Working the line
The tools of the trade tell all: sharp knives, hot surfaces, boiling oil, heavy stockpots—there is no time for indecision. I once worked a restaurant opening when the chef instinctively reached out to catch a knife as it fell from the prep table to the floor. Twenty stitches later (after finishing lunch service with a rag wrapped around his hand), he was back on the line, to finish out another fifteen hour day. You are expected to show up at 100% capacity unless you are in jail, in the hospital, or dead.
Seems that restaurants, taking the dark side of traditional French restaurants, are one of the last workplaces where employee abuse is acceptable. An easy day in the kitchen may include a bathroom break and five minutes to gobble down a plastic cup full of family meal, or it may not. And, unless you work in one of the rare union houses, forget about sick days, paid vacation, and health insurance.
No one would dare complain to the restaurant manager about fierce kitchen discipline and when Chefs belittle and criticize line cooks, the only acceptable response is, “Yes, Chef!” Women fare no better than men. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken were the first women to work at Le Perroquet, a Chicago stronghold of French kitchen hierarchy, where they faced verbal attacks, physical threats, and mean tricks on a daily basis.
The demands of a busy restaurant kitchen require a firm hand to turn chaos into creative action, so there’s no time for waffling or indecision. Since the advent of celebrity chefs and tasting menus, that tight control has spread to the front of the house and affects the customer’s experience—in high-end restaurants, the chef sets the rules and the diners obey. If you want to eat at Per Se, The French Laundry, or Alinea be prepared to turn over control of your credit card, your food preferences, and your time to the dictates of a knife-wielding drill-sergeant. As for me, I’ll eat a $3.00 food truck taco outside, sitting on the curb.
Dennis Barry’s Stuffed Seafood Grenoblaise
Cut a horizontal slit or pocket in a 6 oz. piece of thick, flakey fish (rock cod, salmon, halibut, black cod) and fill with stuffing. (Don’t overfill or it will be impossible to deal with later on.)
- 4 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1⁄2 c. fine diced celery
- 1⁄2 cup fine dice shallots
- 1⁄2 cup fine dice mushrooms
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbs. lemon juice
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill/parsley
- 1 Tbs. dry bread crumbs
- 1 cup crab meat
- 1 tsp. Tabasco
- 1/2 cup white wine or fish stock
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 Tbs capers
- Supremes from one lemon
Sauté celery, shallots, mushrooms in 2 Tbs. butter until they are soft. Add salt, lemon juice, fresh herbs, bread crumbs, crab, and Tabasco.
Mix and fill fish pockets with stuffing—don’t overfill.
Melt 2 Tbs. butter in saucepan. Brown stuffed fish pieces on one side, turn over and finish in 400 degree oven until done—5-10 minutes. Remove fish from pan and keep warm.
Deglaze pan with white wine or stock. When liquid is reduced to syrup, add heavy cream, capers and lemon supremes. Thicken over high heat.
Garnish with browned, soft bread crumbs or browned tiny croutons