We were closed for a couple days last month for a very large wedding dinner we had been contracted to do. The first day we were closed was for prep purposes. One just doesn't wake up the day of such a large event and pull all that food out of a hat; no, prepping for a party as large as the one we were getting ready for (410 guests) requires a good 18 hours work prior to the actual day. We had our usual kitchen crew plus a couple other cooks we hired on mercenary terms, so all in all there was 10 of us cooking for the party.
The next day we all arrive to the restaurant at 8:00 am to make the final preparations needed before departing to the site of the wedding. After 4 more hours work we were ready to go. All the preliminary work was done, the vehicles were packed and it was time to leave. As Jen and I were walking to our cars I happened to look over see the other 8 cooks of our team walking together as a group to their cars; I had to stop and just smile.
There they were, a rag-tag bunch if I've seen one. There was my sous chef, in whom I see a lot of myself at that age; intense, motivated, singly driven by food. I've three kids younger than 18 in my kitchen. One has been with me since he was 13. He's a Jewish vegetarian who, at the drop of a hat, will taste a dish of pork to make sure it is properly seasoned. One is an 18 year death-metal musician with hair down to his waist and plays a wicked set of drums. The last one just barely 17, wide eyed and just a little bit innocent. I've reassured her mom that the kitchen will take the innocence away and she should be foul mouthed and jaded in just a few short years. I think mom was hoping I was joking, but I've seen it to many times. Hell, I credit growing up in professional kitchens as the source of my own foul mouthed jadedness. I, and so many like me, learned my social skills from the sketchy mercenary like cooks who were my elders as I was coming up through the food chain. Lastly are my two interns. Freshly out of cooking school, full of ideas, with an entire career ahead of them. I remember that stage of my own career. If you would have asked me back then I would have told you I was pert-near the best damn chef on the planet. Now I look back and shake my head because I now understand just how little I knew then.
As I drove out to the catering site I got to thinking about my current kitchen crew and of past crews I've been a part of, or have been the chef of. Kitchen workers, cooks and dishwashers alike, are a breed apart, though no two are alike in any way except they share the common trait of cook, which is a trait that, from personal experience, typically means they can't fit into proper society with it's proper jobs and professions. Most cooks have something about them that just isn't right, and trying to put your finger on just what exactly it is is like trying to define time, we all know what it is, but nobody can define it; that is how I describe the typical cook. I've had cooks who were former nuns; former gang members; either just released from prison or on their way in; freshly out of the French Foriegn Legion; going to plumers school. Well I think you get my point.
So, that's my crew. Not a one of them on the same page, until...until you get them in the kitchen, then they come together as one to produce beauty. They are all these different cogs who, by any enginenering defination, should no mesh, but when put into the confines of the kitchen have the ability to put aside differences and cook. I've had cooks in the past who literally hate each other. Who would rather go out back and beat the shit out of each other and spit on the other's grave before saying a kind word in return. But on the line during a busy dinner rush I've seen these very cooks work together like they were made for each other.
The longer I am in the kitchen, the more I understand what Guy Savoy meant when he said, "The restaurant is the last civilized place on earth." The very nature of the restuarant creates unity. Everyone from the wealthiest of customers to the lowliest of dishwashers(who, by the way, are the most important people in the kitchen, but that is for another post) are united by one thing; a plate of food.
That one plate of food is what brings all of us together everyday. It's that one plate of food that has brought us together since we first discovered fire and cooking. We cooks, no matter our differences, come together each day and night, put our differences aside for the single purpose of providing you with a plate of food. And it has been like that since the very first cook. We might no play well in the sandbox with the other kids, but give us a mud pie and we will bring all the other kids together.