Save The Hundred-Dollar Caviar

The first thing I want to say about my new job is, I don't have to wear ugly chef pants. I found that out and am going to happily return those ugly-butt things I bought and invest in a couple more pairs of normal black pants. Or because (for all my bank account knows) I've already spent the money: throw it into my Travel To Ireland fund. I think I'll do that.

As of writing this blog post, our team at the restaurant has done almost everything except cook together. Because it's a new construction/renovation project, there are inspections to be finished before we can start cooking in the kitchen. I'm studying our menu, googling all the things I don't know, and hoping nobody laughs me out of the kitchen because of my laymen's chopping skills. In my head I'm imagining the onion scene in Julie & Julia: hesitant slicing and a row of accomplished cooks waiting for me to catch up.

I can't say it won't be that way, but I do know that the people I'm working with are nice. One has a sea-green bike, another wields a confident power over rancid grease, yet another washes dishes like a maniac and seems to know how to sharpen knives on a block, which skill has always eluded me. Now that I've got the start on food-borne illnesses with my food handlers' card, and now that I know which way to crank the handle to plug the drain in the three-compartment sink (I had to learn that from knife-boy) - I'm feeling better about the dodgier things like mousse and rillettes. The thing is, the food side of this new game doesn't scare me a bit; I can do anything, given enough time.

It's the pace of the thing - the fact that at some point there are going to be real humans sitting in the chairs behind the blue doors - hungry humans. Humans who are paying quite a sum to sit at those tables and enjoy the pageantry of a high-end meal without a clue that I (young Julia Child-style) am part of the team who is going to prepare or die trying to prepare their order. We don't want them to be able to tell it's me behind their appetizer - that is an essential part of the game. Every plate should have the same tone, the same signature: that of our restaurant. Guests shouldn't be able to tell that Baby Julia Child quenelle'd their ice cream. This is why Julia chopped an entire bushel of onions. This is why I'm buried under my cookbooks, reading up on everything I can. If I mentally practice the techniques, maybe by the time we're cleared for opening, I'll be able to keep up...I hope.

No, I will. I'll keep up.

Confidence - that's what you have to have in a kitchen. Even though there is a clear hierarchy in terms of the staff, when you're all head-down, hands-flying during service, there is a certain measure of assertion that each must develop. I might never have made this recipe in my life, but that station is mine to handle and it is my bound duty to ensure that everything that comes out of that station meets the standard set before us.

"I hope I don't knock over a hundred-dollar jar of caviar," the grease overlord admits after he sends a plastic container crashing to the floor.
We all stop what we're doing for a moment and join in the silence following his comment. I, for one, absorb it with gravity. I know what he means. I feel the same: the kitchen is large enough for our needs, but not so large that it wouldn't be nicer if we were all jockey-size. It's the kind of kitchen that is easier to work in if you're a foodie without a booty. And here we are, most of us comfortably-proportioned new recruits, moving clumsily about like cattle in a temporary pen. My feet feel invisible inside my Crocs - I'm still not accustomed to how far past my ability to feel things the body of the shoes stick out. Is it one inch? Two? I trip on patio stones and catch on doorways. I hate those shoes, and not just for aesthetic reasons. Come on. Hurry up and get used to them - we can't afford clumsy. Today it's dropping a lid and a whisk. Tomorrow it's dropping a bowl of pastry cream or a giant pot of stock.

Once we finish scouring the kitchen, washing and sanitizing every dish and container and surface, once we position the tables and counters where we want them and find a spot for the giant industrial mixer, once we manage to get through the day without smashing a single wine bottle on the red tile floor, the space opens up a little. We stand back, exhausted, filthy, triumphant. Soapy hands held out for a fist-bump, fingers bleached white and rough from Brillo pads and pink jelly-bean soap. Someone mops us out of the kitchen, then out the door, then into the sunset side-street.
"You guys did well today."
Tired smiles strengthen into grins in spite of our aching backs and sweat-stiff shirts.
"Goodnight. See you next week."
"See ya."
"Have a good night."
"Who's got the cool bike?"
"Drive safe."
A silent trudge to the unfinished gravel parking lot. Another goodbye with the grease overlord who, contrary to the old, white Honda Civic I'd envisioned him with, drives a shining red SUV. A weird dance as I make a six-point turn to maneuver my car backward, around the potholes and concrete chunks and out the driveway and into the street.

I'm not good at anything yet, but this is my job: I plan to do it well.

(Here is a breakfast that would satisfy any starving diner without necessitating a lot of fancy technique. Honeydew melons are in prime season right now - pick one that is firm and heavy for the best chance at a perfectly-ripe, bright green melon!}

Honeydew Melon Wrapped in Serrano Ham

1/2 honeydew melon, seeds removed, cut into crescent-shaped slices
1 package Serrano ham (or prosciutto)
  1. Wrap each slice of melon in a piece of a Serrano ham around the center and either refrigerate or serve immediately.

1 comment

  1. Sounds stressful, but I have no doubt that you will be successful.
    You've got this.