Under Fire: Through the gates

Our former Cafe Society intern just decided to chuck college in favor of a real education: as a sous chef. In Under Fire, he chronicles his daily trials and tribulations in the kitchen.

I recently wrote about how I've started the transition from being a pantry guy making salads and watching the big boys cook to actually cooking things myself.

The next part of this transition involves some lifestyle changes. About a year ago, really soldiering through a tough couple of days meant working about six hours, then having a paper to write, then going to class the next day. Now, my quest to become a big boy involves getting drunk, then working long hours, then repeating.

After an-eleven hour day on Friday, I finagled my way into a bar with the line cooks and Chef, and prepared for a night of "lifestyle changes." Predictable debauchery followed, but I still was in the kitchen Saturday morning at about 10:30 a.m. (Chef told me to come in at 11, but the kitchen is probably the ONLY place where I run early).

I was there, but I was not in a good place.

I slothed through Saturday -- that's the best way I can explain it. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry (really "big boy-ish," right?), but instead I set up my station, grumbling the whole way. Chef was in and out, and we both got worse throughout the day -- as did the situation in the restaurant.

It went something like this: a former server was having a wedding that about half our front- of-the-house staff, including the owner, was not going to miss. That left a bartender, two servers, two backwaits and two hostesses. For them, it was like going into battle with half an army.

In back, we were doing no better. Because of a slow week, we'd tried to make no more produce orders for Saturday, so we were flirting with 86ing a lot of the menu. If something went on a run, it would very well be gone before 8:30. Making things worse, a meat order didn't show up, leaving us scrambling there, too.

We were all hungover and smelled like alcohol and sadness. The icing on our shit cake was the fact we would be having a replacement dishwasher who said he'd never really washed dishes before. This is NOT the way you want to jump into a Saturday night.

The kitchen has a very subtle way of being forgiving, though, and the major stresses you have hours before service seem to always figure themselves out. That doesn't mean I wasn't popping pills like an addict, but we ended up running out of only one thing, the front of the house survived, and Armageddon was avoided.

The dishwasher did good up until around 10 p.m., when it became clear that he was getting buried. I began to gave him a hand, but even with the both of us, I wasn't out the door until 11:30 p.m.

So I'm no real cook yet, but 24 hours of work mixed with a seemingly equal amount of abusive drinking over two days at least allowed me to peek my head through the gates of the proverbial, "kitchen life."

I wonder when I'll be comfortably looking from the inside out.