Kitchen Apprentice: A Brief Tour of the Kitchen

"With some improvement, I might even be allowed to touch the pasta machine."

201100908-kitchen-apprentice.jpgMy previous kitchen experience is comprised of one summer as a pastry intern at a truly horrible seafood restaurant and a month-long stint working brunch on garde manger at a 40-seater in Brooklyn.

As a pastry intern, I spent my summer in a corner of the prep kitchen, sandwiched between a thin strip of countertop and an industrial stand mixer, praying that the steamy room wouldn't destroy my ice cream cakes. In Brooklyn, we never had enough surface space to complete all the cooking, plating, and prep work that invariably needed to get done at the same time. The dishwashing machine next to my station would rebel often, burping up large, sudsy quantities of speckled water.

So, I was completely overwhelmed the first night I came to trail at The Restaurant.

The Restaurant can comfortably seat 105 guests in the dining room, another 80 at the bar, and up to 26 in the private dining room for a seated dinner, or 40 for standing cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. On average, the front of the house will facilitate two seatings a night, which translates to a staggering amount of food ordered in a short period of time. The kitchen is designed to accommodate such volume and be staffed accordingly. I'd never seen so much space devoted to a kitchen before.

During my trail, I scurried behind Chef, agog, as he gave me a quick tour. The organism that is the kitchen cannot perform at its peak when its contributing parts are not performing at theirs; there is nobody in the kitchen who is superfluous during service (with myself being a rare exception), and everyone needs to be moving, searing, boiling, frying, plating to the beat of the same drum.

The Stations

I had entered mid-crescendo: tickets were being bellowed in abridged kitchen verse by the sous and the cooks responsible for each item responded with a canon of dishes. Guys sidled up and down aisles, depositing clean sautee pans at different stations and collecting the ones that needed cleaning.

The pass—its counter covered with a taped down cloth for service—is flanked by the fryers and garde manger on the left, pasta 1 and pasta 2 on the right. Next to the pasta stations is contorni, where sides of spinach emerge in glistening mounds and piles of potatoes get seared, ready to bed portions of pork shoulder from plancha.

Plancha, the station that handles the principle proteins, seems to me the most difficult to master (contorni is a close second). Cooks working the pasta stations can swivel between their lowboys, flattops, and pasta boilers. And although contorni must endure a punishing number of orders, at any given time plancha has to mind the griddle, an immersion circulator, a stove, an oven and a convection steamer, the last of which is located at the back of the kitchen.

All the way in the back, past garde manger and to the left, is the pasta closet, tucked away from the clanging melee of the main kitchen, an oasis I've come to appreciate in the past months. It's far away enough that the distance dulls the banging of pots, but not so removed that people working pasta production can no longer hear the expediter summoning servers ("Runners, PLEASE!").

This is where I will continue to learn about pasta production under the tutelage of Jeff sensei. With some improvement, I might even be allowed to touch the pasta machine, a beautiful, clicking beast that devours pomelo-sized pieces of dough in seconds and costs more than what I make in a year at The Restaurant.

So, probably not, but a kitchen apprentice can dream.