Monday, November 17, 2008

Garde Manger

It’s Saturday night. You’re in the cusp of the night’s dinner rush. You’re mise en place is locked and loaded but it’s early, you still have a long way to go. On top of 25 or so reservations on the books, there’s a 70 top at $85 a head coming in at 6pm. Earlier, during your prep, the chef and sous got into a bit of an argument and the tension in the air is still palpable. Everyone is setting into a good pace and everything is moving smoothly so far, but every person in the kitchen can tell that one mishap could throw the whole service into a tailspin. It seems more like a recipe for disaster rather than success. The dishwasher isn’t bringing you plates quickly enough to keep you comfortable so you mention something to her. It’s no big deal yet, just a slight annoyance. You word it tactfully and say it with a smile because, after all, she’s an 18 year old girl and one of the managers’ daughters.

Apps have gone out to the 70 top everything still moving like a fragile ballet, pirouettes on the edge of a knife.. You clear some counter space and get ready to plate salads for the party. Greens, dressing, parm, sliced tomatoes, and plates at the ready – it’s all there, just waiting for your willing and able hands. You dunk your head in the cooler to double check what you already know is there: backups of everything. You nod to yourself and turn back to the counter when…


The ballet freezes and everyone stands silent and motionless for a minute. There are broken dishes all around your feet and all over the counter where you were prepared to plate the salads. The dishwasher is standing next to you, eyes wide and starting to swim. She was bringing the plates you asked for but tried lifting too heavy a stack up to your overhead and dropped the lot. She dives for a broom and dustpan but everyone knows the real harm that’s been done: there are broken shards all over the place and who knows if any got into the salad mise en place, it can’t be used. You can’t risk serving something that might harm a customer, not to mention cause a law suit and shut the restaurant down.

The chef doesn’t blow his top, but he’s pissed and the atmosphere becomes severely uncomfortable. He doesn’t hesitate to order all the salad prep 86ed. He starts barking out for you to start from scratch. Luckily, there are a few extra people staffed tonight and they’re on top of taking care of the party. The next few hours are a whirlwind of intense focus mixed with anxiety and chaos. The printer is screaming orders for regular diners and walk-ins so you switch gears and try to find your pace again.

Fast forward… the night’s over. You only had to stay 30 minutes over your scheduled shift, which you spent joking around with the dishwasher while you help her finish up (she was buried, again). The GM gets you a beer and a few verbal pats on the back from the chef have you feeling pretty good.


Above is a description of what happened Saturday, my fourth night on the job. I have to say that I am absolutely loving every minute of it. I’ve never felt so alive or so focused, but I’m trying to keep myself grounded. I haven’t made any catastrophic mistakes yet so I’m trying to keep my skin thick for when it happens.