A front row seat at the ‘ballet’: a New Year’s education

Even those of us who’ve been writing about the foodservice industry all our lives often don’t realize what it takes to make the dining experience happen seamlessly, but last night I had the amazing opportunity to have a seat at the table and simply watch as the extraordinary ‘ballet’ of New Year’s Eve took place before my eyes in my neighborhood restaurant, Navy Yard Bistro.

We’re lucky – those of us who live here because not only is it a beautiful, historic and special place to be, but we are blessed with a very nice restaurant that serves great food and provides a place for people to come together and socialize in a cozy setting.

What more could anyone want on New Year’s Eve after a snowstorm blanketed the area with a fresh new white coat? As frosting on the cake, the city offered up its annual fireworks on the stroke of midnight to delight shivering diners who took their champagne flutes outside and enjoyed the display.

But, as they say, I digress! I was fortunate to have a seat at the bar, which looks into the kitchen, where I was able to watch the very deliberate, well-orchestrated process of serving what seemed like an endless number of meals, one after the other, in a small and very crowded space with what appeared to be a magical ease. The process - from the chef to the kitchen staff to the service personnel - is amazing - a ballet with intricate steps and many opportunities for blunders and mis-steps.

But there were none of those. Sitting there, you think about how much thought has gone into the various menu options and the wine pairings, the prep work that goes into the meal, and the professionalism of every person in the kitchen and on the floor, making the expediting of each of those meals possible in a way that is, to the viewer, flawless and seamless.

And you think about how this process, which looks so easy and is not, as any home cook knows, and marvel. The bits and pieces, the expertise, the execution all come together to make a memorable meal that delights the senses and the palate in a convivial setting that is truly celebratory.

At the same time, you realize all over again just how special the dining experience can be and what an enormous amount of work goes into making it that way every day, not just New Year’s Eve or other special occasions, for the customer.

So when TV newscasters and talk show hosts talk about ‘go back to your kitchens in this economy and you’ll save a lot of money,’ I tend to believe that those of us who’ve had the magical experience of watching the ‘ballet’ that takes place each night in restaurants of all types across the country, will understand just what this industry gives them each time they walk through the doors.

I raise my glass to toast those who labor in this industry to create that magic.

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Tags: Eve, New, Year's, chefs, dining, personnel, restaurants, service


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Comment by Paul Green on January 6, 2010 at 9:26am
For another take on this discussion read Lisa Donovan in the Chicago Sun-Times

Comment by Rod Guinn on January 1, 2010 at 7:00pm
I had a similar experience one evening at the Coyote Cafe when Mark Miller ran it. (Eric DiStefano has continued its tradition of excellence.) I was dining alone, sitting at their "bar", which is a cluster of four (I think) seats not only facing the kitchen but tended by the chefs, and enjoyed one of my most delightful and memorable meals while watching pros perform at a level the rest of us can only imagine.

Comment by Paul Green on January 1, 2010 at 8:01am

Your comments will be appreciated by all the professionals who dedicate themselves to mastering that most difficult "ballet", not for the money, but for the satisfaction that comes from hearing heartfelt appreciation for a job well done.

Cheers and thanks.




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