For A Day in the Life, we had The Coupe's Executive Chef Rob Theriot keep a diary of a single shift for him at the Columbia Heights diner. Here's Friday, July 12 in his own words.
At this moment I have a staff that shows great potential and is working very hard, but this is not always the case. Like many restaurants we often struggle to find hard working skilled back of house staff and so when we suddenly find ourselves short staffed due to unusual circumstances we are left scrambling - even more so with a grave shift at The Coupe that works from 11pm–7am. Normally I am up around 6 am, but this day is a bit different. We just lost two of our four grave cooks and we are going into a busy weekend, so I get a couple extra hours because I know what lies ahead.
8 a.m.: Wake up to my usual routine. Respond to a few emails while grabbing a quick breakfast and a cup of coffee. Spend a few moments with my wife before she heads off to work. It's not uncommon for my wife to hear "You're married to a chef?! You're so lucky to have someone who does all the cooking!" This always makes her laugh because, while I do love to cook at home, I'm usually working. To date and/or marry a chef you must have an extreme amount of patience. Holidays are usually worked, sudden grave shifts like today's pop up, and so dates can't be planned too far out in advance. And forget weekends off together. She's a trooper.
9 a.m.: Arrive at the restaurant. Grab another cup of coffee. Check "red book" for any issues over the past couple days. The red book is how we communicate info from shift to shift so whoever is coming on as the grave Manager On Duty (MOD) knows about any issues that may have happened that morning. These can run the gamut from personnel issues, 86'd items, or any other matter relating to the restaurant. Today it details the 4am drunken escapades of some patrons the night prior who thought getting into a "cat-fight" in our lobby was a good idea. Oh 24-hour DC. Respond to a few more emails. My mind jumps from excel spreadsheets to recipes and metric conversions.
10 a.m.: On line training a new cook on how to properly make French style omelets and then replicate it a hundred times over while at the same time, poaching eggs, glazing a shortrib, and dropping shrimp hushpuppies into the fryer.
11 a.m.: Check in with the prep cooks to see if we need any additional produce. Make a few quick phone calls to see if my deliveries will make it in on time today. With it being Friday, it's a crapshoot if they'll actually show up when they're supposed to.
12 p.m.: Lunch rush is starting to get into full gear, so I get back on line to help expo. My prep cooks want to know where the last two (and biggest of the day) deliveries are so that they can get started on the tofu quiches and start brining chickens for the weekend. I wish I had a better reason than the excuse the vendor gave me, rain... broken down truck.... traffic..., I've already forgotten which one they gave me today.
1 p.m.: I know I need to get home at some point to catch some rest before having to come back in and cover the first of three very busy grave shifts. We're now down to one quiche and next to no chicken left. Finally, deliveries show up four hours late and we scramble to get everything prepped for dinner service and the remainder of the weekend.
Moments like this are the most dangerous in the kitchen. Staff get flustered and in their anxiousness to knock things off a prep-list, they can seriously injure themselves. That television show, "I Survived" has nothing on the gruesome kitchen injuries I've witnessed over my career and in culinary school. To do this job, and keep your digits intact, you have to steady your nerves and remain focused. It's like Zen Living with knives.
3 p.m.: After getting through the rush I head home to get some rest. My mind racing with food orders to be placed, emails to send, and dreams of expediting.
9 p.m.: See my wife for a few moments before heading back the restaurant where the dinner rush is starting to die down and the bar crowd is slowly starting to build. I check in with the MOD for any issues during the night. Nothing much happened – just a public breakup that resulted in a crying patron and an awkward service moment. Do you automatically split the check for them, or force the guy to ask? Happy not to be front-of-house in those moments. Check with my sous chef to see how prep is coming along for the weekend. Grab a macchiato to wake up some more. Tell myself I'll cut down on my caffeine intake?tomorrow.
12 a.m.: Bar is packed, and now the restaurant is starting to get busy again. We generally get three rushes during the grave shift. The first around midnight, another around 2am, and then a third around 4am. After that it comes to a complete stop till the brunch rush around 10am. Like every other weekend it happens like clockwork. Get through the first rush. Clean. Prep. Repeat.
4 a.m.: Only two tickets remain hanging. I help my grave sous chef clean and get restocked. Jot down a couple notes for my morning sous chef (mainly to keep an eye on the 30 Gallons of grits cooking for the weekend, because the tilt skillet is acting up) and then head home before coming back for Brunch. My rumbling stomach hints that I forgot to eat really anything today so I grab a pastry on my way out the door. Tell myself my diet starts?tomorrow.
5 a.m.: Relax on the sofa and decompress while watching a little TV with my Shar Pei, who doesn't know it yet but just became my pillow.
9 a.m.: The cycle starts again. Go to restaurant. Coffee. Red book. Emails. Prep. Expo. Ordering. And most importantly finding, hiring, and training new grave cooks.
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