11/11/09

Seitan Massage

Boss Man's back in the kitchen, with that giant mass of wheat, just whacking away to massage the seitan into being. The first time I'd seen him at the task was years back when I started working here, and he was doing office work, plating work, washing dishes, cleaning the kitchen, and doing everything else, except breathe or rest. It was nuts, but someone had to do it, right? In those days, I was only obliquely aware of the goings on in the kitchen, because I was busy waiting tables.

The thing about running a business is that you need to use everyone's talents to the peak of its abilities. If there is someone else who can easily replace your job, you shouldn't be doing it, if indeed there are more advanced level things you could (and should) be doing to move said business forward. In other words, neither of us was doing those special "only you" sort of things, and we were both ending up tired. AND the customers weren't coming. And we weren't fulfilling orders on time. ANNNNND we couldn't do special stuff.

It all took me back, because I was chatting to Boss Man about making the seitan (not the one from vital wheat gluten; the one from wheat flour that you massage until all the starch is washed out) on a regular basis only a couple of months ago, before he plunged headfirst into the kitchen. He got a gleam in his eye, as he described the process. He described how you lovingly removed off all those layers of starch, and you shaped it into what it'd become.

"Why not just pitch it in the stand mixer?"

"No! It has to be done by hand." He looked affronted.

It dawned on me why he didn't use machinery except when absolutely necessary. Everything was done by hand, because that way, everything has character. Although the food is consistent, it's not homogenised, by any stretch of the imagination. Heck, what's the point of doing everything organic, and fair trade, and using the best quality ingredients, if you're not going to take a little time to make it just so? Sure, the food processor will churn it out faster. But will it make it better? If the answer is no, then Chef P opts to do it by hand.

Unfortunately, before he'd gotten comfortable in the role of head chef (which means being that guy who has to lay down the law, and who is the front of the line when things go south), he didn't have the mental or physical energy to fathom handling that large heft of seitan on a regular basis. "It's such a superb dish, but it's a drag to make, because it's so much work that you end up exhausted at the end."

I reassured him, "Well, it's not gluten free anyway."

"Yeah," he sighed.

He'd make it on rare occasions, but not on a regular basis.

And this is why I brought all this up. Because I saw him in the kitchen today, wrangling that seitan for the third time in a month! I gave him a significant look of concern, and he laughed. "It's easy, Dino. And look at how beautiful it is." And beautiful it was.

What a change just a little bit of time can make. He used to speak fondly of making the seitan brisket, just like his grandma would make, with apples, and dates, and spices, and carrots and other veggies. But he hated doing the actual seitan part, because it felt like (to him at the time) a lot of work. Now, I see him cranking out that seitan quite happily.

Which means that he'll be able to put it on the menu more frequently, so that people can come in and enjoy it. It's the sort of thing that you won't and can't get anywhere else, which is fine, because we're here to bring it to you.
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