Kitchens create a very unique dynamic. Kitchen crews are called a brigade in the fine dining restaurants of the world. They are so named because it is tremendously militaristic. You have a chain of command that you follow, you have your hierarchy that makes certain that chain of command is followed at each step, you have rules and regulations that are not broken or questioned, and you generally have someone yelling at you under intense heat and pressure.
Kitchens all over the world also call their staff a family. This is because we are, in every sense of the word, family. We spend at least eight hours of our day together and we usually do that at least five if not six or even seven days a week. After we finish our day the adrenaline that courses through our veins does not allow for sleep, or calm, or any kind of quiet; and so we usually all band together and do something outside of work as well. This takes our grand total of hours spent together in a day to as many as ten to sixteen (occasionally twenty four or even forty eight), depending on one’s tolerance for work conversation and/or alcohol consumption.
I’ve also heard the term “crew” used to describe the motley bunch of people that make up a restaurant staff as well. This is a nod to Mafioso, both old and new. We are literally a crew. A band of crazy people willing to do anything and everything to get the job done. There are lots of sharp objects and blunt instruments involved. We sometimes have to threaten or coerce our food to do what we ask of it. There’s a lot of swearing, a lot of private nods and side long glances, and a secret handshake that no one will ever say anything about to you because nothing ever leaves the crew.
Whatever name you give us, the fact remains, we’re generally in it for the long haul. And in as much, we become brothers in arms. There are two brothers on my current crew whom have served with me for a goodly portion of their lives already, and they are still young.
When I worked at Walker’s they started out as dishwashers. I’m not going to say they were doing so outside of any child labor laws but I will say they had to stand on milk crates to reach the bottom of the sink. I’m purely joking; we always go by the book in this industry, nobody has ever been behind a stove or at the fryer unless they were of age to do so and not a single person has ever had to tiptoe to pass the “you must be this tall to work in a kitchen” test. If you don’t believe me ask Anthony Bourdain, he’ll grin and back me up on this.
The boys I am speaking of, and they are truly men now but because of my advanced age they’ll always be “the boys” to me, are Christian and Adam. I’ve withheld their last names because
a) it’s really none of your business and
b) sometimes we have to wait for statute of limitations to finish out before full names can be released
Adam was the first to start in the dish pit at Walker’s while I was there. As things are wont to do it got very busy and very hectic and people quit, such is the nature of a dish pit. And because almost everyone in this industry has their job because of a friend, Adam called Christian, and the two began their work. You could not find two better dishwashers. They were small and lithe and could squeeze between guys on the line and grab pans from the catch without getting burned, hit, or yelled at. Like mice in the night, we generally never knew they were there. Thus began the burning passion in them to do more.
Some people will never go further than the dish pit. This is noble because that is no easy task. But when the fire starts to burn inside you, you’ll want your taste of the line. Christian and Adam both got their taste at Italia. When I was running Italia Adam had been there since nearly the beginning. He started doing saute, which is to say that he was in charge of all the pasta dishes and the vegetable accompaniments that went with entrees. This means he was one of the busiest human beings in the world. It was an Italian joint after all, that’s a lot of pasta to be putting out. Some time passed, and the crew shifted, and we lost a brother only to have Christian step into his place. This is when the two became cemented as my boys. No matter what now, they will always hold court in my heart and they will have my support in any endeavor they should take in this life, be it with me or in lands far away.
Together, the three of us ran Italia to perfection. Adam held saute together, Christian ran grill, and the world was smooth. You cannot fathom the amount of pasta we rolled, the amount of pizzas we sold, or the amount of Vinnie’s Chicken Picatta we pumped out of that kitchen. If you want more details on that, you have to come to a cooking class and listen to me tell war stories from way back when.
There is always a tremendous amount of controlled chaos that happens in a busy kitchen, refer back to the adrenaline and after work alcohol consumption, and we handled it all with grace.
There was the night of the Elton John concert when it was only Adam and I there on what we expected would be a quiet Sunday and we ended up serving 140 people in two hours.
Then there was the night that it rained so hard the storm drains backed up and I had to lock up Italia’s back room and build a dam with rags so the dining room wouldn’t flood while Christian and Adam ran dinner service alone. That meant doing the regular entrees, appetizers, and pastas in one room and then running to another room to do the dessert, salads, and dish washing.
Or the time that Adam was off and Christian and I got stuck doing an event as well as dinner service and we spent our entire afternoon hand rolling 300 meatballs to serve to a themed wedding party in the back room.
These are men you see by my side all the time. Christian is my sous chef, and Adam is my lead line. There isn’t a single detail or dish that does not get scrutinized by them before it gets created or served. And when you look at them, I’m sure you see hardened men busy at their work and capable of commanding hundreds. You are not wrong in that at all. But you don’t know them the way I know them as my brothers in arms.
You do not know that Christian uses his vacation time to hop trains and ride across the country. That Bluegrass music inspires him to think deeper. That he reads books on quantum physics and string theory as well as French sauces and food histories. He knows that doing good creates good in the world and that you live by a code that’s hard and honest. He’s shy, but bold. A hopeless romantic at heart to whom the word hurt is foreign, only because he knows it so well. That it was either the kitchen or a doctorate in philosophy, and that now he maintains both. And that he will stand up and defend any soul incapable of doing it for themselves.
You do not know that Adam is a genius at reading the human condition and facial expressions. That he’s a Romeo in every sense of the word. That he listens to a diverse plethora of rap music ranging from its infancy to its modern amalgamations. That he has not one, but two nicknames, depending on the circle of friends he’s in. That his memory is so extensive and solid that he remembers the names of people who worked with us for only a matter of a few days and can recall not only their given name, but nick names and histories as well. If I stare at you blankly and lean to Adam, it’s because he’s telling me you are so and so from such and such.
I suppose I should say you didn’t know these things, but now you do. But you only know a fraction of a fraction; because we’ve been together since the beginning and so we know all the history. The painful stuff, the hilarious stuff, the traumatic and triumphant stuff; we know all that, because we’re brothers in arms. And that’s thicker than blood, water, lead, or molasses.
I’d step in front of a bullet for my boys, and there are a scant few in this world I can truly say I’d do that for. And fewer still where that might ever actually be possible of happening!
But I can say I’d do it with the pride, honor, and reverence that they’ve given me these past long years. I do what I do because they stand at my side and I’m capable of what has been accomplished because of their passion and drive. And one day, in the near future, their reward will be great and lasting.
They already rule the world, but one day they’ll rule more. So the next time you see us on the line, know that we are a brigade, we are a crew, and we are family. We’ve done the dance before and we’ll continue to do it in days to come. That’s what brothers do.