Yeah. You told me so. Working in a restaurant means long hours. During my down time, I’m either sleeping or moving as little as possible. So here is what happened since I got the job, almost four months ago.
New hires spend a week with the saucier, Jarod, who comes in around 7am every morning and preps the confits, braises, stocks, sauces, jus, and checks in all the deliveries. It was a good chance to learn some basic tehcniques, break down a lot of ducks, and get a feel for the restaurant. During this week, the garde manger cook (the station I would start at) quit. They had hired another new cook just before me, so the plan was the two of us would work the station together. Worked for us, since neither of us had worked in a fine dining restaurant before.
Then I transitioned to dinner service. During the day I prepped all the vegetables for every station (Cold apps, Hot apps, Middle, Fish, Meat). Then at 5:30 we open for dinner and the tickets roll in. For the first week, I was helping out where I could on cold apps, while Ralph, the other new hire, mainly worked the station. Then he quit. And it was just me.
For two weeks I worked cold apps (also called garde manger) by myself, getting the hang of service, the pace, moving efficiently, feeling comfortable. There were good night, and many difficult. Chef was kind to me for a long time, never yelling excessively. I screwed up many times, but tried to never make the same mistake twice. But I wasn’tmoving fast enough, and feared for my job all month.
After Thanksgiving, No 9 Park opens for lunch until Christmas. We used to do it all year round, but several years ago they switched to just holiday lunch. I was moved to lunch service for that month, working cold apps still, but all of the apps except for 1 were coming off my station. And instead of 5 people on the line, we only had 3 – me, chef Wyatt (the new exec sous-chef of Menton), and chef Patrick (the chef de cuisine). Chef Michelle (the sous-chef) was expediting. As we got closer to Christmas, more and more people came in for lunch. By the end, we were cooking for 100 people in 3 hours. By comparison, dinner service typically does 100 people in 5 hours with 2 more cooks on the line. Lunch was awesome. We would get absolutely slammed every day for the last two weeks. All three of us on the line would get lost at some point, but Michelle would remind us where we were, constantly telling me to move faster. I would have 10 plates to make in 4 minutes. Chef Patrick encouraged me to think about reorginizing my station so I could move faster. It was awesome. As soon as service was over, we would break down, help prep for dinner, and roll right into dinner service. On Friday nights, I filled in and did dinner service as well, working from 7am to 1am. They were my favorite days.
Two days before Christmas, the last day of service before we closed, I was given my black apron. Most cooks in the kitchen had them. New hires started with a white bistro apron. The black apron with white pinstripes was given to you by Chef when he (and the other chefs) decided that you were officially part of the team and were likely to stick around. There were other cooks who had been there longer than me who still didn’t have theirs (one was fired a few weeks later). “Scotty, you’ve done an amazing job during lunch, you deserve these aprons, you’re part of the family now.” It was my proudest moment since getting engaged.
After the new year, I transitioned back to dinner service and have been rocking out the cold apps since then. After a week or two to get used to it again, I’ve started to feel really good about my performance. I’m moving faster, more efficiently. I lead the vegetable prep team, make family meal a couple times a week, and invent my own amuse bouche every day, which is one of the perks of working at No 9. Most places would never let a junior cook come up with their own dish. But every night I use scrap or extra food around the restaurant to plate a 1-2 bite complimentary dish. I discuss it with the chefs, and plate one for them before service to critique the taste and plating.
At the end of January I had my 3-month review. I filled out a 6-page self-evaluation and met with Chef Patrick and Chef John (the exec sous-chef of No 9) and discussed my performance. While we all agreed that I needed to be more aggressive about getting prep done faster, and more confident and aggressive when approaching family meal and the amuse bouche, the overall decision was that I was doing a great job. Hopefully soon I’ll move on to Hot appetizers, which is where all the pasta is made, and is one of the hardest stations in the restaurant. I can’t wait.
Yep. Living the dream. I hang out with a loud, wonderful, talented, hilarious group of the city’s best cooks all day, making beautiful and delicious food, changing lives.