Happy Restaurant Week

What comes twice a year, lasts two weeks, and sends you into a manic state of excitement and frustration?

Boston’s Restaurant Week started on Sunday 14 August, and lasts until the end of the month. And you love it. I love it. We all love it.

I could do without it.

To be fair, we’re busy, which is fun. We do at least 100 people Mon-Thurs for RW, plus another 40 for the normal prix-fixe menu. But you’re cooking the same thing over and over and over…. And the menu is designed such that the pick-ups are fast. They can’t be complicated picks or platings if you’re going to do 50 every night. So during RW, these are the easiest 140 covers we do all year. Same for the front of the house – the guests aren’t interested in chatting, they don’t order a ton of courses, and aren’t particularly demanding. In and out.

But what is the fun in that?

Well, it has its own fun, for sure. But most of us don’t work at No 9 to engage in ‘turn and burn’. We love it when people order 5 courses, take their time, get into the food, the wine, the experience. Don’t misunderstand me – I love RW. I love it. We all love it. But I also love the rest of the year. Perhaps a little more.

Happy Restaurant Week everyone.

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Everything I know, I learned in a year…

Which is to say, I’ve been working at No 9 Park for a year as of November 2. It was an important milestone for me. So far I’d worked two prep stations (vegetables, and purees), and 3 service stations (cold apps, hot apps, and middle). Middle station, where I moved to in September, is responsible for game birds (pheasant, quail, squab, partridge, wood-pigeon, chicken, duck) and foie gras. After 3 months there, I feel comfortable with cooking birds, managing the pace of the entree line, keeping up with picks. I miss cooking pasta a lot, but have been excited to move on. In a few months, I’ll hopefully move to fish station.

To mark my first year, I thought I’d share 5 things I’d learned working in a kitchen, that I thought most useful to other cooks, as well as anyone else (most apply to being a research scientist, in fact).

1. Keep Organized: Always. Have a routine. Setup the same way every day. Have everything in the same place. Keep your prep and service station clean and throw away any clutter. Constantly be re-evaluating what you need or don’t need. Setup can always be improved. You may feel like you don’t have time, but the 30 seconds it takes to remove shit from your work area will make you more clear headed and help to go faster.

2. You can always move faster: But it takes a certain level of familiarity with what you’re doing. Once you’ve built muscle memory for a task or station, you’ll have a certain clarity of mind. And that clarity allows you to evaluate what you’re doing as you’re doing it. And then you can tell yourself to go faster. Move your hands faster. Use a bigger spoon so you don’t have to take as many scoops. Use both hands instead of one. Just move faster. You are never going as fast as possible. Go faster.

3. Be calmly urgent: Constantly feel a sense of urgency. But stay calm. Don’t panic. Panic feels urgency, but doesn’t do anything. So stay calm. I think of the people I most respect in the kitchen. They never run. They never look hurried. But they get tasks done faster than anyone else. They’re efficient in movement and in mind. Stop panicking and worrying. That is not efficient. Just focus on the task at hand, do it as fast as possible, and move on. There are some cooks who seem to always panic. They start yelling back calls, spinning around, getting in your way and their own way. Calm down. Focus. Move quickly and calmly. This is, without a doubt, the hardest thing to accomplish. It is much like meditating. Quieting the mind waves, staying focused on nothing, calmly mindful.

4. Be honest: Also incredibly difficult at times. Sometimes being honest means admitting that you messed up. Which will slow you down. So it might seem that lying will make you go faster, which is a goal of yours. But in the end, someone will catch you, and you’ll slow everything down. Or worse, no one will catch you, and you’ll screw over the customer. Which ultimately, is who it is all about. These people come in to pay a lot of money for the best meals and experience of their lives. It isn’t about you. If the customer is all you think about, then the honest decisions are easy to make.

