Always Hungry

Explorations of a culinary industry burnout

Felicia Lee

Felicia Lee
Location
Gainesville, Florida,
Birthday
December 10
Company
Always welcome--grab a plate and help yourself!
Bio
I am a freelance writer and editor. My professional experience has included testing video games, technical writing for the Space Shuttle program, making desserts in a five-star hotel, and teaching theoretical linguistics at a number of major universities. I love writing, I love cooking, and I especially love writing about cooking. Thanks for coming by!

Editor’s Pick
JULY 17, 2011 9:50PM

Half-Fast Cooking: Brunch for the Lazy

Rate: 12 Flag

chocolate-peanut butter-banana fritter

It’s not fast food. It’s not slow food. It’s... half-fast food! The first in an occasional, sloth-driven  series.

Back when I worked in the pastry kitchen of a swank beach resort,  I dreaded Sunday brunch.  The resort’s brunch was a $75-per-person affair (this was the price six years ago) featuring a dizzying spread of dishes and bottomless servings of domestic sparkling wine. There were carving stations, seafood stations, and separate omelet and pancake stations, along with a stir-fry station and a humongous salad bar. Big silver chafing dishes held constantly replenished supplies of  eggs Benedict, sausages, bacon, and assorted potato dishes. Across the dining room were tables holding a towering assortment of breads along with half a dozen imported cheeses, butter rolled into pretty little balls, and cream cheese and smoked fish to go with the bagels.  Piles of croissants and filled danishes covered a nearby table.  Then there was the kids’ table, a rug rat paradise of macaroni and cheese,  tiny peanut-butter sandwiches, chicken fingers, miniature chocolate chip cookies, and plastic Sponge Bob plates instead of the resort’s standard white stoneware.

Finally, dominating one end of the dining room’s back wall was the dessert station, fully loaded with dozens of different types of petit fours, cookies, cakes, and tarts, along with a sundae bar and a make-to-order crepe station. This where I stood guard on most of my Sundays, wearing a ridiculous paper toque, a starched white jacket, and the fakest grin this side of a Meet the Press interview.

The truth was I didn’t dread everything about Sunday brunch. It was the only time of the week when I got to meet  the people who ate the things my colleagues and I had spent the rest of the week making. Watching them coo over a cake I had decorated an hour before – then come back for seconds – was exhilarating.  Nobody ever got that excited about my lectures back when I taught linguistics.

Sundays also provided unparalleled people-watching opportunities. I came to think of  crepe station duty as an exercise in anthropological field work, and the natives – hedge-fund managers, B-list celebrities (David Hasselhoff and Ron Jeremy were regulars), along with their kids, mistresses, and various hangers-on– were fascinating. They showed up in everything from Chanel to flip-flops and board shorts, but the dominant look was one of ruined decadence. The preponderance of multiple gold chains nestled in thickets of graying chest hair and sequined halter tops revealing obvious boob jobs (at 10 a.m., no less)  was a sight to behold, as foreign to my sensibilities as loin cloths and animal worship. And every Sunday brought another opportunity to study this exotic tribe: There must be a deep, culturally rooted reason they choose to look like that – if I observe them for a while more, maybe I’ll  figure out what it is!

So technically, I didn’t dread Sunday brunch. What I really dreaded was the Saturday before, when my colleagues and I had to make all those hundreds of cakes, petit fours, and crepe fillings– while simultaneously preparing restaurant and banquet desserts, snacks, room service orders, catered beach picnics, and breakfast pastries for the hundreds of guests and day visitors expected on any given weekend.  Forget the Keebler elves. On Saturdays, we looked more like a Special Forces  team about to rush  a fortified Al-Qaida safe house as we worked elbow-to-elbow in the kitchen or sprinted madly  from one of the resort’s food outlets to another,  putting out one fire after another while frantically baking, assembling, cutting, and plating stuff for Sunday’s debauchery.

It made me resent the lucky slobs who got to eat brunch.

