The key ingredient
Jan 31, 2016

Fine Dining

FINE RESTAURANTS ARE STRANGELY PARADOXICAL PLACES. The “front of the house” is all about the elegant, flawless choreography of a perfectly presented meal. Discreetly calibrated lighting, sound and setting. Seamlessly coordinated service. Brilliantly conceived and exquisitely prepared food. In a world where excellence is elusive, this is a place meant to entice and enchant even the most discerning guests.

Step through to the “back of the house,” however, and the contrast couldn’t be more striking. To the uninitiated, a restaurant kitchen in full swing is a scene of chaos, clamor and imminent catastrophe. Dangers abound. Razor-sharp knives. Sizzling stoves. Slippery spills. So when things go sideways – and at some point they invariably do – a restaurant kitchen is no place for the faint of heart.

Real kitchen disasters

In an environment where every member of the team is crucial to the success of their shared mission, all it takes is one bad move or one bad apple (okay, pun intended) to shake the entire enterprise to its core.

  • A dishwasher gouges his hand on a cleaver mistakenly dropped into a full sink by a harried (and somewhat hung-over) prep cook. In the time it takes to figure out how serious the dishwasher’s injury is, the sous chef runs out of clean sauté pans, orders from the dining room begin to back up, and the timing on the entire line is thrown off.
  • A fire in the alley causes an electrical short that cuts the power to the main oven and walk-in cooler. By the time the pastry chef realizes that the oven has stopped working, several key – and time-consuming – elements of that night’s menu have been ruined. The chef garde manger, alert now to the possibility of electrical problems, discovers that the temperature in the cooler is rising. Before a hastily arranged generator arrives, he puts dry ice in the cooler; the resulting carbon monoxide means that no one can spend more than 30 seconds at a time in the suddenly hazardous confined space.
  • A host succumbs to pressure from a group of VIPs without reservations, seating them in a section where the waiter is already swamped. With a crush of special orders pouring into the kitchen at the height of the dinner service, a key station runs through its mise en place, the prepared ingredients critical to a signature dish. Stopping to frantically chop the necessary vegetables, a line cook scorches several previous orders, which then have to be prepared again from scratch.

These are real stories, from world-class restaurants. No matter how celebrated the restaurant, no matter how accomplished and well prepared the staff, sometimes things just go WRONG. There are endless variations on this theme, but what happens next in a great restaurant is always the same. People step up. The team pulls together. And they do what it takes to save the day.

The true test of greatness

The best kitchens are meritocracies, and many staff members have worked their way through the ranks. The sous chef paid his dues as a dishwasher. The sommelier started out busing tables. The sauté chef worked for years as a prep cook. When there’s a crisis, these experienced professionals can – and do – jump into the fray to set things right. It’s during these moments of chaotic turmoil and resourceful triage that the true quality of a restaurant reveals itself.

The sommelier surveys the dining room, discreetly offering complimentary wine to restive guests. The host tactfully but relentlessly slows down the seating of new parties. The prep cook rolls up his sleeves and tackles the backlog of pots and pans. The sous chef lends a hand and much needed encouragement to the overwhelmed line cook. The head chef creates a delectable new dessert from the ingredients on hand. And sooner rather than later, often with the guests none the wiser, things return to what passes for normal in the highly pressurized, wildly paradoxical world of fine restaurants.

At Legistics, we’re familiar with pressure-cooker environments and how to cope with them. Collaborative problem solving is at the core of what we do. To find out more about how our experienced and professional support teams can back you up through thick and thin, visit our home page.