5. Stick with the classics: Coming up with dishes is hard. I used to make an amuse-bouche, a pasta midcourse, and now put together vegetable assiettes (an optional vegetarian entree that consists of 5 mini-dishes, with non-overlapping ingredients, pulling together vegetables from every station on the line). What I’ve learned about making a dish – stick with classic food combinations. They are classics because they are delicious, and we want delicious food. You can rethink how you put those ingredients together, or add different levels of complexity, but the basic idea is still relevant. We see it every week when Chef Patrick and Chef John present the new tasting menu. Classic food, rethought. One of my own favorites was a pasta midcourse I did during the summer. Ben had grown a thousand cherry tomatoes, so I took some to work. I torched them quickly, peeled off the skin, and marinated them in shallots, sherry vinegar, salt, and olive oil. Then I made a puree of Bibb lettuce (shallots cooked in heavy cream, pureed with the lettuce and vitamin C to preserve the color). When an order was fired, I cooked some brunoised bacon until crispy, added a knob of butter and olive oil, emulsified with pasta water, tossed in some tagliatelle. Bottom of the plate was the green lettuce puree, the twirled pasta on top, bacon, three cherry tomatoes, and Parmigiano cheese. A BLT. I made it at home for Ben with other pasta (less dramatic looking, but still delicious).

I have only my wonderful mentors and chefs at No 9 Park to thank. This has been the best year of my life, without question, between the year I’ve spent in the kitchen, and my marriage to Benjamin. For my friends, forgive me for all the time I haven’t been able to spend with you, but at least when you come over for dinner, the food is better.

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Externs

For those who work in a research lab, you know what it is like. Undergrads. Sometimes great, sometimes awful, usually both. They do the minipreps, pouring agar plates, splitting cells – the grunt work you’re not interested in. But then again, they do it wrong. They know nothing and think they know something. True sophomores. They aren’t around for long, and once they’re gone, you wonder if it was worth it. And you miss them.

As then, it is now. Many culinary school programs require a period spent in a restaurant kitchen called an externship. Many last 18 weeks, and it takes place after the first year at school. An important period – you know something, but little, and get a chance to see if working in a restaurant kitchen is something you want to do. It is full-time, no classes, no distractions, so you get a real picture. I wish I’d had to work in a lab full-time for 4 months. Perhaps I would have quit science a lot earlier. And for these kids, some realize they want to quit kitchens.

They range in age from 18-40, many of them from the Culinary Institute of America, the CIA. (It is always fun when they come to the kitchen for the first time – we ask ‘Where are you from?” and they say with a dignified air, ‘The Culinary Institute of America” as if we’ve never heard of it.) Externs always start out on vegetable prep, working on cold apps, usually as part of a team, or sometimes by themselves, depending on necessity.

The First – El Pequeno

It was February, if memory serves me right, when the first extern I’d met came to No 9 Park. By then I was running vegetable prep during the day, and working cold apps during service. John, or as we called him, Little John, LJ, or El Pequeno, worked with me on veg prep, and I trained him on how to work cold apps. Actually, LJ wasn’t our extern – he was supposed to work at Menton once it opened, which he did after 6 weeks or so at No 9 Park. They were a long 6 weeks.

Staying focused during prep can be difficult. And learning to move quickly is the hardest part. For me, working with someone who isn’t moving fast enough and doing things right the first time brings out a temper I had previously worked hard to calm. Then again, LJ brought out such anger from a lot of people. When asked about something he had prepped, or if had done something correctly, he would lie. And get caught. He did it so often that Chef Patrick set up a jar into which LJ had to deposit a nickel of Chef’s money every time he lied or said, “I’m sorry.” Because each time he did that, he was wasting Chef’s money. When the jar filled up, we would transfer the nickels to a sock, and beat him with it. (Of course, that was just a joke and never happened… too bad).

Needless to say, we didn’t get along. When he tried to work the line, he almost always got kicked off and I would replace him. I yelled at him nearly daily, and eventually gave up trying to be encouraging and build him up. He left for Menton after 6 weeks. And wonderfully, succeeded there. He earned his stripes, worked garde manger, and did a fantastic job working the broom and mop. As I told Fransisco, “I wish him all the best of luck in life, I just don’t want anything to do with it.”

The Second – Mac Attack

Understaffed moving into restaurant week in March was an intimidating proposition. Thankfully, I thought, we’d be getting a new extern right at the beginning, who would help me on prep and during service. Just like when I was in lab, I’d get to give them the jobs I hated doing, I just hopefully wouldn’t have to redo them. Mac was unlike LJ in many ways. She came from a culinary school that focused on alternative health foods, nutrition, holistic approaches. They spent a week on bean/legume cookery. They spent one day on all meats. She was also a career changer, which I understood. She was formerly a coach for competitive yoga, independently wealthy, and was hoping to one day open her own restaurant and spa/yoga studio. (Please don’t ask me what competitive yoga is, it hurts my head to think about it). Mac was also much older than most externs.

