Hot in the Kitchen

July 8, 2013

Where have I been for the last seven months? It’s okay for you to ask. My husband does, along with some friends and many members of my family. I’ve been working the line at Delfina. I was ready to let go of this blog to eventually start another, refocused one, and so I haven’t even really looked at in months, until just now when I glanced back to look something up and realized that the last time I wrote was just before I started working on the line. Feels like I should fill you in.

So where have I been? Busy, and hot, and learning, and stressed, and on the clock, and sublimely happy. I spent the last seven months working from 1.30pm to about midnight, sometimes later, trying to see Scott, keep in touch with people and slowly nurture friendships that barely started forming in the short time between arriving in California and what I think I’ll call the Delfina time warp. After starting as an intern at the end of August, I moved from the safety of relatively pressure-free prepping to working the guarde-manger station at the end of November. A while later I moved from making cold appetizers and plating desserts to the wood-burning oven station (hot first courses, some sides and an entree), and then to the grill (which is also kind of the saute station at other restaurants). Every day has its arc. I’ve always loved restaurants before they open, where there’s a certain kind of quiet, and also the energy of getting ready, of possibility. Each day at Delfina starts much earlier than when the cooks get there (more on that later), and picks up speed after lunch when we all arrive. Chef coat on, apron, knives, spoons, and spatulas gathered. Spaces are cleared, ingredients are procured, menus are doled out and prep lists are penned down on scraps of paper from the ticket machine. Then it’s a race to 4.45pm. In that time so many things are chopped, blanched, roasted, emulsified, gathered. Everything is put into order, a grid of delicious things that could become salmon with summer succotash and basil aioli, or fried, stuffed squash blossoms,  clams al forno with tomato sauce, or the best spaghetti you’ve ever tasted. At 4.45pm we take a break (hopefully), take a deep breath, eat some food, get ready for dinner service. We come back, put up dishes for line up to make sure they’re spot on, and then, very often it feels like all of a sudden, guests are in the dining room, menus are open in front of them, and just after, tickets start buzzing through the machine and it’s (usually) constant movement and plating and cooking and spooning and saucing until the last guest has ordered the last thing they’re going to eat.

Sometimes it’s stressful. It’s almost always fun. Usually, by the end of each night you feel like you’ve been through something. Everything that was prepped out in the afternoon gets quarted up, turned off, taken apart, put back. It all gets scrubbed down with hot soapy water. As if it never happened, all to happen again the next day.

There’s the staff drink, sipped during break down, then the late night trip home (for many of the cooks there’s the transition to the bar). There’s the shower before bed, that to me often feels like the shower at the end of a day of moving, washing off something physical and consuming. I’m not sure what I expected, but I’ve definitely been consumed.

So why am I surfacing all of a sudden? I just started working with our insanely talented pastry chef. It’s challenging as well, but totally different, and the arc of the day goes from 7am to about 4pm. It means that I get to learn an entirely new skill set and get to have dinner with my husband. I don’t know how long it’s going to last (I’ll go back on the line eventually, splitting my time between the two), so in the meantime I’m savoring what feels like new found balance. And so here I am, that’s where I’ve been.

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