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The Chef and the Potato

Apart from running the kitchen at Costa Rica Beer Factory, I am a guest instructor at the Centro Gastronomico de Sabores.  When they approached me to see if I was available to help interpret for a visiting chef sponsored by the US embassy I was more than happy to assist.

It started by welcoming Chef Aaron Butts and his wife Carmen McGee with a tour of the local Bourbon Market.  We walked around as I introduced them to local fruits and vegetables and then we had a traditional breakfast at my favorite spot.

I helped Chef Aaron prepare for a master class that he would be teaching in the Sabores auditorium.  I must say one of the best pre-class moments was watching Aaron pound out a butterflied pork loin with his bare fists!  Friggin’ awesome!  Granted if I had hands the size of Thor’s hammer, I would probably go around beating things as well.

The master class went very well and the audience (mostly professional chefs) was very interested in the techniques taught.  Two days later I met up with Aaron again at the Real Intercontinental Hotel to help him prep for a formal 6 course meal for 80+ people.

The experience was unreal, I believe I speak for both of us when I say that there were moments were we wondered if we might be on a hidden camera prank show.  Hotel kitchen dynamics and restaurant kitchen dynamics are almost two completely different worlds.  I have worked in both and prefer the latter.  Of all the minor hiccups Arron experienced(plating 3 hours prior, taking mayonnaise from the employee rations, pastry cooks plating contrary to Aaron’s instructions…), the potato debacle was one for the books.

Course number five was supposed to have a creamy potato puree as its base.  In theory a great idea, who doesn’t love creamy mashed potatoes with a fancy name?  However the problem began with the potato itself.  Having been supplied with local white potatoes, poor Aaron did not know the starchy situation he was walking into.  When I explained to him that there was not a potato masher or ricer to be found in the entire hotel meaning he would have to mash the taters with a fork in a bowl for 80+ people, he laughed heartily at what he thought was me pulling his leg, only to look flabbergasted once he realized I was completely serious.

He convinced the pastry kitchen to let him use their mixer to whip the potatoes into a puree.  Then began the hunt for a fine strainer to refine the puree.  Not a single one existed; apparently also lost in potato masher limbo.  We were given a perforated quart pan and a slotted spoon.  I was beside myself, wondering why on earth the dinner had not been organized with Sabores…  We have pretty much anything and everything you could need, and if its not available we will get it for the chef.

Aaron’s face showed his less than happy feelings about the potatoes and like a champ he sucked it up and moved on.  I told him that if anyone asked to just say that the less-than-smooth potato puree was in complete Indiana style ( the chances of any of the dinner guests having ever set foot in Indiana country side were slim).  All in all the dinner was a success to those eating the dishes, I felt for Chef Aaron’s slight turmoil at not being completely 100% satisfied with what went out, but a glass of wine and a few sarcastic jokes later, it was all just part of the experience.

It was a pleasure working with Chef Aaron Butts and meeting his wife Carmen, they are a couple of cool cats that I would gladly have dinner with anytime.  If you get a chance to stop by Joseph Decuis (the restaurant they run) before I do, I would love to hear about it and make sure you tell them “hello” for me.

Until next time…

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2 responses to “The Chef and the Potato

  1. Red snapper with an avocado mousse sounds lovely. Please share the recipe for the avocado mousse if you can!

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