“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
- J.M. Barrie
I’ve been working the hotline on Sundays with Cheyenne for the past couple of weeks now. The training wheels of garde manger are slowly coming off – I can gauge based off of when she pulls her steak off the grill when I can drop my octopus or plate the roasted romanesco cauliflower, browned in an obscene amount of butter. It’s still sweaty and as nerve wracking as the first time I worked the hot line, but yet I can’t help but feel glamorous and important.
Cheyenne came in hungover today. People drink a lot in this industry – A given, since by the time we get out of work on a Wednesday night the bars are empty, and industry folk like to treat other industry folk handsomely with discounted shots and peer pressure. Redbull and vodkas, rum and cokes, 12 shots of Jameson all lined up in a row.
But calling her hungover is a grand understatement – she was reeling like a sixteen year old who broke into the liquor cabinet for the first time, all after trying to go shot for shot with one of the servers until 5AM. The slightest whiff of raw meat would send her hurdling for the bathroom during prep, where I wouldn’t see her for another twenty minutes. She eventually ended up in a dejected heap on the office couch, trying not to vomit between every breath, turning down any sort of hangover cure we could think of. While thankful I didn’t go out last night, it became quite apparent I’d be working the hot-line alone. I’ve seen all the pickups done multiple times before, and Sundays have always been slow, but despite the favorable circumstances the idea was terrifying.
Ticket number one came ringing in - solo ribeye for a two top. I grabbed the twenty four ounce steak from the lowboy, dusting it in salt before unceremoniously dropping it in the cast iron pan. There’s something incredibly satisfying about firing a ribeye, and watching raw, red flesh transform into a burnish, crispy, salted piece of meat over the course of fifteen minutes. (It’s also terrifying thinking about possibly fucking it up). I prepped the arugula salad before jostling them onto a bed of confit potatoes. The rested steak was plopped on top, before being enrobed in demi glace mounted with a massive hunk of European butter. Crown it all with a tiara of bone marrow and an adornment of italian salsa verde.
After it went out I couldn’t help peeking around the corner into the dining room and watching the couple tear into it, fearing they would find it to be undercooked, oversalted, or cold. An empty plate came back twenty five minutes later into the dishpit – I passed the first test.
There’s this amazing sense of intuition good line cooks have differentiating them from the average home cook. It’s the quality allowing them to juggle 6 simultaneous acts of cooking at once without any of them turning into a disaster; knowing it’s time to pull your fish from the salamander without needing to examine it just because you it’s done, and the confidence to say you can safely start an order of romanesco while you wait for a sauce to reduce down. For the record, I’d like to say my intuition could use a bit of work.
By the time you’ve picked the perfect piece of cod for your sizzle plate, the butter you’ve left to brown is close to burning - add your squash in before it’s too late. Your scallops are done searing on the first side so you need to kiss it on the other - time to make the setup with the passionfruit vinaigrette, creme fraiche, and hazelnuts. Pop the cod into the salamander first though! While in reality we were having a slow service, I felt like I was frantically racing around the kitchen. The damn quail I’ve been struggling with needs to go out as the same time as the hanger. Shave some of the foie gras torchon on top. The hanger is now rested, so fry your egg and grill asparagus… Slice it against the grain. The cod is blackening in the salamander so take it out before it’s too late! Now you can turn off the heat under the butternut squash and add your watercress and lemon. Plate your cod, but keep your eye on the quail so it doesn’t overcook. Preheat your bowl so it doesn’t suck out all the heat from your dashi. You just got a risotto in – should you finish all your current tickets or give that one a head start? New ticket it in - biryani, hanger, another risotto.
“Well, it’s good to know you can lead the line when we need it,” Cheyenne chuckled at the end of the night. Her face was still ghostly pale.