Andoni is God....
Wine tastings were headlined by 10-vintage verticals of Bordeaux's Château Lafite Rothschild and Champagne's Cuvee Dom Perignon from Moet & Chandon, two of France's -- and the world's -- legendary wine names. Even the Monterey weather seemed French: brooding skies that would briefly and mercurially break into glorious sunshine.
At the annual Rarities Dinner, two dozen guests paid $3,500 each for eight courses from Boyer, Legendre and Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, near San Sebastian, Spain. They drank three vintages of Krug Champagne and three of Dom Perignon, three Le Montrachets from Domaine Ramonet and three red Burgundies (including La Tache 1942 from Domaine de la Romanee Conti), followed by Château Margaux 1945 from magnum, Château Palmer 1961, Château d'Yquem 1971 from magnum, and other delights. To follow that lineup of stellar wines, pre-embargo Cuban cigars were proffered over Cognac and coffee. "
Well, that was us. Brendan and I volunteered….excuse me: ‘Did a STAGE’ at the Masters. What a scene! It was strongly reminiscent of competitive soccer at the highest levels. Lots of testosterone, lots of posing, lots of emphasis on small cues: jacket (embroidery, fit, style, attached tools); tools (knives, of course….but scissors, spatulas, surgical tweezers); networking.
I embarrassed Brendan by bringing all my shit: all whole Stanley tool kit of razor sharp knives of all descriptions, poultry shears, graters, melon ballers, steels, cutters, spatulas, etc. He was nervous as a cat…but then he has always been the elite athlete, and I have always been the slightly past it, almost embarrassing coach..... What has changed? Still, this is the first time I am dragging Brendan into my old world. And he has the Michelin 2star experience at Ibarboure……
So, we checked in. Changed in a locker, where I left the adidas coat I would never see again. Went upstairs to the main kitchen and dumped my tools in the chefs office.
Anyway, the sous-chef Mark immediately assigned us to the Frogs, based on my language skills. I told him we were on the lookout for the Basques, but they were days out. The Frogs were at the first prep table. God knows what struggles were taking place beyond in the main kitchen: Cleo, Aqua, WD50, Coyote Café, Charlie Trotter, who knew?
The Frogs: Phillipe, the 3star guy my age; Gerard, the avuncular former star; The Dude, Phillipe’s sous-chef and understudy; and the Serb, their pastry chef. For me it was straight back to France in the old days. No eye contact. Puzzled contemplation of my bizarre accent……at first: total rejection of all sounds, then a grudging realization that almost no one else in missile range spoke even rudimentary French. We were joined at the cutting table by Vincent…..a wise, skillful, wonderful chef from Napa, and Total Fucking Geek….some guy with all the right clothes (well….let’s face it, polyester) and no real jobs. Ever. He had business cards, though….and a strong interest in networking and personal cheffing. Did I mention the testosterone?
And, Sweet Jesus…at the second table was Dirk…..our liquid heroin swigging, DWI prince two-time former sous-chef….workin’ it. Wearing one of MY Cayson Designs chef coats. The good ones. He almost shit when he saw us. I warned everyone to watch out for their knives.
We were immediately assigned to cut little triangles of carrots. We peeled a giant RubberMaid food bin of carrots. I made a point of saving the peels……Well, things have changed in France.
When I was a wee lad…….the French used every part of everything that moved or reposed on the planet. They would either eat or have sex with (or both) ANYTHING. Nothing was ever thrown out. The Chef…..more anon…even saved the chicken tampons for the blood. I used to cut the duck strings through the knots and re-use the greasy string. All parts of all vegetables were saved, sorted, and used for stocks, employee meals, dog or rabbit food, or compost. The butcher took away the lungs on his Mobilette for his fee…..we ate the blood, the fat, and the intestines, and were thankful. Yeah, yeah.....walked through the snow uphill both ways to school......
These pricks had us: peel all carrots, slice lengthwise on slicing machine, sort by width, laboriously cut just-so into little triangles. The Dude would come by every few minutes and berate us by comparing his example slice with our identical ones, and throw ours in the trash.
