WHY CHARLIE TROTTER WAS SO IMPORTANT

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We are where we are today as an industry, to a large degree, because of Charlie Trotter. To say that he was important would be such a disservice to his overall impact. It would be easy to talk about his palate and the food that he created with his staff. The food served at Trotter’s restaurant was always beyond great, it was mind blowing. Chef Trotter’s cuisine was not designed; it was created in the moment. A musician would refer to his style as improvisation. To improvise requires that an artist have complete control over process and technique and a deep understanding of the medium. This was a given with Trotter and those who executed his vision. As many times as you might choose to visit the restaurant you would always be surprised by new plates that reflected his ability to create in the moment.

“A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music. He understands how things go together. For a chef, once you have that basis, that’s when cuisine is truly exciting.”
Charlie Trotter

The American food scene changed dramatically as a result of Charlie Trotter. I would equate it to how the music industry changed after the Beatles released Sargent Pepper’s. Every other record after this landmark album was always benchmarked against the directional change that the Beatles introduced – the music was rich and full, just like Trotter’s cooking. In the food world, every star chef and restaurant used Trotter as the benchmark for what they did or were about to do. Chef Charlie Trotter influenced everyone. When you visit Le Bernadin, the French Laundry, Tru, Alinea, Toque, Eleven Madison, MOMA, Volt, Gary Danko, and any restaurant that maintains a “chef’s tasting menu” option, you can see the Trotter influence. Yes, it would be easy to simply say that Chef Charlie’s food was what set him apart.

What will live on as even more important is his influence on the dining experience and the role of restaurants in American culture. Trotter turned dining from an event to an experience. This experience was designed to be not just memorable but highly anticipated. The experience of dining at Trotter’s began when you were actually able to confirm a reservation. This would oftentimes take 3-6 months since they were booked solid for years.

At the heart of whatever Charlie Trotter attempted was the word “excellence”. His fanatical approach towards this goal would include everything from sanitation to plate presentation, from his incredible selection of wines to his insistence on order and organization. Chef Trotter instilled in his staff this same commitment to doing everything well even when the details might not be apparent to the guest. Excellence was an over-riding method of operation.

Trotter brought intelligence to food that was unique to the trade. By intelligence I am referring to the complexity and intense thought process that went into the inspired improvisation of his cuisine. Think about the accepted components of a quality dining experience today that either had their origin with Trotter or were brought to a level of diner expectation as a result of his use of these components in his restaurant: food as center stage, creativity as part of the experience, chef tasting menus, obsession with ingredients, educating diners, chefs tables in the kitchen, small plates, art on the plate, mainstream vegetarian fine dining, etc. etc.

Charlie Trotter felt obligated to the food education of young people and would often invite classes of students to his studio dining room for an opportunity to learn about food, etiquette, and how to appreciate flavor. His generosity and compassion were well known and benefited many from coast to coast.

My personal experiences with Chef Trotter included four wonderful experiences as a diner in his Chicago restaurant and various opportunities to hear him discuss his passion for excellence at conferences. To say that dining in his restaurant was enjoyable would be to understate the fact that every bite, every moment was a new memory that changed the expectations that I had of myself and how I approach food preparation and presentation today. I can remember the first time I was lucky enough to score the kitchen chef’s table at Trotter’s. He and his sous chef would watch how we enjoyed a course and then would push the envelope with the next. They prescribed food that fit our mood and willingness to try new things. I can’t remember how many courses we had – maybe 15 or so and each one was more spectacular than the previous one. The kitchen was a blur of energy with a cook in every nook and cranny of the space. Yet, among this intensity, the kitchen remained spotless, organized and professional. Trotter orchestrated a sense of confidence among his staff.

Yes, Charlie Trotter the chef will be missed, but it is Charlie Trotter the restaurateur, the entrepreneur and the teacher who will be remembered and will continue to influence others for decades to come. Rest in peace chef, our thoughts and prayers are with your family and friends left behind.

