Posts tagged ‘Dan Weiland’

Testing The Faith

“In all the nine years that I’ve worked here, she’s the only one I feel sorry for.” -Mikie

 
[This entry about Wednesday service was written Thursday night and published Friday morning.]

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Last night was a fucking shitty night. One of the shittiest services of my life. I probably had a meltdown and everyone could see it. Remember how Tuesday night was a “turning-point”? Well, apparently it was just a foreshadower of Wednesday, which was a fucking hell-fueled, hate-filled onslaught that didn’t let up.

There’s no question of what happened. It’s what always happens. It starts out quiet and then the pace quickens. Except the dinner rush was way too fast for me to keep up. It was focaccia-flatbread city hell. In the span of about five to ten minutes, I already had 7 focaccias on the board. Opener Sylvester didn’t make the focaccia dough until after 4pm. And he’d never made the dough before. Of course the dough would be tight as fuck. And just my luck that he didn’t let the dough proof enough before he wrapped them up and put them in the walk-in. To complicate matters slightly more, Tuesday’s opener Fred made the flatbread dough and I knew Tuesday night it looked tight (even though Koren said it’d be okay by the next day), and guess what? It was deep into Wednesday night and after using up my initial good tray (a batch of Fred’s that Koren super-proofed), I dug into the slow-proofed ones and they decided they weren’t going to be my friends. As I was struggling with all these doughs and trying to sell them as fast I could, more tickets were still pouring out the ticket machine. I was still trying to delegate course firings while trying to find time in between to make all those other dishes I’m responsible for. Everytime Ruth (who was on 3) set down tickets, I inwardly cringed. Everytime I read the tickets and they were full of my dishes, my heart wilted a little more. Every ticket set me back further and further. My spirit flagged, but I forced myself to keep plugging away.

I was getting scared because I couldn’t keep up, because I wasn’t prepared for this, because no matter how fast I was moving it wasn’t making a lick of difference. I was bombarded with tickets there was no use protesting against, only adding to my growing panic. Terrified out of my mind, but with no outlet to release it to, the only way I could deal was to get frustrated and angry. When Server Mikie came up to the window and apologetically asked me if I could agree to take on a ticket for some newly seated diners WHO HAD TO BE OUT IN 30 MINUTES, I almost wailed in despair; they mostly wanted dishes off of my station. I practically begged her to try to course from the other two stations. But these people apparently didn’t eat meat so station 1 was out, and 3 had just gone through a couple of menu changes, switching out its two most popular seafood items for beef. With angry resignation at myself, I bit out, “Fine. I’ll do my fucking damnedest.” And I sent out that shit as fast as I could to get them out of my fucking sight.

Ticket after ticket after ticket…. I tried to make more than just ONE focaccia at a time, but the dough was so. fucking. tight. As soon as I finished rolling one, the one in the oven was ready for slicing open. When I tried to work the flatbread dough, it was so tight, it would stretch a bit and then tear (my only recourse was to let them sit a bit to temper and stretch them gently… imagine what it did to my patience). Koren told me I was 25 minutes behind on focaccia and they had all been inconsistent. (Even when I told her the dough was being difficult, it sounded like a lame cop-out to my ears.) I wanted to curse out Sylvester and Fred and then rip out their throats, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t their fault and every station 2 line cook before me has had to deal with shitty-ass dough. (I wondered if I was the first line cook who had to work with TWO shitty-ass doughs.) A residual cough leftover from my spring flu was acting up again and now that I was so stressed, I couldn’t stop coughing every couple of minutes. I was mortified to look so unprofessional. I tamped down the urge to cry. My mouth was parched. I’d been trying to work so hard, I didn’t even stop to drink water. When I did take the opportunity to take a couple of sips, I felt like I was brazenly stopping for an undeserved break.

When Mikie came to the window to ask how things were going, in a moment of weakness (which is kinda hysterical given how pathetic a sight I was already), I blubbered in a quivering voice how I was in hell and all I wanted to do was burst into tears on the line and how I couldn’t. I was in the middle of selling a focaccia and as I pulled the peel away, half the focaccia fell off the board. WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK?!?!?!?!?! And I still had like three more focaccia to make!!!! I had no time to waste!!! You could practically see my heart breaking. I shakily apologized and said I’d make another. Luckily Mikie insisted it could be put back together, and with Elliot’s help, the situation was righted. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved on to work more dough. The assault continued.

Though I struggled a great deal, I would’ve been even deeper in the weeds if not for Ruth. When I had that initial 7-focaccia pickup, she flattened down all my doughs for me. When she wasn’t busy, she helped me fire mackerel, made the anchovy flatbread, she plated a couple dishes for me too. Once when I was in the middle of rolling a focaccia but had to pause to pull out a cooked one to slice it open, she wordlessly and generously finished my rolling for me. I asked Elliot for some occasional assistance as well, plating a burrata and maybe a salad.

