Sunday, September 13, 2009

A day in the life of... a Garde Manger

"Garde Manger" sounds so much better than "line cook", doesn't it? That's what I am in our kitchen, in case you're wondering. The keeper of the food, sort of. I am responsible for hot and cold appetizers, salads, sandwiches and a few of the mains requiring the use of deep friers.

The job of a cook, although mostly physical, relies quite a bit on memory. A cook has to remember what components go into a particular dish as well as how to plate it and garnish it. It might become second nature after a week of doing the same dish, but at the beginning it's a struggle to keep it all straight, especially when one is dealing with a four page menu.

Here are the dishes I am responsible for on the current menu (ingredients and recipes are excluded from this description):

Appetizers (apps): Spring Rolls, Calamari, Bruschetta, Appetizer platter (for two and for four)

Salads: Caesar, Mixed Greens (with a variety of dressings), Greek, Sonoma, Tandori and Southwestern

Entrees: Beef Ribs, Chicken Fingers, Fish and Chips, Wings, Club Sandwich, Lemon Sage Panini, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Kids Pizza, Kids Pasta, Kids Fingers.

Sides: Onion Rings, Sweet Potato Fries, French Fries, and all the salads listed above that can be served as a side dish, on a smaller half moon plate.

If that doesn't look like a lot, let me tell you it can be insane during a busy dinner service, because a chit can look like this:

1 Bruschetta
1 Small Caesar
1 Calamari
1 Spring Rolls
****Serve First****
1 Grouper (no potato, no veg, sub balsamic salad)
1 Beef Ribs
1 Mahi Mahi
1 Fish and Chips
1 1 lb wings, Honey garlic, sweet potatoes

It would go like this:

I drop the spring rolls because they take the longest to cook and also I can do something else while they're frying. After I drop the spring rolls, I grab the calamari and drop it into the flour and seasoning mixture, toss toss toss and when they're coated enough I drop the, in the frier. I turn around to toss the caesar salad and by the time I got that on a plate the calamari is ready to come up (they take hardly any time to cook -- cook 'em more and they're rubbery as hell). Put the caesar in the window and grab the calamari. Season it and plate it with its corresponding dip. Quickly slice the bruschetta bread, in the toaster it goes. Turn around and grab the spring rolls. Cut them, plate them, put them in the window. Bruschetta bread now toasted, bruschetta mix goes on it, in the window. PICK UP! Run to the back fridge, grab the beef ribs. Heat them up, sauce them, stick them in the oven to finish them off, drop the fries for the "FIsh and CHips" but not the fish which takes considerably less than the fries do. Throw down the "red fries" too (we call the sweet potatoes "red fries" in our kitchen). While the ribs are cookin' and the fries are, well, frying, I jam tartar sauce and coleslaw into little ramekins for the fish and chips. Grab the wings, drop them and the fish, grab the plates that would hold the fish and the wings, respectively. I pull the fries up (they're done), plate them. A few more seconds and that fish is done as well. Arrange the fish on top of the fries, put it in the window. The wings are up, I plate those, complete with blue cheese or ranch dip and crudites. I don't have to worry about plating the beef ribs, the saute station guy will plate those, I just had to get them in.

Oh and... this is just one chit. Picture 10 of these in a row and know that, although the chits are done more or less in the order they came in, you can't really ignore all of them and focus just on the one you're working on. You need to know what comes next because if you have friers empty, you can drop the next chicken finger order while you're plating orders from the previous chit. Right? Oh and my food better not be sitting in the window too long because I'll have to redo it. So not only do I have to pay attention to what I am doing, I have to talk (yell) to the saute station person to see where he or she's at. If the hot side does not have their food ready, my part better not be hanging out in the window. It'll be dead and I'll have to redo it. Caesar salad and french fries go limp quickly. REALLY quickly. So unless I want to redo that Caesar, I better not have it ready too long before the rest of the food on that order is ready.

Do you get now why I love my job? It's so... addicting, for lack of a better word. Once the chits starts rolling in, I get caught up in this chaos, but an organized chaos, and I lose track of time.

Did I mention I also do desserts? So every now and then I have to leave the line and run back to put together a brownie sundae, to plate some fig strudel, or the ever popular chocolate-caramel-peanut butter bar. I do it all. I'm a one-woman circus on the days I'm by myself. When there's two of us it's just as crazy because I now have to pay attention to what the guy next to me is doing, in addition to focusing on my own stuff. So if you're wondering why there's so much yelling in the kitchen, it's because we have to communicate and we have to make ourselves heard over the rest of the noise. I don't have time to look to my left and figure out what that cook is doing, so I shout out "where are you now?" or "what table are you working on?" or "can I drop those fries?"

Now you know what I do every day, in addition to cleaning squid and making tuna and egg salad sandwiches. I also prep coleslaw and tartar sauce, I make balsamic vinaigrette by hand (using a blender turns it pasty, you have to whisk by hand) and bruschetta mix (and you know all about that if you've been reading). I julienne peppers, slice and dice cucumbers, grill vegetables, dice feta cheese in neat little cubes that go on the greek salad and some pizzas. I batter cod tails, portion rice and pasta, make croutons and bacon bits ... ok, you get the picture. If that weren't enough work, we clean the kitchen before leaving for the night. I am sure you'll agree with me when I say that I really need that glass of wine -- ok, fine, those two glasses of wine -- when I get home.

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