Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Delightful Franciacorta Welcome, and more tortellini

After a few days in Venezia (Venice), I have been offered a new stage position, at the ‘Relais Franciacorta’, between Brescia and Milano, near Lago Iseo (Lake Iseo). The setting reminds me greatly of living and working in the Kelowna area of British Columbia. It is delightful! I have been working here for 5 days now, and this is the first chance I have had to put up a blog note. The work-day extends from just after 8 in the morning to about 10:30 at night.

The new stage is a great change from the last. This kitchen is enormous, directed and created by a Chef who previously worked with Gualtiero Marchesi, the acknowledged Dean of modern Italian cuisine (see my previous blogs about Maestro Marchesi). Chef Fabrizio Albini is calm, quiet, deliberate, very supportive of his entire brigade in the kitchen. The brigade consists of about a dozen cooks and assistants. There are 6 positions in the entire place ... hot kitchen (3 positions; fish, flesh and pasta), an antipasto kitchen, a bakery and a pastaceria. Huge walk-in refrigerators and freezers, large store-rooms; everything most people imagine in a large four-star hotel. It is a wonderful opportunity I have to work here.

Chef Albini welcomed me with a quick introduction, a warm handshake, big grin, and a delicious lunch with the entire group at work that day. Everyone here works together, he pointed out, like a family. Most of the staff live in the hotel, and we see each other all the time. There is no room here for a bad temper. So, we all work to get along well, and are supportive. My observation, and from comments of the staff, tell me he walks that talk, every day. People here sing a bit while they work, there is lots of friendly kibitzing and support, and everyone follows the Chef’s personal manner of working very hard but being focused and calm while doing it. Quite a feat!

As you can see from the photos, the main kitchen is enormous. So far I have seen meals for up to 175 at a time go out the door, with no flap or fluster on anyone’s part. The capacity of the kitchen in greater than that, though. The wait staff just come in the door, cycle past the slide and get their plates on their trays then away they go. The menu is of the absolute highest gastronomical standard.

In any kitchen this size there is always a huge amount of prep work to be done. It is not only peeling potatoes and carrots, though. Yesterday I worked with Daniele delCarmine, one of the kitchen brigade and, in the morning we worked to prepare items for a large banquet luncheon. After lunch was done, at about 2 in the afternoon, we started making tortellini. We quit at just a bit before 10 last night, having hand-made a bit over 2,200 tortellini. They are all neatly packaged away, ready to be used. (Just so you know, the counter we work on for this operation is over 20 feet long. Most homes in Canada don’t have this sort of counter-space in one long run.) (If you want to make your own tortellini, just less, see my blog entry about making them, below.)

One of the interesting challenges for cooks in the trade is the satisfaction of dong wonderful preparation, then having it all march out the door into the roomful of happy clients, leaving you with an empty frig. But there can be a bit of a push-pull. “Hey! I worked hard to make all this, and the frig looks great, and it is all neat and clean! Don’t mess anything up, or use it, because I’ll have to make more!” I was joking with Daniele last night about this. We agreed that we should make all the tortellini, but that they should never be used. That way we would not have to make them all again! However, we know that this mammoth push will only last about 2 weeks, maybe three. We already have made a date for another ‘tortellini holiday’, as he dubbed it, for later in November. We’ll knock off another 2000 or so.

What a wonderful start to a new and exciting stage in Italy!