The Dish Gone Awry

Staff Writer
What led to your favorite dish being made incorrectly? Everything
A kitchen scene.
Arthur Bovino

A kitchen scene.

We all have our favorite restaurants — the secret haunts that we keep tucked in our pocket just in case somebody special drops into town. When the time arrives to peacock to your guests, the experience falls flat. Either the petite filet is prepared medium well rather than medium rare, or the crab frittata you ordered became a tilapia frittata. You've been there dozens of times before without an issue like this. Humbled by your overconfidence, you apologize to your guests. “I really don't know what is going on back there today,” you say as your eyes circle the room in search of a server. But what is actually going on back there?

At five o'clock sharp, the fishmonger arrives with the day's order. Rough weather in Seattle halted delivery for two days, and some of the delivery has turned sour. The food is refused and out of the gate, the kitchen is scrambling to catch up. At seven o' clock, the cooks that decided to show up start shuffling in the doors, dead-eyed and hungover. As reality begins to wash over them, they realize that it is Saturday morning. Dread and regret for not calling out that day immediately replace the formerly insurmountable fatigue. Three separate menus to navigate over the next eight hours: breakfast, brunch, lunch. The unholy trinity.

Tensions begin to rise as the cooks are assembling that day's mise en place. It's the slow season, meaning money is scarce and out-of-stock issues are bountiful. Members of the line resign to the day's already doomed fate and begin slugging orange juice (with vodka) and Coke (with bourbon), a menu that will last through the end of service. At nine o'clock, the breakfast rush picks up. Smoke breaks are forbidden and desires for nicotine are repressed for the next several hours. The end-of-shift smoke is the only totemic reward on the horizon.

As the line finds itself deeper in the weeds, the chef de cuisine emerges from the swing door, still buttoning up his coat. Already aware of the day's issues, his attempt to quell the stress in the kitchen by screaming obscenities, slamming pots and pans, and throwing plates is surprisingly inadequate. Weighed down by a hangover and drowned out by the clamor of metal kissing metal and cries of “Runner!,” the chef's presence does nothing to interrupt the flow.

In order to appease him, the line makes an unspoken agreement to work faster, not harder. Special orders and substitutions become requests that may or may not be fulfilled. Tickets pile up on the rail in an endless stream. Each ticket is now a message in a bottle and written in a coded shorthand. Among them is your order, a ticket that simply reads, “CR FR W/ SPN.”