Today I staged at the Nomad. Or a trail as they call it. We arrived to the city around 3 o clock with enough time to eat some bagel pizzas at black seed bagel co and go to the bathroom about 4 times. The nerves got worked up in me. My first trail in the concrete jungle. Are the chefs here gonna chew up this mid western Minnesota nice boy and spit me out, or am I going to be able to withstand my ground and do what I know how to do and cook.
I arrive to the entrance on 28th and Broadway with my wife who was dropping me off with moral support. She constantly rubbed my head and said “you got this, it’s just like Bellecour” was it? The Nomad, a 1 Michelin Star restaurant in a hotel, created by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara who own a coveted 3 Michelin Stars at EMP and world renowned restaurant group, Make It Nice. I’ve been saying make it nice, or make it twice since my early culinary years. I’ve been watching his plating style since the early years of EMP and trained to find the simplicity in executing refined dishes making them look minimal, but not forsake the excruciating and tedious prep work behind it. At 5 o clock the chef de cuisine came down. Mike Reilly. A true character. A large smile and thick curly brown hair that he combed back with voluptuous tenacity. He introduced himself and we chatted. “Where are you from, where have you worked?” he asked me. Rather confident in my answer, I’m from Minnesota, yeah Minnesota. We just moved to Jersey and saw it as a good opportunity to work the big city. My most recent job was as Chef de Cuisine at an Asian Restaurant called Lat 14. Before that I was a chef de partie at Bellecour and a commis Spoon and Stable,” He looked almost uninterested… Time to drop a name. “Those are Gavin Kaysen’s restaurants”.
“Ah, Gavin,” he said his eyes widening and his head starting to bob with acceptance. “What a good guy,” he continued. “He stays here a lot”
I wasn’t surprised that the man probably does stay there a lot. One of the best chefs in the country, in the world even just casually traveling and staying at hotels like the Nomad. I feel like I was already accepted just because I worked for someone they knew. Small world, it turned out that one of the sous chefs worked with my sous chef and good friend at Bellcour in San Diego while they were employed by Gary Danko.
The night continued, after an awkward pre shift with the front of the house where I hid in the back for a while I basically stood in a corner on the pass. Casually asking line cooks what was their Mise en Place, “What are you doing? Can I taste that? How do you make this sauce? What does cryo-vaccuming it do? What is stuffed in the foie? Its Monday, you are prepping for Brunch now?” Just getting involved. As a observational trail I’m not allowed to touch anything.
5:50 came around, Chef asked me to come to the pass. There was a little dinner mat set up with a glass of water, water bottle a neatly folded napkin, a fork a knife. Man I guess I’m going to get to eat! Yay. Little before this I was talking to the entremmet cook, who seemed rather nervous. He was telling me it was his first day on that station and the fish cook had called out so he Is kind of solo with the sous chef there to help. Man I thought this would be my opportunity to get in there and cook. But no… eat I shall.
The first course, Fruit de Mer. Walking down the pass I was the friendly face and smile of a girl whom I met just a bit earlier while she was picking herbs. Franchesca was her name. She set a beautiful bowl in front of me piled high with crushed ice and an arrangement of decadent sea foods. The sea food was placed in a circle around the ice on the bowl with a perfectly cut crab leg that was stuffed with a crab and cream cheese filling. In a cleaned out, polished lobster claw there was a nice quenelle of lobster salad with chive garnish. An oyster with a shallot red wine vin that was turned into a granita with liquid nitrogen, Scallop crudo, perfectly diced with yuzu and pistachio on a baby scallop shell. Fluke that was diced up and served with Evoo and horseradish, and a cucumber gel with caviar. I was blown away by the clean flavors of the sea executed throughout all the components in this dish.
I could probably eat 3 more plates, just like that. In the midst of finishing up this platter I hear chef call quickly, “Fire foie, tomato, followed by, chicken duck”. In an instant the kitchen replied with a deep roaring “OUI!” in unison that shook the core and rocked my body like that feeling you get when you are next to a speaker and the bass drops. A slight smile came over my face to mask the over excitement I was feeling for such a simple sign of respect and communication. “ouiiiii.” I said to myself as I looked down at the devoured plate of seafood before me. The server cleared my plate and asked how everything was. Man… I was thinking to myself this is the best chefs table I’ve ever been at. Haha. The next course. Squash Ravioli. Holy crap was this squash. 3 Raviolis stuffed with a feta mixture and some black pepper. A smooth squash puree beneath and compressed yellow squash with Calabrian chili oil. This dish wasn’t my favorite, but still damn tasty. Nice tang from the feta that complemented the richness of the puree and the fresh crisps of the compressed squash. The third dish… Eggplant. Burnt eggplant puree with fish sauce and garlic, roasted eggpland rounds with eggplant relish, compressed pickled eggplant, grilled eggplant, eggplant cream sauce and eggplant chips. I put everything onto a spoon and took a bite with my eyes closed. Is it because it’s a Michelin star restaurant that this makes sense to put an eggplant on a plate 7 different ways, or is this a dish to exemplify eggplants unrealized, unappreciated beauty. The flavors and textures I tasted blew me away. It began with this savory deepness that came from the burnt eggplant with mild hints of being bitter from the char that was complimented by the fresh acidity of the relish which had a gentle sweetness to it that paired well with the crunch of the pickled eggplant that balanced the fattiness of the fried eggplant and the smooth, rich, eggplant puree. Damn, I’m hungry again. The last dish, Dessert. Milk and Honey.
