It was 4pm and I stood in BLD’s employee’s bathroom fussing over about my motley outfit of Banana Republic dress pants, a pair of boys socks, black crocs and a collared shirt.
Only a few hours ago, I was on the phone with Anuar, BLD’s general manager, proposing the idea of me shadowing Chef Diana and her crew since I had won their Tweet-a-Dish Contest. My goal was to help out and observe the conception and execution of a dish as well as to see how their kitchen ran.
Intrigued, Anuar said he’ll discuss with Neil and Amy Fraser, the husband and wife team behind Grace and BLD. After what seemed to be an eternity (aka an hour), I was given the green light!
And so, after a design presentation, I rushed over and quickly changed into the only pair of pants I owned and ran to meet Chef D. With a warm smile, backwards baseball cap (the unofficial uniform of the crew) and speaking a mile a minute, she quickly showed me the facility and kitchen.
Because I have worked in pastry at the now closed Sona, it was comforting to be back in a commercial kitchen. However, there are changes between two. Back in Sona, I was coddled in the cool (temperature-wise) side of kitchen as the pastry station was next to the garde manger and had low boys and a freezer.
The BLD kitchen however, the cooks are sandwiched between a wall of scalding hot grills, ranges, a deep fryer and the other side, heating lamps. To keep cool, I gulped ice water.
As Chef D had other matters to attend to as she oversees the entire kitchen, she introduces me to Adonis (Doni) where he showed me the ropes. I also made acquaintance with the all-male staff (where are the girls?) and then it was business.
To create Chef D’s version of the fish taco—beer batter fish taco with cilantro ginger slaw, Thai chili Aioli and corn tortillas to be exact—it starts with homemade corn tortillas made in house that day.
Next was star of the show, the fish. A fresh shipment of rock cod arrived that morning, so Chef D had prepared a marinade of coconut cream and an in-house blend of curry paste made with fresno chilies, shallots, ginger, amongst various spices.
As the fish is marinating, Doni and I ground Arborio rice till it became a fine powder to be used to flour the fillets. He also taught me the secrets of making a crunchy yet airy beer batter: 1 parts flour, 2 parts corn starch, baking powder, lots of beer (Pilsner for taste), soda water, salt and freshly toasted cumin and coriander seeds to build flavor. Don’t forget at the end 1 egg white beaten to soft peaks, the key to a light batter.
The cilantro ginger slaw was given similar care. The cabbage, carrots and green onions were finely shredded and lightly salted to draw out moisture. Right before serving, the slaw was dressed with a dressing of cane sugar, fish sauce, sesame paste, chilies and lime.
My main contribution of the day was making aioli, to which I added lime juice, lime zest and an ungodly amount of Sriracha to homemade mayo.
With all the components ready, it was time for a test run!
Doni carefully dusts the generous fillets of fish in the rice powder, then dunks it in the beer batter and lightly lowers the fillet into hot oil. Then, a corn tortilla is sprinkled with water and thrown on the griddle to warm and soften. Chef D then smears on a generous helping of the Thai aioli, and places on the freshly fried fish and slaw. To serve, a sprig of cilantro and crushed macadamia nuts are sprinkled on top. It was a sight of beauty.
After the wait staff gathers, we all divvy up the test taco and my oh my, my recipe pales in comparison to Chef D’s masterpiece. Crunchy, spicy and fresh at the same time, it was as if my mouth was on vacation on sunny Cabo.
I stayed a little while longer to watch them prepare a few other dishes—one of which was an interesting vegan dish that packs a party of flavors—but I knew I couldn’t wait much longer for the full fish taco experience.
With that, I changed back into my dress, met up with my friend and got our grub on!
Thank you to Chef Diana and Anuar for making a foodie’s dream come true. And to Doni and the kitchen team for patiently showing me around. Lastly, to Christina of Food J’taime, Kevin of KevinEats and Matt of Mattouille for coming out!
Note: The photo of Chef D and me is courtesy of Kevin.