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by Angela Cotton

in my first weeks at the laundry, there’s plenty of moments i’ve chosen to forget. like dropping two mackerel on table 3 when they were waiting for lobster. hearing chris hoel tell me never to walk counterclockwise around table seven again, and nathan vaccaro cunningly warning me not to lean against the wall when i was observing in the kitchen (…for the third straight hour in heels, salivating secretly while watching brioche after brioche brown beautifully in the salamander).

but i’ll never forget a certain preservice, when i raised my hand and said, “chef, can you remind me of the difference between terrine and torchon?”

i was, in my non-culinary schooled / non-relais en chateau-dining upbringing, referring to the dual presentations of foie gras at the french laundry, of which i have since carried, crumbed and cleared (and will for the last time do so at the restaurant in july (!) ) to countless devourees, alongside trays loaded with trios of salts and warm, thick, (beautifully browned, as priorly suggested) toast. and i was, in fact, lying when i tactfully used the term “remind.” because my boulder upbringing didn’t exactly grace me with knowledge about the luxuries of duck liver.

the moment still strikes me because not only was i asking what several of my peers undoubtedly and eye-rollingly dubbed an “obvious” question, but i was asking it in front of everyone in the middle of pre-service. i have since learned that when he (chef) finishes detailing the accompaniments and structure of the cheese course, rounding out the spiel of savory courses on the day’s tasting menu, and without raising his eyes asks “does anyone have any questions?” … this is NOT when you ask what the difference is between terrine and torchon, unless you want to hear snickers from your coworkers for, well, life.

i’m kidding, of course. kind of. this is exactly when you ask these questions, and exactly when you expose (and at times, seek to impress) yourself and your coworkers with your knowledge… or more commonly in my case, lack thereof. before the first tables don the dining room at 5:30, i stuff a crinkled, heavily annotated miniature copy of the menu into my suit pocket. adorned with recipes for romesco and sauce perigourdine and reminders for the allergy-ridden (squid ink in nicoise olive puree!), the little papers are equally flooded with suggested course-by-course wine pairings from the sommeliers and notes on the food-friendliness of alsace versus the mosel, as well as the ever present non-food-friendly reminder to suggest napa valley cab.

and, while some are overly doodled and others barren of detail, they are saved and savored in a box by my bed- all three hundred something of them- a tangible testament to the overwhelming amount of knowledge that’s present daily at the laundry.

and the reason that i’m there, that we’re all there, after all.