My Creations, Places I like

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Inside Man

 (The background music from the movie I am about to draw inspiration play it, don't be a jabroni)

Brace yourself. This post is EPIC!

"My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple... because I can. Which leaves us only with the How; and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub." 

    That was a quote from the opening scene of the movie Inside Man, where Clive Owen describes living in a "cell"; which SPOILER ALERT: turns out to be a cell he built during a bank robbery so he could change into street clothes and walk out of the bank days later with all the money looking like an average Joe. At some point during my 5 hour stint in the walk-in cooler I somehow got to thinking about that movie and couldn't help but notice the comparisons. This is my version...

 "My name is Peter Hahm. Pay strict attention to what I say because I'm tired and I don't want to repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the Who. But its Peter if you forgot. The Where could most readily be described as Sperry's restaurant cooler. But there's a vast difference between working at Sperry's and being stuck in a cooler. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to suck 100 oysters and 100 clams for a private party. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious weekly paycheck, it's exceedingly simple... because I was told to. Which leaves us only with the How; and therein, as Chef Michael would tell us, lies the raw bar"
     Its 5:18. My body is squeezed between shelves of of lobster and seaweed, and giant kegs of beer and boxes of ribeye steaks. My face is covered in oyster guts and tiny shell fragments because the fragile shell couldn't handle the blunt force of my dull oyster knife and exploded all over the place like Leonardo Dicaprio's head in The Departed. I am 20 oysters deep when Chef Miller comes in to tell me he wants the raw tower completed by 5:50. 80 more oysters, and another 100 clams shucked in the next half hour? That's cutting it close. Not to mention assembling it all with 100 cocktail shrimp onto a platter of ice covered by linen. There was no way I was going to make the deadline, but you don't simply tell the man, "Sorry Chef, I won't have it done in time for the party". No that would be certain suicide, so I just nod my head quietly and continue shucking. When he leaves I peak my head out of the cooler door and scream for Todd to come help me. Todd rushes in, sees where I am in the process and joins the shucking party...

    Usually when a lot of raw bar stuff is required for a party it is all pre-shucked well in advance so that whoever is working the raw bar that night will have ample time to focus on getting ready for the regular dinner rush. This entails pre-shucking oysters, stocking plates, refilling sauce, folding linens for sauce plates, etc. Seeing as how our prep list was chalk full of things we had to get done before that (grilling peaches, confiting watermelon, poaching lobster tails and shrimp cocktail, making large batches of cocktail sauce, wedge dressing, and cutting heads of romaine for Caesar name a few) coupled with the fact that I was not told I would be working the raw bar for the party and the dinner service until around 4, I was a tad behind schedule.

    Having Todd help shuck with me was a huge advantage because we were able to bang out 100 oysters in a matter of minutes. A quick check of my watch, and we are right where we need to be. Now its time to move onto the 100 clams...but where are they? My head is down, plugging away at the last few oysters when Todd utters something I hope I never have to hear again: "uhhhh....where are the clams?" I look up with billiard ball sized eyes and look at Todd. "...What?"

    "They have to be in here somewhere. Chef Michael said we got a shipment of clams in today", Todd says nervously. Immediately we both stop what we are doing and try to navigate around the sea of kegs and giant boxes, but to our horror and dismay there was no hotel pan of clams. "Get Chef Michael right away and ask him where they are, Chef wants them for the party in 10 minutes!!!" Todd exits the cooler for a while and I do the only thing I can think of in this moment of crisis: refill my squirt bottle with more cocktail sauce and await the holy shit storm that is about to rain down on me...

    There was no room in the cooler to assume the fetal position otherwise trust me, I would have. Todd comes rushing back in and tells me they shorted us on the delivery and no clams came in. "Were just finding this out now!?!?" I say before ushering him back out to see if we can sub more oysters or crab meat for the party that is going to jump start in a matter of minutes...

    Once again I find myself alone in the jam packed walk-in cooler loosing my mind. Precious seconds are going by and this tower needs to be out for the party. Waiting for my next set of instructions I decide to stock up the raw bar for our regular service because I had a feeling it was going to be a crazy night all around. If the raw bar isn't properly stocked and ready to go, and tickets start flying in, then its safe to say that you've successfully shot yourself in the foot. Raw bar can be tricky because if the cold side is short staffed or if its the weekend you always want to have a full sheet tray of oysters already shucked so when tickets for a dozen oysters come piling in you don't have to waste time shucking them one by one. The problem, however, is that they will start to dry out if you let them sit for too long, so manning the raw bar becomes sort of a balancing act at times. You have to anticipate when they will need certain things because if you put oysters on ice too early the ice will melt before a runner can grab it. Wait too long and your expeditor will hate you for letting all the hot food die under the heat lamps. I know nothing about ballet (obviously) but I would imagine working the raw bar station is a lot like ballet...

