Though we love our stately building and its timeless warmth, the heart of First & Green is its killer kitchen. I loved working on its design with our remarkable contractor Jim Stuvee and equipment provider Michael Santirojprapai of Hotel & Restaurant Supply in Memphis, but freely admit that the machinery intimidated me. Trough drains in the floor excited the Health Department; the huge vent-a-hood with lights and fans keeps the air flow regulated and fresh. It can, however, seem like trying to fly a 747 when accustomed to riding a bicycle.
My first conquest was the dishwasher. Jim Stuvee brought Gretel, our shared meat smoker, to First & Green to indulge his hobby and smoke meats for Father’s Day. He smoked a different meat each day of the week to calibrate the new smoker, and we shared with everyone on the Square. Thumbs up. Our public was split – some wanted an evening event with drinks and live music. Others wanted a Sunday meal to which they could carry the family. We looked at each other and said “both”.
Jim smoked glorious meat all weekend. I stepped up to wash the dishes. And more dishes. And more dishes. The food was great, the public thrilled, and I had fallen in love. Not with the fabulous smoker, but with our dishwasher, provided by AutoChlor. Who knew that the most important position when you are feeding 200 is not the cook but the dishwasher? Smoked meats, baked beans and slaw can be held, but slow down the dish line and the kitchen is paralyzed.
The process is mesmerizing, and offers wonderful opportunity for meditation. Scrape, stack. Rinse, load rack. Slide in and pull handle down. Repeat. You think I am nuts, right? Here is the key: the wash cycle of this dishwasher is only 90 seconds. It is a thing of rare beauty, and gives me great pleasure. I even love using the test strips to be sure my sanitizing mix is correct.
Next, the convection oven. If we had to evacuate the building, what would I want to grab? My convection oven. The workhorse of our kitchen, it heats up quickly, roasts evenly, and has an amazing ability to transform food that seems mundane going in into something extraordinary coming out. The key to making a perfect brownie: chewy and fudgy, not gooey…it’s not the recipe, but cooking them for exactly 22 minutes in my convection oven. The secret to our ever-popular roast pork loin in blackberry bourbon Sriracha sauce… cooking it in the convection oven to precisely 140 degrees.
I am gaining confidence now, flying this complicated equipment. The next item… warming oven. Twenty-two shelf slots that hold sheet and hotel pans at whatever temperature I select, with or without moisture! Heaven. With the dishwasher, the convection oven, and the warmer, I can feed an army in style any time. But when I add the Grill! The Flattop! Marvels.
The truly scary item was the deep fat fryer. Can a Yankee fry chicken? To my utter amazement, the first time I used the fryer I was making fried chicken for 200. As good Southerners know, you do NOT hold fried chicken. It must be hot and fresh. I turned on the fryer, set the temperature gauge. I dipped the chicken in my secret breading mix, put it in the basket – but wait, how to tell when done? It is not for nothing I married a Southern Gentleman. I called Coley, “How long do I cook the chicken in the deep fryer?” His reply, “Until it floats.” Instantly, First & Green’s famous fried chicken.
There’s no stopping me now. Woe betide anyone who messes with my kitchen. There is no longer any piece of equipment in there I cannot fly with my eyes closed. But I promise: I keep them open…
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