Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half-Baked.
To you, the valued guests, a professional kitchen may seem like a carefully orchestrated machine. But in actuality, it's controlled chaos with meltdowns and drama bubbling just beneath the surface. After years in professional kitchens, the only thing I've come to expect is -- the unexpected!
It's this looming pressure that pushes us (chefs) to thrive and excel under the most intense deadlines and heaviest workloads. Despite the turmoil and mayhem, those of us who stand behind the line always get the job done one way or another. Not to say that there haven't been some close calls. Here are a couple of my culinary endeavors that came a little too close to catastrophe.
Caught Off Guard
One a particularly random weeknight, we found ourselves completely full and understaffed. With the front of house staff overwhelmed and spread thin, I rotated the greeter to food runner, salvaging the night. It's as simple as the right people in the right position.
One V-Day eve with the dining room and board full, the dishwasher walked out without a word or reason. Running out of pans and plates, I pulled my resources. Shifting the hostess to garde manager and garde manager to the dish pit, I called in some nearby reinforcements. We were nearly brought to our knees, but somehow, we pulled together without missing a step in the dining room.
The Main Event
Prepping solo on a major event... pressure. Having my recipes on the menu... PRESSURE. Iron Chef Cat Cora as the celebrity guest judge at the event... PRESSURE!!! Everything was in the works and running smoothly until the sauce for my entrée went missing. I discovered its remnants down the drain next to a very apologetic dishwasher who was just doing his job a little too well that day. After a brief Tourrette's moment and minor stroke, I forged forward. The entrée and I made it just in time -- Cat Cora was never the wiser.
Most intense, pressure-cooking moment...
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New Years Eve 20??
Of all days for our meat delivery to be short of filet mignons. They finally arrived 30 minutes before service! Breaking down six tenderloins in 30 minutes was quite an accomplishment. To add fuel to the chef's already stoked fire, the driver dropped the box on the floor in front of the walk-in door. When I went in with a sheet pan of desserts in my hand, I didn't see the box! Nothing short of a miracle that the pastries flew out of my hand and glided safely on a shelf. The only damage done was to my knee when I landed. We still aren't not sure who was in more pain -- me, who worked on a bum knee all night, or the driver's superior, who took a tongue-lashing from the chef.