The Old Rhythms

The honeymoon phase at work is wearing off for me, I think as a result of my post-service wee hours being saturated with the company of my co-workers for those couple of weeks surrounding the holiday season. I’m beginning to get caught up in the bickering, the eye-rolling, and starting to have some nights where I’m in no mood to sit around and chit-chat after clocking out. I’m not complaining, only quite comfortable. Families have their rough spots, so, you know. Roll with it. I’ve had my fun exploring and analyzing and over-thinking the dynamics of all my new acquaintanceships… and am consequently gravitating back towards the most familiar face in the crew. He is the real friend and reason that I’m at Mantra, after all.

We’re not usually open on Mondays, but Chef had agreed to open for a friend if said friend could bring in at least 15 persons. I had thought that Jason would be prepping and I would be working the line with Chef, and that it would be like any other slow night that we’ve had in the past month. My first clue that this was not going to be the case was when I walked in and Jason was setting up garde. He and I have different ways of setting up the station, and thus if one of us is only in for prep, we generally leave proper set-up to the other person so as to not mess with their system. Funny how those little things we come to know tacitly aren’t recognized until something challenges them. “Aren’t you leaving?” I prompted, somewhat naively. “Nope.” “Eh?” “I’m staying. Ais, we have 40 on the books.” “Say what?!” “I know, that’s what I said when I found out. And we don’t have a dishwasher, so I’m on dishes.”

I guess Chef’s friend came through… The 40 accounted only for the private party, and we were accepting walk-ins.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve prepped with just Jason. I heard the music coming from the kitchen when I walked in, and knew by the station that it was Jason, confirmed by the clock-in slip he’d left in the printer, as he always does. Matt apparently has a [general] hatred of culinary students, and I resent that, because it is helpful to know that all wheat flour has the proteins which form gluten in it, whether it’s whole wheat or white. I was more than slightly miffed a couple of weeks ago, when Matt questioned my declaration that a gluten-intolerant guest could not have roti, which is made with whole wheat flour [as opposed to naan, which is made with AP flour]. Anyway. It was extremely refreshing to have some food science conversation during prep, without interjections of impatience or derision from a third party. Jason wanted to know what I was doing for my biochem project, and then started testing me on B vitamins when I told him that I wanted to do my project on vitamin B6 and infertility. Since we’ve only had two class sessions so far, I failed miserably, and consequently had nightmares about answering exam questions wrong – something about me marking B4 as niacin – but he has put me “ahead of the game,” as he has for so many of my classes since transferring to UC, so I’m not complaining at all, really.

For the party, we were doing the normal a la carte menu, but that meant that all the tickets came in at once, by table, as they would be on any other night. The noise and energy levels in the dining room were comparable to our first OM Saturday, and we only had four servers and no one on expo. Chef actually needed me to stop what I was doing at some point, and hang tickets for him because he couldn’t stop cooking long enough to organize the dozen tickets that had all come in at once. Jason was going between dish, backup prep, expo, tag-teaming me on garde/tandoor, and he had to run food occasionally and/or call servers back to the kitchen. The tandoor was not kind; she was extremely temperamental, her walls losing heat too rapidly due to all the breads that were being called in quick succession, and we had to keep fiddling with the heat balance and using the lid to try and help her out a bit in the brief breathers.  It was quite the adventure.

When tag-teaming was necessary because I couldn’t yet handle breads, it was easier to work with Matt just because Jason and I hardly ever worked the same service nights, and I’d become accustomed to the patterns of our communication. Now, since I can handle breads, I’ve reverted to my preference for tag-teaming with Jason, as I once preferred working middle with him over anyone else at Daveed’s. The old communication patterns come into play. I thought – and I’m sure everyone else thinks – that I talk too much, but Matt talks too much when things get crazy, and therein lies a significant difference. When things get crazy, I just want to keep going and keep quiet. Matt somehow finds time to joke about completely irrelevant matters, and it’s just not funny. At home, I would call it ‘unnecessary noise.’ I find myself wishing that Jared would magically appear and tell everyone that there is to be no talking in the kitchen. The point is, by contrast, with Jason, when we get crazy, one of us takes charge of the station, whoever is in charge communicates their priority needs, and we don’t waste words on anything completely unrelated to the task at hand, or even on things that can be indicated by a jerk of the head in one direction or another, a simple gesture, the passing of a bowl or tongs, or a switching of positions to the left or right by two feet.

We – Chef and Jason and I – were all in good moods, and in spite of the insanity, the whole night was highly enjoyable. Since we did get hit all at once, we had plenty of down time before and after the wave, during which Jason and I talked a lot about old times and old habits at Daveed’s, dishes that we missed, where everyone was and what they were up to, old nicknames, signature phrases and significant incidents. Jason, being on dish, was impersonating Bang and Lou and Ray by turns. It was great. I couldn’t help giggling every time he told me that, “That don’t go there, my dude,” regardless of whether I put something in the rinse pile, or the water to soak, or the compartment of the steam table which is reserved for passing dirty pans from saute to dish, or just handed it to him to place where he pleased. Whenever something made a relatively louder clanging noise, Chef would ask why Lou was banging stuff around. And of course, everyone just loves Rayray =) Too much fun.

Chef’s occasional two cents, aside from calling out the person being impersonated over at dish, were mostly along the lines of noting certain personality traits of mine and asking Jason if working with me had always been “like this.” They had their manly little laugh. Sometimes the byplay between Chef and Matt irks me – not at all surprisingly, just by the same token that most byplay in the kitchen between men often has the potential to irk me, and on top of that, no one at Mantra makes an effort to respect and preserve my ears except for Jason, who still occasionally asks my pardon for his french. But the byplay between Chef and Jason never fails to amuse. Maybe because it’s more of a parent-child byplay, easy and unaffected, and possibly more heart-warming and of interest to me because I mark how different it is from Jason’s interactions with Chief, or Jared. Chef has said, after all, that he loves Jason as a son. I, with my family-centered mindset, cannot fail to appreciate that.

Of course, since Jason was dictating cleanup, the shelves above middle were cleared of their dishes and scrubbed, the boards were left to bleach overnight, and downstairs was mopped… And since I haven’t gotten any taller since last year, Jason had to finish the drying of the top shelf over middle, because I couldn’t see, and would not go and get a milk crate for the express purpose of a 5-second operation that he was in the perfect position to carry out. Meh. It’s been at least a couple of months since I’ve seen Jason in that good of a mood.

We must tip our hats to the FoH for making things happen as well as they did. I know they weren’t expecting things to play out the way that they did – heck, none of us were – but they kept it together, and I’ve never known so many guests to come back and tell Chef what an excellent experience they were having. At the end of the night, I think the two remarks from Chef that most effectively summed up the entire endeavor were, “I’ve never seen so much wine go out,” and, “I don’t know how we did it, but we did.”

Today is Jason’s birthday! I… don’t know why he wanted to do the whole day by himself, but I let him make the call as to whether or not he wanted me in to prep, and he decided against it. I sincerely hope he’s having a great day.

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