Thursday, August 07, 2008

The awesomeness that is restaurant cooking

Being a kitchen cook is really hard work, probably the hardest I've ever worked in my life, and I've only been at it for a couple of months. With full time work on top of full time school, it's a struggle to stay on top of my game 100 percent of the time. I miss seeing my friends, I miss weekend trips, and having a normal social life is nearly impossible--I can hardly make time for laundry, much less a civilized date. I sleep erratically and I eat standing up at work or walking to/from school, usually scarfing down whatever I'm eating in less than three minutes. I'm lucky if I actually get to sit down for a meal more than once a week.

Even though it crosses my mind that I'm crazy for doing this, I truly love what I'm doing, and here are a few of the reasons why.

The Sounds: Sizzling of meat hitting a properly heated pan, clanging of metal pots and pans and bowls, whirring of mixers and blenders and grinders, the calling of orders and the echo of cooks, the blasting fan in the walk-in, even the whooshing of the mechanical dishwasher.

The Smells: Sauteed onions, creamed butter and sugar, fresh-out-of-the-oven bread pudding, pan-fried lardons, citrus rind zested on a microplane, simmering corn bisque, resting duck confit before it goes in the walk-in.

The Particulars: How a bunch of ingredients sitting in various sizes of hotel pans, Cambro containers, squeeze bottles and plastic pint cups become a 28-dollar plate that looks worth the money. I love that it's rather unromantic in the kitchen, and I love that the food makes a magical transformation once it's in the server's window and delivered to a patron's table.

The Organized Chaos: It looks like an abstract mess on the surface, but every step you take and every turn you make means something. A good cook makes no wasted moves. There's something kind of awesome about five cooks juggling searingly hot pots, pans and bowls in a 20 square foot galley kitchen with lowboy refrigerators, ovens and hot surfaces. It feels great when you're moving swiftly and efficiently.

The Textures: Getting my hands on crisp greens, slippery scallops, creamy dressings, rock-hard mollusk shells, soft strawberries. It's a good occupation for hands-on kind of people.

The Tastes:
This one should go without saying. Tasting 10 flavors in one dish, tasting 10 dishes in three minutes, tasting the difference between something unseasoned and the transformation it makes when properly seasoned, trying something I've never had before and being completely surprised and/or blown away.

The Camaraderie: This is one of my favorite things about cooking, really. The minute I set foot into the kitchen, it's like stepping into an exclusive club. An exclusive all-boys club, in my case, and for a lot of other kitchens out there. For the longest time when I was a server and a host, there was a sense of mystery about the kitchen to me; I was so curious, yet afraid to touch anything or get in anyone's way. I stuck to asking a lot of questions and pestering chefs to let me taste dishes instead. Now that being in a kitchen is my job, the mystique and romanticism is gone, and it's fun to finally know what it's like to be back there. I love behind-the-scenes kind of stuff, and this is the ultimate in being behind-the-scenes, for me at least.

It's been a busy few weeks with the start of Term 3, but I'm doing my best to power through as usual. Late nights and early mornings take a toll, but I know it's worth it.


mrjeffmccarthy said...

Nice piece Ingrid...I really enjoy your writing

Kristina said...

Hi Ingrid,

I just moved here and I found my way to your entries. Would you be able to direct me to inexpensive produce. I've had a hard time finding a place. I'm used to Chicago mom n' pop places that offer really great produce at really, really affordable prices.



Ruth said...

great piece! Too bad for me that I'm just now catching up and enjoying your insights and appreciation of all that senses in the kitchen.