Today marks the first month in my new kitchen. We’ve completed the concept and changed the menu to a fresher, more seasonal list of offerings. While that was a challenge, it was easy compared to the next phase, changing the culture in the kitchen. That means erasing the ingrained bad habits, creating work ethic, instilling pride and providing the staff with a sense of ownership. Motivating and inspiring those who remain to push themselves to be better, forcing each cook to challenge himself in some small way each day. That is the real battle in any kitchen, getting the ‘buy-in’. If you don’t have it, they won’t do it, and no matter how good the food is, the execution will never get beyond mediocre.
It is is here that my role switches to teacher, to explain the what’s and why’s to the staff. To drill down and fine tune, to expose the details that the untrained eye overlooks. This is where the young cook becomes a good cook and a good cook, a great one. And that will be my ultimate goal, to have a well trained, fine tuned staff who knows what needs to be addressed before I point it out. It is a complete paradigm shift from ‘this is how I do it’ to ‘this is how it should be done’.
When I first arrived, morale was low. The menu was tired, the staff was going through the motions to produce it. This isn’t to say they weren’t doing it well, but it’s all about the details. They were excited for a new menu, a new way of doing things, a break from what had been 6 months of status quo. Now that the menu is in place, I think they realize this menu isn’t as easy as the last menu. There is more involved, not so much with the recipes, but more so with the type and quality of ingredients. There is no more pre-cut, pre-chopped, pre-cooked, pre-anything to take the pressure off. We don’t buy chocolate sauce, we make it. Every single ingredient in that kitchen now needs the attention of a sharp knife.
I had thought that up until this point I had shared with you all the desserts I do well. Getting into this new menu of updated comfort foods, I was eager to do a bread pudding, something I hadn’t done for a long time but something that fit really well into the concept of the new kitchen. I chose to use bananas because I had them somewhere else on the menu and wanted to make sure we cross-utilized as much as possible. I have also included the instructions for making the caramel sauce we use at the restaurant. If you choose to give the sauce a try, please be careful as I have seen some nasty burns from making caramel. At the restaurant, we warm the bread pudding in the oven, top with butter-pecan ice cream (though I was tempted to make a beer ice cream) and caramel. Ice cream isn’t required but the combination of warm and cold provides a great mouth feel to the dish, here you can pick your favorite ice cream.
• 6 eggs
• ¼ cup flour
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 4 cups heavy cream
• ¼ cup rum (optional)
• ½ lb banana puree (about 2, you can puree the banana in a food processor or in a blender with some of the cream)
• 1 sliced banana, quarter inch discs
• ¾ lb sourdough batard, ripped or cut into large cubes and left to dry for at least 6 hours (If you choose to use a different bread, it should be enough to fill on 9 x 13” baking pan).
1. Combine the eggs and sugar and mix well.
2. Add the cream and the banana puree and mix well.
3. Add the rum and the flour and mix well.
4. Toss the sliced banana together with the bread and place in a greased 9 x 13” baking pan.
5. Cover with foil and allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
7. Remove foil and continue baking just long enough to let the pudding brown gently on top.
8. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.
For the Caramel Sauce
• 2 cups white sugar
• 2 cups heavy cream
Method (Please read though very carefully BEFORE you begin to make the caramel sauce)
1. If this is your first time making caramel sauce, I would recommend you use gloves or oven mitts while cooking.
2. In a small sauce pot, place the cream over medium heat, do not boil.
3. In a medium size sauce pot, place ½ a cup of sugar and place over medium high heat.
4. Once you notice the edges start to melt to a clear liquid, stir gently with a clean, dry wooden spoon or high heat spatula.
5. Reduce the heat to medium and add another ½ cup of sugar.
6. Continue stirring every minute or so until the sugar begins to liquefy.
7. Add the remaining sugar in ½ cup batches until it is all in.
8. Continue stirring over medium heat until the caramel reaches a warm brown color, if you start to see wisps of smoke, either lower the heat or remove caramel from the burner temporarily.
9. The melting point for sugar is roughly 320˚F. This can cause an awful burn if it comes into contact with your skin. At this point you will slowly begin to gently stir in the hot cream. When you add a liquid to something as hot as your sugar it creates a great amount of steam, which can cause burns just as bad if not worse than the hot sugar, keep your face as far away from the pot and hands as much to the side as you slowly add the cream.
10. Once the caramel has settles in the pot, lower the heat and continue stirring until the sugars have all dissolved.
11. Strain through a chinois and cool.