Thursday, August 19, 2010

Quarterly assessment

Our beet salad,
rated by a Philly food blog as being one of the top 5 salads in the city.
On a busy night I might make 15

Two months ago, when I began using this humble nook of cyberspace to track my culinary development, I resolved to keep discussions of workplace drama at a minimum. But recently something happened that certainly marks a turning point in my progress. The week before last, over after work beers, a few of my co-workers gave me a candid appraisal of my skills and value to the kitchen.

A kid a few years older (and many years more experienced) than me led the conversation. The guy is going to culinary school and is a heavyweight on the line. He's extremely passionate about food, high-strung, egotistical and often a douchebag. In short, he'll be an excellent chef one day and I value his input.

The bottom line of this little chat was that I am the weak link, a rube from bum-fuck-nowhere whose skills were cultivated in shitty restaurants at which my co-workers would never consider ordering even fries. I was berated for being slow and sloppy on the line and going about prep work with rudderless inefficiency.

In this conversation I was informed that Joe's has an excellent reputation (which I've tried to illustrate with the beet salad example). They said our menu is often mimicked and admired by competitors. They said, in so many words, I need to step up my game lest this reputation be tarnished.

After some reflection, I couldn't agree with them more. I've entered a new league, like going from playing high school baseball to playing in the minor leagues. While Joe's isn't the major leagues, it's definitely a class above any place I've worked or even eaten at back home.

A busy night at my previous restaurant is an average-to-slow night at Joe's. The food I'm responsible for is far more sophisticated. The menu--and subsequently my mis-en-place--changes nearly everyday, making it impossible to fall into a comfortable routine. And Joe's is an open kitchen, meaning cleanliness is absolutely imperative here, where before it was just something to break balls over.

Cooking here, or at any moderately successful restaurant, is not easy. It's sweaty, stressful and often thankless work. But that's what I love about it. I love the challenges. I love the pressure and the pace. And even though compliments come few and far between, I love knowing that I create things that people look forward to and deeply enjoy.

That night 2 weeks ago, a fire was lit under my ass. Today it rages, galvanizing the disordered fibers of motivation and professionalism within me. I've clocked in everyday since with renewed determination and passion for my job. My station has been cleaner, my plates prettier, my manner more professional. Even though I may still be considered the weak link, I've strengthened. And so, in turn, has the chain of which I am a part.

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