The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
Jules woke up refreshed. She had a good night's sleep, dreaming about the new restaurant. She had a real good vision of what she wanted to do. She had always dreamed of a brand new kitchen; and knew exactly what she wanted to do. She wanted the most organized, clean, state of the art facility in the city. She only hoped she could do it.
She had finally left her last job. The week had seemed like a month. Mark, her boss, had turned into a real pompous ass. He treated her like trash for the last week. She had offered to help out on the weekends if he wanted her to, but here was no way now. She was going to concentrate on the grand opening. Four weeks until the "Pre-opening party".
The pre-opening party was actually just a "dry" run. That was the night where the guests where all by invitation only, the food was all free, and the servers and cooks got to go through the motions. Four weeks seemed like an eternity when Jules looked at the calendar. But then she looked at the menus, schedules, budgets, kitchen drawings, vendors lists. She had a lot to do. Her job was to turn the pile of papers and empty room with some ranges in it into a functional state of the art kitchen. She had to hire and train a staff; but most of all she had to get that first dish to the first guest hot, delicious and beautiful.
Where to start? There was so much to do. Jules decided to organize her priorities. She split the tasks into a couple of lists. Each list had a folder. One was titled "The Kitchen." It was to apply to all the equipment needs, layout and anything else to do with the physical kitchen itself. The next was "The Menu." Obviously, this contained menu information including recipes, descriptions, costing information, ingredient lists and anything else to do with the menu itself. And then there was "The Staff." This folder got all the applications, scheduling information and all of the paperwork required to hire staff. And then there was "The Vendors." This file was full of brochures, product and price lists, credit applications and lots of business cards.
The Staff folder was pretty full of information. She browsed through the applications, resumes and letters. Nothing outstanding, she thought. There were a few with some potential; and she put them aside starting a list with phone numbers and names. She phoned the ones on her list, scheduled some interviews, and decided it was time to take a break.
Walking through the kitchen she imagined what it would be like when it was all finished. She could see herself, dressed in monogrammed chef jacket, supervising her staff. Cooks diligently working, sautéing, flambeing, tossing salads, garnishing plates... She couldn't wait.
Next she decided to start with the menu. She made a few revisions to it; but in general planned on going with the menu that Scott and Jamie had given her. The menu was creative, and the plate presentations would be totally up to her. She went through the recipes and made up ordering lists. She contacted a few of her previous purveyors and set up some appointments. They were all so nice to her, the opportunity to sell always put them in a good mood.
The next few days would be busy. Jules met with Scott and Jamie, reviewed the menu, staffing, budget costs, and the physical plant. Scott and Jamie wanted the kitchen to be perfect. Their philosophy was that the food and service had to perfect and consistent. The only way to establish that was to have systems and procedures for everything from sweeping the floor to plating a dessert. Jules agreed, and explained how each thing was to be done. Then she took to the task of putting it all in writing.
Over the next few days she interviewed staff, contacted some of her old staff, and placed a couple more help wanted ads. She met with the purveyors, and started ordering food to be delivered the week before the scheduled opening. She went through the paces of organizing the storage rooms. She decided where everything was to be kept, what and where everything would be, and a rough idea of how much she should keep in stock. Her "par" levels would be estimates. She knew they'd change before long.
Time flew by. The first couple of weeks were well paced and busy. The second two weeks were crazy. Solving problems, getting the health license and occupancy permits were big hurdles. The equipment wasn't all in, the refrigeration wasn't working properly, things were crazy. Long days and organization paid off. Four weeks wasn't much time; but she managed to get it all done. She had manuals for every position. Everyone from the Dishwasher to the Sous Chef had a job description and training manual. She was ready. Her staff looked good, the kitchen was beautiful, and the food was delicious. She was nervous; but it was time for opening night!
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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