I have become ridiculously superstitious.
And I don’t mean in the traditional sense like if you see a penny face up and you leave it there (because New York City sidewalks are dirty) that you will get hit by a bus.
I have created my own superstitions. I think this is the beginning of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…
I hit my snooze bar at 5:45A.M. my body begging for another ten minutes. My hands are so numb and swollen from fresh cuts and burns that I’m not even sure they are still connected to my body. And my desired ‘extra 10’ is looking like a lost cause since the feeling is starting to creep back into my extremities.
The numbness has now morphed to a new sensation resembling frost bite mixed with boiling hot water. Not pleasant. I get out of bed pumping my hands to get the blood going.
I stumble into the bathroom, look in the mirror, and ponder for a split second if I really need to shower. I showered last night. Do I really need to do this again? Couldn’t I crawl into bed again instead? No, I turn the rocket jet on and walk into the shower, bend my head slightly forward, and let the water which falls like hard rain pummel my brain. This feels good. I know it sounds like torture, but really it feels good.
I scrub quickly, vow to wash my hair in the evening, put on the same clothes I wore yesterday (change underwear and socks), grab my knives and run to the subway in order to catch the 6:06 A.M subway. On the train I doze off. Everyone dozes off. We are all sleeping, rocking too and fro with the rhythm of the wheels gliding over the well polished tracks.
My eyes open every now and then to peek at what station is next and then close thinking about what I need to do when I get to work…..cut kobe fries first, then make tuille batter, continue with normal prep but have grilled veggies done by 8 A.M, don’t forget extra corn cannelloni’s for the salon, and…..
It’s finally my transfer stop, 42nd Street, and I stumble out of the train eyes still half shut to wait for the local #1 train to arrive. It never arrives at the same time. Ever.
If the #1 train is already at the station and all I have to do is hop over and take a seat, then I know it’s going to be a good day. But, if I have to wait 10 minutes, then I know the Gods have predetermined my morning if not my afternoon and evening…
I wake up early so I can spend 3 minutes on my walk to work to grab a quick cup of coffee at Starbucks. I need coffee in the morning. I am not human without coffee in the morning. And none of the morning cooks (myself included) have figured out how to get our brandnew coffee machine going so we are forced to outsource. We all come with Starbucks coffee.
Which is a good thing because there are too many sharp objects and stressful situations in the restaurant kitchen to start off work at 6:45A.M without coffee. It helps to take that edge off.
No zucchini in the walk-in fridge for my cod tandori plate? Slu-u-u-rp. No problem, I can wait till 10AM when the produce arrives to finish that. The 4 gallons of freshly squeezed orange juice that I need for my poaching liquid have mysteriously disappeared overnight? Slu-u-u-rp. No problem, I can squeeze my own.
But here is where superstition comes in… if the #1 train has screwed me over yet again, this means that Starbucks had better be empty so I can grab a quick cup. But, if Starbucks has a long line and only one person working behind the counter – like today – then I know I am going to be in the shitz all day long.
Today, specifically, not only were all the tell tale signs in place of a no-good-very-bad day. But I’m pretty sure the kitchen witches were gathering around their Amy Glaze voodoo doll and sticking in pins. I’m almost positive that every time I tried to get back on track this morning one of the witches stuck me good.
You have heard of kitchen witches haven’t you? Perhaps you have a kitchen witch doll hanging in your kitchen to appease the coven?
The kitchen witch, and I quote here from a pagan wicca website, “honours what she cooks, preparing meals with loving intent. Using fresh ingredients, often from her own garden, she makes magic in the kitchen by creating delicious, seasonal food, herbal remedies, and magic spells.”
Clearly the kitchen witches felt I was not honoring them in someway. Why else would I semi slice off my finger tip with my brand new mandoline? Or drop my misono pairing knife on the ground breaking its tip? Or why would there be no orange juice in the walk-in for my poaching liquid but a bunch of staffers sipping something cold and citrus-like all morning?
