Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Steer Boot Camp - Day 2 "Food, Lots of Food"

This post is about my second day at "Boot Camp" at Steer Bar and Grill in South Yarra. You can read more about how I got the opportunity to work in a commercial kitchen for a week and also about my first day in the links below.

How I got to work at Steer
Steer Boot Camp Day 1 "It's All New To Me"

After the shock of day 1 and seeing how much work all the chefs do, day 2 wasn't going to get much easier. Having followed pastry chef Jane around for the first day and "helping" out, I decided that I wanted to see how the pass worked and assigned myself there. Yep, it helps when you're an invited food blogger and get to work in whichever section you want without having to work your way up to that. I watched every movement that Executive Chef Shaun Nielsen and Sous Chef Richie made.

First though, I was presented with my chefs white and look how smart I look in them. My whites stayed pretty white the whole time, as I don't like to get dirty, and maybe also due to not having to do too much work that day.

Before getting to go on the pass, there was some prep work to be done. In this case, it was to organise picnic baskets of food for guests the next day. We packed various items into these cute baskets, such as fritatas, pickled calamari, marinated olives, cured meats, cheese, marinated fruits and bread.

Having done that, it was onto the pass to watch the chefs cook the steaks, fish and finish off all the plates. Firstly, let's look at the steaks. They're probably the easiest thing to cook in the world but the hardest to master. To get the right cooking amount just takes lots of practise according to Executive Chef Shaun. He was cooking them on the grill and pressing them a lot to feel the texture. There was no secret he told me, but in general, you should cook it fast initially to seal the meat and then cook it slow. Depending on the cut, he may also put it into the oven to finish off if it's a big fat steak, like a big rump cut. At Steer, the steak is served with a palm heart salad, chips, jus and a caramelised lime. The lime looks badly burnt and blackened but the sweetened juice from it does work with the steak.

Salads were all done simply and on the spot to retain freshness and not be left with a soggy mess. I loved how vibrant and beautifully plated the salads were, not just tossed onto a plate but carefully positioned.

The fish of the day, a Wild Barramundi, done simply on the pan with a crispy skin, was cooked by Junior Chef Jaymz. He was very excited to be given the opportunity to cook the dish by himself. The fish was cooked over high heat initially to sear the skin, and then cooked on a lower heat for not very long. A metal skewer was poked into the centre and the temperature tested on the skin to know if the inside had reached at least 60 degrees. The fish was served on a bed of vegetables. The Spatchcock was expertly dissected by Chef Richie, taking the meat off the bone and then plating it up. The Fried Calamari was again presented beautifully with citrus segments and baked jalepenos giving the dish an exciting zing.

Finally, we come to my favourite section, desserts. I showed you all the Sticky Date Souffle yesterday, which is amazing. But I think all the desserts at Steer are quite amazing. The Brigadero below consists of chocolate filled churros, brigaderos with two coatings and a coconut mousse. The brigadero balls are like the childhood favourite of condensed milk and milo, with slightly different ingredients. The are rolled in chocolate dirt and coconut dirt. The coconut cream is so intensely strong in coconut flavour and I was squirting it straight into my mouth. The Mango Cheesecake is nice and creamy, but the highlight of that dessert is the Dulce de Leche ice cream, which I have declared as being the best ice cream in Melbourne. The flavours are intense and 2-3 scoops is enough. Lastly, a Cheese Platter contains three types of cheese, house made crackers, guava paste and some berries.

So what did I learn from being on the pass? I think it can be summarised into a few points.

*The chef at the pass really controls the timing between dockets coming in from the floor staff, and when food goes out. They have to know how long the meat component will take to cook and then make sure the back section of the kitchen match the timing with the salads, sauces and any side dishes. This ensures that all elements come together at the same time, is all still warm, and all the guests dish come out at once.

*The chef at the pass also plates together some of the dishes, so it is vital to have all the ingredients prepped and clearly stored in the fridges under the bench. Dishes need to be plated cleanly (constant wiping is key), visually pleasing and then dressed properly. Final tasting and seasoning is a must. I might have got in on the tasting part, just for quality control and journalistic purposes.

*The pass is also where the interaction with the front of house occurs, and even if dishes are ready to go, it's no good if the waiter staff present the guests with the wrong dishes or take too long so it gets cold on the pass. The chef needs to talk with the wait staff and let them know what's happening, as well as getting feedback from the wait staff as to customer requirements or dissatisfaction about anything.

*Lastly, the pass is where the rock stars are, back section is for the little people, hence I was "promoted" to the pass. Hahaha I'm just joking. It was extremely interesting to see the dishes come together and all the timing and communication required.

That wraps up another long day at Steer Bar and Grill. It was good to see all the prep work become dishes and go out to customers. The chef at the pass, the senior chef in the kitchen, really does run the show and makes sure that it all pulls together at the required time. I was surprised at the almost military style hierarchy that existed, with more junior chefs answering to the senior chefs request with a "yes, chef" and not arguing back when told off for a mistake. I think that is needed in a kitchen or there would be utter chaos as so many things are going on already.

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  1. I know that you think the desserts are probably the most best thing - but that steak is beautiful!

    Do you get to keep your chef whites as a souvenir? ;)

  2. Manic! Love the chef jacket... is it too hot to have it on?

  3. Those churros look amazing. Chocolate filled and then chocolate dipped, yes please!

  4. "The coconut cream is so intensely strong in coconut flavour and I was squirting it straight into my mouth." I'd be interested to know whether this was from a piping bag or the dessert itself...?

  5. Agnes, I do love desserts but will say the steaks are delicious.

    I'm not sure, going to ask if I can keep an apron or something as a souvenir.

    Penny, the jacket is not hot at all. In fact it helps shield a lot of the heat and stops burns as it's heat resistant.

    Susan, the churros were very crisp and delicious. Chocolate everywhere.

    Martyna, haha it was in a pressurised can and I was squirting it straight into my mouth.