I get up early three days a week and leave before dawn. It makes me feel like part of the work force to join the daily migration to work via Interstate 80. Luckily, my path is opposite the commute direction as I drive eat to pick up Highway 12. Coming over the hills that separate Vallejo from the rest of Solano County, I sometimes get a nice view of the Sacramento River wetlands reflecting early sunlight.
Crossing through hills on Highway 12, I see lights dotting the dark hills and mountains of Napa and Sonoma county. I like the mystery of what those lights are. By the time I reach Carneros Highway leading to Sonoma, rooftops begin to appear in the now not distant hills, thus ruining my earlier wonder. I come down a vineyard hill, pass a eucalyptus wind break and see a red diner sign, where I turn in and park. It’s cold in the morning, and the land smells of animals and crops. Sometimes the lambs in the field neighboring the parking lot will come greet me. I give them ear scratches and then head in.
The diner is oddly cold in the morning when we open up. Stoves, ovens and fryers have not had the chance to warm the space yet. We immediately get to work, warming up food, stocking the line, finding utensils, making daily salads and putting away deliveries. As soon as the “open” sign is flipped, at least a couple of regulars walk in ready for breakfast. The ticket machine comes to life and it’s “game on.”
Sausage and eggs sizzle bringing the stove and grill to life. The next few hours are primarily dedicated to breakfast dishes. I poach and cook eggs over easy, ladle on hollandaise, cover biscuits with gravy, and make huevos rancheros. I even sling the proverbial hash which comes with an egg sunny side up.
There’s a lot to being a good line cook. First you have to be prepared, which means having everything you need plus back ups. This takes a few times to get right on a new line. Knowing which cooking utensils are going to make your job easier is half the battle. The other half is grabbing those utensils before someone else does. Next is knowing what backups you need. Having to go back to the walk-in during service is not only severely inconvenient, but a major fail. If you go through your back up and need more of something, that’s understandable, but not having a backup is not doing your job. Running out of something entirely on the line is a public shaming worthy offense. Then there’s tickets, but that’s perhaps another post.
To some it may seem a waste for someone of my background and education to be working as a cook. To me though, it’s as though I’ve been training for this for a long time. It requires forethought, attention to detail and split second decision making. Plus, it’s physical, very physical. That’s another post to write about too. I finally feel like I’m doing something I always wanted to do. I enjoy my work and don’t mind being on display as I work in our open kitchen. I remember once, watching a short order breakfast cook at a place in LA. I was fascinated at how he could pump out, order after order and keep track of so many things at once. Now I do that regularly. It’s not uncommon for me to have 3 or four pans going at once plus something in the broiler. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and right now it’s what I do.