From the Kitchen: Bonne Saint-Valentin
I been missing because I devoted the last two weeks of my time to working in the kitchen, where I’ve learnt how to break down a rabbit, successfully plate up 75% of a menu, a thing or two about pastry, cook pancakes really efficiently, make a near perfect potato gratin and among other things, how to move about naturally in a commercial kitchen.
This is actually the second time I’ve done a short stint in the kitchen, and on the first day of work I was wondering why I did this again. In short, I guess I subscribe to Nietzsche's thought of "What does not kill me, makes me stronger." I was standing on my feet for an average of 10 hours a day and in a hellishly hot kitchen in a chef jacket that was frustratingly seemed to be trapping heat. On the third day after service, I slumped against a chair and with a bottle of water and whinged to my chef de partie whom I worked under, ‘I’ve lost feeling my right big toe; I can’t feel it!’ She turned to me and answered indifferently, ‘oh, that’s normal, I can’t feel my big toe either, you’ve get the feeling back once you stop standing on your feet for so long.’ Eventually I lost feeling in both my big toes, and that’s just something you learn that that’s the norm, you just have to deal with it.
I experienced a spectrum of days of in the kitchen. Slow days good and bad; the energy level was generally lower but it gave you enough time to multi-task between finishing dishes and working on the never ending list of mise en place. It was days when we were slammed that I liked best because you run on adrenaline and a race against yourself and the clock to reach perfection.
My last day at work was valentines. It was supposed to be an easy service since after all there was only one menu for the night as compared to the full house that demanded a mixture of a la carte and dègustation orders on top of the party of 10 that was booked. Life would have been easy if we were really militant about organisation, but anything that can go wrong will go wrong. The first twenty minutes of the service ran smoothly, we quickly managed to group 4 tables into a flight of eight and that was manageable, but it quickly spun out of hand when there was a breakdown of communication and the service were double calling for starters. By 8pm, it still looked like manageable chaos, but by 8.30pm when the dining room was more or less full and the micros printer was spitting out chit after chit after chit, it was clear that we were definitely in the shit and it was going to be a long night. Tempers were rising and the tension between the floor and the kitchen was building, chef who was visibly growing more irritated who originally intended to do flights of 4-5 tables, looked at the meter long of micros paper, did his mental calculation and then called out, ‘ok guys, I need 18 foie gras!’ The job had to be done anyway, we have a full house of love birds that wouldn’t be too pleased if they don’t get their food so we chugged along and chorused ‘yes/oui chef!’ and went about trying to make the impossible possible. Bonne Saint-Valentin! That’s life in the kitchen. It’s hard, the hours are long and demands a lot from your mind and body and you will lose feeling in your big toes. After my two weeks, I have more respect for cooks and chefs, kudos to all staff who work to make holidays a time of feasting and celebration.