Thursday, June 24, 2010

trouble in two parts.

1. There's No Pilot? 

That beautiful Baker's Pride oven, which was adjusted to burn ever more violently at temperatures that would sear the eyebrows off of distant alpacas, started to cough and sputter the other night. Apparently the thermocoupler—which sounds a like a fake piece of equipment lifted from a Star Trek script, but is actually a sensor that, when a pilot light flickers out, will cut off the gas line—went on the fritz and started indiscriminately shutting off the gas.

It started doing this about 45 minutes before we were supposed to open at the end of last week. Our head chef (we'll just call him HC), spent a good 10 minutes burning his hands trying to fix the problem. Eventually we got it running and the rest of the evening went relatively smoothly.

2. There's No Co-Pilot?

Today the sous chef (SC) walked out. HC seemed to handle it pretty well. And by handle it, I mean he hired a replacement this afternoon. So, yeah, he takes care of his shit. The amount of stress he's able to take is pretty remarkable.

There are any number of reasons why SC decided to leave and give no notice. I reckon there's something going on outside of work and this was a way of indirectly dealing with it. At least, as of last night he seemed like he was having an alright time.

* * *

Still on the work-front, it looks like we'll be getting a wood-burning oven to replace the Baker's Pride sooner rather than later. Once our plan is in place, I'll divulge some more details.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

the perils. the tribulations.

Tonight I ran out of dough. I went through roughly 40 dough balls. A couple of them I burned—my fault (though, in my defense, the thermostat was adjusted to bring the oven temp up to 700-ish, so the timing for cooking the pizzas changed). I'm happy people are ordering the pies though. And they seem to still enjoy them.

Yesterday, Aaron, the head chef, gave us a run-down of how he'd like the kitchen cleaned. He said it should take us 45 minutes. Tonight it took us about 2 hours, and we seemed to be working at a faster pace (thanks to that old stand-by of better communication and teamwork). While he gave us pointers on more efficient ways to accomplish tasks—cleaning from the top down and finishing up one task for the entire kitchen before starting the next one—he also added more steps to the process. And in the end, the thing that seems to suck up the most time is dishwashing. So no matter how quickly we kill the work stations and floors, there's gonna be some back-up when it comes to pots and pans.

We had a new pizza on the menu tonight: leek cream sauce, asparagus, shaved lemon and fennel, topped with basil. Other pizzas were the same as last week with a couple minor adjustments. I'll pretty much eat anything with the basil-cream sauce.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

the week in review

I still have gobs to learn about working in the Portobello kitchen, but after four days of service I feel much more settled than I anticipated after that first night.

We continued to be full-up through the rest of the week, however the pizza orders dropped by about a third. So instead of making 35-40 pizzas a night like I did when we opened, I've been making 20-25. We think the difference in numbers has to do with the fact that a lot of the people who sat at the opening were regulars who were possibly looking to try the new items on the menu. Whereas people later in the week were standard customers without an agenda.

My guess is that orders will pick up for pizza once we start offering a to-go menu, which I believe will be primarily pizza with a smattering of other options that are easily transportable. We're also looking to serve our to-go offerings at our neighboring bar/beer store, The Beermongers. I'm also hoping some good buzz on the pizza will help increase demand.

Apologies for not posting photos of the place in action, but I feel kind of weird bringing the camera out in the middle of service when I should probably be doing other things (often things I don't yet know how to do).

In the meantime, please see below. I took some leftover dough home and made myself a cheeseful margherita:

The dough is a mix of Caputo "00" and Blendako. It has a lower gluten content than what I'm used to working with, which means that it's harder to stretch out and more prone to tearing,  but that it also has a softer crumb, airier hole structure, and is lighter and easier on the stomach in terms of digesting. It's also pretty tasty.

Tomorrow we're closed for service, but are scheduled to have a kitchen meeting at some point. We're gonna try and get more organized and efficient, I believe. It'd be nice to get out of work at 12:30 instead of 1:15.

* * *

In other news, I bought a 21 or 24 speed bike from my friend (I haven't actually counted the rear sprockets, but when you have that many, it doesn't really make much of a difference). It's a nice, steel Fuji frame. Photos are TK.

