Restaurant Life

T minus 16 Hours and Counting…

Well, I headed it off as long as I could, but I knew at some point I would have to work brunch.  I’m not much of a morning person.  OK, I am NOT a morning person.  On a normal day, I barely manage to drag myself out of bed by 10 a.m.  Then I putt around the house for a few hours in my pajamas before heading off to work.  It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’m usually up until 3 or 4 a.m. writing.  So when the new schedule went up last week, I breathed a sigh of resignation at not only being assigned the brunch shift on Saturday, but a double shift to boot.  It had been in the wind for a while.   Gloria and Flaca had been working doubles on Saturday and Sunday for a long time and eventually my turn had to come around.

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Gloria and Flaca, keeping entertained while working a double shift....

So, Friday night after my dinner shift I tried to be diligent and get to bed at a reasonable hour, but Boyfriend’s co-worker had lent him a bootleg of Grand Tourino which we ended up watching until 3 a.m.  In reality, Boyfriend fell asleep before the movie ended.  Anyway, four hours later, I hit the snooze button a few times, then finally stumbled out of bed.  7:30 in the morning, what the f—?  walk dog…no time for coffee…what? frost on my car? ugh…

The drive to work was faster than usual (I bet only serial killers willingly get up this early on a Saturday) and I was the first to arrive.  As I walked into the prep kitchen, there was the cleanup crew, dressed in their street clothes and ready to be relieved of duty.  You have no idea how depressing it was to realize that I had said goodnight to them only eight hours earlier, and would see them again in another 16 hours.  That’s right, 16 hours. I chose not to think too much on it and just get to work.

First I went upstairs to the service kitchen and turned on the fryer because it takes forever to heat up.  Back downstairs, I ran into the pastry cook as we were both heading to our boiler room/ locker room to get changed.  She is another recent FCI grad who currently has a two hour commute from Jersey, so I guess I should stop my pissing and moaning now.  Once changed, I grabbed a cutting board and headed back up to the service kitchen to find that it had started to fill up with smoke.  What the…? I thought, then realized that there was NO OIL IN THE FRYER.  Duh.  Of course, the cleanup crew empties the fryer and cleans it every night.  I quickly shut the fryer off and propped the back door open.  As I turned on the exhaust hood, a cold blast of air came in from the open door.  The exhaust hood at work is so powerful that in the winter, our kitchen is actually cold.  I lugged a 5-gallon container of fresh oil up the stairs and emptied it into the fryer, then went back down to get a second one.  Then I turned the fryer on again.

Shortly afterward, Gloria the grill cook arrived and started coaching me on the prep for my station.  I quickly realized that the brunch garde manger station would be better named the “everyone else’s bitch” station.  My prep list included making clarified butter for all three stations, poaching home fries and french fries for the grill station, making salads and dressing for the egg and grill station, and making potato gallettes, slicing salmon gravlax, picking and chopping herbs and mixing herbed creme fraiche for both the egg station and mine.  The only prep that was solely for my station was cutting up fruit for a fruit salad, and carmelizing apples and slicing bread for french toast.

Truthfully the prep was easy compared to dinner.  Still, being my first shift on the station, we did hit a few snags.  The first and most time-consuming thing I had to do was poach home fries and french fries – about five gallons of french fries, and maybe eight gallons of home fries.  Of course, the pilot on the fryer had gone out and the fryer wasn’t hot.  Gloria helped me to re-light the pilot and tried to explain to me in “Spanglish” that I had to let the pilot burn for about 2 minutes, then turn the fryer on.  This I misunderstood as simply turning the temperature gauge up.  Duh again.  After another twenty minutes of the fryer not heating up, I remembered that I actually had to turn the pilot knob to the “on” position.  Oh, did I mention that the restaurant had run out of regular coffee and I was trying to squeeze as much residual caffeine out of the decaf as possible?

