Monday, November 7, 2011

Day One: Saturday, 14 November 2009

12:51pm: It was a rather cold afternoon as I stood there knocking on the backdoor of the restaurant. I was beginning to feel as if no one would answer. Finally, it opened. And I was led down a ramp into the belly of the beast. The kitchen.. was in the basement.

I was shown where to change, as I came only prepared with my checks from school, my steel toes, and the usual cook's tools. There I stood, a foreigner among a group of seasoned professionals. A stranger among those who seemed to move almost automatically, as if by some unseen form of energy. I would later realize that this energy was called pure adrenaline.

The chef de cuisine there told me to shadow the garde manger station today, led by a Japanese fellow who looked like he could turn me into sashimi if he wanted to. Instead, I was told to julienne lemon peel that would garnish a new dish they were serving tonight. I quickly realized that I was a tortoise running in a hare's race. My knife skills weren't bad. There's was just much better.

Next came the crème fraîche pearls, produced in a bath of liquid nitrogen. Small droplets of cream instantly freezing upon contact was something that although conceptually familiar, but in practice, nothing I had ever seen before. Next up were frying sage, picking micro greens, and variety of other small tasks.

Taking 2 hours to do 30 minutes of prep, I felt inadequate. I was told that tonight was going to be one of the busiest nights yet. A turn-and-a-half of the 72-seat dining capacity we had. The Japanese fellow told me simply to stay out of the way during service. So I was set on becoming an observer for the night. A godsend after I realized how focused others were, and how I hadn't a clue what was going on.

5:34pm: Service started with a tasting for 2. Each dish began with a meticulous polish of the plate with acidulated water. The chef de cuisine, I learned quickly, ruled the kitchen with an iron fist, and demanded perfection. If there was a spot, if a component was misaligned, the contents thrown out. The plate started over. As service picked up, I could tell that things were starting to turn from smooth to hectic. Turns out that plating dishes that had over 12 components on them takes time. I could watch no longer.

7:14pm: The peak of service hit with a string of customers all coming in for their late first seating. I pitched in the only way I knew how. Polish plates. To ensure that my fingerprints did not transfer onto the plate, I had to hold the plate on its rim. A habit that was so beat into me, I still hold plates the exact same way. Occasionally, I would place a garnish on there every so gently, and ever so slowly. A pace that quickly earned me a, 'faster!' or 'go go go!' from the chef.

10:47pm: End of service. 107 covers. And beers for everyone. I was told to leave when I wanted to, but decided to stay to help the crew clean down. Asking if I could do this again next week, the chef replied, 'see you next week'.

12:46am: I got home, still writhing from the adrenaline and booze. Excited to write down everything I learned, everything I saw and experienced.

The next morning. Entire body sore. This was the most alive I had ever felt.

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