Getting ready for dinner, be part of the events, remember the guest shall neither see, nor hear about…
Between answering phone calls Marlisa is trying to fix her skirt. She has only stopped dieting a week ago. Sitting down on the barstool behind the raised desk, her hips were mightier than the skirts closing-device.
(behind the scenes of a first class restaurant)
It is five-forty-five. All stations are ready for business. The door shall be opened at six. Just another regular weekend night. In the kitchen the Chef de cuisine glances at the sauces and it is the Hollandaise(1) which catches his eyes. Here at the Old Coast House we use Sauce Hollandaise by itself and as a base for two other sauces, the Choron(2) and the Béarnaise(3). The chef empties the stainless steel insert with the curled Hollandaise into the floor drain, the one with the grease trap. He pours a bucket of hot water after it and tells Allen, the saucier responsible for the Hollandaise and all other sauces, to hurry up and whip another batch together.
A tired looking waiter hangs out next to the prominently displayed eighty-six-board. This large, green old fashioned chalkboard is used to communicate no longer available menu items. The yawning waiter studies the word bouillabaisse before taking a piece of chalk. He uses the white chalk to edit some of the dark spots on his shirt’s cuffs. It works. Some of the worst stains are being hidden beneath chalk marks. He doesn’t care that the white chalk creates a sharp contrast on the once white, now yellow-gray material. This shirt untouched by bleach and soap for a number of workdays, looks in dire need of TLC much like the body it covers.
Distinct sounds can be heard. Cling, clang, glass is tumbling. Ping, bong, bam, glasses falling, and a crash, bang announces the finale of expensive glassware. The noises origin is the lower main dining room. Distinct sounds of Austrian crystal falling, breaking, bursting into countless pieces get the manager’s attention. Today, like always he blames his shortage of hair growth on the job’s stress, as he runs his hand over his head where framed by a small border of thinning hair a high gloss polished plateau reflects the light. Still searching for hair where there is none he heads into the direction of the accidental glass fragmentation.
The kitchen’s air is filled with layers of delicate fragrances. Essences from garlic to vinegar hang out near the cold kitchen side. Marsala wine and mint linger above the sauce-section of the hot line. A whiff of fresh baked bread rises from the ovens. Over there in the fish section the fish-cook opens a can of scallops, their fishy smell makes many noses itch.
Past the kitchen next is the employee change area. Here is a line of employees, waiting to use the bathroom. The cocktail waitress has locked herself inside. She has love problems. Desensitized to her coworkers’ needs she does her crying behind the locked door. Her timing is bad. Somebody calls the bartender who persuades his cocktail waitress by giving her two choices: “Tina come out and go to work or come out and go home.” He tries a second time, less gentle, “Tina! Either way! Get your little buns out here right now!”
She needs the job more than anything. Tina gets of the pity pot apologizing. Her eyes are red. She is blowing her nose. The cocktail waitress has everybody’s sympathy. “How did she get hooked up with this guy, who is married and has a handful of girlfriends on the side, in the first place?” Somebody asks. Nobody answers.
In the front of the house, at the lectern style antique stand-up desk near the carved entrance door, the hostess is making last minute changes in the reservation book. The phone does not stop ringing. Marlisa, the hostess, is taking reservations and erases cancellations. She staples new information onto two of the waiters’ function sheets. These are changes the captains and waiters have to be aware off. She waves and smiles at the manager as he rushes by on one of his duty calls. Absentminded he acknowledges her, nodding his head. Between answering phone calls Marlisa is trying to fix her skirt. She has only stopped dieting a week ago. Sitting down on the barstool behind the raised desk, her hips were mightier than the skirts closing-device. On the phone she is polite and friendly. Off the phone Marlisa is cursing the now open partly ripped stuck zipper. She is cussing at whoever made the same and his mother and finally the inventor of the impractical, unpredictable, unreliable, un-good, undone, uncooperative double row of dark plastic teeth. After one more attempt, half unzipped, she gets mad. She grabs the stapler, and with a click-clack, click-clack she fixes her problem. The phone is ringing and ringing. Marlisa picks up the phone and with a “This is Marlisa! Sorry to keep you waiting. How can I help you?” she gets back to her job’s routine.
Back in the kitchen, the saucier is whipping the egg yolk into the warm clarified butter, at a steady pace, not too fast and not too slow. Allen makes the hollandaise in a stainless steel insert sitting in another larger insert with hot water. The water bath in the double-boiler provides just the right temperature needed. Too much heat and the egg will curl. Too little temperature and the butter will harden. Allan finishes his task. Sweat pearls drop of his face onto his white cook’s jacket. He carries the ready hollandaise over to its spot in the bainmarie(4). The chef announces “One minute to six o’clock ladies and gentlemen, on your stations.”
In the dinning room the grouchy manager urges a sweating waiter “Hurry up!” It is the one who frantically finishing vacuuming the floor, attempts to find all the tiny fragments of two dozen shattered crystal glasses. Done, the waiter drags the vacuum cleaner to the housekeeping closet. The manager’s thumbs-up-signal tells Marlisa that it is time to unlock the front door. This night’s fine dining experience may start now.
The players of the dinner act are ready to enter the stage. There is no sign of hectic, there is no running, no shouting out front where the guests are. Such is in stark contrast to the organized chaos, cooks racing against the clock and yelling to communicate in the-back-of-the-house.
1. Sauce Hollandaise, 1 cup of water with a pinch of salt and pepper reduced by two-thirds. As it cools off, at just above room-temperature add five raw egg yolks. Beat the same over very gentle heat. As the yolks thicken, little by little and beating all the time add 500g of lukewarm melted butter.
(The water can be replaced with half water and half vinegar).
2. Sauce Choron is a Sauce Béarnaise with concentrated tomato puree added.
3. Sauce Béarnaise is a Hollandaise with chopped tarragon and chervil added.
4. Bain-marie, steam table