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Posts Tagged ‘on the line’

I was lucky enough to have the chance to watch and even help out on the line. I mostly grilled Ryan, the Suaté I chef—expediter on the line— with questions. He is a  26 years African-American with a kind and welcoming demeanor. He’s moved around a lot in his life because his father was in the military. While he was sautéeing scallops, he told me that what he does isn’t all that difficult; “you just have to stay ahead and don’t get yelled at”. If only Wes took this advice to heart, a young Asian with a mischievous tendency to tease and joke around. Apparently, he gets yelled at the most.

The first thing that I remember was the extreme heat of the line. There was no doubt that this was caused by the furiously, flaming wood-burning grill, the multitude of constantly running burners, and the sizzling salamander that roasted your eyebrows overhead. But the real heat, the engine of the machine, was the pure movement and activity in the kitchen.

I remember being in a state of confusion because I saw dishes being made and plated without hearing them ever being ordered. I saw grilled fish and sautéed scallops being left unattended yet were flipped at the perfect time. Yes, the cooks feel the scallops for doneness, and, yes, they check for the correct caramelization or grill marks, but, for the most part (according to Ryan), “you just know”. I’d like to know if there’s an internal buzzer that sounds every time a steak is ready to be removed from the oven or the pasta is al dente. It’s now getting to the point that, I believe, if you were grilling steak miles away, Ryan would be informed that the steak had reached medium-rare.

The system is very organized. When an order comes in, chef JG or chef Dane relays the order into the walkie-talkie. Forexample “order simple salmon”, “order two tuna”, or “order two steaks, medium”. The cooks get everything ready so that when the chef says “Drop two tuna”, it can be quickly seared and served. Another phrase—which took me a while to understand—is “all day”. When JG says “two scallops all day”, he means that Ryan only needs to be making the scallops at that point in time.

My favorite dish that Ryan makes involves braised gem lettuce, gnocchi, sautéed scallops, sage brown butter sauce, and bacon. He also makes pepper crusted steak with mushrooms, roma beans, and onion rings. His “Lobster App” is steamed clams with homemade pasta in a creamy tarragon tomato sauce with poached lobster and fava beans. However, the dish that I want to try most is the tuna encrusted with cumin, cocoa nibs, pepper and sea salt, served rare over a corn-meal tortilla, mole, chayote relish and guacamole.

I was able to help a little with these dishes. I cleaned plates for presentation, plated the gnocchi and scallops while Ryan plated the sauce, grabbed anything needed from the back, and sliced the tuna, which I, believe it or not, was able to mess up at first. I thought a delicate back-and-forth motion would cut through the rare tuna efficiently, but I was told not to saw the tuna by the chef. This creates jaggedness in the presentation. Instead, just one slice forward and one back should create a smooth cut.

Around eight o’clock, a proverbial dark, ominous cloud covered over the kitchen. Indeed, we actually lost power for a second from the storm outside. As the heavens opened outside, orders rained down from inside. Plating up about 25 dishes for a large party set the kitchen behind and Chef JG was enraged. The area where the food was to be set was overflowing with plates, yet we couldn’t get them out fast enough. Ryan was running out of mise en place for the fish and organization gave way to chaos. Attempting to help, I got in the way of the tornado—the kitchen being extremely long and narrow— that was chef JG and was told to stand in a corner: “You don’t know what you’re doing yet”. I received the brunt of Ryan’s frustration as well.

I remained in time-out, wanting to leave to be out of the way, yet knowing that I needed to see this aspect of the restaurantservice. I also new that I could be a help. So, I gradually started to help plate gnocchi, to grab some spinach for the simple swordfish plate, to cut four tunas, nearly squealing from the burns on my fingers, and to try to salvage hastily prepared dishes with a towel.

I was soaked after the storm, but with sweat. I had about two cokes while I was there and about six glasses of water when I got home. Apparently, you get used to the heat. Ryan asked me what I thought of the line so far. I replied, “I like it. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, but what you do is much more amazing than you think”. I think Ryan may be tough, yet I still think he feels the burn of sizzling tuna on his fingers, the heat of a 100 degree kitchen, and the disappointment of being lambasted for running out of onion rings.

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