A long story short, we did not get along. She took a long time understanding the calls during service, which while quite tricky, should be picked up after a couple of weeks. Her prep was well-done usually, but too slow, which is true for all of us at some points, but then we must come in the next day and time ourselves, pushing to go faster. She often got upset when I told her to try to go faster. Admittedly, I was usually not nice about it. Then she would cry. And I would take her aside and calm her down. And then it would happen the next day.

Eventually, I think she realized that working at No 9 wasn’t for her. She gave notice after 2 months and left her externship early. She surely had good intentions, and loved food, but she and I had difficulty working together.

The Third – Rusty Butterfield

Rusty is my favorite. He was an extremely goofy kid, but was respectful and polite to a fault, and took the teasing and jokes better than most. He started before Mac had left, so the three of us did veg prep together for a while, and then two of them worked cold apps, while I had moved on to hot apps. And he did very well. Rusty had his difficulties with service, learning to move fast enough, build up muscle memory, understand all the calls. But he was doing as well as one might hope from an extern who just started out.

But he always seemed a little sad. He’d gone from high school straight to the CIA. He didn’t really seem to love food the way others did. His favorite food was beef stew and mashed potatoes, or shephards pie with the mashed potatoes on the side…. His favorite hobby was doing flips on a trampoline. And just like one needs a deep love for science to survive the constant failure and bullshit, one needs a deep love for food to survive the long hours and demanding pace of kitchen life.

Two months in, Rusty gave his notice. He wasn’t just leaving No 9, he was leaving the CIA and the food industry all together. Off to state college, he wanted a degree in business and a different career path. I think we all still miss him a little.

The Fourth – Dearest David

David just started three weeks ago. Without a doubt, he’ll finish his externship at No 9, unlike the three previous externs. While I haven’t learned much about his food passions, it is still early, and he is busy getting used to the kitchen. And thus far, he is the most successful of the externs. His prep is good, and his service is much further along than any others after 3 weeks, including mine. Also a goofy kid (but who wasn’t at 22), he takes the joking well, and plays along.

My goal – convince him to quit school. And don’t get all huffy as if I’m trying to do it because I quit school and think everyone should do what I did. Shutup. “Double D” already has a degree in culinary arts from a community college. Now he is a year into his associates from the CIA (the Harvard of cooking schools). Then he plans to continue two more years to get his bachelors. At least three more years, 6 total of culinary school. He’ll be 26 by the time he gets his first full-time job. You know where all that extra schooling will get him? No where. Perhaps a false sense of knowing something. He’ll start at the bottom and need to work his way up. I couldn’t learn what it was like to work in lab by taking science classes, and you can’t learn what it is like to work in a kitchen by going to school. School is great for a lot of people, and hugely helpful, but 6 years? No. Got to start.

Yeah yeah, I’m probably projecting my own frustrations with having started in kitchens so late. I don’t care. In the end, you just hope he is happy with the choices, and making awesome food.

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Out of the Cold Age, into the Hot…

“Scott, do you have a moment to rap,” Chef Patrick asked me, just before service on a busy Friday night, the last night of a harrowing two weeks of Restaurant week. “We’re going to make the move next week. You’re moving to hot apps.”

It had been a stressful month. Maybe you’ve heard, but Barbara Lynch is opening a new restaurant, Menton. And with the need to build a new staff there, several people left No 9 Park to become part of the opening team at Menton. At the same time, Chef’s first child was born. We were suddenly understaffed. I largely did vegetable prep by myself. Most of us worked 6 days a week. Then restaurant week (the last two weeks of March) happened. We were doing 150 people every night. A new extern started, and I was training her during the busiest two weeks I’d seen. After a month of long intense days, I was looking forward to a normal quiet Monday, working cold apps, where I felt comfortable, confident.

But that is not good. I shouldn’t feel complacent. I knew it was time to move on, learn something new. And Chef knew it, too. At the start of April, I would move to hot apps. In fact, everyone was moving. Someone new had just started on meat, and the former hot apps cook would move to fish. “I need the sous chef training Owen on fish, so I think you’ll be able to just figure out everything on hot apps since you’ve been standing next to it for 5 months. And I also need you to train Mac on cold apps.” Yes, chef.

