THE BEAT

See magic being created in a big kitchen, hear, smell and touch the divine creations served to paying customers…

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The chef de cuisine, like a Kapellmeister, coaches and directs his orchestra. He watches the tempo, the individual cooks timing, who each like musicians know to play their part.

THE BEAT
…a visit to a working kitchen of a fine dining place in California…
As the restaurant opens its doors to diners it’s quiet in the kitchen. Nevertheless, within fifteen minutes when the first orders start to get the ball rolling shouting is filling the air. Rattling dot matrix printers are spitting-out orders. The French chef standing near the printer, rips the paper from the machine and reads the tickets aloud. His voice is loud enough that everyone on the line hears his part of the table’s order. “Table of four: Veal chop! Sole! Rack rare! Primavera!” He pauses “Table of six: Sole! Rack medium! Three capelini’s! Chicken!” And as he separates the tickets he reads the next ones “Table of two: Two Racks medium rare! And a table of three: Three fish specials!” As the chef finishes reading each ticket, he clips these up on the round order wheel, above the pick-up-line. In-between reading more orders, some of which he has to shout to be heard, he double-checks with the line cooks: “Alan! You have four racks in the oven?” and “Dick! You are doing two soles and three fish-specials and three cap’linis!” and “Henry! You have a chop and a chick!” to the one sweating at the broiler.
The crew at the hot line knows what each of them has to do. Over in the salad station cold appetizers and salads appear on the pick up line as fast as the tiny salad person’s hands can make them. At less than five feet she is small but fast moving. Wherever one looks there is productivity. Business is running like clock work.
Yet there are obstacles, little challenges and delays too. A waiter moves his ticket from the order wheel onto the pick-up-wheel. His “Pickup!” command gets the chef’s attention. The chef calls the first table: “We are picking up: one sole, one veal chop, one rack rare, I repeat rare, and a Primavera.” The chef does the pasta, vegetables and sauce for the Primavera himself. He watches the other cooks plating up their share of the table’s order. Then he lifts the egg-noodles from the pot with hot water. He lets the water drip from the strainer into the sink before he dumps the noodles on the hot plate. Now the chef adds the light cream sauce to the pasta and tops the same with sautéed vegetables. A sprinkle of grated cheese, a little dash of fine chopped parsley and the pasta Primavera is ready. The timing is just right. The other three plates, the sole, the rack and veal are passed to him for inspection. The chef hands these too up onto the pick-up-line. But there is no waiter waiting for the food.
A frustrated Chef summons one of the cigarette smoking waiters who, while not busy, hang out at the kitchen’s backdoor. This food shall not be getting cold. The chef makes sure of it. The plates are at once taken away and served.
More orders come in; more food is being picked up. The Brazilian waiter who had left with the first order returns all red in the face. He has dropped the pasta dish on the floor. Naturally it is all not his fault. Our chef makes another order of pasta Primavera and warns the waiter, “Don’t drop it!”
A noticeable tension is in the air, as the incoming orders increase. The speed picks up. Everyone in the kitchen – from dish-washer to prep-person – is trying to keep up. The goal is not to get bogged down, not to fall behind. The young Vietnamese lady in the salad corner of the cold kitchen, she needs help. She has to get to the box of Romaine lettuce. It is the one box, which somebody has pushed back into the corner of the walk-in-refrigerator, before placing twenty boxes of whatever in front of it.
The Korean prep cook tries to get the chef’s attention “Chef what you want me plep (prep) next?” He relies totally on the chef. Too much prepped food will reduce the profit, too. Little prepped will cause delays and unhappy guests.
The chef notices the piles of hot dinner plates getting low. His voice alarms the Mexican dishwasher, who hurries to bring more plates to the hot line. The Filipino dessert cook is cussing at the oven in front of him, it doesn’t seem to get hot enough. The soufflés are taking way too long to rise.
Two kitchen waiters, one German one Norwegian, each look for his food among the ten plates on the pick-up-line, hiss at each other. “Don’t even think about taking my food!” “Keep your fingers of my plates you f… son of a . . . !” The chef stops the argument right there with his, “Gentlemen no fighting in my kitchen!” Without another look at the waiters the chef calls numbers and orders to the prep cook waiting to be told what to do.
