A couple of nights ago someone sent back a bowl of gazpacho because it was cold. Putting a traditionally well-chilled soup into a chilled bowl will do that.
The customer asked the kitchen to heat it. My first reaction occurred in my head and it wasn’t pretty. I thought my best option was to go to the dining room and tell this guy that I cannot possibly cook for him since he is in the habit of ordering things without knowing what they are. Again, it was in my head which is the best place for those kinds of reactions. I then put the soup in a pan and went about my business as the beautifully refreshing Spanish classic came to an agonizing simmer.
There you go, there’s your hot gazpacho on this steamy summer day. Yes, I’m aware that some soups are served either hot or cold, gazpacho ain’t one of them. There’s a reason I run it in the summer and not in the winter.
I was asked later if it were possible to make an appropriate hot soup for the Philistine rather than ruin the gazpacho. Good soups take time, and so does sending the server back several times to the table to act as a go-between so I can find out what kind of soup this man might like. Sure, one could suggest that I go out to the table, but as most reasonable people are aware, there’s a difference between reality and television/movies. Our President doesn’t know it, but most of you should. Anyway, as a working chef I work a station every night, and on that particular night I was covering the hot line alone, so with 12 burners and two ovens working I did not have the luxury of being able to wander out to the dining room to find out what kind of person would ask me to ruin a perfectly prepared dish, let alone gather ingredients to specially prepare a single bowl of soup. It’s hot gazpacho you want? It’s hot gazpacho you’ll get.
At worst, stopping what you’re doing on a busy restaurant line can have a chain reaction effect on the entire dinner service. At best, it can be an annoyance that affects service to the next table or two. Throwing a wrench into a smoothly running machine can have an underestimated effect on the ongoing process. Therefore, it’s vital to avoid mistakes by both the front of the house and the back of the house. It’s so important to be fully prepared with prep, station set up, information, strong work ethic, and delivery of service.
Dinner service is often a delicate violence that must not be disturbed or upset. When it’s flawless it’s a thing of beauty, but when there are mistakes and unnecessary interruptions, things potentially go awry. An experienced leader, and a strong team can avoid letting a glitch or two upset the process, but a poorly balanced kitchen team or service staff can let inefficiency and poor-quality seep into the restaurant.
Young cooks listen up. When you are moving from cook to chef remember that preparation, clear and calm thinking, knowledge of the entire restaurant, and the possession of plan-b are essential tools for success, and wrenches are not.