Thursday, April 08, 2010

Finding balance

Today I feel grateful for the balance in the universe. Lest you think I'm going down a Burning Man path, allow me to explain.

Tuesday night was one of those nights where I looked at the clock at about 5:30, right before the happy hour burger pile-up began, and before I knew it my rail was full. Suddenly the place is packed, there's a giant pool of people at the door waiting for dinner tables, the a la carte table of 15 right in front of the line is drunk as hell and singing "happy birthday" repeatedly and clapping in unison and I'm literally yelling to be heard, having to ask two or three times for ticket calls because I can't hear my chef on expo. I came into work with a sore throat, and now I've nearly lost my voice. I'm hanging on by a thread, struggling to keep up a good pace, checking and re-checking my tickets, and at one point I remember squeaking a pleading "no" when chef squeezed a new ticket into my already-full rail. I'm literally grunting out loud, and every move I make feels like a wasted motion. Why does that shelf have to be so high? Why the fuck is the grill so fucking hot? Who in their right mind orders well-done anything? Every request is suddenly a personal attack and I'd simply lost control.

I finally clear my rail, and I look at the clock again. Suddenly it's 10:20 and my eyes are blurry and I barely have the energy to stand up straight. Were people coming out of Easter hibernation? Did Tuesday become a new holiday? I'm looking for excuses as to why I felt so bad during service, and simultaneously feeling like shit for letting myself and my chef down. He gives me a pep talk, tells me it wasn't that crazy of a night, and that loud party was the biggest problem, but it only makes me feel worse that I couldn't handle my shit.

I put out generally timely plates, my temps were good and the food looked nice, but it was like pushing a boulder up a mountain getting there. So much of the job of cooking is the means to the end, and (at least to me) if the means isn't good then it doesn't really matter what the end product is. I worked with a cook once who could put up good-looking plates in a reasonable period of time, but it couldn't make up for the fact that that cook was messy, lazy, non-communicative and unwilling to work alongside the rest of the crew without telling everyone else how to run their stations. I don't want to be that cook, ya know?

We managed to break down dinner, cook happy hour, and do our big Tuesday cleaning project (break down the front and back ranges, change out the drip pans and scrub the burners with highly caustic grill cleaner) and still get done before 1AM. I indulged in a whiskey with a Pilsner back, ran for the bus, and found myself falling asleep to Gillian Welch's gorgeously depressing album Time (The Revelator) through my good headphones.

Wednesday morning I woke up, every muscle in my body aching, feeling dehydrated and nursing a wicked pain in my neck, jaw and temple thanks to my TMJ acting up overnight. Wednesdays are the days I go into work and trail the AM kitchen manager on my own time, and for a moment on Tuesday night I thought about calling off for Wednesday. But I felt I'd just be further letting myself and everyone else down, so I dragged myself out of the house and found myself back at work.

My first task upon arrival was to clean and dice two large Lexans of rhubarb for jam, and it turns out there's really nothing better to soothe a frail and scrambled soul than cutting something easy and gorgeous over and over again, watching the dice pile get bigger and bigger.

hearty stalks

Rhubarb: Jam
pretty pile

I also tasted raw rhubarb for the first time and it's as if a light bulb "dinged": I suddenly got why people were so into rhubarb. I stood in the prep kitchen, cleaning and cutting and dicing, imagining where these hearty stalks grew, running my hands through my pile of clean cuts. I felt like a kid in a playground, discovering worms in the dirt and finding shiny rocks.

We did the math on the rhubarb-orange jam recipe, and since I know you were wondering what 39 cups of sugar looks like:

I have this overwhelming desire to sit in that bowl, preferably down a snowy hill.

Macerating rhubarb
Macerated rhubarb is the jam, y'all!

Once the rhubarb was put away, we pulled out the whole lamb we get in every Wednesday and chef broke it down into primals in a speedy fashion, as always. I'm just now getting to the point where I'm breaking down the legs without having to ask where to start or what to do every time. I'm slow at it, but it's starting to feel more natural. Butchery is so visceral and physical, and I love it for that.

I left work yesterday afternoon feeling uplifted, something I had almost forgotten cooking could do for me. It's positively lovely to have that balance.


LadyConcierge said...

very nice. i forget to comment when your posts really move me, but you end up making me remember what it's all about.

Matt said...

alright! a new post!! i dig that you're putting up pics now too. I just started at a new place that does more covers in one brunch service than most of the places I have worked at did in one week. (Maybe a bit of an over exaggeration but its BUSY.) The point of me being hired was to cover the shifts for well...pretty much any cook on the line if they decided they needed some much earned vacation. I am on the fast track training program I suppose. Most of these guys have been here for a year or more and have gradually moved their way up. Here I am trying to cram this overload of information and tips into my wee little brain within a month. Anyways, the point of all of this is I feel your pain. (Suppose I couldve just said that huh?)