As promised, a guest blog post written by my daughter Natalie Rosen about her experience interning North America’s #1 restaurant (warning: this is an intense, and a long post – perhaps perfect for this stormy night here in Halifax):
It has been almost seven months since I ate at BlueHill in NewYork City. I think it was the only meal that has ever brought me to tears. I started crying as the last course arrived. My thought process was something like this “Why do I even bother? Why am I cooking when someone already has it all figured out? I will never be this good, never be able to execute like this. Dan Barber is already doing it perfectly, so why even bother?” This is when the waitress came over and asked if everything was okay. I tried my best to explain, and blundered out a sloppy string of words of appreciation while I wiped away tears. She informed me that Dan was in the kitchen at that very moment and offered that, chef permitting, I might like to step into the kitchen for a moment. I hurriedly nodded, still struggling to compose myself. In a moment she was back, and I was to follow her past the service station, through the swinging doors, and into the kitchen. Dan was standing in the middle of the kitchen. His arms folded across his chest. He was completely still, aside from his head moving slowly from side to side, surveying. The organized chaos surrounding him a stark contrast. I honestly don’t remember what I said to him. I am sure I managed to convey at least a bit of the awe and appreciation I was feeling as the waitress introduced me, and I shook his hand. I must have only been there for all of five minutes. We talked about food, and my job, and the meal. He asked me what I liked about my job, and why I cooked. He told me he liked that way I talked about food, and then turned to me and said “If you would ever like a job, let me know.” I fumbled again with a language I have spoken for the better part of 23 years, and responded with “Yes, I would very much like that.” Well, or probably something much less elegant. He handed me a card with an email address on it. “Send Nick an email” he said. Next thing I know, I’m back at my table and crying again.
I have kept that card in my wallet for the last six months.
Tomorrow is my first day staging as a chef at Stone Barns at Blue Hill.
I am fucking terrified.
My day started at 11am. After completing paper work, I was hastily shown around by the recruiting officer, before picking out 5 pairs of whites for the week – I was given my aprons, assigned a locker, and was told to report to the kitchen. I peeled haruki turnips for a while before morning meeting. Chefs poured into the dining room ladened with chairs. We sat around 4 huge round tables, and were briefed for that day, and reflected on past service. When we returned to the kitchen I was told I would be starting on amuse, and I was to learn 6 dishes. Needles in the Hey, Ashwaganda, Beet Pizza, Pork Liver and Chocolate, Kale Tree, and Pig Popcorn. Abby, a 19 year old from what she described as “hick country”, will be my teacher for this portion of my learning. She is doing her externship from the CIA, has been at Bluehill doing these dishes for 5 months. She is leaving next week. She is quiet, and I find myself finishing a lot of her sentences for her, but she seems to know what she’s doing. Between 12 and 2 we prepared for the Ashwaganda dish. Kale and sweet potato chips, with brisola (beef eye of round cured with redwine) grated on top. At 2 o’clock everyday there is a total tear-down and clean. Everyone stops what they are doing, puts everything away and scrubs everything down. We proceed to make the tiny, hickory stick sized grossini for the Needles dish. After that I am tossed about a bit to whoever needs me. Cleaning Kale, putting various purées into containers, cutting miniature burger buns, etc. Before I know it, it is 4pm and time for family meal. Chefs ladle chilli, salad, and potatoes in layers into quart containers and eat outside. With an hour left until the first chit comes in, the kitchen is alive. There must be 40 people in the kitchen at any given time. This is not counting the upstairs kitchens, and prep kitchens. There is always someone yelling “corner” or “behind”, the floors are always either being mopped or swept, by whichever chef’s standard who’s turn it is. Everyone is moving so quickly, that sometimes you forget where you’re going because you’ve had to move so much for people running to take something off the stove or put something on. Somehow it works. The chaos seems to be organized in a way I don’t yet understand. Everything is broken down so much, I wonder how it all stays intact.
Some of the chefs at Blue Hill, including Natalie (top row, middle)
Service starts, and this is when I get completely lost. I can plate and cook all the dishes, no problem. I thought this would be harder for me, but it’s not. I am not as efficient, but I am good at those things. It’s when the expediter starts yelling and the chefs start yelling back that I know this is going to be the hardest part. I have no idea what anyone is saying. It’s like they are speaking a language I don’t speak. I rely on Abby completely to tell me what to make and how many. I have never worked with an expediter, and it’s going to be a steep learning curve. Abby is pulled aside by a chef at one point and I think I hear the expediter yell that we need 2 tomato sushi ( a dietary restriction item) right now, and so I frantically communicate this with her as soon as she’s back. We didn’t need any tomato sushi. I explain to chef, and then eat the sushi myself. BlueHell is gifting me with a meal in exchange for my time here, so at 6:45 I am told I should leave and go eat, and be back tomorrow morning. As I leave the kitchen and walk through the courtyard in the cold winter air, the energy from the kitchen is still buzzing around me.
