Nectar: Looking Out From In

September 13, 2010

restaurant apprentice at nectar

Through a window to the kitchen, I used to watch the Nectar line cooks in their white jackets with their heads down. I used to wonder what they were chopping or sautéing or saucing. But now, hungry friends, I’m one of those cooks. I spend long hours in the cramped quarters of Nectar’s kitchen and I’m proud to say that I can work the dishwasher and locate the ladles and I can even make you some aioli if you’re in the mood.

You know what else? You look good out there! While you’re busy devouring some of the city’s finest food, I’m taking a peek at you and I’m cracking a sneaky little half smile. You know why? Because sometimes I catch you peeking up at me, too. And then there we are–locked in a millisecond of mutual wonder.

Of course, between you and me, it’s not always magic and sunshine. Sometimes my legs feel thick and heavy like tree stumps. Sometimes I wonder if I should be more assertive or less assertive or if I should simply have my head examined for wondering about either. And sometimes there’s an enormous bucket of tomatoes to sort, cut and core.

But here’s the thing. I’m flanked by cooks who are inherently cool and who are supremely talented. Cooks who’ve earned their place at the sauté station because for years they’ve followed orders and they’ve shown up and cored tomatoes and known their place. And now they work this job and they probably work another job, too, and they know what the word work means. Some people don’t know what that word means, but they know it in their bones.

I’ve spent my life in restaurants being catered to and being wined and being dined and having strong opinions about both. But after having experienced the heat, the boredom, the chaos, the ritual–it’s hard to imagine ever writing about food the same way. The truth will come out, I suppose, it always does. But even more than ever, it’ll be edged in profound respect. The kind that only comes when you’ve looked outside from the inside.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

RLeinberger September 13, 2010 at 5:50 pm

@Epiventures love the post and I need to make it over there, so I can admire your hard work!

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Jen September 13, 2010 at 10:50 am

I worked in restaurants from the time I was 16 to the time I was 23. And while I never cooked, I was a hostess, server, busboy, dishwasher, and expediter. I have a profound appreciate for what goes on in restaurants and find that I enjoy my experiences dining out immensely more because of that. I also think that influences the way I experience food as well, even in my own home kitchen.

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Courtney September 13, 2010 at 11:09 am

Yeah, you’re so right. So much work goes into it. I did some front of the house stuff in high school but the kitchen’s my favorite place to be. Great that you’ve played so many different roles and have an even greater appreciation for food.

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justmarylou September 16, 2010 at 11:25 am

Never have worked in any aspect of restaurant… but have eaten in MANY different places, most not the quality of Nectar but I have always had profound respect for anyone working in that industry. It is never easy and how some people can treat servers or table bussers or staff with anything less than courtesy amazes me. It is HARD work.. thanks Courtney for your unique perspective.. will have to get to Nectar sometime soon..

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Bill September 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm

It amazes me when people come thru our kitchen for a tour the look on there face is in shock and awe just watching the kitchen work. Even better is people sitting at the kitchen table, the other night the kitchen table was occupied by 7 people and they just acted like it was there kitchen. They helped us plate up amuse-bouche, and were just watching over us and smiling and just had so much fun.

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