RESTAURANTS CAN and DO PLAY a LARGER ROLE in IMPROVING LIVES

RESTAURANTS CAN and DO PLAY a LARGER ROLE in IMPROVING LIVES

Restaurant people are, by and large, some of the most generous, giving people that I know. In many cases, whether they think this way or not, restaurant families make a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. Yes, our primary role would appear to be providing sustenance, for a price, for those people who walk through our doors, but in reality we are capable of, and often do, provide far more meaningful benefits to society.

An increasing number of chefs and restaurateurs are taking on the responsibility of educating the public about healthy eating, nutritious preparation of food, and the impact that these processes have on an individuals well-being and sense of self. Whether restaurants are simply relaying this information by example, taking a “soap box” stance in the press, or even offering their services as cooking teachers on site or at various locations throughout the country, this new role for professional food advocates can and is making a difference in people’s lives. I was recently involved in an on-line debate about customers today who seem to only want very basic (not necessarily healthy or interesting) foods when they visit restaurants and are only looking for a bargain. Many chefs believe (as do I) that although this may be true today, it is our opportunity and obligation to show customers what they are missing and teach them how to move away from their “safe” dining habits and look to the undeniable value associated with what quality cooks know how to prepare. This role of teacher is a different one for the chef, but one that is incredibly important and personally gratifying.

The dinner table is also a place where character, honesty, respect and family values are built. I have oftentimes referred to the demise of the family table and the impact that it may have on the way people treat each other. It is refreshing to see restaurants and some schools adding etiquette teaching to their daily routines and lesson plans. This small step in helping people appreciate and respect others was historically a part of every day life, but over the past few decades has slipped out of the mindset of family. Restaurants like “EPIC”, Jamie and Melissa Keating’s spectacular culinary mecca in Georgia, are taking the time to work with local schools, offering an opportunity for young people to learn how to act at the table. Charlie Trotter did this for many years at his namesake restaurant in Chicago and more and more culinary programs such as New England Culinary Institute have even incorporated etiquette training into their curriculum. The long term impact of this will need to be seen, however, I stand firm with my belief that respect is taught at the dinner table and without this forum we will continue to experience the negative results of a society that fails to see the good in others.

Finally, restaurants can and have always viewed their success as an opportunity to help others. Chefs and restaurateurs are oftentimes the first to volunteer their time and product to help those in need. A family suffers property loss, restaurants are their to help with their nutritional needs; a staff member is injured and unable to work, restaurants will help their own; a disaster strikes a town or a region, restaurant folks roll up their sleeves to help feed the masses. In recent years I have found great pride in seeing and participating in such events. Hurricane Katrina saw hundreds of chefs and food vendors stop what they were doing and travel to New Orleans to help. In 2001, when New York was attacked by terrorists, restaurants inside and outside of the city were setting up temporary operations to feed the workers and provide for the stricken. In Vermont, when devastating floods damaged and wiped out family homes, local restaurateurs, chefs and culinary students were their to try and bring a smile to the faces of those who had lost so much.

These examples do not even take into account the daily task of providing a reward system for guests after their busy days at work; the place of celebration for birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, graduations and weddings; or even that safe haven from the elements when people just don’t feel like cooking at home. Early in the day, late at night, weekends and holidays, restaurants are open and their staff is ready to be at your service. Restaurants are many things to many people.

You will never find these new roles outlined in a book on what it takes to be a restaurateur or chef. You will never hear those same culinary professionals brag about how much they do to help communities and their people. You may rarely even hear about the countless other services that restaurants provide for a community that go way beyond sustenance for a fee. These are the things that restaurant people do that give their efforts meaning. These are the things that make restaurant people some of the finest human beings I know. This is how they define success, way beyond a profit statement or a paycheck. This is who restaurant people are.

As we begin to approach the holiday season and a time of giving thanks, I would encourage you to look to your local restaurant and give them a nod of appreciation for their important role in American life and note that they are so much more than simply a place to find a good meal at a reasonable price.

RESTAURANT FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE LASTING ONES

RESTAURANT FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE LASTING ONES

How important are the details? Make no mistake the “small stuff” does add up when building an experience for your guests. First impressions help to draw people into your business, set the tone for the experience, build guest expectations, define your concept, demonstrate your commitment and establish the measurement for value. How are your first impressions?

