I was recently struck by the fact that it has been 21 years since I cooked in a professional kitchen. 21! The time between then and now can now legally purchase alcohol! Funny thing is just how powerful the experiences of the restaurant kitchen make it seem like I just got off the 4pm to 2am shift just last night– the smells, the sounds, the heat, the pain– it’s still fresh in my mind.
The cuisine is New Mexican, in the days long before “Fresh Mex.” It’s burritos, enchiladas, chile rellenos, refried beans, and a new, wildly popular dish called “fajitas.” Music, a kitchen must, pumps out of a small boom box perched atop one of the refrigerators. We’ve come to the mutual agreement that our kitchen sound is Motown, and as three cooks and a “nacho boy” maneuver around each other with familiar ease, the hostess comes in and says that the eight-top nearest the kitchen, while not necessarily complaining, said that they prefer “My Girl” without the falsetto-karaoke backup of the kitchen staff. We laugh but with disappointment we turn it down– you need every bit of distraction– painkiller, really– to dull the rush hours, the triple digit kitchen temperatures, and the endless drone of the Micros printer whining out order after order. Grease splashes up from the fryer onto the back of my hand, creating the fraternal twin of the burn on my other hand, birthed from pulling a batch of flan from the oven a half hour prior. A quick splash in a pitcher of ice water (it’s there for drinking or burn treatment, whatever comes first) and I’m back in action. It hurts, but you power through these things– orders are waiting. Suddenly, the kitchen door flies open and in comes Nacho Boy from his smoke break. He’s hacking out a death-rattle of a cough and he’s bright red. Seems he lit up a cigarette laced with jalapeno seeds. One of the cooks and I exchange a wide-eyed glance, wondering if our little practical joke could be considered attempted murder. Fortunately, the healing power of the dinner rush cures Nacho Boy, and we roll through the night, cleaning and prepping during the lulls, bracing for and making it through each rush.
Finally, at midnight the last order rolls out, and the big clean starts. The music gets turned back up, and our karaoke act is back. The cutting boards are bleached, the greasy floor mopped, the grill scraped, the fryer drained. We’re beat but still have a crazy, euphoric energy– it’s a combination of relief from making it through another Friday night, and the sugar and caffeine from all soda we’ve downed during our shift. That’s why, after the kitchen lights go out, you find the three cooks, Nacho Boy (breathing regularly, thank you very much), the dishwashers, and the occasional wait staff, shooting hoops at a local school yard, the blacktop court lit by the headlights of our encircled cars. We drink past-date Dos Equis liberated from the walk-in, and laugh and gossip about the night. The food. The music. The cuts, burns, and other accidents. The practical jokes. The restaurant romances. The owners and their quirks.
The fatigue finally does hit– fast and hard, and tomorrow is another day to do it all over again, and so I head home, and take a pointless shower– the kitchen smell takes weeks to shed. I drift off, happy in the knowledge that tomorrow is lunch shift for me, no mad dinner rush for me, but participation in a normal social life– but still considering going back at midnight for the after-action report, and to join in on the late-night blow-off. And to make sure Nacho Boy is still breathing.
Yikes. There I went down memory lane leaving little room for a recipe. So, something quick. From that magical kitchen, perhaps. No, I will not share the jalapeno cigarette recipe– sorry, trade secret. But here’s a quicky: sopapillas. The ever versatile tortilla lending itself to a super-quick, light, and easy dessert or treat.
Obviously in the restaurant we used a deep fryer to prepare them, but in the home, you can do this on the stove-top in a skillet, or go for the electric skillet.
Sopapillas, for Four
Three 8″ flour torillas.
Canola Oil– enough to give a depth of 1/8″ in the skillet.
Heat the oil to 350-370 degrees. Cut the tortillas into wedges, each tortilla should yield 8 wedges. Fry 5-6 wedges at a time– it only takes about 10-15 seconds per side to get them to GBD (golden, brown, & delicious)– keep an eye on them. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Give them a light coating of cinnamon and then lightly toss to evenly distribute. Shake on a good coating of powdered sugar followed by a drizzle of honey. Consume with wild abandon.
Thanks to Robin for letting my guest spot in the BRK!
Epilogue- Thanks Rob for doing such a delicious blog for me. Hey everyone, Rob is my little brother, well more like younger and a foot taller. He is a great cook and I love eating over his house especially when he smokes a roast. You can catch some of his cool cooking videos on his site, Attifood. He is famous for his Hot Chocolypto video so check him out, it will make you happy. Really!