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Did I ever tell you about the time I was chased out of a restaurant by a really pissed off Chinese chef brandishing his favorite, very large, very sharp, cleaver?
My story, in honor of Chinese New Year.
I was installing a computerized ordering system in the old Nankin, downtown Minneapolis. (It's no longer there, so I can name names….)
This was a classic Chinese restaurant: high vaulted ceilings; the walls a vivid red with gold trim; pagodas, gold lions, and dragons lurking everywhere. There was a balcony at one end with a wide staircase, wood banisters and railings.
And, at this time it was owned by a group of Jewish guys which I (and they) thought rather hilarious – much longer story.
I spent a lot of time there, just being 'on call' so I was given the cook's tour. Underneath the restaurant was a cavernous maze of store rooms and prep rooms that covered at least a city block… much larger than the restaurant. There were rooms for growing mushrooms and rooms for chopping celery; rooms for cooking rice and rooms for butchering chickens. It was a dark, dank and rather scary place.
The restaurant sat well over 100 people and during the lunch hour, tables were 'turned' every 20 minutes, with 4 – 5 seatings per table. It was busier at night, well past the usual Minneapolis closing time of 10:00pm. There was a bar on one side that was equally popular.
In the kitchen was one long wall with huge woks over open flames; each with it's own cook and the head chef overseeing all. It was at best controlled chaos with everyone shouting in English and Chinese; food being slammed on counters, flipped out of the woks; plates and people everywhere.
The system I installed had terminals at all of the server stations where orders were entered. The orders were printed out at the appropriate station in the kitchen. ( I know, they're everywhere now, but this was one of the first) The server's union didn't like the idea of "all this computer stuff". Some of the people were convinced that the Nankin owners were trying to become more efficient (huh?) and, perhaps, eliminate some staff.
About 4 days into the installation, everything seemed to be going smoothly. One of the owners and I stepped into the kitchen. The head chef took one look at us, grabbed his cleaver and started running. He ignored Joel; only had eyes for me; very scary, glassy eyes. I took off, wrongly thinking Joel would stop him. He didn't.
I ran through the restaurant, weaving between the tables; up and around the balcony; through the bar, shoving customers out of my way; back through the restaurant and, finally, out into the parking lot. Right behind me was this angry, crazy guy waving his cleaver and cursing at me in Chinese.
Finally some of the staff realized that, just maybe, I could use some help, and tackled him.
Two of the servers had decided to sabotage the new system. The most expensive item on the menu was Lobster Lo Mein. Every 15 minutes, one of them ordered it. By the time we had walked into the kitchen there were 9 Lobster Lo Mein's sitting on the counter which no server would acknowledge. The chef's costs were going to hell in a hand basket and it HAD to be the computer's fault; therefore, my fault because it was my computer.
I've always had great respect for cleavers.
And I still love Chinese food.
But I miss the Nankin….
This week, for Presto Pasta Nights, I'm doing an Oriental theme in honor of Chinese New year. Be sure to visit our founder and coordinator, Ruth, of Once Upon A Feast, on Friday for a recap of all the wonderful pasta dishes.
1/2 cup orzo
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp sesame or walnut oil
1 tbs sesame seeds
Put orzo, brown sugar, soy sauce and stock in a small pan and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Turn heat to low and simmer until done, stirring occasionally. All stock will be absorbed. Stir in sesame oil and seeds and serve.
I'll even give a bonus recipe – the salmon. I think I got the idea for this from the Barefoot Contessa… The stir-fried Sprouts & Shallots are easy…
Oriental Baked Salmon Time: 25 minutes
2 salmon fillet or steaks, 6 – 8 oz each (200 gr each)
1 tbs Dijon-style mustard
1 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs olive oil – or walnut oil if you have it
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Mix mustard, soy sauce, oil and garlic, whisking well to combine. Put salmon on a baking sheet. Spoon mustard mixture over salmon. Roast in 400F (200C) oven for 10 – 15 minutes, depending on thickness. Salmon will be done when it flakes easily, slightly pink in the center is fine.
Remember: Never piss-off a guy with a cleaver!