Tonight, I’m a rock and roll star ✨

Chris Morrisson Apr 18, 2023

Yaaaaaa! I cry out, through a haggard throat. Six burners are busy dealing with six pans. My white jacket is rolled up, just above the elbow- revealing a topography of bright red burns, scars and blisters. I’m hot, sweaty, tired and pumped full of raging adrenaline all at once. Eyes, completely bloodshot, my face unshaven, deep dark bags adorn the bottoms of my eyes like a raccoon. Normally, as Sous Chef, I’d be calling the board, plating and dealing with about 20 different front of house staff, all seemingly stunned and disoriented, doing panic laps between their tables and the pass (the window where food sits, ready to be served) wondering why that medium well rack of lamb they ordered 15 minutes ago, isn’t quite ready yet.

However, on this night, we are down a man and I’m tucked neatly into the corner of the line that houses the Sautè station. Even though we are a bourgeois steakhouse, essentially selling every single primal cut of beef (as well as roasting 8+ whole prime ribs a day, plus reheating the prime ribs from the day before for well done) the sautè station gets its shit kicked in pretty hard, too. It requires the ability to juggle the aforementioned 6 burner range, while relying on callbacks from the person running the line. No printer ie: no way to look at the chits. It requires concentration, as well as critical timing. With roughly 300 guests in the books tonight, I’ll be making the finishing sauces to order ‘ a la minute’ every hour, I make a brand new Bernaisè sauce fresh. Beurre blanc ( a reduction of wine, shallots, peppercorns and bay) mounted only at the right moment, with butter to form an emulsion. Every lamb rack, I sear. Scallops, shrimp, mussels… All me as well. Veal ‘oscar’ that’s your boy, too. Enough pasta options to confuse your dear Nonna back to the motherland and, yeah, ok you’re starting to get the drift. Even though I started here as the sautè chef (Chef de partie- saucier)

I’m not exactly enjoying tonight’s service. These past months, I’ve come into my own quickly, absorbing my duties as Sous Chef without much getting in my way. I’m only 24 years old and I’ve blown past my peers like a supernova on fucking speed, and even though I’m generally very easy going. And, even though I’m known as a stand up guy- mentally my 24 year old brain doesn’t have all the coping skills yet. I get a little bit fired up, I get upset when I see the cooks below me, underperforming… I take it personally that I’m fucking killing myself, giving it 110% only to look down the line, and see the Garde Manger (pantry/salad section) wavering. As far as I’m concerned, we all took a silent vow, before entering this industry.

We all knew it wasn’t what it looks like on the telly. We knew there would be good days, and really shitty ones. But, no matter what the issue is … We power through. We double down, and pull ourselves up by the fucking boot straps. And if, for any reason at all, you feel yourself sinking in the weeds. You need to do the noble act of calling out for help. It might sound something like this : chef! We. Are. Fucked. Can you buy us some time? To say nothing… To sink, even lower, to not have the awareness of mind to admit you’re in too deep. Well, that’s not cool man. It creates this slow, micro burning of Rome, right in your very kitchen. It’s like being first in a race, only to be tripped up, a meter before the finishing line. The dirt filling up the wounds in your skin, as you feel all of your glory go up in a puff. And then there’s why I’m even cooking sautè in the first place.

Last night was Thursday. Not exactly our busiest night. I’m standing in the walk in fridge, going through the massive produce order that needs to be placed for the weekend, when one of the Garde Manger cooks comes strolling in. Like me, he seems to be enjoying the chill from the fridge, standing right in front of the fan. I finish scanning the last row on the order guide, and allow myself a deep exhale, before turning to lock eyes. Do you have it? I ask, a wry smile creeping into the corners of my mouth. Without pause he returns my smile and stretches out his hand. I put mine out, palm open. He drops a pill bottle in my palm, which I close quickly, only briefly allowing a glimpse to double check it’s contents. Without hesitation, the pills go in my pocket, and simultaneously I put the money in his breast pocket, with a slap on the shoulder. The bottle contains 50 Percocet'( a seemingly unknown habit that will eventually rear it’s way into being something out of a rock star documentary, but not yet, not for a very long time) Beers tonight, chef ? I pause momentarily, before agreeing that a cold beer or six would really take the edge off. Sounds like a good plan to me, who’s all coming? Everyone from Garde, and everyone from the line. No dishwashers, no servers, just us cooks- at my place whenever you get there. Thanks Frank! I smile. Nothing too crazy, though, big weekend! Of course Frank snorts, leaving me to finish up in the fridge.

Upon arrival at Frank’s , my cooks all cheer my name. In some sick, weird fucked up way, I’m more than just the Sous Chef. I’m like a demi-god to them. At my ripe age, I don’t know how to interpret the wave of emotions this makes me feel. So naturally, I resort to sounding tough and manly. Yeah, yeah boys! I laugh- making sure to give props and hugs where applicable. The new kid, down in garde, Mario (he’s Polish btw) hugs me a little too affectionately, smiling and pumping my tires as if I was the king of England. Oooook, Mario, that’s good I laugh awkwardly as continue making my way about the room. We proceed to drink and smoke joints. All of us taking turns putting the next vinyl record on the system.

