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The ultimate team sport

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By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST

With NFL playoffs fully underway, the perennial conversations about how much of a team sport football is are back as predicted. I get it. With 11 men on each side of the ball, all with a key role in the execution of each play, who could argue that the team isn’t important?

But I have always maintained baseball is the truest team sport. Unlike football, the defense controls the ball. And unlike other sports where the same player can touch the ball again if they had initial success, it is the next team member who is up, regardless of home run or strike out. You literally have to rely on each and every team member in equal fashion.

Though if you want to see the ultimate team, you need to leave the sports arena altogether, and look at the modern restaurant.

The holiday season is the busiest couple of weeks of the year for the majority of businesses in Big Sky, certainly restaurants. We all start talking about it and planning for it on a regular basis as early as late summer. Well, at least I do.

It really hit me this year, right in the middle of service on New Year’s Eve, what exactly it is that made and makes the holiday season such a success: it’s the people. A restaurant in the throes of service can be a thing of beauty yet turn into a tire fire within a few agonizing moments. Believe me, I’ve seen my share of both.

11:00 – The day starts with the chef’s and sous chefs’ arrival anywhere between late morning and midday. We check on prep lists and have a quick chat with each other for an initial game plan. We start in on any projects we had planned with tenacity, knowing once the team arrives, our chances of distraction increase exponentially.

1:00 – The full kitchen team is in and both the hood fans and music go on simultaneously. Cooks jump into their prep lists with vigor. Make no mistake, no matter where they are, no matter what they’re doing, they know exactly what time it is, because the countdown to doors opening begins when they walk in the back door.

4:00 – Bartenders and waitstaff arrive with a laundry list of opening duties: all small and all vital. This is when the building picks up energy and momentum. Both black and white uniforms buzzing about, trying to prevent the beehive of activity from turning into a hornet’s nest.

4:50 – Pre-shift meeting begins. We go over any specials, any specific game plans or challenges for that particular evening and address any potential or previous night’s issues and how to combat them. Everyone breaks and moves to their position of duty.

5:15 – First ticket comes in and the music goes off.

7:15 – The entire building is in high gear. Every single person, from owner, to maître d’, to dishwasher is on the move. Everyone has a job that has a specific purpose to the whole. People moving about and passing each other with the deliberate purpose of a Tokyo crosswalk.

My head and body are spinning. I have dishes from cooks and voices from servers all coming at me from every angle. Despite this, I take pause and look around as I take it all in. It’s as if I am in The Matrix, and time slows to a crawl. Everyone is doing their jobs and contributing to the whole. A hundred things are happening every minute and we are executing with confidence.

Yep, tonight was a thing of beauty. The beehive is producing honey. The hornets will have no nest on this night.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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