you just got destroyed. service is almost over--the other cooks are starting to put away mise, wash down, eat family meal. you're paralyzed--a thousand yard stare, a filthy apron, and a burn on your knuckles that's already bubbled up into a painful blister. you did 300 covers tonight, and sold more fish and pasta than ever. and you did it the hard way. no one is really talking, or looking at you. there are no pats on the back tonight. everyone just looks at the ground when they scurry past you. then your sous steps into your station, arms folded, and lets out a deep breath.

"so...what do you think happened tonight?"
"i dont know. i was slammed."
"did you feel prepared going into service? are you still having problems with the fish?"
"no, i felt fine. the fish is ok...i just need more practice with it."
"let me tell you what i saw. you looked frantic. you seemed disorganized, and i saw you call the prep cook over about a dozen times to get more mise for you. you didn't get any re-fires tonight, but that was because the guests opted for something else than have you cook another plate for them."
"well im trying as hard as i can."

well, no, you arent. you think you're pushing as hard as you can. but at the end of the night, when your energy is spent, and you don't think you can cook one more plate, have you ever asked yourself "how could I have been better?" a cook that believes they are trying as hard as they can is also a cook that shuts down when things get hard. they stop calling orders back, they stop calling out their movements, and they throw up their arms in surrender when the tickets keep coming. do you remember that feeling? the feeling that service will never end? the feeling of complete helplessness? like you just want to let out a primal scream, throw all your sauces on the ground, walk off the line and apply for a job at a bookstore? have you ever looked at that printer, endlessly chattering away at you and yelled "FUCK YOUUUUUUUU PRINTERRRRR!!!!"

if this is happening to you, you need to evalute every service. look for those moments when you were really under pressure, and ask yourself where you started to take shortcuts. where are you weak? which dishes give you that heartbreaking feeling when they come in? are you setting goals for yourself? are you truly focusing completely on the task at hand? have you prepared adequetly? are you using the right tools for the right job? and lastly, the hardest question to ask yourself: are you the weak link?

when a cook shuts down, it means everyone else is now having to adjust their routine because of this one person. since the communication has stopped, the cooks around this person have to watch them now--is the food being cooked? did he hear the order? is she close to picking up? did they forget the garnish on that app that just went up? the sous chef has to call orders over and over again--diverting his or her attention from the other dozen things going on at that moment. and the chef has a red light going off in their head now; that base trust on the dishes that are 'easy' is gone. every plate has to be scrutinized now. the rhythym of the kitchen has to change. the tempo slows down. ticket times grow. mistakes become more frequent. you get so wrapped up in your own head that you forget to stab the new tickets coming in and cook old orders twice. your sous chef and chef will ultimately take the blame for this service--but you know who the blame really belongs to.

the solution is simple: you never leave the line--physically or mentally. you do not shut down on yourself, or your fellow cooks. you always call back your orders, even if you won't remember them two minutes later. you focus on every task, no matter how small. and you commit to perfection. not actually being perfect...just trying.

photoblog - october/november

for halloween, all the nopa cooks dressed up like the servers. there were strange hats and donuts involved.

above: sg-120 at blue bottle, western addition pancetta, lamb, corey's guanciale, lamb sammie, rabbit 2 ways, drying pancetta, a typical nopa pickup, and my rabbit.

i fucking hate sugary fries.


  • le tigre is better than bikini kill
  • being just barely sick is annoying. id rather be full blown spinning and puking.
  • mission street food is still looking for guest chefs. this means you.
  • want.
  • there are many unwritten rules in the kitchen: dont call in sick, hands off my mise en place, always call your movements, an extern yields right of way to a more experienced cook. what else?
  • life is beautiful, even when it's not.
  • when a guy google searches a cute girl, its stalking. when a cute girl google searches a guy, its awesome. sorry, thats just the way it is.
  • socom confrontation for the ps3. a $50 bluetooth headset that comes with a $10 game.
  • i need new shoes. preferably nike. any suggestions?
  • ryan farr has a cool blog.
  • top chef has someone doing global small plates. that sounds familiar. it also has an overtanned cougar, and a douchey miami guy. in the first five minutes a guy refers to himself as a queen. if it were staying on my tivo, (which its not) i would be pulling for jamie lauren (go sf) or the hawaiian or finnish dude. and since when is brunoise the hardest knife skill?
  • just got called into work. gotta go.

