From the moment I walked in today, I was in over my head. But it wasn’t just me. It was all of us. I arrived at 1500, which is generally the break between lunch and dinner. There’s a ramp up into chaos. Today, there wasn’t even a step. I hadn’t changed into my kitchen shoes before orders were being yelled at me. Thankfully, I heard them all, and got to work fast. In a kitchen, the conversation runs thusly:
Chef: That’s popcorn, pretzel, three mac and cheese all day, one with bacon.
Me: Heard, Chef
Chef: Thank you, sauté.
And then, while all that is firing, there are five more orders, and then five more, and then five more, and then five more, etc. We didn’t slow down until 2200, when I was cut, and then it was time to break down my station and clean up while the other cook transitions to the late night menu. As I walked out, there was a cover band in the beer garden playing The Backstreet Boys. I was going to skip the shift beer because I had eaten so much…. all the beers on our taps feel like drinking a loaf of bread at once… but the atmosphere was nice and I wanted to be a part of it. Generally, I strike up a conversation with someone. Tonight, I just played with my phone.
The only thing that truly went wrong was that I was asked to heat up some beer cheese for the pretzels, and when I was transferring it over to the line, I dropped it. I tried to save it, but someone had put the cold pan on the range so that the edge to pick it up was hot AF without telling me, so when I picked what I thought was a cold pan back up, it was a thousand degrees and I burned myself worse than I ever have before. My arm is missing at least three layers of skin, and I shrank back in horror… not because my arm hurt, but because beer cheese is expensive and time-consuming. It was a major fuck-up, and I own it. I could go on about how with better communication, I wouldn’t have burned myself, etc., but the buck ultimately stops with me. I took my eye off the range for ten seconds, and that’s all it took for the pan to superheat.
Other than that, though, I had a shift of which I can be proud. The prep cooks will have my ass in the morning, though. I don’t even want to think about it. Dirty looks that can’t be misconstrued even with a language barrier. They won’t care how busy we were. I guarantee it.
But that’s just how restaurants go. Prep cooks that never step up to the line have no concept of line time, and just how fast it moves, and how the pace trips everyone up at one time or another. The best of us have had their dumbass attacks, praying no one saw it. I was lucky enough that everyone and their dog was in the kitchen when the pan slipped out of my hand. I will never live it down. Five years from now, they’ll still remember that I dropped the beer cheese that one time in ’18. It’s just our nature. War stories are our jam…. and if you only make one mistake in a shift, consider yourself lucky.
Tomorrow is my dreaded dishwashing shift, then back on the line at 1600. I used to like being the dishwasher more than I do now, because I liked being left alone to my own devices. Now, it just feels isolating, like kitchen jail. The prep area and the line feel so far away, literally and metaphorically. However, when I feel down about it, I remember that anyone else in the restaurant could walk out except for me, and we’d be fine. I am the key to the whole operation. When Jesus said the last will be first, I’m pretty sure dishwashers are who he meant, because you can run a restaurant down a cook, but you can never run a restaurant without a dishwasher.
Write it down.
The thing that I do like about the dish pit is that when it’s the craziest on the line, I am off in my own little world. Not my circus, not my monkeys. Occasionally, I’ll get called up to the line if there’s more work than two cooks can reasonably do, but on a Sunday, that’s rare.
Cooks are notoriously suspicious people, so pretend I didn’t say that. I probably jinxed us for the whole day.
We’ll probably get spanked.