Posts tagged ‘Koren’

While My Eyes Gently Weep

So… I’m currently on vacation. I usually don’t usually update the blog during this time (or my off days either) because I’m not working and there’s nothing to say. But something happened that had to be noted.

Two days ago I got a text from Koren saying how she loved me and would miss me. Thinking that she forgot I was on vacation, I thought nothing of it and just replied how I loved her back. I may have wondered about the wording but then again, I tend to take things at face value a lot.

A couple of hours later during a drive, I got a text from an old coworker asking how avec was doing, he’d just read an article about mom (Koren’s nickname).

“I’m outta town right now. Everything was fine when I left. What did the article say?”

“That Koren left avec. Officially.”

….

WHATDAFUQ?

And when I got back, I hopped on eater and there it was, about how she’d left. But nothing about why.

I have my theories on why she did, though they don’t mean shit until I get the truth or some more details. Until then, I texted Ruth asking stuff. Apparently there’d been a meeting about her departure. Paul and Donnie were both getting “misty”. Apparently Publican’s Earling will take over. My first reaction was: AUGH! WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO US ALL?!??! But with a couple days passing I’m over it now. Koren’s left. I’m leaving. I mean, the change was in the wind. I’m out soon and for better or for worse, avec’s gonna weather the storm.

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Oh, Snap!: All Work No Posts

Last week was kind of amazing. Not only did Conan O’Brien come in to eat on Wednesday, but I worked a double the next day (opened and then worked service), and then worked on station 2 on Friday for Ruth (she of the recovering spider bite).

My first Friday on Station 2!!!!!!!! Epic!!!
I was ready to fight my way through a mountain of focaccia tickets, but surprisingly they turned out to be very manageable. It also helped that for a while it was mainly a station 1 party, aka high demand for dates, shoulder, burrata, and chicken.

I don’t think I’d happily volunteer to do another double in the future, but at least I can say that if the need is there, then I shall rise to the occasion. Dare I say that it really isn’t as bad as some people thought it would be? I’d been telling everyone, “If Elliot could do it, so can I!” because he had pulled a double before. I suppose I was just running on my own happy energy/adrenaline, because later that night I started to feel a little weary during a 5-focaccia pop, but I got my (maybe) second wind and all was well to the end. Katie was super impressed that I was pulling a double and left me this awesome “survival pack” that just totally lifted my morale. Woot Gatorade! ZOMG M&M’s ice cream sandwiches!! Scratchies!!! Thank you Katie for the awesome gesture!!! I devoured the watermelon after work. It’s really odd but some of the best watermelon I’ve had this year has come from 7-Eleven, no lie.

I think since I proved myself capable that Friday, I took a look at the schedule for the 4th of July weekend and it looks like I’ll be on 2 that Thursday, Friday, and SATURDAY O_O!!! The training wheels have come off! Or, rather, as Koren said, the training wheels have been off for a while. If it’s so, I’ve been shakily riding the 2-Wheeler (hahageddit?) but you know what? I’m excited!

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.”

Who Wants To Live Forever

It’s my day off (Thursday) as I currently write this and aside from a bunch of expletives, I’ve no idea how to accurately describe the mixed emotions I feel after working on Station 2 for the first time last night.

Oh well, might as well get it off my chest:

HOLY FUCKING CRAP FOCACCIA SUCKS ASS BUT I SURVIVED HALLEFUCKINLUJAH!!!!!!!!!!!!

I admit I wasn’t very brave going into this. I definitely whined a lot and more than once half-seriously pleaded for Elliot (who was in the window) to trade places with me. I drank a quart and a half of coffee, fought down the occasional wave of fear-induced nausea, jokingly threatened to projectile vomit, and more than once inwardly wished I was dead.

I didn’t do the greatest job of calling out tickets either; it was through the luck and pluck of my fellow linemates that I managed to squeak by the peak dinner hour. When I was lagging Fred did the salad pickup about twice for me, and Sylvester helped cook off three anchovy flatbreads while I floundered around cooking focaccia and struggled to pull my head out of my ass–I distinctly recall one time where Sylvester asked me to report on his all day fires and while I heard his request, my brain had shut down by then and all my mouth could muster speechwise was “Uh…guh.” FAIL.
My legs were turning into jelly.
Fred plated some anchovies on a flatbread for me.
I burned a focaccia.
I made an ugly flatbread that couldn’t be sold and was taken downstairs to be shared. (Elliot did say later that it was tasty though.)
Fail, fail, fail, FAIL.

But I didn’t get pulled off the station and no one bailed me out. Thanks to Elliot’s dogged persistence (“C’mon Betty, work faster! Faster! Make those focaccia! Watch your crostini! Rotate your flatbread!”) and his flippant refusal to switch out with me, I stuck it out and Koren gave me a high-five later that night. Elliot congratulated me for surviving. I was so relieved and elated when I realized it was 11PM that I did a cartwheel in the basement. And then I triumphantly brought up some shift beer for the boys (and that day’s stage).

Ah! This bittersweet feeling! I came out spiritually bruised and exhausted but alive! I didn’t necessarily face my fear and kick some ass, but I endured my Station 2 beating and clawed my way out! I am humbled; I respected Ruth’s tenacity on Station 2, but now after experiencing it for myself I definitely admire her.

What else is there to say? Elliot said to just keep up with focaccias and work on my communication (duh and duh), but c’mon really. It was my first day. I could barely make sense of my own tickets to fully deal with anybody else’s. I’ll get better with time though. Right? Right?! >_>;;;;

I work on Station 3 for the rest of the week but what next week will look like is anyone’s guess.

I am very grateful to Elliot and in my heart I’m crying bittersweet tears. Aw, I’m a big girl now.

