Monday, April 5, 2010

Kitchen Tales Part 1

All I can think about is Duck Tales or that one with the bear that flew planes....Tale Spin maybe? Anywhoo, I digress yet again. Kitchen tales it is. How great a thing. Anthony Bourdain reinvented the American love affair with a subject that countless others harped about way under the radar. Namely, Peter Mayle. A Year In Provence. Really, if you have never picked up a book before but love food, give it a go. It's brilliant and authentic. It's what Paul Sorgule, my Dean @ Paul Smith's, made us read before going to France. He truly captured the heartbeat of life in that part of France and told some pretty amazing and hilarious stories along the way.
That's my point. Being in this business is great. There are lots of characters, lots of pressure, and some unreal situations when colorful people succumb to the pressure. I have lots of memories, lots of stories, some good, some bad, all very real. I'm remembering these out loud for myeslf as well as you readers cause I forget a lot and remembering is what keeps us humble and honors the past and all those who have come and gone through our lives.
But I wanted to start off with a bang. Something truly burned in my memory and too much fun not to share right off the bat. This one I'll never forget. No names or places neccessary but some of you know this one already.
I was maybe 6 months out of culinary school. I had been in the business for 6 years but had only recently had my eyes really opened through school and travel. I worked the pantry at a very busy higher end seafood restaurant. It was great exposure to volume, stress, heat, and above all else, speed. For a few weeks in the peak summer season, in the middle of service, let's say 7:15ish, the printers in the kitchen would go down. Maybe not the pantry one but always the hot side printer. It led to 20 minutes of mass chaos and the chef having to refire and reorganize based off of handwritten dups from servers whose script was not only worse than doctors but individually coded in some mix of Swahili and Navajo. It was miserable. It slowed everything down. And it wouldn't stop happening. At a large property such as this, kitchen problems of any sort, technical, equipment, etc., were by no means priority. I am reminded of a time at another restaurant that underwent a 1/2 million dollar renovation in the dining room, in the kitchen, for weeks, we used a broom handle to prop the convection oven door closed. I named it, and taped a cut out of the Quaker Oats guy to it. He was to me like Wilson was to Tom Hanks. And I digress again....
So, no printer at crunch time for weeks. It was large line. Big pantry, saute, expo, grill, fryer station. One night, chef had too much. Way too much and what ensued was one of my most memorable kitchen moments. As per usual, it got crazy. Tickets flooding in. Noise, flames, the usual. I was in the pantry slinging out apps, salads, desserts, and the system went down again. I still had a head full of orders and went about my business. All of a sudden, wires taped or faceted down began popping out, my printer disappeared from sight, more wires flew this way or that. I looked down the line in time to see the chef ripping the hot printer from the window, cords and all, barrel down the line, rip the baskets out of one of the fryers, and give said printer a bath in 350F oil. Down to Davy Jones' locker....ok, maybe Long John Silver's. He did beer batter it first! Anyways, there stood 6 cooks, dishwashers, servers all in stunned silence. It was one of those not sure whether to laugh or cry situations. He was upset to say the least. I don't recall the rest of service that night. I know that no more tickets printed up. I remember a moment of clarity in the eyes of the chef and sous. They popped the printer in the convection oven to dry out or salvage what probably wore a sticker of more than just a couple dollars. After that, french fried printer disappeared. Fancy enough, a brand new one appeared the next day.
That was good. A story told over and over again among cooks who were or were not even there. Years later, I got it. That level of stress and what it can do to you. Better crispy printers than heart attacks. Till next time.....

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