Monday, 12 weeks ago, was a hard day. A new batch of five student cooks walked into Technique Restaurant—the restaurant I help run at Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights. None of them had ever worked in a restaurant before, and customers were coming. I started the way I always do when I get a new batch, telling them that we were going to be a team for the next few months, that they needed to show up for work or the team would suffer and they might lose their job, and that their job, in a restaurant kitchen, is important.
Technique, a student-intern run restaurant, resets every 12 weeks. The old team goes out to get jobs in the real world, and the next day brings in the new batch. This last group, at first glance, was not untypical with young high school grads, a career-changer, and an ex-millitary. One settled his nerves by asking questions like how the final plating and presentation would go even before he had prepped any of the food to be plated. Another burnt his arm while fumbling to pull his plates out of a hot oven, and continued his work with shaky hands. Projects started and stopped as the new interns frantically remembered other tasks needing attention. Messes piled up around them as they shot glances at the clock hands always moving toward service time.
My first line-cooking job wasn’t so different. I started most mornings sitting in the shower, letting the water run over my head until the hot water ran cold, and I knew I had to go. Sleep felt like work, with dreams of tickets, ticking out of the kitchen printer onto the floor in an endless stream, unable to catch up. A tight-knotted stomach filled most days before and after work, and while in retrospect I loved it and would eventually crave the excitement, at the time, I never knew how I would get through each day.
I worked at a respectable restaurant called Christer’s in New York’s Broadway District. Ruth Reichel from The New York Times came in to eat one night. At the time, I didn’t know who she was, but I knew I hated her. I resented the extra pressure she added to my life, as the chef grew ever more hostile to my inexperience. On the day she came to eat, he returned a tray of over-seasoned food to my station, and asked me if I thought our customers were “deer” and, if not, perhaps I should stop trying to serve them salt licks.
Yesterday, the latest batch of our interns left. Like the last day of high school, there were hugs, and a few tears as they said their goodbyes to each other. I told them, as I always do, that they know where to find me, back here in the kitchen at Technique—that I wish they could stick around.
Today, a new batch begins.