When you work 15 hours a day, 5 days a week in a 3-star Michelin restaurant, life is often a blur.
I like to describe it as a frenesí (frenzy), not only because of my obession with Dionysus (I have my BC philosophy professor to blame for this) but because the word encompasses the good, the bad and the ugly, how very appropriate when describing a mesa grande service at Restaurante Martín Berasategui. As an experienced line cook, plater, plate inspector and photographer during these types of services, I can comfortably say I’ve seen it all. Well, all of the above:
Let’s start with the positive. The good:
- set up bandejas (trays) along the pass
- each partida (section) member is assigned a task within a specific order of plating to follow
- set up plates on the bandejas and follow with a quick wipe down (as pictured above)
- begin the harmonious plating of the dish, each member performing his or her role in order, time, space and accordance
- verify each plate is perfect, flawless, and pristine
- double-check, triple-check, everyone-check as we move down the pass
- camareros (waitrons) exit with the bandejas
We can’t have a mesa grande without having some kind of drama. Or perhaps we can, but I have yet to live it. The bad:
- too many chiefs: with three jefes de cocina and one MB in the kitchen, instructions can become unclear and contradictory. Who do you listen to? The nearest and calmest jefe would be a good idea. Tranquilidad.
- too many indians: with 60+ stages in the kitchen, everyone wants to do something and then something more. If you’re given a task, stick to the task, finish it and get out of the way. More often than not, picking up another task will throw the plating into discord. This happens too often.
So poor communication and wanting to do too much lead to inefficiency, plating delays and occasional yelling from a jefe or two.
Even worse? You’ll hear it when many jefes yell or MB yells. The ugly:
- misstep: know where to stand and where to be, which is not in the way, especially of jefes.
- miscount: if you’re short one shiso leaf or one salmonete, run. Unprepared mise en place is a big no no.
- missing: on a few occasions, plates have almost left the kitchen incomplete, missing a key ingredient such as hongos (mushrooms) or granizado de ron (rum granita). >gasp< unacceptable for our standards.
The reality is most kitchens are yelling kitchens. Of course I came from a rare, non-yelling kitchen at o ya but the way I see it, not only do we operate as a hierarchy with a chain of command (very French by the way) here at MB, but so do a lot of top kitchens around the world. From what I’ve seen, this isn’t even the strictest of the strict. (Remember, we call Martín, Martín, not Chef Martín.) Rumor has it Restaurante Martín Berasategui is one of the toughest kitchens to work in in Spain. Great! Don’t you want to be the best and learn from the best? I find with professors, coaches, mentors and chefs alike, the disciplinarians are the ones I respect the most because they really push me to excel. Work is work and at the end of a blurry day, I look forward to clarity in the promising smile, gracias handshake and ebullient garrote!