A Splash of Humor and a Dash of Asshole

In The Weeds

“In the weeds.” Most non restaurant working people will probably never understand this term. They probably will never understand the true talent it takes to get yourself out of the weeds either. My wife often asks “How do you remember all those tickets and orders during service?” My usual response is “I have to.” The key is to keep yourself organized. We have all worked under chefs that you dread pulling tickets when it gets busy. They either can’t handle the stress and bury themselves in dropped calls and double fires. It is very frustrating. But we have all seen the beauty of someone expediting that knows what they are doing. It is a pretty impressive thing to watch. Let me explain what being weeded as a Chef really entails.

I worked in the heart of Los Angeles at a 350 seat Italian restaurant with three banquet rooms that sat an additional 500 when they were at capacity. Let’s fast forward to the week before Christmas on a Saturday night. A big technology company had rented out all three banquet rooms for their holiday party. Right off the bat it’s 500 people to feed in the middle of the rush. What, the oven in the banquet kitchen went down? That will make things a bit more interesting; I better go get a reservation count from the host stand. What I received is a number I will never forget, 817. That’s a guaranteed 1,317 people to feed in between 5 and 11. It’s only 2 right now so I go into crisis prevention mode and hop back with Gio to start banquet prep. Now it’s 4 and I feel like we are as ready as we will ever be. I greet the cooks as they roll in as I prep my expo station. Sharpie, extra rolls of thermal paper, roll ups to wipe plates, various bottles and containers of garnishes and a pitcher of ice water. I roll around for a final walk through of every station as all the cooks have the same question for me. What’s the number? They are not looking for 817, they get the answer they are looking for when I respond with a few simple words, “we are going to get bent over.” Let’s pick up the story at about 6:15. First course for the banquet is going out as my line cooks are freaking out at the banquet chef jockeying for space in their ovens. Every station is so deep in tickets no one knows what is going on, they are just doing everything they can to keep up. I have about forty tickets fired with another twenty or so in my hand. How do I know I’m officially weeded? The trail of tickets coming out of the printer has draped down to the floor and is neatly in a pile next to my size 12 Danskos. It must be another 30 tickets. I see no end in sight. Some chefs might have taken this moment to pause, stop calling tickets and try and let their soldiers catch up a bit. Not me. I keep calling and calling. Giving all days and selling orders all at the same time. Next thing I know I sell enough tickets to get us caught up. I look at the clock. No way it’s midnight. Pedro, the banquet chef tells me how crazy the party was and every mistake that his boys made. Total bummer, I can’t wait to catch a ton of heat from the banquet captain at any second. I make my rounds, prep list, fish order, produce order, notes for Alfonso who opens in the morning. I turn the corner to get into the office to call these massive orders in. . David, the previously mentioned banquet captain corners me. He proceeds to tell me ” you guys killed it, nothing but happiness from the guests.” Dodged a bullet there. I make a mental note to lie to Pedro and tell him I took care of everything and smoothed it over. I can’t let that guy think the crap he served tonight was acceptable. Ya, I’m going to be that guy tonight. So what, by doing this I know next time the food will be quality. Before I go change and hopefully drink enough stress away to try and get to sleep, I stop and check the final numbers in the computer. No way, 1,211 covers plus the banquet equals 1,711 people fed in 5 short hours. We were seriously screwed at multiple points throughout the night but we all made it out alive with no major problems.

This is what we all live for as cooks. Just call us weed whackers. Nevermind, don’t call us that or we might cut you. And for you cooks out there that crumble on nights like these. You know who you are. Mr. broke down and cried during service. Or you Mr. I burned myself and had to walk off the line in the middle of the rush. I have some advice for you. Take that chef coat off, put on some tight pants and a vintage tee shirt and go get a job slinging clothes at American Apparel. If you don’t love being in the weeds and the challenge of getting out of them, you will never make it in this business. On second thought, if you can’t handle the stress become a waiter.


3 responses

  1. Douglas

    another great column, sir. however, i cannot agree with you. there is nothing admirable about being in the shit. no thanks. you can keep it. yes, i have worked many a night in the shit. (you have been there with me for some of them) but, it is not fun. it is not cool. hell, tonight i just got my balls kicked in. my second job where i am the fish guy ( i handle about 80% of the entrees) we picked up 40 plates in about 15 minutes. three guys plating for me, all i could do is push and push and push. it was not a good time. for me a good service is one where you are able to give each dish the love it deserves, cook right and proper, never stop moving, but know in the end that you did your profession, the guest and the ingredients your were using a great service.

    May 8, 2010 at 5:33 am

    • Douglas, I can only ask one question. Would you still love what you do if it was slow every night? I agree it sucks for a couple hours after you get your ass kicked, but it’s those same nights that make me realize I love what I do. And in addition I consider you the culinary Yoda.

      May 10, 2010 at 3:10 am

  2. teleburst

    “Or at least clean yourself up and be a waiter”.

    I LOVE it.

    Hilarious. And I bled with you through the whole story.

    We had something similar to that, albeit on a smaller scale.

    Day before Cinco De Mayo. May 4th. Friday evening.

    Corporate fires our Chef (yes, it was time, but could it have been at a worst time?)

    Saturday – 3pm – the kitchen no shows. 280 on the books (anything over 200 is a pretty busy night). BTW, PPA is $75.

    GM finds out that the Hispanic sous chef has shown his loyalty to the Chef by advising his staff to enjoy Cinco De Mayo and has submitted his own resignation. One person didn’t take his advice. So the kitchen has exactly one person and the broiler dude, who wasn’t Hispanic and apparently drew on his well of getting chewed out by the Chef and decided to throw himself into the fire. I don’t remember whether the lone Hispanic staffer was a dishwasher (would have been the best person to show up, actually), or a pantry person or a line cook, but I think it was a line cook. We’re basically 7 people down in the kitchen.

    We have an emergency pre-pre-shift. We are told what’s going on and that we will get through it, but under no circumstances are any guests to know what’s going on. We get two people loaned from another restaurant who got there about opening time. We had a bar owner around the corner come in and work saute. I was prepping pantry in addition to doing my normal waiter setup (although we had triaged that). GM is expo’ing and fortunately our broiler dude stayed.

    And yes, everyone showed (I think our final cover count was about 325).

    And yes, we got through it with minimum guest discomfort. There was significant staff discomfort though :g:.

    I still get misty thinking about it. And the fired Chef occasionally comes into the restaurant. He was there two afternoons ago. He’s really mellowed alot. He told me that he hadn’t cut anyone today. He was only kidding, of course, but he also said that he’s certainly been paid in kind to the kind of abuse that he used to mete out and he’s a much kinder, gentler person these days.

    It was good to see him so relaxed. Especially since he’s about 6′ 4″ and 280. :chuckle:

    “So You Want To Be A Waiter” blog

    May 21, 2010 at 12:28 am

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