Day 3: The storm takes a new direction across town, Wild and Rare

John Ash, Andrew Dwyer and Andy Floyd after a successful event

John Ash, Andrew Dwyer and Andy Floyd after a successful event

There was only one scheduled class on Friday and that was Extreme Cooking with Andrew Dwyer from Australia.  I had taken care of every major detail the day before so I was fairly confident it would run smoothly.  He had a group of Johnson & Wales students to assist him and some of them were coming to give me a hand later in the day for the Wild and Rare dinner at Cook Street.

The Wild and Rare dinner was not the only thing on my mind as I had agreed to cater an off premise gig for the IACP Culinary Trust.  I had our Alumni coordinator David Bravdica in charge of putting together the food for that event and also helping to prep the same appetizers to be served for Wild and Rare.  Donated food for this event as well as cheese for the Artisan Pizza class the following day had been pouring in all week and was filling the walk-in cooler to capacity.

I had told my assistants to arrive at 10 am, but only two of them actually could.  The three volunteers from J&W were assisting Andrew Dwyer at the Sheraton and would not be at the school until after 12:30pm (remind me not to schedule volunteers for two places in one day).  My FL (stands for Fearless Leader) had to work until 3 pm and would not show up until then. Will Poole long time friend and owner of WEN chocolates was there early to work on his dessert and came with his usual ebullient energy.

Add to this a general uneasiness from Tina our FOH manager about having the necessary hands available to set up the room and we were already off to a great start.

I wrote up a prep list on the board and had my two assistants Sharon and Vicki start to check off the task that needed to be done.   John the recreational program chef came to help us out as well.  My former Culinary Arts instructor, Francois Dionot as well as his wife Patrice owners of l’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda Maryland came by to check out our school and to say hello.  I spent a little time with them, but in the back of my mind I already know I’m behind and understaffed.  Then the Dean of J&W, Jorge de la Torre,  comes by with Adam Seger who is doing a cocktail class the following day and they manage to eat more of my time.  Not that I mind, but I am preoccupied to say the least.

OK now I can focus on the prep list.  I get a voicemail for John Ash: “do you think I could come by later?  A friend of mine has invited me to lunch etc.”  I call him back and let him know that we have more work then he might feel comfortable catching up on if he came later.  He’s on his way.

David Bravdica is working with Patricia to get catered event completed on time and he is a little nervous.

John Ash shows up and gets to work.  Meanwhile, Carol Fenster and Cassidy Tawse-Garcia (Sylvia Tawse’s daughter) are setting up the room for a fine dining event.  Now there are quite a few people that have never set foot in our school trying to set up which leads to lots of questions to guess who?  That’s right you guessed it: ME.

So with ME being under the gun trying to accomplish what I need to for the event and all the questions that need to be answered from the front of the house people and new people in the kitchen, I am about ready to crack.  But I have been in the weeds before and I know the only way to get out is to focus and keep moving faster through each task.

It’s 12:30pm and still no Andrew Dwyer sighting.  He calls and says he is on his way.  I suggest he come as quickly as possible as there is plenty to do.  The J&W students show up and I am relieved, except they tell me they need to get a bite to eat as they have not eaten all day.  Join the club my young friends.  OK, go feed yourself and get back as quickly as possible.

It’s getting to be crunch time for the catered event so I transfer Sharon Talbert to assist David.  Ian Scott a fresh graduate comes in to ask me for a letter of recommendation.  I ask him “what are you doing right now?” he says “nothing” and I say right “here’s an apron, go wash me some greens.”  He jumps right in on the task.

Now John Parks has sparked up the wood burning oven to get it warmed up for the Artisan Pizza class the following day.  He is feeling under the weather from some kind of bug, but I appreciate any assistance I can get today.  The next person to walk in is Peter Reinhart the bread guru and teacher for the following day.  He is here to make pizza dough and he has an assistant from J&W who he taught.  More questions……….Oh and Cathy Whims, chef and owner of Nostrana in Portland OR, is supposed to be joining him to work on some doughs along with her sous chef. He has tried calling her several times and she has yet to reply.  He’s sure she’ll show up in time, but she is already an hour late.

Cassidy comes up me: “it’s LeeAnn Stevens and she has some questions regarding your Panzanella recipe” ,”yes LeeAnn, un hun, yes…yes, what did you say?  no I don’t understand, can you just send me the fucking thing over email and I can correct it there?……….yes and I will send right back so that you can publish the recipe booklet.”

Oh I have this huge tank of liquid nitrogen in my dry storage that I have been fantasizing about in my dreams to try and use for the dinner in some capacity.  I even lost sleep thinking about how I was going to use it.  Can’t think of that right now must move forward.