I remember a great story that I heard years ago about SAS airlines. The story was titled: “cattle calls and coffee stains” and referred to the way that many airlines board planes and their lack of attention to detail. In the story reference is made to the guest who once seated, pulls down the chair tray only to find coffee stain rings from a previous passenger. As small a detail as this might be, the guest immediately wondered if they could safely fly the plane if the airline couldn’t even clean their chair trays. Details do matter!

Consider some of the more remarkable retail companies and their approach. Apple Computer draws people into their stores by using simple, clean lines that highlight the product. This is accomplished with dramatic use of light and glass, minimalistic décor and attention directed to the brand and the product. As a result they own the largest dollar sales per square foot of any retail company.

Anthropologie pulls customers in by creating one of a kind window displays that tell stories and tie the product into those stories that entice and educate at the same time. This company accomplishes this through a team of artists in every one of their stores, a home office department dedicated to research and design of these windows and a decision to forego traditional advertising for the uniqueness of their first impression strategy.

Restaurants can learn a great deal from these and other effective models focused on first impressions that are visual, textural, aural and in some cases even involve olfactory senses. Restaurants can even add the sense of taste to their first impressions.

Walk through your restaurant as a customer. Be aware of first impressions: “sweat the small stuff”!

1. Begin with your curb appeal. How does the restaurant look from the vantage of a car seat? Is it sharp, clean and inviting? Does the exterior need paint, better lighting, more appropriate signage or better landscaping? Is your parking lot clean, well lit, freshly paved and free of views of dumpsters and discarded equipment?
2. When you approach the entrance, is it inviting? Are the windows clean and does the entrance subliminally say: “welcome”?
3. As you enter the restaurant are you immediately greeted? Is the transition lighting such that your eyes adjust immediately from being outside?
4. What are the visuals? Are they related to the restaurant concept? Is the restaurant décor interesting, warm and free of unnecessary clutter?
5. Are the colors conducive to a great food experience (warm earth tones are best)?
6. Pay attention to the distinction between pleasant sounds and noise. What is the noise level (a comfortable level of customer chatter is a positive, acoustics that do not allow the sound to dissipate can be very unpleasant and will oftentimes ruin an otherwise positive experience for guests)? If you pipe in music of some type is it appropriate for the concept of the restaurant and it’s menu? Are there kitchen sounds drifting into the dining area? Are these sounds adding or detracting from the experience?
7. Look at your tabletop. Is the table covering, glassware and china, silverware a match for the value experience you are trying to create? Do you have flowers on the table? If so, are they fresh and vibrant?
8. Is the table lighting sufficient for reading the menu and viewing other people around your table? If not, this can dampen conversation and make menu decisions frustrating.
9. Are your service staff members professionally dressed and does the uniform (formal or informal) match the concept and the value experience? How about the staff members grooming (hair contained, body tattoos, jewelry and make-up) – is it appropriate for the concept?
10. Are your bathrooms attractive, well lit and most importantly spotlessly clean and free of offensive odors?
11. What are the smells in your dining room? Some food aromas are appropriate and may even add to the experience (the smoky smell of barbeque in a restaurant that features that product, the smell of fresh bread in a bakery, the aroma from a char-grill in a feature steak house), while others may turn people off (old oil in a deep fryer, too much garlic, burnt toast in a diner, etc.).
12. Look at your menu document. Is it clean, free of stains, torn corners, etc.? If not, replace them.
13. Finally, the restaurant has a unique opportunity to continue building positive expectations for a great meal and increase sales through the sense of taste. Consider the use of an amuse bouche (1-2 bite complimentary morsel from the kitchen) to encourage people to stand at attention for the flavors to come and even become more receptive to upselling. Make sure that your drinks, appetizers and soups help to build a positive picture for the overall experience.

First impressions are lasting impressions. Your goal should always be to create memories. Memories that are positive will bring customers back – the customers that allow your business to thrive are the ones who return on their own accord.