And just like that, I went from Chef to customer.
We finished the last of our 40 something courses after midnight. I was exhausted and full.
At morning meeting, Chef Dan asked me about my meal. He asked what I enjoyed and asked me to talk about three things I disliked, or could have been improved upon. It was nerve wracking to be asked to criticize a meal that your coworkers had spent so much time and energy on, in front of those coworkers. It felt a bit as though I was being a tattletale, something I have always struggled with. I said the following things: 1, I didn’t have a fork during one course of the meal. You are given a roll of cutlery at the beginning of the meal, and by the time the venison and cabbage dish arrived, I had no fork, and the staff didn’t notice. This was clearly unacceptable to Dan. On the floor, with a 1/2 waiter to customer ratio, this should never happen. 2, I found it to be too much food. At around dish 20, I was jokingly saying “I hope we are almost done” and “It has to be over soon, right?” and by dish 30 I was no longer joking but instead pleading. I felt sick after. It was just too much food for me. 3, I had a celeriac consommé that was so over salted that I could not drink it.
After the meeting, we started everything we had done the day before over again. I learned about the varietals of all the different products we use. I started to orientate my self, and learn where things go. I start learning names, and who to ask for what. I also learned that I will be taking over this station completely next week, because Abby is leaving. I need to know everything. No one else knows the station, and I will have to teach someone else how to run it before I leave.
I find this kind of teaching slightly questionable. It feels like a game of telephone. It’s too easy for information to get lost or incorrectly remembered or construed. I don’t know what the alternative would be, so for now I watch and listen very carefully. I ask a lot of questions and take a lot of notes.
At today’s morning meeting we have a tasting. We divide into groups and taste 4 different squash. Each squash has been bred for specific traits. Colour, taste, thickness of skin, etc. Although I can’t talk about the squash we tasted, It was very interesting. We are asked to give notes and feedback. How do we think the squash could be used? What do we like, and what don’t we like and why? What can be changed? etc. Chef Dan and breeder Michael Mazerik fist worked together on a project that ended up producing the Honey Nut squash. A squash you can find now at Whole Foods and Markets, and buy seeds for online . The squash is bread to be much smaller and have a much more concentrated taste than a butter nut, and it does. This squash if about the size of a pear, and is so rich and dense that it is more similar to a sweet potato than to any squash I have ever eaten. The squash are also very rich in nutrients, much in the same way that micro greens are. This is a great podcast, if you’re interested. https://gastropod.com/dan-barber-quest-for-flavor/ . I am not sure how I feel about changing the gene makeup on the food we eat, or about selective breeding and seed saving, because I just don’t know enough about these processes, but it tastes pretty fucking awesome.
all staff participate in the tastings … of one kind or another
Fridays we have an hour less of prep time, because we do family meal in the events hall, and have a presentation. Today’s was about pheasants. There was a pheasant present. It was interesting, but eating was my main focus. We also have a wine tasting before service.
In the kitchen there is one expediting station for fish line, meat line, garde manger, and pastry. Chef Bastien and Chef Dan expedite for this. There is a separate expatiating station for amuse. We put out 13 dishes from this station. The first the guests receive. They come in waves for the diners which means they come in waves for us. 3 to 6 at a time, and all 13 dishes in about 10 minutes. There are 5 people on our station.
- Brussle tree*
- Squash Rings
- Needless *
- Beet pizza*
- Liver and chocolate*
- Pig Corn/tendon/tapioca*
The stars are the dishes I am in charge of. We can have as many as 45 people getting these dishes at the same time (this happens on Sunday and it’s a shit show). Chef Armando yells out the ticket, and we respond with a collective “YES” and then get to work. I try my best to keep all the information in order in my brain. It is very confusing, and very difficult for me. Not every table gets everything and there is substitutes for allergies for all the dishes.
Chef Armando ‘Ticket in. 4 top . Firing.”
at this point I know I need to start Ashwaganda and needles for 4, easy enough.
Chef Armando ‘Ticket in. 6 top. 2 no gluten, 3 no pork, 1 no organ meat.”
So then I have to do some calculating. I already have 4 in, which I haven’t started so I can do that at the same thime. This means I need needles for 4 by 4, Ashwaganda for 4 by 6. Then I have to listen for the fence to go out across the room, because I need to select and drop brussels trees, and cook them for 2 minutes when the fence goes out.