Now, I was experiencing Hanoi Hilton Syndrome, or Stockholm Syndrom, or L’Auberge du Cochon Rouge Syndrome. Been here, done this.....But: At Auberge, we were never allowed to serve the middle of the carrot to anyone. That is the wood. The support. The carrot Viagra. We always had to cut it out first, then fine dice the meat of the carrot for our mirepoix or whatever. I still have guilt pangs at the Cachagua Store for $3.00 soups for serving wood...and those people would eat oak. And here, The Dude was having us prepare triangles that were nearly all wood. Don't beat me sir....I am a good rat! OH!……commercial carrots, not organic. Half a million dollars a year, or more, of prep guys around the table, thousands of dollars of German steel……and commercial carrots. (All you need to know about the Masters of Food and Wine). Anyway, we had to peel ANOTHER tub of carrots….I am thinking 100 pounds in all…….to get five pounds of triangles. At no time did anyone share with us the ultimate goal….or the final dish….or the presentation…..anything. Kind of like being a Marine in Mosul……except here were only psychic IED’s. Mushroom Theory: keep the little people in the dark, and buried in shit……AND THEY THREW OUT ALL THE TRIMMINGS!!!!! No time for stock, you see…..All weekend I kept saving stuff….apparently foolishly. I was stunned at tossing ninety pounds of carrots……If I only knew: we retrieved ten pounds of foie gras, three pounds of truffles…..and virtuously guarded and returned four kilos of ossetra caviar before we were done. Did I mention the ten pounds of sweetbreads?
Anyway, then we did zucchini. Same deal. By now, M. Boyer had joined us, and The Dude lost all his suck. Revered Michelin 3star chef….prepping triangles with the brothas. Now, triangles were triangles….no more fucking around. Then we did pearl onions. The Dude INSISTED we hand peel them raw. I had a small word with M. Boyer: ‘’Papi, here in America, the housewives whack the ends off these boys and fuck them into boiling water…..then squirt the meat of the onion out of the skin in a second. Then we use the skins for stock……..’’ Papi said ‘’Go for it…..’’ The Dude was not pleased…..the Rabble had gone over his head. We finished in twenty minutes! The Froggies left for the day!
Then we cleaned lamb racks for hours…..Lunch for 150…..I think we did 80 or 100 lamb racks. We learned a neat trick from Vincent about pulling the fat off the ribs before you use the knife….saves lots of scraping. Cut away all the flavorful fat, by order of the Charlie Trotter guy. I rebelled, and did them my way; Vincent was a good soldier…..trimmed them to the bone and the flesh. Then later, the unseasoned thousands of dollars of lamb were fried and forgotten…dumped oh so carefully on the plate, and buried in chile sauce. Vincent was righteously, morally, and ethically....PISSED.
I became Milo Minderbinder. The Highlands kitchen has seen better days. It is a Hyatt now. Sort of like the Wailing Wall being taken over by Disney. Or Wendy's. I say this only with the complete confidence that no one will ever read this blog. Par example: The Dude would order us to puree his marrons….(Another story: no one at the Highlands had ANY conception that there was any other kind of chestnut than water chestnuts (lotsa Filipinos), or sweet ones for dessert….I had to explain this to The Dude. The messenger that I became was so shot full of holes by Sunday: ‘’M’sieur, le caviar est de Californie; M’sieur, les ris de veau sont congelées; M’sieur, il n'y a plus des morrilles fraiches..il y a des chanterelles......; M’sieur, les marrons sont glacées….’’…….I took it for the team, though.......Anyway, we went to Whole Foods and found him a couple kilos of real chestnuts…..) None of the Robot Coupes and Cuisinarts worked, or had parts. I went through four or five, again looking like a complete fucking idiot to the Frogs….in someone else’s kitchen. Oh….and no rubber spatulas. We lost a couple Dope Knives (Henckel’s Santuko Granton edge….to be expected….I think Papi grabbed one! Everyone steals them....even Cachagua crackheads), but I had to fight for my rubber spats. Fifty world class chefs, and no rubber. These cost a buck at American Supply.....Go figure. Brendan began to reluctantly give me some props for my gear. We also had the only steel, the only micro grater, the only round dough cutters……We washed our own cutting boards, because there were fifty chefs…..and only two guys in Dish Dog land. I proposed, and still do: bring the pastry chef, bring the wine steward, bring the 3star chef……and bring the 3star goddam dishdog, too!! Godforbid our dishdogs could empower their dishdogs.....or vice versa.
I am not done with this! I aplogize for the length....as Mark Twain wrote: I am sorry this letter is so long.....I did not have time to make it short!