By the time things started slowing down, I was bone-tired and soul-weary. I hadn’t drunk enough water and was starting to develop a heat migraine. I knew I’d been terrible on the line, but I wanted some constructive criticism, so I asked Elliot, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad was I?” which got me the tepid wishy-washy response of “You’ll get better.” What, he couldn’t be honest with me? I just wanted to know how I did. I said as much, and I guess I was starting to fray at the seams and he didn’t like my indignant tone because he started to lecture me on my emotions; how I’d been angry all night (“Yes, I was infuriated!”) and throwing things around (“I was throwing things?!”) and how everyone could see me: “You have to be a leader. You have to keep it together or else the other stations will break down.”
What little fight I had left in me died and was replaced with acute disappointment. He was not wrong, but he did not help my situation. Did he even understand it? As I tidied up my station, I fought back tears and just let the waves of sadness wash over me. The service had rubbed my spirit raw, but his words had hurt me the most. I wasn’t going to cry, I told myself, I’d wait til I arrived home.

Dan Weiland came in sometime later with a junior coworker of his to eat at the chef’s table. I was happy to see him, but I wish he hadn’t come in that night. I didn’t want him to see how much service had gotten to me so I plastered a smile on my face. Elliot’s criticism had subdued me so I didn’t talk much. A couple more tickets came in, one of them for chef’s table: burrata, mackerel, and a half-focaccia. I inwardly groaned. Thankfully, that was all he’d order off my station; Dan later ordered a whitefish, a half brandade and a squid. After dinner, he bought us all a shot. He was amused I opted for tequila. I downed it but later it worsened my headache. I talked very little, pushed out food when I had to, delegated when necessary, and waited for the night to finally be over.

As service wound down, a ticket came in for a half prosciutto for someone at the bar. I made it and it was taken away. A couple minutes later another ticket came for half prosciutto, which I also sold away. A second later, barback Ryan came back saying the diner already had one, and though I was disappointed at the waste of slicing the meat and making a salad that could not be saved, I chalked it up to Mikie mistakenly ringing up two tickets, because it seemed like a little mistake she’d make. I removed the salad and put the plate of prosciutto in my lowboy.

What kills me is that twenty minutes later, server Christine called over asking about the prosciutto. I realized then that the two tickets WERE separate orders (I was stupid not to read the ticket numbers but I believed Ryan’s words). Stung by the unfairness of all the factors that had been against me all night, I started to weakly protest I’d made one…but I stopped myself. What was the use? Some diner had been waiting twenty minutes for one measly plate of prosciutto, and all the while I’d been chatting or cleaning my station. He probably wondered what was wrong with me. After hearing Christine call me out, Ryan immediately rushed over to profusely apologize. That was when I almost lost it. I started to shake like I was going to break down and cry, but somehow found the strength to tamp it down and briskly say, “No, don’t worry about it, it’s not your fault.” As soon as I sold the plate, I went to the bathroom to hide my hurt. Just cry at home, I told myself, do NOT fucking cry here. The thought steadied me.

Midnight finally rolled around and I volunteered to go downstairs and set up shoulder. I just didn’t want to be upstairs any longer. Koren was getting ready to go home. She didn’t say much to me except, “good job tonight” which was a lie so off-white it was practically brown. I just said thanks and bid her goodnight. I thought about how no one had really said much to me all night.

Elliot had biked to work so I took the train by myself. I was relieved and a little disappointed. It was for the best though, my headache was killing me and I didn’t feel like talking.

When I finally got home an hour later, I heated up a little brown rice in the microwave while I cooked an egg. I hadn’t eaten all night, and I hate taking medicine on an empty stomach. Watching the egg, I started recalling all the night’s bullshit that had descended upon me. I cooked the egg while tears streamed down my face, and ate my sad dinner as I quietly sobbed.

Thankfully this story has a slightly happy ending. Around 3AM I got a text from Ruth with really kind words and advice that made me feel better. She’d experienced 2 herself a couple of weeks ago and every nice thing she said (“Good job tonight! The wheels did not fall off the bus! You shall prevail! Just wait until you have Armanzo stabbing tickets in the window, ha!”) was like soothing balm to my soul. I never saw how many covers we did that night but chances are, it was probably a normal Wednesday number, and it was only I who had struggled alone. A more seasoned line cook like Elliot probably would’ve handled tonight with more aplomb and grace, but it’s like he’s so experienced now, so far removed from the line cook’s initial apprehensions to unfamiliar territory, that when he’d said “You’ll get better” earlier that night, it sounded perfunctory and hollow. He’d had no empathy, which was all I really wanted.

Well, I’m on 3 the rest of this week, but I’ll probably see time on 2 the first three days of next week. Like I said in a facebook post I’d made, “…It’s okay. I’ll keep taking it until I get better, or I vomit blood. It’s looking 50-50 right now.”

Tiny Steps, Huge Leaps, And Lots Of Progress

Holy crap, I just realized that this is the first anniversary of my becoming a line cook. Last year, March 3rd, I made a tiny announcement to the world… and now here I am. Damn, I’ve come a long way.

