Frank Chen

Frank Chen

soaking duck legs

I'm interning at a 2 Michelin star kitchen for the next month, Fridays to Sundays, with no formal industry experience. I'll share some of my stories, learnings, and thoughts every couple of days. 🧵 for story number one:

Professional kitchens are actually not about cooking. They're about consistent execution. They expect you to hold the standard while moving fast, with accuracy.

The actual "fun" experimentation happens after hours and in the "in betweens", from midnight to 5am. Chefs pretty much don't fucking sleep. This is AFTER a 16 hour shift.

One of the first tasks I almost botched was washing off cure on duck legs. Little bits of juniper were annoyingly folded in the membranes. My sous chef came by twice and nudged. "Let's pick it up Frank. You gotta move faster, Frank." I was already in the weeds.

I still had a sinkful of duck to go. If you think you're going fast, you can probably go faster. There's a lot of prep work that goes into a 12-course tasting menu, 40 covers a night. Even if you're confident you're fast, you're too slow.

In the haste of my speed, thinking that a stronger stream of water from the faucet would somehow magically wash the cure off faster, the sink was getting plugged up and was filling up with water.

"Whoa, whoa whoa, you can't let these legs sit in this water. You're undoing the cure." Fuck. I knew this too, because of osmosis, blah blah. All my knowledge about osmosis couldn't save me now. My sous picked up a leg and inspected it.

"Ah, it's fine, you can continue, but please be careful." I breathed a sigh of relief. Second day, and I could've botched an entire batch of legs. Luckily, I was only given a stern warning. Lesson learned. Knowledge as theory without context means nothing.

Post-wash, I had to twine up the duck legs for dry-hanging using a noose knot. I prayed I wouldn't fuck this up because if the noose slipped, the duck would end up on the ground.

"Do this in the meat locker, five in a row for nine rows, just like this. Look at the knuckle and make sure they're all at the same height. If they're not, I'll make you do it again." My sous smiled.

I stood on a small unstable step ladder in the meat locker, arms outstretched, figuring out the rhythm of tying these leg carcasses up, meat juices dripping into my eyeballs. It was cold, and after the first three rows, I felt my fingers begin to stiffen.

I started shaking at the end. I probably should've stepped out of the freezer for a little bit. But I pushed through. The sous came back in to check my work - "fuck yeah, looks good". I gave myself a virtual fist pump.

I'll never look at anything cured the same way again. Do it right or not at all. Slow, clean, and well is better than fast, dirty, and shit. Every duck leg that's fucked is worth 2-3x its purchase price.

Kitchens lose money by taking on a trainee. Your responsibility is to respect that and close the gap. Don't make it worse by doing shoddy work. I gather the sous could've done the whole deed - washing, noosing, and hanging in a fine hour or less.

My learning is their cost, but without the patience of experience, future generations would not exist.