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Guest Blogger Jamie Lauren: Kitchen Tale #1

Introducing the first of our guest food blogger series. For six weeks, Tuesdays are your chance to get inside the mind of everyone from a Top Chef contestant (yes, like Jamie) to a food stylist to a dishwasher to a farmer. Get to know how they live, breathe and, most importantly, eat San Francisco.

Being a chef is not as glamorous as it might seem. Unless you’re Daniel Boulud or Eric Ripert with a full-on entourage, it’s early mornings and late nights spent in the kitchen trying to retain some semblance of control.

Take a recent day: I hit the snooze button three times after the 7 am buzzer went off, showered, dressed and began a slow jog from the Castro to Absinthe, where I work as the executive chef, in Hayes Valley. Arriving sweaty and bleary-eyed, I said hi to my all-male crew and headed upstairs to change into chef whites.

Then the craziness began. We had a Bartender’s Guild Lunch for 30 (50 actually showed) and a 20-person dinner. A full house was expected in the dining room and the bar, not to mention the symphony started at 8 pm, which meant 120-plus hungry people, each demanding about three courses at exactly the same time.

After ripping apart the walk-in, reorganizing and throwing things away (this is my one completely obsessive-compulsive habit)—and finding we have no red peppers, baby romaine, kumquats, or shallots, all needed for lunch service in three hours—I stepped into my one-foot by one-foot space to begin making celery root soup. Lunch service, as usual, meant too many burgers and tuna confit niçoise to count. By about 3 pm I took a break for my first meal of the day: a chocolate chip cookie, chickpea salad and a bottle of Smart Water. I quickly read through Eater and Michael Bauer’s blog.

Then dinner:
5 pm: Scanned reservations book for VIPs. Found four.
5:30 pm: The shit storm started.
5:45 pm: Every person showed up late and with the symphony starting time looming, guests were still ordering two-plus courses. The salad station was in the weeds and the plates were going out looking right.
6 pm: Quality control. I used makeup sponges to clean the plates before they went out.
6:20 pm: We were still getting reamed. One hundred were still sitting, all demanding food at the same time.
6:45 pm: Lost an entire four-top because they waited too long for their food and the symphony called. Thirty people arrived to dine in the PDR. It’s super-duper fun to be a chef.
7 pm: Felt really bad—comp’ed a lot of food. Headed into the twelfth hour of work.
7:30 pm: Met a Top Chef fan. She flew in from NY to meet me. She gave me her phone number (and then Facebook friended me!).
8:45: Left for the evening. The kitchen still did 150 more covers and served until midnight.
9:30 pm: Had two drinks at Eureka in the Castro and a few bites of mac ‘n’ cheese. Watched the midnight airing of Top Chef. Surreal.