After taking some time away to spend time in her new home with her new baby and hubby John, Lindsey is back in the K’Roo kitchen, doing one of the things she does best, making and creating delicious and creative takes on the traditional Sicilian fried rice ball. We are happy to have her back in the kitchen cooking, but more importantly, it’s been great to have her back – because, well, she’s a great person to be around and always gets me thinking about many things.
Good to see this smiling face on Tuesday morning.
Talk it Up
A recent early morning discussion got us on the subject of those days when things don’t go so well and why that happens. Just like anything that requires concentration and focus, cooking and preparing food for people, things can go really well when you are on your game but, there are those days when, well, you miss the mark. It’s easy to talk about the good times, but it’s in when you are in the weeds (restaurant speak for struggling) it’s when you have a chance to learn and fix situations that might come up again.
A trip to any farm market is a quick awakening of the senses.
Lindsey and I both agreed, that cooking and working in a restaurant is a matter of all your senses being on high alert and being able to use them to make fast decisions, quick adjustments and ultimately, serve up delicious and appealing food in a relatively short period of time, consistently.
Preparing side dishes for Thanksgiving means a lot of stuff happening at once!
The Eyes and Ears
So many things happen all at the same time in a restaurant kitchen. Everyone is focused on their particular task. Each individual task is part of a greater goal to be ready for the doors to open and guests to arrive. Being able to focus on one thing, while seeing the bigger picture is something that has taken some time and continues to be a learning curve for me. Each morning, we arrive at the kitchen around 6am. We begin prepping food for the truck and at the same time, we get ready for the doors to open at The Kangaroost. That means 5 people all cooking something different.
Some days in the kitchen remind me of this photo. It looks like chaos, but it’s really a well choreographed dance.
It’s typically pretty quiet in the morning. Coffee is an important part of the senses waking up each morning. By 7am we are in full swing, cooking – and doing our thing. It often becomes a dance - well synchronized and smooth.
A great bonus of The Kangaroost is an endless supply of espresso.
During our conversation about rough days, Lindsey and I talked about how anything that impairs our vision can become not only a distraction but, can throw a whole day off. Whether it’s sun in our eyes or a stray hair that flops out of our head bands or hats, anything that keeps a cook from seeing their surroundings, is well, nothing short of maddening. Quick adjustments often need to be made to make sure everyone can SEE what’s happening.
You will often hear the word “heard” in a kitchen. Often there is not time to offer long explanations or great detail, but, it’s always good to acknowledge that someone has given you information. So, people will say “heard”…”hot”….”coming around”…”behind” and a whole host of other words to let each other know the things they might not be able to see. All of that was new to me. And I thought it was silly at first but the longer I am in the kitchen and the more people I work with I realize how important it is not only for things to go well, but for safety and well being of everyone in the kitchen. Communication is key. Much of it is non verbal…but, there are times when “heard” is the most important word in the kitchen.
It Smells So Good in Here
These are words that are often heard by folks as they walk in the door. A common question is “what are you cooking that smells so good”. It is not always an easy question to answer because at any given moment there can be a number of things cooking. Most often, it involves a quick glance in the oven or a peak at the stove to figure out what does smell so good.
Pasole is not only delicious and one of our favorite soups, it’s fragrant and will have The Kangaroost smelling delicious is no time!
Having a keen sense of smell is something that has developed in me over the past couple of years. It’s funny how after cooking bacon for several times a week for 2 years, I can tell it is done by the smell. The same is true with roasting potatoes, meatloaf, beef and a few other dishes we prepare regularly. When I am focused, I am able to smell when things are ready. I hadn’t even thought of that until someone recently asked how I knew something was done and when I thought about it, the only answer I had was that I could smell it. Huh.
