My Guest Chef experience at the Flying Carpet
Whew. I'm starting this post at midnight here after a shift cooking at the Flying Carpet Moroccan Burger trailer. I'm beat, I served 79 people a four course dinner over 2.5 hours. Right now there's a shower and a nightcap waiting for me.
(Seffa - Couscous with ground almond milk, honey and cinnamon)
"Wha wha?! rewind splain that again?" Ok some background for everyone. The Flying Carpet features Moroccan burgers (normal, vegetarian or vegan) down on South Congress Ave. You *must* go it's amazing stuff. When Abdou puts that tomato sauce that he learned from his grandmother on the grill you're gonna start salivating. Anyhow, I digress, Maria wife and co-owner of said amazing Chef Abdou started following my humble blog and asked if I'd be a featured chef for them. This was part of the "South Congress First Thursday" event that happens every month where artists and musicians come out and it's a big street party. She told me for her trailer it was an artists type movement to give local foodies and chefs a chance to showcase their cooking and take over their trailer showcasing their Moroccan based concepts. My first reaction was, "um.
So the rest of this post, which will be sprinkled with pictures, will be a background (you just read), prep before hand, insanity moment, and what I learned. First the menu:
- Moroccan Take on Eggs Benedict - Toast with Kefte patty, Tomato Harissa sauce and sous vide poached egg
- Traditional Beet Root Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
- Japan Meets Morocco Roll - Saffron rice rolled with sous vide chicken breast spiced with Moroccan spices, fried in a panko crust with dynamite sauce
- Seffa - Couscous served with almond milk, dusted with cinnamon and honey
(Japan Meets Morocco roll - saffron rice, sous vide poached chicken rolled up and panko crusted served with dynamite sauce)
Ok if any of you reading know me then you know I plan. My sister jokes about me having clip board on hand and planning... *everything*. I planned, I dropped a really serious amount of money on infrastructure in equipment, I rolled out sushi rolls and coated them in panko weighing before and after to understand a per unit cost of *every* dish I made. (and yes I was wrong about a lot of it, game day changes a lot of things). I think I ate the same food for three weeks in a row testing, re-testing, plating, re-plating every dish I've done. (the nicer pictures you'll see are the trials not the day of) This was my first kitchen debut and it had to be perfect. I stressed over how to sous vide 100 eggs (yeah, ok it was an excuse to buy a new sous vide rig). And the day before I was in the commissary and prepping like a mad man. Afterward I took a moment to post to facebook stating, "Somedays I ask myself if I've bitten off too much to chew. This is one of those days" (by the way the reply was "keep on chewing!". My ricecooker died on me (Bessie survived, just overheated) but just as the day looked like it was gonna die, I powered through and 14 hours later I made it the prepping madness. But for all the prep, I knew the day of event was gonna be huge unknown of working in a trailer .
Just so you know my parents owned a restaurant. I started working the moment I could stand on a chair and take money, imagine tiny Chinese kid on a chair counting out change to you (isn't there a law against that?). I've worked every part of a restaurant, I've cleaned, prepped, taken money, and for one precious day my dad let me handle full service cooking (he didn't want me to like the restaurant trade too much). Let me tell you right now, IT IS NOT THE SAME! In the trailer you are confined by space. I could only multi task on two servings at once (my fault for a four course ambitious menu). This completely does not work when you have a horde at your doorsteps. Maria counted it up and (thankfully) did not tell me there was a 25 ticket queue that I was behind on (thanks Maria for making sure I was hydrated and keeping me focused and not freaked out). I'm real sorry to those that had to wait during the busiest hour, I was doing my best but again I've never done this before.
Now I was very happy to see flashbulbs going off on the plates I was dishing (on the side is the plate, I had to use ring molds to steady the egg for service). And I got really good feedback that my food tasted good. I'm especially flattered that some Moroccan friends of the Chef did show up and were very happy with the food, and they were traditionalists on the food front. I'm glad they pulled their punches and gave me a thumbs up. (I think I won them over with the sous vide poached eggs but that's just crediting the gear). I also heard that I did a really good job on the Seffa. I also overheard a few folks that thought they only got one course for the price and were happily surprised and quickly lured in that I gave all four courses for eight bucks. Special thanks to the owner that let me price the "bento" to what I charge my bentoers. I tried really hard to limit the food costs to bare minimum to make sure they made as much as possible despite the fact they said "price was no option, this is about the art". Well to me, this was as much about livelihood, these folks entrusted me to deliver delicious food and not tarnish their good image. Abdou and Maria are an amazing team and I wasn't about to let them down.
So what did I learn? Well trailer cooking is it's own breed. Limited space puts a huge constraint on you. If I did this again I would factor that into the menu. As you can see the trailer is pretty small, I joked with my coworkers, "yup, um it's smaller than my office here at work". You don't understand the implications until you're there. I call it "game day", for a novice chef it is beyond what you expect it to be and the luxuries of a kitchen are not there. Water use is limited, plating space is limited, and if you take one step you will likely bump into someone. I managed to turned on the robot mode and powered through it but it was a lot more overwhelming than I expected. I apologize to my buddies that showed up to support me and I couldn't go out and say hi. I was slammed every moment of that service, SLAMed! And I thank everyone of you that came by and ordered food. Hopefully I delivered a nice meal for you.
Wow! Super thanks again to Maria and Abdou for having me and entrusting their trailer to me on the eve of the Gypsy Park Event(Go see them this weekend). This was a bunch of fun (and a good reminder not to go into the food biz). It was good to get away from the normal rut of cubicles and email. It was also super gratifying to see folks enjoying the meal you produced. And of course seeing my friends come and support me, I hope you guys had a good meal! I'm sure you'll tell me about it tomorrow.