I’m now responsible for cooking the pasta at a restaurant that is most famous for its pasta, especially the prune-stuffed gnocchi, with a Vin Santo-Foie sauce, almonds, prune, and seared foie gras. I’d be cooking over ~30 ounces of foie a night.

Can’t even tell you how nervous I was. Instead of coming up with an amuse every night, I’d be coming up with a pasta dish every night. I’d be using an actual stove. With fire. I’d get an oven. And have to move so, so fast. And help the person on cold apps.

After three weeks, it couldn’t be going better. I love working pasta. I make mistakes still, and need to move faster, but it is going better than I imagined. The first week was difficult, as I needed all my focus to bang out the pasta, and Mac wasn’t doing well enough on cold apps. I needed to be helping her more. So I calmed myself down, got comfortable on pasta, and started coaching and assisting her more. Nowadays, we doing the job we need to do. Push out apps as quickly as possible in order to set up the entree line for a smooth night.

Every night there is a moment when I’m fired on so many dishes, I feel myself beginning to freeze, to panic. “Scotty, right now I’m looking for 7 prune, 3 cannelloni, 4 tastings, and pasta for 4. What can I plate for you?” Ok, I’ve got foie in the pan, but don’t let it burn, keep basting it… the cannelloni are in the oven, I’ll fry the cheese when I’m plating, the gnocchi are down, do I have enough sauce? Make sure you have all of your plates hot, but not too hot! I can start the tastings and the midcourses when I hand off the prunes to be plated, good god could I be sweating more? what is that smell? arm hair. burning arm hair. I didn’t think I had any left. “Scotty, let’s go man!” “Yes, Chef!”

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A typical day at work…

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.

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What happened?

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.

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My new job!

This past Sunday, I went to Stir, Barbara Lynch’s demonstration kitchen and cookbook store. Chef Barbara just published her new cookbook: Stir: Mixing it up in the Italian tradition. I wanted a copy, wanted to meet her, and have the book signed. I introduced myself as she was signing the book, “Actually, I have my second stage at No 9 tomorrow.” “Really? Who are you?” I told her, and we discussed the amazing team there. “Yeah, I’m pretty excited. I just left a PhD in science to pursue a career in cooking.” “Oh my God! Well… I’ll see you over there…. If you work there.”

stir

Not shockingly, I was unusually nervous going to my second stage at No 9 Park. I was convinced they were going to work me harder than usual, test my cooking skills, have me cook family meal (the meal that the staff shares at 4:30). I might have panicked a touch. I got there at noon, got changed into my uniform, and set to work with prep – working with Eric, who took care of all the cold veg prep. He had been at No 9 for 9 months, and had just recently been moved from cold appetizers (salads, terrines, amuse bouches, etc) to hot appetizers (pasta), an important step in moving up as a line cook. I stood at the same place I had last time, and got to work. The sous chef, John, and head chef, Patrick, both came up to me, welcomed me back, and I spoke to them throughout the day about my other stages and my trip to CA. This was still a place I wanted to work.

Using the mandolin (a manual slicer) I thinly sliced fennel, radishes, baby turnips. Using tiny veg on mandolins can be tricky. It is a good way to slice off a finger. I caught my thumb twice, but only slightly, close enough to lose some skin, but thankfully, not enough to bleed. This was my lucky day. I used my veg peeler (I brought my own, a wise idea) to make thin slices of rainbow carrots. I was given a tray of brussel sprouts to pull off all the leaves (which is a great way to eat them; much more delicate and less of the bitter stem; cook them with bacon, apple, and juniper berries). Then I began slicing julienne leeks. “The finer the better,” Eric advised. They can always be finer, I told myself, constantly trying to make my cuts closer together. The kitchen, still being a new place for me, is distracting. I got distracted. And then I cut off a portion of my thumb, enough to leave some thumb on my knife. Actually, it was mostly the thumbnail, given the angle I hit it, and just nicked the flesh below, but enough to cause bleeding. I said nothing. Didn’t say ‘ow’ or make any sudden movements. I walked to the sink, washed out my thumb, asked the dishwasher where the bandaids were. I quickly wrapped up my thumb, rolled on a blue rubber finger cot (a condom, essentially), and went back to cutting leeks. No one said anything. I continued with cutting potatoes for pommes frites, and then the classic task of picking frisee, which I managed to speed up as compared to last time.

