After working for a few years, Chef Kutter, my boss, upgraded my status to sous chef. There was no certificate or official documentation, just an acknowledgement from the chef to me, the unassuming apprentice, that my work was of an acknowledge-able level. We often joked that my promotion meant more responsibility with the same pay. That's restaurant stuff which was completely fine with me. I took pride in my new title. What the title meant was that I was number two in the kitchen. So, when the boss was out of town, like say, on his honeymoon (which is one of the very few ways to go on an extended vacation when you're the chef), I ran the show. That's when I first realized I might be alright at the kitchengame; being in charge and not catching the kitchen on fire or not over-ordering or way under-ordering, coming up with nightly specials and having the specials not suck, cooking for a 100 person Irish-themed party- somehow making Irish food taste acceptable to the point that I received a rare compliment from one of the country club members about the hunter gravy and how "lucky the GM was to have two good 'chefs'." Being able to handle the responsibility of being in charge of a kitchen meant to me that I might be alright at actual cooking for an actual living. Maybe I was on the right track, I thought. Like Michelangelo discovered the paint brush, I had discovered the whisk, like Michael Jordan learned to dribble, I had learned how to toss a saute pan. Like Jimi Hendrix learned his first chords, I had learned how to combine spices to make house seasonings. I was getting somewhere. I had taken the next step on the kitchen ladder. Now, where were we. Ahh... yes.. I made mention in last months episode of the grueling hours and complete dedication it takes to be a chef at a restaurant. Allow me to recreate a worldly-common kitchen scenario about one particular Friday night at the Fairfield Golf and Country Club, the oldest country club west of the Mississippi River, in December of 2009. It was the night we pulled an all-nighter to finish prepping for a party.
First, though, I have to mention that during that particular December, our kitchen cooked for a total of 25 parties in the first 22 days. Most of the parties were in the range of 50-100 people, some more than that. The meals generally consisted of pre-ordered dishes off of special menus that usually ranged between the options of a steak dish, a fish dish, a chicken dish, and a vegetarian dish. Not that important. The point is: December for restaurants is like April for accountants. It's just wild. It's non-stop. By the end of it, you look back and wonder how in the world you got through it. You can go back and remember specific moments where quick decisions were the difference between blowing it completely and clinging to it just enough to have a handle on it. But really, only by the grace of the kitchen gods can even the strongest of man not be devoured by the beasts of Decemberkitchens (Like Winter forever coming in Game of Thrones, it actually comes every year for kitchen-folk. It's a frightening thing).
I remember my first December at the Fairfield Golf and Country Club. It wasn't pretty. There were consecutive nights where I made some horrible mistakes. The first night was with mozzarella cheese. The very next night was with a gallon or two of Alfredo sauce. It doesn't matter what exactly happened so I'll just keep it short and say for context that I ruined two lasagnas and a gallon or two of alfredo sauce right during crunch time on back to back shifts one night apart from the other. Believe me, I thought I might need to call it quits after the first night out of embarrassment. After the second night, I thought my boss would cut my head off which made me wish even more that I had quit the night before. It was the lowest point in my kitchen career. One that almost drastically changed my life path by me quitting which would have altered everything that has led up to this moment, right now, where I am writing a story in The Skinny. Today it's funny to think about, but then, it felt like I had been punched in the gut. You need a few bad experiences so you can learn from them and get through them stronger on the other side. This was one of those type of experiences- bad enough to make me really sit and think about what I wanted to do with my life, sure; bad enough to learn a lesson and to make me feel like an idiot for a while, absolutely; bad enough to kill me, not by a long shot, daddy-o. The show would go on. The story would be continued. Cook Weejy, who on consecutive nights in December single-handedly nearly destroyed two parties would a few years later be sous chef Weejy, who in December would be pulling an all-nighter to finish prepping for a December party. I had learned a few tricks and been recognized for them. Soon enough, I would developed a plan.
To have a story to continue in this line of work is a sigh of relief... To be continued...