I hate to burst your bubble; but professional kitchens are rarely quintessential pictures of perfectly polished stainless steel, starched white chef jackets and militant cooks. Most kitchens of the pros, especially high volume beasts where I spent most of my career, are filled with high energy, loud voices, quick “squirrel in traffic” like movements, spills, burnt croutons and definitely a walk-in ghost.
The “walk-in”, which often doubles as a temporary office for discussing on the spot annoyances, is the large refrigerator where most kitchens store the majority of their goods, and the bane of existence for most kitchen management. Its contents live on floor to ceiling shelving around the perimeter and are categorized and are constantly organized throughout the day. Dairy goes over here, raw meats over there, prepped items ready for someone’s station in clear deli containers live together on their own section of real estate, and so on. Rightfully annoyed managers spend hours in this cold box daily monitoring the flow, readying it nightly for the am deliveries. They rotate product, break down boxes, make an accurate prep list for the morning crew, and inevitably swing open the walk-in door during the process to get in someone’s ass. Bum, bum, bum…(law and order tune) here are some of their stories.
Boxes that have one item left in them, but still taking up valuable shelf space and playing tricks on managers placing nightly orders. Or the twin of this; the cook took the last item and left the box completely empty because they were “too busy” to remove it. Both of which, totally annoying.
One of these things is not like the other. The case of the displaced item. Cooks open the door and put the item on the closest shelf totally aware it doesn’t belong there. Better yet, they come in to grab something and in order to get to what they need they have to jockey containers around, that never get put back in their home. Perhaps the walk-in ghost will put them back when the door closes.
Labels that don’t match contents. Professional kitchen are held to very high standards by local health departments, (and hopefully the food souls of the chefs who run them). Storage containers, which are usually clear, require thorough labeling. Name of item, date it was processed, last date it can be served, initials of the preparer, preferably all written in black sharpie marker (that isn’t dried out and scratchy.) Spelling bee champs don’t often work in kitchens; hence, labels are often filled out by how the item sounds to the cook. Crème anglaise the classically prepared vanilla custard base/sauce was just found in my walk-in with label reading; Cream on Glaze. Celery or carrot scraps are usually always scarps, not scraps. This past weekend chicken wings and thighs that were brined at the same time were placed in containers labeled for the other. Not so fun on a busy Saturday night when ticket times matter more than ever and you quickly run in for a restock.
The best however is the presence of every cooks frigid friend and scapegoat, the walk-in ghost.
It is rare for cooks to own up to spilling a quart of meticulously tiny diced veggies, knocking over a gallon of scratch made blue cheese dressing, or squishing a cheesecake by accidentally putting a tray of avocados on top of it. When the walk-in door flies open and a manager pops out and asks, “Does anyone know why there’s fig bbq sauce dripping down every shelf? (It’s final destination, the tub of rubbed but uncooked brisket on the bottom shelf)…. or “How did the cheese platter for tonight’s party end up under that case of baby spinach? “Does anyone know anything about this?”…. it’s like looking out into a sea of blank faces. Sometimes you’ve even narrowed it down logically in your head and you have a few potential culprits in your direct sight line, and you are watching their faces for a reaction.
No one ever comes clean.
It must have been the walk-in ghost.