Sunday, June 3, 2018

PMQ Taste Kitchen Experience: During

"Service!"… midway through the PMQ Taste Kitchen pop-up event I was still getting used to the notion that someone would come to assist (almost) immediately in the kitchen once the dishes were plated and ready to serve - sometimes I wish it's like that at home. Rewinding a few days back, as the dates of the pop-up approached, I began to feel the pressure as the seats starting to fill up even before we posted the menu and other details online. At the same time, everything else appears to be on schedule - that gave me some sense of comfort until the "real fun" began (or all hell broke loose, depends on how you see it) when we opened for business.

First day was the most chaotic of all, which was not totally unexpected I guess with any new venture. We always knew it’s going to take time to get us – well more about me than the others I suppose - into the rhythm plus there were a few things here and there that we could only know after we started and made adjustments after, but we were literally put on high gear straight from the beginning with more than 15 covers served in the first hour of business. And once the last lunch order went out, we immediately began preparation for dinner – the initial thought of a brief break in between services holding a glass of wine, chilling and chit-chatting was quickly thrown out of the window once I saw the list of outstanding tasks, which included more running up and down and shopping in the market and shops, plus more work in the kitchen - making the vegetable stew, assembly of crab cakes, finishing up all the sauces and condiments, plus getting the mis en place ready.

And once the first table of customers arrived for dinner, we were again overwhelmed with order tickets flying in non-stop well into the evening. Offering an a la carte menu meant the three of us in the kitchen potentially has to dealt with 5 different savory courses simultaneously, in addition to the 3 dessert courses that’s on offer that required our occasional attention. That’s on top of the three different amuse-bouche dishes that we served on rotating basis, each required some level of assembly. There were times my mind went totally blank and didn’t know what to do, but glad D and K, my help in the kitchen, did a brilliant job in keeping things in proper order.

And thank God things progressively improved over the next few days – we made some minor tweaks to the logistics in the kitchen to make our lives easier, and over time we managed to have a better grip of serving pace and customers' preferences so we worked smarter. We got more help in the front of the house too, and they were great in keeping us sane and everything in good order (well, most of the time), despite having to deal with more customers by the day – there were a couple of days that we operated on near full capacity for both lunch and dinner, and that for me was something totally out of my original estimation.

One good thing about doing the popup was to be able to get customer feedback on the dishes. I have served many of those dishes before in different occasions, but only when I presented them in a restaurant setting and with different options available I got a better idea what people’s preferences are. Of all the dishes on the menu, I was most happy with the chicken roulade and lobster ravioli, both based on my original recipe, and I am glad that they were well-received by others too.

We didn’t mention a lot about the ingredients used because I don’t want to make that being the only focus, but that didn’t mean we weren’t selective about them. In fact, we used local ingredients whenever possible, and in many cases, chose products from artisan shops around town as a showcase of how to use ingredients produced locally in contemporary cuisine in western-style presentation. The fermented clam and tofu both came from a 60-year-old shop in Causeway Bay; shrimp roes was from a small shop based in Aberdeen, salted fish from an old store in the fishing village in Macau, Yuba or tofu skin was made by the famous Shu Kee 樹記 store now in Tai Po, vinegar and soy sauce from Pat Chun, pickled mustard greens and edamame/soy beans from a traditional Shanghainese sundry store I frequented, so on and so forth.

I was also able to put many of my homemade ceramics in use during the 4-day pop-up. I began working with clay as a hobby after reading the story of the well-respected Japanese artist/foodie Kitaoji Rosanjin (北大路魯山人) who’s famous for using his own ceramics pieces (made at its own studio and kiln) in his exclusive supper club in Tokyo in the early 1920s, so it’s good that I was able to do something similar as my little tribute to him. My growing collection of rustic but hand-made bowls and plates has created a bit of overstock problem in my own home kitchen, but turned out they were barely enough in a restaurant setting for a few selected dishes. And through that I was able to share my new passion of being an amateur potter with customers, and give people kind of a different dining experience than a regular restaurant around town.

I ate at PMQ Taste Kitchen a couple of times before and loved the space, with the dark wooden tone for the homey, cozy ambiance with the tasteful display of wine bottles on the wall, and after spending considerably more time working (and hanging out) here I came to appreciate even more - and I didn't say that because it was designed by my high school classmate Billy and his team. While for most restaurants the kitchen is usually out of everyone's sight, here diners can actually have a glimpse of things going on in the kitchen and vice versa, hence that brought everyone closer together and I felt like I could interact with customers better and got a feel of the mood in the dining room. I wouldn't have asked for a better venue for my first restaurant experience.

Previously: PMQ Taste Kitchen Experience: Before
Next: PMQ Taste Kitchen Experience: After

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