Over the past year, I've checked off a long list of accomplishments working in various professional kitchens. I've learned to use a meat slicer, shape a boule, stretch pizza dough. I've made gravlax and tossed salad for staff meal. I've worked the deep fryer and scrapped off used food from plates in the dish pit. I can now pipe whipped cream onto coconut pies and stuff bratwurst into casings.
But one thing I hadn't yet done was party like a line cook. I was totally up for grabbing a beer after the last bits of debris were swept up, but never got an invite. Maybe because I never stayed in one place long enough to truly bond. Maybe because I'm a wimp about staying out late and ran out the door, home to bed, the minute I clocked out.
I read about the crazy after-hours, post-boozing runs to Dick's on the Facebook status of a few of the cooks who've friended me. Isn't that part of the attraction of working so hard? You get to play hard, too. Then you wake up with a splitting headache, show up for a shift and compare notes on hangover cures. (Ever heard of a Prairie Oyster? Bottoms up!)
Just this week, though, I got invited to my first-ever chef party and it lived up to my high expectations.
I'm not sure how I wound up on the guest list for Cantinetta chef Brian Cartenuto's 29th birthday bash, but I wasted no time saying heck yes. I really like and respect what Brian's done at this year-old neighborhood café. But I was pumped because Brian was serving up a mess of New Orleans-style crawfish, shuck-your-own-oysters, and peel-and-eat shrimp. That's dang good finger food.
Shortly after arriving, I headed straight for those mudbugs. Tangled up in the mix were whole heads of garlic, potatoes, links of sausage, even heads of cauliflower. It was all spread out on newspaper on a big picnic table. Absolute heaven.
Standing around, sipping Rebel Yell, swapping tips on the best way to "Suck Head and Pinch Tail" (that's crawfish talk, honest), I couldn't remember the last time I had so much fun. Especially when The Dusty 45s—a Seattle rockabilly band—started playing.
Aside from the thrilling moment when the lead singer/guitarist/trumpet player lit his horn on fire, I didn't witness any dangerous behavior. It was a pretty civilized fete. Maybe the cooks partying like rock stars scenario is just a myth.
But, then again, I didn't make it out for the after-party—I had to get home and get up early the next day. One of these days, if I ever get invited out again, I'm gonna stick around. I'll be the last cook standing (and swaying). I really will.
About the author: Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer restaurant critic Leslie Kelly has been apprenticing in professional kitchens since the newspaper folded in March 2009 and chronicling her culinary journey from pen to pan for Serious Eats. Inspired by Michael Ruhlman, she recently started a new project on her personal blog, exploring "An Egg A Day".