For our meal service with about 80 covers I was graced with being the sous chef for prep and service. Needless to say I was a little stressed out. I had been in leadership positions before but this was a new territory for me. I was happy to take on the task though. Chaos is where I tend to shine. Being a sous chef however, I got a little more chaos than I bargained for. Five different stations, beef, pork, chicken, seafood, soup & salad. Each with it’s own plethora of hurdles to overcome. Some stations were stronger than others so as a sous chef I had to shift personnel to assure tasks were completed including jumping on a few myself.
The pork had to be rubbed and fired early, the steak had to be butterflied, stuffed, make sure the vinegarette taste was on point, all the while, making sure even though speed was crucial, food safety was paramount and quality was produced.
The night before I sat down and did what’s called “backwards planning”. A strategy used in the military where you start your planning at the NO LATER THAN time and work backwards. I made a mental mise en place however, just like in the military, sometimes you have to call a “FRAGO”. A fragmented order which is basically like an audible in football. As a leader I was confronted with problems, hiccups, and you have to make decisions on the fly. Were they the best decisions ever? Maybe not but I learned as a kitchen leader sometimes a mediocre solution is better than no decision at all.
Prep took a bit longer than I had anticipated, so class starts at nine am but I came in early to do my pre service checks, make sure fryers and ovens were on and operational. Once the crew got there I had to stay on top of all the stations. I had questions coming from all different directions and I delegated the best I saw fit. When your Chef asks you a question, they don’t want excuses or reasons, they want “yes chef” and just accomplish the mission.
I learned alot that day. The kitchen may be new territory for me but leadership is very similar across the board. You have to walk a fine line between motivating, and occasionally being assertive. That saucier is on his phone? Sometimes you gotta lay the hammer down, they’ll thank you for it later when the service goes smoothly. Sometimes you have to even gut check yourself when you get overwhelmed and bear down on your focus.
All in all aside from some hiccups the meal service went well, finished product suffered a bit in my opinion due to a sluggish initial prep. However, as a leader, that is MY fault. One thing I learned as a sous for the day is that in the end, you are responsible for your team. The Chef wants results, not excuses.