I left work tonight so fucking frustrated that I just have to try to write it out of my system if I am going to get any peace. Join me if you care to. When I was a young man and I embarked upon a career as a dishwasher I had the opportunity to work in the dish room of a little seafood shack that sat not too far from the train tracks on a road that was called Spring Garden. In that dish room there was a small window. That window did not look outside. It was a conduit to the kitchen which was on the other side of the wall and without warning sizzling hot spent pans would come hurling through to clatter into the dish sink. There was furious activity on the other side of that wall and I was curious to see what was going on but of course if I didn't move fast enough one of the cooks might hit me in the face with a saute pan.
I started by cleaning potatoes and wrapping them in foil. I cleaned shrimp ass. I scrubbed mussels and pulled out their beards. I followed a recipe to make a vat of cole slaw. Finally one night I was trained on the fryer/steamer station. By the end of the night I was coated in grease and hushpuppy batter. I discovered, as did some of the women I consorted with, that standing in front of a steamer for six hours steaming oysters and clams did terrible things to a man. I stunk like a Briny crack whore.
Night after night as I worked on the line in the kitchen I became more and more in touch with what this whole job is really about. Time. The flow of it. And the zen idea of the masterless master of mastication. There is really nothing to cooking that is difficult. With a repertoire of about two dozen basic concepts you can work wonders. But when you put yourself in the situation of having to replicate those few basic concepts in a constantly changing order with an ever changing inventory of ingredients repetitively hopefully perfectly under the looming taskmaster of the unforgiving clock, you have trespassed into the realm of the line cook. A hideous beast, some might say.
Hopefully in the chaos of your night, you are still directing the current of the rapids. Hopefully you are the master without a master. Hopefully you are the clock. You are the pendulum inside of the clock. Everything in the kitchen up to the moment that the waitress puts in the first ticket of service is Prep. Mad prep. In every corner, on every surface, with every hand on deck. The more preparation you can get done before the service starts the better off you are going to be. If you do not have your mise en place you are going to sink like a fucking rock to the bottom of the blackest sea.
One of my worst experiences as a line cook ever happened at Delucchi (I could say that sentence more than once). The morning of New Year's Day 2001. I had gotten myself involved with this ridiculous place a few weeks earlier by jumping ship from the Pasta P. Both of the chefs at Delucchi had turned out to be complete lunatics. Complete wrecks. They both had horrific drinking problems and they were crooks. Let me say that I am not without flaw. On that new years eve I went out and got shitfaced with one of the chefs. I probably drank a bottle of tequila myself. This may sound ass backwards but one of the things that was fueling my drinking that night was my nervousness at having been assigned to cook breakfast the next day. I had made it clear to both of the chefs that I was not versed in egg cooking but they had waved it off like it was no problem. I was two hours late to work the next morning. I had been scheduled to come in at seven and work with one of the chefs to prepare for breakfast. I was smashed. I was seeing double. I had shit in my pants. My mouth was full of vomit. There was no preparation done. Not even a single egg cracked. He was in no better condition than me. He had arrived on time but he hadn't done jack shit. As soon as he saw me, he shook his fist at me and split. He just left. The waitstaff opened the doors and people began to flow in.
And then the terror began.
One of the most depressing things about business being slow at Delucchi is that you lose your sense of timing on a busy line. Of course one of the most shitty things about Delucchi is that when it is in fact busy the kitchen gets slaughtered with tickets because the line is not big enough to accommodate the volume of orders. You try to tell this to some people and they look right through you. They give you the zombie eye. Because they don't really care do they? They just want to get the shit out of their hands as fast as possible and fuck the kitchen.
But anyway back to being slow. It has been painfully slow. It has been "shitting money" slow. Actually today turned out to be a good day. I got in early and poked around in the walk in for a while and then I made a batch of minestrone that came out really nice. I ate some eggs with kale and chicken breast and then I went out to the line and cut the saute cook early and took over his position. And then for four hours I cooked. I finished up the breakfast service and hummed right along with lunch. Tickets flowed in and tickets flowed out. It is a very spiritual inner place. Being at one with the line. I may scream an obscenity now and then but it is all zen. I also set up my mise for the dinner menu because at that point I was feeling a good buzz from working nonstop for four hours in front of the machine at my station and I planned to cook into the night.
Dinner began. I was at the helm. We were making some nice food. It was steady. We started getting some business. I liked that. I had everything timed out perfectly. I was just rolling along putting out tickets, building my pans, slamming them in the oven, firing my stove. There was a slight rush. Of course two tickets of parties of six came up at the same time along with three deuces and a four top. I started timing it all out in my mind as I began to build my sauces and instruct the expediter what I needed. All six eyes on the stove were firing. I looked back at the line of tickets one more time and felt like I had it all together. I put myself into auto glide and started bringing it all together. I was the clock. It was a beautiful thing.
Then for some reason the expediter moved over to the four burner and fired up some pans. At first I thought he was taking the initiative to get a few of my sauces going for me. Ok, whatever, I'm thinking, but dude don't throw me off my timing. And then I realize that he has fired everything. I'm like, what the fuck are you doing you idiot!!!?? It was so smooth. I was the clock. I had the tickets planned out down to the second. I don't know what the fuck the guy was thinking but it fucked everything up. The food came up pell mell, half ass, completely off time. I was so fucking pissed. What the fuck. I am supposed to be the leader of this brigade of buffoons. Lord, deliver me!!!
I need a white guy.
Thanks, I feel a little better now.