In February 1983, the twenty-five hours a week I worked at Stratton’s Restaurant didn’t produce enough revenue from my side of the bed, so I answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times—“Line cook for busy, Beverly Hills restaurant.” I was full of confidence as I drove to the West Hollywood address for a 4:00 interview until I saw the small lettered sign, “Trumps.” Trumps (no connection to the on-going White House drama) was the latest in-spot: stark architectural details, a celebrity chef, a daring menu, and hard-to-come-by reservations. Knowing my place, I walked around to the back door and met Dean, the sous chef. “What can you do?” “Whatever you want.” “Put on some whites and prep for dinner.”
The dark, employee dressing room had little in common with the elegant illusion created for Hollywood’s A-list. The smell of old socks and over-worked bodies hung over banged up metal lockers with their doors agape, spilling out K-Swiss shoes and rumpled T-shirts. Not wasting any time there, I changed and entered the fray. I diced, minced, whisked, butchered, grilled, sautéed, and sweated until midnight. “Show up tomorrow,” said Dean. “Five to one, six nights a week.” I passed another test, and started another new job.
Michael Roberts, Chef/owner of Trumps, was a 1980’s Renaissance Man. Like Dennis, my first LA chef, Michael was tall and handsome with a temper and an attraction to the bottle. But his interests were found at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, rather than at Chavez Ravine. Michael Roberts cared nothing about sports, had a Batchelor’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition from NYU, and studied cooking in Paris at the prestigious Ecole Superieure de Cuisine. The wait staff loved Michael and Michael, in return, protected them from Dean’s sharp tongue.
“Cheffie’s” protection did not, however, extend to the line cooks. By eight o’clock his glass had been filled too often and he was flushed with the heat and the drink. As the demands of service intensified and the orders piled up, he forgave no omissions or mistakes. He adjusted every plate that left the kitchen, tasting for quality, checking for presentation, and demanding perfection for each table. One busy Saturday night after an over-cooked lobster and a badly trimmed rack of lamb from the grill, he wheeled around, pointed at me, and yelled, “Out! Get Out! And don’t come back!” I looked at Dean, who hadn’t missed a beat, and muttered “Now what?” “Don’t you dare leave, he won’t remember a thing.” Sure enough, by midnight Michael was his sweet self—congratulating the cooks on a wonderful night’s work and pouring champagne into our huge 7-11 glasses.
Whenever my Mother visited from Vashon, she and I went to my current work environment—that is, the front-door-linen-on-the-table environment. The more realistic back-door-blood-on-the-floor version remained unknown to her. As a Trumps employee, however, it was difficult for me to become a customer. Due to the brisk drug trade carried on at the bar by members of the wait staff, employee reservations had to be approved by the restaurant manager. My first virtue—doesn’t do drugs—came in handy, I aced the front office interview, Muth and I were cleared, and we showed up one afternoon for high tea.
We walked in through the front door, I smelled good, there was no food on my clothes, and I carried a purse, not a knife roll. We had a marvelous time—the servers (whose big tips I’d saved many a night) came in strong for me. They bowed, scraped, and treated us like the Queens of England.
I had never been in the front of the house at Trumps and could not believe the difference. Life on the golden side of the swinging door was stunning. Diners never know the havoc and controlled chaos that reign on the florescent side of the kitchen door. Their candlelit side was sparkling crystal and Limoges—our fluorescent side was plastic 7-11 glasses and dented sauté pans; the candlelit side, a jazz piano and the murmur of conversation—the fluorescent side, ear-splitting salsa music and shouted obscenities; the candlelit side, a recent manicure and a well-kept coiffure—the fluorescent side, rag-wrapped wounds and greasy hair stuffed into baseball caps.
Occasionally, some residents of the candlelit side came through the swinging doors to watch life on the florescent side. The women Jimmychooed cautiously into the kitchen, side-stepping overflowing laundry bags and just-mopped spills. The men struck up manly conversations with Bart, the burly, red-bearded grill man, giving him “barbecue” tips. We, the unwashed kitchen rats, rolled our eyes, swore under our breath, and waited for the washed glittterati to return to their own side. It worked for everyone.
Trumps’ Bread Pudding
1 cup dried fruit—prunes, cherries, apricots, mangos
3 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
3 cups half & half
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Marinate prunes or other dried fruit: Heat white wine, pour over 1 cup dried fruit and let stand 1-2 hours. Drain & chop in Cuisinart.
8 cups cubed white bread (preferably stale)
Line loaf pan with buttered parchment paper.
Combine eggs, egg yolks, and sugar—whisk until light yellow colored.
Heat half & half and vanilla. Add to egg mixture. Strain.
Alternate: 1) Layer of bread 2) Prunes or other dried fruit 3) Sprinkle of sugar.
Pour custard over layers in loaf pans. Press down top cubes of bread to soak with custard. Bake in water bath for 1-1 ½ hours at 325 degrees or until knife comes out clean.
Chicken with Port
Add butter to hot sauté pan. When foaming has stopped, brown chicken breast, skin side down. Pour off fat.
Add 2 T. shallots, 2 parts red Port to one part chicken stock to sauté pan with chicken. Roast in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.
Remove pan from oven, remove chicken breast and keep warm. Reduce liquid (port/chicken stock) to syrup.
Add ½ c. heavy cream—reduce until thickened.
Add 2 T. stilton cheese, and whisk in 2 T. cold butter. If the cream sauce separates, just add a little water to the pan and swirl.