A Busman’s Holiday

Firmly entrenched in the holiday season, with snow falling in earnest, I found myself gripped in a stressful argument with my wife Julie, and driving angrily, with my five-year-old in the back seat asking me to lower my voice. Julie asked me to stop accepting so much extra holiday catering work. Eventually we agreed to disagree. We parked at the mall and shopped, working our way through the crowds, and eventually left for home still unsettled and feeling holiday stress.

My restaurant friends are mostly unavailable these days as the season ramps up into high gear. As evidence, this week Edina native and executive chef at world-renowned Café Boulud in New York, Gavin Kaysen, posted an image on Twitter of a long plasticized wall, blanketed with party sheets neatly arranged in a long row of clip-boards: “This means the busy season is in full swing baby….bring it on” http://pic.twitter.com/iaROi691

Similarly, Chef Mike Decamp, from La Belle Vie, posted his own party checklist on Twitter.

Images of clipboards and excel spreadsheets might seem dull to most people, but to a chef who has worked in a restaurant or hotel, they are prelude to an upcoming organized assault on mountains of toil. 

In the past, my own checklists would have inspired dread of approaching hardship. But now, I miss the checklists or at least I miss something about the checklists. Is it the order and efficiency of the clipboards and checklists, the simplicity of fulfilling tasks, or is it, more ominously, that life with more time at home is more complicated than a checklist? Was being buried in work just a safe refuge from the holidays?

I realize that memories tend to lean toward nostalgia, but the holidays were much simpler when I was a full-time chef and had no time for anything but work. December used to pass by in a blur of tasks—a feat to be accomplished more than a season to be enjoyed. During the “busy season,” a restaurant chef lives at work with all functional waking hours dedicated to the morning checklist, service, cleanup, and the inevitable “after-drink” at the bar.

Oddly, the intense workload I dreaded in the past is what seems to be amiss now—or maybe it’s that drink at the bar. I’m not sure how other people deal with holiday stress, but it seems I agree to take on extra work.

When we got home from the mall and after I got off the phone, Julie asked me if I had just agreed to help out with another catering event. Bracing for a possible fight, and a disappointed five-year-old, I said “yes.”