In the pit

My “day off” is Tuesday. Usually that means that I only work about 8 hours because I suffer from the hubris that I “need” to be there. I check on how the specials are progressing. I have breakfast with the managers. I drink coffee and feel like I’m helping. I ask leading questions like “You need anything else before I head out for the day? I’ve got time to pitch in if you need help on prep.”

What I hear in reply is usually the same: “Go home. It’s your day off. We got this.”

Last Tuesday was different. At 8:30 I received a text alerting me that our dishwasher was out. She didn’t mean that the noisy machine in the corner of the kitchen was on the fritz. She meant that we were a man short in the kitchen. A crucial man short. You see…the dishwasher, in my opinion, is one of the most important people in the entire restaurant. If the food is mediocre, you might return. If the service is lousy, you still might return. But – if the dishes are dirty, you aren’t coming back. That is a whole lot of pressure for a guy toiling in less than awesome conditions for less than awesome money. So the dishwasher was out, and there were a few options. The line crew could suck it up, hope for a light service and take turns “busting suds.” Or, I could roll out of bed, slap on my Cathead Vodka trucker cap, suck down a Red Bull and head downtown for my turn in the pit.

It will only look this clean on the day it is installed.

It will only look this clean on the day it is installed.

Ten minutes after the text, I was standing on the back line, sliding the vinyl apron over my head and grabbing some wool. As the kitchen kicked into high prep gear I scrubbed pans and set up the bain marie pans. I made sure that everyone had clean tongs, turners, and ladles. I made jokes and assumed my role as the lowest guy in the brigade hierarchy.

As the doors opened and the guests started to arrive I took a deep breath and made my plan to stay ahead of the demand for empty bus tubs, clean sauté pans and refills of hot water in the bain maries. I humped the suds line for a solid two hours and drenched my v-neck t-shirt from the inside. Every dish, every pan, every utensil was cleaned, dried and put away. During the lulls I scrubbed the bottoms of the big pots and knocked the carbon back as much as I could. I loved every minute of it. And when the shift was over, I cleaned my station and went home. Day over. Done.

There was something uncomplicatedly satisfying about starting the day with a clean, empty sink and ending it the same way (with a mountain of dirty dishes in between). There was a contentment I felt with doing a job without complaint and doing it well. I felt that I set an example for my crew to follow and grounded myself at the same time.

Next time Marcus has a toothache, I’m all in. I just hope it’s not too soon. My back and knees aren’t as young as they used to be. Damn.