The Last “Kitchen” Night in Chi-Town. It was Wednesday and prior to heading into the kitchen for my task of fennel frawns, parsley, and chives, I decided to make a stop at the local liquor store. Since it’s been somewhat of a roller-coaster stage I wanted to leave on a good note offer a liquid parting gift…a case of beer. Who doesn’t love beer? I feel as though I’ve come full circle in this kitchen, and my hope is that the crew feels the same.
When I went back and read my Chicago Part Deux experience, I realized I wasn’t being truly honest with my reception. I never even attempted to explain the bumpy road… There were details that were left out, mainly due to my own insecurities. To capture the details I conveniently left out prior, I’m going to jump around here, and then try to be brief, direct, and honest. This may lack eloquence, so again: beware.
Truth be told, I felt a bit spoiled on the west coast at Patina. Although the kitchen was run like a Marine boot camp, the crew was welcoming and right off the back accepting. It was as though they lived in the dirt ditches and were more than happy for me to join them there… Fast-forward to Graham’s, and the first few days on the job were much different.
Welcoming and accepting would not exactly be the terms I would use to describe my initial experience…at least not the first few days. As I mentioned, the vibe in this kitchen is unique. The crew has the right to express ownership. This really is a phenomenal thing, however with this ownership comes the innate need to protect. Looking back, I now see it was evident, they were protecting the kitchen as if it’s their home. It’s not just their kitchen; it’s their family. How many of you have walked into a complete stranger’s house at dinner time, sat down and have said, “Hey, how’s it going? So what’re we eatin’?” Well… imagine the response you’d get…that vision you’re picturing… THAT was the feeling on my first day in the kitchen.
When I thought I had survived the first day, the second day I chose to go in with a more optimistic attitude. I thought I would lighten the load with a joke I tweeted involving the kitchen…really a stupid idea…it was an inside joke which poked more fun at me rather than anything else. NO BUENO. BAD, BAD IDEA!!! Forever to be noted as one of my worst ideas of 2011.
From the second I walked in the door, the Chef De Cuisine greeted me. In short he was kind and patient, however I WAS BUSTED FOR BAD TASTE! (no pun intended). He was not pleased to say the least. Feeling horrible about the situation, I immediately removed the tweet and proceeded to the kitchen. News of my indiscretion had spread faster than a California wild fire. Everyone—EVERYONE had already heard the news by the time I had stepped into the kitchen..
Operation redemption had begun. At this point I decided admitting fault and personally apologizing to everyone was the best course of action. For me, the whole scenario was a well-needed dose of humility. After seeing my attempts to remedy the scenario, the crew chose to give me a chance. They started to appreciate the work I was willing to put in, as well as the dedication I showed in trying to be a part of their team. After another week, the dust eventually settled and the last night in the kitchen approached.
Voila!!! The night is here—— I wake up early in the day, stop at the liquor store, then head into the kitchen… ready to commence fish dish perfection!!!! It was the feisty tournant that originally promised me that on my last night I would have the chance to work the fish line. Needless to say, I would be reminding him of this the minute I stepped foot in the kitchen.
When service begins the orders start to come in. I noticed tournant is working his way to the pans, looking as though he is going to try to cook the first dish of the evening… “I can take care of that for you?” I was extremely polite when hovering over him and trying to squeeze him away from the stovetop. “Remember…just remember, you said I could cook fish tonight.” (Note to anyone out there…if you ever “promise” me, I will not forget. If it’s something I’m really looking forward too…I will hound you until you deliver. Period end of story.)
Tournant smiles, says he remembers his promise, and gives me the go ahead.
Elated, I prepare the pan for the first salmon dish. Tournant is standing by looking rather worried. Fear is written all over his face. I understand the look, he is regretting his decision. I start reassuring him, “Don’t worry!!! I promise not to screw anything up.” I said this a few times…two seconds later, I screw up. I was so over anxious I began to crisp the wrong side of a salmon. He quickly steps in, saves the fish and shoots me a discerning look to which I reply, “Ok, OKAY …that was nerves…I’ll never make that mistake again.” He rolls his eyes and nods…other than that, the rest of the cooking went smoothly.
In the end, I had finally reduced my idiot stigma and proved I was somewhat helpful in the kitchen. I knew that after this night, I would truly miss this special funky kitchen, the people, and of course, the cooking. I never thought that something so bumpy in the beginning would have ended up so smooth in the end.
Thank You Chicago, Thank You Graham Elliot, and finally, Thank You to the kitchen peeps that kicked my ass, then took the time to teach me. I am extremely grateful and know I’ll someday say, “I knew them when…..”