Kitchen Apprentice: To Erica

201100908-kitchen-apprentice.jpgI practically clung to Erica's apron the first day I trailed. She was on the hot station, and was responsible for any fried sides or appetizers that went out with an order. I was sandwiched between her and Mark on garde manger. Those two stations alone commanded more surface area and lowboys than the entire kitchen at the restaurant I'd worked at previously.

At 6 p.m., everyone was already sweating around me. It was a Friday night, so the dining room was filling up quickly; I'd seen it on the way in. After a chat with Chef, I was led into the kitchen for my trail, and given the task of de-seeding a pan of lemons without getting underfoot. It was hard: I'd never trailed formally before, so I had no idea where I was supposed to stand without getting bumped into by porters or line cooks.

As it turned out, Erica hadn't been at The Restaurant very long either, and had only started two weeks before my trail. She flipped through her notepad to double check cooking times for all the items that came her way and had a cheat sheet of translated Italian dishes. So we were both learning, I guess, but she seemed so in control already: trays lined with paper towels stood in a neat stack ready for her arancini and artichokes. She never mumbled. She cleaned off her cutting board any time she trimmed ribs or chopped herbs for a garnish. Her station was always clean, she moved efficiently, and with great confidence.

I remember wiping the lemon pulp off my patch of working surface and wondering if I could move that well after three weeks at The Restaurant.

By the time I joined the crew the following week, she had already moved up to garde manger. When I worked Monday evenings, I stuck to her like grim death, plaguing her with my never-ending "Is there anything else I can help you with?"s. I already stood out in the kitchen, I didn't want to be caught doing something incorrectly, or worse, nothing at all.

I think the most remarkable thing about Erica is her attitude: She was always busy, but still found time to show me the right way to slice peppers or break up fingerling potatoes. When I first started, she was one of the few people I could direct my questions at without getting the man-you're-dumb-but-I'm-far-too-nice-to-say-anything look. Erica doesn't speak so much as chirp, her empathetic blue eyes widening in agreement/surprise/disbelief during any conversation, and always listens so that you feel as though any comment you make is the most profound thing you've ever uttered. Without her to hide behind, I doubt my transition into The Restaurant would have gone as well as it did.

Over the months, I've watched Erica train others and develop comfortable command over the garde manger station. Most recently, she took over the pancakes station as one of the kickass rockstars working the line at brunch. I am treated to her bright "Good morning!" every Sunday, and once in a blue moon, a fluffy pancake finds its way back to me in the pasta closet.

But all good things must come to an end, and this is Erica's last week at The Restaurant.

She'll be moving across the pond to transplant her career in London, and will be missed in the kitchen. I'm so grateful to have learned from such a kind, patient cook, and to have worked with such an amazing person. I'm going to miss her jokes, seeing her mix quarts of the trademark Erica-drink (Gatorade + juice + carbonated beverage du jour), oohing and ahhing at the size of her biceps, her energy in the kitchen. Be it London or elsewhere, I know she has the skill, drive and smarts to make her mark in the industry. So thanks for everything, Erica, and best of luck, keep a couch ready for when I visit!