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.