Out of the ten or so restaurants I have worked or staged in, only one (Per Se) had deck ovens and a proofing box for bread-making and it was technically not the restaurant’s, but Bouchon Bakery’s, which operated in the same space.
I did not see deck ovens or proofing boxes when I worked at Restaurant Daniel, though admittedly they did exist in the pastry kitchen before I arrived but had since been moved to the commissary Chef Daniel Boulud opened to bake the bread for all his New York City restaurants.
What is a deck oven and proofing box? A deck oven is the ideal oven for baking bread and other baked goods, like pate a choux and custards, because of the gentle, even heat it generates from two heated plates lining the top and bottom walls. A proofing box is exactly what it sounds like, but the “box” is like the size of your home refrigerator with a rack built inside. With a proofing box, you are able to set the perfect atmosphere in warmth and humidity, for bread to rise.
Per Se and Restaurant Daniel are 3- and 2- star Michelin restaurants, respectively, so it’s not surprising to see the best and most high-tech equipment in their kitchens. And it’s not to say the other restaurants I’ve worked in haven’t made their own bread just because they didn’t have a deck oven; I’ve tasted delicious bread from several places making do with the convection ovens they have instead. But most restaurants commission a local bakery, or a bakery in their restaurant group, to supply bread for service. It is very rare to see a restaurant be able to afford, much less have the physical space, to own and house deck ovens and proofing boxes.
When I arrived at Aberdeen Street Social (ASS) to start my stage, all I could do was take note of their equipment—two deck ovens, a proofing box, Rational oven, blast chiller, chocolate-storing refrigerator, Bravo ice cream machine, Thermomix, Pacojet, wood-burning oven, vacuum packer, Sous vide machines and a couple of dehydrators. I haven’t seen this kind of bounty since I was in school, and considering I was also coming straight from a kitchen that had no peeler, I was a bit incredulous.
Aberdeen Street Social is one of the many restaurants opened by British chef Jason Atherton, who is building somewhat of an empire across the world, from London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and now New York. So it’s easy to see how his restaurants can be equipped with the best tools in the industry; his restaurant group has the money.
But just because a restaurant has the best equipment doesn’t mean it will put out the best food. It’s the people that do, and that’s what I’m watchful of. And so far, the pastry team at Aberdeen has been incredible to watch.
Even though it’s only been a week, I can see how organized and focused they are. They never run out of mise en place; if there’s panic, it’s not because they ran out of something. For a restaurant that’s operating two separate kitchens for both lunch and dinner, casual dining on the first floor and fine-dining on the second floor, that’s quite a feat. And during night service, there’s one particular cook who is very intense and her movements behind the pass are so forceful, we collided many times my first night working with her. That’s focus I haven’t seen for awhile.
All together, they are a good team. They’ve been trained well and have fun together. A couple of them still seem to be shy around me, only because they think their English isn’t good enough to communicate, but I try to allay their fears. My ear can understand a lot more than they think. The languages spoken in the kitchen are Cantonese and surprisingly, Nepalese, so…I’ve got a couple more languages to learn. What I’m going to do with these tidbits of different languages after my travels is anyone’s guess.
One thing I’m looking forward to at Aberdeen is that they do more bread and chocolate work than I’ve had a chance to do recently, so it’ll be nice to brush up on my skills and practice more. Right now, as their nimble fingers shape whole-wheat loaves into perfect football-like shapes, mine look like potatoes. Ugly-ASS potatoes. I’ve got to fix that.