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Life On The Line: Kitchen Lessons

Richie Nakano, a line cook at Nopa, chronicles his experience on his blog, linecook415. For the next six weeks, his guest blog will give us a snapshot of life in the kitchen.

Monday.  8:51p.m.  104 covers.

For only the third time in two weeks, Eddie is on the sauté station. After six months working pantry, where he was responsible for preparing cold dishes, he’s been given his shot to move up onto the “hot line”. The night started off quietly enough, but now things are starting to crank.  As we come up on one of the biggest pick-ups of the night, Ann, who is calling tickets (telling the cooks when to prepare and plate the food) slides over and says something quietly to Eddie. He glances at his pans and adjusts his heat. She watches his moves closely.

Sitting at the kitchen counter at Nopa, you get to see a lot—7 cooks, in complete sync with one another, killing a service dead.  But there are so many little moments that you might miss: tiny movements, subtle glances, and quick whispers. They happen all night. Ann will advise Eddie several times over the course of service. As the top sauté cook for the past year, she has a lot of information to share.

Coming off this pick up, Ann starts to build a relentless pace. The boys are struggling to keep up, so I lean in next to her. “You’ve got to pick the right time to push the tempo. Don’t just crank all night—give Eddie a chance to catch up.” I say. Ann nods quietly.  For the rest of the night she controls the pace, and we end up having a good night. There are so many layers of advice being given in the kitchen. It’s the dishwasher training the new guy, Ann helping Eddie, and me training Ann.  At the end of the night, when I’m writing the menu with Laurence (Jossel, the executive chef and owner of Nopa), he will do the same with me.  These moments are hardly noticeable, but they will stick with a cook for the rest of their careers