Why I could not be a chef – A day in the kitchen

Cooking is one of my favorite hobbies. There is nothing better than made-from-scratch pasta or homemade desserts. I realize that I am not a professional chef by any stretch but I would like to think I could hold my own in the right scenario. I have even held a few wine dinners at my house where I cooked the food and paired it with wine as a learning experience/fun family gathering. So when Chef Randall Copeland of Restaurant AVA called to have me come out and help with wine service at a wedding he was catering in the Texas Hill Country, I arrogantly volunteered myself to help cook, thinking I could hold my own. Little did I know what I got myself into.

After a long truck ride down to the Hill Country and 4 hours of sleep, the day started at 8:30am with the rumble of the truck to go get some last minute supplies from the nearby HEB. (God I miss HEB stores!) After picking up some veggies, containers and other odds-and-ends, we headed back to start prepping. 10 in the morning and it is time to start cutting veggies, wrappers for crawfish empanadas, biscuit dough, shrimp, venison, beef, salad, herbs, green beans, tortillas… This is just the short list!

At one point I was at the sink washing 200 cherry tomatoes into a bin with the dough station sitting next to the sink. My hand slipped while holding the bin of tomatoes and the water spilled onto some of the dough. All hands immediately were trying to save the empanada dough before it became dough glue. I probably set us back about 30 minutes. Luckily the people in the kitchen were nice enough to just call me the FNG (a self-proclaimed nickname) and help me get the tomatoes out of the way and let the professionals catch up after my mistake. There is a lesson here for all of us who want to think we could be chefs: one mistake can set you back but if you have a backup plan, things can be fixed. We just made the empanadas a little bit smaller and were able to make the 200 for the party. That means making all of the wrappers and then stuffing each one.

My next memory after spending an hour or so stuffing the crawfish empanadas that did not want to close was looking at the clock in the kitchen and the time had gone from 10am to 2pm within a blink of an eye. I wasn’t even hungry for lunch because of all the things that needed to be done. Who is this person I have become, not hungry?

I remember working on several different items for the menu but it is more of a blur than anything else. One “fun” aspect of the catering world that I was told happens all the time is when there is a miscommunication. About an two hours before service, the wedding coordinator came to us and gave us a packet of lavender tea and started to walk off. Chef Copeland had to call her back in and ask her what they were for. Turns out we were supposed to make an Arnold Palmer punch bowl and a John Daly punch bowl for the cocktail reception between the ceremony and dinner. I didn’t even know what an Arnold Palmer and a John Daly were. (For the record, Arnold Palmer is ½ lemonade, ½ tea and John Daly is an Arnold Palmer with alcohol) So into the truck I went to run back to the HEB and find another container and as much lemonade mix as I could because we did not have time to make lemonade from scratch. By the time I got back, we were in “crunch mode”.

The amount of stress that falls on your shoulders in the kitchen could best be compared to that of Atlas. You feel that the entire world is on your shoulders and is almost impossible to bear. I had a moment where that weight nearly crushed me. It all revolves around making the punch bowls and not knowing what to do. I think I just stood in the hallway next to the kitchen for about 30 seconds trying to get the gears of my brain moving. When it clicked, the people in the kitchen were just staring at me, wondering if I had lost it. After coming to, they just smiled and kept working as if nothing happened. Turns out it is not uncommon for the FNG to lose their sanity.

There is some positives that occurred during this experience. After losing my sanity, I went on one of the best adrenaline kicks ever as I found my stride and got things in order. At one point, I was chatting with members of the wedding while getting their bottles onto the table, serving wine with the staff and then hopping in the kitchen and help plating side dishes and chopping herbs while telling the service staff where to go. I was doing at least three things at once and it felt great. The food came out beautifully and compliments came one after another. By the time it was all said and done, I remember grabbing a couple of pieces of venison and a tasting of Harlan’s Matriarch, which had been poured during the wedding. It was midnight and was the first real time to reflect on the experience of the event.

I still had some cleaning to do but I had been working on this event for close to 16 hours straight. My feet hurt, my back ached and I had a fantastic sense of accomplishment. I know I will never have what it takes to work the 80 hours a week on the line at a restaurant but I would help again in a heartbeat. In conclusion, my appreciation for the food and the chefs who make it increased a hundred fold. Thank you for all you do because I now know I couldn’t keep up.


Filed under Ava, David Donalson, Randal Copeland, Wine

2 responses to “Why I could not be a chef – A day in the kitchen

  1. Awesome article. I could feel your pain and panic at times.

  2. Paige

    Great article!

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