NYC – my second ‘stage’ in the BIG APPLE
The first word that comes to mind about the time I spent in NYC
Being from a small town in South Western Ontario I was always
very unsure about a trip to the Big Apple. I had continuously heard that it was very crowded, busy and noisy
and the second I stepped off the plane, these rumours appeared to be true. JFK (I have to admit) is not a
beautiful airport; it is very crowded, busy and noisy. The hotel I stayed at was just outside of Times Square
and again, crowded, animated, busy and noisy. I felt that I need to be strong and simply adjust.
I was given this Award opportunity to learn and meet amazing
people and see what some of the best pastry chefs in the world were up to. I had to leave all of my fears
behind jump in with two feet and just be a New Yorker! (Even though I wasn’t quite sure what the
The first part of my NYC journey was to be spent at CRAFT
Restaurant. This restaurant in particular was of great interest to me. Out of all the Pastry Chefs in New
York, KAREN DEMASCO at CRAFT really stood out as someone to be admired and respected. The culinary principles
at CRAFT are simple; good quality fresh ingredients served seasonally, family style with skilled professional
execution and service. This was a philosophy I am hoping to adopt throughout my own pastry career. Needless to
say, based on the last 24 hours of NYC, I was insanely nervous walking into the CRAFT kitchen. It was 9:00 am
on Monday and I was to ask for LAURA WERTZ (pastry sous chef). From that moment on, every misconception that I
had about NYC, dissolved. She was lovely and talented!
I spent the next six days working in the CRAFT Pastry Kitchen and
it was truly a pleasure. KAREN started her week on Tuesday, and was completely delightful as well. Obviously,
there is a bit of an adjustment period in any new kitchen – I didn’t know where anything was. I didn’t know
any of the recipes and half the time I was overwhelmed by the constant hard work of every one who worked
there; however by the end of the week I was given the muffins – I did them twice.
The muffins are a take-home gift for every guest after their
meal. The idea is to take home an apple cider muffin to enjoy the next morning. The recipe is fairly simple,
but absolutely delicious and I got to make them twice. Each muffin is wrapped individually and sealed with a
CRAFT sticker and that is the final task of the day for shift workers. I’m sure to the women who work in the
sweet kitchen the muffins are viewed as a monotonous task that must be completed every day before they get to
go home and they were probably quite happy to have someone like me on hand to make them.
Speaking for myself, the task made me feel like I was part of the
team – actually contributing to the meal of the CRAFT guests. That felt pretty good.
I was able to perform lots of other tasks to help the days run a
little smoother for everyone; seed pomegranates, slice lemons, sheet dough, but they also allowed me to just
watch and absorb. I asked lots of questions about systems and protocol.
The best thing about my time spent at CRAFT is that I actually
felt like I made friends. On the Tuesday of the following week we all met up at Momofuku Ssam Noodle Bar for a
bit of a night out. This was really one of the highlights of the two weeks spent in NYC (there are three more
highlights to come). We ate, and drank and talked shop for about 2 hours – amazing – and I finally got to try
the pork buns that everyone had been talking about. KAREN had ordered us a ‘pork butt’ that was more meat than
anyone knew what to do with and everyone took a little home in their own “I Love NY” take out bag! Every Chef
I met in NY, I asked where the best place in town is to eat. Unanimously, the answer was Momofuku.
I’m not exactly sure how the next series of events took place,
somewhere between Charles Grieco, Katie Grieco, Paul Grieco and Damon Wise; I ended up at Per Se, Gramercy
Tavern and Jean Georges. This was totally an unexpected experience.
These three mini stages were not as emotionally involved as my
time spent at CRAFT, but the amount of things that there were to learn couldn’t be absorb into my brain fast
My first day at Per Se I met Pastry Chef Richard Capizzi and
Executive Pastry Chef Sebastian Rouxel. Being completely overwhelmed, I’m not sure I said a word. By the end
of the day, I was allowed to observe service – what an honour. This is a NYC Michelin three star restaurant
and I was allowed behind their curtain. I stood still and tried to be as quiet as a mouse. They allowed me to
stand at various stations, and continue to watch until Rory, (chef expediter) asked me if I ate meat and if I
had any allergies. I answered “yes” and “no” and he replied “then we can be friends”. At this point he
instructed me to sit down and enjoy a few courses. Well by the end I had enjoyed about 10 courses of the best
food I have ever had in my entire life – and I made that very clear to all of those around me. I was in
‘dining’ heaven. From there, I had to work another 2 days at Per Se with this huge secret in my pocket, I’m
not sure the staff get such wonderful treatment on the first day! This was highlight #2.
I continued on at Per Se with some time spent at Bouchon Bakery,
the type of bakery I would love to open one day. And some more time spent in the pastry area of Per Se, but
from there I went to Gramercy Tavern. The Grand Dad of NYC contemporary dining rooms.
The Pastry Chef at Gramercy is Nancy Olsen. She is quite possibly
the nicest, most bubbly person I had met to date in NYC. The situation was unique at Gramercy; they had a
pastry line cook call in sick which puts a little more stress on everyone. After a few hours helping with a
little prep downstairs, I was given the opportunity to witness service, once again, with a woman named Beth.
Beth has been called in for lunch, but they are still slightly understaffed and for this reason on day one I
actually get to help plate lunch service (a little). This is too cool. Beth orders me around a little – cut
this, chop that – but I was perfectly happy to do it. Nancy has to leave early, but before she leaves she
hands me a list of a “Pastry Tour of NYC”. These are her picks as to destination points (pastry wise) to go to
in the city. What a gift.
Tonight I’m off to INSIEME for dinner and I will finally meet the
infamous – Paul Grieco. Coincidently, INSIEME is just around the corner from my hotel. I can walk there in
about one second. Paul and I have had intermittent telephone conversations and I find his answering machine
message to be a bit strange – something about the Tour de France - but I am very excited to eat at this
restaurant that I have heard so much about.
Paul greets me with open arms and tremendous warmth – strangely
enough it’s nice to know that he is from Canada. Paul is obviously very busy with guests (the restaurant is
full) but it would appear that at every chance he had, he came over to chat. Being that I was sitting at the
bar, I befriended the bartender and he allowed me to carry on about what I had been up to over the past two
weeks – very courteous. My dinner was fantastic, delicious and the best conversation I had all week. I felt
very at home and welcome. Paul is absolutely wonderful. This was highlight #3.
From here I went and spent a day with Jonny Iuzzini at Jean
Gorges. Again, too cool! The time here was short but sweet. Jonny was charming and charismatic and we spent
most of our time together enrobing candied orange zest. Again, just to walk through the doors of the kitchen
blew my mind.
Highlight #4 happened when I was able to meet up with friends of
mine in the city and have dinner at HEARTH. The reservation was set up by Paul Grieco, he is the co-owner
along with Chef Marco Canora and host, which was appreciated enough, but when we got there, we had a
phenomenal table and a complimentary bottle of Prosecco. Like I said – UNBELIEVABLE.
I think I mentioned in my earlier Paris Report how this
Professional Development Award provided by the Ontario Hostelry Institute has allowed me to take time off work
that otherwise I would not been able to afford – and both of my experiences – New York and Paris – have been a
life changing professional development.
All of my apprehension about NYC has been dispelled and I look
forward to return and visit my new found friends.
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