Monday, October 6, 2008

That Sound

I'm never going to forget that sound. Kind of a clicking. A soft cranking. A sound I can't find the right words to describe, but a sound that's forever in my brain. It's the sound of tickets coming in. The sound that tells you, get ready, another one's coming in. The sound that tells you, your night is not over yet.

I was back in the kitchen a few nights ago. And this time, I was assigned to the pantry. And tonight, I was going to stay through service. I have to admit. Part of me wanted to go back to pastry. My comfort zone. The place where I could hide in the back. Away from the immediate stress of the tickets. And although what they are doing in the restaurant is way beyond me, it's still an area I'm comfortable with. And Chef Ian had changed the menu again since I had last been in, and I was excited and anxious to see what they were doing now. But not this night. Chef put me in pantry. The place you start. I was lucky to be there. And I knew it and was grateful.

Patsy is the lead pantry cook--and she was great for me to work with. I learned so much from her and have so much respect for her. She was patient and willing to spend time teaching me and yet also giving me a lot of tasks. I didn't ever feel like she was giving me something to do just for the sake of giving me something to do. I was actually helping out and a part of her team for the night.

Let's see. How did the night start? I started by meeting everyone on the pantry team. In addition to Patsy, there was Jose, who's been there for a little while. He was awesome. He knew that station inside and out, was amazingly fast. Whenever I was in doubt that night? I went to Jose. He knew everything that was going on. He was quiet and almost a little shy, but one of the hardest workers I've ever met. Last but not least, there was Tony. It was Day 3 on the job for him. And I was glad there was another newbie to the team. Although it was a little different for him--he'd been to culinary school, and had spent the last year in another restaurant kitchen.

Once I met everyone, we had to finish prepping the station for the night. They were just finishing up a few miscellaneous tasks and I was asked to julienne some ginger. It was going to be flash fried after and used as a garnish for the deconstructed spicy tuna roll (which as I'm writing this, I'm wondering, did I remember to put the ginger on the top of the spicy tuna rolls I did? Crap. I can't remember.) I thought to myself, ok, I know how to julienne. I can do this. As I started, Patsy leaned over and told me--even smaller strips. My ginger strips were too thick. And I should be rocking my knife back and forth not picking it up each time. Ok. Just when I thought maybe I knew what I was doing, I realized. I don't know.

Next up? Family meal. I was to make a salad with some of the leftovers from the night before. It was both exciting and nerve wrecking. Me? Contribute to family meal? I realize it was just a salad, not like I was doing anything earth shattering here, but I was honored to be given this task. This was important--it was the food the team was going to eat! It wasn't just any salad.

After that was done, we did a few other things to stock and prepare the station. I was asked to start the white bean soup that was going to be the amuse bouche for the evening. I had to reheat it, and once it was heated, Chef would go and spice it up. Patsy was really clear. Be sure to stir it. No, not stand there and stir it, but to go back and check on it frequently. It would have been easier to just stand there and stir it. But that wasn't what I was asked to do, and I had other tasks to get to. Peeling more ginger. Getting the greens for the salads to our station from these huge bins in the walk-in. Cutting the rice 'cake' for the tuna rolls--and that required precise measuring so that all of the slices were exactly the same size. And to make matters worse? I actually wasn't even working near the soup. So to remember to stir? Not too easy.

Thankfully there were some other eyes helping me out. Again proving to me that a good team and a kitchen that's working together is crucial to a restaurant's success. You've all got to have each other's backs and to be helping each other out--even without the other person asking for the help.

At one point, I ran over to the stove from where I was working, thinking it had been a little too long since I had last stirred the soup. I was worried it had been ruined, and that the cream based soup was now sticking to the bottom of the pot. As I ran over with a slightly panicked look on my face, I got a smile from one of the other cooks, Seth, saying "Don't worry, I've been stirring the soup." Thank god. I let out a soft sigh of relief. When I made a comment about being worried about ruining the soup, he responded with, "Do you know how many pots of soup I've ruined?"

After our pantry station was all ready to go and we had nibbled on our family meal (scarfed down was more like it), we all took a quick break before dinner service. Carrying a milk crate in one hand, and a glass of water in my other, I walked up a narrow set of stairs that led me to the street. There I was. Sitting there in my whites and clogs on Post Street. Just blocks away from my day job, and yet such a world away. Taking a breath of fresh air I closed my eyes and relaxed for just a moment before we had to head back downstairs. It was the calm before the storm.

to be continued...

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