Ice Cream

Me: I should really write something.
Me to Me: Do it on Monday.

Then, I realized that today is Monday. Well, there goes that plan.

I really should spend some of today writing, because I have the day off. It’s a godsend since I feel so crappy. After putting in long, long hours at the pub, I am, as always, exhausted and sore. I also have shingles, which means that I itch, burn and am generally more run down than normal. Though I got a fair amount of sleep last night, even going to bed at a reasonable hour, I am still dragging ass. Coffee hasn’t even touched the amount of tired I feel. There will probably be at least one nap in my future. Then maybe some ice cream…. or perhaps some ice cream as soon as I finish this entry. Ice cream for breakfast can’t be all bad. I’ll put some cereal on it. That’s just health right there.

Of course, the cereal that I got to go with said ice cream is chocolate donut- fudge flavor with the texture of Froot Loops covered in sugar. #winning

Hey, it was on sale for half off. Don’t @ me, bro.

If I can summon the energy, I have a book review to write and two books to finish. On the book review, I’ve just been updating with extensions for at least a month, because with my busy schedule, it’s partly that I don’t have time and partly because when I get home, I can’t move, much less think.

Saturday night was absolutely insane. To put it in perspective, we did $20,000 worth of business. I don’t even know how many covers that is, but we were in the weeds most of the night. The ticket machine didn’t stop until we closed, and the noise was burned into my dreams.

One cook walked out over I don’t know what, but was there on Sunday, so it couldn’t have been that bad. But an extra set of hands the night before would have been infinitely easier than what actually happened.

Although for my own part, I think I did extraordinarily well. Because I was on pantry station, fewer dishes come from me, so I was able to shuttle back and forth between the line and the walk-in when no one else could. I also have a second set of fryers, and range with oven, so we were able to cook more, faster… and we needed it. After several hours of trying to keep up with a rail that couldn’t even hold all our orders, we gave up and just relied on the expo to get everything out. It worked much better and faster. We were trying like hell to keep to a two-beer maximum until people got their food. I can only hope it worked, because I was not in the restaurant to see what happened.

I am sure I have said this before, but there’s such a difference between working in a true restaurant and working in a brewpub. There’s no hostess/seating, so therefore, fifty people can sit down and order food all at once, rather than covers coming in waves. Also, except for me, everyone working was relatively new. There’s nothing like learning a menu on the fly. To their credit, they did incredibly well, but just by that one fact, I was much faster than them. I am not a better cook (I don’t think), but knowing the menu off the top of my head helped immensely… one of the reasons I could sling hash and support the line at the same time, because time wasn’t ever wasted on food. I also knew the timing of everything, so I could tell when I had time to run back and forth between orders and when I couldn’t.

For instance, at one point in the evening, we ran out of both corn and pita chips…. so in between orders, I was making more as fast as I could. I was able to do both fresh baskets and back stock. And if I do say so myself, I make great chips. I know the exact timing to get the perfect color, so much so that if I can help it, I won’t let anyone else do pita chips because they’re my baby.

I think all cooks have their Jack Palance one finger. Pita chips are mine, as are fried Brussels sprouts tossed in citrus soy sauce. Although I’ve learned not to actually toss them. Soy sauce goes all over the place, and it makes the dishwasher mad (because he mops). If I do accidentally get soy sauce on the floor, I try and clean it up before he sees it. 😛

It feels good to be in this place, where I am an experienced enough cook that the mistakes of my past are erased. Not that I’ve made bad dishes, but that I’m much faster and more accurate at the same time. However, I know that I’ll never do fine dining again, because making everything absolutely perfect is not my forté… and not for lack of trying consistently. It’s because I have monocular vision, so the way things look to me is different than for someone who can see in 3D. For instance, I think a cut looks exactly the way it did when I was shown, and they do not. It’s just true. I have accepted it and moved on, though it used to make me cry because I’d never be good enough…. and too proud to mention what the problem was, so I just constantly looked stupid, all brought on myself. It just brings to mind exactly why pride can be a sin. Sometimes, things come out perfectly and I think I have it. Then, for whatever reason, my field of vision changes and all of the sudden, consistency is a big damn problem.

