Those in the busy food industry, behind the seemingly magical swinging doors of mystery, know that if a single thing goes wrong during a rush, it could spell disaster for wait times.
If the restaurant is lucky enough to have a hustle-cook — or two among their staff (such as myself) — those doomsday hiccups aren’t a big problem as they can be resolved quickly with Deadpool-like maximum effort.
Most restaurants, however, during the busy season, often rely on a large group of trainees who aren’t yet in their comfort zones in terms of performance — when kitchen DEFCON four happens and you’ve got half your staff shutting down emotionally and mentally from the sheer dread and adrenaline, it’s a perfect storm of wait-time fudgery that doesn’t pass slowly.
It was on a very recent restaurant trip with a friend of mine I had a chance to experience this storm from the other side of the swinging doors, as a guest instead of a panicked young cook. Gabrielle and I had ordered our respective meals over a half hour earlier and the hunger pangs were making Gabrielle noticeably cranky.
I took in my surroundings as I waited and saw all the signs of a kitchen storm. Servers were apologizing to a few disgruntled guests while wringing their hands nervously. A cook or two poked their heads out for a look and their eyes widened at the growing unrest at table three — a few impatient and angry chirps here and there from the dreaded Queen Karen archetype at a table full of middle-aged soccer moms. Yup. ... I understood what was happening.
“Honestly, though, this is worse service than Kelsey’s in Brockville!” sneered Gabrielle as I feigned shock at the overused Ontario cliché.
“Just give them a few more minutes,” I replied. “I used to be a chef; I know they’re trying really hard to get back on track. It’s harder than you think to keep the right pace up during a rush, sometimes.”
Gabrielle was unconvinced and merciless in her hunger, though, and she was just about ready to steal the food from the other tables in her borderline starvation. It was a full 10 minutes later that we finally received our food and the server who brought it was clearly flustered and genuinely apologetic.
Before Gabrielle had a chance to bare her fangs and tear the poor woman a new wallet, I stood up to smile and help with the plates, offering my respect for handling things as well as she did given the circumstances.
“I take it you’ve worked in the industry before?” she asked, wiping her brow and offering a small smile of thanks.
“Oh yes,” I said. “I’ve even run a couple of kitchens here and there, so I understand how these things happen.”
I didn’t take too much of her time before she was off to expedite more food. Gabrielle (whether due to hunger, shame or both) ate silently and I did the same, savouring my food. Our meals themselves were hot and delicious, exceptionally fresh as is the only bright side during such storms. When our server returned some time later to collect our plates, she had a free dessert for both of us as a hip way to make peace after a kitchen hiccup. We thanked her and dug right into the delicious looking layered cake and it was ... well, I suppose I’m speechless to describe it. It was the best tasting cake I had eaten and I immediately asked what it was.
“It doesn’t have a name that I know of,” said our server. “The chef makes them for these situations. We just call them apology cakes.”
She left and while I ate the delicious dessert, I decided to reverse engineer the cakes by taste and attempt my own recipe to recreate them. While admittedly, the end result wasn’t even close to what I tasted that night, this is what resulted from the crazed mania of emulation that followed. I present to you:
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup Oreo crumbs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup half and half cream
Preheat oven to 350F. Add dry base ingredients to a large bowl. Set aside. In a smaller bowl, combine all wet ingredients and whisk for roughly 5 minutes. Add contents of wet bowl to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix until no clumps remain. Set aside.
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsps vanilla
2 tbsp cacao powder
Combine 2 tbsp cocoa powder with half of remaining filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using a mixer on high speed, mix ingredients into your chocolate batter and set aside. Clean mixing bowl, add remaining half of the filling ingredients and mix again with vanilla to make the vanilla batter.
For ganache and icing:
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup icing sugar
1 egg (white)
In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, melt chocolate chips with cream until smooth and set aside. In a separate small bowl, use a fork to beat together egg white and icing sugar to form a drizzle icing.
Coat a large baking dish with spray grease and add first your chocolate base layer, followed by an evenly-poured chocolate filling batter layer and finally your vanilla layer. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes and set aside to cool. Evenly pour over your ganache and use a wooden spoon to drizzle over your icing in large zigzags. Refrigerate for 4 hours, cut and serve.
Terry Bursey, otherwise known as the Food Dude, is a Newfoundland chef transplanted to Ontario who enjoys putting his mark on traditional recipes and inventing new tasty treats with unexpected ingredients. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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