As soon as we got off the elevator, the smell was unmistakable—bad shrimp, old fish sticks, and rotten crab cakes, with just a hint of room-temperature lobster tails. As we walked into the restaurant’s kitchen, a murky leak coming from beneath the large commercial freezer in the prep area confirmed my worst fears. My first week in the Los Angeles Pacific Design Center’s Blue Whale was not off to a good start.
Pacific Design Center
The Blue Whale building
My new job as kitchen manager at a corporate, Mexican-ish restaurant came with a a good salary, health benefits, and a regular 7:00 am-6:00 pm, Monday through Friday, work week. I liked the front manager, knew I could improve the bland, American-Mexican menu, and thought I could turn the tightly knit, subtly hostile, kitchen staff into allies. I had never worked with pre-battered, boxed, seafood (thawed and deep-fried into submission), and frozen vegetables, so I started there. Using my old Border Grill contacts, I ordered local produce and fresh seafood and by Friday, the walk-in was filled with tomatillos, cactus paddles, Ortega chiles, fresh mahi mahi, sturgeon, and oysters, ready to shine on my revised menu.
Eager to organize the kitchen, I tackled the walk-in freezer trying to find the profitable and create order. On Friday night, I set the white elephant in the room to “Defrost”, turned off the kitchen, and went home. I expected to come in on Sunday, plan the week’s menu around the usable, and throw out the rest. But defrost apparently meant off, and by the time I returned, all the food in the freezer had melted into a smelly, lukewarm, mess.
The Sweetie (drafted into service) and I spent the day scooping food into garbage bags, pushbrooming sludge toward the drain, and swabbing the kitchen. It took us well into evening, but eventually, we shoved all the dripping bags down the garbage chute, Lysoled the floors and hallway, and hosed down the freezer.
The menu stayed the same (corporate food czars said, “No input is necessary from you”), I learned to live with the fried and the frozen, the food didn’t get much better, and most of the kitchen staff remained subtly hostile. I only lasted five months but one of my allies did give me his Mom’s recipe for enchilada sauce.
- 2-3 T. oil
- ½ onion, fine-dice
- 2 T. garlic
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 t. cumin
- 1 t. oregano
- 5 T. chili powder
- 1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
- 1 T. flour
- 1 cup tomato sauce or jarred salsa
- 3 c. chicken stock or water
- 1 T. sugar
- 2 drops Liquid Smoke
Sauté onion and garlic in oil. Add salt, chili powders, cumin, and oregano, sauté until spices are browned and onions are soft. Add flour, sauté until well mixed.
Add tomato sauce, and stock or water. Simmer 15-20 minutes or until smooth and glossy. If you have a hand blender, use it to blend the enchilada sauce. Otherwise, use a regular blender, no need to strain. You may wish to thin the sauce more, so use either water or stock.