The first job I got, while attending culinary school, was for the Bank of California as a cook for their Executive Dining Room. The Chef, Bob, ran the kitchen for the employee commissary and the dining room. He was a nice enough fellow and tolerated the newness of my techniques. You see, I had just started my studies and the needle on my skill meter had yet to make a move. While mostly cordial, our conversations mostly ran in context with our work. We would discuss the menu of the day, the products we were using and the cooking techniques we would employ. One day in particular Chef Bob walked up to me and asked, “Is your arm broke?” “What?” I replied.
“Is your arm broken?” “No”
“Then use both hands to unload that case of produce.”
It seems that I had yet to gain the ‘Sense of Urgency’ that efficient and productive restaurant employees must possess. This was my first real introduction in to the ways of the kitchen ninja. (What?) While we did not share much common interest outside of the kitchen we eventually found a pace and comfort level in discussing food, how it was to be prepared and how to best serve it. It was in one of these conversations that I shared with Chef a question that I asked my mother.
My mother was a nurse by career but an artist at heart. She had earned a 4 year scholarship to Art School, which her parents would not allow her to accept. Instead she could either study to become a teacher or a nurse, both respectable occupations for a young lady, and that they would pay for her education. Nurse by day, painter by night. The timing of my studies, interestingly enough, coincided with my mother’s study of composition in painting. So I asked her one day if she would give me some advice on my plate presentation. How the food was arranged on the plate. Now I had expected something or another about color but this was not the case. Instead she looked at me for a minute and then began to describe how people in Western cultures learn to read. (What?) We learned to read starting at the top left of the page, working our way across to the right, back to the left and finishing on the bottom right. Like the letter: Z
She said that most people, when they look at an image, start at the upper left corner and what you want to do with your composition is to use lines and swirls to keep drawing their eyes back to the center of the canvas. Wow, that’s cool. What was even cooler is that after I shared this nugget with Chef Bob he came back to me after the weekend off and said, “Do you remember what your mother told you about plating last week?” “Yes.” “Well I used that approach and won third place for plate presentation in a culinary competition this last weekend.” “Wow, congratulations.” My relationship with Bob relaxed a bit after that day but that was not the takeaway I got from this exchange. What I got is, technique matters, everything matters. I shared Chef Bob’s success with my mother and she was happy for him, and a little proud of her son too, I believe.
One mother whom I am sure is proud of her is son, is Michael Warring’s mother. Last night I was treated to a surprise dinner at Michael Warring. Yes, the name of the restaurant is the name of the chef. I like it. Located in a little strip mall on Bennington Court, hidden (sorry), in Hiddenbrooke, the restaurant in small with only 3 tables and a few stools at the counter so reservations are a must. One amazing thing is that Michael and his wife Ali Gulczynski co-own and run this business by themselves. Another is their attention to detail. Everything matters.
Now I dined at Michael Warring a few years back and have this to say about it then. I found Michael’s technique to be impeccable. It had been my pleasure to work with many talented cooks over the years but I found Michael’s technique to be clean, lean and efficient. It was a joy to watch such a journeyman at work. Very few achieve the level of technical skill that Michael employs on a daily basis. But, while his food was tasty, at the time I did not find it to be inspired. I felt as if he cut his training off short in too much of a hurry to open his own restaurant and that he needed a bit more seasoning.
Well that was then and this is now. My latest meal there was as thoughtfully put together as it was prepared. After recently refitting their kitchen, owner’s Ali and Michael have definitely come into their own. Our meal started off with a fermented Pluot served with a nitrogen frozen sabayon. Besides being incredibly delicious, the fog put out in the kitchen, by the liquid nitrogen being poured in to a stainless container, was a show stopper. The next course was a lightly fried Fluke with, YUM, a cucumber sorbet. The meal continued on and I am abbreviating the list of ingredients in each dish as the wine pairing had begun to take a hold of my memory. Michael also chooses to employ immersion cooking which, well, cooks food perfectly every time. We sat, enjoying our meal, watching the ribeye steak, vacuum packed, swirling around in a perfectly, temperature, controlled water bath. After removing it from the bag and searing it with butter, so it appeared, luscious little nuggets of the beast found their way on to my plate.
Both cheese and dessert were lovely but not nearly as the French Malbec that was served with the fourth course. I think it is time to compare, French, Argentinian and Californian Malbecs. Blind tasting anyone?
I frequent very few restaurants these days. Variety being more interesting for my palate, or some-such-thing. But I think that I might just have to pop in a few more times this year just to make sure last night’s meal wasn’t just a fluke. I suggest that you do the same.
p.s. I am convinced that my meal was no fluke. The reason I know? Because from kitchen layout, to wine selection right down to meal preparation, at Michael Warring . . . Everything Matters.
Until next time,
Eat Well and Smile Often