Monthly Archives: July 2014

Like a Hooker

Sous Chef J is one of the most even-tempered people I’ve ever met, and he is so passionate about the art of cooking. Perhaps this is why he is liked and respected by just about everyone in the kitchen.

Last night, like on most Wednesday nights, he was my Late Night shift buddy, which means we got the chance to really talk without the prying ears of 10 other guys. It was around 11:30pm and we had just been approached by Bartender Girl L. She said it was slowing down out there and that she will issue last call for food so we could go home early. But first, a favor – she wanted a grilled cheese sandwich.

Sous Chef J obliged, but after she walked away, he told me that the “friendship” he has with some people here at work could be described like hiring a hooker. (He couldn’t think of another analogy so he said he was just going to continue as though I were one of the dudes.) Anyway, as he put it, being with a hooker makes you feel good; she makes you feel special. But deep down, you know it’s only because she wants something from you.

He is friendly with everyone but he knows that there are those on whom he can trust and depend and those he just can’t. I thought it was an interesting way to describe the relationship and I was happy to hear that I was not alone in feeling that way. Kitchen Life feels a lot like high school in some ways. You spend so many hours a day stuck together that of course you have to at least try to get along with everyone. And if you’re lucky, some genuine friendships might form. But at the end of the day, there will be people who you will hardly miss when you part ways.

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Switch-a-Roo

Yesterday was a 1pm day, with easy prep lists for every station including mine. I came back to find my station, the reach-in refrigerator, and my shelves in the walk-in all disheveled and disorganized. I am still in disbelief that so much chaos could happen in the two days that I am away each week. Sigh.

Service was fairly slow as well, so there was really only one noteworthy highlight of the day. Sous Chef J told me that he needs this Monday off without giving up his scheduled number of days (I thought all of the sous chefs are on salary so maybe he was referring to having a limited number of sick days). He said he is willing to trade his Monday for my Saturday, giving me a real weekend off! I was so ecstatic I told Honey Bunny right away. The only catch is that this means I work a 4-day week this week but six days next week (and Monday will be my first time working the Pastry station on my own!). Still, I’m excited! Adventure awaits!

Week 28: Work-Life Balance

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My weekend is finally here! Wooooooo!

Today was intense all-around. Prep kept me busy with marinating a batch of wild boar pate, buttering three chicken liver mousse terrines, cooking two pork liver and truffle pates, and assorted small tasks to get ready for service. When I popped out the chicken mousses, all three came out perfectly – super smooth and with little to no residue left in the mold. It was a sight to see! I excitedly told Chef these were my best yet and he replied that they were the best EVER and congratulated me on a job well done.

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We were all in such a rush to finish our prep and get set up for service that no one made family meal. Sadly, when that happens, it really means no one eats. Well, not a proper meal anyway. A few fries here and there, perhaps Pizza Guy K will fire an extra pizza, the last few strands of pasta from a dish on Hot-Apps… I found a tray of brioche buns that didn’t proof properly so Pastry Girl had deemed them unfit for service. I popped one in the telly (microwave) for a minute and ate it with some pastry cream; it was just like one of those sweet buns from the Chinese bakeries. I was a happy camper. (Don’t worry – I made up for the lack of calories by devouring a bacon cheeseburger and criss-cut fries from Carl’s Jr. after work.)

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Speaking of “after work,” I was so ready to break down my station and get my weekend started…. until Bartender Girl came in to tell me that Honey Bunny was here with his BFF Z and wanted a chicken liver mousse. “Tell him no, he can’t have it. I’m going home!” I teased. But just after I made it and sent it out, a charcuterie board checked in at 9:55pm. Okay, no big deal, I thought, working at lightning speed to put it together. I was just about to throw my soapy bucket all over my work station when Station Lead announced that there was a VIP table and we need to send out a board, a peach salad, and a tuna tartare. WHAT? I looked at the clock… 10:10. Don’t they know we’re closed?? Sous Chef S and Front of House Owner got into a heated debate over it, but I figured I would just go ahead and build the charc board anyway. The sooner I finish, the sooner I can GTFO. Somehow, I had mine done before the (three!) Pantry Boys finished their two dishes. Embarrassing for them.

Anyway, I waved to Honey Bunny from the Hot Line where I could peek at the bar guests between bottles of liquor. Off we went to start our weekend!

