The point of the last 13 posts was two-fold. One was to give my reader a glimpse into how a restaurant kitchen works and its many details that need to be accomplished in order to make service. The second, however, was for my observance.
My initial undergrad training was in exercise science, and part of that included fitness assessment and exercise prescription. To aid in losing weight, I would have clients do a food inventory of everything they put in their mouth for a 7 day period, be it a hamburger, stick of gum, candy bar, carrot stick, whatever. If you ate it, write it down, and we would look at it together.
The results were so obvious to the client, when they saw every thing they ate written down on one page; it was much easier for them to conclude the adjustments they needed to make in their diet. From experience, when I started getting the ‘Freshman 15,” those pounds gained from eating unlimited dorm cafeteria food, I made one adjustment from regular to diet soda and that one decision reduced my caloric intake by probably 1500 calories a week. The extra weight was gone in a few months. It’s the little things that add up.
In my quest to be a Sustained Chef, I have to do a similar activity with my time. I need to take inventory of all the activities that demand my attention. I’m too old to be seduced by the macho trap of boasting about Xhr days and bragging about how hard kitchen work is and how everyone else can’t handle the heat. I don’t add up hours anymore. As an owner and executive chef, I found quickly that it was not helpful to think about hours kept, because there was always something else that should have, or could have been done. Yes, the kitchen is a demanding environment, and I chose it freely, but I also have the choice to create a culture in my kitchen that relies on sanity and logic, not frenzy and disorder.
There is a common reaction among people in high stress environments like the middle of dinner service. I simply call it Event Stress, and it shows itself when the immediate demands of the job are greater than the resources of the employee. When I have 15 tickets come in at once and half the tables want all their food out at the same time, and someone tells me the credit card machine is not working and the ice maker is leaking and Table 31 doesn’t like their pasta and we just ran out of spinach and the Sous burned the first three orders and the music is too loud and a customer stops by the kitchen to say thanks and wants chat for a while and my phone vibrates and its my daughter who needs to be picked up and I forgot to make arrangements….you get the picture?
Event stress leads to a feeling of inadequacy because I can’t get it all done. Most people want to do a good job and be known as a good worker, but when the excess demands thwart that goal, tempers usually flair because perspective is lost. I remember my second month after opening I thought I had made the worst mistake of my life. The fatigue was almost unbearable and I wasn’t able to think straight. I couldn’t see ahead to the days when staff would be better trained and capable of carrying the load.
There is an element of hard, physical work that is satisfying. My heritage offered me this at an early age. Moving hay bales as a young teenager in the humid heat of an Oklahoma hay field would eventually lead to the ride home in the back of the pick up truck, drinking a cold Coke from a glass bottle, feeling the wind bluster over the top of the cab, cooling us down while looking at the rips in the knees of our jeans from kicking the bales up on the stack. I learned early on that there were rewards other than the monetary ones to be experienced.
The balance to find now is in coming to terms with my age. That feeling of resiliency, the immortality of teenage belief no longer exists. I have to work with my brain more than my back if I want to be around a while longer.