This blog describes my very own personal experiences from being a young English man, from a tiny village in South Wales UK, to living the life and rubbing shoulders with the stars in Los Angeles. this will demonstrate my development and should hopefully provide a few entertaining stories of my experiences. I hope you enjoy it, and feel involved with my time here in the United States.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Absolut Cocktails and Courses
When trying to sustain yourself in the USofA or in fact any country, you are going to need money. Rent, car payments, health insurance, utilities, gas money, car insurance…. As you all know it’s not cheap! So any chance I get to work an event I do so. Not to mention the priceless educational value from working on event sites….
So Patrick, in his usual enthusiastic tone said to me, “Aaron! You want in on this one?” of course I always have to ask him, who, what, where, when and why, even after that I’m not always convinced... But he said, “We are providing the service, it should be nice and smooth”
Well once I heard who the event was for, I was on board. The event was sponsored by Absolut Vodka, and the food was done by none other than Grant Achatz, owner of three Michelin stars and Alinea restaurant in Chicago! Finally, Bamboo events from London were the organizers… I guess you are now asking, what did Good Gracious! do? Because food is taken care of, they already have an organizer? We were in fact drafted in to do the production for the event, and to serve the food.
The event was for bartenders from the Los Angeles area, to develop their knowledge on vodka, and to provide inspiration for original, exotic and exciting new cocktails. They had speakers, seminars, and about a million different types of vodka.
With that in place, lets start at the beginning.
The day before the event, Patrick and I had to go over to the event site in order to drop off some of the hardware. “Between the two of us we will get this done in no time” Patrick says, “Easy” I remember him saying…
We arrived on site with our 11 ft 6 inch cube truck, which for some strange reason didn’t fit into the 10ft entrance? Right there is problem number one. So we thought we would park just outside the car park entrance and move everything in, however there was nothing but red curbs around the entrance... That’s problem number two. So we had to park across the street where there was meter parking… No quarters, I believe that makes number three. Upon finding some quarters, we opened the truck and started to unload onto our cart.
So with that one cart, stacked high with kitchen goods, we had to roll it across the street, up the curb, and then into the parking lot. We then asked the parking attendant where we needed to go, he pointed to the right… and you could see a sloping tunnel going further underground. So down this steep swooping slope we go, with cars wanting to pass us, Patrick nearly standing parallel to the floor trying to stop the cart from going down the slope too fast, and there is me behind pulling the cart attempting to achieve the same effect… glorious. Once at the bottom of the slope, we rolled around another corner, then into the service elevator. Squeezing everything we could in, including the cart, we went up to the 7th floor. Then just outside the elevator we were there! We had finally reached the rooms where the event was going to be held… now just to go back and bring the rest of the stuff up…
The day of the event arrives, and my wonderful, amazing boss Pauline Parry was on site from early in the morning. Along with our newest recruit Michelle Nowak, who was running her first event under the Good Gracious! name.
All morning I was working like crazy in the office in order to get my work done so I could go and help out with the event. Well that was short lived…
The phone rings and its Pauline, “Aaron darling!” Say no more… I know I am going to be doing something other than what I had planned…
“We need your help… can you drive to the event site, pick up this container, then drive to Azusa and pick up the valves and pumps needed in order to get it working, then drive back and drop it off here?” “Of course Pauline!” see how I have learned that response, no thinking time, no pondering, just an instinctive answer. Bosses LOVE that.
So off I went, unknown to me Azusa was that far away! Into the middle of nowhere I drove, with this tin receptacle, to see some bloke about a pipe…
After talking to this guy, who was very helpful, I managed to get the pieces I was looking for. But of course it came at a price. As usual I couldn’t just have a normal every day quiet individual, I had to listen to the gentleman’s life story, about how he came to be in this industry, how long he has been in it for. Then he wanted to ask me a million and one questions, where are you from then? How long have you been working here? With every sentence I couldn’t help but look at the clock thinking how I should be on the road!
