Today was an awesome day. I came home with the same adrenaline rush I had on my very first day staging, even though today’s shift ran longer than usual. Today reaffirmed (as my time in the kitchen often does) that this was one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself. I had two major successes: prepping for another station and running the board.
I know chopping garlic for a station other than Pantry doesn’t sound like such a huge accomplishment, but let me take you back to my very first day. I hadn’t quite settled in to Pantry yet, so when I arrived, the Chef and sous chefs asked around to see if any stations needed my help. Just about every station had politely declined, probably (rightly) deciding that teaching me how to do a task would be more hassle than my well-intended assistance would be worth. But today was different. Today, there were FOUR guys working Pantry — the station lead, the station-mate I’d been working with recently, the station-mate who gave his two weeks’ notice (today was his second-to-last day), and a new guy… a dishwasher who had constantly expressed his desire to get on the line and start cooking. I was very happy to see that he was finally getting his big break. I know he’d been wanting to do this at LEAST since I started staging, so that’s over two months. Probably longer. Anyway, there was no room for me and there was not (as) much to be done. One of the sous chefs offered up my availability and I was quickly snatched up by the two guys on Hot Appetizers. How things have changed!
So I found the new “petite herb salad” of tasks: chopping garlic. Tedious but not particularly difficult, and a task that I do as quickly as I can but it still seems to take longer than it should. In my defense though, a quart of garlic cloves is a LOT of freakin’ garlic. I think it literally took me half an hour, although that did include some time spent with the guys passing by my station and giving me refreshers on my knife skills. Guide with your knuckles. Form your fingers like an eagle claw. Tuck your thumb behind your knuckle. The garlic was coarsely chopped since it would be sweated down anyway, but the next task, dicing butternut squash, needed to be more “pretty.” You can bet I’ll be practicing more at home.
There was a party of 20 and over 200 reservations “on the books” so with an expected 300-400 covers, we had a lot of pasta to make. I missed out on the capellini making as I had to halve fingerling potatoes to steam with herbs, but I got to help with the ravioli and agnolotti, both fun and interesting pastas. As I was deftly shaping the filled pasta (thankfully not an entirely new task in my repertoire), I knew I would not be working the Hot Apps station during service, since that corner is very tight and very very hot (it’s the very end of the prestigious hot line). So instead, I was pondering where I would end up. That’s when the Pantry station lead came by and said he would be working the fish station and the new guy is back to the dishes. That meant it would be me and the two station-mates, and I was to “run the board.” WHAT? Um… okay. I’m game!
Running the board is similar to running the pass, except for a particular station. This meant that in addition to plating dishes as usual, I would also call out new tickets, keep track of subsequent courses, assign dishes to my station-mates, ensure that the orders make it from station to window in a timely manner, and coordinate our timing with other stations. I felt overwhelmed just thinking about it, but I learned something about my work style today. I work well under pressure. In fact, I thrive under pressure. Aided by some strong coffee and a huge adrenaline rush, we plowed through the tickets and even handled that party of 20 like no other. My sharpie came in handy to notate second and third course dishes and their table numbers. I found my voice, calling out dishes and asking for times. Between the organization part of it, I also received positive feedback on my salad plating (pictured above is one of my many kale caesar salads). According to the guys, I “totally rocked it” on one of the busiest nights this season. I felt really really proud of myself.
One of the best compliments I received was from the station-mate who was leaving. He said he sincerely hoped I would keep at this, especially after my performance tonight. He spoke with confidence that I have what it takes to make it in this industry and really succeed, saying that he hopes to someday cook side by side with me as bonafide chefs. He also shared a bit of water cooler gossip. Remember the new pastry girl I had seen the last time I staged? Apparently she quit after three days. I think the day I met her was her first day, and she didn’t return after that Monday. Just couldn’t handle it, I suppose. I found out later that she had previously staged on Pantry like I am doing now. The guys did not have good things to say about that period of time…
I also have a newfound respect for the Pastry Girl. Yes, I do still find it stereotypical that the only girl in many professional kitchens are often relegated to Pastry. However, this Pastry Girl arguably runs the kitchen. She’s tough, and the guys truly respect her. They even referred to her as their Queen Bee. Get on her good side and you’ll be fine. Catch yourself on her bad side, however… well I don’t want to know how that sentence might end. Luckily, she seems to like me just fine and I try to stay out of her cute-bandana-covered hair. She has become almost like a role model, a more relatable figure that I can aspire to emulate, at least in earning respect as a female in a male-dominated industry.
But anyway, today was a good day. I wish I could make more time to spend here in the kitchen, but with a regular day job and only one day off per week as it is, I just can’t feasibly stretch my time any further (and expect to remain sane). So my progress shall continue to be slow and steady, one day a week, for as long as it takes or as long as they’ll have me.
Last update – I did not slap Charcuterie Guy on the booty today in retaliation. We did laugh about it, and both admitted to having told our friends about the hilarious incident. Ha!
Till next time!
(PS: I’m still figuring out how I should reference these guys. Maybe I’ll give them pseudonyms. Or maybe I’ll continue referring to them by their station. Please keep in mind that I am using the station that they work on Saturdays. In our kitchen, many of the guys are familiar with at least a few stations and rotate throughout the week. Luckily, Saturdays have been quite consistent so far…)
Update: my fingers ache from all the knife work I did today. I guess typing this update isn’t helping matters. A friend recommended that I look into a pain relief cream for the inflammation. I hadn’t run into this issue before (other than sore feet, which has sadly become a simple fact of life) but I guess it’s a good sign that I put in a hard day’s work. :)