I told Eric where I was coming from. “Wow. And you want to start here?” “Yeah, any reason I shouldn’t?” “Tough place to start. Mistakes are a big deal. You aren’t allowed to mess up. Other places, it isn’t as much of a problem. But here it is a big deal.” I momentarily thought about this. Why did I want to start here? Shouldn’t I start somewhere easier? Of course not. Why work at a place where mistakes are tolerated? If I can’t make mistakes here, then I won’t.

The chef and sous chef prepared family meal. My anxiety lessened. We ate a moroccan style soup with couscous and flat bread, sitting in the alley, discussing the night – not too many reservations, but the woman who made all of the restaurant’s pasta was dining, so special dishes were being prepared.

I used a large deli slicer to evenly slice roasted golden beets, then punch out circles from the slices for the beet salad. Service had begun, and I stood in the same position as last time, removing dirty dishes when asked, and fetching stuff from the walk-in when told to. This time, I always found what they needed. Which was good – the head cook who had saved me last time wasn’t there this night.

Service heated up, reaching a peak. Chef John was working cold apps (he fills in where necessary, cause he can work any station perfectly), and had several dishes to prepare at once. Eric, on hot apps, volunteered to help plate the beet salad, but he didn’t have much time either. “Let me plate the beet salad.” “Chef, do you want to let Scott do it?” Eric questioned my ability. No one had taught me how to do it. “Sure, Scott.” I had watched this dish being put together many times. And memorized it. So I’d be ready. And I put it together perfectly. How do I know? No one said anything. I put it on the window, and the chef sent it out. And I was left with the biggest adrenaline rush all night.

Entrees for the party of 22 were about to be plated. They all need to be ready at the same time – that way everyone gets their meals simultaneously, and none of them have been sitting around. There was too much noise, the chef decided, and everyone needed to be focused. He sent someone to shut off the ventilation. It was silent in the kitchen. Food was plated. And within two minutes, the temperature increased 20 degrees. It was unbelievably hot. After 5 or 10 more minutes, the plates were done, and sent out. The air was turned back on, and immediately the temperature fell. Someone left to grab water for everyone.

Service gradually ends, moslty completed by 10:30pm. We broke down the stations, I helped clean up the cold apps station, then assisted cleaning the kitchen. Everything is scrubbed and polished, including the stainless steel walls. The fryer and pasta cooker are emptied, scrubbed, washed, and refilled. Prep lists are filled out for tomorrow, and we all have a PBR. Unlike last time, I wasn’t ushered out early, I was left to help clean. I wasn’t fed several courses (except a prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras that had mistakenly been made with nuts, despite the request for none).

At the end of the night, the kitchen staff met to discuss the night. We discussed how the big push for the party of 22 went, how to improve next time. He asked everyone what they thought of their own performance. Some evaluations are harsh, but are followed with suggestions for how to improve. The sous chef checked the prep lists and announced a time for everyone to arrive the next day based on the amount of work that needs to be done.

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“Want to chat, Scott?” Chef Patrick asked. “Yes, Chef.” The phrase I’ve learned is the right answer to anything. “What did you think of your night, Scott?” I tell him how much I enjoy being in that kitchen, and compare it to my experiences at other places. The one beer and adrenaline are making me talk fast? I can’t tell. “Well, Scott, I just want to say, we really like you here.” Good god. Don’t cry if he offers you a job. “You’ve got the attitude we’re looking for, and your lack of experience isn’t that big of a mark against you. Everyone who comes here is retrained to do things the way we like them, and it is almost easier if you know nothing instead of having some basic training that we’d have to unteach.” “And I want to say that whatever I need to do on my own time to catch-up or improve faster, I’m happy to do on days off, and you and the other chefs should feel free to tell me to practice something.” “So when can you start?” “Any time.” “Ok, so I would have you start next Monday, working for a week in the mornings with the prep staff. There you’ll get a feel for the restaurant, how things are done, and basic techniques like stocks, sauces, braises, confits. You’ll get a better sense for product identification. Then you’ll start working cold apps as part of a team with the extern (who I worked with the first time), learning how to operate the stations, helping as you can. Then he leaves in mid-December, and hopefully you’re ready to run the station yourself.” “That sounds perfect, chef.” “Do you want a night to think about it, talk to your fiance?” “No, no thinking necessary. I’d be honored to work here.”

And so begins my career as a professional cook at No 9 Park.

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