The clock strikes 3 a.m. I cannot sleep. My mind feels flustered, my heart is racing and adrenaline still flows through my veins. Never before have I felt so mentally drained, physically exhausted and yet so awake. I struggle to take in the past 14 hours at Sydney’s Quay, one of the top 50 best restaurants in the world. The experience is one big blur of sensual overload. But I must sleep. In just under 5 hours it will start all over again.
There are few better dining room views than Quay’s. To the left, Sydney’s Harbour bridge, to the right, the Opera House. However, when I arrived at work for job 28, it wasn’t the view grabbing my attention. During my travels I have heard nothing but admiration for Peter Gilmore’s outstanding haute cuisine that ranks him among the best chefs in the world. And yet the dining room, for all intended purposes, looked like a high volume restaurant. Either they had blagged their way into the top 50, or I was about to witness a kitchen service nothing short of miraculous.
“Table 5, 4 starters” comes the call. “Oui chef,” I answer (a little confused why I was instructed to respond in French). I had barely worked in the kitchen half a day when I was moved to the starter section for dinner service. My responsibility? The amuse-bouche. Pipe some crème fraiche and bergamot jam into a pot, sprinkle over some liquid nitrogen pomelo (a type of bitter grapefruit) and garnish with elderflower blossom. “Table 5, starters up,” I call. Easy… or so I thought.
As the diners poured in, the pace started to quicken. “Table 9, 3 starters. Table 20, 4 starters. Table 3, 3 starters.” As the pressure mounted, I started to struggle. To make matters worse, the sous chef sent back an order. I had left a mucky fingerprint on one of the cups, and forgotten to put elderflower on another. I could feel my pulse quicken and my temperature rise. I tried to steady my hands, keep my cool and stay focused. I couldn’t let them down. The standard at Quay is high and there is little room for error.
Disaster strikes. The chef assisting me on the section had a nosebleed and is required to leave the kitchen. At this moment it was announced that ‘the tower’ had arrived. “What’s the tower?” I wondered. A few minutes later I found out. “Tower, 24 starters.” My heart nearly stopped….I only had 16 clean cups. I started to panic. How could I possibly meet this order on time? And if I’m not quick enough my pomelo will start to melt. At that exact moment, like a finely oiled machine, the chefs from first course stepped in to offer reinforcement. When the tower arrives it’s all hands on deck. The following few minutes felt like a lifetime, but with seconds to spare we got the tower order to the pass. I breathed a sigh of relief and tidied my station. “Don’t worry mate, only another 4 hours to go” one of the chefs reassured me.