandwich would be the last detail added to the plate. When I called for them, all ninety were placed in the convection oven for five minutes. At the sound of the five-minute timer, the oven doors flew open, the hot sandwiches were pulled out, plated and garnished with purple daikon radish micro-greens. It was a thing of beauty. Look at the smile on Dorothy’s face!
No matter what I’m doing, I always check my morning text from my daughter, Meg and my grandson, Coen. He started walking this week.
Portion control is critical in a professional kitchen. You don’t have time to make more food if you over serve and it’s not cost-effective to over prepare. The team’s experience and expertise shone over us as the ninety plates were delivered hot, crispy, crunchy and gooey to our packed room of hungry guests.
The soup cups and pouring jugs were hot to help keep the soup at the right temperature. Because the soup cups sat on the serving plates, we didn’t have to consider the server’s hands.
The Union Club has matching service for seventy. With ninety attending, we added twenty of another plate pattern. Deb and I go over the seating arrangements so that I know where the matching dishes need to be delivered. The seating key helps keep things straight in the kitchen for the cooks as they plate.
Just before I was called to introduce the new menu, l had a surprise visit from my pal, Chef Axel Begner who had come for lunch.
Three days before this launch, we did a private menu launch for Union Club members and their families. We had sixty guests coming for the Sunday tasting. The day before, I found myself short-staffed. I called Axel, explained the situation and without hesitation he said, “what time do you need me?” He is the patriarch of cuisine in our city, an inspiration to anybody lucky enough to cook with him and a dream to have as part of my team for the Sunday launch. Thank you Axel!
Thank you so much to the Board of Directors, General Manager, Deb Tremblay, Chef Matt Murr, Dorothy McShane, the front of house staff and the members for giving me the amazing opportunity to cook in the Union Club’s beautiful kitchen. Enjoy your new menu! XO Michelle
Thanks for reading.
photography by Kelly Lawson