12 o’clock finally hits like a sledgehammer and I’m set up. I’m ready. fingertip be damned. I am set up and ready rock.
And then the kitchen witches start to make a mockery of me. I grab a plate from above the stove to flash in the oven for the first order of striped bass and cramps stab me in my lower abdomen. Oh yes, the joys of being female, working on a hot line, without coffee, and my premenstral syndrome just went code yellow to code I-could-use-some-motrin.
My eyes cloud momentarily with pain. The sauté cook, and only other female on the line, looks at me and asks if I’m okay.
“Oooooo, stay away from me! I don’t want mine yet!”
We laugh. Women who live and work together will pull each other to the same cycle. And having attended an all woman’s college I can say it’s a fact not a myth.
Orders start flying in now and I’m getting hit pretty hard. However, Kendra, the sauté cook who cooks 80% of all the fish we have on the menu, is getting pummeled. But, like always, she’s going strong. She loves it, the sense of dominating and controlling chaos and the euphoric release of endorphines that no street drug can replicate.
The chef calls in the nightime cooks who have started their mise en place for the evening to give a hand on the line. We are doubled up on the three one-man entrée line stations and the chef starts firing off the orders all at once.
“2 halibut, 1 monk, 1 stripe by 2 stripe by monk, stripe by salmon, skate…”
I pull my two halibut out of the poaching liquid while Brian slices the monk for the first order. They’re perfectly cooked but by the time they reach the passe they will have gone from medium rare to just under medium. I rush the plates, the chef checks the temperature with his metal skewer against his lip:
“Less cook on the hali…”
“Oui, less cook on the hali…”
I finish the striped bass while Brian brings the next monk to the pass. We grab sauces for the dishes and run back to start the next table.
The rush is finally over and the line is turned over back over to the girls. It’s a nice feeling to have a little female comraderie on the line. Something I’ve only encountered once. Another order comes in and it’s mostly mine: two halibut (one well-done) and one striped bass. I drop the two halibuts in my poaching liquid and set up plates, garnishes, and sauces while Kendra pan poaches the striped bass.
But the timing goes funny. Her stripe is done and one of my halibuts is done, but the other is still medium. I bring to the passe the two dishes that are ready and then run back and plate the last one. I know it’s a little under in temperature, but I’m hoping the heat of the plate will finish it off. It’s so close to being well done…
The chef checks the fish temperatures with his skewer and I’m sure I’m off the hook, but then he calls out: “What is this? Did I not say ‘well-done’? Does this look like well-done to you?” He pulls apart the fish and a thin line of rareness is visible.
I’m pretty sure he’s going to throw it at me, but instead he gives me back the plate calmly and tells me to fix it. No problem. I can fix it easily. It’s impossible to turn ‘well done’ into ‘rare’ but the reverse takes seconds – at least with fish.
I fix it and bring it back to the passe, but I’m embarrassed. I felt pressured to rush it because I didn’t want to loose the other fish.
I’m telling you: no #1 train, no coffee, no orange juice + pms + kitchen witch voodoo = no-good-very-bad day.
But there were some humourous parts to the shift. Think of them as out-takes on the line….
Kendra split her pants on the line during service and no one but me noticed. And they were split from waist to bottom. Thank God for long chef’s coats. She’s not fat, she’s mean and lean, but boys pants somehow don’t work out all the time for us ladies.
I got so upset with the coffee maker at work that I opted for espresso instead. But there was only decaf. This did not help any. So I poured a cup of what I though was iced tea. I took a big gulp only to discover that it was cleaning liquid and water. I basically drank half a cup of industrial soap. Luckily my stomach didn’t object.
8 gallons of freshly squeezed orange juice arrived late, the driver got stuck somewhere.
Sometimes you gotta roll with the punches! And, pay a little homage to the kitchen witch in your house – or restaurant…