I’ve always been a fan of comic books. In high school; X-men, Spider-man and Conan the Barbarian were some of my favorites. It’s safe to say, Marvel super heroes, helped shape my love for science fiction and fantasy books. Books feed my imagination; they were a doorway to escape through, as soothing as a glass of fresh lemonade on a hot July afternoon. The act of reading is passive, quiet and deeply personal.
It’s the antithesis of working in a kitchen. In my apartment, one of my favorite places for reading is the bathroom. It’s a sanctuary compared to the noise and constant communication required to function effectively in a busy restaurant. So after a hard nights work, in my bathroom I’ll sit – my sanctuary – with a good book perched on my knees and no sense of urgency.
My moment of meditative reverie is snatched away as the elevator doors slowly ping open and I walk past the dish pit and into the main kitchen. The extremely bright twelve foot fluorescent lights, paint the space in an artificial sunlight, that brightens my chef whites but not my thoughts. The am shift is on their way out; nine pans filled with an assortment of mise en place lay on the stainless steel counter-top. There is an economy of movement as cooks cover each one with a thin film of plastic wrap, label and date, slot them into a hotel pan and place them onto a speed rack. Their day is done, and the pm crew barely speaks to them – a nod in greeting, a word or two – it’s our turn now.
There’s an eight hour stretch ahead of us and we use the down time, to gather around the expeditors table, for a quick meeting with the pm sous chef.In kitchen speak its called “line-up,” and it’s a daily meeting where the sous chef brings the crew up to date on reservations for the evening as well as other pertinent bits of information. It can be as short as five minutes or last as long as thirty, depending on the topics discussed.
Tonight, ten people will be enjoying a chefs tasting menu in the kitchen and he focuses most of the meeting on explaining the components of each dish and clarifying any questions the cooks may have.Our tasting menu comprises of seven small intricately constructed dishes, no more than five bites, each with its own wine pairing. garde manger gets the first course, sauté gets the next two, grill picks up three and four then back to garde manger for the cheese course and finally over to pastry for dessert.
We’re all busy scribbling notes on our copies of the menu; time is precious, better to get it right the first time. As the meeting continues my eyes drift to the clock on the wall. There is a palpable sense of tension as fingers start to twiddle and the clock ticks past 3:30pm. This is go time!
Sensing the mood swing, the sous chef brings the meeting to an end and heads to the office to finish paperwork. We all scatter into the coolers to our pm speed racks and update our prep lists for service. It’s a race against the clock, pure and simple. Dinner starts at 6pm, that’s the cutoff point, it’s a lot to do in a short period of time; for the next 2 ½ hours time is my enemy.The pressure is physical, it’s mental, to succeed I have to move in a blur.
Adrenaline, fear, and exhilaration, courses through my veins as I blend, dice, chop and assemble my mise en place for service. Time, measured in hours is whittled down to minutes, but tonight, I’m in a good place, all the pieces have come together and I stand still for a moment, to breathe.