Have you ever had a cold and had your sense of taste diminished? Well, for us, that can make for a difficult day. I remember early on, I was preparing soup and had a summer cold. I kept adding things because I couldn’t “taste” the seasonings. After a while, I realized, that I wasn’t going to be able to decide if it was where I wanted it, I was going to have to rely on those working with me to tell me what the soup needed or didn’t need. That’s hard for someone such as myself. Typically, when I begin a dish, I have a vision or a thought of how I want it to look and more importantly taste. Relying on others, to complete your vision, is a matter of trust. So, I have learned to rely on the folks I work with for their opinions and flavor palettes. I remember the first time Chef Mark said to me “is the flavor where you want it?” and I thought…”what does that mean?” But, now I understand.
Being able to use a sense of taste to get your dish to the flavor you are looking for is a skill. Something that takes time and patience and even then, sometimes I get stumped. I know it needs “something” but don’t know what it is. And this is again a time when I call on the help of those around me. Cooking can be very humbling. I get pretty defensive of my dishes and it’s often hard to take criticism. But, in order to become better at what I want to do, I’ve had to learn to swallow my pride and remain open to all feedback. It’s fun to hear how fabulous something is, but when someone tastes something I’ve made and says “it’s okay” I shudder.
Butternut Squash Arancini ~ a very popular and incredibly delicious creation by Chef Lindsey.
Yes, this is a real thing. The longer I work in the kitchen, the less feeling I have in my finger tips. Now, you might think that is bad, but when your day involves many hours of touching hot things you rely on those kitchen fingers to save that thing that’s about to burn on the stove when your fingers are your closest utensil!
There are so many hot things in the kitchen that it’s really quite funny. I recently learned that one it is a kitchen assumption that EVERYTHING is hot. So, after a while you learn to check every pan, plate, dish or utensil on the line before grabbing it. Generally speaking, after a few burns and dropped pans, you learn quickly to assume that what you are about to grab can burn you.
Sometimes, when you are really in the middle of a cooking fury, you don’t even realize you’ve burned yourself. It’s not until the next day when you have the blistered line on your forearm from touching the oven rack do you even realize you have a burn. They call these battle scars …. interesting term, but, for lack of anything better, that’s what they are. So far, while we’ve had some folks cut themselves and burn themselves worse than I would ever like to see, we’ve not had any serious injuries in our kitchens and for that we are very grateful. Our staff are careful, and most importantly, look out for each other. That’s important. While individual tasks are important, the most important thing is that we are all in this together. We have to look out for each other and know that while we may have things to do, so does everyone else and each person’s “thing to do” is as important as the others. Without consideration and respect for each other, a kitchen would be chaos and dangerous.
When you are lucky enough to have a line like this it requires us to work together ~ communicating and understanding each person’s role in making things go right.
Some folks may or may not know this, but I have been a part of a 12 Step group for nearly 12 years. I used to attend meetings regularly, but since the birth of the Kangaroostaurant, I often rely on the things I’ve heard to get me through. One of my favorites wisdoms is “We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.”. This is true in my life and in the restaurant. Sometimes, things come up and I don’t immediately know what to do. So, I wait. And I think. And often I sleep on it. And most times, the answer comes. Sometimes, we make decisions based on gut feelings or instinct. I’ve learned that if my instincts are telling me something, that means that something in me has sensed that there is something right or wrong and I need to act on it. This is often the case in the kitchen. I don’t always know which of my senses has been triggered, but, as long as I am tuned into them all, I can usually make a decision based on instinct. I think that instinct is the collective of all the other senses working together to bring me to an alert state where I am able to consider a lot of different things at once, and act. This is not to say that things don’t go wrong with that.
A very serious Mason on the truck for our first catered farm event. Some of the most intense times also turn out to be the most exhilerating.
There are many times that I just don’t know what to do and when the answer doesn’t come. Sometimes, I can’t see the bigger picture. Other times, I can’t reach the top shelf. It’s at those times, I ask for help – in the form of a longer arm, or a wise friend. The thing that is heart warming and reassuring, is that most people are kind and want to help. We’ve found a great deal of support and help from folks in the community and our friends. Just when I think it’s time to throw in the towel or admit defeat, someone offers a solution or at least a band aid until the solution can be found.
