Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ways I've seen people eff up lobster (an ode to B & Szaboo!)

I had a bit of inspiration this morning from a facebook post an old friend that cooked with me at Le Francais & Rhapsody put up last night.  He posted something about how his cooks accidentally condensed a container of lobster bisque he'd painstakingly taken the time to show them to make into a container of tomato soup, thus ruining the end product.  He made it sound like he was about to go Hell's Kitchen all over their respective, collective cocinero buttocks. 

B, take it easy on the guys.  Breathe in, exhale.  You burned five gallons of it once and we both got reamed.  You also liked to hide lobster knuckles in the walk in so you wouldn't have to clean 'em for the meat.  Hell, even though I wanted to kill you then, it's just soup and sea bugs.  Tasty, buttery, MFing sea bugs. *Drool*

BTW, B, as you read this I want to share a story about another chef I saw destroy lobster, to the tune of over $4,000 in crustacean claw, body, knuckle meat and various liquor/mise en place.  While working at a high end caterer in this lovely city of Chicago a few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a Danzig-loving Chef de Cuisine I'll refer to as "Szaboo!".  Humor me here, if you know him, you'll get the joke.

The *first* time he commited langoustine genocide, Szaboo! was trying to find a way to use all the remaining lobster pieces after a weekend where 2 large parties just had entrees with tail meat.  So we had lexons full of knuckle, claw & carcass that needed to be used, and he didn't feel like cleaning the meat (sound familiar, B?).  He decides he's going to make bisque, and starts with lobster stock in one huge batch, in the largest steamkettle I've ever worked with (I had to stand on a milk crate to look in, no joke).  The only issue is, he decides he's going to let it COOK ALL NIGHT and then strain it in the morning.  ("It's okay, Bob, I've done it before and it's turned out great.")  Even though I warned him away, the Executive Chef was unreachable at that time, and he proceeded to go with his plan.

In case you don't know why this is a bad idea, you just need to know one simple thing.

The longer you simmer lobster shells (especially the claw) the more iodine from the carcass leaks into the liquid base.

The kitchen smelled like tainted shellfish the minute I walked in to open shop, and the stock was the first thing I checked on.  It was dark.  It looked like fava bean cooking water.  I tasted it and practically vomited. 

Now, Szaboo! worked for some good restaurants, don't get me wrong.  He was no novice.  He'd worked at Mary Elaine's at the Phoenican, The French Laundry, & Trio to name a few.  Szaboo! was a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.  He also tried to blame me for the incident.  I'd e-mailed the proper managers prior to this however, as I didn't want any part of these shenanagins in the first place.  He got chewed way worse than me and B did a decade prior.

Why he did something similar a few weeks later, I still cannot fathom.  Szaboo! was one in million.  Hell, he even managed to poison himself with sterno once in someone's garage while cooking off site.  The second time, the stock was fine (in a similar batch size), but he burnt the flavor base he was making for the bisque.

He killed a megaton of mirepoix, fennel, tomato paste, a few CASES of sherry, pernod (not cheap), and brandy.  He didn't bother to deglaze in batches.  It looked like the Gate to Hell had opened up in a tilt skillet.  I still don't think the Ansel fire suppression system was working right, because it should've been triggered.  He scorched the bejesus out of the machine.  I think a small part of me died that day, because he still added it to the lobster stock.

He still added it to the lobster stock.

Wait, did I tell you he still added it to the lobster stock?

So B, just realize, it could always get worse.  I owe you a beer sometime, just tell me when you're free.

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