Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Hard Service

A Hard Service.

Every cook has experienced it. The never ending tickets, fish burning, sauces breaking, running out of mise with the chef screaming in your face. A flood of emotion washes over you: frustration, anger, and embarrassment. Then the second seating comes in.

In the beginning, they're all bad services. Coming into your new kitchen job, you can barely recognize a quart container, much less run your own station. The longer time goes on, the better you become. Eventually you get promoted to sautee, and the bad services start all over again.

Soon you get a hang of things, and the bad services start to go away. Personally, I got to a point where the tiniest thing would ruin a service for me...feeling like I had cheated at some point--but most cooks just settle in and start to focus on technique and attention to detail.

But the bad services come back. It might be a rookie server making mistakes, a rush of diners sitting all at once, equipment breaking down, all while you work with a hungover dishwasher and that cranky extern on pantry.

What most cooks can't see is how important it is to experience nights like this. Too many good services can make a cook complacent...lazy even. A bad service stays with you the rest of the night. You dwell on it...and focus in on every little thing that went wrong. When you come back the next day, you're sharper than the knife in hand...and you know you won't let your previous mistakes happen again. Even if what went down was out of your control, you've thought of a plan to work through it--to adjust your routine. You start to learn how to feel out a night.

A hard service will teach a cook some of their most valuable lessons. The ability to re-assess and adjust is what seperates a good chef from a great one. A group of cooks that has had these experiences together, and learned the same lessons together will have the potential to be great as well.

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