Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cooking in an Alien Kitchen

Today is Mother's Day, and after the perfect storm trifecta (early Mother's Day celebrations, Handley High School prom, and Shenandoah University graduation) hit us last night, I awoke dog tired this morning to go down to the kitchen and cook the obligatory Mother's Day brunch.

I really don't mind cooking brunch, except that on this particular day every year, I am exhausted and would rather sleep than do anything else. Have you ever noticed that when you are really tired, that it is easier to do things by rote, to find and do things without thinking?

I was in this mode while I was cooking today and I kept thinking that nothing was in the correct place and it felt as though I were cooking in a strange kitchen, even though it is my own. Part of the problem, setting aside the exhaustion for a moment, is that I spend very little time in my home kitchen, less than an hour a week.

I am so much more attuned to the restaurant kitchen, where I know exactly where everything is, without having to search for it. And having everything to hand is half of the battle in cooking.

Moreover, while I have a vast kitchen at home, one of my own design, I have found that I like cooking in the smaller restaurant kitchen better. The compactness in part enforces efficiency and in part promotes it. When designing my home kitchen, I followed the rule of thumb that aisles should be four feet wide. And while this is great for working while having two toddlers and a dog screaming about and for hosting parties where everyone jams into the kitchen, it is not all that efficient.

In the restaurant kitchen, I have narrowed the aisle between the hot line (where we cook) and the line of counters and refrigerators behind the hot line to at most three feet and a little under three feet in some spots. The advantage is that with my big wingspan, I can stand in the middle of the aisle and reach both sides without moving. After this, I feel like I am cooking in an airplane hangar at home.

And I really do miss a lot of other things about the restaurant kitchen when cooking at home, not the least of which is that all my good knives, the ones with which my hands are totally comfortable, are at work. Another big bonus at work is having towels everywhere and a linen service to deal with the laundry.

At home, I miss the vast quantities of ice from the icemaker and the pot of barely boiling water that never leaves the back of the range. If I need to blanch vegetables or cook pasta, it's done in a relative heartbeat.

In the restaurant kitchen, we have no cabinets and drawers for things to hide in. The kitchen's not for show, it's for grabbing things as fast as possible and not having to worry about having pristine hands all the time. Speaking of which, there are boxes of gloves at each station in the restaurant kitchen that I miss when at home.

By my stove at home, there's no bain marie of tasting spoons, so when I need to taste, I have to walk to the far end of the kitchen for the silverware drawer, which is located where it is to facilitate setting the dinner table. If I spent any time at all in my home kitchen, I'd locate tasting spoons at the range, but we already know I don't cook at home.

I miss trashcans everywhere like we have at work. At home, they'd be both unsightly and way too tempting for the pooch. Too bad. I also miss the high volume water faucet at work: drawing a gallon of water takes about twelve seconds.

Finally, I miss the vast triple sink at work for scrubbing pots and pans and the high-volume dish machine that runs a rack in two minutes. That so makes clean up a breeze.

And now you know why I feel like I'm cooking in an alien kitchen at home: it's because I, like most chefs, am spoiled at work where our kitchens are designed for function and not aesthetics.

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