**NOTE: The picture in this post is of Alfred Portales Gotham Bar and Grill in New York City. This has consistently been one of my favorite restaurants in the country and one that truly understands how important first impressions are to their success.

DEEPER STILL: LINE COOKS AFTER HOURS

DEEPER STILL: LINE COOKS AFTER HOURS

Everything seemed to be in order at the end of service. Jake’s station was spotless, his knives were cared for and locked up, his dirty uniform replaced by jeans and a sweatshirt, and his prep list for tomorrow was on his clipboard. Time to unwind.

Jake was never attracted to the drug culture that some of his fellow cooks subscribed to, but he had, over the years, acquired a taste for really good wines and craft beer. He always seemed to wind up at his favorite late-night café after work to enjoy a drink or two (or sometimes more). As Jake was leaving the restaurant, his fellow cook on apps (her name was Sara) asked if she could tag along. “Sure” was his immediate response. He would always wind up mingling with cooks from other restaurants so one more from his shop would be just fine. The Café was his social outlet, his only social outlet.

While walking the five blocks to his favorite after hours establishment Jake thought to himself: “Why did Sara want to tag along? His experience was never positive when it came to relationships built on co-workers. Is this what was starting to happen?” Sara was pleasant, high energy, attractive and really competent as a cook. In the 10 minutes it took to walk to the Café he discovered that she was 27 (Jake was 31), had dropped out of college as a history major because it was just too boring, had grown up in a restaurant family so knew kitchens from the age of 10, and had been cooking again for the past three years. She loved the intensity of line work more than anything and shared Jake’s love of great wine.

In the Café, Jake was immediately welcomed by cooks from a handful of other local restaurants, all sharing stories of the night’s drama behind the line. Sara immediately fit in with her outgoing personality and mastery of the conversation subject matter. One cook turned to her and asked: “so what do you think of Jake’s art?” She had no idea what he was talking about, but quickly learned as he pointed out the three paintings of Jake’s hanging on the Café walls. “Wow, this must be Jake’s great secret, no one at PLATE knows that he paints”! The work, in her opinion was quite good and colorful depicting scenes of nature (the absence of people in the work was very noticeable). She was impressed and smiled when she looked Jake’s way.

Jake passively admitted that he had enjoyed painting, but no longer had the time. The only canvas that he had touched in the past eight years was a plate in whatever restaurant he was working. Food, after all, is the ultimate art form that appeals to every human sense.

While Sara was joking with other cooks in the bar Jake surveyed the room and made a mental note of the artistic sub-culture of kitchen workers. There were musicians, writers, other painters, a goldsmith, world traveler vagabonds, intellectual college dropouts and even a poet. He wondered, as he did most nights, why these folks wound up in the kitchen and if the trade tends to attract frustrated artists.

Everyone in the room shared a passion for quiet self-expression. In a mix of their own kind, these culinary pirates were extremely outgoing and full of self-confidence. In the presence of people from outside this sub-culture, they would shut down and become the social introverts that seemed to have no interest in interaction. These folks were strange for sure.

Jake was on his third glass of David Bruce Pinot Noir (every time he turned around someone had bought him another) and was now carrying on a pleasant discussion with Sara (drinking Sangiovese) about the complexities of social media as an art form. Jake had put aside the polenta issue for the time being, but it would no doubt return to his conscious mind in the morning. Tomorrow was another day, busier than Friday and full of challenges just as unique as the ones he experienced today. He made a mental note to go home soon and get a good night’s sleep. He would once again make every attempt to exercise in the morning and build up his stamina for a night on the line.

In between conversations with Sara and his friends Jake wondered if he could make a go of a real relationship with her. He instantly liked Sara but feared the consequences of a relationship at work. Maybe he was just destined to be single like most of his colleagues. Relationships and the job of line cook seemed to be something that was unrealistic.

Two more glasses of wine and Jake hailed a cab for Sara and paid the driver to get her home safe. He walked the additional seven blocks to his apartment and crashed at around 3 a.m. The 11 a.m. alarm came as a shock. Jake reached for another cigarette, clicked a K-cup in his Keurig coffee maker, stared at Robin Meade on HLN News and realized that exercise was again out of the question. First things first – he needed to shower, shave and get to work by 12:30 to get ready for the Saturday rush. The cycle of life for a line cook continues.

