In a few months, I will start a six-month externship at a fine-dining restaurant in D.C., the last part of my culinary program. So far, I am considering two restaurants in the area, Cashion’s Eat Place in Adams Morgan and Founding Farmers near Farragut North. The purpose of the externship is to learn to work with speed and efficiency, the way a restaurant kitchen operates. Before we start our externships, we must stage or visit the restaurants we are considering to see how we would fit into the kitchen environment.
Since opening in 1995, Cashion’s has become an Adams Morgan mainstay. Ann Cashion, the original owner and executive chef of Cashion’s, sold the restaurant to John Manolatos, who had worked as her sous chef. Chef Manolatos, whose family originates from Greece, adds a Mediterranean touch to his Modern American menu. His menu changes often, showing his strong emphasis on seasonal ingredients..
Cashion’s immediately appealed to me because not only is it a highly regarded restaurant but it is also about four minutes away from my apartment. After six months of reverse commuting 40 minutes to school in the morning well before anyone in their right mind should be awake, I can’t think of anything more appealing.
After an ass-whooping practical exam at culinary school yesterday, I staged at Cashion’s from 6 p.m. to closing, around 11 p.m. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone – Chef John arranged for me to shadow and assist Sam, the cook assigned to the salads, cold and hot appetizers, and fry station (essentially garde manger) that night.
The kitchen at Cashion’s is small and narrow but very well organized. There are usually four cooks on the line, each one working their own station. Chef John oversaw all of the plated appetizers, soups and entrees, making sure each dish was clean and cooked to order properly.
At first, I observed, watching the cooks prepare and plate each order. Cashion’s features an array of appetizers from salads to tuna tartare. The appetizers change frequently, but a few of them are consistently on the menu, such as the Cannellini Bean Salad, with beets, roasted parsnips, cauliflower, toasted pecans, artichokes, haricots verts, naval oranges, goat cheese and frisee. The salad has a long list of ingredients, but looks beautiful on the plate and tastes even better (I got to sample some!).
As the restaurant became busier, Chef John put me on the fry station to lighten the load on Sam. I would be responsible for French fries, the chicken croquettes appetizer, the tempura fried scallops and haricots verts, and the fried oyster garnish to one of the soups. I was psyched – a real, living and breathing customer would soon be eating food that I prepared. How cool was that?
After I got the hang of the fry station, I tried my hand with a few of the appetizers. I artfully arranged accompaniments to the the charcuterie plate – cornichon, red pepper battonet, cauliflower, toasted baguette crostini and a hard-boiled deviled egg. If I screwed anything up, Sam was patient and always willing to help me out, even amidst the numerous orders he was preparing.
Around 10 p.m., things started to slow down. I helped Sam clean up his station by labeling, wrapping and storing leftover food in the walk-in refrigerator. I thanked Chef John and called it a night around 11:45 p.m. What a day, and what a night, I thought.
What I liked the most about my experience at Cashion’s was the kitchen environment. While definitely a high-energy place, there was always a sense of control within every cook. Although the kitchen was small, I think it promoted a closer-knit culture among the chef and his cooks. Because there isn’t a whole of room, it’s important to work well with everyone. I hope to return to Cashion’s soon, whether it is as a diner or a member of the kitchen.