It all started last night with a conversation between myself and another cook. He had worked a few days on the breakfast shift and during a lull in dinner service, began to reminisce about his experience.
“Dude,I wish they would schedule me for more morning shifts, it’s soooo reelaxing.
I get to come in…… drink a cup of coffee …… look at the schedule ….. and it goes by so quickly.
Lunch is a breeze, clean up, wash my tools and I’m coasting out the door by two.”
To you my dear reader, I apologize
I couldn’t help myself , this was too much , I gave him a dirty look which cut him off mid-sentence.
“Are you crazy! ! Why would you want that? You have no idea what your’re talking about !
And I proceeded to tell him why. I think I hurt his feelings, I didn’t care. At some point in my explanation, I looked at his face and realized I had lost him.His eyes had widened and he looked like a deer caught in a car’s high beam.
I recognized the signs of his affliction
It’s a peculiar virus that affects cooks early in their career. That wide eyed expression. His desire to join the breakfast shift. The desire to leave work early. The easy way out! He had caught the “lifers bug” as surely as powdered sugar on french toast.
N.B. I shall refer to staff that work the breakfast shift as Lifers.
Lifers have a certain unmistakeable look that makes them stand out in any kitchen. It’s a look that says I’m gonna grow old in this kitchen. They’ll name an omelet in after me. Don’t mess with me, sonny, I’ve seen you come and I’ll be here to see you go. Chefs love lifers. They are dependable, competent and show up for work everyday exactly on time (rain or shine). A lifer on the schedule is every chefs dream, it’s like owning a casino where all the games are rigged. A sure thing. Eureka !
If you want to find a lifer, look no further than the breakfast shift. It’s easy to see why; come in early, poach some eggs, flip omelets, make a few pancakes, cook bacon and breakfast sausages . Lifers like the familiar routine of the breakfast shift, it never changes.
Liquid eggs, and lots of it. You know the kind, unmarked and in a five gallon bag with a spout at the end. It’s about volume and speed and omelets, three or four cooking at the same time. If that’s the type of cook you aspire to be, then go ahead and work the breakfast shift. Hell, the most challenging thing a lifer has to do is make hollandaise sauce for Eggs Benedict.Then switch from breakfast mise en place to lunch. If your only mission in life is to be top chef at an IHop, Dennys or Waffle House, then bully for you.
I have three words to describe working lunch time; SOUPS , SALADS , SANDWICHES.
The sole purpose of the breakfast cook is to serve memories.French toast, omelets, grits, blueberry muffins, crispy bacon are foods we all ate as children. It is familiar to us, it takes us home, it reminds us of those we love , it is what we ate then and what we are still eating now. Breakfast is the only meal that is ate entirely in the Past………tense. If the sight of oatmeal gave you the heebie jeebies as a child, chances are, you’ll walk right past it on the buffet line every time. Breakfast is the only meal where grown-ups become extremely polarized, petulant and finicky. A special request from a guest as told by the cook who prepared it ,” I would like two eggs over easy, no salt no pepper, a side of wheat toast with the crust cut off, extra crispy bacon and please make sure none of my food touches each other.” Translated into kitchen speak ” though you are a nameless cook, I am going to pretend you are my mommy, because for the next thirty minutes I’m a kid again. ”
Technique, passion , seasonal ingredients, creativity, promotion. If these words inspired you to be a professional cook, then NEVER STAY ON THE BREAKFAST SHIFT. I’ll eat this page with ketchup between a hamburger bun and love it, if you can name an executive chef that owes his position to working the breakfast shift. The night shift tests the true measure of a cook. It is here that mise en place, speed, good knife skills, and attention to detail become an integral part of a cooks repertoire. Guests expect to be excited, by what they see on a dinner menu. They expect to dine, and dine well without hurry or pressure until sated. A glass of wine, an appetizer, oxtail ravioli with truffle beurre blanc sauce , this is the magical hour. This is the meal at which expectations are highest. It takes all the skill and knowledge of a good chef to heighten anticipation and confirm that expectation with each morsel, each forkful; a promise delivered.Dinner service starts at 5:30 pm sharp. Be ready !
The pressure is on , it’s an adrenaline rush – typical prep for the night shift
Lightly dust lamb shank s with flour and season well. Sear shanks in a large roundeau until brown on all sides. Cut mirepoix, carrots, shallots, celery, maybe a few cloves of garlic, a sprig or two of garlic, some peppercorns. Sear well with the mirepoix and soon the kitchen will smell of good things to come. Add Port and good red wine to give your sauce a vinted flavor. Braise your shanks on a medium flame, slowly, it must not be rushed. Cover gently with a round of parchment paper, and let the flavors intermingle and coalesce, until the meat juicy and tender almost falls of the bone. Is it done, hardly? The sauce has to be strained and reduced to 1/4 of itself . It must be tasted and seasoned then kept hot and waiting for service.
Fire 3d course , Osso Bucco on table ………….A good cook will place a large spoonful of creamy herb polenta in the middle of a warm plate. Remove the Osso Bucco from its’ braising liquid and rest it gently on top of the polenta. Coat it with a spoonful of jus reduced to syrupy connations of wine and lamb and herbs and spices. Garnish with a teaspoon of gremolata to add depth and contrast to the meat. Place your dish in the pass. One last touch before it goes out to the diner. Carefully the expediter wipes the rim with a small towel soaked in hot water and vinegar. An additional garnish of a sprig of thyme and rosemary is stuck into the bone marrow and out it goes. It will be delicious and it is.