Now, thank goodness, I’m one of them again—at least in theory. I no longer have to clock in on Sundays, but still I don’t eat or cook brunch much anymore.  Even though I’m an unapologetic morning person (blame my bird-watching hobby – birds get up with the sun, and so do we dorks who watch them), there’s no way I’m going to start a weekend morning making several dozen dishes  This would mean missing one of my weekend bird-watching walks, which would be unthinkable.

Just as a thought experiment, I wondered if I could have both my birds and my brunch too. I’d get up super-early as usual, head out and look for early fall migrants (yup, they’re starting to come back already), then get home about 9 in time to shower, change, and throw something festive and brunch-worthy together by 10. Is this even possible?

Hell, yes!

I normally lean towards the savory offerings at brunch, but  since I love to mess with expectations – especially my own – I played with the idea of taking something that’s normally savory and turning it into something sweet. Rich and spicy Mexican breakfasts and brunches –huevos Rancheros, breakfast burritos, eggs scrambled with chiles or braised meats and served with stacks of tortillas – have always been special favorites of mine. So I turned a staple of the Mexican savory repertoire – the flour tortilla – into a crispy wrapping for a gooey, sweet, yet wholesome morning treat, filled with creamy warm bananas, peanut butter, and just enough chocolate to make it company-worthy.

My little invention is tasty and elegant enough to qualify as treat food, but its starring virtue is that it takes all of five minutes to make.  So in less than an hour, even an inexperienced cook can make a batch of these, stick some good sausages in the oven, put on a pot of coffee, and call up a friend to ask him or her to pick up a fruit tray at Publix on the way over. An experienced cook will be able to handle the fruit solo and maybe cook up some bacon for extra decadence. If you work things right, you may even have time to enter all your morning’s birding numbers into eBird before your guests arrive.

I was going to dub my invention a sweet breakfast quesadilla, but my husband pointed out – rightly –that “quesadilla” implies the presence of cheese. So I’m going to follow his suggestion and call it a “chocadilla.”  Yes, this makes it sound more like a kind of reptile than a brunch dish—but for some, this may even add to its appeal.

 CHOCADILLA

For each serving:

1  large flour tortilla, at room temperature

2  tablespoons peanut butter

1/3 large banana, sliced thinly

2  tablespoons chocolate chips

Canola or other unflavored oil for frying

powdered sugar for garnish

melted chocolate for garnish (optional)

 1. Spread the peanut butter over half of the tortilla, leaving a 1-inch margin around the edges.

2. Top the peanut butter with banana slices, then sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Fold the uncovered half of the tortilla over the filling to cover completely. Press down on the folded tortilla to eliminate any air pockets.

3.  Heat a thin layer of oil in a large skillet (at least as wide as the tortillas you’re using) over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the folded chocadilla. As it cooks, press down on the edges of the tortilla to keep them sealed. When the bottom is golden brown, turn it over and cook until the second side is also golden brown. (If your skillet is large enough, you can fry two at a time.

4. Drain cooked chocadillas on paper towels, then keep them warm in an oven set on low heat, on a metal rack placed on a sheet pan.

5. Garnish with powdered sugar ( and melted chocolate, if desired). Serve immediately.

Variations: Instead of peanut butter and chocolate, substitute a chocolate-hazelnut spread such as Nutella. You can also add a scant handful of miniature marshmallows or chopped-up regular ones.

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Comments

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I love the story - fascinating people-watching indeed at that brunch. But $75!!!!! Ahhh!!!!! I'm sure the food was delicious and obviously you and your co-workers worked your butts off to make it - but in addition to a hotel room, having to pay $75 for brunch.... Okay, calming down. If I had money, I would definitely have paid for it, because it sounds so good. I guess the thing is, though, very unfortunately for me health- and weight- wise, I'm not a big eater early in the day. I like a bagel or some other kind of bread at breakfast, with a glass of cold water, and that's that. Okay, if chocolate chip cookies or pastries are available I'd probably have 1 or 2. I guess that's why the price is crazy for me.

Okay, I'm sorry, I digressed there in a big way and mean no disrespect to you or the other cooking staff because, again, what you describe sounded delicious.

