Friday, April 15, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Professional Cook Continues...

...Continued from previous post.

First things first. I quickly whip up a timeline. Like any good cook who has worked long enough in restaurant kitchens, I know that spending a few minutes getting organized and planning out the work will save me an eternity of chaos and disarray. Besides, knowing that I know what needs to be done and when also puts me at ease. The last thing I want to do is run around the kitchen like a headless chicken at crunch time.

A prep list is also quickly conjured up. Although it seems incredibly long, that feeling of being able to tick tasks off as they are completed is almost therapeutic.

Now onto the work itself. I start with the things that take the longest to get done. This seems obvious enough but if I pay no heed to this simple principle, it will bite me in the ass later.

Number one on the agenda is the meatloaf. I get my ingredients in order: ground beef (thank god I remembered to pull that out of the freezer last evening to thaw overnight), onion, garlic, spices, seasoning, eggs, breadcrumbs, some chopped herbs thrown in there and voila! My hodgepodge is ready to cook.

I prepare it exactly the same way I do every Saturday as per Chef's weekly family meal menu. I pack the mixture in batches into a greased loaf pan, turn them over onto sheet trays, and into the oven they go at 170 C. A new record this time, Mr. Family Meal Cook! 12 minutes!

Now all I have to do is let it cook for about 45 minutes glazing it every fifteen with spiced ketchup. The American cooks in the kitchen will be very happy with this one, I'm sure. As will the Chef who is oh-so-particular about the quality of staff meals every day.

Luckily for me, the reservations are low for lunch, so I don't need to prep a lot. Nevertheless, it needs to be ready by 12 pm when the restaurant opens. In an hour's time, 3/4th of my once gargantuan list is now stricken off. Ah, relief in a busy kitchen is attained in the subtlest of ways.

I switch into cleaning mode to tidy up for the shoot as per my timeline. "One must seldom deviate from it!", I keep telling myself. I re-button my chef coat to hide the ketchup stains (the kitchen jackets are made double-breasted for a reason!) and roll down my sleeves. I do a  swift wipe down of the entire area around me and I'm ready for action again just as the Chef walks into the kitchen. Perfect timing comes naturally to us cooks after a point, you see.

The kitchen opens for lunch soon enough. "Order, fire, pick up two lobster salad!", barks the chef as the first ticket pops up on the printer. "Oui, Chef", I promptly respond. Here we go!

The next couple of hours go by in a flash. Lunch service turns out to be a breeze, and the party is taken care of with no glitches. Phew! The fact that Chef is in an unusually good mood helps too. I also happen to be caught on tape during the shoot, which means that I'll be on national TV some time in the spring. "Hi Mom!"

Like most days, I forget to eat lunch--yes, the one I personally cooked for all the employees. One of the biggest misconceptions people have about chefs is regarding their eating habits. In reality, most chefs will admit that they are terribly poor eaters. It's ironic, but true nevertheless.  I'm starving by the time service winds up and I grab whatever is left over from the staff lunch--my staff lunch. Cold meatloaf makes for a pretty good sandwich actually. Yum!

Fatigue is yet to kick in as my day is only half complete. Lunch was just the opening act for the big show--dinner service. That too on a Saturday, by far the busiest night of the week for any restaurant.

As the clock strikes five, I get that all too familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach that I get every night the restaurant is busy. It is the same feeling I would experience right before performing on stage with my rock band 'Irksome Bliss' back in college. It's not a sensation of fear or dread but of anxiousness and anticipation of what is to follow. You can do everything right and be a 100 percent prepared but anything can happen in a restaurant kitchen and it is that uncertainty that makes it all the more exhilarating.

I see Tony, the restaurant manager, handing over the reservation sheet to Chef. Tonight, there are 250 on the books. That would make this one of the busiest nights we've had in a while.

The printer starts humming and a sudden silence falls on the entire kitchen.

"Order, fire, pick up six beef tartar!" yells the Chef. And here we go again!

To be continued...


  1. Do think of writin a book some day ...must say its fun to read ...its just like we r takin a walk along wid u in ur kitchen...ur doing a gr8 job ...

  2. Nice stuff bro. But don't stop now.

    Also, please keep the restaurant reviews coming. It's about time someone said it straight.

  3. Liz: Thanks. That's exactly the way I want the reader to feel. Wait till you read the next part.

    Abu: Will keep em' coming!

  4. Still enjoying reading as you bring us along. Nice choices of focus and detail.
    I do find myself curious to hear more about the others (there must be other staff in the restaurant) and their work/actions around you as you accomplish your tasks.
    [I think I'd say "on to the work itself" rather than "onto."]
    Prof. W