Fun night tonight, as I was on the line with Elliot (on 3), KO (training on 2), and Dylan to watch over me. Elliot’s one of my favorite line cooks (if not THE favorite) because he’s like my line cook role model. In my mind, he’s like a sharpshooter; one shot, one kill. He’s fast, he’s efficient, he’s affable, he’s smart. He’s the first person I’d ever seen make his own couscous and mascarpone cheese from scratch. If I didn’t think of him as a cool older brother(-in-arms), I’d probably have a crush on him. Hrmm. Too much information? Don’t worry, I don’t.
KO is the newest addition to our Avec family, but he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite people to work with (this is from a prep cook perspective because usually I work closely with them when they work as openers, as opposed to lately on the line). He has a hearty laugh. Not that that contributes to line cook prowess, but you can’t dislike a person with such a good natured laugh.
Dylan is like a brother to me too, but one where our ages are so close together, we should practically be twins. He was hired around the same time I was and worked prep on the days I had off. For the longest time I’d never seen him, so I had no idea who he was. I even nicknamed him “The Me Who Isn’t Me Because I’m Better” after our prep cook duties and because I thought I was a better prep cook. But unlike me, he started to learn the line early on and is now a proficient line cook on station 1, whereas I’m JUST starting to try out my wings. So who’s better now?

Tonight was busy for a Wednesday, especially since it seemed to start early in the evening. It tapered off by 10:30, but for a good while I was on the sidelines watching and I was slightly dismayed that this would be a repeat of Friday night. During a lull, Dylan asked me if I was ready to take over. “Nope,” I said. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he retorted, and stepped aside to let me get by.
There weren’t any tickets on the board yet so I put some parcooked dates on their warming plate and dropped my next to last one so it left a greasy orange stain down my apron. D’oh! Elliot saw it and gave me a friendly smirk: “I didn’t see that,” he said.
As things started to pick up and more orders came my way, I started to get a little overwhelmed. I hung in there until I was just about to fire a pork shoulder that was simmering on the side of the oven and it slipped out of my grasp and fell on the floor. Ugah!!! I was mortified but Dylan just wiped up the mess (while I got together a replacement shoulder) and took it in stride. “Were you hurt?” he asked. When I said no, he said, “Then that’s all that matters.” Times like this, I’m really grateful to Dylan. He makes it seem like we have all the time in the world, even when we’re working as quickly as we can. I like it when he’s coaching me because I feel like I pick up and absorb more information when he’s talking.
Of course, despite my diligence, I was starting to get behind and reached a low point when I’d forgotten to put on a pan of dates and ran out of cooked ones just as I’d gotten 3 orders of dates on the ticket board =___= This was pretty bad. If there’s one thing to know about Station 1, it’s that you pretty much have to be a Date Machine. If Avec is known for any one dish, it’s the dates. McDonald’s has the Big Mac. School cafeterias have Mystery Meat. Avec has Bacon-Wrapped Chorizo-Stuffed Dates. And I dropped the ball and was getting backed up. Dylan stepped in and helped me out the that jam. And then I went back on the line until we closed. Huzzah! Made it to the end.

I really have to stop sweating the small stuff. When I dropped the pork shoulder, in my mind, the world stopped. And when we ran out of rolls, Dylan just went downstairs to get some baguettes. He really puts things in perspective. Koren gave me an encouraging follow-up: “Everybody drops stuff. Just move on.” Yes, Chef!

After work, just before we left for the train station, we stayed for a bit and the guys had a cocktail and I had water. (It’s always a great laugh when I ask for a Shirley Temple, even though I’m half-serious.) I chatted with the food runner, Marcus. One of the servers, Sontra, hugged me for hanging in there and made sure I was coming to her bday party. This is what I’ve wanted! To feel included and be one of the gang. Yes!
When we got to the train station, my happy euphoria wore off a little when Dylan and Elliot started talking about more serious matters. I couldn’t tell if it was just pipe dreams, but they talked about moving to one of the tourist towns in Mexico and opening a food joint, which then turned into lament over our crappy wages and how it’s getting harder to live off it. Apparently front of the house staff makes at least 3 times more than the cooks do. It made me sad, even though I like what I do, working with food for a living. At some point they turned to me and told me I should consider working in a hotel. “Huh? But I can’t go anywhere yet when I don’t even have any line experience.” I didn’t want to work in prep forever, not knowing what life was like on the other side. Elliot said that in some ways prep work was more important than line work. Anyone can work a line, but prep takes skill. Dylan said that with my prep skills, I could kill it in GM (my brain was saying “General Manager?” but I knew he meant garde manger).
It’s something to think about. Hotel restaurants like NoMi pay better wages and they offer benefits and lots of perks. But despite all this, I still love where I work. As long as I can still work with Elliot, Dylan, Jorge, and Koren, I’m happy and mostly contented. Is that naive?

One thing’s for sure. Just before I got off the train at my stop, Dylan let me know that I was getting a lot better. Phew!
If I can have more times like these: pushing out food, winding down with the guys and drinks, a semi-serious discussion with people I respect, then I look forward to tomorrow.

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