"We just got handed a flat of figs."
My neck hurts as I lift my head up. It always gets sore after one of these chop-fests when I mise everything out for a recipe. I've just spent 10 minute de-stemming and dicing four pounds of figs for the muffins that'll be plated for breakfast and weekend brunch services. More figs means more repetition. The only possible plus side to this news is that I might be able to beat my personal fig dicing record of 5 seconds.
"What? More? Since when?" I ask before quickly snapping my neck around making it pop a few times. Elaine, my pastry chef, doesn't wince. She hates when I crack my knuckles or pop my bones and often yells at me to stop, but it's my bad habit. However, fig trauma seems to have caused her to go spontaneously deaf to it as she fails to chastise me.
"Well, we have a flat in the back that seems to have gone unnoticed and it needs to be used. It's been tossed our direction, as usual." Processing the problem Elaine begins to quietly talk to herself at a frenetic pace. A sort of prayer to the Baker Gods who usually send her an answer in the form of a cake or tart.
When she says "as usual," it's true. The pastry department is sort of the neglected youngest child of the kitchen, and as such we get the hand-me-downs from savory and banquet departments. Fruit in particular is often tossed at us with unrelenting and unsympathetic regularity. Baskets of soft berries, rock hard pears, ancient apples, and butternuts that are withered and aged like a village elder all eventually make way to us. We're the River Styx of produce, ferrying fruits and vegetables to their final destination.
Still, we make it work somehow. I've learned that nearly all fruit, no matter how bad it may seem, is redeemable. We toss the truly funky stuff: anything fuzzy, moldy, or with odd cultures that seem to show signs of intelligent life go to the garbage. Everything else is simply very, extremely ripe and ready to be used immediately. The whole process is reminiscent of cleaning out your attic: we trash the junk and see what can be re-purposed into something useful.
"We'll do a fig crostata. Easy, fast, and it'll be well received. We'll brush on a layer of fig jam first, place on quartered figs, wrap it up and cover the whole thing with a egg wash before sprinkling a bit of pearl sugar." The decision is made. Screw you, figs and time. You've been bested again.
Recipe development is always in motion.
Of course, it isn't always this way. Not every dessert we run is decided based on slighted produce. We work seasonally and change out something on the dessert menu at least once a week to keep it shifting and new. Chocolate decadence came off today and chocolate upside-down pear cake is now on. Tonight we're also putting on a chocolate cherry bread pudding dessert special, a carryover from a banquet that ran yesterday. The bread pudding is luxurious, addicting, and we have a ton of it. Warmed in the oven and served with a cherry cause and freshly whipped cream any customer would slap their own mother for a piece after just one bite.
Our desserts are usually a lot more thoroughly planned. We test and re-test, taste and re-taste, and pair with liquors and spirits. We plan our little hearts out to make a varied, engaging dessert menu that diners will fall in love with. Our fondest hope is that you'll be wracked with frustration and indecision over our dessert menu because every item looks so good.
Elaine whips out the sugar while I continue chopping so I can get to sorting out the next box of figs. I ignore the crick in my neck and focus on the fluid motions of my pairing knife. As it laces its way through the fruit I realize that it, and I, are getting more used to the ebb and flow of this kitchen.
This'll be easy. You should have seen us last week with the bushel of blueberries.