(no pictures yet, still way too afraid.)
Cooks: have you ever prepped in absolute silence?
Yeah, neither had I until my first day at AOC.
At In de Wulf, we had the occasional radio, a small amount of kitchen banter, though most of the time there was just work to do.
But here, there’s pretty much nothing. Why? Well, most of the prep you do here requires your full, undivided attention otherwise you’re just wasting their time, and your time. The smallest, most inane tasks have a very specific way being done, from picking herbs to the specific size (and by specific, we mean something around three leaflets on the dill for garnish), to punching out little circles from each leaf of parsley, to cutting sharp as a razor, 90 degree edges on the squid. In previous kitchens that I’ve worked in, you had a small range of doneness when you fry things on their shade of color.
Every piece has to be a certain color. A certain doneness. There’s not a range, there’s not a zone, they don’t care if you stand and stare at the product till it’s done. Multitasking is possible, but what they really want is the most consistent product humanly possible.
Chefs Emborg and Munk have very finite specifications (and the stencils and molds to prove it) to everything. Blanching, which is even the most basic of basic tasks now has a certain weight of water and salt ratio to specific vegetables. It has to be done one. single. way.
At times it feels like I’m working the pastry station.
Oh wait. I am. (or well I was, I moved to the hot line today)
But even so, the innate movements, feelings, touches, smells of cooking savory food that I’ve done time and time again have never felt so calculated and rigid. I’ve never been one to punch out circles or use stencils or little molds. Here, most of the time my brain second-guesses itself as I’m doing something that I’ve done thousands of times. My muscles pause at things that they’ve repetitively done for years. But the demand is high, and they aren’t afraid to let you know what they want.
It’s probably the hardest kitchen I’ve ever been in, with the level of food that goes out.
But the food is amazing. The mixture of pure flavor, extreme attention to texture, and an interesting (and very apparent attention to) aesthetic, from my viewpoint, probably makes for a worthwhile dining experience for the guests.
Cooking like this is a new feeling, and its one that not only makes me appreciate consistent food that’s reaching for a certain point of excellence in every plate, but also the food that AOC isn’t. The food that’s poked and gauged by an experienced (or I guess sometimes not so experienced) cook, plated with certain individual artistic expression, and almost always changes depending on who’s cooking, slicing, and tasting your food. But in the end, that may be what separates the good from the legends. The ability to ingrain it in your head the deepest specific details of every plate. I know that here, every piece of every plate has had multiple sets of eyes inspect it in every stage of its preparation. Its here that the chef is behind every single plate. It’s a mentally exhausting way to work, and a style that doesn’t really fit my own.
So why am I here?
AOC and probably Geranium are two types of kitchens I’ll probably never have the skill to move up and run. But their level of finiteness and my (hopefully) ability to keep up and thrive gives me a better idea of how far I want to take this little thing called cooking. What is it that makes their food so good, and how much should that line of OCD-ness do you want to push it to make your food shine with both technique and personality?
Who knows. Maybe I’ll end up being the cook that has to buy a whole bunch of ring cutters and rulers.