"Amy stop freaking out. It's just food."
"I'm not freaking out."
"It's written all over your face. It's just food."
"It's not just food. It's NOT just food. How can you say that? I have tons of mise en place to finish by 4:30P.M. and I'm not even close."
"It will get done."
"Yeah, but not by 4:30 P.M. and I have to set up the station and I don't even know where it all goes yet and I haven't even toasted the croutons or plated the..."
"Look. It's just food."
"Are you crazy? If you have nothing to do then why don't you help me out?!?!"
(laughs) "Sorry, I have to get back to my station. But Amy, really – it's just food..."
"Don't talk to me."
It's irritating when a 25 year old hot shot departs sage words of cooking wisdom to a freaked out in-the-shitz 34 year old. Even more enlightening when he's absolutely right. Damn, I hate that.
It's just food.
This new cooking mantra, as I've learned, can be applied to everything that is spinning out of control – it's just a haircut, it's just money, it's just work, it's just New York, it's just ...
Of course the reality is that food is not just food. You've got to care deeply about it to spend day and night in a kitchen. And we all care. But it's not a life or death situation either. It might seem that way at the time, but it's not. Hence, the beauty of the "It's just..." mantra.
Some cooks have mastered the art of making total chaos look like a beautifully choreographed tango. Some enjoy it, live for it, get high on it. And then there's me who, if not 100 percent prepared by the time the first reservation rolls around, starts to panic.
Panic and fear helps no one in the kitchen. Or in life. When I start to freak in the kitchen here's what happens: I do everything ass backwards. Even the muscles in my hands that know how to chop, cut, dice, and slice better than my brain ever will start second guessing themselves and all my preparation turns out like merde.
I make bad decisions. I don't finish tasks completely. I spend half my time going and back and forth to the walk-in refrigerators to grab items I should have taken all at once the first time around.
I waste time.
I cut corners causing myself to re-do things I should have done correctly to begin with. Like maybe I should have dipped the apples in the lemon water before cooking them and letting them turn brown? Or perhaps I should have used the baby carrots the sous chef talked about the previous day instead of the regular carrots? How about making the brunoise a brunoise not a mish-mash of different sizes? Or plating the salmon like I was shown – not like I was in a hurry?
I can't think, prioritize, or organize.
My inner voice starts screaming: I am a complete and total failure. I suck. Shoot me now. Why am I here? You're too old. Too slow. Too, too, too...
But really, it's just food...