    Back to my story. I do what I can to restock the raw bar without having to leave the walk-in because there is no way I'm walking out into that craziness. I can hear Chef screaming outside the door so my safest bet is to stay in the cooler and wait further instruction. Finally Chef Michael comes racing in with a smile on his face. I can see Chef Miller say "I NEED THAT TOWER!!", as the cooler door swings closed. "Alright Peter Hahm" he says calmly. "John Ray is at the store picking up clams....where are we?" "We are all set on everything Chef. We're just waiting on the clams" While Johnny Ray is returning from the store Chef Michael, Todd, and I bring in the linen-lined platter and start assembling the oysters to stall some time. Finally the clams arrive not a moment too soon and we all start opening clams like mad men. "This should get us started for now", Chef Michael explains to us while neatly placing some of the clams onto the platter. Him and Todd carry out the behemoth of a platter before vanishing back into the sweltering hot kitchen. After taking a moment to come back to Earth, I decided to open a bunch more in anticipation of Chef Miller wanting to send out a second platter; which he inevitably will want to do.

    The rest of the night went uncharacteristically smooth for a Saturday night (its difficult to gauge how busy the restaurant is when you spend the entire evening in a walk-in cooler). The large platter came back with a substantial amount of shellfish untouched still on ice so I was given the ok to use the leftovers for any future raw bar orders. This was huge seeing as how I spent the majority of my time focusing on pre-shucking for the party rather than worrying about what was needed for regular service. Normally if food comes back it cannot be reused (that's not called restaurant 101 that's called not being a D-bag 101), but since all the seafood was held on ice and in shells (the shells prevented any customers from touching the actual food itself) I was able to reuse them for service.

    Moments later tickets came piling into the raw bar for two dozen oysters followed immediately by three sets of a half dozen so I was able to quickly get rid of the remaining platter items (if they sat too long I would have had to make the executive decision to toss them and pre-shuck for service...plunging me deep into the weeds).

    After five some odd hours standing in the cooler, I take a quick break to use the restroom and restock a few plates here and there. Disoriented from the drastic temperature change (going from roughly 38 degrees to well over 100), with no sense of time, or what had happened, I noticed that the kitchen was unusually quiet for a busy Saturday night.
Me after 5 hours in the cooler

    We were smack dab in the middle of our busiest service period and there were no new customers. It was a ghost, kitchen for that matter. Everyone in the kitchen had a hesitant look on their face waiting for the restaurant to get slammed again. But we didn't. "What the hell is going on?", I wondered. When the restaurant is this quiet at 8:30 on a Saturday night it means one of two things. Either the restaurant was full and a whole new wave of customers were waiting to be seated; or it just isn't busy (Word to the wise: its almost always option A). Later on word came around that it was probably slow because everyone in town was deciding to take the night off to hold out for the big Jim Dandy stakes that would take place the following day.

    In the end everything turned out fine, but as Todd and I discussed briefly in the walk-in (my new office for the night) it could have gone radically the other way. If the platter had gone out just a few minutes later Chef Miller would have been livid, and if we were swamped for service on top of that then he would have stayed that way for the entire night. Chef Miller came back down into the kitchen and personally congratulated everyone in the kitchen for a job well done. This was an unusual Saturday evening indeed...

     When things turn from busy to straight loony (and they always do) everyone has to pull together to help out those who are in the weeds. Its something I talked a lot about in my previous post: Little Boxes, so I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chef Michael, Todd, and Johnny Ray for helping me survive a wild night in the walk-in cooler.

Johnny Ray and one of our runners, Dave digging a hole
Side Note: Having John Ray run out to grab clams at a moments notice during service was so clutch I can't even begin to describe. The picture above is of him and Dave digging out back in the dumpster area to make room for a new drainage pipe. John Ray can almost always be seen before service toolbox in hand fixing something. Be it a leaky faucet, loose hinge, broken oven, and what have you. The point is, I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to have a server who can do these kinds of things. It saves us a ton of money otherwise needed for maintenance repairs. Thank you John Ray for being such a Renaissance man...



  1. Always nice to throw some props their way! ~ M