Chef Armando ‘Ticket in. PDR, 14 guests. 2 no organ meats, 3 vegetarian.”
At this point I have put the needles and ashwaganda on the pass, for the first two tables, and have my brussels trees dropped and a timer on, but I can’t keep working on those tables until I make ashwaganda and needles for this 14 top in the private dinning room. All the plates are small, this means for this tables I will be going 4 by 4 by 3 by 3. I start with the table, making sure to put almonds instead of brisola for the vegetarians.
I start beet pizza for the first and second tickets. I break the seed cracker to the correct size and start layering. 4 colours of thinly sliced beets, on the cracker that is about 6’ x 6’ . No beets of the same colour can touch, and no cracker can be showing. This takes a tremendous about of time. As I am assembling the pizza I am also working on the PDR, doing needles and ashwganga for them, as well as liver and chocolate for the 4 top. I send the 6 tops their first 2 items and begin on their pizzas. 4 x 2 not gluten, which I will have to make separately on a flax cracker I made earlier. I drop brussels for the 6. I do liver and chocolate for the people who eat pork liver, and tomato sushi for the 3 who don’t.
A VIP ticket comes in for 4. This means getting special trays of set-aside ingredients from the Traulsen. I do their needles and aswaganda.
I fry pigskin, and beef tendon and tapioca.
and on and on and on for up to 12 hours. People are constantly being called off line to run food, or sweep, or eat, or pee, or find something, or replace someone else who is doing any of these things. It’s chaos and order. A dance.
Did I mention my station is right in-front of the kitchen table? There constantly are guests hovering over me, thrilled to finally be in Dan Barber’s kitchen, and eager to ask questions.
Saturdays are a bit different. We don’t get in until 12, and we do double prep because we do lunch on Sundays, and they want us rested for the exceptionally long Sunday. Everyone goes into hyperdrive. There is no walking, only running. No staff meeting today. We set up, do double prep, and set up the line by 4pm. The dehydrated bonita potatoes oxidized. We do them again. The time passes too quickly. Somehow we get everything done.
I am now allowed to season everything. This is very exciting, because it means Chef trusts me. I have had almost no feedback on my work. I guess this is a good thing?
The last ticket comes in at 10. We are done by 10:20pm… Well kind of. We flip all of the walk ins. Every night. All 6 of them. We go through every mushroom, every onion, every scallop. Checking each one, and then switch the trays and papers they are on. It takes 6 of us about 2 hours. Then we clean. First our station, and then we do all the cast iron in the kitchen, we clean and foil all of the oven trays. We scrub all of the ranges, and all of the fridges, and hand wash all of the tools. We clean the cold room, and the vac pack room. We clean the ovens in the bakery. I have been in a squatted position for 3 hours a day, every day. We flip meat line and fish line. Because we are the first station done, we spend the most time cleaning. When we are done, we do it all again.
When the last ticket is in, we clean our station again. It is full of salt from scrubbing pans, and covered in water. When everyone is done we gather in a prep kitchen outside the office and wait to shake Chef Bastien’s hand and wish him a good night. I am told to be in by 10am tomorrow. It’s 3am. As I walk up the hill to my car every step makes me wince.
many mornings, the chefs do chores on the farm before getting ready for the day’s meals in the kitchen
The day starts early. 8am. I have had less than 4 hours of sleep. We work to finish prep by 11, and then make smoothies for the 100 staff. No family meal today. We are sent off one by one to eat for 10 minutes. I had suggested to Chef Armando that we try putting the sweet potatoes in water before dehydrating. I did a test batch and they turned out much flatter and with better color. Chef Armundo said it was worth showing Chef Dan next week!
We got royally fucked during service. After 7 hours of sending dishes, 7pm hit. At one point we had 48 on the board. No one had enough space or enough time. As the massive amount of tickets moved through the stations, chefs rushed to wherever the tickets were. It started with us. Out of nowhere and All at once. We called for extra hands and doubled our team. There was a lot of yelling. Hands crossing over each other, people standing back to back and shoulder to shoulder around amuse. I don’t know how we did it, but we did it. As ‘ALL IN’ was called, I could feel my body relax. Then it was time for a deep clean. We cleaned until 3am.
I changed, and cleaned my locker. I walked the 5 minutes up the snowy hill to my car. As I breathed in the freezing air, I realized I was crying. I was hurting and exhausted, but I wasn’t crying because of that. I just could not believe I had actually done it. I had made it to the weekend.