Sunday, August 3, 2008

Something Smells Fishy

It's my third day on the job and I've already been promoted to working the steamer section. What does that mean you ask? For the first time I've been given total control over a 6 top burner to set up as I please, my very own hot section. With more responsibility comes hard work though and boy do I need to work hard! Last night was a bombardment of calls.

"New order! Banquet for two! I need two steamed scallops in!"
"Two snapper and a two minute call for rice to go with!"
"Oysters for four!"
"Scallops away. I need a pork in and 6 prawn wantons!"
"Here, take these bass fillets and pork"
"Oysters on the pass Chef!"
"You've got a calamari salad for 6!"
"Hot oil please!"
"Chicken to table 10!"

"How long for snapper?"
"I need a greens to go with those fish and 4 scallops!"
"Tofu salad!"
"6 scallops wontons and broccoli for 2 please!"
"Can I have the pork out?"
"Quick put this rice in!"

I stumbled home at half past one after my first Saturday night service at BK, kicked off my shoes and crawled straight into bed. I can't remember the last time I felt so exhausted. No wait. I take that back. It was Friday.
Head chef Hamish Ingham is finally saying his goodbyes to the restaurant. He's been around for so long he's like the B in Billy Kwong and we all know what Billy Kwong without the B is - illy Kwong. Not to mention unrecognisable! Even Google identifies it as an obvious mistake on my part.
I've never worked anywhere before that has really stressed the importance of using only the best and freshest ingredients to such an extent. Everything and I mean absolutely everything is prepped daily regardless of stock left over from the previous service (well ..with the exception of XO sauce which is made weekly). The refrigeration unit rivals only the space of my closet and without a freezer all the remaining produce goes towards staff meals at the end of the night.
Dashing waiter Clinton works out and has to have protein from the sea, either in the form of kingfish sashimi or bass groper. Flamboyant floor manager Kin likes a little more diversity and will choose from the bass groper, whole snapper or chicken but prefers everything with a little less soy (judging by his flawless skin it could very well be the reason behind his young complexion). Belle - waitress extraordinaire has had everything by now and will take anything you give her if you make her feel special. Runners - Natasha is a nondescript vegetarian with many secrets and Lucy is a shy youngster just beginning her romantic journey into the whirlwind industry that is hospitality.
It's fairly strange to work in a kitchen that lacks all measuring equipment aside from 3 large measuring jugs, one of which is used to hold oil for the wok station, the second to top up water levels in the steamers during service and the other just sort of hangs around with its sad-looking melted handle for no particular reason. Apparently the Chinese philosophy is to cook gauging by taste, sight and feel which at first frightened me because with lots of things (and baked desserts especially) inaccuracy doesn't yield very good results. Luckily there are no baked desserts involved but the balance of sweet, salty, sour, xian, heat, etc. is actually not too hard to pick up quickly. I'll leave you with a very roughly guesstimated recipe for 'fish sauce'. We use it very generously ladled over meaty white fish (whole snapper, bass groper & hapuka fillets) which have first been steamed with ginger julienne and shaoxing (fermented rice) wine then sprinkled with sesame oil, a pinch of sugar, crushed white pepper, a tiny dash of tamari (a gluten-free substitute for soy) and shallot julienne doused with sizzling hot peanut oil.
Fish Sauce
100 ml Shaoxing wine
1/9 cup organic cane sugar
400 ml water
90 ml organic tamari
In a medium pot bring wine to the boil.
Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
Keep at a rolling boil for 5 minutes.
Pour in water and tamari and bring to the boil.
Taste and add more sugar/water/tamari if needed.


  1. OK - you made me completely dizzy with all the orders flying at you -I'd die in a commercial kitchen - I don't know how you do it but Kudos to you because otherwise where would I eat when I go out. I'm also so jealous of your ability to deal with seafood - it seems to be a nemesis for me. Could you come and teach me?

  2. hahaha :P i'm not sure if that would be safe. i've got alot to learn too! an easy way to test meaty white fish like bass groper though as i've learned it to give the fattest part of the fillet a poke with a skewer and, much like testing potatoes, if you feel no resistance it should be done!

  3. I love the sound of prepping fresh everyday!!! If only all restaurants could/would operate this way. Sounds like you have hit the ground running, well done!!

  4. No freezer! Wow! :) Sounds hectic, but good at the same time. Makes me miss working in the savoury part of the kitchen. Almost.


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