Under Fire: Caramel Groundhog Day

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.

If tiny beads of fat begin to dawn on the surface of a Hollandaise, I know the quick addition of cream will save it from the depths of the dumpster. If scallops aren't screaming hot in the pan and are hemorrhaging liquid like a marathoner, I know I can salt them a little to draw out liquid for that even caramelization.

But when sugar is slowly melting in a stainless steel pot, it gives me fits. It burns on one side and isn't even warm on the other. It crystallizes if I stare at it wrong. When I add cream to make a caramel sauce, it releases a burst of steam and then sugar hardens around my whisk for some chunky, bizarro version of cotton candy. I then have to put boiling water in the pot with the whisk, in an attempt to melt away the rock-hard sugar stuck to the pan.

I have no secret to make caramel sauce work correctly. It seems arbitrary and that bothers me. So I put fresh sugar in the sauce pan and try it again. It's like caramel Groundhog Day.

The caramel was the first-chair violin in the symphony of mediocrity that was yesterday. When you try to do something three times and still don't succeed, it's not a great day.

But that's not all! We had to take a step outside with Chef because we'd neglected to get rid of the trash on Saturday night, when I was kinda-sorta in charge. This bothered me, because I think trust could be the most important connection between chef and sous. And while I could come up with excuses all day, they simply don't t matter: There's a job and it needs to get done and that's that.

Still, I did my best to divert Chef from the obvious by making fun of her age (because she's young and it's hilarious to keep her continually conscious that she's older than me). "So, Chef," I asked, "was your favorite part about drinking Zima in high school the pretty bubbles or the low alcohol content?"

But she had plenty of ammo against me. "Well, first off, Tyler, I drank wine coolers, and don't give me shit today because you can't do anything right. We can't even use these," she said, as she threw thirty excessively brown crostini in the thrash.

Tonight will be the first time that I'm not "kinda-sorta" running the kitchen but "for real" running the kitchen, and all I want is caramel. I'm going to go in an hour early, sacrifice a chocolate bunny to the caramel gods, and nail it the first time.

Or I'll go more insane than Kanye.

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Tyler Nemkov
Contact: Tyler Nemkov