At some point, it becomes obvious that Mario and a couple of the guys are taking decent liberty with the bathroom. Needing to relieve myself, I stroll in to find the guys cutting lines of coke, teeth chattering, words, stammering. I put my back to the guys, and turn my attention to the toilet. Mid stream, head rolling back in relief Mario asks if I’d care for a line. My head and body throb with euphoric pleasure. The combination of alcohol and opiates has left me numb, cerebral and feeling invincible. ‘why the hell not’ I chuckle, giving it a shake, before I zip up my bluenotes. Mario serves me up a thick, powdery line, that I make disappear without hesitation. Returning to the party, now full on speedballing, Mario comes up to me, and asks for a smoke. I oblige, and we end up shooting the shit out back. The conversation more or less comes down to buying more coke, but not having the funds( shocker) with some gentle manipulation, I count and hand him $100 in $20 bills. The usual bullshit, gotta take a cab here, then go there etc. I tell Mario that I’m not going anywhere, and that it’s all good. By the time the last record of the night goes on the player, and I’ve made about 45 phone calls to Mario’s cell phone, I make my way home, knowing full well that I’ve probably been ripped off. We never end up seeing or hearing from him again.

The next day, at work my stomach swirls endlessly, like a black hole… Eating the lining up, instead of shredding stars to atoms. I puke more times then I can remember, before peeling a one inch section of raw ginger, and taking a cold bottle of Perrier from the bar. It turns out, this is the combo that gets me back to fighting form. It doesn’t take long for the rumor of Mario going MIA to become the focal point and discussion amongst the cooks. As already discussed, his absence forces us to re-shuffle the deck, where I end up on sautè.

The time before service starts, I manage to clean 6 beef tenderloin, 2 NY Strips, 2 Ribeyes, 4 sides of salmon. All perfectly cut into their respective shapes and weights. 4 deep bus-bins of ‘day veg’ (mixed vegetable medley for entrees) 2 deep Hotel pans of confit fingerling potatoes scented with tarragon. A bucket of chopped finè herbs (parsley, tarragon, chervil and chive) 2- 9 pans of brunoise shallots and I’ve procured enough micro green garnish, to send Rachel Ray all the way back to the Bronx.( Or wherever the fuck she’s from) having managed to accomplish this amount of prep on a stomach that feels like a sea at storm, legs that wobble from time to time, and a head full of razor blades, my temper and ire work to undo me as I watch my peers with disdain. Hungover, they seem to bumble on, like they’re wearing cement boots in the mud. They lack hustle. They lack a certain sense of urgency. While I do share some choice words from them, until service starts, I more or less keep it together.

There is no break that day- right at 5pm the printers in the kitchen begin pumping out the first orders of the night. Insect like, almost alien at times. ‘everybody, let’s get fucking too it! I hollar aloud. Various cries of: yes, chef! And heard! Linger in the air, homogeneous with the atmosphere of steam, grease, smoke and fire that make up a busy kitchen. A micro climate if you will- one where the gravity is heavy, and all of the energy, spent or otherwise hangs in the balance of things. Once enough steaks have hit the grill, and enough smoking pans are heated atop smoking ovens full of salmon darnes, and joints of meat- There will actually be visible smoke. And there it will hang, like smog, long after the last orders have gone out for entrees. Admittedly, the first two hours of service seem to go off without much as even a single send back, or annoying complaint. But if you were watching carefully… You’d see it. The Garde Manger side is slowly collapsing . Whatever courage they summoned or determination they may have mustered , it’s clear they just aren’t up to the task at hand. I make mention of it several times, calling down the line.

Initially, I try the diplomatic approach: telling them that they can do it, only about an hour and a half left to go. Eventually my efforts turn to calling them out, for their shite, hungover and uninspiring performance. The cook who seems to be the weakest link, is Mike. All night long I’ve watched him fumble, drop tongs, and reach for bowls or plates that simply weren’t there. He’s been a whole step behind since we started. I tell my two line mates that I need to be down there to bail them out. This creates a tension all in its own. Now these two guys, have to cover three stations, because of one cook. Unsurprisingly, my conversation with Mike doesn’t go so shit hot, and ends up with me telling him to start ripping the fridge apart, ahead of our close, where in turn, he may actually end up being useful. The cooks down in garde move swiftly and gratefully again, under the sound of my voice, re-calling the tables back to them. I hardly move more then a foot or two for the next hour. My voice, bubbling with heart burn, anger and weariness calls nonstop for this and that. Every time I call for anything, and the answer isn’t too my liking, my head will swivel around, like some deranged adaptation of the Joker. At this time, the accosted cook will usually rephrase his or her answer to: ‘ right away, chef, or coming now chef, 10 more seconds.

A few hours later, I’m sitting at the bar. My mind is trying to do a recap of the last 24 hours, which it does, but not without monk like concentration. The bartender puts two double Tom Collins down in front of me, smiling at me. I do my absolute best, not to let on that I’m completely hungover. Or that my body feels like I was jumped and left for dead in an alley somewhere. The gin does wonders to at least calm my nerves and center my thoughts better. Between trips to the bathroom, and out back for smokes with the servers, I manage to swallow a few more percs as well- and life is starting to look good again. Heading back to the bar, I tell the doe eyed and buxom bartender that, being the sous chef, my first two drinks are free, and proceed to order two bottles of beer. Her brown eyes never leave mine as she slides two buds over my way. I place my free right hand over her left hand holding the beer and smile, because, tonight… I’m a rock and roll star.

Chris Morrisson

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