Sunday, September 13, 2009

Trail: Gramercy Tavern

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, I headed down to 20th Street to trail at Gramercy Tavern. Unlike my first trailing experience, I wasn't at all nervous. I wanted the experience to go well and I knew that I would really like the trail to result in an externship offer, but I was surprisingly calm - espeically since this was one of my top choices of where I would like to extern.

When I arrived, the dark woods and comforting colors of the Tavern welcomed me into the restaurant. The host called down to the kitchen for Nancy Olsen, the executive pastry chef, and one of her assistants greeted me shortly thereafter. We walked into the kitchen, which was enormous in comparison to Blue Hill. She quickly pointed out the pastry service counter, which, again from my previous experience, I was surprised to find out was not also the prep station.

We headed down a narrow flight of stairs. She pointed out the uniforms and the women's locker room. She told me to meet her around the corner when I had finished changing. I was immediately happy I brought my own pants, as the longest inseam they had in my size was 30".

I walked around the corner and was surprised to find a whole other kitchen - the pastry kitchen. An entire kitchen devoted to just pastry and, if that wasn't exciting enough, the entire kitchen was meticulously organized and labeled.

I paired up with one of the pastry assistants who had me wash, measure, hull and about five pounds of strawberries. Gramercy Tavern, like Blue Hill, prides itself on using local ingredients, so the strawberries were actual strawberries, small, plump and extremely juicy. I began observing the people around me who, while everyone was working extremely hard, everyone also seemed to really get along and enjoy each other's company.

I had not been working on the strawberries very long when Nancy Olsen came into the kitchen. All of the assistants were happy to see her, as she made her way around the kitchen, talking and laughing with each person. She introduced herself to me and while I was skeptical about extending my hand covered in strawberry juice, she had no problem extending a warm handshake.

I continued working on the strawberries as Nancy spoke to everyone to get an idea of where the evening's production stood and where she would be most helpful. At about 4:30 PM, the phone rang and someone promptly let out a, "Dinner's ready!" Nancy invited me upstairs for the family meal - two pasta dishes, couscous and two salads. We all took our food and drinks back down to the pastry kitchen, ate, laughed and then got right back to work.

After I finished the strawberries, Nancy brought over four long loaves of brioche and showed me how to dice them for bread pudding. Afterwards, I teamed up with another assistant to prepare the shells for petit fours. She attended ICE for culinary and after completing her externship in the hot kitchen at Gramercy, decided to switch to pastry. She had nothing but wonderful things to say about her experiece so far at Gramercy.

Afterwards, Nancy took me upstairs to watch service, which by that time was in full-swing. I stood to the side to avoid being in the way and watched as the two assistants organized and plated the incoming orders. When service slowed a bit, they would plate desserts for me to taste - all four of which I really had to restrain myself from eating the entire plate in order to avoid sugar shock. Everything I tried, including the bread pudding (which I normally despise) was beyond wonderful.

One of the chefs from the hot kitchen came over with a sample of the lamb ragu, which was much appreciated not only because it was phenomenal, but also because I would have given just about anything to eat something savory and salty at that point. I wasn't doing a very good job of not finishing my dessert samples!

Things started to slow a bit and, as it had been about two hours at that point, I headed back down to the pastry kitchen to meet Nancy. She led me back to her office where we sat and talked for about half an hour.

She asked me lots of questions about what I was looking to get out of my externship, what I considered by style to be and my goals for working in the industry. She offered lots of advice and wisdom from her previous experiences.

Then, she extended an offer for me to work as an extern at Gramercy Tavern upon completing my program. She told me she wanted me to take some time to consider it, so it took a lot for me not to jump up and yell, "Yes! Yes! Yessssss!". So I thanked her, told her I would take the time to consider it and would be in touch shortly.

As an extern in the pastry kitchen, I will be working three nights a week - Monday through Wednesday from 6 PM to 10 PM, a schedule that closely mimics my current school schedule.
Nancy walked me out of the kitchen, showing me the chocolate room on the way out. I left feeling excited and energized. I felt like I had just been asked to be part of a very warm family, one that I knew I would learn a lot from and be given a lot of opportunity to grow.

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