I arrive at call time, which is determined the night before, based on the amount of prep we have to do. Usually between 11:30am-1:30pm. I change into uniform, head up to the kitchen, set up my cutting board and tools, and find all the veg that I need for my prep day. I have to make sure we have everything, otherwise we need to call for a second delivery. Then I get to work. Get the potatoes cooking, the beets roasting, the blanching water on. Clean the spinach, cut the hearts of palm, shave the celeriac… Currently, I work with an extern (still in cooking school, working with us for 4 months) on veg prep. I yell at him a lot. I take responsibility for all the veg prep, so when he screws up, I take the blame. So I yell a lot to make sure he does it right.
As the day goes on, I find out what protein or veg we need to use for amuse. Sometimes the guys who break down protein have an extra salmon loin from the old tasting menu. So we make smoked salmon, or salmon escabeche, or salmon tartare, or salmon rillettes. Or there is some beef scrap, and we do beef tartare. I think about what should go with it, discuss it with the chefs, and get that prep done, too. If I’m doing family, got to start that around 3pm, otherwise we won’t be done by 430pm, which is when family meal must be ready. By then, all the prep is done, the kitchen cleaned, everything labeled and put away. Some days we’re done ahead of time. But usually it is like a marathon. I can tell if we need to move faster by 2 o’clock. Usually we do. And we race to finish by 4:30. We grab some food, and stand the in alley.
One of the chefs, whoever is expediting, tells us how many people are coming in, any large parties or VIPs, how spaced out are the reservations, etc. We tell the chef if there is anything left to prep (usually a couple easy tasks, or some amuse prep), and we head back to the kitchen to set up our stations for service. All the food we just put away and labeled is pulled back out, put into drawers, and we race to set up before the first ticket comes in at 530.
Then the first turn. We usually ease into it, except when the bar is busy. Then we get absolutely slammed on the first turn. At least cold apps does, and usually hot apps. Most of the bar menu is on our stations, and a Friday night can start with 15 people in the bar and the first set of reservations in the dining room, making for a big first push. I coordinate putting up my dishes with the hot apps cook, since our dishes go to the table at the same time. Some of my dishes are hot, too, so they can’t wait in the window for other food to go to the table. So as tickets roll in, have to remember the order of the dishes and what they are going with, and coordinate with that other cook.
On a busy night, you enter a state that is the best meditation I’ve ever experienced. You cannot think about anything except what you’re doing, and what is about the happen next. In fact, don’t think about what you’re doing, just do it. Muscle memory, like anyone who plays an instrument, sometimes the fingers just remember where to go, so don’t think about it so much. Don’t think about what just happened either, always moving forward. I usually only chant to myself the order of dishes I’ve got, if they’ve stacked up. You must move as fast as you can, know where everything is, you can almost close your eyes and keep going. It is one of the most wonderful moments of the whole night when you’ve made it to the other side. An amazing adrenaline rush. It is beautiful. First turn done. Only 5 hours to go.
There will be a second turn. On really busy nights, a third. By 10:30pm, I start breaking down my station, putting all the food in new containers, labeling them (the tape is never ripped, only cut), and putting it away properly. The stoves, ovens, hoods, walls, counters, drawers, fryer, pasta-lator, are all scrubbed clean, then the walls and counters are polished. Prep lists are filled out, telling the prep stations what we need for the next service. We all grab a cheap beer and stand around for the end of the night meeting. Each of us discusses how our night went, what went well, what went poorly, and the chefs give advice for how to improve. It is a cathartic moment at times, and fist-pumping at others. We look at our prep lists, decide on a time to come in the next day, change back into street clothes, and go home. Usually around midnight-1am.