October 17th, 2007 Mike Thelin | Special Section Stories
 

Line Dance

Ever wonder how your meal makes it to your plate? Here’s the steps.

     
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IMAGE: amy ouellette

A restaurant is theater, but not high theater.

Don’t forget this performance is judged by the harshest critics: hungry people. And in the case of an open kitchen, these ravenous folks will watch a cook’s every move.

“An open kitchen creates a primal, theatrical restaurant experience,” says top Portland restaurateur David Machado. I spent a day on the cook’s side of the open line at Machado’s Lauro Mediterranean Kitchen (WW Restaurant of the Year 2004), deconstructing the kitchen line and getting schooled.

In the world of kitchens, what looks easy (and entertaining) from the vantage point of a cozy table is really brutal, taxing labor. From pantry station to sauté cook,

the restaurant vocation requires a diverse skill set of honed techniques and a canonical knowledge, but above all, a strong blue-collar work ethic and tolerance for intense heat. A good operation (like our subject) is a well-lubed machine in which ego means nothing and skill means everything. A cook’s workday isn’t as glamorous as the television world of people with names like Emeril and Mario embroidered on their chef coats. The reality is years of 12-hour shifts spent covered in fish scales and lamb’s blood, with burns up to the elbows, before one’s name is embroidered on anything. Look below to get a real education.

 
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