a day in the life

a day in the life.

11am. the sun is pouring through my windows. most of SF has been up and at it for hours. i'm on seven hours of sleep...with the aches of the previous nights service just starting to creep into my bones. i hesitate about rolling out of bed, but I soon realize my pre-work clock is ticking. I get up, wash the press pot, and grind my coffee.

12pm. i've had my coffee, read SFgate, and fed the rabbit. the coming work day is racing through my head: what to prep, what's been working, what hasn't been. i flip through cookbooks, watch tv, then get ready for work.

1:05pm. there are no medium coats on the rack. an average Nopa day lasts 13 hours...so a proper fitting shirt becomes pretty important. i opt for the dishwasher shirt/bib apron. downstairs, Alejandro is already reviewing the menu and checking the prep list we wrote the night before. we sit down and finalize the menu, then get to work on the prep list we've written for ourselves.

3pm. between the menu, bar menu, and "taste", it's been a busy few hours. add into that a general lack of room and equipment, and you've got a hectic situation. the a.m. shift starts to phase out, and the p.m. cooks start coming in. sometimes delegating to the cooks is the hardest part--the idea that something is being missed always hangs in the air. lists are written, crossed off, and re-written. conversation and hello's are brief at best.

4pm. the menu has been written, proof read, and printed. no turning back now. if we haven't prepped correctly, or are low on ingredient, we will truly look like assholes.

5:30pm. line up. 90% of the menu is cooked and tasted. the bar menu has been going for half an hour. if a cook isn't in the window with their mise at this point, you know it's going to be a long night. typically, the dishes work--or are easily fixed with a bit of salt, acid, or herbs. pressure builds during this half hour before service, and after chugging a 5:55pm iced coffee my heart and mind are both racing. no matter what, I always get a slight panic-y feeling just before service. i've had it since I started cooking...always reassured by the knowledge that once service started, I would lose the nerves and feel...normal.

7pm. service starts easily enough. despite the bar and community table being packed pre service, i've been mostly firing first courses. Guests are slow to sit, and a crowd builds at the door. By 6:45 my top rail is filled with main courses that have yet to fire. The noise level rises, and my printer starts to chatter.

7:45pm. the first and second pickups were easy enough, but now i'm looking at a 40 guest/45 dish pickup. a call goes something like "fire eight fish, six pork sets, six pastas, five lamb, three chicken, and greens. I re-read the tickets a dozen times, check in with each station, then pick up the order. this is a hectic time in the kitchen. as soon as it looks like things are slowing down, you get slammed again. mistakes made now are glaring, and can quickly send a service spiraling downward.

8pm. paul turns to me and says "hey rich, only five more hours." in most restaurants, five hours constitutes a whole service. by this time, we've already served almost 180 people.

10:30pm. the tickets die down...slightly. a cook has just enough time
to re-stock their station, get a drink of water, or go to the bathroom.
not both though. the never ending sound of the printer taunts me from
the app station: tickets are builiding up on first course again.

11:30pm. we've sold 40 fish and fifty burgers. the restaurant is roaring.

in between pick ups, cooks ravenously eat their dinners: pastas,
burgers, flatbreads. industry folks start to show up, and the mood in
the room changes. a beer is starting to sound really good.

12:45am. a five top shows up.

seating has stopped. we still have three tickets hanging, not to
mention possible desserts. cooks clean, sweep, and put away mise. i run
upstairs to start the prep list. you can actually hear the music over
the noise.

1:30am. alejandro and I have finished the next days
menu and prep list. cooks finish up their cleaning, and only a handful
of guests are left. i give danny five bucks to grab me an asahi. we just did well over 400 covers.

it's done. the kitchen is clean, orders are called in, and the walk in
is locked. my feet are throbbing. i walk out to the bus stop, where all
the cooks meet after service. danny hands me my asahi, and we talk shit
about the previous night, and try to unwind. some foh show up, and
everyone shares a slug of jameson. being "family" is such a restaurant cliche, but at Nopa, it feels true.

2:15am. i drive al home, and we re-cap the nights service. in my experience, nothing is as valuable as a sous chefs view on a nights service...so us bouncing our own experiences off each other can only lead to better services. i see alejandro more then i see my wife...so us being on the same page is extremely important.

2:30am. im home. i kiss my wife and sit on the couch. this is only the third time i've sat down in thirteen hours. my apartment is quiet...and it's eerie. without the constant din of the restaurant, it's hard to relax.

3:40am. i take my shower and go to bed. joey will call me the next morning, but i'll miss his call. between sleep and work, i'm only left with 4 hours a day to myself...so it's hard to see friends. this must be why nopa feels so....close. we really have no other choice.

10:40am. it starts all over again.


erik.ellestad said...

Great post!

I've worked my share of 12 hour shifts, but never a dinner service that goes that late every night.

Oof, I mean, even bartenders, who often work until 2, don't usually start quite that early in the afternoon.


shuna fish lydon said...


Thank you for making time to get this down.

I am currently working p/t at a place with an 8 hour service, but my day starts at 4 am. I remember nights like the one you've described here at Gramercy. It can only be done well when the kitchen is tight, yes, and, the hidden factor: everyone is young.

ATR said...

Great post. My service time is 8 hours but a general day is 11 hours or so. Nothing like the rush of high volume restaurants. Love your blog.


jersn said...

good words. i did a similar post a few years back (same title even). got me pumped to get back in action.

Dad said...

Richie - AWESOME site!! Just found it for the first time. I've been a chef for about twelve years and started out in SF.

I tried and tried, but I can't find a way to email you. Can you please email me? chefmav at yahoo. Thanks - I hope to hear from you soon

Dad said...

Richie - AWESOME site!! Just found it for the first time. I've been a chef for about twelve years and started out in SF.

I can't find a way to email you. Can you please email me? chefmav at yahoo. Thanks - I hope to hear from you soon.

Harp said...

Nice Recap. Reminds me of the days and nights when I was actually a working chef. I miss those sometimes.

sarahsouth said...

loved this post!

so is the menu usually made this last-minute?

i hope you get paid well... probably not half what you deserve

Anonymous said...

Amen brutha. Amen.

Salty said...

Holy shit there are others out there!

Just getting clued in on other kitchen pogues who blog. Found you through Ruhlman's site.

Keep rocking bro!


Salty said...

P.S. Sarah is a hottie

Unknown said...

so that's why you never return my phone calls

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ChefTZac said...

Nice insight into your day.

Here's a day in my life as a professional cook.


ChefTZac said...

This sounds all too familiar. I wrote a similar post about a day in my life as a professional cook. Check it out.