Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Seeing Stars (Part 3)

Getting Fresh for the Weekend

Day 3 on the lovely island of Sylt, brought sunshine, seaside fun and relaxation... to everyone but me and my colleagues at Söl'ring Hof that is! Up at the break of dawn again and rubbing the sleep from my eyes to face a new day in the kitchen, the best thing about it was that I was actually excited and eager to get back to work!

Sure, I knew that Sunday's were closed and that I was going to be meeting my new-found friends and finally getting to see more of the island and relax, but the truth of the matter was that no matter how stressful, how much hard work and how nerve-wracking it was, I was learning new skills and techniques and spending the whole day doing what I love most... cooking!

First though, the team breakfast and a brief discussion of the days agenda. By now I felt comfortable hanging out with my new colleagues and I was able to follow the conversation much better... it was all good until I latched onto the fact that I should be joining young Marius to learn the intricacies of the days patisserie production! Ugh! Suddenly I was nervous all over again, as I feel confident doing almost anything in the kitchen... that does not entail baking or making sweets and desserts! At the same time I was totally happy- this was exciting! It was like taking a therapy session and having to pick up a tarantula to cure a fear of spiders... only I was going to be having fun and learning to make awesome, edible works of art!

Sweets Somethings

I walked past the posts I had worked at so far, looking longingly at the kitchen tools I was familiar with and realizing that I would not be using them today. There would be tweezers and piping bags, rolling pins and whisks... and in place of meat, fish or vegetables, there was going to be flour, butter, cream, fruit and herbs! And a lot of attention from me as this was all very, very new.

The first thing Marius had me do was to crack some eggs. Lots of eggs. We would need the yolks for making cakes, ice creams and custards, the whites for meringues and all things fluffy... but first of all we needed the shells! 

I was given one of those gadgets that consist of a small metal pole, with a  "cap" at one end, that sits atop the egg and a weight that can be lifted up the pole and then dropped down onto the egg to crack it. You know the kind of thing I'm sure. One of those things you tend to see with the novelty items in the cook-wear department and think, "OMG who needs something like that??!". Well... the answer was that we did! 

Once the weight got dropped onto the egg, the metal "cap" was forced down and in effect slightly cracked the surface of the egg shell cleanly along the metal rim. Using a small, sharp knife, I was then shown how to gently run the blade around this hairline crack and lift off the top very, very cleanly. Then the yolks went into one bowl and the whites into another. But I was not yet finished. Next, the very fine membrane that coats the inside the eggshell needed to carefully be removed. This was a lot of fuss just for some empty shells! But the result was going to be pretty amazing!

Yolking Around.

What we were making of course was  a dessert- a sweet little nothing that was presented looking like a cracked, raw egg, but which was full of surprises, as the egg white was a delicate white cream and the yolk, a "sphere" of frozen fruit juice or puree, encapsulated in a thin layer gelatin. Again, this little whimsical creation was intended to delight and to amuse as well as to be a flavorful culinary experience. King's cuisine is one that tantalizes all of the senses and that challenges the guests sense of adventure and discovery. It is, expressed in one word- awesome!

On this occasion, we were to produce orange flavored spheres, although apricot, peach or even mango would produce the desired color and can therefore also be used. The enriched juice (I must admit that I no longer recall exactly what was added), was poured into a silicon mould with little half-round shapes and frozen. Later, a flavored gelatin but transparent was prepared- and this was the tricky part... using a pin, the frozen juice was stabbed carefully, lift out of the tray and briefly into the warm gelatin, then after a few seconds dipped back into the gelatin so that a casing of stable thickness was created. At least that is the theory! In practice, they are so tricky to make that they often simply slide off the pin, plop!, into the warm gelatin! So it was a good thing that I only needed to produce about 3 dozen shells and spheres!

Cooking up a Storm

Elsewhere, fish were being gutted and trimmed, meat was being prepared, sauces were bubbling away, grains, vegetables and potatoes were boiling, bread was baking, other ingredients were gently simmering in "sous vide" water baths and production was going at full tilt! I can't tell you how much I loved being in this environment!