So with a little help from Flaca, who was now on the egg station, I got set up in time for service, then stood around a lot.  Saturday brunch at the restaurant is pretty slow, and with the garde manger only responsible for four plates, and making sides of fries and salads for the other stations, it was totally do-able.  In the meantime I tried to get a little prep done for dinner service.  I made a list, then put some large beets on the back burner to simmer, and some baby beets in the oven to roast.  I squeezed a quart of lemon juice, and cut some lemon wedges for our oyster plate.  At around 1:30 Wil, who was going to be on garde manger with me that evening, arrived and I gave him a copy of our prep list so he could get started downstairs.  He only started the week before, but had a few years experience and was quickly getting the routine down.

The plus side of working a double shift actually, is that it makes the mid-day transition much easier.  The restaurant doesn’t close between brunch and dinner.  We served a limited mid-day menu, so at 3:00 the dinner crew has to set up their stations and be ready to serve the mid-day items while the brunch crew is packing up. It’s utter chaos.  Isn’t there a law in physics about two masses being unable to occupy the same space at the same time?  Yeah, it’s like that.  So working a double actually meant that I could start transitioning my station before the end of brunch.  By 2:50, I had all my brunch prep packed up, and the station re-arranged for dinner service.  Wil brought up all our supplies, set up his workstation, and by 3:30 we were charging forward with dinner prep, and by 6 p.m. we were ready for service.  Or so I thought…

On our menu we’ve always had a salad that featured beets and a roasted tomato tart.  With the cold weather, it hasn’t really been a big seller.  This week we actually had to use a lot leftovers for family meal and discarded what we couldn’t use.  So I held back a little on our prep, fearing that we might have too much leftover again.  Wouldn’t you know it? We sold a couple during mid-day, then once service started, it seemed like practically every table that came in had at least one.  At around 8:00 I started panicking (internally, hoping that no-one would notice).  In just two hours we had sold the number of beet salads we normally sell in an entire evening.  I racked my brain to figure out how we could stretch our prep or make more.  We were running low on large beets – impossible to cook more since they take at least 2 hours.  We were also running low on tarts, but I figured all the components were ready so it would be easy to assemble more if needed.  At 8:30 we were down to two tarts so I ran down to the walk-in to get some more roasted tomatoes. Under normal circumstances this would have been an easy fix – less than five minutes to assemble another 6 tarts – but when I got to the walk-in the tray of roasted tomatoes was gone.

It turned out the saute station was running a special featuring chopped roasted tomatoes, which meant there were no more whole roasted tomatoes in the house.  And by now we had sold the last two salads.  How can I make this happen? I thought.  We can’t ’86’ the salad with three more hours of service left to go.  So I left the station in Wil’s capable hands, and under the supervision of our sous chef,  so I could peel and roast more tomatoes.  Turns out even if we made more tarts, it wasn’t going to happen.  In my frugality, I hadn’t cooked enough large beets and we only had enough for one more order anyway.  Still, we couldn’t expect Flaca to start from scratch the next day so I continued to peel a full tray of tomatoes for her to roast in the morning.  I felt like my fellow line cooks were looking at me like I was an idiot.  My sous chef even half-jokingly gave me a slap on the wrist.  It was every cook’s worst nightmare, and I was determined never to let it happen to me again, but given the unpredicatability of the biz, it probably will.

So, after sixteen hours on my feet without a break, I finally left the restaurant a little after midnight.  I didn’t feel particularly tired, although I had started to do my I’m-talking-a-lot-because-I’m-over-tired-but-don’t-realize-it routine.  But I was starving, and shortly after I arrived home, Boyfriend arrived with a burger and fries for me from the local diner.  How did he know? I literally inhaled the burger and wasn’t able to finish the fries.  Then as usual I planted myself at the desk, and logged onto the laptop to do a little writing.  After writing a few lines, I actually woke up to the realization that I had fallen asleep, mid-sentence, mouth agape and head rolled aside on my shoulder.  That’s when I turned to Boyfriend who was sitting on the couch reading and said, “Hey, do you need to use the computer?”  Because I could really use that couch.

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