Thanks for reading this mini series on the life of a line cook. I would assume that many who took the time to read these passages have experienced the life cycle of a line cook first hand. To you, I tip my hat. Line cooks are the backbone of the kitchen, but they oftentimes live a life that is consumed by the craft and the energy it takes to make it all work. For those who read the series and have not had the pleasure of working in a professional kitchen I hope that you have a better understanding of what it takes to present that plate of beautiful, well-prepared, flavorful food in your local restaurant.

My intent is to use this theme (including Jake) as the basis for my next book – publishing date to be determined. ☺ In the meantime, you may find my first piece of partial fiction to be amusing. In the Shadow of Cooks is available through amazon.com. A nice gift for a food friend this Christmas.

http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Cooks-Chicken-Getting-Brown/dp/0595436951/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382967718&sr=1-5&keywords=In+the+Shadow+of+Cooks

DIGGING DEEPER: READY-SET- YES CHEF!

DIGGING DEEPER:  READY-SET- YES CHEF!

It was now 5:15 and the chef was out in the dining room going through pre-meal with the service staff. All of the other line cooks were caught up so Jake surveyed his station one more time. This time of the night was similar to a quarterback waiting for his center to snap the ball: high anxiety waiting for the action to begin. Everything looked good: proteins, vegetables cut and blanched, beurre blanc was stable, pans were hot, and the…”oh man”, he forgot to make the polenta! How could he forget something that was part of his routine every day and on his mise sheet as well? The polenta will take 30 minutes at least to prepare and now it was nearly time to open the doors. Jake was in the weeds before the first order even arrived, a feeling that he was not use to. No time to fret about it, get moving and hope that there were no early orders for lamb shanks. Polenta requires constant attention; something that is in short supply once tickets start flying.

As it turned out, the first two early tables right at 5:30 were for steaks, buying Jake enough time to get the polenta made. This mistake would bother him for quite some time, but he needed to shake it off since the chef had just started calling the first rush of tables at 6:00.

All of the line cooks were in place: grill, sauté, hot appetizers and fry cook on the hot line; garde manger and desserts on the cold station. Everyone gave the thumbs up as tickets were now arriving in quick succession. “Three venison, two mid-rare, one rare; four salmon, two mid-rare, two well done (ugh); two scallops and two lamb shanks”. Jake responded: “Yes chef”. Similar orders went to the grill station including a table in the bar for six PLATE burgers. “Ordering: three shrimp apps, five parsnip bisque, two Carpaccio, and eight house salads”. Hot apps and garde manger responded: “Yes Chef”. The race had begun.

Jake was searing the venison and salmon for finishing just as the next wave of orders were called: “Three Wagyu filets – rare, four more scallops – all medium rare, two lamb shanks and two pheasant”. Jake responded and noted that he had already put every one of his pans into use. “I need pans on sauté”, came the sharp directive to the dishwasher. Without losing a beat, the dishwasher stopped running trays through and immediately began scrubbing sauté pans. Seamlessly, the pans arrived at Jake’s station just in time and were placed in his 600-degree oven. The dishwasher grabbed any dirty pans and took them back for soaking. Jake was rocking and as expected, the lion’s share of orders was on his side already.

This cadence continued over the next 45 minutes until all of the current orders were in. The dining room was full, orders were ready for final firing and the line cooks had time to quickly re-assess their mise en place, wipe down counters, sharpen knives and fill their water bottles for hydrating. It would only be a few moments before servers would clamor to pick up their tables and then it would start all over again. Only 50 of the reservations on the books were in the dining room meaning that they already had 20 or so walk-ins and the majority of reservations would be in the next wave.

