Basics: Worked pantry (aka garde manger, if you’re feeling fancy) at The Narrows, the “fine dining option” (yea, hey, snitzy, be impressed) at McCall’s Shore Lodge. About as different from interning at Nectar as it could get. Three people max in Nectar’s little cozy kitchen. Three KITCHENS in the Shore Lodge. Nectar: showed up for service (aka the fun part) around 5, then got fed and then went home by ten. SL: showed up at 2 to prep for 4 hours, stay till anywhere between 10:30 and midnight. And then there’s the seasonal thing. And the hotel thing. It was very very very different. Which was difficult at first, as I wandered around giant walk-in coolers and pretended like I knew what was going on and missed beloved Nectar dearly. Then I realized I was learning, oh, A LOT. How to be a functional part of a big ol’ kitchen and part of a hotel, how to work with strangers, how to peel and de-vein a kajillion shrimp, how to make big vats of sauces, how to set up a pretty plate, how to reduce things and roast things, how to make ten salads a minute, how to not get cranky standing up for eight hours making caesars for strangers.

Now here’s a day in my working life:

1:45 Realize I should probably brush my hair and change out of my swimsuit/pajamas, depending on the weather.

2:00 Leave the house.

2:20 Arrive at SL. Open locker, grab pants, jacket, and apron. Scurry quick quick and change.

2:30 Go upstairs to the Narrows and read over last night’s prep list. Hello Justin, captain of the Narrows, creator of really spicy and really good things. Hello Eddie, tattooed all-purpose chef who makes the greatest creamed corn on the continent and also often rescues us from Heartland Country radio. Hello Cary, veteran pantry man and my constant companion, who saves me when everyone on earth decides it’s probably time for a salad. Hello Tom, sauté/anything else guy who told me a really scary story that involves boiling water and socks and gave me nightmares, but redeemed himself with bomb homemade teriyaki. Hola Johnny, one of a small band of Peruvian brothers who hold a monopoly on Shore Lodge dishwashing. Very hilarious and slightly odd, he helps me practice Spanish when we do menial tasks together. Hi there John Woods, restaurant manager and all-round cool guy who always calls me Anna Cotta and makes me feel important.

2:40-3:20 Wander around (it thankfully became less wander-ful and more purposeful as the weeks went on and I figured out where everything was stashed) in the downstairs kitchen and the four walk-ins (dairy, produce, protein, and prep) getting all the crap I need. Hello all you people downstairs. Hi Jean Pierre, our token Frenchman who has a very cool accent and taught me to make sabayon. Hello Matt, wise man who seems to quietly be in charge. Hello there Pete, my Irish friend who I ask for help an average of 56 times a day and he always lends aid. Also a very cool accent, plus excellent humor. Hi Erin and Consuela, pastry peoples, who make the greatest croissant bread puddings among various other heavenly little things. …Then I waddle upstairs with a five hundred lb. hotel pan piled about two feet high with lettuce and cucumbers and bacon and tomatoes and peaches …

3:20 Start in on the iced tea. This will be the first glass of about 8. If I haven’t already had one at home the one at Fogglifter. Will fade hard without the tea.

3:30-5:30 Prepity prep. Essentially recombine things. Chopping, dicing, blending. Making crostinis, making sauces, cutting lemons, slicing cucumbers, etc. etc. etc. Prep is life. Get country songs stuck deep, deep in the brain. “I’m a redneck woman, I ain’t no high class broad!” Thanks country radio. I hate myself for knowing all the words to every popular country tune.

5:30 Dining room opens. Bar opened at 4, but it’s usually slow for a while. Prep carries on till max 6 (supposedly.)

7 Rush. Lasts until anywhere between 9 (HAHA) and 11. Silently freaking out ensues.

9:30 Things slow. Start cleaning.

9:45 Everyone in the dining room decides they need a creme brulee. Scare Cary by holding the dish in my hand (with a towel) while I wield fire.

10:15 REALLY start cleaning. Flipping containers, (putting crap in new containers) wiping down things, scrounging around for the little plastic wrap or “wee wrap” as Pete calls it, wrapping everything, wiping down the same things another 47 times,

11:30 Everyone else leaves and I wait for dessert orders from that one rat fink-y late table. Help Johhny sort flatware or if I’m feeling REALLY benevolent (this happened max two times) help the waitstaff polish things. The table probably doesn’t order anything. I take stock of desserts, write a note for the pastry ladies, run downstairs, snatch my things, punch out (with the James Bond finger scanner), walk/run depending on energy level and anxiety to get home to the truck, listen to a fuzzy pop radio station since there’s no CD player, get home, and despite the tiredness, read, look at fashion blogs, shower, and finally fall asleep at 2.

WASH, RINSE, REPEAT.

Look at us. Aren’t we sweet?

The days after my time was up I felt really weird. Adrift I guess you could call it. Even though I sometimes dreamt of my days as an employee coming to an end as the nights dragged on, I really liked it. Kitchens have got a unique camaraderie. A “we’re all in this together” kind of thing. Everyone helps everyone, and we’re all members of this weird little universal gang of cooks, late-nighters with creepy burns on our wrists and an an inability to live without snacks. (The snackies thing is quite possibly just me. I got really used to just munching constantly, on hideous strawberries and heels of bread, and now the whole “meal” concept is kind of a struggle.) In the kitchen we know the same lingo and understand the same things. And we all, for some strange reason or another stranger reason, are drawn to this borderline-insane profession. Standing in a sweltering kitchen, cranking out the same dishes for a bunch of strangers sounds like some creative version of hell, but it’s inexplicably intoxicating, thrilling to be a part of the chain that ends with a beautiful plate at someone’s table. And then there’s the food. Can’t forget that little aspect. I truly love just being in the grocery store, so getting paid to be surrounded by food is pretty ideal. So, to end this ramble, after a summer of actually working in a real kitchen and bopping around trying to be Keller in my own kitchen, this food love is certainly here to stay. Culinary school? It’s sounding dull. Working in restaurants? It’s sounding good. Having my own restaurant and also being Bourdain’s TV sidekick and also writing for Saveur and thus basically getting paid to eat and make witty remarks? It’s sounding like my perfect world. However it turns out, I figure at least if I can cook and find some hungry people, I’ll always have friends.

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