I’m glad I started this blog or else I would’ve forgotten this auspicious day entirely, but that in itself wouldn’t have been so bad either. To me, working is savoring each day, but also knowing that all the days blur into a collective. All same. All different. How zen. I told a stage today I’d been a line cook for “about 9 months” so the blurred days comment is quite apt. My sense of time is skewed!

I don’t want to get too maudlin but I’m just amazed at the changes in me and all around me in the year that’s gone by. I’m still timid and exasperatingly ultra-cautious (station 2, anyone?) but I can definitely tell that I’ve acquired a little moxie from working on the line. Is it too introspective to say that I am a reflection of the people who have and are working with me?

I have tried to imbue in myself:

  • Katie Furst’s vivaciousness
  • Dan Weiland’s friendliness
  • Justin Large’s wit and sagacity
  • John Anderes… uh, I try to do things opposite of him, but he had pretty sweet taste in music.

 
I want to be as awesome and reliable as Elliot, as fun and confident as Armanzo, a pillar like Jorge, and always try to lead by Koren’s example (though timid ultra-cautiousness tends to get in the way).

I opened today and I just had to take a picture of the pasta dough I was working. It’s one of the first things Justin Large taught me to make and I’ve had a special fondness for it ever since.

Cutting rolled dough into uniform sheets is always a thrill. It’s for that reason why I love to make pappardelle or pasta kerchiefs.


See those white speckles in the dough? Those are salt speckles. In my humble experience, a dough that’s rested long enough will develop those specks and is an indicator that it’s ready for rolling. It handled like a dream.

Thank you Justin Large for being my first (and so far only) kitchen Dad. Thank you kitchen brothers and sisters for enriching and educating me. Thank you Kitchen Gods for smiling on me more often than not.

I’m off Wednesday but back to work Thursday on Station 1. Fun times.

Biting That Bullet

Got home an hour ago and was going to post, but I Really. Needed. A Bath. First. I didn’t look it, but I felt so grimy and gross and I wanted to wash my face so badly. I asked Katie about it today and she said the heat just takes getting used to, and that she broke out in the beginning too. “And you’ll get heat rashes too,” she warned. Ugahhhhh ;_;
For now, I’m just using some hydrating face wash my sister gave me as a birthday present. It’s some fancy shmancy Swiss brand that I just googled and the face wash alone costs $39. Man, I hope this stuff helps cos for that amount of money (even though I didn’t pay for it) it would be utterly tragic if it didn’t. Fingers crossed.

Spent more time on the line tonight with Dylan coaching me. It was really busy, it being Friday and all, so I was really, really, really grateful that he was around to tell me what to do. Okay, so I didn’t do much thinking on the line tonight. I was Dylan’s Date Bot and I’m not ashamed to admit it that I leaned HEAVILY on that crutch. Katie, sweet soul that she is, didn’t want me mindlessly following Dylan’s orders and to figure it on my own, even going so far as suggesting that I fly it solo tomorrow. But I put the kibosh on that. I feel like I barely made it through the night, even WITH Dylan’s coaching. Saturday on my own would just be throwing me under the bus. I told her nicely that I felt I would be too overwhelmed and that I would like to experience this week with help and attempt a solo gig next week. Erg…. =___=

Tonight was a little brutal for me. I felt like I was behind on everything. This might not be true (one of the food runners told me Katie fires off courses too fast) but even so, I felt like I was getting beat up. While on the line I had to constantly fight the urge to step down and ask Dylan to take over. I wanted to run away and go back down to the easy schedule of prep work, to just say, “Okay, I don’t think I can handle this right now, please save me.” But I just steeled my nerves and reminded myself that others before me have had to deal with the same situation. They couldn’t just coward out on a busy night–and neither would I stoop to that level. And besides, I have a personal goal to attain and it means staying put on the line. Still, it was a relief to have Dylan step in while I went to the bathroom. I washed my face, I retied my drooping bandanna head covering. I took a deep breath and looked at myself in the mirror. Then I headed back to the line, since there wasn’t any turning back.

Despite the rough edges, some highlights tonight were:
– Rebekah (one of our bar staff) requested the chicken dish, which I tried to make really nicely. She came back and told me I did a great job on it.
– Joking with Erik (Eric? I have to ask him next time), a food runner, during a lull. I showed him my joke dances: a super dorky shoulder bounce and a dance I call The Librarian. He cracked up so much. Hehe!
– Ex-Avec line cook (and current C-House sous chef) Dan Weiland, whom I felt a special kinship with since we sometimes hung out after work and chatted, came in to eat with some friends and it was such a pleasure to have him see me on the line since he always encouraged me to try my hand at it.
– Our hostess Liz and her boyfriend offered me a ride to the red line train station after we closed (cos the green and brown were closed), which saved me from taking a cab. Liz told me she liked the cereal milk ice cream I’d made. When I’ve got the time I’ll make her some, along with my other requested ice creams).

Right, and now it’s nearly 5AM (where did the time fly?!) and I’ve got to get up early for a mandatory staff meeting tomorrow at 11AM. Urgh…. goodnight.