This is one that is a classic. We ordered it last time we ate at nomad an I swear by it. I’m not even going to describe it, you just need to get there and try it yourself. As a server cleared my plate, he said get ready… usually he asks the stage to make an omelet. The Sous Chef Ray snuck behind me with a bowl and 3 eggs inside. “We fed you, now chef wants you to feed him an omelet”.
I was ready for this moment. Before leaving Minnesota I took a job as breakfast cook to help my sister out at the restaurant cook where she is taking over as the head chef. I got my practice making omelets. I asked chef, “do you guys have any non-sticks?”
“Nope!” he replied. “You have to use the stainless steel”
Damnit. I thought. I never made an omelet in a stainless steel pan before, and let me tell you, its not the same! I raided the coolers to find some MEP I could use to make the dopest omelet I could, but without being too complicated. I grabbed, chives, lemongrass, chervil, thai basil, kaffir lime, goat cheese, milk, a whisk. What the hell am I going to make I thought? I whisked the filling panicked to make. Goat cheese in a bowl with some chopped thai basil, kaffir lime, lemon juice and salt. I cracked the eggs and whisk them into the bowl. My pan was already hot. I add the butter. Oh shit. The butter turns brown instantly. That’s a hot pan boys. I dump out the butter, add more butter, oh shit. Turns brown instantly. I panick. Oh shit. I was nerveous as I imagined chef could see all the brown smoke coming from my pan. I got to do this, 4 minutes remaining. Oh yeah, I only had 20 minutes to make an omelet. I add butter, while its melting I add the eggs. I stir to make a French style omelet, soft curds of egg encased in a thin layer of egg. I add the goat cheese filling and I start to turn the egg over on itself to fold. Oh shit! Its sticking. I continue to scrape the pan with my spoon because I couldn’t find a rubber spatula and I’m panicking. 3 minutes left and I’m freaking out inside, but I have to remain composed. I have to restart. I unfold the scrambled egg and take the fillin out to re use on my second batch. I scrape out the pan with salt, and I add butter again and place the pan over low heat. I walk briskly to grab 3 more eggs, whisk them quickly into a bowl. I reach to add the cream and know the cream all over the table and try to catch it and it drops all over the floor. 2 minutes remaining. Oh Shit! I’m done. Ima going to be that guy that takes 20 minutes to make scrambled eggs. Oh shit. I leave the cream on the floor, I clean the table quickly and add the eggs to the pan. Its looking good, well better than before. I stir and stir to achieve soft curds. I let the egg sit for 15 seconds add the filling, chef walks by. At this point, I made sure the table was clean, organized, with a plate on the table and all my garnishes arranged before me, “ You got that omelet or what” said chef Ray.
“Right now, Go minute” I replied. Hoping he didn’t see the mess I had made on the floor. He walked away and I started to roll the omelet. First fold great, no stick. Second fold. Oh shit. Stuck. I already said go minute. Improvise time… I scraped what ever egg I could into the edge of the pan, I added a dollop of butter to try and lubricate the omelet. I let it set for another 15 second over medium heat. I put a plate on top of the saute pan and I flipped it, praying it came out clean. I remove the pan and see a nicely encased bright yellow omelet. There was a tiny crack on the top but I covered it with thin chives and pattern of heirloom cherry tomatoes. I wrapped the egg with a paper towel and lightly shaped it. It wasn’t the best I could do, but pretty damn good. I looked at my clock. I was about 2 minutes over time. Well I’m not presenting this until I clean up my station. I put the plate down and cleaned up the floors as best as I could. I washed my hands and presented my plate to chef. “Wow, nice looking omelet. You made this in the stainless steel pan?” Said chef Reilly.
Thrown off by the comment, if this was nice, I wonder what kind of omelets you get in here. I said in my head. I replied. “Yes Chef, I made it in the stainless steel pan.”
Relieved that he actually enjoyed it and that I got something on the plate was just an amazing relief. I cleaned my station and then met with chef. Job offer number 1 in the big apple. YEEE BOI. Now we continue the search to see where would be the best opportunity to take on the concrete jungle. You know what they say. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.