Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Burger Redemption

My relationship with burger cookery got off to a rocky start.

One day last spring at my old job, right before happy hour started, my sous chef decided on a whim to move the very popular burger pickup to my station. Though I was cooking steak, lamb, pork and poultry at that point, I'd never temped a burger in my life and, frankly, I had no desire to. Burgers were cooked to order in saute pans, so the far more skilled saute cook had been picking them up for the more than six months that I'd worked there. I'd watch him fire several 10 burger pickups in a row at peak happy hour rush, holding it together but starting to break a sweat, and I'd be so, so happy it wasn't me.

...Until suddenly it was me. After a minute or so of angry silence and stunned shock on my part, I had about 10 minutes to rearrange all my mise and try to figure out what the hell I was doing. I was so livid about this last-minute change, I was on the verge of tears. It made me even angrier that the other cooks took to taunting me about it, and when they realized through my silence that I was genuinely upset, the sous helped me take my station apart and put it back together, somehow cramming six new 9th pans, a 6th pan and two 3rd pans into my already-crowded station.

Like anything in the kitchen, I just got to it. Fake it 'til ya make it, as they say. I started to get a feel for temping burgers, and fortunately my first day as burger lady wasn't insanely busy so I didn't go down in flames.

(I did, however, go home that night and cry myself to sleep. Don't tell anyone, okay?)

Even though I'm still convinced it was really shitty to give me the burger pickup with no warning, it was probably one of the best things that's happened to me so far as a cook. My sous chef was no dummy. I got better at multi-tasking real fast out of sheer necessity, and I was working harder than I ever had. The days when I cooked dozens of happy hour and bar burgers while firing dinner tickets at the same time and managed to do a decent job, I went home feeling pretty good about myself.

But I also had a fair amount of resentment toward the burger pickup. Maybe it was because it felt like an interference when I was already temping five proteins and picking up several other dishes. Maybe it was the fact that burgers were commonly fired at the end of the night. The countless number of times that we were on the verge of closing and a burger ticket came in, oftentimes after our official closing time... I let the resentment build up.

I had a lot of burger anger.

I bitched at bartenders who fired late burgers, as if they had gone out of their way to inconvenience me, which, of course, they hadn't. It's a fact of life as a cook--you'll get tickets at the end of the night, sometimes after closing time, and even though you're all wrapped up and ready to bounce, you have to stay and finish your job. I didn't see it that way for a long time, until well after I left that kitchen. Late tickets are never fun, but getting mad about it doesn't exactly help.

About a month ago, I moved over to the grill station at my current restaurant. We have an extremely popular burger that we grind in-house, and I used to come in all the time before I ever worked there to get a burger after work. It comes off the grill, so I've been working some burger action as of late. I was worried that I'd be out of shape for meat station, and I am a little, but I found that it's like riding a bicycle. Getting back to it wasn't as hard as I thought it might be.

I told myself one thing before I started on grill station, however: I would not let myself have burger anger. I volunteered for the job, I wanted grill station, and there's nothing worse than a cook who works from a place of anger. Seriously.

There's a reason that grill cooks tend to be the surliest of the bunch: They're standing in the hottest part of the restaurant for hours at a time, smoke wafting in their faces, maneuvering multiple proteins between the hot and cool spots on the oft-temperamental grill, and likely slangin' some major burgers. By the end of the night your skin has a fine coat of smoke and grease and sweat. It ain't glamorous, that's for sure.

But telling myself that one thing, no burger anger, has made the busy happy hours go pretty smoothly so far. Cooking without anger is something I never thought I'd have to make a conscious effort to do, as I'm not exactly an angry person, but when you're doing the same thing dozens of times a day, day in and day out, it's easy to see how the tedium and the constant buzz of the ticket printer can wear at you. I haven't been on grill that long yet, but I'm doing my best to watch my temperament this time around.

I don't want to cook out of anger. This job is too good to waste on that.