Food News

Half-Baked: Hard Lessons From the Line

Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half-Baked.

As I look back on my posts, perhaps I portray chefs in a more favorable light while being harder on our amazing cast of servers. It's not intentional, but what can I say in the long-standing FOH versus BOH division: My position is with my friends behind the line.

Still, I feel obliged to amend the situation. After all, a new season is looming, which breathes new life in any establishment. Thank God, because it's been a long and uneventful summer, as they all tend to be. Cooks get crazy and lazy when things get slow. Going beyond your everyday cuts and burns... here's my summer fraught full of Stupid Things Cooks Do!

1) Out of shape plus partying too much makes it harder to gear up for a busy night. Lead Ryan asked Chef for a double espresso before a rehearsal dinner of 60 (plus service) to help jolt him. Chef warned him to drink at his own risk because once the tickets started, there was no stopping, not even for a quick bathroom trip. Ryan scoffed at his advice, and down the hatch. Like clockwork, as the entrées came in, Ryan had to get off the line. 

"I don't care if you shit your pants. We have to get these plates out!" Chef mocking him. Plates never came up faster. He threw the last dish up and sprinted off the line, practically knocking the rest of us over. (God, I live in a boy world.) 

2) Banquets and special events are easy with proper planning and timed execution. A Fourth of July BBQ for almost 200 had us feeding people from the inside and out. Chef flew into a frenzy searching for his backup potato salad and hamburger trimmings. He summoned the prep cook he (mistakenly) entrusted them too. Greg smuggly led Chef into the freezer.

"I figured since they were going to be sitting outside in the heat...," it wasn't till he said the words out loud that he realized what he did. Chef still slips the occasional tomato cube in his drink.

3) Sunday evenings were so slow, they cut the line down to one guy. So when my phone rang and the GM begged me to come in to cover one night, I ranted. I had worked a very busy brunch shift and was done for the day.

"Where's Pef?" I yelled.

"He cut himself pretty bad. I think he needs stiches," she convinced me. Raced over to find him behind the line trying to break down with his thumb wrapped up.

"What did you do?" I yelled with concern.

"I can't leave the line to go to the bathroom since I'm alone. When tickets finally stopped, I had to go so bad, I couldn't get the double knot out of my apron undone. So I grabbed the knife to cut it off and got my thumb."

"You're kidding me?" I busted out laughing. He grabbed his things and headed out, but first I had to ask. "So did you ever make it to the bathroom, or should I straight bleach the flloor?" He shot me the finger with is good hand.

4) (First thing you learn in any kitchen is never piss off the dishwasher.) Pef was eager to go home but promised Jo Jo (the dish) a ride. It was his turn to roll out early, so I said go if you want but I couldn't give Jo Jo a ride to the opposite end of town. They got into a fight, and Pef left him without a ride or the cash he had given Pef for gas. 

I closed up and contemplated either a cocktail or bed when my phone rang.

"You still there?" Pef asked in a defeated voice.

"Leaving now. Why?" Perhaps a cocktail after all.

"Is Jo Jo still there?"

"No. He's walked home or something. Why? What's up?" dying of curiousity.

Turns out in the two-mile drive from his place to the restaurant, he got pulled over and a flat. Now to keep karma at bay, he hasn't charged Jo Jo for a ride since.

5) It sure felt like a random Sunday when I dragged my tired self into work. I didn't even bother setting up my line for brunch. I just threw my mise en place in an ice bin next to the stove. I didn't finish my prep for brunch yesterday because I figured if I needed anything, I would have time to grab it. 9 a.m. hit and the ticket machine went off. My switch flipped on, and I flew into sauté mode. Fixings, egg mix, toss. Crack eggs, flip, plate. This rolled steady for about an hour. 

"Great," I thought. Early pop and then sent home early when we die off. I went outside to take a breath when I see family after family walk in the front door.

"What the hell?" I remarked to the sous next to me.

"Yeah, Father's Day is always busy," he hung his head and tried to get mentally fit.

"IT'S FATHER'S DAY?!" I completely blanked. He looked at me surprised and then laughed 'cause he thought I was joking. But I wasn't. By the time I made a quick call to my own dad and ran in, the board was already full. We had a full board through the end of my shift and ran out of everything.

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Patty Canedo