Into the Fire

Ever since the start of my interest to get into the food world, I've always had a fascination with the lifestyle of chefs and those working the line behind the scenes of the world's greatest dining destinations. And when I say lifestyle I mean the hours they keep, the long days and nights on their feet hovering over flames and opened doors of hot ovens, and ending each shift wiping the sweat from their brows and heading home - or to a neighborhood watering hole - smelling like the evening specials. What is it about this industry and these kitchens that attract so many to want to jump into the fire, get dirty, greasy, and beaten up by the onslaught of never-ending tickets demanding more plates of graceful-looking seared duck and artistically marked filet mignon?

I had heard about it for the past couple of weeks and couldn't wait for it to air. Last night, the Travel Channel showed the episode 'Into the Fire' with Anthony Bourdain. After 28 years in the industry, Bourdain decided to write a book that in his words "I thought no one would read" about what really goes on behind the scenes. The book led to a series on the Travel Channel that he thought "No one would ever watch". His new life of traveling the world and publicizing his kitchen memoir led him out of the kitchen he ran eight years ago in New York City; Les Halles (pronounced la hall). Last night he returned, partially to prove to a few nagging bloggers - and admittedly to himself - that he could go back and handle working it on the line again.

I thought the show was brilliantly done and really took viewers through what happens once a table sits down, orders are taken, and the ticket is placed. They did a beautiful job of basically showing a visual aid of the layout of the kitchen and I was quickly taken back to my quick run at restaurant Bleu a few months back to finalize my training at school. They showed how the line is set up: the grillardin station (grill), saucier (sauces), and garde manger (cold plates and appetizers). Tony has always paid homage to the line cooks, which he often calls out to be mostly Hispanic, whipping out those classical French dishes. He is so respectful and of course followed the kitchen brigade (hierarchy) system with much respect and even responding to the executive chef with a "yes, Chef!". The man who now has Tony's former job of executive chef organizes and runs a kitchen that serves what he said today could run 700 covers a night! One cover is one patrons full meal from appetizer, to salad, entrée, and dessert. Even Tony was shocked at the amount of traffic Les Halles now works through. Back when he was running the restaurant, Les Halles had 80 tables. It now has well over 100.

You could see in his face that he was actually getting quite nervous for the double shift he was about to embark on. There were times when he missed plates on tickets because, as he learned, his eyesight isn't what it used to be. He literally couldn't read the tickets! He was constantly hammered on by the executive chef to move quicker, or to brown the cheese on the French Onion Soup longer. There was even a time when a few of his dishes were sent back to the kitchen from customers!

It was truly an adventure and highly entertaining. I obviously don't know Tony Bourdain personally, but from reading his work and thoughts on him, I know he didn't just do this for himself. In fact I think the bigger reason, if anything, was to show respect to those in the back of the kitchen who are putting in the long hours for virtually no pay day in and day out, without the big celebrity chef name, without the big network TV show, but with the true talent that keeps them rockin' the line and whipping out fantastic cuisine everyday.

As most Travel Channel shows do, this one will air again. If you're a fan, I'd highly recommend checking it out.



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