Firing on All Burners: Juice Monkeys Thrive in the Heat of Service

SteakContinued from Part 5: Steve Beckta Restaurant

Anne DesBrisay was also happy to broadcast her enthusiasm—though she privately admitted later that given all the hype that had attended its opening, she had been nervous reviewing the restaurant. She was relieved though to find that it was indeed “a clear cut above, in all kinds of ways, but mostly in its service department.”

“Beckta can only do good for this town in terms of raising the bar on service standards,” says Ottawa Citizen restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay.

“The trend toward chef-owned restaurants is growing (yipee), but it means the chef’s in the back working his wonders and the front of the house is sometimes left to stupid young men in black, with chips on shoulders and big-time attitude.

The fact that Steve owns the joint, seems always there and leaves the kitchen to another makes a big difference as far as the feel of the place goes.”

More important than the reviews, though, as always, has been word of mouth. Many local diners seem to have adopted Beckta’s as their own.

Beckta gets calls almost every day from the clients of one hair stylist.

And wine lover Tim Davis went so far as to reprint his personal business cards with Beckta’s address and phone number on the back: he got tired of always writing down the information after raving about the restaurant.

The challenge for Beckta’s now will be to continue to meet such expectations night after night.

By now the kitchen is redolent of the rich smells of cooking meat and reducing sauces.

“Watch behind!” Filion says as he carries a boiling pot behind Fraser. The servers are swarming the entrée pass, lined with ticket orders.

Vardy scans them constantly, choosing which to fire first so that all the dishes from one table arrive together, piping hot. This is when the military rigour of a good kitchen comes to the fore.

This isn’t the time for debates on how to make a certain sauce: it’s all “Yes, chef!” “Right away, chef!” from the staff. “Chef,” of course comes from “chief,” as in commander-in-chief.

The sous-chef is the second in command and works with the cooking brigade. The key values are reliability, loyalty, consistency and discipline.

“Are you in the weeds now?” I ask Fraser, eager to use the little insider culinary jargon I know.

“No, I’m just fucked,” he says smiling.

“We’ve trained our staff to be juice monkeys,” Beckta explains with a laugh.

“They’ve got addicted to working the rush of working a hundred covers, so now, when we’re evenly paced, they’re still looking for a hit!”

“Pick-up for Danielle, please” Vardy calls out. The dish is Meyer’s next course. Danielle Prevost isn’t in the kitchen.

“Pick-up please. Somebody? Anybody? Did everyone leave for the night?” Vardy shouts, seeming to absorb the heat that Meyer’s food is slowly losing. Monsour whips around the corner and takes the plates out to Prevost.

When she comes back, I ask her if she’s nervous serving Meyer. “He’s really nice,” she says. “But actually, I did get a little nervous when he started asking all these questions about the food.”

Heat laps at my face and body, cleansing my pores. I should have worn a bikini. Had Dante spent a night in this kitchen, this would have been the molten core of the Inferno.

I develop a fellow feeling for everyone who toils in heat: firefighters, furnace repair people and sauna-bath attendants.

Most of the kitchen staff drink two or three litres of water every night—it’s the only way to keep up with what they sweat out.

“Here,” says Peckover, the bartender, handing me a big bottle. “If you’re going to be part of the kitchen staff, you’ll need one of these.” Like everyone here, he notices what people need before they’re aware of it themselves.

I escape briefly to the back step where the humid 30°C evening feels like a crisp mountain air.

I watch the air conditioning boxes hanging off the neighbouring brick building perspire. A blessed light drizzle has started. It’s as if the day itself is exhausted and is having a good, satisfying cry.

Go to Part 7: Steve Beckta Restaurant

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