While attending junior high and high school I worked in our family’s Chinese Pagoda restaurant. This was back in the days when dining patrons were served a glass of water as soon as they were seated. During this time I had a recurring dream in which I was working solo in the dining room. Customers came in and quickly filled the dining room. The overflow was being seated in the banquet room. I couldn’t service the customers other than to set a glass of water in front of them. No one’s dinner order was being taken because all I could do was serve water as more and more diners came in and sat down. I always woke from this dream in a panic.
A few years later while I was working in the family’s Imperial Dynasty my recurring dream involved Uncle Richard’s off the menu, eight course “Gourmet Dinner.” A wine was paired with seven of the eight courses, and we learned the dance of timing the pouring of a new wine just before the next course. I dreamed I was serving a Gourmet Dinner to a Wine and Food Society. In the dream, after clearing the plates from the third course (Consommé Riche de Chukkar), and preparing for the fourth (Petite Homards a la Diable), I discover I am not wearing pants. I awakened embarrassed, confused and in a panic.
Several nights ago I had a new restaurant-esque dream that I hope becomes a recurring one, as I’d like to finish it. In the dream it was my turn to prepare the Family Meal. In most restaurants, as in the Imperial Dynasty, the cast and crew has a meal together before or after the dinner (or lunch) shift. Our back of the house (the kitchen crew) did have a light meal after their afternoon prep before the dinner hour began. The wait staff had the Family Meal after the shift was over.
I am feeding the cast and crew from over a span of years from both the Chinese Pagoda and Imperial Dynasty restaurants. Everyone came together for the Family Meal. Instead of sitting down, however, so I can serve dinner, everyone is milling around, visiting with each other, and then a few old customers drop by and join our group. I was getting antsy; my dinner was ready.
I feel a presence at my side, and when I turn I fine myself face to face with Uncle Richard. He is in his prime, healthy, wearing his chef’s whites. He touches my arm and says, “I would like to join you.”
Then I woke up. I knew I had been dreaming, but his eyes had met mine, his voice was clear and his touch felt real – that was what had startled me awake. I tried to go back to sleep, I wanted to finish the dream. I wanted to talk to Uncle Richard. But I remained fully awake.
I’ve never been one to analyze my dreams deeply. I don’t know why I had to keep serving water or what it signified. Nor do I have an in depth understanding of why I would dream that I was not wearing pants while serving restaurant patrons. While I truly appreciate Uncle Richard visiting me in my dreams, what I have been pondering for the past several days was my menu for the Family Meal.
In this dream what did I serve to the restaurants’ cast and crew? In her book, “Prune,” chef Gabrielle Hamilton has a section devoted to the Family Meal. She writes there: “Family Meal is the line cook’s opportunity to cook creatively, to show the world what got you into this business in the first place…You need to be resourceful, imaginative, and knowledgeable… Once you have your hook, you should build your meal coherently from there. We don’t want to eat green bean tacos with chipotle mayonnaise with a little tomato basil salad on the side — Mexico and Italy do not go together in the same meal. Ever.”
Our Chinese Pagoda and Imperial Dynasty Family Meals were never that coordinated. I remember a few weeks before the Imperial Dynasty closed, one meal consisted of lo mein, chicken cacciatore and rice.
I hope some night I will finish my latest restaurant dream so I’ll know what I placed on the table. Did I create a “coherent” meal like professional chefs provide, or did I serve a “mish mash” to our cast and crew? Did Uncle Richard approve?
This week I’m sharing an easy Chinese home style chicken dish that was served fairly often as part of the Imperial Dynasty Family Meal. At home Bok Juhm Gai (White Cut Chicken) graces our table regularly, it’s a family tribe favorite. Served with steamed rice, this chicken with the green onion and ginger sauce is pure comfort food.
Cantonese cooks have varying techniques for poaching chicken, but I find the method of shocking the cooked chicken in an ice water bath prevents over cooking. This chicken should be flavorful and juicy, not dry. The remaining chicken broth may be used for soup.
I’m offering two versions of the sauce, both are delicious and aren’t limited to poached chicken. Try it on grilled meats, seafood and poultry or stirred into rice or noodles.
Perhaps this is the dish I served in my dream. If so, I know Uncle Richard would have approved.