Mad Fox Brewing Company Executive Chef Andrew Dixon Reflects On a Busy Night in the Kitchen of His F.C. Restaurant
The smell of freshly baked pizza dough fills the air. The smoky aroma of the grill is followed by sensory overload, all the indefinable smells getting drowned out by the rush. At the beginning of dinner service, the smells start to change. Before the rush I get the sweet, earthy aroma of thyme and shallots from the aftermath of my reductions of beer and wine on the stove. All the preparation and anticipation of getting busy, the final preparation of all the stations, the rushed excitement of the coming service, come to a halt at the peak of the rush. Surrounding the whole process is the constant smell of hot, fresh French fries – like the way you know a previous passenger on an elevator carried French fries.
The sound of commotion takes over. The machine-gun-like fire of the printer continues to push through, providing the constant reminder I am always on the brink of falling behind. This white noise falls to the background in the commotion of calling tickets, directing the kitchen and focusing on the action. I hear the searing and popping of the sauté station, the clanging of pans, and the grumbling of the cooks as they get progressively busier. Ovens open and close. The deep fryer rumbles. Servers frantically inquire about tables and special requests, informing the kitchen of regular guests and ensuring their food is consistent. Managers continue to check in, shouting the status of the dining room – “60 open menus” and “30-minute wait.” At Mad Fox, when service reaches its peak, the sound of our guests laughing and talking, clanking silverware on their plates and glasses being put down from a drink almost overpowers the other noises in the kitchen.
The kitchen is hot. When a chef is expediting we are always waiting for an opportunity to jump in on the line and lend a helping hand. Are the cooks buried? The heat of line draws me in and I have a desire to be in the thick of it.
Organization is key. Hanging chits of paper are my lifeline. One missed word, one missed temperature, or one missed sauce can be the end of a successful evening. My life revolves around a board of tickets. At any given time I have 40 tickets which I am trying to group like items from to call the cooks, in order for them to prepare the correct amount. I am constantly checking the clock. Running the kitchen is a race against time. The clock is menacing. I’m yelling that I need this or that, this table or that item. I am always checking to see what is missing to “sell” the next ticket. I work in threes, always trying to get the last three tables out at a time. Before the plate leaves the kitchen I try to ensure it is perfect. I put the necessary finishing touches.
When stress starts to get a hold of the team, I look for something trivial to cut the tension – some little mistake to make a joke of or when a cook puts up something that is perfect, looks better than the spec, we always pretend to take a picture. The sous chefs are a lifeline during this time. I look to them to relate to the cooks and direct them to help where needed. I turn to them to take over my expediting role so that I can spend time on the line, helping the cooks when they need it instead of yelling at them.
When service is winding down, the first thing I notice is the absence of sound from the dining room. It gets quiet before the kitchen gets quiet, reminding us to lower our voices and that the evening is coming to an end. Sounds of the cooks calling out what they are running out of, worrying they won’t be able to cover the orders in, start to dominate the tone. The focus changes back into preparation, checking the stations and assigning prep duties.
A busy dinner service is the best thing that can happen to a chef. It’s an unofficial rule that we gather in groups at the end of the night and rehash the good and bad moments. We talk to the restaurant managers and get scoop from the dining room. It’s only after finding out every detail of the night that I can finally take a deep breath of relaxation. This moment is my favorite part of being a chef.
– Chef Andrew Dixon