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I overcooked the artichokes! My sous chef tosses a green blob onto my cutting board and walks away. It holds its shape for a few fragile seconds and then collapses into a forlorn puddle of disgrace. Tendrils of steam drift upwards and their accusatory fingers cries shame as I sweep what was once an artichoke, into the garbage. I’m too busy for despair and instead focus on the tickets in front of me. I’m working short order tonight and my extensive prep list has me in the shits. I have forty globe artichokes to cook and clean before the night is out. It’s an eight hour shift; but hours glide by in spurts of ticket orders and spasms of hectic
In our pre-shift line-up, My sous chef suggests I use the tilt skillet to cook the artichokes at a low simmer for an hour. I’ll need to add mirepoix and wire grates to keep them fully submerged during cooking. I make notes on my prep list, mirepoix, vinegar, grates, 1 hour. Hustling from one task to the next, “two things at once,” I mutter to myself, medium rondeau – salty water with a squirt of canola oil for penne pasta, crush avocado for guacamole, a loaf of brioche for short rib sandwiches. I need to bring the kitchen’s requisition downstairs by 4 pm, there’s only a quart of corn soup left and I grab fourteen ears of corn from the cooler wishing they could shuck themselves.
Another ticket comes in, burger medium-rare,
Sweet potato fries. Faster, faster, gotta have my mise-en-place ready for service. I need to julienne forty Spanish onions – prep for French onion soup tomorrow. My brain is clicking and clacking like a cash register, prioritizing, trying to stay ahead of the weeds looming in the horizon. I’m plating my hamburger but I’m already two steps ahead, mentally making guacamole and cutting the brioche for the sandwiches. Multitasking – the tilt skillet needs to be cleaned. I ask the dishwasher to take care of that. I have tickets coming in; a shrimp taco, French onion soup for the bar, an order of truffle French fries for the restaurant, push those out, then down to the store room. Purchasing now has our completed requisition and I run up the stairs two at a time to the kitchen. There’s a plastic lexan of artichokes in the cooler and I place them on a prep table close to the skillet. Turn the skillet, set the dial to 300F, turn the water faucet on, head back into the cooler for mirepoix and then over to my station to prep. Suddenly there’s a lull in service and I head to the back to start cooking my artichokes.
Artichokes can be a pain in the ass to cook
And clean. In appearance they look like miniature Olympic torches with triangular green scales. In reality, artichokes are over grown thistles that come in varying sizes and colors. It’s a lot of cleaning and trimming with a paring knife to eat something that tastes like a subdued brussel sprout. The inside oxidizes quickly and must be kept submerged in acidulated water, usually slices of lemon. I’m looking at these glaucous green thistles with their hard fibrous outer leaves and marvel at the person who saw potential in an artichoke. The court bouillon is simmering and I tip the Lexan over the stainless steel edge and watch as they topple into the skillet. Reaching behind I pick up the grates and place them on top as forty artichokes sink to the bottom of a murky sea of carrots, onions, celery garlic and lemons. I‘ll be back in an hour to rescue them and that’s that!
About twenty pounds of onions are sitting on my cutting board I try to work around them as more orders pile onto my station. I’ve already put a pepperoni and meat lover’s pizza in the small brick oven beside my station. Burgers are sizzling on the grill, an order for a pulled pork sandwich is working and the French fries to go with it are almost crisp and golden in the fryer. I bump past the sauté guy to put the hoagie bun on the flat top and then grab the paddle to give each pizza a quick turn. I’m still thinking about those artichokes simmering in the back, but for now my focus are the hungry diners waiting for their food. “Room service! You’re pizzas are up!” I shout. I’ve got a pork sandwich and two pizzas up! Room! Your food is in the window dying! My window empties as servers match food to tickets and place them in respective hot boxes.
I turn away and start peeling onions When my inner buzzer goes off and I look at the clock. This is power hour and the micros is screeching nonstop, “Order in!”Sous chef pulls a ticket off the printer, “three top, first course on table forty, two French onion, one corn soup.” I call back “heard! One corn, two French onion, five minutes,” and place the order on my ticket holder. Ten minutes left for my artichokes, but I shout across to my sous chef who’s busy expediting, “chef, my artichokes, you gotta minute?” No time to wait for an answer we make eye contact as I ladle two orders of French onion into a sauté pan and stick a corn flan into the oven. I look up and he’s disappeared, a peripheral thought about my artichokes, flicked away as I add a ladle of corn soup to another hot sauté pan.
A bowl for the corn soup, sits under the heat lamp And I push it aside to pull two lion heads down for the French onion. Soup then four croutons, a slice of Swiss then gruyere and a sprinkle of hand grated parmesan then under the salamander. While those are working I pull my bowl, the flan is hot and I unmold it and place it right side up in the center. The soupcis poured around; dirty sauté pan joins a growing stack under my station, and I finish with circle of paprika oil, old bay popcorn and corn shoots. In the window and then hop towards the salamander to save my French onions, a sprinkle of fine chopped parsley and my first course is in the pass. A room service ticket comes in for penne pasta rustica. “Table forty in the window! I need a runner!
I’m thinking about my artichokes, But the penne pasta has to go out first. I look up, just in time to see my sous chef, we make eye contact, colors fade, and the buzz of the kitchen dulls and becomes lethargic as if time has slowed to savor this moment. My sous chef tosses a green blob onto my cutting board and walks away. It holds its shape for a few fragile seconds and then collapses into a forlorn puddle of disgrace. Tendrils of steam drift upwards and their accusatory fingers cries shame as I sweep what was once an artichoke, into the garbage. I’m too busy for despair and instead focus on the tickets in front of me. I’m working short order tonight and as time speeds up, I realize I’m deep in the shits.