It’s one of the reasons that even though I think they’re of the devil because of the many times I’ve cut the fuck out of myself using them, I love mandolines and meat/cheese slicers. Everything comes out even despite my malady, which took me to urgent care because I once cut off a piece of my thumb. I thought I could handle it myself, because in this particular kitchen, we had a blood-clotting spray. I used so much of it that the bottle ran out, and I was still bleeding. I was furious because leaving the kitchen before a shift is over is committing THE cardinal sin. It would have been nice getting the rest of the day off if I hadn’t had to sit there with my entire hand throbbing to the point that I was crumpled over with nausea. It also didn’t help that my ego was bruised.

But I was back at work the next day, bandaged and wearing what we call a “finger condom,” which looks exactly like it sounds, except it’s bright blue, and sometimes too small so it feels like it’s cutting off circulation… but no matter because it’s illegal not to wear one. I had to be extra careful, because the likelihood of gaining another injury while working with one is high…. kind of like breaking a second ankle because you were off-balance, even with crutches, when you broke the first one. In the kitchen, one dumbass attack often leads to several others, usually in quick succession.

It becomes completely mind over matter, because you have to let it go that you’ve royally screwed up something and not let it affect the rest of your day. One kink is enough. I understand implicitly that if I don’t compartmentalize, it can become a downward spiral…. a fairly universal feeling whether you’re in the kitchen or not.

If your attention is diverted in the kitchen, even for a few seconds, you’re going to miss something. Write it down.

The thing about working in a kitchen is that it’s all important, it’s all high priority. Between tickets and retrieving backups and prep, there’s a running to-do list and you can’t forget a thing. To do so is to let someone down, and possibly a career-limiting move. In my pub, there are no stars- we’re all line cooks. But mistakes in a Gordon Ramsey-type restaurant would get you incinerated. No one cares if you get injured- it happens too often. The chef would focus on the fact that you were dumb enough to hurt yourself, because if you’d been doing your job properly, you wouldn’t have injured yourself in the first place…. and while this is true, everyone makes mistakes. Even small ones lead to big disasters, because if you just graze a finger with a knife, fingers are notorious for bleeding all over the place no matter what you do.

Therefore, I am awfully proud that I haven’t cut myself once with a knife during the entire time I’ve been at the pub. In fact, the only time I’ve cut myself was shredding carrots on a mandoline without a finger guard (we don’t have them, and even if we did, none of us would want to look stupid enough to have to use them…. in IT parlance, imagine a coworker walking up behind you and seeing you actually reading a manual. Bitch, please.).

I have a fear of looking stupid or like I don’t know something, and I’ve made strides in getting over that, too, because then I don’t continue to look stupid. Fake it til you make it will not work in the kitchen meritocracy.

Lately, I’ve been told that I am a rock star- not only because I can cook, but because I’ve been able to drop everything when they’ve needed me on days I haven’t been scheduled. Cooking rapidly and accurately is a large part of the job, but even more important is showing up. The biggest brownie points you can make in a kitchen is showing up on time every single shift, and flexibility in your schedule so that everyone knows you can be counted upon when chips are down. Another large part is doing exactly what the kitchen manager/chef says without complaining because you hate change. Adaptation is key, and if that’s not one of your strong points, I don’t advise working in a restaurant at all.

In one of my restaurants, I actually witnessed a line cook talking back to the chef, and they were gone within two minutes. It doesn’t take more than that for the boss to decide that they’d rather have someone malleable than someone who can’t say, “yes, Chef,” and move on…. or worse yet, walk out during the middle of a shift because the chef told them to change something and they decided the entire job was bullshit and not even worth it.

Most cooks think that they can get rehired in a day. This is not untrue unless the new restaurant needs references. If you’ve walked out on your last three chefs, good luck. God bless. Most small restaurants won’t check, but I’m guessing that if you decide you’re good enough for Momofuku CCDC, that’s a whole different thing. It’s the DC restaurant in David Chang’s small empire, and they have an amazing chef named Tae Strain, hand picked by Chang to shake the menu up. When David Chang was actually the chef there, it was a sort of homecoming for him- his parents live in Vienna, VA. But every executive chef I know has decided at one time or another to let in new blood, and Strain is a rising star. There are only two people I can think of off the top of my head who would fit right in on the first day. I am not one of them.

I am just a pub kind of girl….. with ice cream.

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