Betty Downer

I trained on Station 2 for about 15 minutes today. It fucking sucked. I totally appreciate Station 3 now. I never thought the day would come when I would be SO glad to be in front of the stove cooking foie gras….

It started out a great day (I went to JP Graziano’s for a tuna sub and then walked to La Colombe and got two bottles of Pure Black for Elliot) but then things took a turn for the worst when Koren showed up and had a little pow-wow with Elliot and decided that then was just as good as any time to get a taste of Station 2.

It turned out to be a horrible, bitter taste and I am now scarred for life. Okay, okay, I jest (just a little bit). But it was still a miserable time for me. At first it didn’t seem so bad (*scoff*) but then more orders started coming in, and I had to start calling out orders and in the corner of my eye Elliot was already working on second courses without me calling them, which lowered my morale a little. And then I put out a couple of (in my opinion) shitty looking focaccias which further lowered my morale. And then more orders came in, and it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to keep up.
So when Elliot asked me if I was having trouble, I answered him honestly and said yes. Just my luck to have, as Elliot put it, a string of bad tickets. Was it the kitchen gods saying it wasn’t meant to be (yet), or was it just me not being physically ready for the incoming orders? I think it was a little bit of both.

We switched out just as it was starting to get a little busy and never more have I rejoiced being on Station 3. Even though it’s just one step away, in my heart, I practically ran over there, like it was some long-lost family member I just reunited with. Cook foie and make salumi plates? Okay!!! With pleasure!!!!! Talk with people at the Chef’s Table? You got it!!!

I never went back on 2 again that night, but that’s not to say I won’t train again tomorrow. Oh, I know it’s coming. And I’m still gonna fight it in my heart. But now that I’ve been given a taste of the bitterness, at least I know what to expect. I just haven’t developed the muscle memory yet. I haven’t developed the resolve to accept the responsibility either, but that’s another matter. Sigh. Back on 2 tomorrow for a little bit. I’ll try not to be too negative about it like I was today, but I’m not gonna make any promises that I won’t wish I’d rather be dead.

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.

My Guiding Hand

Tonight was a pretty mellow night for a Saturday. It never got too busy and it wasn’t too slow. It was just as well, because I played big sister tonight with stage Theo on station 1.

Theo’s a stage who’s come in a couple of times. I don’t know exactly if he’s looking for employment from us, but he definitely doesn’t mind coming in and helping out and learning stuff from us. It’s also nice having a stage who comes back because then I don’t feel like all the line advice I give when I do babysit a stage goes to waste because they never come back again.
Lately whenever Theo would come in, he’d have the incredible bad luck to share his stage with someone else, so when the time would come for someone who hang out upstairs on the line, he’d always have to opt out because he’d been with us before while the other stage hadn’t. And I would feel a little bad for him because, like I said, I’d rather share my line-knowledge with someone who’ll come back, rather than give all this seemingly pointless information to someone who won’t be returning.

I guess the stars were all aligned because Theo was our only stage today and I was on station 1. So around 9:30, when the pacing was mellow, I asked Elliot (2) for the okay to let Theo have some line time.
It was a little rough in the beginning. He was left-handed (which I’d forgotten), so some of the advice I gave didn’t really apply to him. He was flustered and a little nervous once more orders came in, so he lagged a little on certain dishes, forgot to replenish his date sauces (resulting in some lagged dates), got caught up in a little oven chaos (his shoulder Staubs were all over the place), and got his station a little messy (squid grease, bread crumbs, chopped herbs all over the place).
Of course, I was on the side to remind him not to forget his dates, watch out for his chickens and to check on his shoulders, and pick up his speed. Up to a point, though. When he kept looking to me to see if he should sell these dates or if that shoulder was ready, I gently but firmly told him I wasn’t going to hold his hand. I told him to trust in himself and his senses. I’d already told him what he was looking for, he just had to be aware of the signs.

I think that believing in him and letting him stew on the line was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Even when he was a little behind and then Elliot told him to work 4 more orders of squid, and I got his squid into a bowl, then let him do the rest and stepped back, it was a good decision. Because even though he was flustered, I think he was thrilled, especially after he sold his squid and I congratulated him on his squid push. It definitely helped his spirit. There were a couple of times I considered switching him out but I held off and I’m glad I did.

Elliot came down later as I was straightening the walk-in and pretty much affirmed what I felt: Theo did a good job, it was a little rough in the beginning, but it was good to have faith in him. Alright! Even though I considered it, I assessed the situation and decided it was best to leave him where he was. Besides, the restaurant wasn’t even that full and no one was coming in. Elliot said that maybe if someone had complained about dates being late or something, then he would’ve switched him out, but luckily, no one did.

Anyway, Theo was super thrilled to have been on the line on his own for so long (I let him stay until closing and he even broke down the station and cleaned the slicer on Station 2), and I’m happy for him. His being on the line reminded me of the time I was struggling on Station 1 and Koren almost pulled me off but Katie Furst had faith in me and let me muddle through. It was almost like coming full circle and then paying it forward.

And maybe like a little reward from the Kitchen Gods, I heard something tonight that made me very happy. While I was in the cab with Elliot after work, I asked him if he’d be working Monday (affirmative). That was good, because it would be me, him, and Katie. I told him that Katie liked working with him and it was good for her confidence because he was a Zen Master. He said he liked working with her too. Not only that, he said he liked working with me too!!! “Because there’s no drama,” he said.
Arrrgggghhh I wish times like these I didn’t have such a terrible memory and that I could recall exactly what else was said (we talked about how Armanzo sometimes doesn’t call tickets which sometimes troubles Katie, and I confessed to Elliot my apprehensiveness about KO), but all that really matters is that one of the people I admire the most told me he likes to work with me.

Ahhh! Such happiness!