A Weekend in the Red Rooster Kitchen, Part II

By: David Roldan

On the second day of my weekend stage, I was able to work in the highly esteemed kitchen of Red Rooster. I had been looking forward to this for a long time and even more so after having dinner there upon my arrival to New York City. I was so impressed by Red Rooster Harlem; the energy coming out of that kitchen was incredible!

The Red Rooster chefs worked well together and I clocked in during one of the busiest times- brunch, on Easter Sunday none the less! The kitchen served over 400 covers that day for brunch alone! I got to help out in each station and see a great deal how each dish was made. I wasn't the only curious person in the kitchen; the staff was also curious as to why I was there and asked me questions, too. A lot of them asked if I was trailing (shadowing someone at every different station) which is what a chef first does when they start off in a new restaurant. But I explained that I was visiting for a stage and many young chefs seemed very interested in the concept and got into it and asked me as many questions as I asked them. A couple of them might even come and stage at my restaurant in Texas too; which is always exciting to see a young chef hungry to expand their culinary knowledge!

I finished the day working on the line for a bit at the Rooster and then headed back down to help with dinner service at Ginny's since they were short one cook. The chefs downstairs were definitely glad I was free to help, too! Working in both kitchens was great, both had great energy and a fast pace. Yet, my last day there, was for sure to be a challenging one- I was scheduled to work in the pastry kitchen the next morning, one of the most challenging aspects of cooking.

I came in early on Monday morning to find some of the pastry chefs already hard at work. The hardest thing about pastry is that you have to follow every recipe with every ingredient and step to a tee or else the whole dish can be ruined; there's no quick fixing it like in savory cooking. But the pastry chefs at Rooster were a great help! I worked with a couple of them all morning and they let me in on some pastry secrets and what makes Rooster staples like the Cornbread such a hit!

Sadly, shortly after working with pastry in the morning I flew back home to Texas as my stage trip in New York came to an end. Now that I've had a few days to reflect on my trip, I realize all the lessons I learned in such a short amount of time. I came back to my kitchen with a newly-ignited passion for food and new ingredients.  The whole experience allowed me to look beyond what I'm doing and infuse new inspirations into my menus. It like a breath of fresh air and gave me a whole new outlook on composing dishes. It was inspiring to see the vast amount of spices and fresh ingredients that they use at Red Rooster, for instance I got to work with fresh chick peas for the first time, which are virtually unheard of where I'm at and I encountered spice blends that I could also never find like Berbere, which Marcus uses a lot in his dishes.

All of that was just in a short amount of time, and undoubtedly you can learn even more in a longer stage. You're not only going to learn a lot, but also meet new people and get exposed to strange foods and cooking techniques to help broaden your ideas in cooking. What I also noticed was Marcus' fingerprint in everything. Cooking for a top chef is definitely different, and you can tell that he automatically brings all of his chefs up to his standard of excellence. Even though there are other executive chefs in his kitchen, the way he cooks and his lifelong influences are present in all aspects of his restaurants, even in the dish presentations. There's a trace of him in every spice, dish, and wall decoration!

Like I said before, experiencing a stage is certainly very humbling because of the tasks you have to perform and errors you might commit, but if you're open to learning, the rewards are even greater! But the most important part of a stage is when you leave, because you actually have to put into practice everything that you learn, if not then it wasn't worth the trip. As Marcus himself says, "you can't lose weight from watching sports...you actually have to go out and do it!" Practice makes perfect, and that's especially evident in the kitchen.

Even as a chef, you reach a point in your career where you want to learn more and expand your horizons, so you have to go out and look for it. The moment you decide to do that, a stage is a great way to start!

Photos: David Roldan

For on Red Rooster happenings, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

A Weekend in the Red Rooster Kitchen, Part I

By: David Roldan

Going into it, I was nervous. I thought I wasn't going to know a lot of their ingredients. But once I stepped into the kitchen, it felt good.

These were some of my fears going into Marcus Samuelsson's kitchens at Red Rooster Harlem and Ginny's Supper Club. I was visiting New York City for a long weekend and had the opportunity to stage under Executive Chefs of both kitchens, Michael Garrett and Jeremie Tomzcak. Although Marcus was out of town that weekend to check up on his new restaurant Norda, in Sweden, he still allowed me the chance to visit his restaurants and work under his chefs for the weekend.

A stage is a brief apprenticeship where you donate your time in a new kitchen for new knowledge. The main reason you partake in a stage, or estage, ("st-ah-je") is because you want to learn under a particular chef of caliber, or a specific trade that you may not know about. Back in the days, there weren't a lot of culinary schools, so young aspiring cooks would go to the chef of an established restaurant and offer to cook for free or for food. Kids as young as 13 years old would start by washing dishes and taking out trash, then gradually move around in the kitchen and learn from every station.

Now staging is more structured and more corporate, and you most likely need some sort of a connection in order to set one up with a well-known chef. One thing is for sure, it's not as glamorous as it may seem; it's hard work and you have to be humble and willing to learn. They can ask you to take out the trash or wipe the floors or clean the fryer, which is one of the worst tasks, or do one particular task for the entire day.

I went into this stage as a first-time professional. I'm an Executive Sous Chef for a large hotel in San Antonio, Texas so I've been cooking for over 15 years, so I wasn't there to learn how to cook. New chefs have the opportunity of learning a vast amount of cooking skills and procedures, while more experienced chefs can perfect their skills, learn new techniques, or see the differences in how kitchens can be run. I didn't know what to expect going into the Red Rooster kitchen, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn as much as I did in such a short time span.

Like I said, I was nervous, but once I stepped into the kitchen I saw some familiar ingredients, similar techniques and seeing how this kitchen was similar to others made me feel comfortable. My first day was in the kitchen at Ginny's Supper Club. I started off doing prep for later that night and their first-ever brunch the following day. I also got a glimpse into some of the ingredients on their regular menu.

At first, I didn't expect the kitchen to be as small as it was, for how many guests they serve each day and for the large staff; but it was very well-managed by Executive Chef Jeremie Tomzcak.  I noticed all of the orders go out on time and Chef Jeremie makes it a point to also train the wait staff, which is very important. It's nice seeing a chef that cares about service as well as food. I worked my way up from prep and eventually made it to the line that night for dinner service. It was exciting to see how the staff adapted to the new menu for Ginny's and how they put new techniques to work in creating the menu for this new restaurant.

Stay tuned for Part II of David's stage experience at Red Rooster Harlem and Ginny's Supper Club.

Photos: David Roldan

For more insight to Red Rooster Harlem, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)