Dining • Culinary Shop
What I did on my winter break!
Right out of Culinary School, I went to right to work and missed out on one of the best ways to get a variety of experiences before going to work. Its called, the “stage,” which for cooking refers to “an unpaid internship when a cook or chef works briefly, for free, in another chef’s kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines.” The term originates from the French word, “stagiaire,” meaning trainee, apprentice or intern. Luckily it is part of the culture in our profession. I have had chefs “stage” in my own kitchen, too, and now that I have a few under my belt, I am a grateful fan.
Ever since Lenore and I built an Italian made wood fired oven kit for our back yard, I have looked for other chefs who are already cooking with wood. Lenore’s girlfriend who lives in Maryland, sent us a catalog featuring a Portland chef, Jason French, from Ned Ludd, a restaurant where wood fire touches most of his dishes. That’s a massive undertaking to have every hot item on a menu to come from one heat source, but it works. As I reached out to chef de cuisine of Ned Ludd, Chef Rob Baki, to ask if a stage was possible, his response was quick, “great!” Confident about this call, I reached out to another great restaurant, Trifecta Tavern and Bakery, and found Executive chef, Rich Meyer, to be equally amiable to the idea of me staging with them. So I was on my way.
Trifecta Tavern and Bakery, located in southeast Portland, focuses on all scratch cooking utilizing local ingredients from farms, ranches, fisheries, oyster beds and artisan producers around the state. My day began with a friendly welcome by chef Rich Meyer, and a quick tour of the kitchen and prep areas, followed by a sit down to review the prep of the day.
A list had been prepared for me: hard cook eggs; sweet potato and green onion pancakes; prep butternut squash for pickles; and miscellaneous mise to set the line for dinner. The day went by quickly, and before I knew it, cooks for the evening service were arriving, beginning their day as I was ending mine. Everyone seemed to know my name, another indication of the great communication presented by the chef as he obviously let his team know I was coming and why.
The workload was steady and unhurried but all of us knew there was a deadline. As happy hour approached I was moved over to the cold station. They offer an oyster on the half shell for $1.00 each and it is an offer that is taken up by what seems like everyone. After shucking my umpteenth dozen, I was reprieved and sent to the grill station where the magic happens. Grilled wild shrimp, wood grilled sous vide chicken, steak frites, big ass steak (their name not mine), house made sausage, and, of course, the “happy burger.” The best burger in Portland and also voted best in North America when they opened. As the night went on Chef Rich, asked stations fire items just for me to see and try. The burger was not an option, it was a non negotiable…you are going to try this thing, Rich told me. “Ok, but let’s split it”, I offered. “No problem, I love it,” said Rich. Imagine an 8 ounce burger, half brisket, half chuck, house ground and formed into two each patties, grilled to medium rare, garlic aioli between both layers but only after a house made pimiento cheese melts all over. Yes, sharp cheddar cheese, Calabrian chili peppers and aioli are blended together to make this 70’s classic served on a house-made toasted brioche bun, a recipe in itself worth the experience. OMG I should have never given half of it away.
Other tastes included; fried cauliflower salad with smoked farro, pickled sour cherries and radicchio over an almond butter sauce with drizzled herb oil and toasted marcona almonds; baked oysters trifecta- house made Thai sausage with lemongrass, Thai chili and breadcrumbs melting together in the wood fired oven; the oyster slider, lightly bread, fried and served, smothered in remoulade and piquant vinegar slaw on brioche.
I tasted and sampled an array of other memorable bites, too, including a special pickle tasting that was organized for me. I saw a few other items, but didn’t get a chance to taste, but still worth mentioning here. They were the braised-grilled tongue sandwich on grilled bread with heavy smear of aioli, braised onions, Frisee salad and radishes served open face; red wine braised octopus finished on the wood fired grill with grilled escarole salad, hazelnut romesco, olives and peppered fried potato chips. I will be coming back for a third dish, “menued” as Crispy pork shank, bacon broth, radish! It was 18 hours in sous vide at 195F in a house cured bacon consomme, finished and dredged then fried for 15 minutes and served with greens and radishes, and more bacon consomme. Oh and they also cure, smoke and render their bacon and for this dish grind it to make a consomme from it. Wow!
While I was there, I had the opportunity to visit the in house bakery, where they were making levain breads and laminated doughs.
A group of bakers were tasked with creating scratch baked goods, prepping next day’s formulas all while serving customers coming and going throug the bakery. While that busy, the head baker was kind enough to walk me through their ingredients and philosophies. The owner Ken Forkish, had arrived to hand out W-2’s to the staff, and spent some time with me, too. He was very forthcoming with information and gave me a chance to thank him personally for hosting me. Before I left this great day, I had a referral to visit another wood-fired bakery, Tabor Bread.