Amuse Bouche– [ah-myooz boosh] — is a word you may have heard bandied about in restaurants. As it is French in origin, it can sound like a bit of secret code when it falls from the lips of a discreet maitre d’ or a waistcoated server , especially when re-purposed as a verb as in “Has table twenty-two been amused?”
While it is possible these theoretical staff are wondering how the maitre d’s starchy humor landed on a group of diners, it is more likely they are discussing a bit of service business.
An amuse bouche is simply a bite-size dish from the chef meant to stimulate your palate. An amuse bouche typically appears at the beginning of a progressive tasting menu with several courses.
A great amuse is true to the origin of the french word– to cause a person to muse, to ponder. Perhaps to ponder what is in store in the meal to come, or perhaps to be amused by a particularly stunning flavor combination that they would never have imagined enjoying.
An amuse need not be overly complicated. It can be more like Ikea furniture; well designed and easy to assemble. So easy, fact, that you can easily arrange some at home.
If, for instance, you are throwing a dinner party, you can elevate your game by arranging slivers of several elements from the meal in a stack, on a spoon, or threaded on skewer.
The main difference between restaurant cooking and home cooking is preparation. Restaurant cooks plan their dishes days and weeks and in advance which gives them time to spread tasks over a few days in order to build up flavors and get the most out of each ingredient.
A few years ago, a pastry chef gave me a great tip that completely changed the way I make desserts: to get the most flavor, steep cream ingredients in advance. Making a vanilla custard, panna cotta, cream brulee? Let the vanilla steep in the cream for 24-48 hours. This works great for other reedy, seedy things (like fennel, anise, stick cinnamon, lemongrass) and subtle flavors (chamomile, lemon verbena). Shorter steeping times (30 min-2 hours) are best for more pungent flavors (rosemary, mint, lavender, citrus zests). From there, your combinations are endless. For a dinner party, how elegant (and easy) would a chamomile panna cotta with lemon curd be? Or a vanilla bean panna cotta with blueberry sauce? For an asian twist, how about a lemongrass creme brulee with ginger sugar?
Simply bring your cream, half & half, or milk to a simmer and add your flavoring agent. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. Strain the cream before using in your recipe.
I wasn’t going to post this until Monday, but now it really is the companion piece to the garlic infused olive oil recipe I posted this morning. So here you go– and for those of you who aren’t crazy about this much garlic, or think it’s going to be overpowering, the end result when you infuse it oil is more of just a hint of earthiness. It doesn’t really taste so much like garlic, it is just a whisper, a savory bass note that gives dishes a little warmth.
It’s Love, guys.
Before you can infuse your garlic olive oil, though, you need to peel a boat load of garlic. Which sounds daunting, but I’m going to show you how to do it in thirty-seven seconds. I only use the method at home when I need to peel a ton of garlic, as it does leave you with an extra dish to wash. In a restaurant where you have the luxury of a professional dishwasher, we don’t care so much about dirtying an extra dish. But that’s a whole other subject.
To peel a boatload of garlic in thirty-seven seconds, you will need:
Ever walked into a restaurant in the afternoon, the doors are open, there’s a bartender, a host. As you mosey toward the bar for a coffee the host advises you “the bar is open, but the kitchen doesn’t open until 5 o’clock.”
That’s half an hour away, surely you could get a salad or something, right?
Not always. Here’s why: Sidework.
In order to prepare for service, the stations in the kitchen have to be set up. Between lunch and dinner service the guard is changing in the kitchen, everything is being deep cleaned by the lunch cooks, and the dinner cooks have to set everything up from scratch. And that entails quite a bit of work behind the scenes. The salad station actually requires some of the greatest attention, as uncooked vegetables are the items most prone to food-borne illness.
Every item must be prepared, checked for temperature, and an ice bath set up in order to maintain all items at temperatures below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
That means that while you are sipping your cafe au lait at the bar, wondering
how hard it is to put together a salad, there are line cooks in the kitchen carting fifty pound bins of ice, calibrating thermometers, chilling salad plates, warming plates for entrees, and making sure they have all their garnishes and fussy things prepared. Once dinner service starts, they’re not going to have much downtime, if any, to catch up.
These are the people who make sure that all your food comes out at the same time and in a reasonable manner.
This position is one of the most stressful positions in the entire restaurant. This guy is communicates between the kitchen and the front of house staff. In most restaurants, if a server a has a question for the chef, she must go through the expo as the intermediary, not just as a power play, but also to keep the whole thing running smoothly.
A server greets your table, advises of any specials, and menu items that are not available this evening. They will typically take a drink order first, then try to take the order for first and second courses at the same time, to keep your service smooth and prevent unnecessary intrusions into your conversation. The server should be able to answer questions you have about the menu.