The early crowd sputtered in – parties of two mainly, usually no appetizers – they got down to business with the less expensive entrees and a cocktail. This was “order/fire” time. Jake didn’t even spend much time at the expo station until this first group of reservations was well underway – the line could handle it quite well. As sous chef, he was focused on double checking everything before the push. By 6:15 the crew had pushed through about 40 orders with relative ease. Everyone knew what was coming any minute now, so they continued to bounce from foot to foot, clicking tongs, and hydrating as much as possible. Then everything began to change.
The printer was dropping orders at a frenzied pace as the early birds left and tables were quickly turned. Jake was stationed at expo and the staccato frenzy of the printer created a rhythm for each cook to find his pace in the music of the kitchen.
Jake called out: “Ordering, three filets mid-rare, 2 strips rare, a sole Veronique, three etouffee, two feature apps.” Duke, Tom, and Sabrina returned the communication: “Yes chef”.
“Ordering: 2 halibut, 3 salmon – medium, 1 filet – well (crap). Order/fire: 4 shrimp apps, 2 calamari.” “Yes chef”.
By 7:00 the dining room was full, and the orders came in relentlessly.
“Pick-up: table 23, table 15, and table 18 (all deuces). Pick-up 4 shrimp apps and 2 calamari.” “Yes chef”.
“Ordering: 3 pork chops – medium. 5 strips – 2 medium, 3 rare (same table). Order/fire: 4 trout (hold the nuts). We have a nut allergy folks – be careful.”
Everyone was engaged fully, and the chatter was held to a minimum. Sabrina kept an eye on Tom since he was still new to the position. Her station was spot on and she approached each order with grace and determination. Nothing would leave her station that wasn’t perfect. Duke had that perpetual smile on his face as he danced among the char broiler flames and made those perfect hash marks on each steak. He had a system for moving steaks and chops around like a puzzle that only he understood.
“Fire table 18 – that’s all you Duke.”
Duke quickly returned his held, marked steaks to the broiler, eyeballed and light touched them until he knew they were perfect. He always made sure to let them rest for a minute or two before adding their signature slice and stack that revealed their perfect color. “Two minutes to plate”, called out Duke as Sabrina immediately switched gears, pulled down his plates, garnished them with the nightly vegetables that were carved, blanched, and then quickly immersed in a buttered and seasoned water to bring them up to temp. Duke didn’t need to ask – when he turned around with the steaks, the plates were set. Cut, stacked, garnished, and slid up in the pass – this table was ready for Jake to inspect, wipe the rims, and add a cluster of appropriate herbs and maitre’d butter for that extra richness. When he wiped the last rim, the server was there to take the order quickly to the guests at table 18. It was a seamless process.
Over on Garde Manger – Julio and Martina were keeping their own pace that was in sync with servers and the hot line. Salads, cold apps, and desserts were beautifully presented and ALWAYS ready when the server needed them. Occasionally, Jake would look their way and Julio always gave his signature “thumbs up”. “We’re good boss”.
For the next 90 minutes the orders kept coming, but the line looked like a symphonic orchestra and Jake was the conductor. There weren’t enough o’s in smooth to describe how seamless the operation was. One refire on a well-done steak that wasn’t well enough (everyone grumbled under their breath, but Duke just laughed it off).
Orders came in for rack of lamb, halibut (very popular), loads of hot apps to keep Tom on his toes, and a very special order for an elderly man who asked if he could have poached eggs. The answer was: “Of course”, even though everyone dreaded this interruption in flow. Fortunately, the chef had placed prime rib on the menu with Yorkshire popovers. This took some of the pressure off the line. All that Duke had to do was slice and plate.
As 8:30 came around the second seating was starting to clear out and the late- date night – deuces were beginning to arrive. Line cooks, the chef, and sommelier loved this seating that was always open to appetizers, bottles of wine, desserts, and a more leisurely dinner. Some even sent back a message to the kitchen to “cook something special”, which might upset some teams, but this one enjoyed the chance to be creative. The 8:30 crowd, although smaller would take the restaurant up to closing time around 11:00 as the kitchen team gradually began clean-up and making notes for tomorrow’s mise en place. By 10:00, Jake excused himself from the expo station, sat in his office and shared a glass of wine with the dining room manager. This is when they decompressed and talked about the evening and what might need to change for tomorrow.
The dining room manager said:
“Chef, that was a fantastic service. Guests were extremely happy – lots of compliments, and my service staff felt in total sync with the kitchen. I don’t think it could have been better – you were in the zone.”
Jake smiled and knew exactly what she was talking about. Everyone was in tune and did their job at the highest level. Sabrina, Tom, Julio, and Martina were giving each other high fives and Duke said:
“That was a pleasure, loads of fun. It doesn’t always happen, but man we were on our game tonight.”
With that, he cooked two perfect steaks with all the accompaniments and walked them over to the dish crew.
“You guys are the unsung heroes. Without you being as sharp as you are, we never would have experienced a near perfect night. THANKS, from the entire crew, the crew that owes a lot to your work.”
Jake watched from his office, shook his head in agreement, and wondered why Duke never wanted to be a chef. He had the talent and all the leadership qualities of a great chef.
Everyone relished tonight and agreed that every night should be like this. Oh, well – they can only hope.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
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