Rhythms

Food relies on the senses; the crisp crackling on a pork belly, the heady scent of a truffle, the sight of a beautiful plate. The kitchen is full of these same experiences but in more extreme forms, the sizzle of a scallop in a pan, the searing pain when you accidently pick up a scalding hot tray, the whoomph and rush of flames from a pan on the burner. Of all these senses it isn’t taste or smell that defines my day in the kitchen, it’s the noises around us.

It’s not when the kitchen is at its noisiest that it’s most exciting, the moments I really relish are at the start of the day and during the break for lunch. It happens infrequently for me but whenever I am the first into the kitchen there is a special atmosphere. The darkness and quietness, just the hum of the fridges to greet you, provides such a strong contrast to the hectic and loud nature of a kitchen in full swing.

It’s in that quiet that the possibilities of food really seem endless and the anticipation of the day ahead really takes off.

Now I work on desserts I usually take my breaks later than everyone else, something I have actually come to enjoy. Suddenly the kitchen seems to multiply in size as people drop out to get food or (more likely) coffee and I have a breathing space to think about new ideas.

It’s also here in the day we’ll do any testing for new dishes if we need to, a process I love. I think I get the biggest buzz when it comes to actually creating something new with food. The process of tasting and tweaking, different techniques, ways around issues, hi- or low-tech, all the permutations and possibilities that the ingredients present remind me why I food is so exciting. But it all takes place in the quiet kitchen, with time for such debate.

The kitchen can also be a maelstrom of activity. It’s difficult to really translate what it is like to be part of a kitchen at full tilt. The hiss of the fryer, the incessant buzzing of the ticket machine as orders pour out of it, Chef running the show, cries of ‘backs!’ as people weave around each other, the occasional outburst of swearing (in any language). To the uninitiated, as I was just 6 months ago, it can seem chaotic but there is an order and rigor to it that makes working as part of the team so satisfying.

To say working in a kitchen is pressurized is no great surprise, but there are different kinds of pressure. Some are external, from the pressures of the clock and weight of orders, from the Chef but others you impose on yourself, to get better each service, to deliver a higher standard every day. All these coalesce during service. Sometimes it doesn’t go seamlessly, things go wrong, but learning to go around the problems, to adapt is a vital process. You fight your own personal battle and all the while the kitchen rages in the background.

As service slows towards the end of the evening the kitchen moves into a different gear – cleaning down, finishing staff food and  more often than not an ipod finds its way into the speakers we have. Oh, the controversies over music. There are some in the kitchen with a distinctive taste in music, but fair is fair and it’s usually first come first served for DJing rights.

Cleaning the section can be a cathartic process, a way of mentally resetting and closing down. The issues of service are wiped away with any dirt and you’re left with a blank slate to start the next day.

Everyone bundles out of door, stopping for a beer or rushing for the last train. The kitchen quietly sleeps, and so do we, ready to do it all again tomorrow.

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