Last week, I had the great pleasure of starting a brief stint in the old kitchen where I worked for eight years, a job I left right when Campari and Sofa was born. Two and half years later, it was a bit surprising and very heart-warming to see how little had changed, how certain habits fit like your old favorite shoes.
What had changed, in the Pastry Department I am filling in while a permanent Chef is found, were the eager faces of some of the young cooks, fresh from culinary school or brief internships, eager to learn – all with dreams of opening their own restaurants, bakeries and even drinking holes (with cakes on the side). I can’t say they reminded me of my younger self, as I came to the cooking business as a second career, even if my initial intention was to get enough training to go on and open my own place. Eventually. Instead, I got sucked into a large, friendly and extremely well-organized kitchen; I learnt from all sorts of people, earned good money and decided that I was past the physical prime for the grueling work that goes into opening a small business, where, as owner, you become a one man show, and where showing up seven days a week is the norm.
I certainly have no regrets but it was lovely to dip my toes into the old waters, if only for a few weeks, and finding that I can still dip chocolate truffles faster than anyone; that I can still think on my feet (how to improvise a dulce de leche when all the condensed milk has mysteriously disappeared) and that the olive oil cake of old is just as moist and tasty as ever, especially now, paired with the first peaches and nectarines.
As I sat in the office organizing recipe books, I visually galloped through my years in that kitchen, leafing through recipes: still there, intact, the plastic coverings of every sheet splattered and fingered, the side notes in the calligraphy of cooks, past and present, friends and memories.
Most professional kitchens do not resemble what goes on in popular tv shows: there is little screaming, by and large, and competition is tempered by the need to occasionally improvise and always work as a team. Or, else, no meal will ever get to the customers.
I still cook, free-lance now, and I still love it. But that first kitchen will always be my favorite: with all its memories, heartbreaks, mountains of food produced over the years, friendships made and lessons learned. Above all, that the best food is the one prepared with love and a smile.
OLIVE OIL BUNDT CAKE RECIPE
2 C + 2 T AP Flour
1 1/2 C Sugar
Zest of one lemon or one orange
1 ts Baking Soda
1 ts Baking Powder
1 1/2 ts Salt
1 1/2 C Milk
1 C Neutral Oil (canola or corn)
1/2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A few peaches and nectarines
- Combine the sugar and zest in a bowl. Set aside while you measure all the other ingredients.
- Combine all the dries (including the sugar) in a large bowl.
- Combine all the wet ingredients in a large pitcher and add to the dries slowly, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, but not so vigorously that you add too much air. This batter is best made by hand and not in a mixer.
- Spray a bundt pan or a 10” cake pan (which you will want to line with parchment) and pour the batter.
- Bake at 350 for about 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway. The cake will be done when the top is golden and springs back when touched. You can also insert a skewer to check.
- While the cake is baking cut the stone fruit and let it sit in a bowl with sugar to taste and and a squidge of lemon juice.
- Serve the fruit atop the cake. Cake is best eaten the day it’s made.