My one and only restaurant cooking job was at City Restaurant in Los Angeles. I was a line cook assigned to the pantry station. It was 1992 and I’d never worked in a restaurant before but Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger hired me. My parents were scratching their heads, asking why I wanted to work for $6 an hour after earning a bachelor’s degree in finance and going to school in Hong Kong on a fellowship.
Well, after about 3 months at the restaurant working 8-hour evening shifts, I realized that it was the most physical and unglamorous work. I loved it but preferred researching, cooking in my own kitchen, and writing. I gained the utmost respect for restaurant cooks, dishwashers and the front and back of the house staff.
As a pantry cook, I made sandwiches, appetizers, and salads. One of my prep items was the toast point, a less fanciful term for a crostini. I made scads of them for appetizers, using a bread knife to saw dramatically long, thin slices of rustic ficelle (imagine a super skinny baguette) baked at the original La Brea Bakery down the street. The ficelle had a very hearty crust and chewy crumb. It baked up crunchy, thanks to good drizzles of olive oil. It worked for creamy and/or rich foods at the restaurant but frankly was too hard for other uses. It scraped the roof of my mouth. The pointy end of those particular ficelles poked me hard enough once to make me bleed.
Fast forward 22 years later to last weekend, that kind of toast point was not going to work for the book launch party’s banh mi bar. I needed bread that was sturdy but not harmful. The airy crisp baguette that you often find used for banh mi may shatter and fall apart at a party. (Celia would kill me with the clean up at Omnivore Books.)