Life in a Restaurant, Week 21 - Hotline Bling


“It's like the smarter you are, the more things can scare you.”

-Katherine Paterson


nov. 10, 2015 - nov. 16, 2015


Teaching me how to ride a bike without training wheels was a massive ordeal for my family.  I was eight, and on the weekends while my parents were at work my brother and sister would spend the day in our cul de sac trying to get me to keep pedaling once they let go of the seat.  I would never keep pedaling – reassurance, especially in the form of training wheels, is a huge thing not to have.  It took a solid two months before I could finally do it, using all the focus my second-grade self could muster to not only keep pedaling but shun any fears of me falling to the back of my mind.  So of course, those first two minutes of me biking solo involved a head on collision into a fire hydrant.

Mentally conjure up a media stereotyped image of a line cook in your head, and you probably envision a forearm tattooed, white coat wearing man flipping a saute over an oversized flame.  It’s a powerful image, and a twenty three year old asian plating a dessert doesn’t nearly command the same sort of awe.  Working the hot side of the kitchen, like getting a driver’s license or buying your first drink, is this rite of passage into maturity and adulthood.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy, if not overly attached, to working pantry.  For the past five months it’s been my training wheels for the kitchen, allowing me to enjoy cooking on a professional level without any of the stress, burns, and agony that comes with dancing around a 500-degree oven.  But after having countless people stage on my station, it’s been made apparent that pantry should never be one’s long-term career goal.  While seemingly eager on the first day, by day three I’ve seen many a cook take on the mindset of being too good for pantry, churning out sloppily plated salads and salmon crudo in the hopes they would instead be asked to be The Chef’s partner on a busy Saturday night.

Some of those cooks are given the golden invite, while others are forced to take off their training wheels when she asks them, “I want you to start training the hot line on Sundays.”

When you cross the threshold into the hotline, people look at you differently - you’re no longer a naive little cook but instead someone with certifiable skill and talent.  Front of house seems to work around you and stay out of your way, sensing your importance, instead of asking you to make a snack for them during a lull during dinner service.  On one side you have your prep fridge holding all of your mise en place, with that 7-foot long cutting board.  Behind you is the stove, your selfish, shit-head child who demands your constant attention lest you burn your octopus tentacle or overcook the lamb loin.  Learning how to balance both was a challenge, and my first Sunday resulted in soupy risotto, overly charred octopus, and a massive burn blister on my right palm from a wet towel.  You might think you pushed out that 6 top within a reasonable amount of time, but 25 minutes to you is a lot shorter than 25 minutes to the front of the house.

Cooking on the hot line isn't a serene escape like pantry is, but a quick, enthralling juggling act and adrenaline rush.  I’m waiting for the day I crash into a fire hydrant, but even still I’ve felt more proud than usual to call myself a line cook.