Monday, December 8, 2008
I have burnt into my memory two of the worst days in cooking career. The first was just not long after I took my first chefs position. The night in question was New Years Eve, 1993. My boss told me we would take no more than 150 reservations and to plan a menu accordingly. I went to work. This was my first time being at the sharp end of the stick and I wanted to impress. I had everything ordered. We did some of the prep the day before. I came in early on News Years Eve to make sure everything ran smooth. Around 11:00am or so in walks my boss. He tells me we are up to 200 and to expect 250. Excuse me, 200 but plan on 250? I thought 150 was the mark we were aiming for? I still get that same sick feeling in my stomach when I think of it that I had when he told me. Plan for 100 covers more than I was told, then I am prepped for, and more than I ordered for. We were still prepping when the doors opened up. Never, and I mean never, have I been hit so hard and so fast with tickets than I was that evening. "We're open" quickly was followed by a barrage of orders that came at me so fast I was lost the first 10 minutes and didn't find my way back until the last ticket came in. The entire night was a total disaster. People left angry. I didn't have enough food. The boss was mad at me. The waiters were mad at me. The only ones on my side were my cooks. About mid way through this hell I felt like sitting down and crying. Walking out never looked so good. For those of you who have never cooked professionally probably don't know this feeling I am talking about. Every cook on the planet has had one of those nights were they just wanted to sit down and cry. One of those evenings where you are so far in the weeds you have no idea what is coming and what is going. One of those rushes where the tickets just keep coming in and you get further, and further behind. Usually in the midst of this mess you are so confused you don't know which way is up. You moves become erratic. The plates you are trying to sell get sloppy. The chef is typically losing his mind because of you. It really is one of the worst feelings on earth. Having your puppy ran over before your eyes is better than this. Believe me. It's something every cook hopes will not happen to him/her, but it's something that does eventually happens, no matter how hard you try. Luckily, as one matures and gains more experience, these nightmare moments become rarer and rarer. It was during one of these moments I had one of the most important insights of my career. I don't exactly remember the rush or just how bad I was in the weeds, but I do remember thinking to myself, "You know Patterson, elven o'clock has to come sometime", and by that I understood that eventually the last order would come in, we would clean up, and we would go home. No matter how bad the rush is. No matter how far in the weeds I may be. No matter how ugly it is, eleven o'clock will come. There is no stopping that. I have since since that day started applying that philosophy to my everyday life. When things start going wrong. When the bottom seems to be dropping out on me and nothing is as it should, I try to tell myself that 11:00 has to come. That this too will pass and tomorrow, or next week, or next year, has to come eventually come. That no matter how bad it looks today if I don't allow myself to get drug down, I am assured that it can't be like this always. I don't get all Polly Anna and crap like that. I don't own rose colored sun glasses. In fact, those who know me will tell you that I am a pessimist by nature, but what I am not is a defeatist. I plan on the worst to happen, but I also know if it does, that it won't last forever. Change is a natural part of life. What goes wrong today will go right tomorrow, or eventually at least. Eleven o'clock will come back around and I'll clean up my station, and I will go home.