Archive for April, 2009
So first you heard Derek’s side of the story, now its Omar’s turn. One thing I have to say it was a joy to have both of them in my kitchen and they are both welcome to visit us anytime. I would like to believe that we all learned some things from each other on those 5 days. Thanks again for coming to play at my little gut party, I look forward to next year, to see who will take on the same challenge as these 2 did. Also who ever does get chosen, Derek will be showing you the ropes he has already committed to next year. So enough of my jibber jabber here is Omar’s experience below.
Head to Tail
From day one at Incanto I was getting my hands dirty. It was brief introductions and straight to the offal. Day one started with picking through over 600 calf testicles to find the perfect 200 tennis ball sized testicles that were needed for the dinner. The disturbing thing about this sorting project were the testicles literally the size of grapefruits leftover from our sorting. I would like to see the calf who bared those things, but before I could ponder this matter it was straight to blanching, peeling and soaking the testicles we picked out. This was all being done while Derek and I were blanching and shocking 80 pounds of goose intestines. Then we rounded off our day with shucking fresh fava beans, soaking tripe and caul fat. Not bad for our first day in San Francisco. Chris was right we came here to work our butts off and we were happy to oblige. Anyone back in DC who thought this trip was some sort of vacation for me was sorely wrong.
The next two days were filled with a ridiculous amount of offal. Venison hearts, tripe, more goose intestines, calf brains, lamb kidneys and, my penance for past culinary sins, 80 pounds of lamb spleen. Little did I know what I was getting myself into when I volunteered to take on the spleen project. I spent over 5 hours purging, blanching, pressing and then cleaning those spleens. The daunting aspect of this project was the cleaning. I don’t think I have ever stood that long in one spot working on one item. When I began to see the bottom of my bin I felt relief and then magically Chris pulled out another 20 pounds of spleen to clean. At that moment I proceeded to curse in Spanish to the delight of Chris’s powerhouse of a prep cook Hector. At least I know Hector approved of me since he called me by my first name instead of tortuga (turtle).
Come Monday it was show time, although there were still plenty of things to prep before 5 p.m. The big project before service was the cordetta skewers, which involved threading tripe, kidney, liver and spleen onto two wooden skewers. Everyone in the kitchen jumped on board for this project to form the cordetta line. My role in this line dance was wrapping the skewers with caul fat. To aid with the wrapping Chris gave me meat glue to help the caul fat adhere to the offal. Having never worked with this product I was a little generous with my first few dustings, which led to a nice caking of caul fat and offal to my finger tips. Being that everything was sticking to my fingers I decided to wash my hands of this mess. What everyone forgot to tell me was when trying to remove meat glue from ones fingers you don’t use hot water. Hot water activates the glue and makes it adhere even more. I was doing a great job. Needless to say, all went well with the cordetta wrapping. Come Monday’s service I was paired with Mr. Puti on the grill station with the cordetta skewer. Puti was a great wingman and our service on grill was seamless. Remember Puti, Papi will always have a special place in his heart for you.
Tuesday was our day off and since it was my first time in San Francisco I wandered the city taking in the sites. In the evening Manny (please no more dirty pictures), Thomas and the Puti, took me out for some fine cocktails at The Alembic, where I had a great Sazerac. Then the boys from Incanto took me down to the Mission for tacos. At the taqueria it was more offal since I couldn’t resist the tacos de tripa (intestine tacos).
Wednesday was show time again with over 100 reservations and Mr. Bourdain dining in. After cutting our teeth on Monday’s dinner the kitchen crew was ready and our service was one of the smoothest services I have ever been involved with. Chris and his kitchen crew are an amazing group of individuals and they truly grasp the concept of working as a team. Everybody is motivated towards the goal of making great food, and that is exactly what they did during the Head to Tail dinner.
Incanto was everything that I had imagined and more. My experience at Incanto with Chris and his crew was one of the best culinary adventures that I have experienced thus far in my career. For me, Chris is a culinary genius who understands what and how he wants to cook. He attacks cooking like a child opening gifts on Christmas morning. He barrels through the kitchen at 100 miles per hour picking through every detail of every dish in the kitchen. With this sort of energy and zeal for food I can understand why his kitchen staff is so inspired.
I want to give a huge thank you to Chris and his Incanto team. Gentlemen, it was privilege working the 2009 Head to Tail with a great group of cooks and I hope to be “back to the Bay” sooner than later.
When the folks at Upper Playground asked me if I wanted to do a follow up interview to the”hoof arted video series” I said where. So here it is me sitting at Four barrel coffee getting bombarded with questions from Evan. The questions were good, the coffee was better, my answers were well you decide. So now it is out there in “The Citrus Report”. This Upper Playground newsletter, has nothing to do with a crop report like in the movie Trading Places. (see below)
As part of the deal, the stages for head to tail had to write their experiences to share with the world. Here is Derek’s letter about his experience. Please mind that he is a Canadian ginger with a twisted sense of humor. But on a serious note it was a pleasure to have Derek with us an he has already asked to come back for next year, he will be in charge of next years stages.
Head to Tail…a recap
As the taxi took a left onto Church Street my first glimpse of Incanto was
a bright eyed, handsome Irish lad by the name of John Relihan. He didn’t
speak much English, but pointed to my luggage, then to the front door…I
assumed he wanted to carry my bags..I let him. A gesture I found quite
warming. After getting settled, I met Omar and the kitchen crew then got
settled into cleaning and blanching 60lbs of veal testicles, 80 lbs of goose
intestines and a couple of cases of fava beans. The latter being a welcoming
sight as I was coming from Montreal and there was still snow on the ground.
Near the end of service Chris invited us to sit at the bar and have dinner,
I had the fried testa….delicious.
The next couple of days were a blur of cleaning, blanching, peeling and
poaching. Brains, kidneys, heart, more balls, tripe, caul fat and liver.
Omar spent most of his time “relaxing” in the corner with 80 lbs of
spleen. By relaxing, I mean purging, blanching, pressing and peeling…a
daunting task that took up the better part of a 15 hour day. The whole time
we were entertained by the witty banter of the Incanto kitchen. A handsome
moustachioed cook who goes by the name Manny (who on a side note came to SF
to find himself and judging by the goatee succeeded) took us out for a
couple of beers and beef tongue tacos…delicious.
Things were coming together for the Incanto team and by the time Monday,
the first night of head to tail rolled around everyone was ready. I worked
the brain and testicle station, and it only seemed fitting that Omar work on
the spleens. The service was amazing and the food was incredible. Chris was
really happy and John Relihan said something.
Tuesday the restaurant was closed and I went to the French Laundry!
Wednesday was the big night. Forty more reservations and Mr. No
Reservations himself in attendance. Once again the service was flawless,
Chris runs a tight ship and his team really works great together. The
kitchen philosophy is inspiring and I wish more restaurants would take an
approach like this. The end of the night was here and so was our last day at
Incanto, Chris sat us down and we got the entire menu in 30 minutes. I had
my first offal coma. We had some celebratory drinks and then it was time to
head back to Montreal. Manny gave me a rather awkward hug and John Relihan
shed a single tear.
A big thank you to Chris and the entire Incanto team for sharing this
experience with me. It was truly memorable, hopefully we will see some of
you guys up here at my place some day.
Best regards, Derek Dammann
When I found this website I was shocked and couldnt believe it, but the documentation looks pretty accurate. All I am going to say is “Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black”.