A day in The Ordinary’s kitchen, and learning through eating

Before I get into more yummy goodness that Charleston offers up everyday, I have to say what a crazy week it’s been. Continued and finished my stage at Husk, added one at The Ordinary for a day (does 14 hours count as two days? just kidding). My camera was stolen, I found out I need to move out of my apartment back home, a tarot reader told me to expect the unexpected, and oh there was that bombing, shootout, massive manhunt and city-wide lockdown in Boston. So, so very fortunately, all of my friends and family at home are safe. I’m a bit speechless about the whole thing. Since I wasn’t in town when it happened, I feel very removed from the situation and it doesn’t seem real, although I’m sure it doesn’t feel real to those at home either. Relieved to see justice is being served. That’s Boston for you. Turn and face the strange…

So, while all the madness has been happening up north, I’ve been loving Charleston and feasting…absolutely feasting. Wandering around the farmer’s market yesterday, all I wanted to do was snatch up bundles of the beautiful, fresh veggies that we won’t have up north for another couple of months. Alas, I was advised it might not be a good idea for me to pack the fragrant green garlic with me on the plane, but am happily bringing some fava beans home! I’ve actually never cooked with them before, so that’ll be fun. The beautiful produce and flowers are from Fiddle Farms, part of Lowcountry Local First’s Dirt Works initiative that is an incubator for new farmers, providing training and shared resources to get new projects going. And just the prettiest stand at the market.

I’m so excited and in awe of what I’ve been lucky enough to do since being here. I’m so grateful to the chefs at Husk for letting me come in to learn; I was there for 9 days and got to see an incredible amount of local produce, meat, and seafood, all super fresh and ready to be transformed into delicious Southern-inspired fare.

When I finished at Husk, I picked up a stage for a day at The Ordinary and loved learning about how they operate. The Ordinary is a new oyster bar and seafood hall from the folks at FIG (Mike Lata, James Beard Best Chef Southeast 2009, and his business partner Adam Nemirow). Both restaurants are committed to sourcing their ingredients locally and sustainably, and the chef de cuisine at The Ordinary (Geoff Rhyne) actually did a TedX talk on food & sustainability a few years ago, before the restaurant had opened. So very on key, definitely worth checking out. And, The Ordinary is a finalist for James Beard Best New Restaurant 2012…again, in awe.

Getting there at 10am and leaving at midnight made for a very long day, but a day in which I learned a TON. Worked on my knife skills to improve my fine dice; made badna cauda (a rich, salty sauce or dip with anchovies, garlic, thyme, capers and olive oil). Prepared a lot of mise en place for the following day, which is basically doing the prep to get everything ready for a task to be done later. I don’t know why I don’t really do this at home, but now I’m going to start and it will make my life a million times better, like picking the leaves off parsley when I have a free moment, slicing veggies and keeping them in the fridge until needed, etc. Restaurant efficiencies will translate to ease at home!

I actually cooked lobster for the first time, separating the tails from the bodies. (What kind of New Englander am I anyways??) Butchered soft shell crabs: snipped the eyes, trimmed the lungs, and cut the “apron” on the underside. These crabs (Kimberly’s) are the best you can find. Kimberly wakes up every three hours to check her tanks, so she can harvest them right when they molt their shells. Only available for 3 weeks in April to early May, these super fresh, alive-until-cooked crabs were pan seared and served over creamy polenta with ramps, radish slices, and pea shoots. These little guys are so so tasty – see the second photo below!

I have to say, I have no intention of writing about restaurant meals on a regular basis, but will make an exception for times like this: travel, working in and exploring the kitchen, and learning about the whole idea through both creating and tasting, or for the random “just because” every now and then. So here goes!

The food at The Ordinary is so good, I’ve actually had dinner there twice since I’ve been here. It was so cool eating there last night, soaking up the beauty and fresh, inventive yet classic dishes after seeing them cranked out of the kitchen for a night. I had only done prep work at Husk, so was surprised to be kept in the kitchen during dinner service at The Ordinary. They put me on the fry station – of course a simple station – but really very exciting for me as I got to be part of all the action! Needless to say, I was ready to try A LOT when I came back in after that day.

The oyster slider, a complex little sandwich on a slightly sweet pineapple and coconut-flavored Hawaiian roll, featured a crispy yet tender fried oyster with pickled cabbage and carrots, srirarcha and fish sauce…super yummy. Then the softshells crabs…then crispy oysters with beef tartare (genius). A broccoli rabe kale salad with amazing little white anchovies, and a genius dessert choice by the bartender of sweet onion and goat cheese tart to wrap up the meal. That tart was incredible, melting in my mouth, and its leftovers will make a very happy breakfast this morning.

Kind of in awe of this place. Oh, and the bartender owns a soda company (Cannonborough BevCo) with a few friends, highlighting all-natural ingredients, and served me the Cannonborough Collins featuring their Lemon Laurel soda and gin. Light, refreshing, and perfect with the seafood! I also have to note, I had this dinner by myself. Aside from saving half of the tart, I finished everything. Friends who know me personally, yes, yes it was a proud moment in the history of Sheila meals.

Since being here, I’ve had incredible meals: Husk, FIG, The Ordinary, Two Boroughs Larder, Co (Vietnamese banh mi and noodles), Xiao Bao Biscuit (Asian soul food), The Tattooed Moose (oh my god those duck clubs,  and those pork belly kimchi sandwiches). I could go on and on. Charleston is food.

I cannot wait to get back into my kitchen and explore some new dishes when I get back!

“Its chilly, delicate gray body slips into a stewpan or under a broiler or alive down a red throat, and it is done. Its life has been thoughtless but no less full of danger, and now that it is over we are perhaps the better for it.”

MFK Fisher, Consider the Oyster

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