Servers began communicating with the chef who was at the expeditor station trying to keep the pace. “Pick up on table 34: Jake – that would be the three venison and four salmon.” “Yes Chef”! Jake began to finish each dish according to specifications while the appetizer cook set out plates for finishing. It would be her job to sauce the plates and set-up appropriate vegetables and/or starches. All was going great. “Picking up on table 28”. “Two strips mid-rare, two lamb shanks and two scallops”. “Yes chef” came the response from sauté and grill. The server arrived to pick up table 28 and asked what about the two barramundi features? The chef kept his cool realizing that the server forgot to punch those two items into the point of sale. This is a terrible situation that will require letting the table know that their order is delayed a bit, while throwing off the line since many of the items will have to be re-cooked to insure top quality. Order, after order came and went as the line cooks hit their stride.

An intern, as is often the case in restaurants, filled the fry cook position. Right at the peak of service, the intern grabbed a pan from Jake’s station with a damp side towel. The steam burn was immediate and the look of shock on his face was a vivid portrayal of a person in pain. The problem with steam burns is that don’t retreat very quickly. The intern ran to the sink to run his hand under cold water. For all intensive purposes, this person was on injured reserve for at least the next 30 minutes. The appetizer cook would simply have to wear two hats. She rose to the occasion, impressing Jake and the chef.

It was nearing the end of the second rush and when Jake had a second to check the clock, it was now 8:45 and things would begin to wind down. Generally, by 9:30 all of the entrée orders would be in and the line could look forward to “clearing the board”. The last station to get hit hard would be dessert, but garde manger could give this station a hand.

There were a few moments during service when things were on the verge of crashing, but as usual, this is where the chef really was at his strongest. He was always able to keep the cooks focused and temper any nerves on edge both from the cooks and servers perspective. All in all they would serve 208 tonight – not bad for a Friday.

While the other line cooks began to joke and relax while cleaning up, Jake was quietly kicking himself, still, for forgetting the polenta. Serious cooks are very hard on themselves and Jake always had to be in control and viewed as the dependable one. This small incident would wind up ruining an otherwise great night for everyone else, but not for Jake. Was he losing his edge, did he miss a step simply because of age? Is this a sample of what is to come? How much longer would he be able to do the only thing that he knew how to do: the job that made him whole, the job that was his destiny. Jake was silently beating himself up.

Fortunately, his funk was interrupted when he saw that the poor dishwasher was buried with dishes, glasses, flatware and pots. He grabbed his newfound friend on the appetizer station; they removed their chef coats and dove into the dish pit to give the most important person in the kitchen a hand. In a matter of about 20 minutes they had him caught up. Moving back to the line Jake asked the grill cook to put on a steak for the dishwasher – he deserves it!

Jake finished his cleaning, washed his knives, grabbed another espresso and spent the last ten minutes making a prep list for Saturday, the busiest night of the week. It was now 11:30 and Jake – like everyone else in the kitchen was too buzzed on adrenaline and espresso to just go home. This is when you get to see the other side of a cook’s life.

In the final episode of this mini story, we will look deeper into the psyche of the line cook and how Jake, like other typical professional cooks, deal with the personal monsters in their closet.

DIGGING DEEP: THE PRESSURE IS ON THE LINE COOK

DIGGING DEEP: THE PRESSURE IS ON THE LINE COOK

Having finished fabricating his fish for Friday prep, Jake moved on to the other proteins on his mise en place list. Venison tenders and Wagyu beef tenders were trimmed of their silver skin and portioned: three-ounce medallions on the venison and four ounces on the beef. The chain from the beef tender would be ground as part of the burger meat for the bar menu and the boot would wind up as tenderloin tips for the Saturday feature. Pheasant, airline style breasts were removed from the carcass leaving the frames for stock that the commissary-shift would use tomorrow. Finally, Jake removed the braised and chilled lamb shanks from their gelatinized braising stock and trimmed them in preparation for re-heating to order. The stock would be reduced with a caramelized mirepoix, red wine and fresh rosemary to accompany the shanks with a side of polenta. “ There”, thought Jake, “all of the proteins were set”.