The Irish bartender is sticking his head through the side door leading from the kitchen into the bar, “I need more limes and lemons! Please! And a tray of strawberries. Can anyone get em for me? I’m snowed in!” The salad person has gotten her case of Romaine lettuce. She acknowledges the bartender’s order. Her hands are in a huge salad bowl mixing ten orders of Caesar salad. Her fingers are fast, as she divides the cut, coated with Caesar dressing, pieces of Romaine lettuce onto plates. She decorates them with two fillets of anchovy each, washes her hands and then gets the limes, lemons and strawberries. She takes these out to the bartender and returning into the kitchen she tells the chef, “Look at the bar. It is packed like an anchovy-can.”
The British manager is talking to the chef between incoming and outgoing orders. “Forty-five minutes, chef; that’s rather long for soufflés!” A whiff of charred meat from the broiler teases his nose. The chef checks with the dessert cook, who answers with an astounding vocabulary of four letter words describing the oven’s qualities. The chef cuts him off, asks if he could not use another oven from over at the line. His answer is, “You guys need your two ovens yourself, one for fish one for meat, don’t you?” The chef nods and thanks the dessert cook. He looks at the manager who wants his soufflés. The chef nods again and walks over to the eighty-six-board and he writes onto it S-O-U-F-F-L-E-S. The manager leaves the kitchen trying to think up an excuse why there will be no soufflés tonight.
Organized chaos, everybody seems to know what they are doing, where they are going and how to give the right of way without stop and yield signs. Dishwashers are hurrying back and forth with clean dishes, silverware and racks filled with glasses. Waiters arrive in the kitchen with trays loaded with dirty dishes. Other waiters are leaving the kitchen, their hands and arms full with as many as five dinner plates. One macho back-waiter is carrying five rows of plates on his tray. He is walking slowly.
An Oriental cocktail waitress looking for clean martini glasses jumps out of one waiter’s way into the path of another waiter carrying a tray full with dirty glasses. He, a stocky, Italian fellow, barely is able to stop without walking all over her. Still, one glass falls from the tray during his abrupt halt. He calls her names. She does not deserve this. Therefor she tells him off titling him Mr. Butthole. She cusses in a southern accent which doesn’t match her Japanese looks at all. As she helps him to pick up the broken glass pieces, she cuts herself. The Italian waiter turns out to be a caring polite person as he puts a bandage on her finger. Both wait people are now apologizing to each other for being clumsy and for being rude. They part ways after having agreed on going for cocktails after work together to a Country and Western bar.
On the hot line the cooks drink gallons of water. They sweat in the heat radiated by the ovens, stoves, grill, broiler and deep fryers. Built up high energy transforms basic food into works of art. Above the grill and broiler are two salamanders used to brown and glaze certain dishes. Right now a baking sheet with six cups of French onion soup, topped with grated cheese floating on bread croutons, covering the soup bowls like a fresh snow does on a mountain, is loaded into one of the salamanders. Within no time at all the cheese is melting like wax. It provides a tight lid over the soup and as the yellow turns to an appetizing light brown the soups are ready to be served. On the stove-tops are sauté pans in which sauces simmer. A la minute vegetables are cooked to bite. Fish is fried and meat seared all according to the menu descriptions. The air is heavy and rich, layered with delicate aromas.
Plates with ready orders line up in front of the chef de cuisine. With a nod of approval he hands these up onto the pass, the pick-up-line where the waiters take the plates from. On and off the chef rejects an item. He does such when the plate does not match the menu standards or the guest’s special order. The chef is serious when he says: “Don’t you ever forget it! It is my name which is on the line!” The incoming orders set the beat. The chef de cuisine, like a Kapellmeister, coaches and directs his orchestra. He watches the tempo, the individual cooks timing, who each like musicians know to play their part.
The masterpieces, order after order, table after table, trays filled with artistically produced one of a kind various plates of edible palatableness are made to tingle the senses, to delight the ones who came to savor. The guests get what they came for, to have a feast. Magic is created. It doesn’t last. Neither food nor sound last forever. Both are temporary. They both are to please heart and soul while present. The divine creation of tasteful food is much like the breeze which fills the sails of a regatta boat, not guaranteed, but much enjoyed while available. Food-art is a pleasure to the senses with the purpose to satisfy and nourish. This art, created with much care by expert hands, much perishable while lasting only for minutes, can easily create memories which linger on a lifetime.

by helmut schonwalder