A kitchen staff is a member’s only club, one whose entrée in requires culinary talent, a cool head, and a great sense of humor. In short, it ain’t for everybody. But experience in professional dining never leaves you, and you’re forever a compatriot, having served in the dinner rush trenches, survived to tell tales.
Catering chefs are miracle workers
It’s one thing to be able to execute a well crafted meal. It’s something else to do it to the tune of several hundred partygoers, some with very challenging dietary guidelines. Each tray of food arrives because of the chef’s expertise in timing, each dish “fired” at exactly the right moment, so that it is complete and on pace, one by one, each plate consistent in quality of flavor and visual presentation, at a temperature at which the guest will happily consume, repeated for guests numbering in the dozens. Things appear relaxed table-side, but in the kitchen lives an orchestra of tasks that somehow come together through the chaos. Cue the standing “O” for the ballet that is catering.
No pressure, but everything hinges on the meal.
Imagine a wedding where everything went wrong. A bridesmaid dropped out the day of, the bouquets arrived not at all matching what was ordered, and a shoe malfunction forced the bride to walk down the aisle in muddy running sneakers. These are all interesting plot twists but nothing that would ruin the day, or the guests’ experience, and would likely go unnoticed all together. The food though, no mercy is shown for an ill prepared or poorly curated meal. Complaints come right back to the kitchen with urgent immediacy, whether it be a previously unknown allergen or corked wine. A rude florist is never noticed by the guests, but a wait staff with an attitude will be remembered and remarked upon for life. It’s quite the responsibility.
Expect the unexpected.
First of all the kitchen is a hazard by nature. An au jus spill turns into a mopped floor turns into a slip and fall. Shaving garlic on a mandolin slicer has a 9 out of 10 chance of also fileting a knuckle. Every chef shares the same battle wound, the permanent sear on the hand from piping hot oven racks. Add to injury the probability of key ingredients coming up missing from food deliveries (high), staff calling in sick with no back-up personnel to draw from (higher), and last minute menu changes (all the time), problem solving on-the-fly is just part of the workload. Each event is a new adventure and a major test of agility.
9 to 5. What is that?
The catering schedule is a bit of a misnomer, because for those in the industry, there is no predictable set of hours. Events can begin at any hour of the day, although most typically in the evening and more often on weekends. Essentially we work when no one else is working. For that reason our leisure time tends to land late at night, often on odd days like a very non-festive Tuesday. Much of that time is spent with other people in the biz, because normal people are in bed. Our friends are vampires like us, delighting in the very unique and exclusive atmosphere that is 1am. We swap stories and clink glassware, in that foggy period between the witching hour and sunrise.
And then we collapse and do it all again the next day. You can’t beat it.
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