Thursday, August 10, 2006

cooking with gas

Wednesday nights are not supposed to be a particularly busy night at the restaurant; last night was jammin’. For reasons we knew, and some we did not, the place filled up early and stayed that way until the kitchen closed about 9:15. My shift started about 10:15 – that morning.

Joe and I were working the line together. He’s a hard worker at the Red Lion Inn and the two other places he works. I think he gave up sleep for the third job. As fall approaches and the college students go back to school, Joe and I will be working together a lot. That’s a good thing. We work together well. As the evening progressed, we were challenged with the number of tickets that came in, but we stayed organized and focused and we never “got in the weeds” as we say.

I wish I knew how to describe the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes with getting a big ticket out correctly and on time. A group of sixteen people came in last night. Besides appetizers, the ordered six burgers, three fish and chips, mussels Dijon, a chicken Caesar salad, fried calamari, buffalo wings, two lobster rolls, and a duck quesadilla. (That’s right – a duck quesadilla -- check out the menu.) Right behind them came a party of six and one of eight with similar requests. When it was all said and done, Joe and I kicked some serious kitchen butt because of three things.

First we prepped well. I got there about ten because I was the lunch chef; Joe came in around noon. Afternoons in a restaurant are spent getting ready for the evening. We check all the stations to make sure we have what we need and then we go to work filling in the blanks: chopping lettuce for the salads, making the garnishes, caramelizing the onions, filling the bins in the stations with sauces and dressings, making the chowder and other soups, baking the bread – you get the idea. Though there is a lot of slicing and dicing, which sounds like fairly pedantic work, I’m energized by the process because it is infused with expectation: company’s coming and we’re getting ready for them. Each of us has our favorite things to do, or things in which we take particular ownership. One of mine is the cole slaw, because it’s my recipe. The whole thing is very much a group activity. As we work, we get to talk and laugh. We have a good time together. I think it shows up in the food.

We also did well last night because we communicated effectively once the rush started. When there are several tickets on the board, we have to find a balance between working on individual tickets and maintaining a more global view of everything that ought to be in progress. While a big ticket is being finished up, an order for a bowl of chowder may come in, which requires nothing more than filling the bowl from the soup pot and garnishing it with the fried clam strips, so one of us does that on the way to something else. If I’m making lobster rolls for one order and there are two more coming up on the next ticket, I can make them all at once, which means the person reading the tickets (that was me, last night) needs to say things like, “I’ve got five lobster rolls all day” to make sure we are working as efficiently as we can.

The third thing is connected to the second: we trusted each other. I knew Joe was going to do what he said and he knew the same about me. When I called out an order and he said, “got it,” I didn’t worry about his part anymore; I just did my part. We both knew we could ask for help from each other and get it. We both knew the other was capable of doing what needed to be done and doing it well. Together we created food we were proud to serve and we had fun doing it.

According to the time clock, I left work 11.35 hours after I arrived. I was tired, but it was a good kind of tired. There are obvious analogies about the roles that preparation, communication, and trust play in most every aspect of our lives, but what I want to say is more basic, I guess: I love feeding people; I love being in a kitchen; I love my job.

Peace,
Milton

3 comments:

SpookyRach said...

I love this post. Makes me feel energized just to read it. People who love their jobs are fun people.

fishrock said...

If you like this post, and If you haven't read Heat, the new book about working as an intern in the kitchen of Mario Battali's, Babbo, in NYC, you should. We'll try the coleslaw. Thanks

RC said...

i worked fast food for a long time (3 years) but some times (especially w/ a post like this) regret that I've never worked as a waiter, i think it would have been an interesting experiene that I have missed.

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com