My Kitchen Escapades With The Culinary Mad Scientist....Caramelized Onions.
Sounds delicious and simple enough, after all it’s only onions right? I remember in the beginning of my “intro to the mad culinary scientist phase” seeing Joe stand there very relaxed and seeming philosophical in countenance as he gently coaxed a lazy golden pile of onions around on his newly refurbished grill. He was so casual about it that I thought, “I’ve caramelized plenty of onions in my career I should be able to handle that task for him no problem. They’re only onions, right?”
At that point MELTZ (Joe’s first restaurant) had not opened and all the food being prepared was in very small quantities for testing purposes. Joe gives me the run down on his expectations for me to caramelize the onions and off I go in confidence to accomplish his request. I bring my first efforts to him and he says ” you know Lou, I think you could take them “a little further.” So I do.
MELTZ opens and it is well received and we are making some serious sandwiches. The volume of production rises and I am training staff to do things like “caramelize onions the way Joe likes them.”
As I am working with another cook after just having finished yet another largely increased amount of onions, Chef breezes through and over his shoulder says “a little further still Lou.” So off I go to accomplish his request. Mid-way through the project Joe says, “did you caramelize every onion in the walk-in Lou?” My heart sinks (crap) my cut is right, the color is good, the flavor is there, this is going to be the time when I make the touch down….now he wants volume of massive proportions??? OK. They’re only onions,right?
So again my current culinary mentor tells me with vigor about rounding up all the “fond” and incorporating all that developed sugar evenly and elegantly into my recipe. A labor of love not to be given up on too quickly lest you miss that mark of velvety caramelized perfection.
I shake my head and walk off with renewed determination to hit the mark. To see the ever coveted nod of Chef’s head when he approves of your gastronomical endeavor and the final result. I plan it all, the timing (Joe-it has to be early, one of the first things you do in the morning), the volume (Joe-use every last onion you can get your hands on. “Go big” on this task). I come in early just for the task (Joe-it’s a job better done with no one around to distract you). I allow plenty of time in my production schedule (Joe-cause you can lower the heat and cruise a bit while you get other things done). I can see the goal post right in front of me. 2-Ten gallon buckets of julienned onions, a mere 8-10 20 oz bottles of water, over two hours of prep time left to service, and one hour and forty-five minutes later Chef cruises in, looks at me and the onions, and with that oh so mischievous grin says “Hey your on it Lou, any fires?”
For every MELTZ fan out there, if you have every had our Briqueso sandwich and said to yourself, man that is good! What is it that makes it taste sooo good? I know the answer. A relentless pursuit of culinary perfection as seen through the eyes of my very own “culinary mad scientist.”