Under Fire: Dishinthesis -- from the brain to the plate

Our former Cafe Society intern just decided to chuck college in favor of a real education: as a sous chef. In Under Fire, he chronicles his daily trials and tribulations in the kitchen.

This is a story about how a dish makes it from my mangled mind onto the plate for service. And yes, it involves peaches.

I walked into work yesterday with a few ideas on how to treat my peachy beauties, with the intention of having them be the dessert on our three-course tasting menu. Here was the basis of my thinking: 1) These peaches are very good on their own.They don't need much, only things to make people appreciate them more, 2) I want to showcase them in a few different ways, focusing on temperature differences and texture, 3) I want to expose diners to different ways to have something fantastic.

My mind is bigger than my hands are fast.

I brought the peaches with me to work on Wednesday, and finally started thinking about possible preparations that night. I started with ideas for room-temperature peaches, maybe a wedge of the peach with a little honey drizzled over it. My chef pushed me towards something slightly more complex, and we decided on adding a small quenelle of whipped brie to hold up the peach in the middle of the oval plate. That was part one.

Next came the warm options. We narrowed them down to a mini peach shortcake, a beignet or a fritter. The shortcake seemed slightly too much for one component on a three component plate, and a fritter wouldn't have looked great, so a beignet it was. It would be cut out of a small oval ring mold, and then that same ring mold would house a brunoise of fresh-cut peaches. A little lavender powdered sugar would finish off that piece of the plate.

The frozen concept was the tough one. We didn't have the time for a sorbet, no shot glasses for a chilled drink, no bowls small enough for a soup. Then we got the idea of a mousse. And from that, a frozen mousse. We decided that white chocolate would play well with the peach, so we'd layer a separate white chocolate mousse on top of a peach mousse in a terrine mold. This would be the very first thing I'd do when I got to the kitchen on Thursday, because it would take time to freeze. Garnish would be decided upon plating (if this dessert needed any garnish at all).

Theoretically, this would a fantastic plate. Blatantly different temps (frozen, room temp, hot) and varying textures (frozen mousse, creamy brie, crispy beignet), all keeping the peach at the forefront. But then came the actual execution, the part where I learned my mind is bigger than my hands are fast.

I stepped into our kitchen at 11 a.m. with a set idea, but without any recipes. So I went online. Looking for a mousse recipe, I had to think whether to use just whipped cream or an egg white and whipped cream mixture. Which would have the best texture when frozen? I decided on a recipe consisting of blended peaches (seasoned only with a touch of salt and sugar) folded into whipped cream. While the peach puree reduced on the stove, I went to check on my whipped cream, which was slightly overwhipped (just past stiff peaks). I decided it would be fine and folded the puree into it. I then watched as the mousse slowly broke down because of the overwhipped cream -- with those little granules of fat rearing their ugly head.


That was an hour and a half down the drain, and my chef voiced concern about time. I assured her it would be fine as I got to peeling more peaches, worried that it wouldn't be fine.

About forty minutes later, round two was in the terrine mold and in the freezer. Now I had to hope to god it froze (and didn't pick up the terrible oily smell coming from our freezer motor).

Time for the second layer of the first component of my three component dish. I had about four hours before service.

I got out the robo-coupe and threw in three small wheels of brie, then moved it to the stand mixer with the whip attachment (I'm really a genius). Now I could breathe a little, realizing that the room temp part was done because I'd be cutting peaches to order and just drizzling honey over them.

Time for some white chocolate mousse, which I decided needed to be in the freezer by 2:15 -- it was 1:45 -- if it was going to have any chance of freezing by the time service started. I melted the white chocolate, then whisked in butter, like the recipe said. I then watched it turn into something that looked like white sand and oil. My chef and I gave it another shot....and the same thing happened. With one final bag of white chocolate, we realized the recipe is meant for dark chocolate, which has emulsifying properties that white chocolate does not. We compensated for that bit of chemistry and I somehow got the sonofabitch on top of the now semi-frozen peach mousse by 2:10.

By now, any chef reading this is thinking, "Is this guy serious? There is NO way someone can spend a whole day on one dish. Idiot." And I completely agree. These are the trials and tribulations of learning what the hell I'm doing in the kitchen. I know that my chef deserves ridiculous props for giving me the freedom to figure this out for myself. She could have stopped this a few hours earlier (the menu was not set in stone), but she wanted me to see how these things work in real time. How my mind is bigger than my hands are fast.

I took a half hour to completely prep my station for service, then got back to this one plate.

By 3 p.m., I'd reached a Rocky-like level of determination to finish, and began making the beignet batter. This would have to work in one shot, or I'd have to change the menu. I began kneading, and lo and behold...it actually stayed together. I still managed to overwork it, though, and let it rest in the walk-in for five. While it rested, I made sure the mise en place was perfect, from spoons to quenelle to having the right-sized ring mold to cut the beignets and to hole my peach brunoise.

Thankfully, the dough rolled out and I could cut out my oval shapes. I threw one in the fryer and loved what came out. I realized that I might actually finish the dish.

Cockily striding about, I headed to the freezer to touch the perfectly frozen mousse terrine and -- nope. The white chocolate would not be frozen solid in time, so I'd have to wing it when I cut it out. Still, by 4:30, everything had come into place. The dish was as done as it was going to be. We plated one up, and I stared at what was my best moment thus far in my culinary career. Chef gave me a B- on it, then told me that a B- is really good.

And that's how a dish goes from my mind to the plate -- dishinthesis.