Frank Chen

Frank Chen

the first service

Interning at a 2 Michelin star kitchen - ๐Ÿงต for story number two:

My first service was a whirlwind of information. Despite my inexperience, I felt like I could catch on pretty quick. The truth was probably somewhere closer to the middle, since I was only managing about 1% of the things necessary to keep the kitchen from burning down.

I was paired with a saucier who was managing TWO stations. TWO. One station is a lot to handle already - this man was in charge of all the saucing and plating of the main dish accoutrements. He was also in charge of the restaurant's prize dish.

The saucier was 11 years my junior, just past the legal drinking age. He had been cooking since 14, with 7 years of experience. His tenure was just as long as mine in my own "career" (whatever that is), and I started working in my twenties. Talk about early investments.

My first task involved simple retrieval tasks, understanding when to bring out plates, and tweezing up garnishes for a couple of dishes.

Within the first 10 minutes, my anxiety was palpable. The only thing I was consistently good at was announcing where I was ("Behind! Hot! Passing!") and moving out of the way for people, removing dirty pots, and retrieving plastic delis.

Despite my flustered look, my saucier seemed pleased. "I love that you're here Frank! Come here and look at what I'm doing." He'd lean in and almost whisper in his Turkish-Spanish-American accent about what he was doing and why. I would come to love these moments.

"You see how I'm stacking these uni? I'm creating a base. Let's put a couple of these meh looking ones on the bottom, and a nice fat one on top. It has a flat surface to grab the sauce. Yes. But we don't want this one - see this black spot? It's fucked. We're not serving that."

I got punted across the pass to another chef who started instructing me on how to layer oil-infused herbs as garnish over some prawns. "Arrange them like a tortoise shell, layered like shingles, but not so monotonous."

My hands were trembling from the micro-movements. As I was finishing my plate, she polished off three, glanced over, and rearranged a couple of my herbs. "Try to make it look more natural - hands, please!" Two waiters appeared, ready to whisk away the dishes.

The head chef slipped behind me and glanced at our work. He had a distinct look of dissatisfaction. Looking at me straight in the eye, he said, "do exactly as the chef does for this dish - watch her carefully." He gestured towards the waiters behind me - "go, table 27." My face was slightly flush from reprimand, but there was no time for that. My saucier gestured for me to return.

"Four cod fired, Frank, let's get those plates up." "Yes chef."

This was something I could do. I put the plates on the pass.

"Whoa whoa hold up Frank, come here and look at this. See the striations on the plate? Let's have them face the same direction, parallel. This bowl is slightly cold, pop it in the oven."

I was learning that there is a way you carry and arrange plates. Fingers on the side, never in the plate. Separate the plates only when ready to plate to preserve their temperature. If the plates aren't hot enough, use the oven. But not necessarily all plates, only certain ones.

The level of purposefulness in every movement and every dish, from conception, to plating, to timing, to walk out, to serving, was impeccable. There are details upon details that even the best documentation can't capture. These learnings take place in the the moments of whisper and over-the-shoulder observation.

I'm seeing that every (good) chef has this intuitive timing, a mind octopus ๐Ÿ™ that tracks everything - peas on the stove, sauce for the plate, plates on the pass, commands from the expediter, cautions from the chef, and of course, mistakes from a pesky intern.

There's an indescribable satisfaction when it all clicks and everything is pure flow. The presence of mind required is incredibly refreshing. There are no phone distractions, excuses, or time to ruminate. You execute perfectly because that is your job to the customer.