Pasta and I have had a long-time love affair. When I was growing up, it was my family’s “staple” food, spiffied up in a number of ways sure enough to make the pickiest eater a fan favorite. So when I began staging at Del Posto, the first thing I wanted to observer was obviously the pasta line. If you haven’t heard, pasta is sort of their “thing”. As I made my way over to the line, I realized there would be one problem, I was an amateur, a home cook… not wanting to get in there way I kept trying to figure out how to observe the front of the line…
What I quickly realized is that I didn’t need to move up to the front of the line just yet…. I found a special secret towards the back of the line. I found the heart of the kitchen.
The “Risotto Chef” is a 37 year old sweetheart originally from Ecuador. He had started on at DP as a prep cook about 3 years ago. Now, I’ve read Bourdain’s, Kitchen Confidential (which takes place mainly in NYC) and in it, he talks frequently of the skilled Ecuadorian labor force in New York’s kitchens… To be honest, I hadn’t really met anyone that was Ecuadorian until I met the Risotto Chef. The kitchen at DP is mainly stocked with culinary school grads, that by all means have skill. We can sit here and talk about skill…which is what all the CIA grads and trained chefs undoubtedly possess…or we can sit here and talk about heart….. Heart it is!!!!!!!!
Here is the briefing on the Risotto Chef : at 24 he arrived in the US barely able to speak English. In love with cooking and the restaurant industry, he is the only one out of five siblings to pursue the less-than-glamorous path of cooking. He starts his day in the am and works at an Italian restaurant down the road through lunch/early evening. While at this restaurant, he has the title of “Chef” working to put out most of the restaurants dishes. Then he comes directly from that restaurant to DP for the dinner shift. When he arrives in the pm, he his sole job is to cook risotto to perfection.
At any point in time, on any given evening if he is asked, “How long on that risotto ticket?” He always, always, always has an answer.
“5 minutes Chef!” “Chef 2 minutes!” “Chef, risotto in 10!”
He works hard, neat, and fast. This is the reason the guys in the kitchen adore him—they can’t help but like him. He’s respectful, focused, and doesn’t engage in their shit-talking…he’s just an overall great person with tremendous drive. He doesn’t make excuses, cry, or complain…he just does his thing and he does it well.
Alright, you may be thinking “Is she being kind just because he let her into the pasta line?” Absolutely not…if you could only meet him, you’d see the same things. 100% guaranteed. I write these blogs every couple of weeks trying to convey what it is a people should stand for. When I say “You have to have heart,” I’m referencing people like him.
One night after work, I had the pleasure of having an eye-opener of a conversation with him. On our walk to the subway I got to brush the surface of this person and found out a few things…
The Risotto Chef is a knowledgeable foodie! He knows a great deal about the NYC restaurant scene, the restaurants themselves, and the chefs in these places. He knows how they’re rated and whether or not it would be worth working there in the future. When he tells me these things, I guess I’m somewhat surprised. I actually feel horrible because in some way, even though he mentioned he said he loved to cook, I still thought that being in the kitchen was just another job for him. Maybe it was the language barrier of broken English or maybe I was just not listening well enough to understand. In the end, I hadn’t truly understood him until this walk. The man at the end of the pasta line dreams of being a chef….not just a Chef, A Well-Known-Highly-Regarded-New York City-Chef.
That’s his dream, and no, I was completely wrong. Cooking is not just his job…its his life.
He tells me he has been working at DP because it’s one of the most well known establishments in the city. He raves about Chef Ladner and his 4 stars, and glows when mentions the praise he has gotten from him. Chef Ladner makes a point to stop by and give him feedback…what does that say! He has a dream, but even more so he has a plan…he plans on moving up from Risotto and working his way further up the line to the title of Sous Chef.
He doesn’t make excuses, cry, or complain…he just does his thing and he does it well.
So as we part ways to our different trains, I leave my first night from the pasta line thinking about my days ahead at Del Posto. I know I am lucky to be here and how much easier my life has been compared to others. I came her with a list of things to see and do and now I’ve just added another:
Witness Risotto Chef moving up the line, cooking something other than risotto….
To Be Continued……….(god that’s so corny.)