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Hot Plate

How does a restaurant become the most talked-about spot in town? A day behind the scenes at The Bachelor Farmer reveals the recipe for instant success.

Hot Plate
Photo by Maki Strunc

(page 2 of 3)

1:43 p.m.

Paul and his sous chef have just finished testing a new shrimp appetizer and roast-chicken entrée. It’s now the moment of truth for the pastry chef’s dessert: a flourless chocolate cake with salted-caramel semifreddo, lingonberry pâtes de fruit jellies, and a dollop of cream. Paul takes a bite and says he loves the flavor combination, but he’s concerned about the pâtes de fruit sticking to the plate. The two discuss a few options before deciding to simply plop the gummies into the cream.

After they’ve finished, Paul sets forth on one of the kitchen’s lowliest tasks: dicing an array of onions with mechanical precision. The former naval officer isn’t exactly Food Network material—he’s too calm, too disciplined.

2:35 p.m.

A deliveryman wheels a 300-pound block of sculptor’s ice into the Marvel Bar. When even the world’s purest ice cubes can’t give the Marvel bartenders the drink-cooling control they desire, they chip their own ice from large blocks. Two bartenders help the deliveryman heft the thing onto the counter and immediately start attacking it. One scores the block into eighths with what looks like a large putty knife, while the other splits it with a hammer and chisel. The first bartender breaks the block down further by aggressively stabbing it with a metal pick, like he’s a human sewing-machine needle. The smaller blocks are neatly stacked in the freezer within a matter of minutes. “It reminds me of a cave man taking down a mammoth,” Pip remarks.

3:59 p.m.

After a staff meal—a substantial spread that includes the roast-chicken tester, two types of potatoes, popovers, salad, and a hearty split-pea soup—the front-of-the-house staff gathers upstairs for their pre-shift meeting, which takes place in one of the restaurant’s private dining rooms. The walls are covered with a funky collage of crocheted afghans, which lends the otherwise modern space a warm familiarity.

First on the agenda: the sous chef explains the new dishes. After subjecting the servers to a beer-list pop quiz, the general manager issues a warning: “Do not cap the stack.” More than one blank look results. “When stacking similar dishes for the dishwashing crew,” he explains, “you should never add a different dish to the top of the pile”—not only is it inefficient, but the whole thing could topple.  

Andrew previews some exclusive new Alec Soth merchandise for the store, including coloring books from Soth’s publishing company that may be the first in the genre to feature Bronko Nagurski and the Coen brothers. The general manager then pours the staff samples of a hard-to-find new wine he’s acquired. “I buy wine like they buy Soth,” he says of the Daytons. “Take it all so nobody else can get it.”

4:45 p.m.

Seated in the Norsten Bar, next to the dining room, the assistant general manager undergoes her daily ritual of reviewing the comment books that the servers drop off with the check. She initials each remark, incorporating the feedback in her mental databank. “Coming from a bachelor farmer, we love this place.” “Uffdah! Very good.” “It’s not Manhattan, but it’s surprisingly hip, delicious, and cool.” Minnesotans always seem to find the need to make coastal comparisons, don’t they?

The books contain poems, a fake mustache, a lipstick kiss, and, inexplicably, what appears to be someone’s senior-class photograph. One of the servers has received multiple marriage proposals from anonymous guests. Books that have recently received “edgier” messages—“I f---ing love you guys,” for example—circulate in the bar. Only a few book pages with “inappropriate” sketches (a group of the Dayton brothers’ friends are prime suspects) had to be removed.

5:20 p.m.

Guests with 5:30 p.m. reservations are already peeking through the windows and the assistant general manager doesn’t want them to wait in the cold. “We’re opening the doors,” she announces to the kitchen. A cook makes shots of espresso for the entire line. “Double? Or triple?” she asks.

5:24 p.m.

A server cuts butter pats for the restaurant’s complimentary appetizer of flatbread and radishes and ferries the first plates to the dining room. Restocking the butter pats is among the hundreds of details that front-of-the-house staff has to track. Dozens more tips are posted on a list called “Service 101” near the servers’ order terminal. No. 1 is a no-brainer: “Acknowledge all guests with eye contact and a smile immediately.” But others are more obscure, like “12. Level the art.” Several deal with appropriate guest interaction: “18. Do not react to the amount of the tip; 30. Do not ask a question while a guest’s mouth is full;  31. Do not enter a guest’s conversation unless clearly invited.”

6:00 p.m.

The sous chef stands at the pass, a counter that divides the kitchen from the dining room, lining up tickets and calling out orders to the various cooks. She’s essentially playing air-traffic controller so each table’s orders will be ready at the same time. “Fire Camembert, no shallots,” she hollers. Two old tickets are taped to the wall with messages scrawled on top, “10-top in 23 minutes,” and, “9-top in 20 minutes”: house records in putting together big orders, the kitchen equivalent of scalps.

Paul runs his kitchen like the Daytons run their business: hire people you trust and let them do their thing. He lets his staff handle tonight’s dinner service as he scores the fat on dozens of duck breasts and makes other preparations for the upcoming days. From the back of the kitchen, he can watch the orders flow and anticipate any problems—demonstrating strong “field awareness,” as they say in team sports.

7:04 p.m.

Much like The Bachelor Farmer’s dining room, the accompanying Norsten Bar has a mellow vibe despite being nearly full. No matter the guest’s dress—lumberjack plaid and sequins inhabit adjacent barstools—they seem to appreciate the food and beverage. A man approaches the bartender and gruffly asks her what’s in one of the drinks. She shows him the bottles: aquavit, gin, orange bitters, and Cocchi Americano, an aperitif wine. “Is that your favorite cocktail?” she asks. “It’s delicious,” he says. “In fact, I should probably tip you.” He pulls a stack of folded bills from his pocket and tosses $5 on the counter.

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