Thursday, November 23, 2006

it's wednesday the 22nd. i woke up at 5:59 this morning, like every morning with sunlight streaming through the window. it's the only late start i get this week so i try to get as much sleep as possible.

5pm: i've been at work for 3 hours and we're standing outside the front of the restaurant trying to fit 5 trays of duck pies into the back of Ben's car.. on top of 500 ceramic spoons and croutons, 2 fryers, and 3 styrofoam boxes of tonight's most important ingredient; paspaley pearl meat. the car is so packed we need a second vehicle to take us all to our next location. not one of us knows our destination aside from the address but we're expecting big, BIG things. we're told that the function tonight is for at least 300 of sydney's most elegant people and we've prepared enough canapes for 450 pax. it's the grand opening of the new paspaley pearl gallery at no.2 martin place and the guest list is as v.i.p as you could possibly imagine.

5:30pm: we pull up outside the venue and half-stumble down the rocky side lane with our boxes of precious cargo. we're each handed a fleuroescent green sticker that says "bump-in 22-11-06 pm" to stick on our uniforms by the backdoor security who remind me of the bouncers on oxford st. they hold open the heavy door for us and we make our entrance through the dark corridor and down the stairs. i think the disappointment on all of our faces is fairly evident to say the least. the kitchen we had all imagined is non-existant. the air is dusty, the lights dim, cables run all over the cement floor and there is no bathroom, not even a sink. the only source of running water is the firehose hanging on the wall. it looks like warehouse storage under construction. we are here though, with food in our hands so we must persevere.

6pm: everything that could go off within the next 4 hours is buried deep under 40kg of ice in all the tubs and plastic containers that we can find. our makeshift kitchen now comprises of scaffolding and iron sheets and the complete lack of technology belonging to the 21st century leaves us unphased when peter sullivan discovers that only one of the mere two points leading directly from the main powerboard is actually functioning. pushing aside every upheavel we spread out 20 of our largest function plates, unpack 450 individual spoons and start plating up. when chef ben leaves for a few moments brett pulls us up the stairs to check out the gallery before guests start arriving. i can't help but squint, everything is so bright! the stairs, the floor, the walls are all white marble. glass cases dot the landing but i can't quite see what they contain. it's as if my feet refuse to take another step closer, i've never seen anything like it and i'm afraid that even my presence alone will somehow taint the elegance here which feels almost surreal.

6:30pm: the first canape to go is the paspaley ceviche with fennel, grapefruit, citrus and chilli dressing (450 of them..phew) then we start to push out a few of the others- melt-in-your-mouth wagyu carpaccio on thinly sliced croutons with roquette cress and truffle mayonnaise, cold tartlets of milawa goats mousse with chilli jam and toasted pinenuts, lightly fried chilli-salted paspaley, tuna 'pops' with soy and red curry dressing, tomato consomme with pearl skewers, mini duck and pea pithivers which we can't pump out fast enough despite the size and necessary two hands involved to consume them.

8:40pm: this is the highlight, a gorgeous brunette woman wanders downstairs into our industrial warehouse kitchen conversion, navigating through the ice boxes in dainty stilettos that were never designed to touch concrete but for one simple request- another serving of matthew moran's duck pie? of course, it's famous you know. it was on the menu at moran's over 7 years ago and it's still a favourite almost a decade later. i begin piping white chocolate ganache into mini sable tartlets, topping them with halved raspberries, gold leaf and wafer-thin black sesame nougat. a photographer who has been doing rounds all night asks me to look up as she takes a picture. i have a quick chat with her and find out that she works freelance and that her pieces often feature in magazines such as gourmet traveller. there are a lot of questions about the food so i hand her bits and pieces to taste as i work. she's very interesting to talk to and fun as i find out. we have a laugh when she says that i should quit my overworked and underpaid apprenticeship to become a hand model.

10pm: it's finally over, the plates are being returned and the hired food runners for tonight are digging into the leftover canapes. brett hands all the girls showbags that are given to the guests upstairs. it's a very elegant, very bright silver and yellow containing a single scented white candle and a card with the paspaley label enclosed in glass, wrapped and with a silver ribbon. we wash the plates and ceramic cups and spoons under the firehose, empty the frying oil into drums, throw what's left of the ice into the side street and take our boxes back to the car. if you walked through that dusty corridor and took a step into that bare and open room, you would see nothing but the high ceiling and cement floor, the cases and scaffolding equipment stacked along the walls and in the back. you would have no idea that just upstairs is the most amazing boutique- a $1.7m heritage refurbishment that showcases exquisite pearl collections for (the likes of kylie minogue and princess mary) todays patriciate, the crème de la crème de la crème or just the brazenly wealthy.

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