‘It’s really about production, a sort of factory if you will.’
Thus began the night that would very sweetly shatter the glass that was my concept of a restaurant kitchen.
I had shadowed at this restaurant once before, and had been excited, anxious, thrilled, to see chefs bustling about, prepping, baking, filling lunch orders. That was a slow day by any restaurant’s standards. I had chatted mostly with the pastry chef and sampled her bright, fresh three-layered lemon sponge cake and her rich, coffee-laden tiramisu – somehow the two desserts complimented each other, even though they weren’t meant to. And at the end of the day, I was fed a creamy, earthy, cheesy mushroom soup – best soup I’ve had in a while.
Nothing to it. I’d had my first ever restaurant shadow and still felt pretty confident that I wanted to be in a kitchen for the next year. A couple chefs told me I was crazy to want that, I sort of laughed it off. During that very slow lunch, I could see the creativity and pride that these chefs put into their work, into preparing their dishes. I wanted to be a part of that in some kitchen somewhere.
But of course I hadn’t yet seen the real rush, the hustle, the work-the-line kind of intensity. I hadn’t really seen the beast come to life. So the executive chef and manager recommended I come back for dinner. A reasonable and sensible suggestion; I went back on a Friday evening.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I have a colorful, appetizing and delicious plate of food brought to me by the hardworking servers at whatever restaurant, I imagined that the chefs took care. That they followed the recipe, sure, but more than that, that they were conscious and present in the creative process of meal preparation. I imagined that preparing this dish and every dish that evening was a moment of creativity, of pride, of investment, small moments of fulfillment as each ingredient was sautéed, grilled, fried to requested perfection and assembled on a warm or cool plate. In my ideal world, the chefs would know where each ingredient came from and would be happy to work with these ingredients, to bring them to life on an eater’s palate, knowing that in doing so, they had honored the ingredients, the land and artisans who produced those ingredients, and the diners just beyond the kitchen doors.
Cue the disruption of my fantasy kitchen candyland.