Meditations

Yes Chef Hawksworth! Right Away Chef!


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How often does a civilian get an invitation to work directly under the wing of the top chef in Vancouver for a day? Not often. West Restaurant’s Executive Chef, David Hawksworth, graciously allowed me to infiltrate his tightly knit team and amazing kitchen to assist the day’s prep and evening dinner seatings as a member of his line. Showing up for work at the city’s top rated restaurant was not for the faint of heart and I’ll admit made me very nervous. Having not worked professionally in a kitchen for over 15 years, it was on one hand an amazing treat to pretend to be a part of one the best kitchen brigades in Canada, but also a very hearty dose of humble pie for someone known for his kitchen (and eating) skills. Watching this team as they worked seamlessly together to create such gorgeous food under the grueling pressure of over 100 servings in a few short hours was both educational and inspiring.

During the course of my twelve hour shift I helped the staff prep their complicated mise en place, peeling and cutting endless tomatoes, potatoes, shallots and pearl onions. Risotto was prepared and portioned, cabbage meatballs were rolled and wrapped, sunchoke royales were peeled and sliced, salt cod was portioned and made into brandade patties, leek cream sauce simmered and lamb jus was lovingly reduced and skimmed all day. The only real break during the day was for a quick staff lunch of pasta bolognaise made by Chef. Can that man ever do a mean meat sauce!

As the long day morphed from relaxed, but focused prep into the tense rhythm of the first seating of dinner service, I was really impressed by the leadership and calm authority that the young Sous Chef Stephanie Noel, brought to the room and her team. A three year veteran of Hawksworth’s brigade, Stephanie called the orders and kept track of the timing of each dish, conducting the various stations around the large kitchen like a maestro leading her orchestra through a complicated composition. I spent the majority of the evening at Paul Moran the Tourant Cook’s side helping with various tasks while he sweated over the grills and ovens. Paul’s food knowledge was only matched by his calm, masterful skills as the printer rapidly spewed orders during the rushes. Venison, Kobe hanging beef, lamb, veal chop, pork loin, squab, sablefish, stripped sea bass, fluke, scallops, sometimes he’d have ten different orders cooking simultaneously. He never flinched once. As the evening progressed and we chatted between orders I learned that he was only nineteen years old and had already been a member of Hawksworth’s brigade for over two years. As an apprentice already showing skills on a team of this calibre, it was a wonder to consider how he’d done it without stepping a foot in formal cooking school. Amazing.

david_hawksworth.jpg I will admit that I was a touch trepidacious about meeting and working under Chef Hawksworth. As the top rated chef in Vancouver, he has a somewhat stern reputation and I imagined the classic Diva Chef behaviour so common on television cooking shows like Hell’s Kitchen. I was delighted to find Chef a friendly, patient and kind man who treated “the rookie” with nothing but respect. Don’t get me wrong, you mess up on this man’s crew and you’ll hear about it. Mess up again and you may not find yourself there for long. But it was evident that things worked so well in that kitchen because he’s earned the respect of his team and they follow their leader.

The only downside during the entire evening was when the dishwasher, a Sri Lankan gentleman whose strong accent made him virtually indecipherable, yelled at me in front of the line cooks while wagging his bony finger an inch from my nose about putting a tray in the wrong area in his dish pit. I’m just relieved it was him and not Chef yelling at me.

Thanks to my good friend and fellow food lover Colin for introducing me to Chef Hawksworth and making the opportunity possible. It was an honour and a privilege. My only regret? I didn’t get to taste all the delicious looking treats that pastry chef Rhonda Viani was creating in the back. They looked soooo good.

Check out West’s site with online menus and photo gallery. It’s one of the better restaurant websites I’ve seen in a while.

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