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Amuse Bouche: If a kitchen were a band

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PHOTO BY RENE ASMUSSEN

By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Hearing the accolades continue to trickle in over the late Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, I started thinking about what a contribution he made to what I believe to be the greatest rock band of all time. From his first permanent appearance in 1963, Charlie was unquestionably an integral part of the Rolling Stones. 

Eating for enjoyment is almost as old as music, and both intertwine with our daily lives more than people realize. Just how similar are they? The chef in me must ask: How else do bands equate to kitchens? 

The cooks and chef come together for a successful night of service, just as the band comes together for a great record or concert. Surely there are some similarities.  

Drummer. In most bands, the drummer is the one who controls the tempo. They quite literally control the timing of the song and of the night. Though they are not necessarily in the front, the drummer is always in the center of the stage. The beat of the drums is a giant metronome that others can be guided by.

The broiler cook is the backbone in any restaurant that has one, depending on the concept. They control the cooking of all steaks and chops. They know how to cook a multitude of cuts of beef, lamb, pork and wild game from rare to well done. They are controlling the timing of the other cooks so that their dishes all come up at the same time. This is not an easy thing to maintain all night long on a busy night. And think of the symbols as perfectly executed grill marks; a beautiful little accent that puts a finer point on something already great. In other words, the broiler cook drives the bus.

Lead guitar. Usually with nimble fingers and large personalities, the lead guitar is an identifying sound to a band. They often come with their own solos and require very fast hands and fingers.

The finesse of a strong sauté cook is evident in their orchestration of their pan movement and intricate plating of their dishes. More nuances than a broiler cook, their plates are often the stand-out presentations, much like the lead guitarist.

Piano/keyboard. In this kitchen band, the pianist or keyboard player parallels the pastry chef.  You don’t always think about what they bring to a band when there is a strong lead guitar or drummer. But when they make themselves known or have a key role in the overall sound of the band, they’re an attention grabber. 

Similarly, nothing says the end of a fantastic meal quite like a dessert from a talented, experienced pastry chef that you couldn’t even come close to replicating at home.

Bass. The essential but less distinguishable background sound of the kitchen, an experienced utility line cook is like a bass player; the journeyman in some cases. They’re up there right next to the singer and guitar players, but don’t always stand out or have a noticeably audible roll. But they contribute heavily to the overall sound. 

An experienced line cook that has worked every station in several restaurants for years is the saving grace of a busy night. They know enough about the other stations that they can flow and adapt to the others or take charge when it looks like there might be a misstep or a storm the kitchen has to weather.

Road crew. In Jackson Browne’s song “The Load Out-Stay,” he sings about the unsung rock stars who are the first to arrive and the last to leave. The road crew does a lot of heavy lifting, literally and figuratively, for the band. There is no glamour, there are no praises from the fans. There’s just hard work and late nights. 

While the dishwashers are not the first to arrive, they are definitely the last ones to leave. Without them, there would be no service or wonderful guest experience. 

Lead singer. The front man or woman who is oftentimes the face of the band. Their voice is the single most distinguishable aspect of the band in most cases. It sets them apart from other bands. And they often go on to a solo career or start their own bands.

The chef is usually the voice of the restaurant, meaning it is their food that becomes the identity of everyone else. They write the menu as the singer sings the lyrics. And sometimes, the chef moves on to start their own restaurant.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is an executive chef,  former certified beer judge and currently the multi-concept culinary director for a Bozeman based restaurant group.

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