Thomas Keller refers to the sound of the kitchen as a barometer of how his staff is doing in their work. He says he can tell if everyone is on top of their tasks or if they are in the weeds just by what he hears. I didn’t understand this until I got a kitchen of my own.
I remember in the first few months out of college while at my first job when I realized that class work was no longer the norm. How odd that after years and years of education and wanting to be through with it, that in such a short time of being out, I would find that there was an element of it I missed, and that was the pattern of learning.
The great thing about my work is that I am always discovering something new. And like Keller, I am learning to use my senses to be aware of how my kitchen is operating.
I don’t have to look at the onions on the stove to know if they are caramelizing properly. The loud sizzle from across the room informed me that the heat was too high. The increase noise of the fan motor says someone didn’t shut the hot box latch. Less conversation indicates that the staff is intent on getting their tasks completed.
The sense of smell is an equal partner to sound, as it lets me know if the steam table has simmered dry and needs refreshed or the meat is braising properly. One morning after going to the Post Office, I picked up a foreign odor as I walked back in the restaurant. It was the faint scent of black beans burning on the bottom of the stock pot. Even though they looked like they had plenty of water from the surface, the olfactory police apprehended the culprit.
We purposefully designed our restaurant with this vulnerability. Why is our bread oven close to the front door? So you could smell the wonderful, intoxicating scent of fresh baked bread every morning you enter. Granted, if we burn the crostini, you get to know it, but we are planning on the 999 times we do it right and not the one mistake that is eventually going to happen.