There’s a ubiquitous term used in professional kitchens everywhere. I’m not sure who started it or where it comes from, because it’s more applicable to my golf game than my cooking. When a cook gets behind in his work, it is said that he is in the weeds.
Every cook knows that sinking feeling. Its 20 minutes before service and everything that could go wrong is. Guests are arriving early and the mise en place isn’t. Things are taking longer to get done than anticipated. All your best laid plans have just been exposed as inadequate. You’re wondering if you’re going to get it all done and live to show your face to the general public ever again.
The response, which is just as common as being in the weeds, is to put your head down and go. The idea here is to zero in on what is right in front of you, to not be distracted on anything else going on. This is why cooks get gruff when someone casually strolls into the kitchen unaware. No time to chit chat or be cordial. Nope, time for nothing but putting your head down and plowing through in order to get it all done.
Even the best prepared, well organized cook will find herself in the weeds, because stuff just goes wrong, regardless. Accidents happen, even in the best of settings under the watchful eye of the best of chefs. A sauce broke, a pan of veg got dropped on the floor, the flame in the oven just happened to unknowingly snuff out. When something like this happens, the first question to ask is not who to blame, but what needs to get done so that guests get served. Once service is executed properly, then you can evaluate what went wrong, how you got in the weeds, and what to do next time so it won’t happen again.
But it will.
Plans get made, but they also get thwarted. This is an essential life lesson to learn, not just in the kitchen. And when it all hits the fan, just put your head down, focus and do work. Because you eventually get through it, the evening is over and you get to regroup. You live to cook another day.
It’s what I love about being a chef. You get a chance to correct mistakes quickly. You send out a dish that didn’t work, you can change it immediately. Feedback comes right away. We always know how we did at the end of the night.
But the next morning, I have to remind myself that I no longer have to put my head down and go. It’s a new day. It’s time to look up, look out and survey the landscape. Look at the blue sky, see the clouds, and admire and appreciate the ability to do so. Absorb the beauty and color. Soak in the stimuli and let it provoke the endearing feelings of days gone by. It’s been said that most people live their lives without looking 15 degrees above the horizon. I don’t want to be guilty of this neglect.