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Diary of a Line Cook

Never Step Out of the Rhythm and Into Your Head

What's More Distracting: Steak or Ego?

Beware of Big Steaks and Big Egos © Klas Fahlén

New Yorker Alfia Muzio, a former lawyer, currently works as a line cook at Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn.

I was overconfident. Maybe even showing off a little. There was a new guy in the kitchen, and perhaps I was a little anxious to prove that I knew something about sauté. My sous-chef had left me in her spot: expediting, plating, buffering between the front of house and the cooks. She had faith in me; I wanted to do it right! I was sure I could! So when the order for the big steak came in, I puffed out my chest a little, no sweat! I could lead the line through one big, very expensive steak! It was a slow night; I’d give that steak my full attention. If I needed back up, my sous-chef was downstairs, within earshot.

I was having a professorial moment with the new guy, explaining how I like to crisp the skin of the duck, just like so. Very pleased with myself. I pulled tickets as they strolled in, bossily calling out tickets to my grill cook, who, while I was busy lecturing the new guy, was becoming increasingly overwhelmed. “Hey, this steak has been up for a while…” Oh. Right. The big steak. I looked up. “A while” was already five minutes too long. And there was an eight-minute fish going with it. And two pork chops. And three burgers. Wait, no, five burgers. One of them well-done.

I snapped out of my leisurely know-it-all evening and realized my kitchen was suddenly in the weeds. A manager marched in to the kitchen, unhappy, demanding to know what could possibly be taking so long. A few servers followed behind him, their brows furrowed, nails clicking on the pass, drumming nervously. The kitchen devolved into a tense standoff. I called my sous-chef in too late, there was nothing she could do now. We just had to wait it out.

I plated in crowded silence while the increasingly agitated servers looked on. They started to run the food as I passed the finished plates. We held our breath. A big sigh of relief from the cooks when we were told the customers were all very happy with their meals.

Afterward, my chef talked me through my errors. He chided me to remember how quickly time passes in the kitchen. Right, I thought, and it passes even faster when I’ve got my head up my ass.

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