“Keep your station clean and people will like you just fine,” someone told me on my first day. I’ve noticed that this holds very true, in our kitchen and just about any professional kitchen (from my readings on online forums and frequent viewings of Ratatouille, anyway). I’ve finally reached the point where I can walk into the kitchen knowing exactly what the first steps are. Fetching a clean shirt (luckily there has always been a Small available for me when I arrive), donning a black apron, slipping on my skid-resistant shoes (which I now keep in the office upstairs because they smell rank like everyone else’s), grabbing an armful of towels, and heading back downstairs to thoroughly wipe down our station with soap and sanitizing solution. Usually my station lead and fellow pantry guys will arrive while I’m folding the tenth or eleventh towel. If they’re running late, I’ll sneak a glance at the clipboard that holds our prep list and see if there’s anything I can go ahead and start.
That’s my morning in a nutshell.
Today there didn’t seem to be too many items on the prep list, which is always a good thing. I chose to do the herb salad because a lot of the other items involved using the hot hot ovens, of which, to be honest, I’m still a little wary. Pick pick pick. My station lead also requested that I pick half a case of frisee, which I did not mind too much knowing that he’s mostly asking because he prefers the way I do it. After spinning everything in the salad spinner, I moved on to my new favorite kitchen toy — the mandoline.
The shaved cucumbers were easy enough, but shaving cauliflower is a PAIN. Little bits fly everywhere and the brittle crowns fall apart with no warning, threatening to force my fingertips into the mandoline’s blade each time. Sigh. But I managed, unscathed, and cleaned up all of the stray bits. Again, a clean station is a happy station!
After prepping a few more items to help out my station, my station lead asked me a peculiar question — you work in an office, are you any good at Excel? I said yes and asked him what he needed. He wanted to reformat our prep list because the current one has a weird organization method. He showed me the communal computer upstairs and left me to my work. I had no idea I would ever use my day job’s skill set here in the kitchen, but lo and behold, there I was staring at a blank spreadsheet on Chef’s shiny Dell laptop. He left me to my work and returned only a few minutes later. Luckily, I’m used to people wanting things done yesterday, so I was prepared to show him my finished product when he came back. I didn’t think it was anything special, but I received a lot of praise for it :) He was SO freaking excited. He immediately clipped it to his clipboard and showed it off to anyone who would listen. He got smiles & nods; I got thumbs up. One guy pretended to be offended (What – you don’t like the way I made them?) and a few others said they wouldn’t mind if I made theirs too. haha.
Before I knew it, service had started and the first Happy Hour orders started trickling in. After we sent out our first ticket, I was able to sneak away and grab family meal for me and the other pantry guy (there was only one today, plus my station lead and me). Spanish rice, some type of carnitas-style (braised, spiced, and saucy) chicken, and housemade salsa verde. Not bad, but it’s hard to top last week’s chicken tikka masala. Another flurry of tickets came in so our food grew cold while we handled those before shoveling it down and getting back to work.
Tonight was a busy night, and not just by my standards! Others were remarking that it was pretty intense. I was quite proud of myself today — I got into the rhythm, focused hard, and was able to churn out a lot of the dishes alongside my stationmate (… that’s not a word, but you know what I mean). My favorites, of course, were definitely the tartares. The salmon tartare has changed its plating to one of my personal favorites — “potted” in a jar over marinated beets with a wasabi horseradish mousse. The jar rests atop a coaster on a stone slab and garnished with an herb salad topped with scratching (dehydrated salmon skin) and served with toast. The sous chef complimented me on my “beautiful plating”… not gonna lie, I was pretty pleased.
The evening just flew by with very little downtime. I managed to stay composed under pressure, even though at times it felt like my stationmate was kind of freaking out. Today I finally felt confident in the kitchen. I was vocal, calling out tickets, making sure our timing was on point, coordinating with other stations that contributed components to our dishes. Remembering to say “behind” and “sharp” and “hot” while walking around. “Yes Chef” when getting a direct order. Estimating times out to the window. In the midst of the chaos, I had a moment when I felt like I was outside of my body observing myself and it really was just like the shows on TV. Everything was orchestrated like clockwork, and at the end of the night, one of the sous chefs approached me and said, “Good job today. You really held your own.”
So today’s theme is Excel. Yes, like Microsoft Excel, but also because I’ve found my stride and can finally feel tangible progress in my learning and experience. Like I have the potential to excel in this industry (get it, get it??). Maybe I can handle this after all…? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy my free cheesecake. That’s right folks. I picked up Honey Bunny after work and per our new tradition, we went to get boba. The guy behind the counter seemed to recognize us (we’d seen him at almost every visit since we used to live at our old apartment!) and after Honey Bunny mentioned that we come here every week after I get off work at the restaurant, he smiled and we had a bonding moment over the awesomeness of their Oreo cheesecake (I had ordered it to-go last week). When we brought out our drinks, he had a paper bag in his hand. “This is for you guys. It’s our lemon cheesecake — it’s really good. People really like it. Enjoy!” I was ecstatic.
As if we weren’t already loyal customers before….