"Did you check the schedule?!?!? Did you check the schedule?"
"No, not yet, why?"
"You're 'Back Monk' next week girl!"
"What the hell is 'Back Monk'?"
"It's the ravioli station!!!"
"Oh my God, really?!?!?! SWEEEEEET!!!! Um, but why is it called 'Back Monk'?"
"I have no idea."
"Oh putain, me neither."
This is the conversation between me and my best friend at work. She's French and cooking here on a one year visa. And yes, we do gossip in French as much as we possibly can in the hopes that no one around us will understand.
But I'm sure everyone does understand because our body language is just too conspiratorial and my French is simply too remedial. If you took an 8th grade French class you could probably make out what I was saying. Oh heck, if you took an 8th grade Spanish class you could probably figure out what I was saying...
Thank God, you couldn't figure out what she was saying.
So 'Back Monk' really means that I make raviolis, plate lobster carpacio, and help the cold appetizer station out during service until the hot appetizer station needs me more.
Which really means – I finally get to cook over the fire!!!
Still not sure why it's called 'Back Monk'.
And yes, I still turn bright red when I cook. And yes, everyone still makes fun of me. And no, it's nowhere near as hot as the kitchen as Guy Savoy in Paris so I'm not making excuses to get things from the refrigerator like I used to.
I'm so thankful to be doing something different. If you've ever cooked in a restaurant then you will understand what I'm talking about.
Sometimes when I do something over and over and over again I just want to shoot myself in the head. I have to force myself to focus on making the next dish more perfect so I don't become complacent and lazy.
Sounds easy, but it's not. Trust me. Being mindless is not easy.
I mean really, if you had to write the same email or type the same bill, or teach the same lesson to the same class, or operate on the same patient, or drive the same customer from point A to point B day in day out, you would turn to automatic pilot too.
Of course it's reassuring to come into work and know exactly what you're going to do and how much time you have to do it in, and how to prepare for fire drills in advance. But let's face it, it's also boring. Like sharpening 1000 yellow #6 pencils by hand every day.
So speaking of boring, there are two things that are quite the opposite: 'Back Monk' and my 'Love Life'.
I'm thinking that my 'Love Life' should be a station at the restaurant as well. Since it seems to flow in and out of the time I spend at work, I think it could (at this point) be considered a job. I'm unsuccessfully working pretty damn hard at it.
I should be getting payed for it dammit. Minimum wage at least.
Back to ravioli's... ravioli's are a life saver. Why? Because I've begun to realize that relationships have a lot to do with ravioli.
Have you ever made pasta dough? First you weigh out the flour (that's you) then you carefully pick out the yolks from the whites of countless eggs (that's your significant other that you've sorted through).
Then you make a well in your flour (that's you again) and place the yolks in the center (that's the significant other again).
Then you put the mixer on low speed with a dough hook that gently combines you and the other person, ooops I mean flour and egg yolks, until you are somewhat mixed together.
Then you add water (commitment?) and all of a sudden the flour/egg mixture starts to turn into real pasta dough that is stretchy but manages to maintain its balled state (oneness) as it's whipped around the mixing bowl by a large metallic dough hook (metaphor for life putting you through the wringer?).
And, if your pasta dough is perfect it will maintain good elasticity, sheen, suppleness, and finally it will handle the automatic pasta machine which, is like a close-up print out or photo copy of your relationship.
You put both of you together (with some water or commitment) through the automatic pasta maker and you either come out: too wet, not wet enough, crinkly and in need of more flour, or crackly and in need of more water, or perfectly supple and smooth.
Damn, that shit's not easy to get right.
But, with practice, and perhaps mistakes as well, it all comes out in one long paper thin strip of moldable pasta dough. And from this point, you can get really experimental.
The first week at the ravioli station went smoothly. Relatively. There were a few hiccups along the way, but nothing unexpected or unacceptable. Nothing to get yelled over.
My second week at the ravioli station included Valentines day. Dough, egg yoks, water – knead I say more?
Our restaurant was slammed for Valentine's day. I mean booked to the gills. And we were all excited about it. Honestly, it's fun to cook when the restaurant is full to bursting. All of us prefer it. We cook better, we work better, we have more fun when the restaurant is packed.
But my valentines day kind of took a dive off the high board into an empty cement pool.
I received divorce papers on my way to work.
Still having trouble getting the dough right....
I showed up to work laughing with tears running down my face. I bummed a cigarette off a fellow cook who was counting his last few moments before entering the abyss for 12 hours. He looked at me cockeyed, handed me a smoke, and asked, "Are you okay? You look like you could use a shot of something...."
To which I could only reply, "Is my masacara all over my face right now?"
To which he gracefully responded, "No, no one will notice. You look fine."
(Liar.) "Thanks, thanks for the smoke..."
I called my husband who thankfully, being the good guy that he is, (yes, we still talk about each other in the positive and are very close friends) was as shocked as I was. The papers were sent a whole week before and I had been expecting them – just not on Saturday morning. It was an untimely accident.
But the fact still remained: I received papers on Valentines day. And I had to go into work and stare at flour and egg yolks working themselves out in a bowl. And then I had to put the dough through the pasta machine and give it attention and ... thank God I had to give it attention...being busy and under pressure and maybe even somewhat mindless is better than thinking about reality at times.
I would much rather be thinking about the present than freaking out over the future.
God, I love pasta. Is this why it's considered comfort food?
As much as I forced myself to focus on making pasta my stomach was also forcing me not to think about food. I couldn't even smell food without wanting to throw-up.
I didn't eat. Not one single thing. Just one cup of coffee and one cigarette.
I began my shift on the cold appetizer line making stunning barely cooked fish starters and 2 hours later was called up to the hot line to help the hot appetizers cooks. Here, normally I would have been nervous with the anticipation of a new station and a new challenge but instead I was just shaky with apprehension and simply loss of love.
How doing the mundane, the boring, the rote, could have been such a godsend on this dark day. Oh well.
Why is the power of love so underestimated? When full of it we ride higher than the moon, and when empty with it we sink lower than the sun.
I want none of it.
(such a lie, I want all of it!)
I no sooner got to the hot line during the middle of the second seating when one of the cook's frantically asked that I re-stack the plates. I scuttled hurriedly to the dish pit to grab clean plates carrying a stack that normally would have been challenging, but not heavy.
I placed half on the dish rack next to the station and the other half I attempted to place up above the piano (the stove top) where we keep all of our plates warm.
I lifted the plates and my arms gave out. I was only an inch away from making the connection – my arms outstretched and elbows locked – but something gave way and the stack fell with an embarrassing crash onto the hot grill underneath.
Only one plate broke in the stack. But, I panicked. It was like something cracked inside my brain, a little tiny blood vessel bursting and yet single handedly causing a flood.
The other two hot apps cooks rushed in to clear the plates and re-group. But I simply took a step back and tried to focus on the present. No one yelled at me, no one said a word about it the whole night. Thank God for small favors.
And thank God for the excellent team I work with who often get on my nerves, and more often than not, calm them.
My shift ended on a positive note. I got to cook on the hot and cold line and make fresh pasta off and on throughout the evening. The executive chef ordered the kitchen crew several bottles of champagne to quench our desires, our thirsts, and to say goodbye to two beloved externs who have made life more bearable over the last few months.
I ducked out shortly after finishing my glass of bubbly to cry a little on my own in the girl's locker room and just release.
It was certainly not the best day in my life, and most certainly the worst Valentine's day I have ever had.
But you know, it's always nice to finally feel free to start the whole pasta making process over again...