Deborah Pena Fall 2016 Blog
by Deborah Pena, December 15, 2016
My first stage was conducted this quarter at the Publican, part of the One Off Hospitality Group, under chef de cuisine Jacob Saben. Nestled within the Fulton River District in Chicago’s West Loop, the restaurant is evocative of a European beer hall with its strong architectural lines and rustic décor. The Publican’s eclectic cuisine is an “homage to oysters, pork and beer.” The restaurant offers a daily rotating menu consisting of rustic, seasonal, sustainably-raised fish, seafood, and pork dishes complemented by an extensive international beer list.
With respect to my stage, I prepared for the experience that other people had described: peeling, dicing, chopping, and cleaning. I, fortunately, had a completely different experience. That’s not to say that I didn’t partake in those tasks; they just weren’t exclusive past the first hour. The majority of my responsibilities revolved around obtaining hands-on knowledge of what an externship with the Publican would entail. My primary shift duties involved setting up the oyster station for service, which included inventorying the oysters on-hand to select the “chef’s 6” oysters for that evening, ensuring there was an ample supply of accompanying sauces and roe available, cutting lemons, and setting up the sixth pans. Did I mention ice? We used such a considerable amount of ice throughout the shift that it became paramount that the “brown cow” was ALWAYS full. Once the station was primed, my next task was to fill out the oyster service card. In between orders, we cleaned the oysters and purged the clams, emptying all fish bins and transporting them to the dish pit. Additionally, I cut and pickled cauliflower, cleaned and removed beards from the mussels for immediate use in the fish station, helped prep for shift meals, assisted the fish station in plating entrées to bring to the pass, and continuously swept. Most of my time, though, was spent shucking oysters and preparing oyster platters. Having only previously shucked one oyster ever, it was a true learning experience. There is a definite technique involved that once you understand it, it becomes gratifying to accomplish.
Ultimately, what surprised me the most about the experience was that I would be working directly in front of dining guests. I was not prepared to have my every move observed by restaurant patrons, especially as I was acquiring a new skill. Ironically, that was my favorite part of the whole experience – that instant gratification of watching the diner enjoy the food you just painstakingly prepared. There’s nothing else like it!