But back to the title of this post. Tomorrow, Chef is going to be a guest chef at a dinner event at a Michelin starred restaurant where he spent four years as Chef du Cuisine. The dinner is celebrating the restaurant’s 15-year anniversary by inviting back the head chef’s protégés for a tasting menu. Anyway, before Chef left tonight, he turned to me and said, “I don’t know if this interests you at all, but I’m cooking at an event tomorrow…” I told him I knew about the event and that it sounded great but I can’t afford the $150/head price tag. He replied, “Oh I was going to ask if you wanted to come along and work in the kitchen with me and [Sous Chef J]!” I was speechless and he was in a hurry to leave so he just said, “Well, think about it and let me know. We meet here at 3.”

I already texted Chef to thank him for the opportunity but decline. Honey Bunny and I have plans with friends tomorrow and I already spend so little time at home (and with him) as it is. Though I am determined to someday work in the kitchen of a Michelin starred restaurant, this particular Sunday is not going to be that day. I can be a very impulsive person and part of me wanted to jump at the opportunity, Sunday be damned. But I think this is a very important lesson in maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I have read about so many struggles of Kitchen Life and perhaps the biggest is trying to make time for your significant other. So many get sucked into doing anything and everything for their job (although this applies to any career really!) at the risk of destroying their personal lives. I am determined to put Honey Bunny first because his love and support means so much to me.

There will be other opportunities, and I’m grateful that Chef even considered me. As far as I know, he did not ask anyone else other than his sous chefs, so I feel honored as it is.

Anywho, now I’m off to relax and enjoy the weekend. Till next time!

Hell Week 2: Almost Over

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Everyone must have had a rough week because it felt like the entire city was celebrating TGIF. Case in point, Happy Hour absolutely kicked my ass. Haha. I was in and out of the weeds so many times in those two hours…. it felt like it would never end. All of the other stations were busy as well, but I (and Pizza Guy K) have the pleasure of flying solo. Even Pastry Girl had her bf Meat Guy to help her, as he was assigned to float today.

Family meal was something heavy and creamy (I think I heard Station-mate proudly announce it as chicken & rice alfredo), so I was worried I would have to endure the long night without sustenance. It turned out that neither Pastry Girl nor Meat Guy partook in family meal (due to both being busy and not wanting fatty food) so I managed to find time to cook a small meal for the three of us. They were grateful and I was just happy to have something I could eat; I would not have put in nearly as much effort cooking for just me. I boiled some pasta, chopped up a few fresh roma tomatoes and blanched broccolini, and tossed it all together with olive oil, salt, and chili flakes. Super simple but comforting.

Two more days of Restaurant Week. Just one day left for me, and for Pastry Girl, tonight meant the long-awaited end to her 10-day work week (on the bright side, she and Meat Guy will be getting a 4-day weekend to compensate). Sous Chef J is back in town and the team is more or less returning to normal. With Restaurant Week out of the way, I can focus on my next projects/challenges!

Hell Week 2: Carry On

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Yesterday (Thursday) was another noon day, and since I had had Late Night the night before, I welcomed the opportunity for extra sleep. Each morning as I hop back into bed after moving my car from our tandem parking space so Honey Bunny could go to work, I have an internal debate over whether to snooze a bit longer or get up and make breakfast. These days, sleeping > eating.

Despite it being declared a noon day, some of us still had a lot of work to get done – mainly my station and Pantry. It was just Sous Chef S and Station-mate over there and the Pantry Boys had left just about everything on the list for them to prep. Not cool. It was good for me though; they had to push hard to get everything done in time so seeing their pace helped keep me focused and speedy as well.

We had a 20-top scheduled to arrive at 6 but they did not order food until 7 (and even then, only 13 people showed up). Two salumi plates for me, one order of pork ravioli, and ten peach salads. We took over the Pizza station’s table and Chef and I methodically assembled the salads ourselves. “Carry on with whatever you were doing, [Sous Chef S]. [Matcha Bunny] and I can handle this.” I like working alongside Chef (that is, when my nerves don’t get the better of me) and perhaps more importantly, I love hearing British people actually say “carry on.” haha!

I ended up working with Station-mate a lot, just like the good ol’ days. They got in the weeds a few times, so I lent an extra pair of hands to push out the tickets and clear their board. Once they were in a good place, I went to help Pastry Girl. She seemed a bit envious that Chef had FOUR people help on Pantry while she had to do all 13 desserts solo. Even when I walked up one of her desserts on my way back from the walk-in, Chef said to me, “You don’t need to be helping her right now” and gestured to the Pantry station. Poor Pastry Girl. So while she finished up some extra prep in her room, I did a few of her tickets and broke down her station since I had finished scrubbing down mine. I know she would do the same for me and us girls gotta stick together!