Saturday, October 9, 2010

Country Music, or Getting Kicked and Coming Back for More

Sometimes I miss cooking on a line in a restaurant. I mean, I really miss it. And I'm talking about way back in the line cook days. Because let's face it: there's a decently long patch on the cheffing spectrum where the higher you get on the totem pole, the less cooking you actually do, until that fateful day that you open your own restaurant and revert to becoming everything: line cook, server, dish washer, busser, general manager, maintenance man, errand runner.

It's a tough thing to explain to someone who asks what's to love about it: terrible conditions of heat and fire and sharp steel (just a notch above those of George Orwell's role as a plongeur in the great Down and Out in Paris and London); unsavory cohorts, many of whom have, or are working on obtaining, criminal records; relationship-destroying long hours away from loved ones at night,on the weekend and over holidays; a crushing amount of adrenaline that keeps you up long after work and well into the witching hour; notoriously long working hours and even more notoriously low pay. Every night, there's a point that your body breaks down, and your spirit does, too.

But then, there's some sort of redemption of the whole thing. There's the feeling of "Wow--just an hour ago I was flailing for my life and everything was going wrong: I was cleaning artichokes on the fly while I had five trout in various stages of cooking on the stovetop and in the oven (which may or may not have been working properly if at all) and three pans of varying vegetables perched on the side of a huge pot where I was trying to force water to boil on a burner that had to be coaxed back to life after getting doused with starchy, salty pasta water that got knocked over by this criminal working next to me who I'm pretty sure has been stealing my herbs all night and the ticket printer has gone down so now these waiters are all hand-writing their tickets but they are doing so too high up on the paper so when I put the tickets in the thing that holds them their writing gets covered up so I have to pull the ticket down slightly with wet-ish hands anytime I need to refer to it and they are beginning to tear and I really should give this entire station a good wipe down but what's that smell oh no the criminal has burned three pork chops and now I'm going to have to help him out of this as well and there's five new illegible tickets on the board." But that feeling is always, always superseded by one of accomplishment after making it through a nightmare like that, which is a hugely satisfying feeling, one of camaraderie with your co-workers (even the criminal next to me) as you sit around drinking cold beer (the quality of which is almost always rock bottom, but who wants thick, chewy "good" beer after a night like that?) and smoking cigarettes behind the restaurant. There's a feeling of kinship, of "us vs. them", the kind of common ground belonging to the "have-nots" that the "haves" will never obtain, and it's this feeling--so hard to name, that despite all of the abuse described above (and that doesn't even mention the full day put in before the sideshow of service even began), all of the proverbial kicking in the ribs that a night of service in a busy restaurant provides, keeps us crawling back for more the next day.

Don't get me wrong. I certainly don't want to revert back to that life. But, somehow, I really miss it sometimes. Here's to the line cooks of the world.