Monday, January 10, 2011

120: Prep

Chef Gregor looked over the stock in the walk-in freezer. Again, too much chicken and too much cabbage. Why did they keep ordering so much. He sighed, shook his head and began to think how he might get rid of this stuff. Looked like another "asian-inspired" Crispy Honey-Vanilla Chicken salad. This was not what he had in mind when he agreed to help his friend's floundering restaurant. This was not why he had returned to school to become a chef, to make garbage like this because someone had over-ordered a product that no one wanted.

Still, it was a Friday night. Crowds would be decent. If nothing else, the location near the theater would draw pre-show crowds early in the evening, then there'd be a lull, and then the late night crowds would pack in for simpler fare and nice fat checks racking up a lot of alcohol. The theater nights were staff favorites. It could be busy, but tips were generous from the out-of-towners who came in on the train for the rare date. The lack of parking in the area meant there wouldn't be a lot of children running around, spilling drinks. And even if Gregor had to push leftovers as yet another soul-crushing "Chef's Special" that was definitely far beneath him, the customers would be steady.

The locals hadn't yet discovered the place since his friend took over, but they weren't sure if that was a good thing or not. Locals could provide some regularity and predictability in traffic, but they often had a sense of entitlement and pushiness.

Gregor assembled the staff, went down the list of things to suggest to indecisive customers, noted which items were running low, and then unveiled tonight's special. It was met with groans. Gregor extended his hands, palms down in a gesture that was equal parts acceptance and reminder that he still was the head chef. Also always, Tiffany quickly got to work on the welcome board, noting the special and adding flourishes. She thought they made it look fancy, but she was alone in that thought. Still, no one else had any interest in making up the board each night, so for now, she'd do.

The team, scattered, wait staff to light candles and straighten napkins, the kitchen staff to check in on the prep work they'd begun before the meeting. As they were dispersing, the rear door opened.

"Gregor!" Jeff called cheerfully. His face fell as he looked around. "Did I miss it again?"

"You know you did," Gregor replied curtly. You know roll call is at precisely 4:30 pm.

"I'm sorry man, I had trouble getting away. There was this thing at work --" Jeff cut himself off to grab a ringing phone. "Marcos," he answered. He listened and then began looking around the desk. He began snapping his fingers frantically and Eric ran over with the reservation book. "Let me see what I can do," Jeff answered calmly, frantically flipping through the book. Finding the page, he slid his finger down the page. "Absolutely, he said cheerfully. We can do that. Great! See you at 10:30! Thank you."

Jeff placed the phone back on the hook, scribbled something in the book and handed it back to Eric wordlessly. Eric quickly retreated before Jeff had a chance to ask him why he hadn't taken the call in the first place.

"Good news, Gregor. The entire symphony will be dining here tonight after their performance. What do we have on tap as a special?"

Gregor muttered but didn't answer, concentrating on the salad plates he was laying out on the prep table, muttering and counting, and moving slightly, trying to ignore Jeff.

Jeff sighed and left the kitchen, returning before the door had stopped swinging. "Again?" he asked.

"Hey, man, I don't do the ordering. I told you what I needed, but I keep ending up with the same old, same old. This is not what I had in mind when you asked me to come here."

"I know, I know, this isn't what I had in mind, either. It's not quite 5 yet. Maybe there's still something I can do. What do you need?"

"I doubt it, but whatever." Gregor quickly began listing off ingredients. Jeff began looking around again and before he could start snapping impatiently, a member of the wait staff quickly ran up and handed him a pen and a pad, making sure her name tag was clearly visible, then backing away before he could ask why she was in the kitchen and not out making sure none of the table cloths had any folds.

"I'm on it," Jeff said, never sure if Gregor was truly mad at him or if it was just his way of reminding Jeff that even though he was the boss, in the kitchen Gregor was the boss and things only worked if everyone else believed that.

Gregor checked the clock. Three minutes to go. The phone was again ringing and he could see over the video monitor people beginning to queue up outside the front door. One of the kitchen staff began arranging salad on the plates and another began pulling items from the refrigerator.

Gregor turned the heat up on a large pot of water and said "Showtime" to everyone or no one in particular.
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