Kitchen Dynamics: Bus Driving

Cucumber Wedges for the Tomato Salad

Cucumber Wedges for the Tomato Salad

It rained cats and dogs today… perfect weather for staying in bed, watching a movie, and cuddling with your Other Half (and two hypothetical cats). Not so good weather for retrieving produce from the back fridge. I thought I was clever by grabbing a good amount of my mise during a brief sunny lull first thing when I arrived, but then around 2:30pm, it was pouring again and I realized I needed scallions. Damn.

Our prep list was manageable, although technically, we always have to complete the tasks regardless of number or difficulty. There’s no getting around it; you must finish your mise en place in time for service or else you’d be screwed on so many levels. We had an extra pair of hands for part of the day at least. Another new stage. For now, let’s call her… Top Chef Stage. She has had a few years’ experience in professional kitchens, most recently that of a Top Chef winner, through whom she met Chef. This also meant that she adapted well to our kitchen, although she seemed to be a bit quiet at first (probably just shy). I was able to give her a few tasks to work on but, as I soon learned, she works very quickly and had them done in no time at all. Luckily Meat Guy had some interesting things for her to work on so he took her off our hands. It’s difficult trying to make time to teach someone new when you really just want to focus on getting the job done.

She was a quick study though and helped us on the Cold Line during service. It got off to a bit of a shaky start though, with Station-mate leaving her to distribute duplicate tickets without really explaining which station needs which color tickets and for which dishes. After a few lost orders here and there, we recovered just fine. Service started off slow but soon gained momentum. At times, our board filled up with orders, but we plowed through it. Station-mate got overwhelmed a few times (“in the weeds”) and called on me to bail him out by garnishing charcuterie boards or by picking up other dishes that had started to pile up as he was finishing up a board/platter. It paid off to be observant so I’d know how his dishes were plated and with what garnishes.

And speaking of observations… in the kitchen, we use the expression “throwing someone under the bus” in situations where multiple stations need to coordinate their timing in order to bring all of the dishes on one ticket to the pass at the exact same time but one station brings theirs up before the rest (too early). We take it one step further and refer to said person or station as the Bus Driver. New Hot-Apps Guy is a bus driver. And it’s frustrating but we all just accept it, though many times I’ll hear the other guys muttering insults under their breath. I am generally easy-going, but today, he finally got to me. Fish Guy had called to me to ask for timing on a Caesar salad. I told him 1 minute, not an unreasonable request, and I overheard New Hot-Apps Guy making an unnecessary comment about how I (or perhaps the Cold Line in general) should “stop socializing and put out food faster.” Man was I fuming. Sous Chef J noticed and I replied, quietly, that New Hot-Apps Guy needs to stop being such a dick. Sous Chef J smiled proudly in response. He’s always been telling me that I need to be more assertive and to make sure the other guys don’t take advantage of me or throw me under the bus. He told me, “The only rule in this kitchen is to not punch anybody. Verbally, anything goes.” I’m not aggressive enough to actually confront anyone, even when I’m angry, but he insisted that I keep that in mind. (I believe his words were, “It’s okay to be a bitch sometimes!”)

But at the same time, he himself has a very Zen style of working, even in high pressure environments. His philosophy is that the job still needs to get done, so it’s better to stay calm and focus rather than panic and get flustered. I really appreciate that influence and the support and mentorship he has been providing me. I noticed that, among the cooks who started out on garde manger and have since “moved up” in our kitchen, those who were trained by Sous Chef J are much better prepared and organized than those who worked under Station Lead.

Anyway, my feet are exhausted after a 14-hour shift (I had Late Night tonight), so it’s off to bed!

[Wrote this last night (Friday) but posting in the morning]

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