via Flickr user dinnerseries

Working the Line: Family Meal

When you're cooking for an entire kitchen, it's like being on an episode of Chopped.

At a dinner service last week, some of our regulars asked me where I like to dine when I’m not at work. I’m pretty much a fast-food gal on most nights. Even though I do love cooking and putting together beautiful plates at work, the last thing I want to do is cook when I get home. The regulars continued to name off a slew of top-rated restaurants in DFW.

…I haven’t been to any of them.

Ironically, even though I work at a fine dining restaurant, it doesn’t mean that I can afford to eat at one. My old chef once told me that I need to save up my money so I can go check out all these top-tier places. But, really, making $9 to $13 an hour doesn’t really afford you a nice meal at The Mansion every week. Are you kidding? My big splurges end up being on copious amounts of wine and craft beer.

Anyway, it doesn’t bother me too much; I have great food at work all the time. Our kitchen is filled with talented culinarians! As a line cook, we don’t really have any creative control over our menu, but we really get to shine when we’re put in charge of the family meal.

If you’re not familiar with the term, family meal is when the staff gathers to eat before we open. We don’t get to use the freshest or best ingredients available, but we do get to figure out how to use our cheaper items and (questionably) fresh food items to produce something tasty that will fuel everyone for the following eight-hour shift. I’m not gonna lie. There have definitely been days when our meal looked like some slop you would see served in prison, but we usually end up with surprisingly delicious stuff.

I feel like sometimes the task of making family meal is like being a contestant on Chopped. We don’t get to pick the items in our basket, but we get to prove how creative and talented we are by producing five-star food under two-star conditions. We’re also lucky enough to have an incredibly diverse kitchen. Yes, some of us are Asian or Hispanic, but all of us have worked in kitchens that specialize in all types of cuisine. One day, we’ll have enchiladas; the next day, fried rice. Then chicken ‘n’ dumplings, pasta Bolognese, beef stew, beignets, and so on. They’ve been some of the best meals I’ve had.

The line is where I get to hone my knife skills, food cookery, and sexy plating, but I always learn the most when I’m given meat scraps, almost rotten vegetables, and only 45 minutes to cook for our family of 50.

For more from the Anonymous Cook, visit the series here.