After Culinary School, I started as an intern and later became a full time line cook at Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas, California. Tucked back into the hills, the space once served as a Pony Express Stop/Hunting Lodge/Roadhouse and definitely maintained it’s old time charm, taxidermy covered walls, and haunted hallways throughout the years.
Saddle Peak is known for serving exotic wild game such as; Buffalo, Ostrich, Elk, Rabbit, and Boar. Animals I never thought of consuming. The gentlman who ran the grill had been doing so for over 10 years. He was also extremely ticklish and afraid of bugs, laser pointers, ghosts, and vegetables. The rest of the kitchen staff knew this and would constantly play pranks on him resulting in grown men running after each other in the kitchen screeching and laughing. This was a nightly routine.
Along with wild game meats, Saddle Peak was the restaurant that introduced me to molecular gastronomy and the art of purees, foams, jellies, and sous vide cooking. Every Wednesday, my stove top would be covered with pans of various fruits, vegetables, and spices cooking down to a consistency perfect for pureeing. I had a pan of beets with stock for beet puree, black garlic and water for black garlic puree, marcona almonds, milk, and garlic for ajo blanco, and lemon with turmeric for lemon puree — to name a few! When the restaurant first received a sous vide machine, part of that machine included a massive vacuum sealer which we successfully tested by sealing our Executive Chef’s keys. He wasn’t pleased. I used to plate meals using tweezers in order to perfectly line up the square cut carrots and potatotes. Sometimes it would take longer to plate a dish then cook it.
One of my favorite memories is Family Meal. No matter how much prep we had or how busy we were, we would all gather outside before the doors opened for family meal — which I later realized, when working in other restaurants, was NOT normal. Family meals were simple and consisted of potato tacos, chicken salad, oatmeal, or chocolate sandwiches. During this time, we would share ghost stories (the restaurant was haunted), strange guest stories (those are for later), and odd front of house behavior (the server who always did yoga in the middle of the kitchen…during service).
Restaurant life is far from glamorous. You sacrifice weekends, nights, and holidays cooking, not to mention the cuts and burns, but you also create bonds and memories that can never be replaced. I still laugh and smile to myself when I remember the sweat and tears poured over making gnocchi, or the night there was a bad storm and the whole bottom floor was flooded during a huge party. This was my first restaurant experience and I will never forget it! Saddle Peak is where I learned how to make stock, butcher rabbit, cook foie gras to perfection, and that the best way to catch a breather during a busy Thanksgiving Day service is hide in the walk-in while eating a whole pumpkin pie.
As always Thank you for reading!