Im a big sports fan. Im the type of person, when I have tickets to a game, I show up three hours before kick-off. Its not that I want to reserve my space, or tailgate, or heckle the opposing team. Its because Im almost as interested in what happens before the game as I am in the final result. Actually, Im usually bored and off to the parking lot before the final whistle. Way before it.
I swear Ive said it a thousand times: A professional kitchen is like a sports team. And each nights service is very similar to a competitive game.
My favorite part of any sporting event is the moment where the teams enter the field: the team huddle, the players getting themselves prepared. The coach may be yelling. He may be singling people out. In sports, and maybe kitchens as well, this is motivation. The team gives the last rallying cry and soon after the drums and fireworks, run full speed onto the pitch. In a restaurant, this happens as well, sans fireworks and drums.
Its called lineup.
In most cases it begins with staff meal. A tray or two of odds and ends. Scraps and trim hastily prepared by whomever drew the short straw. Id like to say its always the best of the best, but its a quickfire with no consequence and a pain in the ass for those throwing it together. But of course, every real cook cant help but want things to be delicious. And most of these messes are just that. Tasty comfort food.
Both front and back of the house employees file in to fill up plates with cheap pasta tossed with random vegetable tips, bits, and peelings. And as they drip that ranch dressing (that the front of house just had to have) on those salad greens, the chef and GM will begin a sort of pep rally.
Whos in the huddle? Its like a middle school dance. Front of the house on one side and the back of the house on the other. Offense and Defense. Same goal but drastically different tactics and mentality. The cook and server that are secretly dating. The know-it-all, the one that answers all the questions about food and animal husbandry. The line cook whos itching to get back to the kitchen because he knows his station is a bordello. At least one hungover bartender. One waiter, studiously prepared for note taking. Always present: one server eating Chick-Fil-A (yes, this does piss off the kitchen). And usually a random purveyor of wine, getting ready to make their bread.
A bad lineup will only introduce new items or announce those that are 86d. Without proper leadership these few minutes can turn quickly into a gripe session, or a poorly run town meeting. But good ones (and Ill brush my shoulder here, as I give a great line up, or so Ive read in the employee bathroom stalls), can be invaluable educational moments. They can bond the front and back of house together like a busy Saturday night. And they can leave the staff, the family, the team with that same feeling that I imagine professional athletes have as they scream through a dark tunnel into a lit stadium.
What gets discussed at a good line up? (Besides how the salad proves Kenny is not ready to work Garde Manger solo?)
Ingredients are waxed about poetically. If you get a server beautifully rhapsodizing about how the cheese comes from a goat named Raquel, it was probably spawned from a great lineup. Ever have a server explain in detail that the sauce is lumpy because thats how the chefs Grandma does it? Well, theres a good chance Hazel was at the days lineup (either that or the chef uses corn starch as a shortcut). Have a captain explain in GPS detail how the steep slopes benefit a Cotes du Rhone? Either hes Greg Koetting or he just sat through a tasting of the region a few hours earlier.
Education makes up the first half. Next up is strategy. We talk about the starting lineups, the positions, the turf. The plays and the playmakers. How were going to turn the dining room five times in one evening without a break. Why its not ok to clear a guests plate before their dining companion is done eating. Why its not good business practice to smoke around the restaurant premises. And of course, a daily run down of whos saying what on what blog, and APBs on people we know we could be seeing tonight.
Questions, comments, concerns?
Lineup only runs around 15 minutes, but if theres enough energy and motivation provided, its enough to inspire and leave your staff charging out to their stations. Finishing up the warm ups and ready for the challenge ahead.
In this case, tempura batter charged in an iSi whipper that the chef uses because it maintains a freshness not capable when using traditional methods. Its inspired by the time he spent in London. Its a remix on a recipe developed by Air France chefs in the Seventies and uses herbs grown in our sous chefs sisters garden.................
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