On an almost-daily basis during prep, we’ll hear Chef exclaim to the whole kitchen, “Does anybody need anything?” Most days it will be rhetorical as he’ll realize that there are a dozen Wellingtons to wrap in puff pastry, or that there is only one guy on Hot-Apps so he can roll pasta, or that Pantry needs help with butchering their tuna or salmon for the tartare dishes. Not to mention that Chef and I seem to have an unspoken understanding that I am organized enough to plan out my week’s prep schedule and get things done in time for service each day without his micromanagement. (Oftentimes I hear him asking some of the guys, “Are you in good shape?” “What are you working on now?” “What’s next?” and he’ll either skip over me or answer his own question as in, “You’re fine, right?”)
But today, after receiving no response to his general inquiry, he singled out each one of us to double check (and presumably to find something to do). Eventually he looked me right in the eye and asked, “Need anything?” I knew I had one task that I had put on Morning Prep Cook’s list but that it had not been done. Cautiously, I answered, “Yes Chef, but I know you’re not going to like it…” “Just tell me what it is!” he replied. “I need peeled pearl onions, Chef.” “Aww fuck you!” came his joking retort. “I told you you wouldn’t like it! It’s fine, I’ll do them myself,” I defended. But he quickly responded “Nobody likes peeling pearl onions!” He asked for the package and came back about 15 minutes later with a ninth-pan of shiny peeled teeny tiny white onions. He works FAST so if it took him that long, I can only imagine how tedious and frustrating it would have been for me.
Service was better today than yesterday; I learned that we only did about 25 covers TOTAL yesterday, possibly one of the worst days since the restaurant’s opening. The guys say it is supposed to pick up the pace with the winter holidays coming up, but I’m not so sure.
Always remember: nobody likes peeling pearl onions.
PS: I forgot to mention but the highlight of yesterday (Wednesday) was finding out that a liquor vendor had dropped off some brand new garnish trays (aka condiment trays aka speed boxes). Chef gave me a pair and now my mise looks so sexy. A place for everything and everything in its place!
I know, I know. I’ve got to stop using the word “slow” to describe these dismal dinner services we’ve been having lately. All evening, Chef’s notorious nerves of steel were betrayed by the constant look of anxiety on his face. Without a doubt, tonight was worrisome.
Tuesday was already pretty slow but that was to be expected. I arrived at 1pm and went straight to work, grinding and cooking the duck terrines that Sous Chef S had marinated for me on my days off. We called it a night by 9pm and I was home just after 9:30.
But today. Today was unreal. At one point during service, Station-mate and Sassy Stage, desperate for something to do, both helped me prep out my mise for a batch of piccalilli, one of the last “new” things I have yet to do on this station. Rumors started spreading that it was due to Rosh Hashanah, but I’m not convinced. I don’t like this downward spiral the restaurant seems to be trapped in. I can only hope that things will pick up now that it is officially autumn.
Even Late Night was unremarkable. Sous Chef J spent that time taking care of tomorrow’s orders while I handled both the Hot and Cold Lines. Chicken wings, a shrimp po boy, lots of orders of fries… ain’t no thang. In retrospect, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I can make everything on the Late Night menu, from shucking oysters to tossing pizzas to flipping burgers. I even re-purposed a too-small ball of pizza dough and made a pretty darn delicious empanada by rolling it flat, filling with a dollop of lamb ragu, folding it over, pinching it closed, and deep frying it (pictured above). FOH Owner was merciful and issued last call around 10:45. I was home by 11 and even whipped up a quick dinner for me and Honey Bunny to share.
Slow days are exhausting and not in the fun way after a hectic rush. The only silver lining? I don’t have to be in until 1:30 tomorrow!
Saturday was a great way to end the week. We weren’t scheduled to come in until 1:30pm, so Honey Bunny and I were able to grab lunch and dessert and watch a movie together before I had to leave. It was like being gifted an early start to our fun-filled weekend.
From the late arrival time, you could probably guess that none of us had much to do. I literally just had to make a smoked salmon terrine, slice some fresno chilies, and cut a loaf of bread. Even coming in at 1:30pm, that left me with three and a half hours to do my work. I was pretty stoked that I managed to finish the salmon terrine in one hour, about half the time it took me when I first started on this station. I told Chef, who always mocks me for spending “all day” on that particular project, but his only response was “Good. Now make it faster next time.” I guess that’s about as much of a proverbial gold star I’d be able to get from him anyway.