  • "I used to work at a pizza hut call center. That job sucked." - Corey
  • "I used to go there a lot." -Merrell in reference to Q-Zar lazer tag.
  • "Can we please stop talking about my va-jay-jay?" -Merrell

the playlist, rock band edition
  1. she sells sanctuary - the cult
  2. just what i needed - the cars
  3. pda - interpol
  4. here comes your man - the pixies
  5. my best friend's girl - the cars
  6. lazy eye - silversun pickups
  7. psycho killer - talking heads
  8. anyway you want it - journey
  9. bad reputation - joan jett
  10. territorial pissings - nirvana


Ash said...

You basically described my past Saturday night, and after breaking down, and having the following two days off, I broke my biggest rule, and took the shit home with me. stupid.
You always put my thoughts into words, and I thank you for that. It helps me keep myself in check.

Matt said...

funny thing you mention never leaving the line physically or mentally. yesterday a co worker and I were discussing work and food and I said "Man, last night I was going to bed and all I could think about was my prep list and what I have to do tomorrow. How much do you have work on the mind?" To which he replied "Dude I went to bed thinking about Stargate last night."

Another point: Absolute perfection is not necessary. I work garde manger/dessert and with one of our new desserts theres a line of lemon dust and for some reason its the aspect of the plate I fuss over the most. I try to get the fucking thing arrow straight and a decent length. The chef has told me on more than one occassion that I shouldn't fuss so much over the line and it's true. By doing so I just waste precious seconds that I could be working on another plate or doing something else.

I agree with Ash, the blog seems to express what most cooks are thinking. As always awesome post man. Keep up the great work.

Los Gatos Girl said...

Sigh, I get that glazed look just being a home cook with one husband, one 10 year old daughter who wants to help at the worst times, and two cats. At some point, everyone says "Back away from the crazy woman and hand her over a glass of wine."

Hope you're doing well. I love your blog even if I don't post a comment every time. Did you see my Los Gatos now has two Michelin star restaurants :-)

I may have to sneak up to The Warfield next Friday night since All That Remains is playing.

Love your playlist, and have you noticed that Nosferatu by Blue Oyster Cult has a similar riff as Phoenix by The Cult? Some people agree, others think I'm nuts.

More bunny pix!
Lara in Los Gatos

Jesse said...

This sums up my past two weekends in much simpler words. Thank you.

Oliver khoo said...

great post.

tee said...

Love your blog! Just came upon it through tablehopper.

Boo said...

I love your blog! (Saw it on Blogs of Note) And I love your rabbit. Adorable. Anyway, I'm amazed by chefs and cooks and I think that is why I love Top Chef, but you're right- dicing apples can't possibly be the hardest knife skill. I'm sorry that made you take it off your TiVo, though.

Mary said...

It is disturbing to me that these songs are played in your kitchen and in my cubicle...Truthfully though, they really don't work in this cubicle.

Psycho Killer works a little.

erik_flannestad said...

Great post.

It really has stuck with me as a lesson I wish I'd been wise enough to learn about 15 years ago.

erik_flannestad said...

The thing that I don't think this quite covers is how harsh (?) the pressure is to compromise.

The wait staff wants you to compromise to get their food out faster, you want to compromise to get it done faster, the customer wants you to compromise to get their food better, bigger, smaller...

I dunno...

It is really hard to make that stand.

Especially in the moment when you are fucked and half aware of what you are doing.

Takes a lot of balls and awareness of yourself.