My Creations, Places I like

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Countdown

"Let the games begin!"
    Every July our beautiful town of Saratoga Springs becomes inundated with wealthy elite, news teams, LA-type traffic, and hoards of out of towners. I am talking about the racing season that takes place here every summer. For most, the racing season is a blessing. Local shops and businesses flourish, and the night life can only be described as vivacious. For those of us who work in the service industry the racing season is anything but. These six weeks mean longer days, later nights, and a whole lot more stress. Not to mention you have to move fast. No fast is too slow, you have to move at ludicrous speed...

    After the first weekend of pulling in record numbers (close to 500 customers both Friday and Saturday) Chef Michael approaches me during some down time for a little chat. "How hungry are you?", he asks me straight-faced. "I'm not really that hungry Chef, I just ate a popover a little while ago". Realizing what I just said he begins to laugh. "I don't mean literally hungry, I mean how hungry are you?" Me now realizing what he is asking I begin to laugh myself. "Oh OH, I see what your saying. I'm very hungry Chef. I will do whatever is needed" I say to him, half hoping he wasn't about to drop something insane in my lap. "Ok well you saw how this first weekend went. We did record business and its only been two days. I need some people to start pulling six days a week around here, and I thought I would see if your up to it." I was about to give my answer but he continued. "Now I'm not pressuring you to say yes just so you know. I am going to have this same talk with Todd, Jill and the rest of the kitchen staff but I thought I would bring this to you first." Before he could finish I interjected. "I'll take it." His facial expression slightly changed and he asked me if I was up to it. "Don't even bother asking the others, I want it." "You're sure?" "Yes I'm positive" "You're sure you wont hate me or resent this place or get burnt out?" I can see he wanted some reassurance due to my quick response so I say to him, "Chef I'm 23, I'm single, I don't have a family or a child to look after, and I live with my parents. I knew when I started along this path that there would have to be sacrifices. I am willing and able to do whatever it is that is asked of me. Now give me the six days." Fully convinced he nodded his head and walked away...

    Later that night Chef Michael had me gather the entire kitchen staff around the huge silver prep table on the cold side of the kitchen. Everyone was wondering what he was about to say before he broke the silence. "You all saw what our first weekend of track season was like. It was crazy, and its only going to get worse here on out. 40 days. Give me your all for 40 days, that's all I ask. We are entering the busiest time for the restaurant and I need all of you to focus. Now that doesn't mean we still can't have fun, but you have to be willing to give it your all. You shouldn't be thinking of making dressings in quart batches anymore; you should be thinking in gallons. That's how busy we are going to be now. Sperry's is right up there with the best restaurants in town. If you put your head down and plug away for 40 days we will be the best. That's all I have to say" Everyone was about to go back to their separate projects until I said to them "wait, no hands in? No 'Go team go!' No team break??" Chef Michael rolls is eyes before telling everyone to put a hand in. "remember, its just 40 days and then we can relax. Sperry's on the count of 3. 1...2....3...SPERRY'S!!!" Laughs echo the room and everyone returns to their projects with a new sense of determination. 

    We were just two weeks in and I could already sense the low morale and frustration. Everyone was logging hours well into overtime and it was starting to show. People were cranky, and their eyes were glossy and bloodshot from the lack of sleep and late nights. I had to do something to bring the spirits back up. Around that time I had just downloaded a countdown app on my new Iphone and thought what better way to countdown the misery that is track season. I entered September third (the last day of the track) into the app and took a picture in the walk-in cooler for the apps background.
    The next day I made my way down into the kitchen after clocking in and gave my usual greeting to the kitchen staff. "CHEFS!!!! How are we this fine afternoon?" "Peter fucking Hahm. How are you?" Chef Michael says from the corner of the kitchen. We talk briefly about nonsense, upcoming events, the week, and the like. Before I made my way into the changing room I show him the new countdown I created the day before. Immediately his eyes widen and gaze at the seconds ticking away on the screen. "This is AMAZING!" He blurts out before laughing hysterically. "Go show that to Spaniard". I walk to the other side of the line and show Mike Spain (our grill Chef) the app. Displaying the same child-like bewilderment, Spaniard looks up to see a huge grin on my face. He too begins to laugh hysterically. At that point Chef Lee and the others wanted to know what it was on my phone that was causing all the commotion. One by one I make the rounds, showing everyone in the kitchen our new form of inspiration. The rest is history.

     I had no idea that the countdown to the end of the track juxtaposed against my middle finger would be the corner stone for getting the restaurant through difficult times but it seems to be working. Almost everyday at least one person comes up to me demanding to "see it". They don't even need to say what "it" is, I already know. A quick scroll through the phone and the countdown ticks away.  Originally I made the countdown as a joke to get some laughs and get spirits up for the day, but it has become bigger than that. The countdown has become a symbol. A symbol that only gets better with time because it not only shows us how far we have come, but how close we are to the promise land.

    This app gives me a tremendous sense of pride because I am not just interested in the food, or how many reso's we have for the night; I am equally interested in people. When I spend close to 70 hours a week with the same people I naturally want to know more. I want to know what makes them tick, what makes them laugh, what keeps them going through hard times and good times. Maybe I'm thinking too deeply about a stupid Iphone app but this app is not just a countdown. Its a compass. A compass that helps us navigate through dark and stormy times. What began as a joke has transformed into a beacon of hope...

   In the movie Zombieland, the characters find themselves against all odds in a post-apocalyptic zombie land. Struggling to soldier on they must find ways to stay happy even when things seem bleak. Throughout the movie Woody Harrelson's character is searching for the perfect twinky. For him the twinky isn't just a sugary snack, its a symbol of longevity and survival in this dark and dismal new world. After numerous failed attempts in the end he finds what he is searching for, and in turn, finds peace. Amongst all the chaos, all the late nights, all the running around, you have to have something that keeps you going. Something that reminds you that when the chips are down you have to keep moving. The countdown is what keeps us going. Its the glue that holds our kitchen together. It's our twinky...

Rule # 32: Enjoy the little things