” A Day in the Life ” Line Cook Edition
Have you ever wondered what the average professional cook does on a daily basis? I’m not talking about the guy on his third stage at The French Laundry or even the one looking at pictures of how to plate the meatloaf at you local chain restaurant. I’m talking about real cooks. The guys who work in the majority of decent restaurants all over the country. I’m talking about people like myself, before the kids or the wife. Before I had pretty much any responsibilites. In my experience, this is an account of an average line cooks’ Friday.
I awake to the sound of the chick who played Kirk Cameron’s sister on Growing Pains. She’s starring in some movie on the Lifetime Network about how she was roofied at a party and taken advantage of. I wonder for a second why I was watching the Lifetime Channel when I fell asleep. I quickly remember watching an infomercial for Monster Ballads and it all makes sense. I proceed to roll over and swallow a few aspirin along with the remainder of the Busch Light tall can I brought to bed with me the previous night.
I sit down on the couch with a fresh brewed cup of Folgers and a bowl of Lucky Charms. As I flip through the channels, I seem to stop at The Jerry Springer Show. My hand has become paralyzed and I can’t change the channel. I must watch the remainder of this train wreck, and see how it all ends. I lazily realize I have wasted the last hour of my life watching a show about overweight porn stars.
I search around on the floor and find the pair of jeans and black hoodie I threw in a pile the night before. It’s time to step out the backdoor onto the patio and light up an unfiltered camel. I reach into my pocket and pull out my notebook and pen. the next ten minutes are spent writing down a few items I remember in need to prep from the night before, as well as reading the scribbles from the night before.
I grab another tall boy on my way to the shower and turn on the hot water. I spend about 30 seconds actually cleaning up, and another 10 minutes drinking my beer while standing under the hot running water. I get out and put the same pair of jeans and hoodie I just took off. I pack my backpack with a pair of chef pants, socks, a beater, a pair of underwear and another tall can. I know I’m not scheduled into work until 3:30, but I know we are going to get slayed tonight, so I get in the car.
I throw my bag in the passenger seat and start the car. The next 15 minutes are spent listening to the mixtape I made last week. It has everything from Slayer to NOFX and some old Nas off of the Illmatic album. I pull into the parking lot and smoke another cigarette before I head into the locker room.
I get changed, grab some whites and side towels out of the linen cage and head into the kitchen. I step through the door and am greeted by the sounds on Los Tucanes de Tijuana on the prep boombox and a slap on the ass from Pepe, the porter. I proceed to go through the walk-in and realize how much prep work I have to get done before service. Time to get down to work and focus. Here we go.
I realize I need to make and roll garganelli so I grab my flour and eggs and clear off a workspace. The rest of the cooks will be here in an hour, and I don’t want to try and jockey for table space to make pasta. I get it made, cut, rolled and blanched just as everyone rolls in. I pull out the sixth pans I hid in the cheese cooler the night before, as well as the stash of towels I stuffed in the ceiling tiles when they were delivered on Wednesday. Pans and towels need to be hidden because there are never enough. Now that my line is set up, my proteins are pulled and my bulk prep is done, it’s time to tighten everything up.
The next 30 minutes are spent doing things like gathering sauté pans, sani buckets, trash cans (empty 4 gallon buckets), and filling plastic bottles full of wine and oil. Now that I have gathered pretty much everything I need, I can park myself on my station and get the remainder of my mise done. Peeling and thinly slicing garlic, chopping parsley and chives, reducing sauces and cutting butter into uniform size squares. During all of this work, my fellow soldiers and I discuss a handful of scholarly topics. Everything from who pounded the most beers last night, to which waitress is the most boneriffic. Before any of us are ready the printer spits out it’s first ticket of the night and we know it’s time to shine.
The pantry is already in the weeds. They are pumping out salads and apps as we look on and try and get our stations ready. The breastfully gifted host comes back to tell the chef we are already on a wait. None of us even hear what she says because we are too busy imagining how fun it must be to motorboat those fun bags.
An awkward silence has taken over the kitchen. All printers have come to a sudden halt. We know it’s about to happen any second. The chef is asking every server where their entree tickets are they all have the same dreaded response “I’m just about to fire them.” First ticket rolls in. Chef announces “Four covers table 12. Fire two ribeyes, one mid rare, one well. That’s rolling with a linguine no mushrooms, a rav S.O.S and a side of asparagus.” Tickets keep rolling in and food is constantly hitting hot pans. The chef has lost all sense of organizing tickets and is just firing off orders. He has about 25 tickets on his rail and a stack in his hand ready to fire. We are deep into the weeds with no apparent way out, but we keep on firing and selling food. This chaotic state is pretty consistent until about 10:15 when the board is finally clear for the first time all night. It was hard and fast, but thats how we like it.
I finally get a chance to step out the back door for a cigarette and gather my thoughts. This 5 minutes of peace often gets overtaken by thoughts of what I could have done better throughout service. I think about that steak that came back a little undercooked and how I must have ruined that guests entire life by pulling it off the grill a minute too early. These thought will continue to fill my mind througout the remainder of the evening.
We all are wrapping up our mise en place and vigorously scrubbing every inch of our station while putting together a few straggling orders. The Chef has since gone home for the evening as his Sous puts together orders and prep lists. He rolls by, clipboard in hand, and lets us know that he left a case of trash bags in the meat cooler and to make sure they get put away the end of the night. What this means is he hooked us up a case of beers and they are iced in the cooler for us to enjoy while we wrap up . A definite sign that he was pleased with the service we had tonight. We continue to scrub, wrap, sweep, and drink until everything is done. We get the word from the front of the house manager that all food orders are in and we are free to leave. He also proceeds to let us know where all the servers are headed for some late night refreshments.
We head into the locker room and change out of our sweaty and greasy work close, into our dirty jeans and hoodies. A quick duck into the trash room to pass a joint around, and we are on our way to the bar. We walk down the dark and barren streets while talking about the six top in the middle of the rush that wanted pappardelle and bolognese without onions or garlic. It is amazing that she was happy with her pasta being topped by a sauteed hamburger patty and few San Marzanos. We did what we had to do and it worked out. We arrive at the bar, and open the door to the sweet sound of Motorhead blaring on the jukebox. The familiar aroma of cigarettes and booze let us know that we have gotten through another night of craziness and it’s time to begin the downward spiral.
The bartender announces last call, and we quickly order one last round of beers. We have already had plenty, but one more couldn’t hurt. That painfully exhausting service we had earlier is long in the past and we can’t even remember the details. we all stumble out onto the street for a quick smoke and to say our goodbyes. It has been another successful night and it’s time to get home. I know I have had too much to drink so I head to the corner to call a cab. On my way there, one of the cute waitresses ask if i need a ride home. I tell her that I’m just going to get a cab but she insists. Even in my drunken state, I know what she wants. The whole ride home she is trying to engage me in conversation, but all I can think about is what I will be making her for breakfast in the morning.
We arrive at my house and I start to lay on my charm. I go straight to my “sure thing” move and ask her if she wants to come in for a drink. She says that she should get home, but I insist on one drink. To make a long story short, I end up in the house alone. A cold beer resting on my stomach while I watch some crappy T.V. I might scribble down some notes about things I want to get done the following day or some ideas about specials I want to make sure and remember when I sober up. Next thing I know it’s Saturday morning and it’s time to do it all over again.