Last night was the first time that I really felt like a rookie at The Restaurant. I have always known I was under experienced, but I didn't realize this: I can't cook quickly. Well (smirk), I can, but it is not going to be beautiful, and it may or may not be tasty.
Everything is fine when The Restaurant isn't busy. I can keep my station clean, organize my ingredients and restock them in their proper 1/9 pans, and taste my food for proper seasoning and plate it like a piece of art. But, when there are three tickets, all with 4 orders each at our small station, efficiency, timing, and preciseness is key.
I am floundering. I have an order for soft-cooked eggs. I try to be efficient and do one task at a time. I start by getting out my plate. Then, I start cutting the small ends off each of the sides of the three eggs so they will not wobble when they are cut open. Then, I cut each of the eggs in half to put on the plate. But, because they are soft-cooked, the yolks have a tendency to run. Chef M, not even the chef at my station, looks over at what I am doing, and tells me that my yolks are running out onto the cutting board. He goes on to say that The Restaurant charges the customers a lot of money for that plate, and I shouldn't cheat them of all of their yolks.
So, flustered, I immediately flip the egg over, and he is right, the yolk has dripped out. I pat it, evening it out with my fingertip and try to cover my mistake. I go to put the soft-cooked eggs on the long white plate they call their home, but realize I have forgotten the aioli line that I am supposed to draw down the center to make the eggs stick to the plate. I remove them all, draw the line (which was more like a squiggle) down the center of the plate, and then season them with Kosher salt and cayenne.
What is next? I was missing something.
Oh yes! They are supposed to be topped with smoked tuna! The problem is, I have never learned how to make the tuna. The Sous is to my right, sweating because he is doing the other 11 orders that I am not helping him out with, and I timidly ask him the recipe for the smoked tuna salad.
He stops what he is doing, shows me without talking and speaking to me through “big” eyes, and goes back to his 11 dishes. I am humiliated. If I paid attention before, I would have known the recipe. I need to WATCH.
WATCH, WATCH, WATCH. Maybe I need glasses?
As the night goes on, I probably made about 10 more of those egg dishes, along with shucking 40 plus Kumamoto Oysters (and almost dislocating my shoulder), attempting 1 Cherry Clam and failing, and tossing and plating 13 (or so) different salads. I am sure there are victims along the way: A small piece of shell in an oyster here, a caper-heavy tuna salad over there, and maybe too much citrus in the dressing of one of the salads. But, I am doing my best. I taste, even when it is busy, and try to plate everything carefully and beautifully.
The Sous still thinks I am holding him up.
As things are getting a little slower, one of the servers comes up to The Sous. He whispers in his ear, and then leaves. It is very James-Bond. I think nothing of it. But then, The Sous turns to me to tell me what the server has said. He gives me a correction about something the server has noticed that I was doing. It is a mistake that I have never been told about, and I have continued to do because I don’t know any better. Completely taken aback, I take the correction, and then stay silent for about a minute facing my cutting board, head down. I am angry, and hurt, because I like to be talked to directly if there is a problem. I ask The Sous why the server didn't just come up to me and tell ME the correction?
He says to me, in his suave Sous way, "At the end of the day Stage, you are just a Stage."