Every cook has a war story. It might be about how a 17-top managed to order 20 steaks at 5 different temps. Or it could be the classic ‘I cut myself on the Hobart slicer and just super glued my finger back together.’ What is seemingly never mentioned, however, are the quieter moments of zen-like peace and order – like when it’s time to prep.
It makes sense, too – peeling garlic doesn’t translate to a good story. But to those who have spent countless hours prepping for service, those moments are the calm before the storm. Here are my favorite ways to prep myself into the state of Zen.
Peeling Fava Beans
Depending on what Chef wanted, we’d either manually peel the favas, or we’d go with the blanch, shock, and peel method. While the latter made the second skin easier to remove, both were labor intensive and repetitive. At first we’d all stand around and talk, make jokes, think of nicknames for Carl the Host. But after a few minutes we’d each settle back into our own thoughts and quietly peel those favas.
This was one of the first things I learned in a kitchen – mainly because it was the only thing my first kitchen trusted me to do. I’d peel the potatoes, then turn them into little barrels. There was something so satisfying about running a small knife over a raw potato, bringing a slight curve to each side and finishing with a pile of nearly identical ovals.
Chopping onions, dicing carrots, cutting celery – it was the perfect thing to hone one’s knife skills. We would’ve used the food processer, but it turned everything to mush. So there we’d stand, filling mixing bowls with chopped onions, then carrots, then celery. There was something about the tri-colored final product that made me quietly smile.
The kitchen doesn’t get to have all the fun – folding napkins is one of the best repetitive activities out there. Napkins are soft and smooth, and grow slightly warm as one runs the palm of their hand over the uneven seams to smooth them out. Three quick folds was all it took to make clean rectangles out of a pile of napkins. They’d get stacked in the server station like nested doves.
When the wineglasses dried in their racks they’d get streaks from the evaporated water. The Front of House would have to check all the racks ahead of service to make sure each glass was polished and ready to go. We’d use a white, lint-free cloth and remove any blemishes with quick circular motions. Once my hands learned the movements I could do a rack in just a few minutes – and I wasn’t even the fastest one.
So when the chaos of working in a restaurant starts to wear thin – and it will – remember there are peaceful moments as well. After a tough night, you can go off and have a few shots of whiskey – or you can find something to quietly prep for the next day.