On my first day in the restaurant kitchen I noticed this kid working to my right, shoulders turned in, absentmindedly rocking back and forth, completely engrossed in prepping the crate of artichokes on his station. The sleeves of his ill-fitting chef’s whites were rolled up exposing a patchwork of scars and blisters up and down his forearms. Being a nervous neophyte I was on the hunt for others like me to commiserate with and, judging from his baby face, he looked like a promising candidate. However, when I asked for his story he replied in a weathered and jaded tone, “I’ve been in the industry for 6 years”. I went back to my work seriously concerned about the child labor laws in this country.
For my first four months I did prep in the mornings with Will. Here’s a summary of what I learned about him:
He’s fast—very fast.
He hoards pots, lexan containers, delis and third pans but will generously hand them over if you ask him nice enough. Ask for his help and 95% of the time he’ll smile and say, “the world is your oyster, I’m just here to shuck it”.
He has the worst ADD I’ve ever encountered but possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of food and restaurants. He doesn’t know whether Australia is a country in the Pacific or in Europe, but he can rattle off Melbourne’s top 5 chefs, the names of their restaurants and at least three dishes currently on their menus.
He is constantly conducting gastronomic experiments, but gets particularly excited about the ones that include Jagermeister or meat glue.
The walk-in is his domain, and his favorite word is “consolidate”. Use an item but fail to transfer the rest into a smaller container and you’re bound to get a speech on the virtues of consolidation.
He probably utters the statement, “that’s what she said” 30 times a day. The number increased drastically when I started and inadvertently offered countless opportunities for its use. (Yes ladies, he’s single).
I’m not going to lie, there were moments during those long prep hours together, in which I would fantasize about going back to my old life of covering routine Senate hearings and dry foreign policy discussions. However, somewhere between putting away 20 crates of produce and shucking 30 pounds of peas side by side, the little guy grew on me. If it weren’t for Will, I would’ve ended up in the shit a whole lot more than I did. He saved my ass on many occasions.
At the end of the month, Will is traveling to Spain, Britain, Australia and Denmark for a year of staging at some of the best restaurants in the world. So, last Monday night a group of cooks and friends from around DC gathered for a 14-course meal prepared by the Boy Wonder himself (aided by the very talented Yama and Alex)—a last feast before he embarks on his culinary adventure. Words could not do the experience justice, so I’ve kept them to a simple description of each dish.
Will and all his quirks will be terribly missed. I feel a touch of envy for the restaurants that will encounter this enthusiastic and talented kid. I’m slightly terrified for them as well. But most of all I’m curious how long it will take him to learn how to say, “that’s what she said” in Spanish.
Fried potatoes, crème fraiche, sorrel juice, caviar and dill
Oyster and potato dauphinoise, pernod and caviar
Braised abalone on a bed of watercress and pear, with a truffle pernod sauce. Topped with crispy chicken skin.
Green apple granite, uni and crispy shiso
Yama’s dish: Lobster gelée, sea urchin sabayon, pickled muscat grape, radish and cucumber. Topped with scallop tuilles.
Foie gras poached in meade and seared. Buckwheat honey gastrique, feuilles de brick.
Alex’s dish: Roasted pork tenderloin, buttered turnip puree, fennel braised in orange and vanilla, orange vanilla cream and maple walnut crumbs.
Tataki baby leeks and pickled leeks with smoked bonito dashi sauce enriched with bone marrow. Topped with watercress and pork cracklings.
Cauliflower that was dipped in oyster liquor, wrapped in konbu, salt crusted and baked. Blanketed by speck and served with oyster, sea beans and nasturtium caper sauce.
Seared scallops, mustard seed, lardo, three kinds of cabbage and potatoes with scallop infused cream. Purple cabbage and cumin sauce (served tableside).
Squab stuffed with black sausage, on a bed of sheeted beets. Black garlic puree. Beet and liquorice sauce.
Beef tenderloin cooked in a seaweed and salt crust. Potato and oyster mousse, tempura sea beans.
Beets, ash goat cheese and olive crumbs.
Oreo cake, mascarpone, sphere of frozen white chocolate filled with Oreo mousse. Served with Oreo bavarois (not pictured, sorry).
Sharon – I really enjoyed this! Wonderful (and intriguing) photographs but I especially liked the whole idea of Will’s great send off, complete with 14 courses! With such good friends, he will undoubtedly do very well.
Thank you Mary. You gotta love a guy who will cook the food at his own goodbye party.