Anyway, the car was packed up with everything I needed and off I went.
Time for the event… I walk into the cocktail hour room with my hands full of bags and uniform, and all I see running towards me is Pauline, looking at me saying, “We need bar fruit!”
“of course Pauline let me just put this down and then I will get some for you”
“we need some bar fruit now!” at that point it is drop everything and find fruit at all costs.
Every person that was at the event was a complete professional. Everyone wanted the event to run as smoothly as possible. After all we were working with some of the best in the business.
The rooms looked fantastic, with modern lighting, white tables, chairs, walls, while serving some of the most outrageous cocktails I have ever seen.
Credit has to go to DPC woodwork, for if it wasn’t for their custom carpentry, the event space wouldn’t have had the sleek, modern yet intimate feel.
One major thing I did learn is the restaurant business is far different to catering. You could see why Grant Achatz had three Michelin stars because detail was everything. Every single glass was inspected and polished; every bowl was buffed to shine.
An interesting approach was what they asked me to do with the main dining table. This was a 40ft mirrored table, which of course bared some smudges. So one of the organizers asked Tryfon and myself to clean it down using a bottle of 100% Absolut vodka..? It broke my heart pouring all that liquor on the table just to get rid of smudges…. What a waste.
The night goes on and the GG! staff are assisting with setting up and breaking down of the seminar room. Setting up was one thing, but breaking down was another… They had vodka sampling, a long with wine, waters, and then a spit cup… and we had to empty all these out into containers… I am not going to go into detail, but I have done more pleasurable things than pouring out spit cups.
Time for dinner. Did I mention that we were going to be serving 11 courses? They weren’t on nice normal plates either…
The Alinea staff prepared us for this, they did a great job in explaining to us how they wanted it served, how to carry the odd shaped dishes, and what to do if something went wrong. Very informative, we were prepared for anything.
As I said the courses are served in some bizarre ways. One was six tiny pedestals with edible cocktails on; another was an old ink well which contained a dip with a seafood skewer. The oddest one had to be the squid… no not the food squid, that was the name of the apparatus the food was carried on. The best way to describe it would be, one of those head massagers with numerous arms, which you just push into the scalp which then covers the head… one of those but much smaller, upside down with a tiny piece of pheasant in the bottom, then a giant oak leaf sticking out the top, which was then lit on fire… quite a dish.
Already being intimidated by the prowess of the kitchen, I was slightly nervous about serving the food, these aren’t exactly the normal plates to be carrying… to make it worse I was first out, and to take it a step further I had a food restriction within my group! So not only did I have to get the plates to the far end of the table without dropping anything, I had to make sure not to kill someone by giving them the wrong dish!
But of course all was well. The kitchen was like a well oiled machine, the communication was exceptional, and the food went out in fantastic time.
The finale of the night was the dessert. Once we got the nod we had to completely clear the table, everything had to go, absolutely everything. Then my heart was broken once again as I see a person from Absolut open a bottle of vodka, turn it upside down, and walk from one end of the table to the other, and back again. Eight members of staff then frantically mopped the table; everyone was stood on the outside of the room, with their chairs.
Then walked in the dessert… The Chef bought out pots of chocolate, creams, sauces, berries and allsorts! Silence took over the room in anticipation… He grabbed the chocolate and other sauces, and started pouring them on the table… no plates, no nothing, just on the raw table, blending and swirling all the ingredients. All the guests needed was a spoon. It was impressive, and defiantly unique.
The guests, after an eleven course dinner, and a large array of cocktails were satisfied to say the least. All liquored up they set off into downtown Los Angeles…
All that was left for GG! to do was clean up…
KEY LEARNING POINTS:
• Whatever you are asked to do, just do it!
• Clearly the old fashioned three course meal has gone out the window… will we one day say “a standard 11 course dinner?”
• You can use almost anything to serve food… I think I draw the line at table though… anything lower I don’t think I would be too happy with.
• There is a clear difference between catering and the restaurant business, though they can defiantly learn from each other.