On a busy Tuesday night, I stepped to the expo window thick with the slips of diners orders to watch over my cooks through the kitchen “window”–table #10′s halibut and filet mignon working on the grill, table #23 had a series of small plates ordered, and on it went, maybe 15 tables orders being produced by three cooks, fifty to sixty meals at that moment. In a word, busy. I stood off to the side watching Julia, our beloved staff member who has embraced the role of expo-runner in a manner that would have been hard to picture a couple years ago. She was then, in hindsight, resolute in “fighting” through a youthful angst, an introvert of sorts, nervous maybe, who is today, a star employee–knowledgeable, confident, poised…a joy to watch interact with the cooks, in quiet control facilitating, confirming, directing and then delivering our guest’s dinners. She assembled the plates for a table’s order being “picked up,” garnishing each properly, setting up the clay pig with flaming brandy for the next table, directing a server to “deliver these two dinners for me to table 4,” taking off with two more meals for a table in the dining room…
In this moment I was reminded of a dinner I enjoyed in Baltimore years ago with relatives–at that city’s premier restaurant Charleston. I recall one special thing in particular at Charleston, in addition to its reputation, how large and busy it was and how expensive and “fancy”. Our table was only a few feet from the open kitchen, where the chef-owner Cindy Wolfe was manning that expo station for the night. It occurred to me as I watched, that in many restaurants where I have worked, the noise level would have been very high, a downside of open kitchens. At very busy times, with many cooks juggling many diner’s meals, the expo responsible for coordinating timing and SO many other things–the eyes and voice of the cooks so often when they are “buried” with heads down getting food cooked correctly and quickly-the kitchen noise level overtakes the sound of the hood fans and pots and pans, at times bordering on ruckus–shouted orders, shouted responses, confirmations of “extra sauce on the side” and “gluten allergy on table 12.” Yet at Charleston, we couldn’t hear a peep. The chef’s back to us, you could tell she was communicating, her body language and head active throughout, yet meals continued to appear in the pick up window, assembled and then sent to the many tables in the room, without diners hearing a sound. It was remarkable.
I stood in silent recall Tuesday night, out of the way of my kitchen staff, impressed as AJ, Marco, Ozzie and Garrett continuously, relentlessly handed Julia what she needed, in lock-step with each other, as diners food flowed from the kitchen timely and beautifully assembled, with hardly a sound–a silent harmony of focus, a seemingly unspoken synchronization, a team operating at the height of excellence and efficiency and making it look easy–even peaceful.
Congratulations go to our Chef Adam, the leadership team and the crew–they should be awfully proud. I know I am.