The Richmond News Leader
WASHINGTON — “Do you, by any chance, have fish tweezers or a pair of pliers?” Wolfgang Puck asked as he pulled off a rumpled sports coat and slipped his arms into a pristine white chef’s jacket. Puck pulled the first of two salmon from a red ice chest he had carried into the kitchen of the U.S. Senate restaurants.
When Daniel O’Brien, sous chef, said they had no fish pliers or tweezers, Puck began pulling bones from the center of the fish with miniature tweezers from a Swiss Army Knife.
A half-dozen kitchen workers kept walking back and forth as Puck and Robert Nyman, a friend, worked, speaking in culinary shorthand, to prepare hors d’oeuvres for 150 people ready in 40 minutes.
Chef O’Brien already had cut russet potatoes into ‘/4-inch slices and arranged them on baking sheets. When Puck gave the word, they would be brushed with olive oil and baked in a 400° oven until crisply browned on top and soft in the center.
Otherwise, it was up to Puck and Nyman to get salmon canapes, potatoes with caviar and pizza ready.
“Don’t slice them too thick,” Puck warned Nyman, who was sawing through four baguettes of French bread.
“Don’t slice them too thin either,” Nyman shot back holding up a ‘/4-inch thick bread slice that looked like a miniature doughnut.
“He’s my father, so I have to be nice to him,’ he winked at the kitchen staff gathered around. spiritual father.”
“I’m not sure if he adopted me or I adopted him.” We haven’t figured that out yet.”
The staff looked very puzzled.
Nyman finished slicing and passed the croutons on to a kitchen worker to be toasted.
He put several bunches of fresh herbs on a cutting board.
Chopped fresh thyme, basil
“Wolf, you want the basil with this or separate?” Nyman asked as he used the kitchen’s only chef’s knife to chop fresh thyme.
“With it, minced.”
In ten minutes Puck had finished pulling the bones from the fish. He drizzled it with olive oil and rubbed the oil in.
Puck checked the oven temperature and put the two huge pans of potato slices in. He realized that the kitchen workers were staring at them.
“OK students, come around,” Puck said genially. “We’re in class.”
“So you’re the big chef?” one woman said.
“I’m not that big,” he said and flashed her one of his disarming grins.
“Does that sauce go on the fish?” another worker asked, pointing to the herb? And a few flakes of crushed dried red pepper Nyman was beating with a wire whisk into Ligurian unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil.
“We gonna brush the pizza with it before we send them out,” Puck answered over his shoulder as he turned to check on the potatoes.
“If you could get me a few lemons, please, like 10, and some fresh parsley,” Puck said to the sous chef . . .
“Minced or sprigs?” O’Brien asked.
“Sprigs, and what about some kosher salt?” Puck continued.
‘We have to take care of the senators’
“We don’t use salt here or butter or cream or any of that good stuff. We have to take care of the senators,” O’Brien said.
Eventually, someone found a box of salt.
“Wolf, you want a little salt in this?” Nyman asked pointing to the herb oil.
“You don’t need salt,” Puck said matter-of-factly.
He walked over to the oven where the potatoes were baking.
“Thanks,” Puck said as the cook who was watching them opened the oven door. “Keep watching, don’t let them get too brown.”
Puck started rearranging slices of Italian plum tomatoes, rings of red onions and bits of sausage on the tops of pizzas. He stuck his arm in the oven to check the temperature. Hot enough. By the time he turned around, several pizzas were neatly arranged on a huge baking sheet. Without saying a word, he took three off and put them directly on the oven rack and rearranged ingredients on other pizzas.
When the first six 12-inch pizzas were done, Puck took them from the oven and blotted moisture off each one with a clean kitchen towel, brushed them with seasoned oil, cut them into 12 sample-size slices and shoved them onto platters.
The salmon canapes and caviar potatoes already were upstairs on the reception table.
Certain that the kitchen staff would keep the pizzas coming, Puck jumped on a service elevator, went upstairs and walked into The Mansfield Room for the reception.