What happens when the “Queen of LA” calls, but you’re on the other line with your job? Your friends remind you to click over and answer.
Real talk, I just wanted to say that the aforementioned “Queen of LA” didn’t actually call me, I got an email from her assistant, but that doesn’t make much of a title, now does it?
So very recently, Mozza, the power-Italian restaurant trifecta on Melrose and Highland that consists of Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza and Chi Spacca celebrated their 10th anniversary. When I got the email telling me that they would be throwing a party and owner/chef Nancy Silverton and her pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez would like it if I could prepare a composed dessert for the pastry station for about 200 people, my first thought was: “Fuck…”.
Here’s a quick backstory. Osteria Mozza was my first real restaurant job. I walked into that stage thinking I had the whole game locked down because I’d had what I thought was a good amount of experience, did above average in culinary school and “had passion for food”. (I’m gagging…what an asshole I must have been.) After the stage, the new pastry sous chef offered me a job and my first shift was dinner service on Memorial Day fucking Weekend. I realized within the first hour of service, while being yelled at fiercely, how shitty and slow I was . An obscene amount of covers later, I made the hour long drive home from LA to Orange County, defeated but determined. Until working there, it always seemed to me that pastry was this overlooked but necessary thing all chefs rolled their eyes at. Not at Mozza. The pastry chef was more feared than the executive chef. Pastry was the glue that held it all together…literally. In order to get from one restaurant to the other you had to walk through the pastry kitchen. Everything had a standard that I had never seen before. And did I mention I was never trained in pastry? To be fair, I had taken a few baking and pastry classes in my program in college, but they barely scratched the surface of what was taught in the pastry programs. It was hard. Harder than anything I’ve had to wrap my brain around. But like most things I suck at, I was determined to do it over and over and over again until I learned to love it, so that’s what I did. I kept showing up. Eventually all the movements became clockwork and I was able to absorb the the work habits of Dahlia and Nancy and the small details that made Mozza so special. I didn’t plan on a life in pastry, pastry found me…and gave me my life.
So back to that day I had received Kate Green’s (Nancy’s assistant) email. I knew I had to do it, there was no way I could say ‘no’ therefore I had to figure out a way to make it work. On average I work 60+ hours a week. The fact the party fell on a Sunday when we were closed was the kitchen gods throwing me a bone. If I was going to do this and do it well, I had to be smart, lay out a plan and stick to it. Simple as that.
Of course, nothing works out the way it’s supposed to. The 10 days before the event happened to be some of the busiest and stressful ones I’d had at work and I wasn’t able to prep anything. I was told the guest list had grown to 300. Cooks that were down to help out started dropping like flies. I already knew I was going to be fucked, but like those first shifts at Mozza I knew I had no choice but to keep on going. Five days out we had a confirmed 400 people at this party. It didn’t matter how well organized my prep sheet was, nothing but time could save me and I was running out of that fast.
The day before the party I got maybe an hour of sleep in order to get to work early enough to get everything done so I could start prepping for the party as soon as possible. Everything was looking bleak. I got a ton of “you’re fucked” looks from the people around me. I just shrugged, even though inside I felt the same. I wanted to run away and cry, but I just kept working. That’s when everything started to shift in my favor.
The ride or die’s started showing up. Those people in your life, who no matter what is going on in their lives, will be there to help you out of the weeds. Around 8:00 PM, 14 hours before I had us scheduled to leave for LA for the event, Chef Aron currently in the middle of opening a new concept, came over to help prep. Around 1:30 AM, Chef Mark got off his shift at his job and came through as well. Both of them stayed with me until about 5 AM. That morning I went home as the sun was rising and continued prepping until I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took a 10 minute nap that turned into a 40 minute snoozefest. At 9:00 AM, Aron, Mark, and Jeremy (who could have attended the party as a guest but chose to work with me on his day off instead) all strolled in, and even though they had no reason except to help me out, got to work. I was ready to accept the fact that my dish might not be 100% perfect because I felt rushed. I was praying that I’d have enough portions to make it through at least half of the party. But these guys weren’t tripping on any of that, they just kept working and making me laugh. Each one took a component of the dish I had planned and took it on as their own, while achieving the end result that I had asked for. This gave me the energy and positive push I needed to get shit done. I didn’t have to bark, run away, or break down into tears. These chefs on their own time did work for me on a dish that wouldn’t have their name on it. They were fucking professionals throughout the whole process, never stopping and constantly giving me the support I needed without me having to ask. On any other day, if you get a bunch of chefs in a kitchen together, eventually someone’s ego has to ruin all the fun. That didn’t happen. My kitchen family came through. And not only did the composed dessert that had a piece of Aron, Mark, Jeremy and I turn out to be a success but we were actually the last ones to run out of food. Because of them, everything I was scared of didn’t happen.
After I finally 86'd my dish and started to enjoy some Rosé I started to get all gushy and tell Dahlia what working for her meant to me and in her “Dahlia-ish” way waved her hand humbly to shut me up and reminded me that winning a James Beard doesn’t get you any money or vacation time and you still have to go to work the next day. Hearing her say that reminded me of all the times she didn’t have to stay late with the pastry cooks, breaking down and cleaning with the rest of us, but she did. I’ve been blessed in many ways in my short career, but to be able to cook with the people I have is the greatest blessing of them all.