The ticket machine roars away, chef and our GM are barking commands down the line as pots crash against the stove. The line is blistering as the air conditioner tries to compete with the eternal fire that the grill, fryers and deck oven throw out. Garde manger station is getting crushed as the new solo chef tries to plate salads to that have to get sent out with racks of lamb, seared halibut and rare New York strips. Servers are swarming the front of the pass to run plates, drop dishes and pester chef with questions. The noise is inconceivable and while the storm rages each station must maintain a clear level head but still spit out plates as fast as humanly possible. Chef stands in the middle acting as expo while trying to supplement garde manger with any spare second she has. It’s amazing to watch. Each precise movement is just a setup for another so that service moves in a rapid flow rather than a disastrous mess. It is a prime example of disciplined work fused with an unsated passion for top quality product.
This dinner rush was partially attributed to the summer season in Rhode Island’s quaint beach town of Westerly but it also came from a history of providing the best for any patron who chose to offer us their time. Walk-ins generally supplement the dinner crowd reservations by adding on an upward 50-75% flux in cover count. This night though was different. Our walk-ins exceeded 200% of our reservations and our kitchen got “rekt”. This was my first night operating grill station solo. I have had training on the station from the establishment located in my hometown of Punta Gorda, Florida, but the complexity and intensity up North doesn’t compare. I was operating at 100% trying to maintain my focus while still meet the expectations of the kitchen. I was getting buried and I was smiling for every second of it.
It is so important to understand the value of each customer. It doesn’t matter if someone is a reserved seat or a casual diner who wants to just sit in for a few appetizers. The concept that someone trusts you enough to craft them a meal, a source of sustenance, is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a chef. A chef instructor once compared the art of cooking as well as being a chef to that of a god. Chefs have so much control, components on the plate, complexity of flavor, doneness of the food as well as the future health and well being of its consumer. Patrons understand this and that is what they will choose to dine at one establishment over another. It is crucial to respect and value the choices they make because they can have such a drastic immediate effect on an establishment’s future.
My later goals are to pursue food writing, hopefully in a capacity that involves either education or criticism. Nonetheless, the aforementioned elements are why I love the kitchen. The stress, the noise and the job are all so refreshing. It’s similar to mediation, completely clearing your mind so that you can focus on only one thing. It is a skill that has to be practiced and the finest chef in the world still respect its complexity. It has always been a great source of entertainment to me.
The kitchen will always feel like a second home, I know many of my other friends who work in the same field can attest. We show up each day hoping to make a lasting impression but be pushed to our limits. That is why I do it. That is why I love food.