This weekend I was able to do some basic maintenance—replaced the seat; adjusted the handlebars; moved the break levers to a more comfortable position; cleaned the chain, rear derailleur, and bottom bracket. I also took my Peugeot in to get the fork replaced. (And subsequently the headset and stem too, since finding a french-sized fork the right size for my bike is virtually impossible. And if you get a fork that's English-sized, then it snowballs and all the other parts that attach to it also need to be English-sized. The different standards are annoying to deal with.) The old one was bent, which I could barely notice, but when I dropped by to get a new front brake, the mechanic barely glanced at my bike and noticed it immediately. He also told me not to buy a front brake, but to replace to fork instead. Then he told me another shop in town would probably have better fork options for me. This is all fairly insignificant information. If you're still reading this, I apologize.

Friday, June 11, 2010

the short of it.

Portobello re-opened last night. Word is that the place was teeming with multi-celled organisms looking to chow down. By all accounts it was a success.

I did spend most of the first three hours of service in pretty much a complete panic, though according to the chef and sous chef, I at least appeared to be handling myself on the line pretty well considering it was my first day.

The head chef schedules the orders when they arrive. He keeps track of what table is getting their 1st, 2nd, 3rd course, etc. There are a few key cues that I had to learn. When he says, "order in" a pizza (or 3), it's to let me know to prep my station for those pizzas. "Pick up" is the go cue—cook it. If someone asks for an "all day," it means, "tell me how many orders I have in total—both order in and pick up."

In all, I made about 40 pizzas during the opening. Tonight I only made about 20 though we also had a packed house this evening—people actually waited over two hours to get a table. And the few comments that I received were very complimentary. I was told that the folks over at Food Fight may mention the pies in their blog. Isa Chandra Moskowitz dropped by the kitchen for a moment (though I didn't realize it at the time, she's the author or co-author of a number of cookbooks, including one of my favorites Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World), and had very nice things to say.

So far so good.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


of what's in store:

this char will hopefully be making the rounds:

this pizza will not be on the menu:

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Two of the ten pizzas I made this evening:

Mushroom, garlic, basil, olive oil, tomato:

field sausage (vegan), pine nuts, basil, fennel, olive oil

Oddly, the most positive response came from the simplest one: tomato, garlic, crushed pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Not pictured included a lemon & fennel pie, and pies featuring shaved broccoli stem.

I'd still like to get a crisper exterior on the edge crust. That's my biggest issue right now in terms of results.

If anyone has topping recommendations, I'm open to suggestions.


Well, I forgot my camera again last night. But tonight I snapped a couple shots of the kitchen-in-progress, the pizza oven, and my latest batch of dough (100% Bob's Red Mill unbleached white).

Friday, June 04, 2010

Dig the new digs.

So I'm leaving my job at VTech to become the pizzamaker at Portobello. We still have a bunch of kinks to work out pizza-wise, but I promise you, we will be serving some of the best pizza in Portland in the near future.

I'll try and keep this here updated with pizza developments as they occur. Last night was the first time I used the oven—a two-deck Bakers Pride, natural gas-fired deal. The temperature hits 650 on the dial, so it's kind of a step up from my home oven.

We've got the opposite problem though. Heat is from the bottom in the Bakers Pride (as opposed to from the top element on the broil setting at home), which is good in that it's more efficient as warm air rises and all. However in the current set up, the pizzas are cooking too fast on the bottom, and are barely cooked at the top of the cornicione when the bottom is practically a block of char.

As possible solutions we're looking at shrinking the height of the decks to make the floor and ceiling temperatures more even or adding a reflective material to the top of the decks to bounce the heat back down (and keep it from escaping as quickly via heat transfer). If anyone else has any ideas, I'm all ears.

So we're experimenting with some dough mixtures. Last night was 100% white whole wheat, and a 75% unbleached white-25% white whole wheat blend. Tonight is a 50/50 whole wheat-unbleached white mix and a 100% unbleached white. All Bob's Red Mill. I forgot to drop the dough balls in the fridge this morning. Hopefully they haven't over risen.

Photos are TK. I totally spaced on bringing my camera yesterday. I'll try and make up for it this evening.

Scott. Pilgrim.

I am kind of giddy with excitement.