This will probably horrify most people and also bring the wrath of PETA down on my head, but I have to put this down in writing.
Yesterday I came across one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons, which may tell you something about me. That I love, nay adore Gary Larson’s The Far Side may give you some insights on why I have an occasionally skewed sense of humor. I can’t blame it on reading his compilations growing up but it certainly helped.
The cartoon in question I won’t scan in as apparently he’s a bit picky about people putting his toons online. I Googled but could not find, so I will describe it, the food peeps out there will probably remember this one: The lobster sitting on a platform above a large pot of water (a la dunking platform like at the county fair) with a big bullseye next to him and the chef leaning out to pitch with a softball. Ring a bell?
On to the lobsters.
One of the places I worked at as a line cook, many many moons ago, had a pre-New Years Eve ritual that for all I know continues to this day. The place is still around, so it shall remain nameless, as I don’t know whether the ritual still continues, and/or current management would approve of it if it does.
On the New Years Menu every year was Crab meat stuffed half lobster with a Cognac Cream Sauce (zer yummy!). The place seats about 75 and during an average New Years dinner turns the tables about 4 plus times. Of the 300 odd diners that come in every year about 1/2 of them order the lobster.
If anyone knows how time consuming and messy it is to cook and prep a lobster for stuffing, you know you can’t possibly do this à la minute, especially during a very very busy night. Perhaps if you had a staff of 3 to solely do lobsters and tag team it. But in an average restaurant I think not.
The line in this restaurant had 4, 6 burner stoves lined up next to each other. Every year on the night prior to New Years Eve would be the grand lobster cook off. Stock pots filled with boiling water were lined up under the hood, which handily had a small pipe running across the length of the line unconnected to the Ansel system, This was generally used for keeping a spare pair of tongs or other utensil on, so in the midst of service if something dropped somewhere or got to hot to use, you could grab it in an emergency.
Back to the lobsters, each was numbered with a combination of very well reduced balsamic vinegar and maple syrup, which happens to make great edible finger paint BTW. The lobsters were de-banded, held up and would grab the pipe across the stove and then bets were made on the lobsters strength of will. I.e. how long it would take them to commit lobster hari kari.
I look back at this and cringe but at the time it was very funny, especially as one of the dishwashers seemed to have a knack for picking the holdouts. He called it his magic touch. This was also the dishwasher that went by the nickname of Mad Dog (more on that in another post) so he was a little tweaked himself.
We all stood pretty far back so as to avoid the splashing hot water of course and one of the prep cooks had a theory that it was no crueler then placing them gently into the boiling water, at least this way it was over quicker and it probably stunned them on landing so they felt no pain.
Later in my career I doubt I would have approved of this, but as a line cook, the kitchens you work in can have some pretty interesting hijinks going on behind the scenes. Quail racing comes to mind, that would be the little frozen suckers tied with butcher twine to matchbox cars. Trust me you probably don’t want to know.