Friday, July 24, 2009

The Chefs Are The Exception, I Am The Rule

When a night is slow at The Restaurant, I look for odd jobs to fill the time. I change out all of the ice beds for the fish, re-wrap items in clear film until they are airtight, organize the walk-in, condense produce from 1/6 pans to 1/9 pans, or prep extra cauliflower for the next day. But, I got worked last night at my new station at The Restaurant. There was no down time for me. 

I know I have worked hard at The Restaurant when I come home and my feet smell like a teenage boy, my skin is sticky from either sweat or olive oil splatter or pasta water evaporation, and my back aches. Last night, I was tempted to have Chef M crack it in the open kitchen, but I thought that was pushing it a bit for being a Stage. 

I made gnocchi yesterday for the second time since that first weekend. I work in tandem with Chef M, meditatively rolling the gnocchi out in AP flour into long, snake-like shapes, and creating square pieces with a pastry cutter. I roll the squares down on my wooden gnocchi board, creating little lines for aesthetic. As I look over, I realize that I am half as slow as Chef M and he is diving into my pile of little potato squares. He throws the gnocchi onto the board and rolls them with his palm like a machine. I am slightly more careful (surprise, surprise), which The Chefs would simply call slow.  

I chop my daily task of shallots and chives for The Head Chef. I get a compliment on my chive chopping from Chef M as I clip my knife through the little green tubes as if I was mowing grass or cutting someone's hair.  But, I still have can't get the hang of those damn shallots. As I hold my knife before I chop them, I feel like I am actually wearing Freddy Krueger's bladed glove in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I am looking for my next shallot victim to shred and tear apart. And, when I finish chopping the shallots, I am sure they feel like they have been one of Krueger's murder victims.  

When the service starts, we are consistent, but slow. But, in the blink of an eye, we have five pots on the stove at once, juggling the timing for each. Chef M teaches me how he would make each of the pasta dishes on the menu by reciting them aloud, usually as I am making another dish. I try to concentrate as he lists the ingredients in their order and how he wants each dish to look. He gives me pointers along the way over my shoulder: add pasta water to the prosciutto and the green beans after the saute for a bit; make sure you use enough white wine to steam the clams and have a sauce remaining; add more green beans than you think for the malloreddus pasta dish; the gnocchi can use a couple of grinds of black pepper; don't put the zucchini pesto in over the heat for too long or it will brown; make sure you add enough pasta water to the compound butter so that it is saucy when it reaches the table. 

With five pots on the stove, and tickets coming out of the till in two's and three's, I can not imagine being at this station all alone, yet. I would be drowning in sea of yellow and white tickets, desperately trying to stay afloat, and begging The Chefs's to throw me a life preserver into my ocean of paper. But, I love the adrenaline rush and multi-tasking that this kind of night requires. 

I burn garlic. I burn red pepper flakes. I forget to add squash blossoms to one of the dishes. I leave pots in the salamander too long, and they are too hot to handle. I accidentally deep fry a pea. Just one. But, I am not the only one. Even the best Chef's mess up. 

Chef M forgets to taste the malloreddus pasta for doneness before he tosses it into his pancetta, green bean, and chard mixture. He has to start again, which I have never seen him do, or any of The Chef's for that matter. But, I have to admit, it makes me feel just a teensy bit better. I have tasted the pasta just seconds before, knowing it isn't ready, but my brain can't trigger to my mouth fast enough as he was pouring the pasta into the sauce that the little shells are not ready to be taken out of the water. Maybe a Peronni would have remedied this? Also, one of the new chefs in training nicks his finger on his knife. This also makes me feel a smidgen better. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who constantly makes mistakes. Oh, yes. That's right. Because I do constantly make mistakes. The Chefs are the exception, I am the rule. 

But, my night is not bad. At all. It is actually probably the best night I have had in a long time at The Restaurant. Thanks to Chef M's coaching, I finally get the hang of flipping the pasta ingredients, with just my left hand, in the All-Clad saucier. This makes everything faster for me because I don't have to reach behind me for a spoon to stir the pasta, or use tongs to toss it around and break up the elements of the dish. I was worried I would never get the hang of flipping. Chef M tells me, admittedly, he was worried too. My hand does get a cramp once, under the blue towel, and I have to pry it open with my other hand. I hope it is going to be in the permanent shape of a fist, like a cast iron sculpture, as a tribute to my success at flipping. No luck. 

At the end of the night, I feel like I have just completed a really hard show with the ballet. I have tons of adrenaline, and I am smiling ear to ear. Starved for sustenance, and I can't wait to drink a little (a lot), eat a five dollar happy hour pizza with The Chefs, and go to sleep to wake up and do it all again the next day. And who says these two worlds, ballet and cooking, aren't similar? 

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