My first full day in the U.S. was rainy. It was rainy when I left Seoul, and it was rainy when I arrived in America–well, with tornadoes.

Rather than spend the day getting over jet lag and watching TV, I wanted to spend it at Ben’s restaurant, Franco’s, where he’s the head chef and creator of the menu. He had some chefs whites for me, but they had some black smudge marks on them. So I just dressed in an apron and hat at the restaurant. We showed up in the drizzle. Some guys were waiting outside for Ben to unlock the building. We entered, and I got hit with the familiar smell of being in a restaurant in the off hours. It’s a mixture of grease, garlic and coffee.

Speaking of which, Ben brewed some good gourmet stuff, and we put our names on our cups. I wrote them each in hangeul.

He took me on a tour of his daily life and what all goes into his food. I was still dazed and jet-lagged, so it didn’t occur to me until later to take out my notepad and write down what he was saying. One of the coolest things to me what his mise en place, where he kept all his sauces, butters and bits and pieces. His sauces were amazing. I think he had some ancho pepper aioli and even had Mom’s potato salad on the line.

Heavily influenced by Mario Batali and the time he himself lived in Italy, Ben says that the food he makes at Franco’s is Italian comfort food that has been tweaked for richer Southern tastes–heavy cream instead of milk.

We then went to work. I started by chopping vegetables for a mirepoix–carrots, celery and onion. I didn’t cut them small enough on the first try, though, so I had to do it again. This was for the Chicken Cacciatore. While I was chopping, Ben set to work breaking down chickens. One of the cooks browned the chickens, and the smell was intoxicating.

Ben was fretting on what the soup of the day should be. I think he settled on a tomato vegetable soup. Nonetheless, he took some of the livers from his chicken cleaning, sauteed them with some white wine, pureed them and added them to the soup for extra body.

I met the owner of the restaurant and all the workers and suppliers. They were each surprised that I was at “work” my first day off the plane. But I was happy there. I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be. I miss doing prep work in a professional kitchen (I don’t miss doing the line, though). I like playing with knives, what can I say?

My next task was chopping fresh rosemary, oregano and parsley for the meatballs. And by chopping, I mean turn them to dust, which was quite a task for the woody rosemary.

I loved watching the operations in the restaurant. Ben and the staff made sausage and meatballs from scratch–as in ground the meat and everything. The restaurant started opening for lunch. Ben and I worked on making an artichoke filling for ravioli, the coming weekend’s special. He actually listened to my suggestions for flavors and adjusted. So if anyone really enjoyed the artichoke ravioli that weekend, you know who to thank (heh, heh).

Now, I have lots of pictures and notes (fairly undecipherable) from that day, and I plan to detail it more on the Food Journal. I’ll need Ben’s help to fill in the gaps. I really want to get his recipes for the sauces he uses.

For lunch, he had one of the cooks make me his favorite sandwich, Turkey and Salami on Focaccia. I wish I had room for more stuff.

After the lunch rush, we went to Ben’s apartment for a break, where we both took naps. He returned to work, and I hung out with Nita a bit while I went through and organized my stuff and caught up on American TV.

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