Four Minutes

Four minutes is the amount of time I have to stuff ten courgette flowers every morning. This might seem like a reasonable amount of time, and it is, but, if you have to prep a hundred flowers what is quite an easy job becomes an exercise in acute concentration. It also means that I spend a good portion of my morning prep fondling the sex organs of plants, which occasionally gives me pause for thought.

Open the box, remove them all, unwrap each, slice 2cm line at the base of the stem, gently tear open a hole in the flower, remove the stamen, stuff with a piece of cheese, close hole, twist top and lay flat. Repeat.

To make it worse the courgette flowers are a fragile and expensive ingredient which will happily fall apart in your hands if they feel you’re being too rough with them. Balancing speed and efficiency with precision is a constant battle in the kitchen and this task was my first introduction to the struggle. Shortcuts can be found, but only ones which don’t compromise the final product. Sometimes the only solution is just to work faster.

If I lose time on this job then I’m rapidly falling behind on my prep list for the morning, this is a Bad Thing. The list might be longer or shorter depending on the vagaries of service, prep all week, the person on the station the day before. A long prep list and a delay on the underground and it’s an uphill battle all morning.

The feeling is similar to the one I had whenever I went to a tutorial at university without having done enough work. That sense of panic, scrabbling around for answers, dodging questions as best you could whilst desperately suppressing the feeling your head is going to explode. The problem is that in the kitchen you can’t just make up a tub of prepped cuttlefish, it’s either in the fridge or it isn’t.

The desperate scramble as your brain gently fries along with the scallops in the pan, as the orders fall out of your head whilst you try and remember where you put the bloody sliced fennel. Redemption lies only in ploughing on, and each service gets easier.

There is a flip side to this of course, as with everything. The feeling of coming into the kitchen and powering through the prep list, starting lunch or dinner with a fridge packed full of everything required and dominating service is truly satisfying. Totally in control, the station becomes a pleasure and the dishes get banged out just how they should be.

As ever, most days tend to fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Sometimes you’re lucky and no one orders that egg dish when you know all the pre-poached ones you did in a rush weren’t really ideal. Sometimes you get shafted. That’s part of the fun I guess, the unknown, though that definition of fun which also includes ‘sweaty, pressure-filled work’ in it.

Four minutes are crucial, get it wrong and you’re already sliding into a bad day.

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