Emma Reiser has helped us in ways she will never know…her heartfelt honesty and business integrity has been an example for Jay and I everyday!
The Heart and Soul
Knowing what is at the heart and soul of any adventure I take helps me to understand on a sensory level what is happening. My heart and soul are always on the chopping block – so to speak – in this job. This business is my love child. Something that came from a dream and a belief that I could do something different, follow my passion and feed people. I am deeply committed to creating a space and a business that is welcoming and inclusive. This means, that there is room for everyone, always. Some of the people we hire don’t have a lot of experience, but they have heart…and they are good souls. Some of the people who work with us, may not be the fastest or most creative, but they are kind and have tremendously positive attitudes. Working at the Kangaroostaurant and Kangaroost is much different than many restaurants. It’s hard work, there are numerous unknowns and constant change is the norm. It takes a commitment, not only to a job, but a passion for creating a space where folks can enjoy a fantastic meal in the company of friends and neighbors. Food for me is an expression of love. I have found, that the more time I spend in the kitchen, the more that holds true. Being able to prepare delicious food and serve it to people, is a way of creating love and sharing it with people. I know – that sounds sappy, but it’s TRUE. Cooking feeds my soul, and I am grateful for each day that I have the chance to continue feeding folks food created in a space where heart and soul are the key ingredients!
At a recent book launch for two local poets, Moises Barras and Cathryn Cofell, we had the pleasure of hearing music from Obvious Dog. This reminded me that what we are doing is about so much more than food. We are here to create a welcoming space for all to enjoy.
The Kangaroostaurant Rocks!
We hear this a lot. And well in all humility we do. But, while we do rock, we realize that we are not rock stars. We have so much to learn here. Humility and teachability are a huge part of our success in this venture. We have always tried our best to hire folks who know more than us and can teach us. Once we think we know everything and fail to acknowledge our weaknesses, we are in trouble. We have realized that experience and leadership in something every busy kitchen can’t be without. While we truly love to hire folks who are just starting out in the culinary world or perhaps have never worked in a restaurant, we have realized the need for an experienced chef to lead us into new and greater territory!
Welcome to Chef Adam Devens
Once we got word that Ben would be leaving us, Emma Reiser and I were chatting about where to look for a Chef. We had decided it was time to hire an experienced chef, but didn’t know where to start looking. While brainstorming, we through a few names around and one of them was Adam Devens. Adam was the Executive Chef at Bella Vita, and we had heard they were closing. I had met Adam a couple of times when he came to the window at the truck. We decided that it would be something we would look into, but had decided he would likely not be interested in coming to our little restaurant here in Kaukauna. Well, 30 minutes later, HE CALLED US. That is no joke! Sometimes, you just know things are supposed to happen a certain way.
Some of you met Chef Adam at the Tail Gate Event for the Fox Valley Humane Association,
We know that being successful requires a team of talented and hard working folks. Our kitchen is full of talent, passion and folks who love food. Chef Adam is a welcomed leader and mentor to us all as we continue to learn and grow and put delicious food on the plate’s of folks on the truck and at The Kangaroost! When Adam came in to talk with us about working with us, we talked for a long time about food. I learned that not only does Adam cook food, but he grows it. We’ve had the pleasure already of using some tomatoes and fresh mint from his garden at The Kangaroost. During our conversation, I realized that Adam loved food, knew a lot about it and would be a great fit for us as he talked about his experience and knowledge of local food, farmers and farmer markets, seasonality and sustainability. Chef Adam is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School and has worked in restaurants for the past 10 years, most recently at Bella Vita and previously at The Seasons. This past year, Chef Adam received a Bachelor Degree in Culinary Management. This experience, education and passion, were the sure indicators for me that Adam was the right person to lead us here in our kitchen!
So, welcome Chef Adam ~ We are happy to have you here and look forward to learning and growing together!
Now, time to get the coffee brewing and the soups stewing ~ it’s going to be another great day on the streets and at The Kangaroost.