As for your recipe idea, it's intriguing indeed. I'd probably just eat it for plain old lunch, though :-)

I'm glad you were able to take on this challenge you gave yourself, and come through with a big success (not that I didn't think you would - you are a cooking and birding genius).
I like the curiosity you display with this comment: "I came to think of crepe station duty as an exercise in anthropological field work." I like to do this, too--most recently at our small southern Iowa 4th of July parade. It's fascinating, though I sometimes feel a kind of Hawthornian guilt at being a voyeur. As for your culinary invention: here it is, 6:15 am, and you've got my salivary glands havocing and agoging. You've sent them into launch sequence. You mention in your PM it's jawdroppinly easy: I see why it's jawdropping: the better to stuff as much as possible in. Thank you for the elegant narrative and a recipe that is surely worthy of a votive candle or two.
These sound wonderful as a dessert, but I'm a fruit and yogurt person fro breakfast. $75.00 for brunch! Holy cow. And they serve on plastic plates! Great story and recipe, Felicia.-R-
I too am aghast at the price tag of that brunch -- on the other hand, I'm sure your food was worth it! I love your descriptions of life in the kitchen as well as your new creation. If my children were smaller, I'd certainly be able to draw them in with a Chocadilla for breakfast.
My diet just went to pot reading about the yummy over priced brunch. As for the recipe on the Chocodilla, my tummy will thank you later!
Hoff AND Ron Jeremy - you can keep a "Brushes with B-Grade Greatness" list alongside your Birding Life List! This chocodilla will be gobbled up by my girls - we need a new morning dish, and brunch seems to be the appropriate meal for my late rising girls!
What a fun story! Loved it!
Alysa--That brunch was pretty incredible--and expensive! That's probably why I saw so many of our guests hoarding cookies and sweet rolls in their purses...

Jerry--Thanks! But avoid the temptation to stuff too many goodies into the tortilla; it can make a mess should it leak while cooking.

Christine--I'm usually a yogurt-and-fruit kind of girl too in the morning, but for me, brunch is kind of a post-breakfast.

Bell--I always reminded myself that the ridiculous price tag on that brunch is what was paying my salary!

Heysuz--Thanks for dropping by! I hope you enjoy the recipe.

Lucy--Yup, Hoff and Ron Jeremy both! I've seen greatness up close and it's...unremarkable!

Hayley--Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for coming by!
Food service is quite a trip, isn't it? I never worked anyplace that fancy, but I can definitely identify with some your observations.

Terrific story, really funny, and a great recipe to boot.
Oh, my god - heaven in an edible. Good thinking!
Big mistake...big mistake to read this at 11 at night when I'm craving a sweet. I will abstain, for now, and file this away to make for my family. I enjoyed reading about your time in the industry. Fascinating.
Jeannette: Food service is definitely a trip, but I'm glad that trip is over for me!

mynameise: Thanks so much! Hope you enjoy it.

lshmoopie: This will work as a midnight snack too!
Made these for a before-swim-lesson snack this afternoon. Used nutella, pb & marshmallow & they were gobbled up! Looking forward to more experiments with chocodillas!
I enjoy your stories that form an entertaining backgroung to the recipes you offer. Your descriptions of the "rug rat paradise" or "crepe station duty as an exercise in anthropological field work" are so delightful and give a distinct voice to this piece. A good name suggestion by your husband, "chocadilla" definitely sounds more appealing.
♥R
A much loved combination of mine: people watching and food.... with delicous, easy to make, recipes? Even better. I guess if you can afford to dine at an expensive place, that's what you do. If not, you eat where you can afford the meal. I'm on a beer budget, so it's fascinating to read about those places where a champagne budget is a must.
Your superb description of the resort’s brunch has left my mouth watering and I am currently searching the internet for expensive beach resorts. Main criteria: a brunch on the scale of the one you have described above. A great piece of descriptive writing. Have you ever considered a career in advertising?
- bergerac
Your superb description of the resort’s brunch has left my mouth watering and I am currently searching the internet for expensive beach resorts. Main criteria: a brunch on the scale of the one you have described above. A great piece of descriptive writing. Have you ever considered a career in advertising?
- bergerac