When I originally wrote the menus for what has become ‘Italian by Night’, it was with the assumption that whomever would use my recipes would be doing so in a kitchen specifically designed to turn out mountains of perfectly ‘al dente’ pastas.
So ‘whomever‘ is me, along with Chef Andrew Brewer and others, preparing Italian food from a kitchen designed to build gourmet deli sandwiches. Don’t get me wrong. I still think that Liz’s idea is brilliant: deli by day – Italian by Night. Capitalizing on her initial investment by diversifying her product line…yikes I sound way too corporate. Suffice to say - her idea is extremely clever!
She has the challenge of communicating the concept and I have the challenge of delivering the food.
From 8 am until 3 pm daily, Andrew and I work with a small electric stove – not convection. The roasted plum tomatoes, alone, require four hours in the oven. Our prep schedule is timed down to the millisecond to enable us to produce grissini, focaccia, ciabatta, cantucci, pastas, gnocchi, sauces, meats, vegetables and desserts. All of this happens in our prep kitchen before we head downstairs for service.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the deli staff leave the kitchen ready for us to invade by 3:30 pm. We transfer everything being served that evening from the second floor to the first floor. We do not have an elevator…
We are guests in the deli’s kitchen and must leave it ready for the deli to rock and roll the next morning. As unobtrusively as possible, we devour every possible bit of space by repurposing it to fit our needs.
By placing a large baking sheet over the deep-fryer, I have a prep station for my pastas. I neglected to turn the deep-fryer off one evening and ended up baking my anchovies and drying out my capers. Luckily ‘puttanesca‘ was not a hot item that night!
During the menu development stage, I envisioned an industrial, plumbed-in, continual boil pasta cooker complete with a timer. Fast forward; I have a large pot with four removable inserts that sits on a gas range monopolizing two precious burners. We feed it by carrying a plastic jug of hot water from the dish pit every opportunity we have. Cooking pasta correctly requires lots of boiling water.
Think about the logistics of dropping an order of gnocchi, ravioli, spaghetti and penne for the same table, all requiring different cook times, each with a different sauce. Did I mention that I only have use of the two remaining front burners for sauces? Not as easy as you might think..
At the same time that I am plating pasta, our cook Kim is creating beautiful antipastas and Chef Andrew is delivering stunning second courses. It takes focused concentration and extremely well-mannered dialogue to effectively keep up with the orders. Mind you the occasional curse does slip out but followed quickly with ‘sorry about that’.
Not being able to work in a ‘dream-kitchen’ has done little to dampen our spirits. When you love to cook, it’s not about the equipment. It’s about the food…
Thanks for reading.
Special thanks to Dr. Keith Wilson photos