Friday, July 3, 2009

Confessions of a Stagiere: Week Thirteen

It was a Jaws kind of service. No, we weren't attacked by sharks or anything. And no, Richard Dreyfuss wasn't there either. There we were...quietly prepping for the day, thinking there were only going to be about 25 tables, when unbeknownst to us an entirely different matter was going to unfold.

Last week was the week I learned to hustle. When you end up with almost twice the number of diners you anticipated, believe me you have to get out your four inch platforms and done hustle quick.

Here's an example of what I mean: Doug only prepares a certain amount of crab for the evening. It really can only hold for one night, then whatever doesn't get eaten goes in the garbage. You can imagine how expensive it would be if he were constantly chucking out leftovers. So at every station people have learned to gauge how many of each thing they should prepare based on the number of reservations and what the chef says. Sometimes he'll ask someone to prep more of something because we have too much of it in house and he's going to try and get the servers to play it up so they can sell more. I couldn't tell you exactly how much crab we prepped, but it wasn't a ton.

This plan usually works out great. Except when about twenty people walk in unexpectedly. It was the first time we'd ever had a walk-in table of NINE. For a fine dining restaurant, this is quite unusual. Welcome, but unusual. And it's not that the kitchen can't handle this number of reservations, but dealing with twice the number of diners you expected is crazy. There's so much prep that goes into each item that you can't just make more soup or prepare more lamb shanks. What's there is pretty much there. Ideally you have some stored away in one of your lowboys (storage fridges, every station has a shelf). But some things you just can't store, like the crab.

Very quickly into the evening we ran out of crab. It's easily the most popular dish off of the garde manger station so usually it is the first thing that goes. It happens. No big deal, we still have the hamachi and terrine dish to send out.

Oh wait a minute. We barely have enough napoleons (creme anglais and prune puree, frozen into individual layers and layered on top of each other) to make it through the evening. Meanwhile, because we have this relatively new and complicated terrine dish, I am whipping sorrel leaves into the backs of the duck proscuitto wrapped plum pieces as fast as I can so the garde manger can actually assemble the 10 dishes in front of him. I used to hang back and try to stay out of the way when there was a plating frenzy. Now I jump in and do everything I know how to push them out. It feels great. Hectic, but great.

I may not love rollercoasters or jumping off cliffs, but when it comes to work I'm definetely an adrenaline junkie.

I can feel myself using all the skills I've gained over the past three months. The entremetier gets me to make a bunch of romaine lettuce "fronds" in the middle of service. They're the tips of romaine lettuce, cut so they resemble miniature trees, with rounded tops and small stems. I remember the first time I did this I was so nervous because I had to do it on the pass with everyone watching. I didn't know how everyone else could do it in twenty seconds and why it took me five minutes to shape just one.

Not anymore! I whipped through those puppies in no time.

If you look in that picture of the beef dish, the frond would be the green thing sticking out of the square potato garnish. Every item gets its own prep. They don't miss a beat.

These little victories made the otherwise incredibly busy service really satisfying. I felt the way I used to doing my chase shift in radio. Like I was a mop, having the dirty floor water wrung out of me so I was clean and ready to go again.

I have no clue how busy it's going to be tonight. But whatever comes...bring it on.

1 comment:

LunaCafe said...

I love this post! I really feel like I'm in that hectic kitchen with you. Oh how I would love that actually. Most of my culinary career was spent in a teaching kitchen, which can be tense at times but nowhere near as much of a rush as a restaurant kitchen. It's wonderful to have found your blog. Can't wait for your next post. :-) ...Susan