I had thought the morning shift buzzed loudly and ran like a machine. I was wrong.
It's the night shift where the kitchen shines. The change happens gradually. The din picks up at 2.30 when the line cooks arrive. A pressure hits around 4, when the a.m. shift leaves and front of house arrives. The diners come promptly at 5 o'clock.
I said I wasn't on the line. I was also wrong there.
"You're going to be plating desserts. I'll show you the station at 5.30." A nervous tangle of snakes rises in the pit of my stomach. I wipe my hands on my apron at 5.30 and head to the station. It looks like a battle station. There are pint containers stacked neatly. Bottles. As it's an open kitchen, I'm behind a glass countertop, directly facing customers. Two lowboys filled with ice creams and cakes are at my feet. And the ticket machine, the ever-present ticket machine, is at my left hand.
This is where the dots of sauce go. This is where you place the cake, the garnish, the drizzle. The lights dim and I cut cauliflower florets while waiting, my ears pricked, for the ever present sound for the ticket machine.
I stumble, like everyone does at first. I try to send out the vegan tart with meringue dots. Come back, fix it. I struggle with getting that perfect scoop of ice cream until I learn to start taking the containers out right away when the order comes in and scooping last. Slowly, I get better. I start taking desserts two at a time. Dot ice creams with carrots that look like flower petals. Torch meringues. Draw perfect circles with sauce bottles.
Plating is an art, one that exceptional care must be taken with. This is the final product, the ultimate event, for everyone who touched each component of the dish. This is what the customer sees and it must be perfect and beautiful. Do honor to it, to everyone, with your hands.
At 11.30, I pack up my knives and venture out to the busy Lower East Side.
I'll be back tomorrow.