Miami native Nicholas Prieto has been attending Le Cordon Bleu Miami, and is currently finishing up his internship at Aureole in New York; when he gets back here in August, he will be a graduate. These are some of Nick's observations about what it's like to go from the frying pan of Miami kitchen work to the fire of New York.
If you've ever felt like the big fish in a small pond, like many of us culinarians in Miami probably have, there is no better place for a reality check than a restaurant kitchen in New York City. I'm not referring to just any one of the thousands of eateries found in this Mecca of gastronomic enlightenment; I'm talking about getting thrown straight into the lion's den. And for me, that den is Michelin-starred restaurant Aureole -- home of legend Charlie Palmer and bad boy chef Christopher Lee.
Nothing in the world could ever prepare a young cook like me for the height of difficulty and intensity that a restaurant of this level demands. Don't get me wrong: I've sliced onions at few good restaurants in Coral Gables and South Beach that have tested my abilities and made me break a sweat. But not like this.
The moment you step foot in this "progressive American" kitchen, you
can see the skill and technique, smell the complex aromas, feel the
tension, and hear the brigade chant out their battle cry like an
orchestrated symphony. Talented cooks in pressed white jackets adorned
with blue aprons fill the kitchen, having paid their dues at such
prestigious establishments as Per Se, Jean-Georges, Gordon Ramsey, and
other Michelin-starred restaurants. These are the real top chefs of
America. It was without a doubt the most intimidating environment I
ever experienced, and I was overwhelmed with both curiosity and
excitement. As my eyes continued to take in the surroundings, one of
the sous chefs shoved a 20-pound crate of fresh, unshucked fava beans
into my chest and told me to get to work. I was quickly reminded of my
status and place for the time being, and hastily replied: "Yes, Chef."
My days began at 7am, working alongside the lunch crew, assisting them
with anything and everything that needed to be done. I was usually
assigned the most tedious and monotonous projects, but I enjoyed every
moment of it. I learned how to properly clean and trim chanterelles and
morels; how to properly dismember a small crayfish, and then repeat
that same process on about a thousand more; and that there was always
something that needed to be done, whether it be for today or the next
day. The chef took great pleasure in keeping me busy and I benefitted
by learning from it.
I quickly worked my way up to peeling an array of multicolored baby
carrots, juicing rhubarb, and trimming wild fennel. I learned the
importance of becoming a well organized and disciplined individual.
This stuff was fun for me, but in no way was any of it easy.
It's important for us to stray from our comfort zone on occasion and
explore the unknown. Interning at Aureole really opened up my eyes and
filled my mind with new and exciting ideas on how to create food --
it's not just about mangoes and other tropical fruit like we see here
at home. It's such a rewarding experience to drop your rank down a
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couple notches and be taught by someone else who comes from a different
culinary upbringing. There's nothing wrong with being the small fish
sometimes; just as long as it makes you better.