I was just excited to get the day over with so that Honey Bunny and I could enjoy our weekend. On Sunday, we had a nice lunch and window-shopping date at IKEA a la 500 Days of Summer, which was a great chance to spend some much needed quality time together. And then today (Monday), I spent my morning watching Chefs Curtis Stone and Art Smith do a cooking demo for a talk show. I was getting pretty hangry (hungry + angry) by the end of it because of all the clapping and smiling, and because I hadn’t eaten (aside from a lovely almond croissant that L had made!). That was soon remedied by our awesome evening plans – a baseball game with unlimited hot dogs and nachos! Honey Bunny and I were camp counselors in college (it’s how we met!) and that organization was having a charity fundraiser by selling these tickets, so it was a great chance to catch up with some familiar faces even though I’m not a fan of baseball. At all.
I was also mostly excited to have fun events happening on a Monday! It’s hard having strange days off, so I really appreciated being able to do “weekend” things on just another manic Monday. Now I feel rested and ready to tackle a new week!
Tonight’s service was off to a slow start and we could all tell that Chef was getting anxious. Each minute ticking by without orders checking in meant no money earned and yet still wages to pay for the dozen guys (and gals) on his brigade. So I noticed he started looking around to see where he could send someone home and save a bit of cash. He called me over and I was nervous. Was I the dead weight in the kitchen? Then he told me, “Get over in the corner on Hot-Apps; Pantry will cover Charcuterie.” (There were two sous chefs and Sassy Stage tonight so the Cold Line had more than enough staff.) Now’s my chance, I thought, just as Station Lead voiced the same sentiment aloud.
I grabbed an extra towel and spoon and ran over to join Station-mate. It turns out that Chef had decided to send home Honey Badger, a guy who had worked for him previously and would come in just to work service on Hot-Apps a few nights a week. And so began my new adventure in the best way possible: by getting thrown in the deep end. From my visits to check out Hot-Apps in recent weeks, I wasn’t completely clueless about what to do. Still, I really appreciated that Station-mate would walk me through the steps as I would sauté the sauces for our pasta dishes and man the fryer — add the chopped rosemary next, maybe this needs more chicken stock, perhaps more butter (never too much butter, it seems!), don’t forget to taste and season, your pasta is just about ready, can you drop the truffle fries into the fryer, Chef needs you to fry off this soft shell crab too. It was a lot to take in but I think I managed to stay focused and not get too overwhelmed. There was a lot going simultaneously which I absolutely love. That’s when I perform best, with the adrenaline pumping and the muscle memory kicking in to do the cooking while your brain focuses on the tickets hanging from your rail.
At the end of the night, we still had to make some balls of pasta dough for the next day, so I helped Station-mate weigh out the ingredients while he finished up the last few dinner tickets. Then we switched so that I was scrubbing down the corner while he borrowed Pastry Girl’s mixer to knead the dough (we used to do it in the Robotcoupe but it’s still broken).
I didn’t get home until 11:30 and by then, Honey Bunny was already asleep. Probably for the best though, as I felt like I smelled extra funky today. That seems to be the case as you move up the proverbial ladder – first you start with the greasy smell of fryer oil and sauna-sweat from the steam of the pasta boiler, then you get the aroma of fishy splatter, and finally, you know you’ve made it when you come home with the blood of cow, lamb, rabbit, and whatever other red meat or game happen to be on the menu that night caked under your fingernails. We’ve only just begun.
Yesterday, just two hours after we had arrived, our dining room was filled with a hundred guests for a wine tasting event. In the middle of a Thursday afternoon. Must be nice.
This was the reason for my brioche circles and extra batches of chicken liver mousse. While the rest of the guys continued with prep as usual, Chef, Sous Chef J, and I focused on the party, cranking out round after round of hors d’oeuvres to be passed to the guests. Luckily my prep list was light because that party took up the better part of my day. We made tomato gazpacho shots garnished with tuna tartare on a crostini, baked baby potatoes topped with creme fraiche and caviar, and my chicken mousse bites. It was fun but always a bit strange having to work service so early in the day.
Perhaps the most exciting thing to happen yesterday was finding out that Pastry Girl had made us dessert to accompany family meal. Her brown butter cake and cherry ice cream are pictured above. Yum!