Melt pounds with hot hot kitchen heat!

By The Hack

BarbFigSince the Hack has moved full-time to professional typing, he’s noticed a few changes to his physical self. Namely, significant puffiness developed in his midsection. While he attempts to combat this with a fairly regular regimen at the gym, those efforts have failed to reduce the puffiness, but only contain its growth, and the battle for territory on the belt loop remains in stalemate. The Hack knows what he must do to turn the tide, however. But it’s difficult with the company he keeps, world-class consumers, all of them.

But they, by and large, keep their reasonably svelte figures because of their professions, which require physical activity beyond moving digits across a keyboard.

The Hack got a taste of his former upright life yesterday afternoon in the kitchen at the Barbary Fig in St. Paul. The Twin Cities, for you international readers, is stepping into summer with a heat wave normally reserved for August. Temperatures and humidity hit 95 (degrees Fahrenheit and percent, respectively). Inside, in a hot working kitchen, those numbers went up considerably. Those numbers never used to bother the Hack in his prior life mucking around in pounding heat. The body adapts.

And how quickly the body changes. Now, the Hack wasn’t actually “working” in the kitchen—he’s never been a professional cook—he was merely in there, documenting and photographing the process of collaboration between Brahim Hadj Moussa, the Fig’s owner and erstwhile chef; and Jonathan Locke, a consulting chef and columnist for the Hack’s day job. Hadj and Locke are also longtime friends, having worked together at numerous establishments in their younger days, including the legendary Faegre’s.

It was between the lunch and dinner service, and the two were knocking around a dessert item, a simple pot de crème (but with a spicy twist), which Locke had developed for his previous consulting gig resurrecting the kitchen at the doomed Mairin’s Table, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis. (No fault of Locke’s for its closing a month or so ago, the menu turned stellar during his tenure and numbers were going up, but the damage was too deep.)

The dessert is a great one for a restaurant—few ingredients, fast preparation and delicious result. “This saved my ass more than a few times at Mairin’s Table,” Locke said, when an unexpected rush came in and devoured everything else offered for dessert.

There’s more to this little documentary project, but we shall return to the Hack’s stamina, once iron, now closer to that of the pansy wilting in the heat. Sweat poured out of him in bucket loads. Thankfully, he was wearing two layers of shirts, the first absorbing and masking the internal distress. Of course the dripping brow gave it away. But he acted the trooper, snapping shots and jotting notes, thankful the two kitchen pros tolerated his act to show him a thing or two.

Hadj also threw together a lunch for us, old-school brik he enjoyed growing up in Algeria, with side of warmed olives, tomato chutney and a sliced baguette. By the time we walked out to the patio, the warm breeze of the hot summer day felt to the Hack like the slap of cold air from an open cooler door.

In the shade outside, eating a simple meal with a bottle of ice-cold La Vieille Fermé rosé, accompanied by two exceptional raconteurs, the Hack couldn’t think of anything to complain about. When it came time to wrap up, he was even able to tighten the belt a notch.

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