It was now 3:30 and Jake knew that time was creeping up. He still had not even touched the prep for his vegetables and sauces as well as the set-up of his line station. While he washed and sanitized his table and reached for a new cutting board, he noticed that the other line cooks and interns had arrived and were busy working on their own “mise”. He felt better knowing that he had arrived early and would some how be ready for the chefs pre-meal tasting at 5:00.

Now it was time for some rapid knife work. To save time, Jake took a few minutes to write down all of the vegetables he would need so that he could make one trip to the walk-in, saving time and energy. He collected onions, shallots, garlic, leeks, Yukon gold potatoes, plum tomatoes, baby carrots with tops, chanterelle and shiitake mushrooms, Italian parsley, apples, asparagus and assorted herbs. Once again Jake drew his knives across a stone and steel, washed them and wiped them dry. He was ready.

Jake was masterful with a chef’s knife and bird’s beak. He had, after all, been going through this routine for many years leading to the point where his knives were simply an extension of his hands. Jake was focused but generally pretty easy going. Everyone liked him and respected him but also knew to stay away from his knives. These were his tools and no one else had any business using them (pretty much the rule of thumb with any serious cook). Jake attacked the vegetables dicing, mincing, cutting julienne strips from the leeks, trimming the baby carrots leaving a 1 inch length of green tops as a visual accent, pureeing the shallots so that they would actually melt in a sauté pan, trimming the stems of the chanterelles to make them tender, peeling the bottom half of precisely cut asparagus spears, picking parsley leaves for a garnishing salad on scallops, and cutting fresh herbs with a razor sharp knife into a chiffonade. In some cases vegetables (like the carrots) would be blanched and shocked in ice water so that a simple sauté movement in a pan would finish them in a few seconds at service time. While all of this was taking place, Jake found the time to start the reduction for the lamb shanks and was keeping a close eye on a beurre blanc that he was working for the fish. Time was flashing by. It was now 4:15 and he needed to finish his sauce work and set-up his station.

Moving to his set-up, Jake washed down everything again, counted out his sauté pans and moved them to a 600 degree oven for tempering, clarified his butter for sauté work, lined up his 9th pans for the roll top mise en place cooler, filled everything as per his standard arrangement (everything has a place and everything is in its place), folded a dozed clean side towels, made sure that his burners worked well, stacked plates under the lamps in his station – ready for service, filled a sanitizer bucket with water and the right amount of bleach, and once again drew his knives across a steel. The last step was to bring out his proteins to the lowboy coolers, strain his sauces, set-up his beurre blanc in a bain marie, soften some raw butter for finishing and breathe. It was 4:45 and the chef would be around in 15 minutes to check on mise en place and taste sauces. Jake scrubbed his hands for the 30th time today and grabbed a sandwich from the staff meal set-up while mentally working through his completed prep. He was ready.

Jake popped open a Red Bull and grabbed another double espresso. He would need to be on fire in a few minutes and welcomed the double jolt. While he waited for the chef he looked around at the other line cooks and interns, still a bit behind. He smiled to himself still realizing that in a few minutes he would need to jump in and give them a hand leading up to the restaurant opening at 5:30. He thought to himself again how lucking the interns were to have the ability to go to school for culinary arts. He wondered how much they really appreciated the opportunity and were willing to do what it took to become a great cook. He knew that if he had the chance, he would give 100% to every opportunity to learn. Unfortunately, it was not in the cards for Jake. He then thought about the chef as he left his office for the pre-meal check. Jake thought the world of this chef, the best he had worked for. The chef was talented, professional, totally committed and very hardworking. He was tough but fair, someone that Jake would certainly try to emulate. He did wonder if the chef still remembered what it was like to be a line cook.

Time to focus. The chef was at his station. “Jake are you ready”? “Yes Chef”! As he tasted his lamb demi and beurre blanc, Jake was confident and although the chef didn’t say anything, the fact that he simply moved on to the next station was a way of saying that Jake was spot on. The chef did bark at a few of the other staff members who were clearly not ready so Jake jumped in to give them a hand. Cooking was, after all, a team sport. It was now 5:15 and tickets would begin to spit from the printer any minute. Jake grabbed another Red Bull while helping others in these final minutes.

Game time!

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