One component of my writing is to try and give you a peek inside the world of professional food, to affirm and dispel the romance that surrounds the idea of being a chef, propagated in large part to the media driven image seen on the ubiquitous televisions shows that puff the celebrity and make cooking look like the cool, hip profession you’ve always longed for.
Let me make it clear; you did not want my job last night.
Every Saturday, usually around 4PM, a cloud of anxiety begins to form over my head, mostly from a knowledge of all the unchecked boxes on the list of prep that may or may not get finished on time because of that late afternoon crowd that shows up before we make the transition in the front of the house from lunch to dinner.
Last night was no exception. The clouds began to form. I just didn’t know that it was going to lead to The Perfect Storm.
By 6PM, as it should be, we had our kitchen prep done, all our mise en place ready and set to execute our menu for the evening. At 6:05PM, my staff was waiting on the printer to chatter off the first orders, but nothing was sent back. Ten minutes later, at 6:15PM, still with no tickets, I told my sous chef, “I don’t like the way this feels.” The host kept seating guest, both patio and dining room filling, and no orders. The billowing thunderheads were about to unleash, and there was nothing we could do but hang on. There is no ‘fraidy hole to dive into
6:20PM and the printer started to squawk and the rain began to pour. 12 tickets all at once, back to back, and that sinking feeling didn’t let up for three more hours. Twelve chits on a rail may not be a big deal in a bigger operation, but it represented about 2/3 of my dining space, and several of those were large groups. My little kitchen doesn’t have enough horizontal space to set out 26 salad plates that needed to go out on the first courses.
Kitchen work is akin to playing in a band. It’s all about rhythm and timing. If one player gets out of sync with the rest of the musicians, you can’t really call it music. Noise, maybe; music; not.
It’s a terrible feeling, this being out of control, especially for a chef who does not thrive on chaos, but prefers being tethered to a well executed plan. I‘d rather be able to underpromise and overdeliver than to dash your elevated expectations with poor service and a lacking experience. And even with my front of the house personnel. I hate having to send them back out the door to face an angry customer with bad news that their food is not going to be ready in a timely manner.
But better to be plagued by this concern than not caring anymore. About 8:45PM I was drawing the conclusions that my life would be so much easier if I punched a clock all week and let my biggest interest be mowing the yard and watching NASCAR on the weekends like so many other people in the world. But nooo, I had to be my own boss and go off and create a lifestyle that knows nothing of a weekend anymore and grind the bursa in my knees to uselessness and…..so on. You get the idea.
But the self pity turns back into rational thought this morning as I write my way to therapeutic relief, that and a cup of coffee and beautiful sunrise, I am still glad I am a chef, still grateful for a job that is my own and a lifestyle that does not need to look like the majority of other people.
If you were a guest last night and were a victim of our Perfect Storm, or ever visit a restaurant where it seems like the wheels are falling off, I hope this gives a little insight into why stuff like that happens.