Those of us who cook and entertain a lot at home often have people say things like, “You should open a restaurant.” They luxuriate in the good food, the friendliness of the guests, and the ambiance of the evening, and speculate that those feelings would make for a great public eatery.
While they are absolutely correct, the reality of keeping food costs affordable and trying to ensure that every guest is happy is the hidden flip side of that scenario, not to mention the daily grind of getting an assortment of high quality, all-fresh-from-scratch meals out. Let me tell you what Chef Bill’s day is like.
He’s usually up around 6:30 to get in some exercise and walk his dogs before he gets to the restaurant at 9:00 am. This is when he starts the slow-simmering projects like beans, wild rice and other components that take a long time. Once these are on the range, he makes bread, allowing it four to six hours for the first rise. He also does his vegetable prep and any cutting projects, and makes all the sauces that will be used in that night’s offerings.
After three or four hours, he takes a break to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, go for a long run, and tend to his dogs. He gets ideas for new menu items during this precious relax time, and is always thinking about the next great thing to offer throughout the day. This is also when he’s on the phone with vendors to see what’s available, what’s looking good, and priced right. He also inspects the orders that have been delivered, and occasionally will go out to local farms to further his relationship with the growers.
But he’s back in the kitchen around 2:00 pm to begin the rest of the prep for the evening. He starts by deconstructing the meats and fishes that will be used; it is fascinating to watch how he can judge where to cut a whole fish to yield multiple six-ounce portions almost exactly to the ounce.
Following this, the counter tops, cutting boards, and knives all need to be completely sanitized before he can proceed. He first punches down the bread for a second rise, then rolls out the pasta of the day, and preps any potatoes and garnishes to be used. By 4:30, most of the prep is done and he sets up his cooking station so all the components that go on a plate are placed in easy reach when an order comes in. He is ready at 5:00, when the front door opens for guests.
Once service starts, there's little time to spare; he’s in constant motion. This is particularly the case if there a lot of guests who walk in without reservations, as he may end up having to do additional prep work in the middle of trying to cook other’s meals.
At the end of the night when the last order has gone out, he cooks dinner for the staff, then cleans up the kitchen and creates his prep list for the next day. He’s finally out of the kitchen by 10:00 or 11:00 pm; but it doesn’t end there. Before going to bed, he writes out the “Specials” for the next night so it’s ready to turn into the office staff for printing. By midnight, his day is finally finished.
It’s a long day, suited only for those who truly love the art of cooking, and enough to scare away the dilettantes. For every component that goes on a plate, there are hours of kitchen time that have gone into its creation. Next time you come in, take a look at all the different layers of flavors and textures that Chef Bill arranges on each plate; and know that he’s putting his heart and soul into each and every plate, just for you.