Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Buitoni School

I arrived in New York for my second 'tour' about a year and a half ago with my sights set on Italian cuisine.  I came back, on the recommendation of a friend, to an off-the-beaten-path Brooklyn restaurant in a serene little corner of Williamsburg.  Aurora was founded in 2003 by a dynamic trio of Italian-born restauranteurs (Villa, Luna and Buitoni) and has built on its solid roots a growing company including two acclaimed SoHo restaurants in addition to the original Brooklyn location.  These pioneering entrepreneurs have come to foreign soil and managed to make real magic happen, and this magic has much more to do with the incredibly personable constituents of this little community than anything else.

Within the castle walls of this little empire are an impressive list of long term employees--a truly difficult thing to find in the high-turnover world of small to mid scale restaurants.  There are several who have been here since the beginning, most have been a number of years and at least employee one was even working with the owners before the original Aurora's inception over 9 years ago.  I'm still the new guy here.

Since I started working with Chef Buitoni at Aurora I have been treated as family.  This is a phrase that people tend to throw around like free popcorn at a movie premiere these days and I'm afraid that it does not carry the weight that I intend to apply by saying that I have been treated as family.  I'm 35 years old and I've been working since I was 15.  These people have reset the bar for me.  I'm a changed man for their influence, from their example.

...these are actually raisins, not hamber
All niceties aside, the company is a bit chaotic at times.  Il Baraonda...look it up.  Systems seem to come and go with the seasons.  You might even say that the restaurants themselves are like little organisms that hunker down in caves for the winter, forage the spring melt, pine away the sweltering summer and glow through the leaves of autumn like so much ambient light, glittering among the myriad folk of this crossroads.  Its a very organic way of life here...the ability to adapt at the drop of a broken glass is critical.

"Run downstairs and grab me the Pockfax!!"
I moved into the Chef de Cuisine position at Emporio around mid-september of last year.  Its a very integrated restaurant because of the extreme exposure of the open kitchen.  All the cooks and servers know each other, which is not always the case in restaurants.  Not to say that everyone always gets along, but this has been a really tight crew of people in my time here.  Relatively speaking.

I came to the Buitoni School knowing a minimal amount of Italian cuisine.  I'm still, and always will be, learning.  I mean, what can you say about a cuisine which is literally thousands of years old and which has had such an impact on the way humans eat...especially Europeans and their progeny.  I've learned an unquantifiable set of skills in Chef Buitoni's kitchens.  Not just food skills.  Remember, I said before that the magic of this place has much more to do with the people who work here than anything else.  In my final weeks here I find myself hoping that some of that has rubbed off on me.

Coming from the background of kitchens that I've worked in, one of my greatest challenges has been to overcome the explosive dynamism that we so often find as young cooks, so eager and so electrically inspired that we often find it difficult to get back to the humdrum, monochromatic mentality of most working people.  People who are just trying to pay their bills and get to the next step in life's parade of mediocrity.  To be more clear:  I've been known to have trouble keeping my temper in check.  I'm getting better all the time (like the Beatles).

When I started here at Emporio, I wrote on a little piece of masking tape which is still there after nearly a year.  I haven't replaced it.  It reads: "Hatch the Eggs".  The other half of that little phrase is "don't smash them"...its understood, I think.  I've been practicing 'hatching eggs' for the last year.  It seems to have had a better effect at work than at home, but then again I'm still learning (thank God).  I just hope no one smashes me for the things I'm still lacking.

Its been one of the most fun years of my recollection.  I've made some potentially life-long connections and, hopefully, affected lasting change in some people's lives along the way.  I've learned how to use bananas to surpass the world's highest technologies.  I've put fruit on raw fish--again.  I've seen marriage proposals, wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners, bar- bat- and probably some other sort of -mitzfahs that I don't even know about yet.  I've hung out with movie stars.

I've chased the paparazzi up six flights of fire escape, aced health inspections, romped with the neighborhood restaurants, roasted pigs for hipsters, cooked for collectors of $20,000 bottles of wine, built bridges, burnt fewer, both relished and relinquished my precious days off and waxed poetic for far too long in various run-on sentences, paragraphs, essays, blogs and artistic venues in general.
In the immortal words of Han Solo: "Sorry about the mess."

I'm excited to make this next move.  Its like a first taste of entrepreneurial life all over again.  Except this time I feel like I've had lasik surgery.  Or fallen into a vat of radioactive waste to gain some weird super power.  Or  grown somewhere.  Or something...I love these people.  They have helped to guide me in the direction of an amazing future.  Riccardo, Gaspare, Elena, Damien, Emanuele, Carlos, Beto, Abram, Porfirio, Antonio, Domingo, Lucas, el Perdido, los Crudos...ha!... Ellen, Mike, Suheyla, Kelly, Ever, Camilo, Lazo,  all of the slightly homosexual 'coffee station guys' from Aurora.  Irene, Nadia, Rebecca.  Frans.  That's just Aurora...I don't have pictures of them:(

Frans was the transition, he took my place at Aurora so I could take on the pizzeria.  Marcus greeted me smiling in the doorway on my first day.  I'm sure of it.  How could you not love this face:

The yin to his interminable yang:  Miryam, Theresa, Anais, Joan, Jackie, Laura, Roxanne, Aisha, Hannah, Fulvia, Danielle, Lena...Valkyries all.  The first time I've really gotten on well with FOH.  Chemma, Miguel, CJ, TJ, Bruno, Diego, Sasselli, Mike, Alan, Khaled, Mohammed, Imed, Giuseppe (thought I'd slip that one in on the sly *wink*), Jose, Daniel, Mark, Corey, et alii.

joie de vivre

the grill section
Phil Collins

Riccardo has a gift for creating a crew.  Its the most valuable lesson I've learned yet.  These guys are a frikkin machine, capable of far more than they even know.  Lanfranco, Joel, Bayro, Chaco, Eliseo,  "Brian", Pedro, Angel-Samuel, Angel , Juan, Edwin, Lusiano, Daniele, Miguel, Danny, Epifano, Alejandro, Frans.  My sanity belongs to them.  They are the ones that keep this vessel of mad pirates afloat.  They are the crew of the S.S. Baraonda.  We make the magic happen.  Thank y'all.

early times

the magic of Bayro



1 comment:

  1. Heartwarming. May your adventures continue to bring you long lasting memories and friendships that never simmer down. After all, the magic does happen in the kitchen! xo