The countdown is on for David who is trying to pack all his stuff to take over to the Sheraton.  The asparagus egg cups got cooked a little more than I would have wished, but with a little whipped cream all  is fixed.  I managed to commandeer some people over to his side to get him out the door.  He is packing his stuff and Patricia (the Godsend during this whole affair) has agreed to join him to insure all goes smoothly.  They’re out the door and just in time as Cathy Whims and Sous chef are coming in.  And my (FL) Justin Hugill the Kiwi and former student is also there and shortly after Andrew Dwyer comes in.   I’m about ready to burst and but we’re ticking off the to do list and it looks like we might actually make it, but right now we have about twenty people in the kitchen and front of the house and in about an hour I want everyone out so I can get the floors mopped.   “Andres, a las 5 y 15 necessito limpiar”  “si jeffe” ”

I am giving countdowns to all so that we can be sure that when the first people show up we have all ready and the place is clean.  Andrew Dwyer is getting quandong sauce ready and is putting off firing some of his veggies until we are ready to serve.  I convince him to pre-cook some of his stuff. John Ash has been carefully trying to figure which platters each of these dishes are going to go on.   Thank God he is on this project.

We have caught up on all the prep and the kitchen has been mopped.  We have a quick chef’s huddle to determine our game plan.  We come out of the meeting with a vague but workable plan.

It’s showtime……people are coming through the door.  Morey Hecox the owner of the school has invited some of his buddies to come for dinner.  I am on a pure adrenalin high and gladly suck down two glasses of Sauvignon Republic.  I get to meet quite a few people, like Roberta the owner of Cambridge Culinary School and the editor to Bon Appetit.  All are trying the appetizers of King Canyon Buffalo Carpaccio, the salume platter and the platter of arancini and tochetti.

It is a light moment after endless barrage of stress.  We consult with each other to figure out when is the best time to start our demoes.  Yes each of the chefs has agreed to demo a dish and we have all agreed to do all of our presentations in under 45 minutes combined.  That’s 15 minutes a piece.

First John Ash comes up and does a demo on his elk dish.   He goes on entertainingly about the right amount of salt to use in blanching being similar to the salt content of our mother’s embryonic fluid sac (it’s getting philosophical now).  We are having issues with our audio but moving through it.  He does a great demo and I plug Andrew Dwyer into the system.  He does a great demo talking about Quandongs and how you want to be careful how you spell and say that word.   He demos his kangaroo dish and his presentation is quite lively.  Then I am up.  I go on about Buffalo and the tall grass prairie and talk about my dad driving across Kansas and how he always talked about what it would have been like to be the first white man to see the Rockies and so on and so forth.  I talk about the buffalo being the ultimate sustainable creature of the tall grass prairie and finish my demo by searing the bison meat and making my interpretation of Chimichurri sauce.   I think I have done well and even notice David Carter the president of the Bison association nodding in approval.

Later he comes to me and says: “you know I agree with all you said regarding bison, but I just want to make sure you understand that the prairie east of Denver is the short gras prairie not the tall grass prairie”   I am so happy that he didn’t correct me while I was making my presentation as it would have deflated my energy, but I always get the tall and the short confused.  Now maybe I will never forget.

Patricia and David come back from the catered event and all went well.  She still has one more task to do to prepare for the following day.  Gut the previously frozen sardines and take them to the hotel for tomorrow’s Mackerel and  sardines class.

There is a mad dash to plate all the stuff to go out to the dinning room and we have the plating pretty well set up. There is a couple there who is filming the event and ask to interview me right then. I don’t know why I agree to do it at that exact moment but they proceed.  Apparently she is good friends with Dale Lasater and Andy at the ranch and her cousin Athena is a new student in our program.

We finally get to sit down and enjoy the fruits of our labor and the two Silver Oak AVAs from 2004.  The food is great and there is tons of it.  We set the tables up with the maximum occupancy and so that all can see and talk to each other.  The food is served family style.

Then we get different producers and foodies to come up and talk throughout the dinner.  It is a great social moment and very interactive.  John Ash calls it a “salon”.

The night ends with the dramatic presentation of the pears poached in Chateau de Rolland Sauternes garnished with a super rare Hawaiian chocolate that Will Poole has a friend of a friend who manages to get him a little each year.

The evening is a huge success and many people come up to the chefs to offer their thanks.  We pack up all our stuff.  We are exhausted but still manage to share one last bottle of Silver Oak.  The chefs are elated, we have had a very bonding experience and were able to pull off a great meal.  Hard to believe that all the planning came together over a few conference calls.

John Ash, Cassidy Tawse, Andrew Dwyer, Sylvia Tawse and Andy Floyd

John Ash, Cassidy Tawse, Andrew Dwyer, Sylvia Tawse and Andy Floyd


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