We're sitting there after a really hard night, having a cold beer and passing a bottle of whiskey around. Everyone is quiet. There's so much to say--but no one knows how to say it. Then this happens.

"Does it make you guys mad?"
"What? Tonight?"
"Yeah, tonight. But more than that--does it make you guys mad that we only get a finite number of services?"
"Before what? Before we get fired?"
"No. A finite number of services to get it right. To get as close to perfection as we can. And we just threw one away."
"We didn't throw anything away. It was just a bad night."
"Bullshit. Think about it. You get about two hundred some-odd services a year. That's barely more than a season of baseball. Whats worse is that we just threw away another night as a group. We've got something special here, and one day this group is going to part ways...and tonight was a waste."

It sounds dramatic--only getting a certain number of chances to "get it right." But did you ever think about it? There are so many variables in this industry that would seemingly make every service more important than the last: success is fleeting, and a good group of cooks never sticks together for too long. Anyone that's ever cooked as a part of a closely knit brigade knows this. If you remove a part of the puzzle, does it still work? How hard is it to intergrate a new member into the crew? And at what point is getting by not good enough anymore?

Every service needs to be building towards something bigger--a bigger contribution not just to the people we serve but to our craft itself. It's not good enough to just draw from the well of culinary history--we need to be adding to it also. I'm not saying we need to go out and invent an entirely new way to make stock or cook protein--we just need to collectively maintain the traditions passed on to us, and try every day to improve on them. Even if that happens one very small step at a time.

So the next time you're in the kitchen, think about it. Every day is one less chance at perfection, one less service with your friends. Think about the combined knowledge and experiences of you and all the people around you--what can you do with that? How are you going to make your contribution to our be craft--be it something small or the next big thing. Whatever it may be, you need to hurry up. The clock is ticking.

every kitchen has a term for that cute girl (or guy) in the dining room. whats yours?
  • fire tortas
  • side of tomatoes
  • table 9
  • papas
  • fire milkcrate
  • guava!

bauer comments on prop 2.
curtis duffy blogs.
ruhlman breaks down pollans essay.
bourdain runs his mouth off with buford and ted allen.

corey has some interesting ideas about duck fat and sustainability. ask him about it next time you see him.

amy's honey hands.

CTC lunch fun.

30 day pancetta.

wish you were here


mike said...

I know... Im 49 years old , I have one leg , Ive been cooking since 17 and lose sleep over a bad night. My time is running down - make the most of yours , really!

CHEF said...

I've worked in many kitchens, and it seems like when you finally find a group of guys that work really well together....I mean really well...the kind that almost verges on ESP, one guy leaves, and it’s never the same. After that, it all seems to go downhill. The nights where everything goes wrong start to multiply, and finally there’s no one left from the original, powerhouse crew. It’s that kind of staff and environment that you learn to appreciate….and realize the fact that these kinds of close knit groups are so rare.

"Line 1" has always been the call out when a cute girl walks through the door.

Watchman said...

we had a special spatula that we would bang on the cutting board whenever a nice looking girl came in. it made a wobbly noise that all the kitchen staff could hear and know to look up.

I am Patrick Hieger said...

thanks for the link.
seems silly, but you're right--it's not often you find a team that's on your personal level of professionalism. i guess it makes you constantly aware of what you'd like to develop, as a chef, in your own team in the future.

redredsteve said...

I was in a band for a while that did a little touring. I immediately related this sentiment to the band and the shows we played. Whenever we had a show where we weren't totally "on" I would feel this way. Even then, I knew we had a limited number of shows to play, especially given the relatively short life span of bands in our genre (3 or 4 years tops, except for a rare few). I would totally withdraw and feel a real depression whenever we had bad shows. As much as I love playing it was almost enough to make me wish I hadn't played at all, rather than play poorly. I hope I never know that same feeling in relation to cooking, but I fear I will. I suppose every cook has to, I think that's what makes the successes so sweet.

perezident said...

great post. Hit me this weekend. Friday night nothing came together. I was pissed my boys were down. Sat we bounced back and killed it. Our kitchen right now has the strongest group since I have worked there and I can see that it's not going to be long before we go our seperate ways. It sucks. We all have our own paths to walk though. Cute girl= check your plates

The Humble Chef said...

Cute Girl Beep Beep or Fire Midrare porkchop table#

Matt said...

aside from his interesting ideas corey seems to also have an awesome t shirt...totally diggin it..as for the code word we don't really have one...the servers just come into the kitchen and tell us straight up