My Pants are on Fire…For the Next Two Years


I guess the shine had to wear off at some point. Well, that point is this week.

On Sunday, I volunteered to work at a special event. After a brief competition, the event was open to the public. Live music, food tables hosted by restaurants, drink tables hosted by liquor companies.

My job was to be the low man on the totem pole – basically do whatever anyone else from the restaurant or the chef told me to do…for about 10 hours straight.

I was, not surprisingly, fine early on. My main focus, during that first four hours of prep, was just not to injury myself and thereby get sent home for bleeding in the product. I shaved turnips on a mandolin, and when I couldn’t roll up an egg roll wrapper tight enough, I grated root vegetables for an in-season take on tzatziki. You’ll be pleased to know all my blood stayed in my body.

We arrived at the venue and waiting for the paint to dry for a few hours, and then the public arrived. The restaurant had a table and was presenting four small appetizers. My job was to work with another person to plate them. Some were as easy as put on plate, add dollop, garnish and go. That was the fried mini-cake of short rib with that root vegetable tzatziki, topped with a mustard green flower – done. Some had as many as six components, such as cracker, onion compote, shaved smoked pork, shaved lardo, kiss of salt, microgreen.

Finished plates only needed a short taxi ride to the table, but as soon as you put two down, they were gone. For two solid hours, the chef was “encouraging” us to work faster – “let’s sell ‘em!” “let’s go!” “faster!” “go, go, go!” By the end I was so wired I couldn’t calm down. Everything I did was faster, faster, faster. Go, Go, Go!

I knew about this fast-paced, constant stress, wide-eyed environment from my days waiting tables back in my teens and twenties. It’s actually what made me put cooking on the side for the past 15 years – well, that and having to work when everyone else is having fun.

It’s like your pants are on fire and there ain’t nothing to put them out. Chicken with head cut off scenario – you get it. For a second, did I miss office life?! AHHH!

Well I obviously didn’t get enough break between then and class on Tuesday because I felt defeated even before we got started. Sitting in lecture I was dreading the pants on fire to come. The running from here to there, crap I have the wrong pot, who took the strainer, where is my butter, seven knife cuts in 50 minutes, how much stock do we have…repeat for six hours.

Our individual production for the day was mayonnaise, hollandaise, blanched broccoli, and consomme. That doesn’t count the team and class production, but I’ll forget that for the purpose of this post. Mayo – wrong bowl, wrong whisk, result: too thin. Blanched broccoli – under seasoned water, result: tasted like crap. Consomme- it’s difficult to describe the process, but the result was undercooked garnish with an undesirable fat layer on top – it’s supposed to be crystal clear.

Then there came the hollandaise. I was so scared that I psyched myself out before I even got started. The first time, miracle!, it actually came together, but the fatal, fatal, fatal flaw…held it warm, or rather I held it hot. When I grabbed it to plate up with a generous pour over my broccoli…broken, broken, broken.

I went through all the fixes I knew – add warm water, add warm water and another yolk, but alas it was done.

I put up my other dishes, rinsed my broccoli and started again. This time I didn’t cook the yolks well enough before adding the butter – disaster number two.

Now my eyes start welling up – really? Am I starting to cry because of fucking hollandaise sauce!? But I couldn’t stop the welling!

At this point in my previous office job, I would have just gone in to my office and closed the door, had a good cry, fixed my make-up and then rejoined society. But here I’m with 18 other classmates in a huge teaching kitchen and I have to get this stupid hollandaise up in the next 15 minutes!

Right now I’m in a team with four other guys, and they were so cute. They so didn’t want to see me cry that they ran around and got butter and pots and bowls and lemons and salt, and helped me through it – thanks, team!

At lunch, I sat pretty silent amongst the classmate chatter. Is this really what I’m in for – two years of pants on fire?! Feeling out of control for six hours straight, twice or more a week? Man, I just want to learn how to cook, not feel my ass burning.

Somebody out there…HELP! Parents, nurses, EMTs, teachers…I’m open for suggestions… – seriously…I need a drink…


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