De Gustibus Behind the Scenes, In the Kitchen with Amaral

Posted on March 30, 2010 12:01 pm

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By De Gustibus Blogger Susan Streit

“Chef, I don’t think this is going to work,” De Gustibus General Manager Amaral Ozeias tells guest chef Fabio Trabocchi.

Amaral is pouring a spinach spatzle dough he’s prepared through a food mill with a large-hole disc. The dough is somewhat of a thin consistency and is not producing the results he’s expected.

Chef Fabio takes a look. “No, it shouldn’t look like this,” he shakes his head. He pours the dough back through the food mill to double check and frowns. No good, and the class begins in 30 minutes.

“Let’s see what we have,” Amaral suggests, and he begins to search through one of the kitchen utensil drawers in the De Gustibus Culinary Theatre. He picks up a potato ricer and turns to me. “The chef always has the last word.”

Chef examines the potato ricer and tests it with the dough. “Perhaps if we had a ricer with larger holes that are only on the bottom. Would you happen to have one?” he asks Amaral.

Amaral leads me back to the prep kitchen as we glide past a producer and cameraman from Channel 7 ABC News. They’ve come to do a piece on De Gustibus and an interview with owner Sal Rizzo. Amaral sends one of his assistants down to the Cellar at Macy’s to pick up the specific potato ricer for Chef. “We must always have alternative solutions here,” he calmly explains.

Today is a rather exciting day to be back in the kitchen with Amaral and his staff. At De Gustibus chefs have the option to bring their own kitchen crew to prepare the dishes for the class, but for Chef Fabio’s demonstration it will be the De Gustibus team’s turn.

“We’re not just front-of-the-house employees. All of our assistants here are professionally trained, and we can duplicate any chef’s dish, whether it be from Restaurant Daniel or a small eatery in Brooklyn.”
Amaral introduces me to Gabriella, an assistant who is rolling-out flatbread dough for Chef’s amuse-bouche, a warm wrap filled with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and baby arugula.

“That flatbread dough was made this morning. For each class I arrive at approximately 10:30 am and double check our grocery order from Whole Foods. Then we prepare anything that needs to be done up to several hours in advance-usually desserts and dough. All cooking for the entire demonstration is done the day of, on the premises.” He checks on the meat course, four racks of seared veal chops resting on the speed rack. “We accommodate all chefs as best as we can. And the ingredients!” he adds, “the ingredients are always of the highest quality.”

The assistant returns from the cellar, unsuccessful, and Chef decides to use the original potato ricer. Amaral presses the spatzle dough through the original ricer and cooks it off. Chef is pleased with the final product.

“Keep it clean, clean, clean,” he reminds his staff.

I ask Amaral how the team will execute Chef’s menu for the class.
“Tonight Chef is serving an amuse-bouche and four courses. For the amuse, Brad will sear the flatbreads and Gabriella will assemble them. Chef is making the first and second courses during the demonstration for the entire class. Once he’s finished each dish we will plate. The third course, veal, is already seared and my staff will finish it in the kitchen.” He points to the top of the speed rack where I see 40-plus small ramekins. “The final course is a custard dessert which we already baked this morning.”

“It’s like a kitchen dance,” I tell him. “Very clean, smooth, and well put-together.”
He laughs.

We walk out to the theater and Amaral shows me the mis-en-place trays prepared for Chef’s first and second courses, a soup paired with the spatzle, and a risotto Milanese.

“Everything that Chef needs to prepare and demonstrate the dishes are prepped and put on a tray for his station.”

Back in the kitchen I meet Brad, an assistant who Amaral has put in charge of the wine for the evening. He chills the sparkling and white wines on ice and pulls the reds from the kitchen’s wine refrigerator.

Assistants Kathleen and Andres put the finishing touches on the table settings before joining Amaral, Brad and Gabriella for a meeting to discuss the class particulars. Amaral is training a new assistant this evening named Joseph, and he explains to him how the demonstration works. The team chooses plates for each course. Chilled sparkling and flat waters are set out on the tables.

40 guests arrive. They chit-chat and take their seats

“Drink water people!” Sal delivers his trademark (whether he knows it or not) opening line.

Chef Fabio introduces himself to the class and the Channel 7 ABC News camera beings rolling. Amaral begins pouring tall glasses of prosecco, which Kathleen and Andres serve. Brad sears the last of the round flatbreads in a non-stick skillet while Gabriella distributes the fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and arugula filling. Brad slices them into generous wedges and begins plating them with Amaral. There is a small break in kitchen, now, while Chef prepares the next two courses himself. The white wine goes out.

“I like to keep a calm but orderly kitchen-not like a restaurant. This is nothing like working the line back in here. I don’t want to be screaming, I just want to make sure everything is consistent.”

After the veal and desserts are plated, Sal takes center stage to credit Chef, and then his staff.

“Ladies and gentleman, you are only as good as your team, so let’s get the wonderful De Gustibus staff out here,” Sal exclaims at the front of the theater. Amaral, Brad, Gabriella, Kathleen, Andres and Joseph all join him. “And let’s give an extra round of applause for my general manager Amaral!”

The crowd begins to clap.

“Amaral makes everything go so smoothly here. Really, it’s like a ballet back in the kitchen!”

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