Critic-Turned-Cook Gets Taste of Rush on the Line

Critic Turned Cook follows former Seattle Post-Intelligencer food critic Leslie Kelly on her journey away from the keyboard and into the kitchen as she trains at various Tom Douglas restaurants. Take it away, Leslie!


Jordan and Andy are seasoned brat jockeys at Shultzy's in Seattle.

I’ve always hated running. Never once experienced that endorphin buzz that pushes exhausted bodies to sprint to a finish.

Cooking on the line in a restaurant seems a lot like a race. There’s constant motion fueling the adrenaline charge that comes from multitasking to the max. You’re in the weeds and then you look up and hours have passed like minutes.

In my years as a restaurant critic, I was blissfully happy sitting on the sidelines, cheering—sometimes jeering—the efforts of the team putting out the food. Did I have game? After working in half a dozen kitchens, I was having serious doubts about whether I could cut it.

But after my first shift at Shultzy’s, I think I might have found my stride.

Shultzy’s does not aspire to be a gastropub. It’s a college watering hole, with a constantly changing selection of really good beer on tap, serving the kind of food that cries out for a tall cold one.

Its famous sausages (bratwurst, andouille, Cajun, sweet Italian, and chorizo) are made in house, sirloin is ground daily for the burgers, gumbo is made from scratch, the roux carefully tended.

The kitchen is about the size of a walk-in closet and on the first day, I worked the third spot on the line, topping sandwiches, dropping fries, calling out servers' names when putting orders in the pass. It was a Monday, but there was a lunch rush and—boom—just like that it was nearly 3. It was an absolute blast. I could see how the feeling could be addicting. Like running, but running in place.

I didn’t have much time to truly enjoy the buzz, though, because I got a splitting headache. My fault for not drinking water. Every seasoned cook knows it’s essential to push the fluids while working the line. Just like when you’re running, right?