Thursday, July 1, 2010

Playing with fryer

If you play with fryer, you're gonna get burned. And if your luck is as flaky as mine, not only might you burn yourself, but someone in your proximity.

Last night, from about 7:30 - 9:00, we got pounded; it was easily the busiest weeknight shift I've endured thus far. There were just two of us on the line. I was working garde manger, sandwich set-ups and... *queue menacing score* ...the fryer. Another cook, whom we shall call Bob, was holding down grill and saute.

The demands of a crushing dinner rush can do great things to a cook. They force you to focus your attention with utmost totality on the tasks at hand. They force you to move speedily and efficiently, to plan your actions 10-moves in advance. They, in short, put you in the zone.

I've heard restaurant folk say service is best when the place is busy. I believe it's due to this very phenomenon. When your restaurant is getting killed, there's no time for bullshitting or banter, for joking or jawing. Everyone gets serious and it's all business.

But there's a downside too. In the face of a full board of tickets, you get sloppy and your presentation goes to shit along with the cleanliness of your station. Your easy-going temper buckles under the pressure, unleashing your inner asshole. You begin to cut corners for the sake of ticket times. And sometimes, in your haste, you do things you regret.

Last night, Bob was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had to duck down next to the fryer to plate a handful of chips. The exact moment he did so, I pulled a steaming, dripping basket of fries from the fryer and hastily dumped it into a mixing bowl to be seasoned. A shower of searing oil flung from the basket, soaking the floor and, alas, the back of his head.

It was like a sadistic baptism. He doubled over, flung chips into the air, clutched the back of his head and screamed. It wasn't a shrieking girly scream like I would have produced, but more a throaty, grunting suppression of agony.

"Shit, shit," I shouted, aghast at the horrible consequences of my negligence. "Are you okay? Are you okay?"

The only response I got was a cold, steely look of hatred, a look that burnt my soul worse than the oil burnt that greasy, silver-dollar-sized patch of his short-cropped hair. But the show must go on. Hungry customers still awaited their food, the printer still spat tickets, and Bob and I returned to our work.

His groaning continued. His cursing escalated. He tormented me with glaring glances of aberration, to which I could only reply:

"Dude, I'm really, really fucking sorry."

Being the new guy, I find it crucial to get on everyone's good side, thus assuring a synergistic and supportive work environment. And up until this point, I was getting along with Bob just fine. I think he may have been even starting to like me. So you can imagine the immense concern that built within me with each of those piercing glances. I began to feel that I had undone, in one quick motion of my arm and wrist, three weeks of friendship building.

After the dinner rush subsided, he turned to me and raised his fist. I almost ducked, thinking it was on a collision course with my face. Upon further analysis, however, I realized he intended to pound fists. I eagerly obliged.

"That was a good rush," he said. "We got slammed and you kept up."

"Thanks, but you were busier than me," I said modestly. "It was nothing."

"Dude, I wanted to kill you for a second there. In a friendly way though--I would have made it quick."

"Thanks man. I appreciate the courtesy."

So there we were, laughing about what easily could have been grounds for a serious and long-lasting grudge. Perhaps this little episode will turn out to be something of a bonding experience between the two of us, something we can laugh about over drinks in times to come. More likely though, he awoke today with a bald spot and blistered skull, and is cursing my name as I type.

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