Sweets for the Sweet

Back to the patisserie- next on the list were the chilled coconut pralines that I had learned to make the previous day in Keitum- easy! The rich, buttery cream center with vanilla and coconut flavor, simply needed to be rolled into shape and coated in grated coconut... I had 40-50 of these made in no time at all! I wonder if the guests realize that even such creations as these after-dinner "petit four's" are made fresh daily? Everything is hand made and exclusive- even tiny, delicate marshmallow treats which are piped in 3 rings, like a little pyramid, coated in rich white chocolate and then decorated with a crispy, sugared rose petal. 

Next- I got to bake my first ever cake! After that, delicate, ridiculously delicious paper thin waffles that needed to be meticulously spread into a milimeter-thin form, briefly baked and then formed whilst pliable before they cooled and became crisp as can be. Then dozens of fresh cherries that needed to be pitted and chocolate coated. A rich, cocoa crumble which was baked in little clumps that resembled freshly dug earth... all of these simple elements that would be combined to create edible, sweet artworks later on! A breathtakingly rich lemon ice cream, a refreshing berry granita, the list goes on and on...

Probably the stars of all of the sweet dishes for me, were the wild herbs again! Bronze fennel tops, dill and arugula blossoms, lemon balm, mint and chervil being the only ones I can recall and translate into English- with numerous other seaside foliage that I had never seen, heard of or tasted before! These were dipped into a sugar syrup using tweezers, the excess shaken off and then dried in a dehumidifier until the became crispy and unbelievably delicious. 

Breaking Away

As usual, at 5pm or so, our break, our meal of the day which was a simple pasta with tomato sauce, then off to the beach to relax and chill out and lighten up before the action of the evening began. And everywhere the sense of calm on the island, the clean, fresh air and the untouched and unspoiled beauty of it all. As popular as Sylt is as a holiday destination, Rantum remains subdued compared to Westerland and especially on this quiet stretch of beach, things are about as idyllic as you could wish.

Back indoors, final preparations and good moods all around- time for a few laughs and jokes and to prepare for the arrival of the guests. I have to repeat myself I'm afraid, but the great sense of collegiality here was certainly inspiring. Despite having differing personalities, backgrounds, preferences and opinions, the overall feeling was one of a group of dedicated people working together. A rare and wonderful thing!

All for One and One for All

Before things got underway for the evening, the weekly staff meeting was held, where we all came together and were addressed by Mr. King as the next weeks agenda was discussed. Details such as the new menu concept that was being introduced- "his and hers" cards, the ladies with a delicate oyster shell inlayed into the cover and the gentlemen's with a hand-painted, vintage tile with a typical motif. As usual, lovely details which enhance and enrich the experience in each and every way.

There was a brief mention and explanation as to who I was for any new staff that I had not yet been introduced to, a new trainee was announced for the coming week and Johannes King's travel plans... which would take him away to Berlin on Monday to meet with amongst others; Ferran Adrià, Thomas Bühner, Klaus Erfort, Sven Everfeld and Joan Roca, for a summit meeting of other leading chefs at the opening of new Spanish restaurant. Very exciting! But alas, it would mean that I would not see him again before leaving the following Thursday- sigh! 

Quickly wrapping up the meeting and returning to our posts in the kitchen, we busied ourselves with the preparations for the evening, which soon got underway. Falling into a slowly more familiar routine, the fast pace of the production of the numerous dishes that each an every guest would be served, was no less stressful- but also not quite so daunting anymore. It was a good feeling! And also- the feeling of impending freedom, for at least one day, began to become more present as the evening progressed. 

A quick goodbye and words of thanks with Mr.King, over the phone as he was already on his way to pack, ready for his early morning flight, a goodbye to my colleagues until Monday... and happily home I went. Looking over my shoulder at this wonderful place I was in, I couldn't help wonder what sights I would see in the morning! And I was excited about meeting my new friends! Life was good- and even if it was only for one day- I was on vacation!

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