Line Cook Life

I just wanted to take you guys on a day for most of us.

I wake up with a hangover, this is something that you just adjust to after a while. The noises on the street are too loud, the sun is too bright. Everything seems to be attacking your head as you swim in your thoughts.

I can still taste the Fernet in my mouth from the 4 am a bartender who now recognizes me makes sure I won’t go home “without your mouthwash”. It pays to be safe I guess.

I finally drag myself out of bed and into the shower. My body hurts. It’s mostly legs and shoulders. I can barely feel the part of my arm that got singed by a 400 degree saute pan couple days before. it stings for a second when you get in the shower, but the warm water feels like sweet relief as your body reals from the punishment of 14 hour days for two consecutive weeks because, that one cook you don’t remember the name of anymore, couldn’t cut it and bounced halfway through service, Like a chump.

I gear up, sharpen my knives and I’m out the door by 11. It’s a little over an hour to get to work and the bus smells like piss. I put on my sweet jams and try to think about something other than work. At the same time, a gentle wave of anxiety gently flows over me, thwapping me gently in the back of my head. Sooner than later my thoughts move to prep, and I start fitting my day together in my head. Game plans are important. but unless you’re a baker or in a place with a menu that doesn’t change, it almost never goes as planned.

Things always change. The set on one of your dish changed. The robocoup is broken and now you have to make two gallons of aioli with a whisk. The oven isn’t lit. The herbs are on they way out and need to be picked through. The wood for your fucking wood grill is soaked so you spend almost an hour trying to light. that. fire. The set on a different dish changed.

Then it’s family meal. I almost forgot about family meal. I spend most of the family meal trying to get the family meal out. It’s not the perfect meal, but it works. I sit down for a couple of minutes, just long enough to realize that my legs are already soft and dusty,  back to the line.

Service starts fast and hard. The expediter drones on as you keep way too many dishes in your head. 4 cauliflower, 6 sweet potatoes, 2 pasta, 2 steaks, 2 cauliflower, 1 biscuit, repeat, sell, repeat.

The only thing that matters during service is the food. Slinging with class, listening for the satisfying click as all of the dishes for a table hit the pass at once.  and just as fast, they’re gone. 2 pasta, 3 cauliflower, 4 steaks, medium, medium rare, rare, well (fuck you), repeat, sell, repeat.

I take note of anyone who seems like they’re struggling. Watch as an egg hits the floor. A plate cracks, you’re already walking for the broom. I push myself harder to help out the guy next to me, you can already see his bowls stacking up as the expo calls back ” all day twelve scallops” He doesn’t look scared, just focused. I help him plate and he’s thankful, but he’s also sure he had it under control. There’s a good chance he’s right.

You can feel your muscles swell, you feel like you’ve become part of the grill as sweat pours, drenching your bandana. swaying with the fire, dancing with the people around you, everyone completely focused, aware, sharp.

I take a minute as the last tickets gently ring in, less of a roar now and more of a trickle. The cigarette in my mouth is smoking before I step outside. I walk outside and cold summer air hits me hard.

We spend the next hour cleaning and closing. Dousing fires, labeling, and scrubbing. everything gets pulled out every night, everything gets polished. everything goes back perfect.

I walk out knowing the restaurant is going to steal two hours from us. They can’t afford the overtime. The restaurant only makes a couple of million a year. you saw the Sous Chef at the P.O.S. at the beginning of service, moving my hours around.

I hate the Sous Chef.

Next, it’s the bar. Cheap beer and shots. Numbing your body and loosening your jaw. You spend most of the night fixing the restaurant. Bitching about management, getting entirely too drunk.

The last call Fernet tastes like home. 24 hour pancakes are hazy,  maple syrup sticks to your lips.

You hit the bed hard.


2 thoughts on “Line Cook Life

  1. This is an excellent rundown. I haven’t been on the line at the late great Tapawingo in 13 years, but I can vividly see the scene you described oh so well Nate.

    Brings back when my life was much simpler……much more life in the life.

    Cheers my friend, keep kickin its ass!

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