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Kitchen Chronicles: Part 1

November 13, 2009

At the Pass is pleased to bring you the somewhat fictional, somewhat true stories of life in a professional kitchen.  All the characters portrayed here are fiction (except Gusteau) but based on people who would indeed work in a restaurant kitchen.  We hope you enjoy the stories that emanate from Chef Gusteau’s vivid imagination, honed by years of being in front of a hot stove.  We hope these installments are both entertaining and informative.  Check back often to see how this fable evolves!

By Chef Gusteau

Episode 1: Preparing for Battle

Tuesday night.  Truly the beginning of the week for many finer restaurants.  Mondays are for recovering from the weekend and receiving food orders.  Tuesdays set the tone for the rest of the week.  Tuesdays are when the true “regulars” come out for dinner.  And how are they rewarded?  With a first glimpse, and taste, of the newest items on the menu, or the weekly special.  Tuesdays are for experimentation and perfection.  Fridays and weekends are just about pure survival at a restaurant; just keep up with the orders, cook the best you can, and make it to the end of the night.  With all this on my mind, my cooks stagger in.  What a motley looking bunch, but damn can they cook.  Dinner service starts in 2 hours.  No pressure at all!

You see, everyone knows that there is no easy way a group of people can put together multiple courses of food, each with many components on them, for dozens of people, in a matter of hours.  Not without proper organization, communication and execution, that is.  Luckily for current and future chefs, this organizational solution was already created back in the 19th century by Auguste Escoffier, the creator of the French Kitchen Brigade.  The brigade was a simple but effective manner by which the roles and functions in a professional kitchen were divided.  The Executive Chef, and his assistants (Sous Chefs), would overlook each station and ensure things were running smoothly.  The primary stations included Garde Manger/Pantry (cold food preparations/appetizers/salads), Grillardin/Grill (grilled items), Poissonnier/Fish (fish station) and Saucier/Sauté’ (all sauces and finishing touches).  The Sous Chef will typically run the “Pass” by calling out tickets, fire times (the time to begin cooking certain items), as well as passing food along to servers.

With this solution already in place, my cooks head to their respective station and all ask the same question.  How many covers tonight?  This critical question will tell them how much of each ingredient they should have ready just in case everyone orders from their station.  Running out of an item is not acceptable during service.  Dan runs the pantry station.  He makes all the salad dressings for the evening, as well as the cocktail sauces and mignonette for shrimp and oysters.  Dan looks tired tonight, probably up late drinking again, which is normal for cooks to do.  Dan likes to mix it up, though, so he’s probably a bit high again.  Worth keeping an eye on regardless.  Carlos runs the grill where he starts gathering meats and sides for the evening.  Carlos is an animal.  He’s not happy unless his hair is on fire and the orders pile up.  His arms no longer have any hair left, all sacrificed to the grill gods.  And then there’s my workhorse in the kitchen, Becky.  She takes care of pastas, shellfish, and smaller finishing and garnish items ready for each dish.  They say it’s tough to be a girl in the kitchen among so many testosterone filled men.  Becky laughs at this…she’d kick their asses and take their lunch money to boot.  Becky and Carlos work great together now.  When Carlos first joined my kitchen, he made the mistake of trying to boss her around.  God was that funny.  She just looked at him, eyes glaring, as she sharpened her knife…eyes never leaving his as her knife was a blur of deadly strokes on the steel rod.  Carlos understood, and all was good.   That and Becky can cook, which always wins you respect in a great kitchen.   I try not to get involved with the kitchen egos and let the natural course of things progress.  Makes for a stronger kitchen.  When I do have to step in, I do so calmly, but there is no question who’s kitchen it is.   Together, these cooks will go through each dinner ticket, preparing their own component of a menu item, until they are all put together on the plate by me or the Sous Chef.  Dozens of steps, for multiple tickets, for multiple tables, all happening at once.  And best of all, our goal is to get each table their food in under 12 minutes from each course.  Sound crazy?  It truly is, and all cooks love and thrive on that pressure.

My cooks joke a little bit more as their prep-work (also called Mis en Place, French for “everything in its proper place”) moves along.  Nothing sounds sweeter than all those chef knives chopping away like a dozen hammers.  Finally, with minutes to spare, we see and hear the first tickets print up.  The excitement begins as we all prepare for the storm ahead.  Who knows, maybe tonight is the night when the tickets get the better of us and we fail to deliver.  As long as we prepared well, we are all set.  At that moment, I hear the dreaded words that suck the air right out of the kitchen…”Table one, all Vegans…”  Almost simultaneously, each station cook utters the same F-bomb…the kitchen comes to a grinding halt.  Time for the Chef to step in.

To be continued…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Pappa permalink
    February 7, 2010 2:32 am

    make em a cheese pizza.

  2. Pappa permalink
    February 7, 2010 2:34 am

    ops , my bad, they won’t eat that either.

    • February 7, 2010 8:34 am

      Interesting challenge, right? Part 2 this week! Chef Gusteau.

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